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Journalist: drk
Status: Public
Entries: 32 (Private: 0)
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Start Date: May 21st, 2011
Last Update: Oct 11th, 2013
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Description: My Journey across the nation, with myriad hues. always on a tight budget.

Serendipitous Sikkim- Delhi Nathula Delhi in Rs 1100
Date Posted: Oct 11th, 2013 at 17:06 - Comments (2)
How it happened:

25th February, 10 30 pm-
'yaar, in the Civil Services interview, I would be asked, "where have you traveled?",
to which I would be answering- 'Sir, to all but four states of India.'
'Till when would you keep these states un-done?' I asked myself.
And then, a sense of determination dawned on me.
A mission to see what was unseen yet.
I knew that North East Express left at 6 am next morning,
and thus, set off to my room,
to pack up, and leave.
'you are crazy, and fearless. Study for the interview in the train.'- said my friend.
'I will,' I said, as I closed the gate hurriedly behind me.
Goosebumps, excitement and a thumping heart,
accompanied me to my room,
another quick search on the next,
and I realised that the Poorvottar Sampark Kranti- the best train to travel when one has no reservation, left shortly, after 45 minutes.
I thought- 'you can't make it before the departure.'
But, hurriedly dumping some clothes in the small bag,
and forgetting my towel, toothpaste, a sweater or any warm clothing,
I took whatever my eyes saw,
and ran down, to the road looking for an autorickshaw.
This was around 11 05 pm,
and every passing minute without the sight of an auto- rickshaw made my heart sink.
But then came a thought-
'you are not the doer, and calmness ensued.'
A rickshaw came, and I asked- 'New Delhi Railway station- kitna loge?'
the station was around 6 kilometres from where I stay,
and I blurted- '80 me chalo..'
the journey (till the station) was un-eventful,
except that I kept on encouraging him to violate the traffic rules,
which he did not do.
And during the short ride, I was making up my mind to travel ticket less,
but as I passed the security check at the station,
I was told that it was just 11 25 pm,
and I had time enough to rush and get a ticket.
So, I ran again,
and missed an opportunity to travel ticket less.
The counter was empty,
and I requested for a ticket for Dibrugarh.
The ticket could not be issued,
as there was no train at that time to Dibrugarh,
or for whatever reason that Indian Railways might have.
But, I was granted a ticket for Guwahati- the Gateway to North East.
the price was Rs 370/- and I was thinking-
'the fares have gone up, rail travel has become expensive indeed.'

So, with a ticket to Guwahati in hand,
I still had around 15 minutes before my train left,
and thus I walked casually, leisurely,
towards the platform.
I was no more a person in hurry,
and within a couple of minutes,
I reached the general boogie of Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express.

Since most of my cross country travels are planned at the last moment,
the thought of getting reservations never comes to me.
And this journey was to be no different.
The coach was full, but not packed,
and I got a place to sit in some corner of the upper berth (meant for luggage).
The train was still not moving,
and I got the time to make a quick prayer to God,
to make this journey a beautiful one.
The train moved, and my eyes opened,
Thus, the real journey began...

I was still not sure where I was headed to,
but the train for sure would go till Guwahati.
I was thinking of Tripura, or Mizoram, or Manipur, as I had not been to these places,
and getting more ticks on the checklist of states of India was definitely there in the mind.
I had been called for an interview, but the date was yet to be notified,
and here I was,
ticking off states in my check-list.
Thus, there was no fixed plan,
but yet, HE was smiling as always,
and the train was already 3 hours late by the time it had reached Allahabad- with its Kumbh.
This was The Smapark Kranti, the train that seldom stopped,
and between ALD and MGS (Allahabad and Mughal Sarai),
it stopped at each and every platform that it crossed.
and thus, the train was late by 8 hours by the time it entered Bihar,
and thus, it was decided where I would be going-
the train reached NJP at 6 am, in the morning,
and I had made up my mind to go to Sikkim- the botanist's Paradise (though I am not one).
The train was still standing at NJP, when I was looking back at it as I exited the station,
still confused if I should return,
and then,
a taxi-driver said- Gangtok, Gangtok,
and I knew where I was headed to, bidding a goodbye to the train,
and awaiting eagerly the first view of Teesta.
I got in the sumo which had 6 individuals already.
After a few minutes, we were 10,
and the sumo began its journey towards Gangtok.

I had just a small college bag with me,
nothing else, and thus, was looking like any other 'non-touristy' outsider in the land, probably working, probably studying.
But behind this, I was the same curious one struggling to stare outside to get a view of the road, of the 'just awake' town of Siliguri, of the Himalyan foothills and the Mahanda Sanctuary, and awaiting to see her-
the river that probably has the highest source in the world, none, but Teesta.
Siliguri felt like any other town,
but no, my eyes told that I was in a different land-
the signboards were in a language that I did not read, guys were practising football instead of cricket,
and the pamphlets promoted different political parties than the ones that I was accustomed to.
And thus I realised, this indeed was not home, but felt like one.
The sumo soon started ascending, and she appeared,
coming down from the highest lake in India,
she was expected to be turbulent, and restless,
but she was still calm,
she was not a mighty one, but composed, and humbled.
And after tracing her uphill,
I realised that she too, was bounded, and not free.
There are dams on Teesta, and new ones being made.
Sikkim is experiencing more earthquakes,
the Himalayas are rising,
and so is our hunger for power- literal and figurative.
In these thoughts, I was ascending gradually,
alongside the descending Teesta,
and accompanied her till there appeared a beautiful, purple coloured- Coronation Bridge,
and a road went to Kalimpong from here.
We were still not in Sikkim,
and this entry happened near a town called Rangpo.
I had heard that all vehicles are checked for any plastic that they may be carrying,
as Plastic has no business to be in Sikkim,
but nothing of that sort happened,
and we moved ahead on the curvy bends,
of this single road that was the approach to Sikkim's capital.
Breakfast followed at a roadside dhaba,
and I was engrossed in my own worries-
I could not find my phone,
and the phone that I could not find had no battery or balance.
But it definitely had the contact number of the person who could host me in Gangtok.
I had not contacted home for two days now,
and nobody knew where I was.
The sumo started its journey again.
Sikkim was different in the way that it had more liquor shops,
and was a little more cleaner than the state that we had left behind,
also, from now, there was continuous habitation to be found till we reached Gangtok,
and most of the people here lived just near the road,
on the mountain slopes.
Towns passed, the notable ones being Ranipool and Tadong,
and the sumo dropped us at a bus stand in lower Gangtok.
I was clueless, but the priority now was to find a place to get a recharge done for Idea cellular,
and that 'Pumpkin pumpkin, honey bunny' advertisement does not apply to Sikkim,
because Idea has not started its services here.
Still, I got one place, where Battery and Balance were replenished,
and the first call that I made was to our Colonel uncle, posted here.
"hi uncle'
'Hi, where are you?'
'Uncle I am in Gangtok'

and thus, I was now to head towards Burtuk, where my uncle was posted,
but before, I had to make myself presentable,
as I still had the effect of the long journey in the general coach on my face.
Searching for a barber shop was not giving results,
until I spotted a chic saloon, serving men and women.
A pretty lady welcomed me,
but her eyes stared at me,
before I could turn back, I blurted, 'I wish to get a shave'.
and what followed was a close shave indeed.
Somehow, a policewoman got suspicious on what I was doing in there,
and after the shave, I proceeded towards my destination-
the area calle dBurtuk.
There are shared taxis that run in Gangtok,
and the drivers do no fleece you, even if you are an outsider.
The people here have great sense of dressing,
and maintain themselves well.
In a short while, I was sipping tea with my uncle,
as he was still amused (but happy) by the way I had suddenly turned up.
The place where my uncle was posted had beautiful view of distant snow clad peaks,
but still, till now I had not seen the exceptional beauty that I had anticipated.
After lunch, and a refreshing bath,
I headed towards Rumtek,
in my uncle's car.
The Rumtek Monastry, the largest of its kind in Sikkim,
is situated about 20 kilometres from Gangtok,
on another hill, overlooking the capital.
The road to Rumtek is a pretty one, less crowded, with white prayer flags that make a great sight.
The moanstry itself is highly guarded,
and I was told that this was because the monastry had a lot of gold and gems within its fourwalls.
later, the internet told me that the security was because of clashes between two sects who supported different people for the post of karmapa lama,
and thus, the security.
Also, it is true that the monastry does have a lot of yellow metal,
but leaving that aside, it is a must visit place for someone coming to this state.
We were allowed to drive in,
and yes, there was an entry fee to get in,
(again a unique thing for a buddhist monastry),
there were few people there,
monks and tourists.
I walked in for the peace that I sought,
but the beauty and the grandeur inside tempted me to click many images, which I did,
inspite of photography not being allowed.
We visited some other buildings in the compound- including the golden stupa,
and the Institute of higher Buddhist Learning.
Gangtok looked beautiful from here,
and I was told that the population that I could see in front of my eyes comprised half of Sikkim.
Tiny state it is.
As the sun set, we returned towards Gangtok,
and I was taken to the ongoing International Flower Festival.
What a sight it was, but more about it later.

I climbed up the steps to the garden where the ongoing International Flower Festival was in its last day,
and yes, the flowers were just about to wither,
but the flame flickers bright before it dies down,
and thus, a cultural extravaganza was on.
The festival was inaugurated by the union Home Minister (and thus was an important event involving lots of money),
(the TV in front of me is showing protesters against delhi rape gathering at his residence as I write this- what a co-incidence)

There was a Manipuri Dance going on,
and the artists danced in sync, beautifully.
Manipuri dance is a visual treat, and focusses on Krishna and his raas leelas. (themes from Geet Govinda)
I clicked photos with the dancers as they came down the stage, (as everyone else did)
as they were chatting with each other on the performance, and updating facebook status.
Many performances followed- Nepali dances, songs and dance performances by local celebrities (who had reached Indian Idol or DID)
and I was lucky to be there.
The flowers were beautiful, for sure.
But imagine spotting a single orchid in the jungle,
and here, there were orchids in lacs,
everywhere.
And thus, they felt ordinary-
There were more flowers than I had ever seen before, of various hues and colours and species and varieties.
There were stalls of organic horticulture, pineapples, kiwis, seeds, produce of the North East.
After spending about 90 minutes,
I returned back, to be back in Burtuk, for dinner.
This had been a good day, and the trip was going good by now.
I was also told on phone that my interview date had been declared, and I had just 9 days,
so, no proceeding towards Manipur or Mizoram, but being back in Delhi was now a priority.
We met the commandant's wife, and her daughter,
and the day ended as it started getting cold.
The next day, I was to set off for Nathula.
The pass had not yet opened for visitors, and I got a special permission.
This was around March 2nd, and there had been fresh snowfall a couple of days back.
Till now, I had not seen the incomparable beauty of Sikkim.
I could not head North Sikkim for the same, as the roads were damaged after the earth quake.
But, what I was too see today, would leave me feeling blessed.
Slowly and steadily, we headed towards Nathula, in the Army jeep.
THe driver was from Maharashtra, and our conersation went smoothly in his native tongue.
I had two other jawans with me,
and they were happy to be going to Nathula, which they had not done before.
The Road was maintained well by BRO- most of it.
The distance is above 50 kilometres, and the journey takes 3-4 hours.
As we started moving uphill, the scenery changed.
I had seen snow before, a lot of it.
But here, there were snowed out trees- conifers covered with fresh snow.
This sight was indeed a visual treat, and I asked for more as we went further up.
What a sight it was- The Tsongmo Lake- semi frozen, covered with ice and snow- and crystal blue.
again- this was not the first frozen lake for me, but was the most beautiful I had seen.
People come to Sikkim only after nathula opens,
and by the time, the snow thaws.
The sight that was in front of me was breathtaking,
but I had to save my breath for the higher altitude of nathula,
and we passed besides the lake without stopping, to move ahead to Nathula.
Snow increased, but since it was sunny, it never felt cold.
I was just in a cotton shirt, nothing more, but was comfortable.
The road worsened as we neared our destination.
And at places, there was still more than a foot of snow on both sides.
We passed another trading town maintained by ITBP, which had beautiful houses,
but the pass was closed for winters, and the town was a ghost town at that time of the year.
nathula could not play hide and seek for long, and we did reach the pass by 11 am.
The road here had 6 feet of snow on both sides, and yes,
here, the Republic of India met people's republic of China.
you cross the gate, and enter a different country,
you step over the tiny barbed wire fence, and you enter China.
This was too tempting, but I somehow resisted myself,
as the sloe Chinese soldier was moving up and down at the fence.
We had a strong presence there, and there were no other Chinese to be seen,
maybe they were sipping their tea, sitting inside and looking at their CCTV's.
I was showed around,
and was taken to the conference hall where army officers from both sides conduct Flag meetings.
Our side depicted similarities in Culture between Indians and Chinese- Buddhism etc, and peace.
but it was all in English- and thus, was meant to be read by us, and not them.
There were pictures of our Prime Ministers who had been here before,
and this was the place from where His Holiness The Dalai Lama had crossed into India.
Nathula is a historical pass indeed, and the most important point of land trade between the two countries.
And needless to say- it is beautiful.
what followed was a visit to the temple of Baba Harbhajan Singh-
the real temple is far from the newly built one, and is uncomfortable close to the border to allow much civilian movement ( I believe),
thus, a new one has been built, and is popular among the people who come to Nathula.
There is a restaurant selling great food at this height, at prices lesser than Siliguri,
and an army shop selling Chinese and Sikkimise merchandise.
This shop is a must visit (because the stuff here is very reasonably priced),
but the army definitely pays from its pocket to sell stuff here, and maintain this place.
The temple itself is well amintained,
and around 1 pm, we left the place, to move back to Gangtok.
There was a war memorail covered with snow,
which had the gun and the soldier's cap,
symbolising the martyr.
We moved back as I saw the snow covered roads receding back in the rear view mirror.
There was a signboard saying- Be careful- the Chinese can see you from here.
(so?)
and I was going back to honor my promised date with Lake Tsongmo.
The lake was indeed a spectacle- clear, blue, and the best of it- partially frozen.
The waters were still, with clear reflection of the peaks.
The sky was clear- and one could not ask for more.
After a few shots,
we drove back towards the capital.
I was told that there is a zoo enroute, having a snow leopard, but our driver was not keen.
We stopped at the famous Ganesh Temple- Ganesh Tok,
and could get another view of the capital from here.
Soon, we reached the city.
I had planned to leave tonight.
And still, I was not sure where to.
I had booked a ticket to Guwahati the previous night,
but there was ininterview awaiting my presence as well.
Getting a seat in any general compartment from NJP was difficult,
and engrossed with these thoughts,
I had made up my mind-
I was sure of leaving Gangtok-
for where- I had no idea.
I was dropped on the road at Siliguri,
and had no idea on how I would reach NJP,
the auto wanted INR 250 for the remaining 7 kilometres,
but then,
there came a sumo rushing past me,
and I waived my hand to stop it.
NJP?
yes, NJP.
I got in at the front seat,
and started chatting instantly with the co-passenger.
This was a haryanvi lad posted in the ITBP,
returning home for his 'arranged' marriage.
Both of us got down at NJP,
and I hurried to the ticket counter,
as the time of departure of Brahmaputra mail had already passed 5 minutes ago.
The train had just arrived,
and I had to make up my mind now- Guwahati or Delhi.
Delhi- I was coming.
Another general ticket, and we rushed to the platform.
There were many army bogies in this train,
co-incidentally, para military forces were returning after conducting a peaceful election in Nagaland,
and they had booked an entire coach for themselves from Dimapur to NJP.
But the coach was to remain attached to The Brahmaputra Mail upto Delhi,
and since it was occupied by armymen before,
it remained a military bogie,
and we stretched out on our newly found seats.
This was to be a comfortable journey,
albeit on the wooden planks for a night.
My serendipitous tour to the North East ended up being a short one.
And this was indeed a very low budget tour,
but I could not have spent more anywhere-
when one has no reservations, one is left with no option but the general compartment,
and one need not stay in hotel rooms when one has hospitable friends.
For a solo traveller,
the journey becomes more interesting than the destination,
and the people that one meets en-route make it all worthwhile.
Thus, I wrapped up my journey as I reached Delhi.
I rushed out of the station to get a general ticket for the ITBP Haryanvi friend for his onward journey to Panipat,
but as I ran to give him the ticket,
the train sped off on right time,
leaving me breathless,
and with another general ticket not used.

Thus, I was back...

The story in images-





Rumtek Monastry.



white prayer flags, commonly seen in Sikkim


View of Gangtok from Rumtek


Images from the flower show-



The maidens from Manipur descend on earth


the flower show proper-





To Nathula-


Tsongmo Lake- where most of the 'tourists' turn back-




Enroute to Nathula-

Icicles-

Crisp, fresh snow-


The road leads to Shangrila-


China-




India-




The Flag meet room-


Your's truly


Joint patrol-



Baba Harbhajan's Temple- not the real one. Devotees leave water bottles here.


warning-



Ice ice everywhere-


A frozen lake-

Yak Rider-




Back to Gangtok- At Ganesh Tok-

The beautiful evening at MG Road-



And I bid Goodbye to Sikkim-
Serendipitous Sunderbans, and onwards to Andaman
Date Posted: Oct 10th, 2013 at 11:27 - Comments (1)
Nicobar-
the lesser known and seldom talked about sibling of the Andamans.
Nobody goes there until sent,
and it hardly ever happens that someone sets out from Delhi with a vague idea of reaching there,
just to get a new story-
so that was the mission,
and the journey began.

I would have taken a general train ticket and reached the destination,
had it been possible,
but no train would ever make this journey,
and one either floats or flies to reach there-
I borrowed wings,
got an air ticket
and boarded the Yuva Express from Delhi to Kolkata-
the destination was Nicobar-
and though this is a spoiler-
but on reaching Andamans,
I realised that I could not invest those days on a trip to the Southernmost tip,
and explored the Andamans during my short stay,
while gathering all the information needed for a visitor who needs to plan a trip-
to Andaman and NICOBAR as well.
Just to mention-
there are a few places that are remote in the true sense,
even in this era of jet travel.
Changthang and Changlang, Kachhal and the islands in Rann of Kutch, Minicoy and Mechuka- but
Nicobar is more elusive.
Elusive so much that even I had to contend with heresay and memoirs.
Now, I write this after I have returned back,
with memories to comprise my own memoirs,
for them who would some day have stories of their own to tell.
and this is how the journey continues...

They say,
Andamans is not advisable in the monsoons,
I agree.
But what if it is among the few places remaining in India, unvisited?
Unchartered territory fascinates the traveller-
and as 'HE' has his plans for me,
I smile like a child when there is a hint of an upcoming journey,
the revelation this time came through a phone call.
One of my uncle is posted in the islands,
and my cousin who is a buddy- called me up.
Though he has been calling for the past two years,
I could not wait this time,
and logged into an airticketing website with determination-
to find the chapest airfare in the next few days.
I searched everywhere-
all the ports of exit were considered- Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and even Bhubaneshwar.
Though the destination Port was the same- named after Blair.
Air India it was, from Kolkata...
Rs 33500 for return airfare for 2.
Not cheap- but neither exorbitant.
Once the tickets were booked,
I was to devote all the time on research-
none of which was of much help.

I have got useful info---- will share.
And I can now plan a budget trip to Andamans,
costing less than 11000 per person.

Mind it- I have done Delhi - Nathula - Delhi in Rs 1100/- including food and travelling.

I am a traveller,
God, keep me that way.
don't make me into a tourist,
to thee, I pray.
For I'll loose the priceless things that money can't buy,
I'll have to leave the cycle rides and opt to fly.
God, my nights would be spent in the prebooked AC rooms and not under the open sky,
and I'll have to relinquish those friendships that come with a host and hearty meals,
and those chats knowing each other- how wonderful it still feels.
This foray into the shoes of a tourist is not that bad,
but its not for me my creator-
as I have tasted blood.
Each passing experience needs to be more intense, more novel-
to create an impact in this already turbulent journey,
and thus, here I begin,
with your permission,
to tell what happened, and how- when you sent me to the paradise- called Andaman Islands.

The journey started at New Delhi Railway station,
I was accompanied by my sister,
the train was Yuva Express,
and on time, it moved towards its destination- Howrah.
Meanwhile,
it was not a Happy Journey,
as I realised soon that my camera was not with me.
The likely suspect was an IITian who was occupying the seat next to me,
and got down at Kanpur.
It was a difficult situation now,
without a camera, I would miss the shots of all those beautiful beaches.

Howrah arrived, rather we arrived at Howrah,
and I was accustomed to the place- been there before.
Kolkata hardly changed- set in the past.
The Hooghly was crossed on a ferry,
and we moved towards Sealdah station via public transport-
changing 3 modes for a distance of 6 kilometres-
just out of my free will.
Both of us- me and my sister had seen the city before,
and Sunderbans was on the agenda.
I had called the Sajnekhali lodge in Sunderbans Tiger reserve, operated by West Bengal Tourism and they had my number.
Reaching SUnderbans is difficult for someone who is doing it by themselves-
without a guided group tour-
but I would never ever go for a guided tour-
and thus,
we managed to board a 3 35 pm local train to Canning,
the nearest railhead for Sunderbans.
(Ticket- Rs 15)
The local gets full at Sealdah station itself,
and we got a place.
It took around 80 minutes and we were in Canning around sunset.
Bengal is crowded,
and Canning was no exception.
Wading through the sea of people,
we managed to walk a distance of a kilometre to the taxi stand.
We were to catch a tata magic auto to Godkhali (pronounced Gaujkhali)
Getting the auto was difficult,
tolerating the monsoon humidity still difficult,
and sometimes one gets the idea-
why am I doing this?
Thankfully- both of us were hardened souls,
and when one willingly does something,
one forgets the hardships.
Had I been 'sent' for some work here-

the auto took a lot of time to fill up,
and it carried 15 passengers.
Slowly but not steadily,
we left the town of Canning,
in the district of South 24 Parganas,
to move deeper into remoteness.
Here, people were many and land was scarce-
and thus, there were villages on islands which were formed by years of silt capture by the mangroves.
Sunderbans is difficult to reach-
and many people think- its not worth the effort-
as one can guarantee here that the tiger would not be sighted-
but.
forget that this is a tiger reserve.
Come to see the wonder of nature-
an entirely different ecosystem-
how nature has adapted itself and to what extent-
and then you'll never be disappointed.

Till now, we were moving like common men,
but as we got down at Godkhali, (pronounced as Gaujkhali,
we were received by a person in shirt and trousers,
instructed by the tourist Lodge to receive us and direct us to the boat which would bring us to Sunderbans.

Normally- there was a ferry crossing at Godkhali and another 6 kilometer journey and a ferry crossing again to the Tourist Lodge.
But now, this boat would take a longer waterway, encircling the island,
and take us to the lodge.
I did not negotiate the tariff,
and boarded the boat.
From the cramped auto-
now we had this big boat to ourselves.
The journey lasted around 90 minutes.
Cool breeze,
the open, star lit sky,
passing small villages seen by the tiny lights-
and a red ball- which happened to be the moon- as never seen before.
The lost camera was missed.
The mobile network stayed with us all the time,
keeping my sister busy watsapping-
oblivious to the surroundings.
the journey ended at Sajnekhali Lodge.
We disembarked,
being reminded of stepping safely and moving slowly on the slippery slope.
I was thinking actually-
what am I doing here?
I was here because I did not want to spend the day at Kolkata.
It would turn out to be a nice day,
now retrospectively pondered.

As we ushered into the reception,
we were asked of our plans.
I looked for the boat rate charts-
for 1-25 people:
Godkhali to Sajnekhali- 2000/-
Sunderbans half day tour- 2000/-
Full day tour- 3000/-

So, for the 90 minute boat ride, I paid the lodge manager Rs 2000/-,
and told them that we would be arranging for the rest of the tour at a later stage,
in consultation with a forest officer whose reference I had got.

The room tariff was around 2000/- including taxes and breakfast.

This is the only accomodation in the Core area of the tiger reserve.
The lodge is fenced all around and tiger visits here are frequent.
I would recommend it for someone who wants to stay here just for the sake of staying inside the reserve-
though it makes no sense-
the food here is BAD.
Electricity only between 7 pm to 7 am.
and service needs a lot of improvement.
It is an eco-friendly building, made of wood,
water for bathing is saline.
Adjoining it is the forest field office,
which has a mangrove interpretation centre and a crocodile pond.
I did not think much on what I was going to do the next day,
as my real destination was Andamans,
this was a mere stop over.

The next morning,
I got up at 5,
to catch the rising sun.
The watch tower at the lodge was the chosen spot.
Monsoon clouds made this a normal spectacle,
and when I was returning down from the tower,
my sister spotted a deer.
We sprinted up again and saw the deer escaping in the woods.

I went to the forest office,
to meet the range officer whose reference I had.
Since he was still asleep, (he was not on adventure trip, so had no reason to be awake at 7 30)
I went to the counter where permissions for the forest entry are given to boats.
No boat can enter the forest without taking this permission.
I tried to converse with a boatman who had arrived,
but he could not understand my request to share costs of the Sunderbans tour-
he was not on a tour but was taking someone near the Bangladesh border-
9 hours boat ride.
I tried to talk to the lady posted at the forest counter but she was an irritated person-
She had accompanied us in the Auto from Canning to Godkhali and had stayed back-
to reach here early morning.
She was not happy to be posted here-
the tourist season had not started,
and few boats plied these days.
So,
I made up my mind to return to Kolkata.
A leisurely breakfast of badly prepared omlette and undrinkable coffee was taken,
and we spent some time in the mangrove interpretation centre,
interpreting what was beautifully described,
and spotting a crocodile in the croc tank.
The ranger came,
and I introduced myself.
He instructed his junior to see if there was any boat coming for the permission.
Meanwhile, a boat with 4 young adventurers came,
and we joined them.
So,
I was not going without a forest tour-
but...
I saw nothing more than what I had seen at the forest lodge.

Sunderbans

By staying at the Sajnekhali tourist lodge, we were already in the core area of the Biosphere reserve,
the forest officer told me-
'here, the animal is free and we are caged'
true, because all forest department structures in the reserve are fenced with high barbed fences,
to keep the tiger out.
I was imagining-
we go into deep forest in hope of catching a glimpse of the tiger,
but in actuality,
none of us would like to face this dreaded animal too close to the boat,
as it is not difficult for him to hop on and what would further happen is beyond imagination.
This is a huge area,
and has the highest number of tigers- 256 by the current estimates.
Man animal conflict is common here
as the increasing population cuts the mangroves to start cultivating the land.
Still, the reserve is well managed- and tourism is not damaging the surroundings.
During the tour, the boat is to be confined to the broad waterways,
and in no case are we supposed to disembark.
The boatman was coaxed to take us in the narrow channels where possibility of a sighting was more,
but he did not oblige.
Nylon wire mesh is put up at the boundary of the reserve to prevent the tiger from venturing out into human settlements.
At some places, the channels are more than 3 kilometre wide,
and it is hard to imagine how the tiger swims such distance, if at all it does.
Deer are abundant here,
as we had seen one from the tourist lodge itself.
during the tour,
deer were sighted twice.
from the boat, one gets only a glimpse of the periphery of the jungle,
while the forest extends much inside.
there are watch towers and clearings in the mangrove,
where one goes for the tiger sightings.
Our first such stop was Sudhanyakhali watch tower.
These places are fenced, and have sweet water ponds where the tiger comes for a drink.
As soon as we reached Sudhanyakhali,
birds came up to our boat for their meals,
lined up, waiting for us to disembark, so that they may take over.
The watchtower provides a view into the forest,
but ... what do I say?
No tiger.

I try to gather the names of various species of mangroves, labelled-
and its interesting to know the names of those beautifully different trees-
Nypa- the palm, rhizophora, avicennia- the tall tree, grey and yellow mangroves, and many other species.
talking of animals, the orange coloured fiddler crabs are ubiquitous, and so are the mud skippers.
what to say of the monkey and those spotted deer- spotted everywhere.
Water birds are also in plenty,
and I missed my camera.
there are six species of kingfisher in these forests, but I saw none.
overall, the best way to enjoy is to totally forget that this is a tiger reserve.
and then, the nature opens up to you.
though, I did see a hint of orange in the bushes,
like a tiger resting under the tree.
but when we returned with the boat,
there was just a wild cock.
I still wonder what that orange beast was?

further into the forest is Dobanki forest camp,
another watch tower and a mangrove walkway.
It has some posters describing the local flora and fauna,
and we had seen most of it except the tiger.
The long walkway provides a good view of the forest,
and if one sits here the whole day,
there are good chances of being lucky.
We had our boat to return to,
and after a last glimpse of hope, we turned back.

The group that we were with was indeed the best that we could have.
They were four guys, who came on motorbikes from Kolkata.
Biking to Sunderbans isn't easy,
as one needs to cross waterways on ferries.
But it is indeed recommended.
Alternatively, one may cycle down from Canning, after reaching Canning in the local alongwith one's cycle.

Egg curry and dal rice was our meals on the boat,
and we did fall asleep.
Its easy to get bored by the monotonousness of the landscape.
But nature did try to keep us awake-
rudely sending a strong downpour.
trying to protect ourselves from rain lashing from all sides,
we did enjoy the freshness and cool breeze that accompanied the showers.
Near the shore,
men and women were engaged in harvesting prawns and shrimps-
one of the important economic activity here-
men wearing just the loincloth,
women dressed in saris.
The boat moved at a fast pace,
and we knew that the journey was to end soon.
It docked on the jetty at Pakhirala,
and with a hot cup of tea,
we bid goodbye to our friends.

The journey back to Kolkata was memorable.
The best part was the cycle rickshaw ride to Goshaba ferry ghat.
This is an island with villages and a glimpse of rural life.
It was afternoon and children were returning from there schools,
shy bengali girls wearing white saris with red borders,
cycling down in groups,
boys following them,
children playing,
full of life, and yet, relaxed.
The fare for ferry crossing was just Re 1.
But the boat left as we were climbing down the stairs.
We were asked if we wanted a personal boat,
and six of us booked it for 120/-
I was curious why everyone was in a haste,
and it was because they wanted to catch a bus.
We reached well in time to get seats,
and began the ride to Canning.
the question now was to get a camera,
and the research began.
Kolkata closed early,
and we were told that most shops would shut down by 8.
We reached Sealdah by 7 30,
and an uncle helped us by suggesting the shop,
which we could find open at 8 30.
I purchased a DSLR, still not knowing how to use it,
but since I had lost a good point to shoot,
the upgrade to DSLR was needed,
still need to learn using it.
The real journey was to begin now-
to the islands.
But till now,
it was a mixed bag.
The bag was filled with goodies as the journey progressed.
more on it later....


Tips for travelling solo to Sunderbans from Kolkata-
The best way-

Sealdah Railway station to Canning- 70 minutes, Rs 15/- Local Train.
Canning to Godkhali- 70 minutes. Rs 20. Bus or shared autos.
Godkhali to Goshaba- ferry crossing - Re 1.
Goshaba to Pakhirala - 20/- shared cycle rickshaw. 30 minutes.

Total cost- Rs 56/-
Total time- around 3.5 hours.

Stay at Pakhirala- Apanjan Hotel. AC rooms. Budget hotel.
around 500/- per room.
next morning, book a boat for Full day tour and return to Kolkata.

Have a nice trip.

Map embeded-
A- Canning town
B- First ferry crossing, to Goshaba town
C- Goshaba
D- Pakhiralay ferry ghat
E- Sajnekhali tourist lodge.

http://goo.gl/maps/crrgK
Kutch by Cycle- continued
Date Posted: Jun 13th, 2013 at 05:59 - Comments (0)
I had still not informed my host (DSP Kutch) of my intention of staying with him,
but was somehow not worried at all.
On reaching his office, around 8 pm, I called him.
Soon, his jypsy stopped, and he came out, dressed in a black suit,
and not in the usual Police Uniform, that I was expecting.
After a short conversation, during which he knew that I was on this cycle journey,
and probably also that I had made no alternate arrangements to stay in Bhuj,
he asked me to come to his house, not far from the office.
I made myself comfortable as I settled at his house.
Over dinner, we had a conversation, a fairly long one.
I was an aspiring civil servant, and hence, sir could guide me in the right direction.
I shared some of my experiences of the yatra,
and later, picked up some books to read from his library.
I wasn't leaving the next morning,
intending to take a day off from cycling.
The previous night, I had slept in a hut with thatched roof and no doors.
And less than 24 hours from then,
I was on a bed which was too comfortable for me to sleep,
and yes, I was sleepless for a while.
I was glad to know that even sir had participated in a walking tour of Maharashtra, covering 700 kilometers.
His encouragement made me happy.
The cycle journey was going to continue for some while- I realised this.
Thus passed another day,
by His grace.

Early next morning, I finished my laundry,
and had breakfast.
After sir left, I was on my own,
clueless regarding what I could do.
A few books were read,
but even spending a few hours idly was noxious to me,
and sir was not expected before evening.
I recall now how the whole day is spent, in Delhi, doing nothing.
And during this journey of mine, every hour was eventful.
By evening, sir arrived, and even his day would have been eventful,
policing the Largest district of India is no easy game.
We talked about the role of police in the system,
and the difficulties of a policeman.
in a way- the other side of the story.
There are some professions which have a daily dealing with people.
And they face the maximum onslaught of public criticism, as well as praise.
We doctors sail in the same boat,
but what brings satisfaction is the instant gratification that one gets from the patient's relief,
and only living beings are able to provide that gratification.

Thus passed another day,
and happened a rare thing during the journey,
I slept at the same place for two consecutive nights.

I was a nomad,
and I had to move on.
So, both of us- sir and me, left home at 9.
He for his office, and me towards the westernmost point in India- Koteshwar.
I had contacted someone through a travel website,
and his place was 40 kilometres from Bhuj.
So, today's stop was at a comfortable distance from my starting point.
and hence, I moved slowly out of Bhuj,
admiring the migratory birds who felt comfortable even in the dirty lake of the city.
Kutch is a paradise for birds, and everywhere I went, I saw them in abundance.
Each village has its ponds,
and birds love water.
Pelicans, flamingoes, cormorants, cranes, ducks and what not.
I was moving ahead on a highway- something that I dislike.
And yes, even these 40 kilometres were appearing tough.
I stopped at a school run by one of the famous sect in Gujarat. (Lakshminarayan)
The hoardings outside proclaimed that the education system of this school was different,
and included the Indian system of education (vedic).
But apart from some things here and there,
this was like any other English medium school, a good one.
I met the principal, an academician from Karnataka.
The school was in a beautiful campus, and to add to it,
I was served Lunch, a healthy one.
Now that my tank was full, I moved towards Devpar, my destination.

Devpar

I was told to come to White Eagles School, in a village called Devpar.
As I reached the village, i was guided by the locals to the school,
and finally, I approached my destination- Darbargarh.

Darbargarh, Devpur, Kutch...


As I reached the village of Devpur,
I asked locals for The White Eagles School,
as told by Mr Krutarth Jadeja;
and directed by the locals,
I reached the Darbargarh-
now famous among the Non-locals by the name of Devpur Homestays.

This trip took me to unbelievable places-
places where one might reach after a lot of effort, or in today's world-
research on the internet.
This was one such place-
Retrospectively, when I look up in the internet, I find that all the travel websites give it 5 stars, and vote it the best place to stay in entire Kutch.

How I reached here is also a small story,
which begins on the internet.
Mr Jadeja had mentioned in a travel thread on Indiamike (he goes by the profile name- Kutch),
that I had started regarding my journey.
He wrote that I was most welcome to stay with them, whenever in Kutch.
He forgot this, but for me,
It is hard to forget such invitations.
and I called him up from Bhuj.
I had no idea who he was, and that he was a famous host.
He was a Jadeja,
a title used by the Rajputs of Kutch, who belong to the (erstwhile) ruling clan.
I called him, and was told that I was most welcome.
On reaching Darbargarh, the palace that is now a homestay, and home for his family,
I met him, and his wife Yashodharaji.
Our talk started, and the cycle journey interested him.
This premises also has a residential CBSE school,
which got me very interested, and involved.

Krutarth ji's ancestors belonged to the Bhayyad or Independent vassals of Kutch,
who maintained their individual forts and small armies.
Most of those forts are now in ruins,
but Darbargarh survives.
I stayed their as family, with the family.
Running a senior secondary English Medium CBSE school in a village of Kutch,
getting teachers for the same,
and maintaining a viable student strength was indeed a challenge.
I was told about the earthquake and its aftereffects,
by Krutarthji's mother,
who had herslef worked hard to set up this school.
It was indeed a memorable experience,
made better after the evening Aarti and the delicious Kutchi food served for dinner.
Thus, another bag of memories was added as I retired in my bed.
Kutch is supposed to be a dry landscape,
but this single district in itself comprises of huge diversity.
The not so dry coast of Mandvi,
to the extreme aridity in parts of the Rann,
the fertile plains irrigated by Narmada canal,
and the hilly, stony areas where nothing grows,
the Banni grassland, the pastures for camel grazers,
the mangroves,
the White Rann,
and the Bets or islands rising out of it-
there is a lot that Kutch has,
and as Mr Jadeja rightly told,
on a bicycle,
I was actually imbibing Kutch,
experiencing it in a way that few outsiders would have done-
I was Lucky.

The next morning,
I left Devpar after bidding a goodbye to Krutarthji and Yashodharaji,
and to a group of interesting people who had come to the homestay, for a stay.
I was told about the places that I could viit,
and I had with me the road atlas of Gujarat (in Gujarati, and without the details of village roads)
My destination for the day was not decided,
but I was moving towards Hajipir- the dargah of a sufi saint.
This day too, had its surprises-
and some of them were to be so different that for someone other than me-
it would have been indeed difficult to handle them.
I don't know how many of them I would be sharing,
but today, I was to enter a mysterious place.

I cycled out of Devpar,
crossed a huge Hanuman statue in a village called Vithon,
and moved towards Devisar.
As far as I can recall,
I was to head towards Than monastry,
but enroute, I saw boards mentioning the Kutch Fossil Park.
This journey had brought me face to face with fossils in a detailed way,
but what I was to see today, was unprecedented.
I had seen a fossil park near Jaisalmer, a few days before in this journey,
and was told here that Kutch too has many fossils.
In Dholavira, the museum had wood fossils.
So, thinking that there would be nothing new,
I entered this remote location that had a collection of fossils.
What a sight it was!!!

The Kutch Fossil Park has no parallel-
because of many reasons, that I would be mentioning.
In the premises, that is also a 'resort',
fossils were strewn everywhere like debris,
the place overflowed with fossils,
of all sizes and shapes.
There were Lacs of them,
scattered,
and then I entered the 'museum' proper,
where fossils were displayed and categorized.
Also, I saw Mr Mohansinhji Sodha- the man behind this effort.

To see what one man can achieve by his own efforts,
there is one place in Kutch which one must visit-
The Kutch Fossil Park.
Mohansinhji Sodha, a retired army-man,
travelled uncountable kilometres,
collecting fossils, and his lifetime effort is on display at this museum.
Its hard to find so many fossils at a single place,
one similar collection is at the Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Kutch is a magnificent landscape,
and the interplay between land and sea here has made it a treasurehouse of fossils-
Mr Sodha has spent his lifetime collecting all the diverse fossils that this land has,
and though without any formal training in paleontology,
this man has contributed a lot to the stream-
His work lies little noticed in this remoteness of Kutch,
but for those who manage to reach here,
it is a delight.
I talked to Mr Sodha,
and borrowed a book on gemstones and fossils-
to read while sitting there.
As I started turning the pages,
Mr Sodha left for another quest of fossils, a routine for him.
I wish I could have spent more time there,
and learnt something more about fossils from him,
but today, my destination was different,
and I moved towards Than monastry- home to the Kanphata Yogis.
The Monastery lies at the foot of Dhinodhar Hill- an Extinct Volcano.
I was tired by now, and though this was december,
cycling in this arid landscape in the afternoon was not easy.
I could not imagine doing this journey at any other time of the year,
and thus, here I was, in a 12th Century monastery,
which is a mysterious place indeed.

Baba Dhoramnath, a Kanphata Yogi,
meditated for 12 years on the Dhinodhar hill,
and founded this Monastery.
The place is enclosed by high walls, as a small fort.
It was patronised by the royals, and given land grants.
There are various temples inside the complex, and few people visit the place.
For a brief idea on how this place appears to an outsider, one might read this blog, written by someone else.
http://www.indiabackpackmotorbike.co...t/]Experiences at Than, Gujarat!

Than and Dhinodhar hill

I must have been offered lunch by the monk at the monastery,
otherwise, it was impossible to have started the trek to Dhinodhar.
or, possibly, I went there empty stomach- can't recall.
The old man at the gate of the monastery told me-
follow the white painted stones, and you'll reach the top.
For some distance, I could not gather which white painted stones he was talking about,
and followed the trail that I could see.
But when the trail got lost in the rocks of Dhinodhar,
I did realise that there were white painted stones all along the way,
and I walked along them, climbed, jumped,
and moved up in a very different landscape,
This was an extinct volcano-
the whole mountain was made up of solidified basaltic lava,
and when Basalt cools,
it crystallizes into perfect hexagonal pillars and blocks.
Those pillars had broken to form similar looking stones,
and in all directions, there were just black stones or un-eroded perfectly geometric pillars.
No matter how i describe them,
one can only get the real idea when one has a look.
This was a forest, with plenty of wild animals.
Leopards weren't scarce here, but this I was told later.
Thus, oblivious to the dangers, I was climbing up,
alone, on an extinct volcano.
After a while, I reached the top,
to find a temple and many people.
There was an easier way up, via staircase,
from the other side.
I went to the temple, which was newly constructed,
and had little of what this place would have looked some time back.
There was nothing very interesting,
and I trekked down a bit to find the cretor of this volcano, now covered by a yagya- shaala.
Garbage was strewn around,
but the place gave good views of the landscape of Kutch.
Soon, I decided to return,
and on my way back,
found a family coming down.
These were adventurous people,
and were climbing the stony slopes with children and women.
I adviced them to go by the easier way- but they were made of tougher stuff.
I paced ahead, and befriended them.
Shortly, we reached down and it was still sometime before sunset.
I took a round around the monastery,
and the monk told me that I could rest in a room on the first floor.
some experiences of another traveller- who happened to be at that room-

http://www.indiabackpackmotorbike.co...t/]Experiences at Than, Gujarat!

I found the same stuff-
a room with broken windows,
a blanket on the floor, and a bulb giving the required light.
I was tired as usual,
by the cycling and the trek.
in my sleeping bag,
I lay there,
waiting to be called for dinner.
And I was called-
'Doctor ji, aao, khaana khaa lo.'
The family that accompanied me on the descent invited me for dinner.
Gujaratis carry a lot of food,
and this family was no exception.
So, all of us, and there were many,
sat down to have a multi course dinner-
with theplas, rotlis, curry, chhach and sweets.
They were to leave for Bhuj,
and I was to stay here at Than.
Though it was bitter cold now,
and there were all sorts of sounds coming from the jungle,
I was too tired to give a thought,
and slept there in the room, in my sleeping bag.
in the night, there were incidences which would have made any sane person insane,
but what can one do to someone who is already not in his senses.
this night too passed, but is the most memorable one in the journey.
Thus, passed another day, in Kutch.
A day at Surajkund International Crafts Fair
Date Posted: Feb 7th, 2013 at 17:42 - Comments (0)
THe Surajkund fair has gained popularity in recent times,
and grown in scale and substance.
Hence, it was decided to be there, on 6th February, 2013.
The journey began at Shivaji Stadium Bus stand,
and took an unusually long time of 2 hours, because of accumulated rainwater near Badarpur.
On reaching the fair grounds, we straightaway headed towards the 'chaupal',
which is the place for artists to perform.
The stage was full of colours, and the awaited 'braj-ki-holi' performance was going on.
Holi in the Braj region is famous for many reasons.
This is the land of Lord krishna,
and during Holi, ladies of Barsana- the village of Radha,
hit their men-folk with sticks,
and the men try to save them from the blows by wooden shields.
The same was being depicted. Thereafter, everyone on stage played Holi,
showering flowers on each other, and the audience.
What followed was a folk dance from Gujarat, and a martial art called Thanta, from Manipur.
Shortly afterwards, we headed to the Food Court,
and try delocacies from across the country,
but food at Surajkund is not particularly an incentive to be there,
and one should not expect much in this department, there.
The real reason to be at Srajkund was the opportunity to buy merchandise, specially handicrafts from across the country.
Artisans are encouraged to display their work at Surajkund,
and many of them are famed, award winning artisans.
after an hour, my bag contained Honey from Coorg, a silk kurti from kashmir,
and things made from bamboo.
Karnataka was the focus state this year, and around half of the mela-ground was occupied by artisans, government stalls, replicas of monuments fro karnataka.
A lot of effort was put to make the premises beautiful, and it showed.
After sun-set, we headed towards Natyashaala,
where troupes from Kazakhistan, Tajikistan and South Africa performed.
We took a return bus,
but the next few hours were very arduous.
The journey took more than 2 hours,
and what I saw was among the worst traffic jam in Delhi.
Somehow, we reached home by 11,
and thus, the yearly attendance at Surajkund was marked.

Images:

The Holi in Braj:




A Gujarati Folk performance:




Thanta- Manipuri Martial Art, performed by kids, in Surajkund:





A wooden Ganesh on sale, MRP Rs 6,00,000/-


Focus state- Karnataka-


Roasted coffee beans, on display.


Maa Danteshwari gate- an entrance depicting Maa Danteshwari- The Godess of tribals, in Dantewada.



An artist from Kazhakistan


A beautiful Dance performance from Tajikistan:






A fashion show:



From South Africa- Zulu Dance:



The enthusiastic audience:


An artist from Tajikistan performed this, and the audience went crazy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLxgI...ature=youtu.be



Kutch by Cycle
Date Posted: Feb 3rd, 2013 at 16:14 - Comments (3)
Kutch-
The name takes me into a different world as soon as I think of it,
Larger than half of the countries on the planet,
including notable ones like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Bhutan, Belgium and Taiwan;
and still, administratively, a single district in the state of Gujarat,
geographically, linguistically, historically and culturally diverse within itself, and from outside,
and full of its less known treasures that one serendipitously finds,
this barren- looking landscape has a lot to tell about,
just that one needs to have some patience and time,
which I had in plenty;
destiny brought me here,
and the soil of Kutch took me in its arms,
showing me all the treasures that it held close,
serendipitously, of course.

The story begins in a strange manner though,
but some background information before the actual characters come in.
One may call Kutch an island,
as on all the sides,
it is either surrounded by the Rann- Lesser and Greater,
or the sea, named by humans as the Gulf of Kutch, of the Arabian Sea.
Not long before, the Indus emptied itself here,
and this was a green land;
which, with time, and after upliftment caused by many earthquakes,
has turned into a semi-arid island surrounded by a marshy salt pan- the Rann,
The Rann is not the only characteristic of Kutch,
as there are hills which are ubiqutous,
alongwith grasslands, wetlands and alluvial plains.
how can one forget the coastline,
studded with ports from where sailed ships to Africa, Arabia and beyond.
Crossing the Rann proved perilious for many invaders,
and this land developed its own ways of dealing with the challenges that the nature put on it,
Thus, came up a different way of life,
a different 'breed' of not just cattle and camel, but also people,
who took difficulties to their stride,
and excelled wherever they went.
Half of the population resides outside Kutch,
and what remains,
has the last remaining colours of the Kutch of yesteryears.
here is an attempt to present before you,
by His grace,
a journey that make me fall in love with this beautiful land,
and its people,
Kutch, by cycle.


Beginnings

The sun had set, and the stage was set,
not through a man made road-bridge or a railway track,
but on two wheels driven by me,
I entered the Rann of Kutch,
and thus, the Kutch district.
The last village that I had left behind was called Vouva, in Patan district, Gujarat.
From here, Mohana, in Kutch was 24 kms, across the Rann, which had now dried up.
I left Vouva well before the sunset,
only to loose my way among the many tracks that enter the Rann,
I came back again,
in hope to find a soul,
and after 2 hours, and well around sunset,
was showed the right way.
There was a BSF post at 7 kms, and I was sure of spending the night there,
but I reached there after sunset, and was denied refuge.
So, alone, I had to cross over to the other side, into Kutch, passing through the Rann, in darkness.

The BSF post on the other side was after 15 kilometres,
and I started cycling in that direction.
Now, I had entered Kutch,
and the first soul to welcome me resided in the body of a wild ass,
too shy to stay anywhere near me,
but also curious, thus turning around many times to give repeated glances to me.
soon, it was dark, and I started to hear all sorts of sounds,
and getting fearful of existent, but more than that- non-existent fears;
I was there alone, and the next post was still at a distance.
there was no option but to continue cycling, which I did.
The cycle sometimes encountered unridable terrain,
and since there were many tracks made by previous vehicles,
I followed the one that led to a light which I guessed came from the BSF post.
The light disappeared soon after,
obstructed by a bund,
and thus, I called the previous BSF post to inform the next one about me,
and my arrival.
the light reappeared as I crossed the bund,
and finally reached the woodland that occupies this island named Bela.
Soon after, as I kept moving,
I heard a farmer keeping vigil at his land,
protecting the crop from herds of Nilgai,
we had a conversation but could not see each other,
being separated by the bushes,
two BSF men came there,
and I rung my cycle bell to signal them,
my arrival was a suspicious incidence, and I was taken to the commander.
My identity was to be verified,
and my family was called, on the number that I gave.
With my credentials verified,
I was treated well, and we talked about the 'yatra'
I saw the way the Jawans live in Border areas,
for months altogether, far away from families, from 'normal' life.
They were also happy to have me there,
a change in the routine that occupied their daily lives.
Thus, passed another day,
and this is how, my first few hours passed in Kutch
Day 2:
Entering into Kutch was eventful,
passing through this land had surprises to unfold.
Early morning, I left the camp of BSF where I was sheltered the previous night,
and yes, I was well fed before I left.
During my journey,
I have been fed, and sheltered, invited and welcomed,
by the people, and I can safely say-
this journey was powered by the people of India.
Today, I had to reach Dholavira, 86 kilometres away.
And powered by the BSF breakfast,
I started to cycle towards the next major village- Balesar, at a distance of 25 kilometres.
The 'yatra' had been into a mature stage by now.
I had learnt to unlearn many things- including the use of mobile, money and motor.
The morning breeze, and flocks of crane were my companions now,
and as I slowly passed through the landscape,
I saw things that I could never observe before-
birds of various hues and colours tending their plumage,
cranes feeding voraciously,
egrets riding buffaloes,
so on and so forth.
Thus, one with the surroundings,
I reached Balesar, after 2 hours of cycling.
Enroute to Balesar, there is a famous temple at a place called Vraj Vani, which one may visit,
the legend attached to it goes as this:
The ladies of a village started dancing when a man started beating his drum,
this continued for two days,
and the menfolk of the village, enraged, beheaded the drummer,
the sound did not stop though,
and all the ladies gave their lives in grief.
The temple today is in the memory of those who died.
There are many such legends spread across Kutch,
folklore is still alive here.
I was approaching Balesar,
and was Hungry again- my hunger somehow made itself evident as I passed any town or village of a sizable populace.
Two schoolchildren raced with me, as I was entering the village,
and I befriended them with whatever little Gujarati I knew.
This was Christmas Day, as I can now recall-
the kids had a holiday;
I let them ride my 'geared' cycle, and then, they were mine.
They escorted me into the village, where I met a local doctor (BAMS)
and had tea.
It was still morning, but 58 kilometres were to be covered.
In the local market, I had two 'dabhelis'- with tea,
I was warned that I would find nothing to eat for the next 40 kilometres,
so I should be prepared.
Ready I was, for the challenge,
and for Dholavira...

The White rann of Kutch attracts people from far,
and is the main attraction at the popular Rann Utsav. Only on the way to Dholavira, does a Metalled Road cross the Rann,
and driving on this road is an experience.
These were empty roads,
long stretches passed before I could see a vehicle coming from the opposite end.
I came across a Rabari- a person belonging to the shepherd community-
Rabaris constitute a significant chunk of Kutch's population,
and I captured his un-usual image, without him knowing.


Alone on the road,
I reached a point from where I could feel the approaching Raan,
and soon, I was there,
looking at the vast endless expanse,
and the beautiful road that cut through it.
So, in solitude, and awestruck, I continued.
At a distance,
I did see some chinkaras.
Birds of various colours flew by me,
and I could resist no more.
I left the road, and both of us- me and my ride,
were on the flat white terra in-firma- The Rann.
There was little that I could do,
apart from clicking various shots of my ride, and the vast endlessness.
So, I had to get back to the road, and continue cycling.
Dholavira was still away.
Dug dug dug dug- came the familiar sound,
and I turned around to find two bikes, and four bikers.
'Aapke baare me bahut suna hai- we have heard about you'- said one of them.
I smiled, as he told be that the BSF men told them about me.
THey were from Delhi, and moving towards Dholavira.

It felt good to meet someone, in this remoteness.
I came for solitude, and in this land, I was seeking company.
I continued to pedal, as I saw them receding away, on the straight road.


Time to get tired, but nothing could take away the pain,
no option but to move ahead.
I saw the island of Khadir at a distance,
and the island approached me, slowly, and steadily,
with every turn of wheel.
On my right, there was a continuous water pipeline,
and along with it, some scarecrows,
their purpose is still obscure for me,
some of them stood erect,
some fell down, like the one here-


And as the sun was overhead,
I reached Khadir, the island which had 12 villages settled on it.
Amarapar is the first village,
and also a famous birding site.
This year, it had rained little,
and few birds came,
so, I continued ahead.
The terrain was rocky, with small hills,
and I continued.
Another village- Gadhada approached,
and without much thought, I turned towards the building of the POlice station-
the only one on Khadir.
Now something about this area, and its police.
Few people live here,
and few crimes occur.
There is little work to do,
and passing time is a challenge.
So, a pack of cards, and liquor come to the rescue.
The meal that I had in Gakhada was among the most memorable in my journey.
The home-guard's son there was particularly happy to see me,
and embarked on a mission to bake some bread for me.
He made Gujarati kadhi- which needs little apart from some flour, butter milk, onions and spices.
Butter-milk is a constant companion of Gujarati food,
and I enjoyed it wherever I went.
Good for a traveller like me,
as it kept me hydrated.
There was a long conversation between me and my host,
and I took a short nap as well.
Though this was the height of winters,
still, riding in the afternoon sun in Kutch,
was difficult.
This journey of mine could not have been imagined in any other season.
I looked at the watch,
as I was having my food,
and realised that I would have to hurry,
If I desire to reach Dholavira in time.
I had little money in my pockets, and could not afford to stay in Dholavira for more than a night.
So, with renewed vigour,
and energy from the food that I had,
I covered the last 24 kilometres in 90 minutes.
My target was to reach Dholavira before Sun-set,
and I managed to be there by 5 pm.
some snapshots of Kutch:





Dholavira

Indus Valley Civilisation-
When the citadels of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro were unearthed,
the History of India shifted 2000 years back,
and Indians realised that civilisation was not a western concept.
It was not the Aryans who brought with them the way of life, to this sub-continent,
but the fertile plains of Indus supported the most advanced civilisation of its times.
Mohan-jo-Daro was the largest city that its contemporary world had seen,
and during those days-
the area from Suktagendor in Iran, to Burzahom in Kashmir,
and Daimabad in Maharashtra was part of a single administrative unit,
which is now known as the Harappan Civilisation.
After partition, the large cities of this civilisation went to Pakistan,
and what remained in India, was not too grandiose, until-
Until- the Kot ie: Fort in Dholavira was discovered.

What is now a remote corner of the remote island in the Remoteness of Kutch,
was a sprawling metropolis 4000 years ago,
the secrets of which still await excavation,
and what has been un-earthed,
in itself is sufficient to make oneself wonder,
about the people who created this wonder.
Co-incidence brought me here,
and there were many co-incidences that were awaiting me,
as I was pedaling fast towards Dholavira,
to catch her before sunset.
As I reached the village,
without stopping, I continued towards the 'Kot',
which was still a couple of kilometres away.
The staff at the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) museum was amoused,
when they saw me.
What amused them further was that I was coming from Delhi,
and the caretaker there told me-
'visit the museum and I'll take you to the site as a guide,
my charge would be Rs 150 only.'
I went in to see a collection of beads, seals, weights and measures, and pottery,
made 4000 years back, and conserved in this 'on-site' museum at Dholavira.
The concept of on-site museums by ASI is a good initiative,
so that the antiquities recovered from ancient sites are kept in close association with the remains to which they belong.
There are 44 such museums and Dholavira has one.
After a quick walk-over at the museum,
I came out, for the more interesting part,
and told the caretaker-
I am short of money, and won't be able to hire you as a guide.
Would you still like to accompany?
He said, there would be more visitors soon, and we'll go together, taking them.
And, a car with a family came,
and began the tour of Dholavira.

The remains are divided into a citadel and the lower town-
We entered the citadel through what had been a gate,
and climbed up the stairs.
At the entrance, there was a smoothly polished, round, beautifully made,
base of a pillar, made of stone.
Dholavira was made in stone,
and not in burnt bricks,
which were used to build Harappa and Mohan-jo-Daro.
Around 50,000 people lived here,
and while I was moving through the lanes of the citadel,
I could not help imagining how were the people who had built these lanes, and walked through them,
Below the citadel, there were many parts of the city-
the area where the officials lived,
the area where bones of slaughtered cattle were dumped,
and the magnificent series of reservoirs used to store water.
They had steps through which one could descend in,
and a ramp for the movement of bullock carts.
The longest 'signboard' in the undeciphered Harappan Script was discovered in Dholavira, and lies 'in-situ' but covered.
The sun was bidding a good-bye,
setting into the Rann of Kutch.
And we returned to the museum.
I was told that Dr RS Bisht, who had served as the Joint Director in the ASI,
and was instrumental in excavation of Dholavira,
was in Dholavira,
and I should get in touch with him.
When we reached back to the museum,
a car stopped and I went forward to ask a gentleman-
Sir, are you Dr Bisht?
'yes', came his reply, with a smile,
and I told him that I had arrived in Dholavira on a bicycle.
he was glad and asked me where I was putting up.
I replied, 'with you'.
The next few hours were among the most memorable in my journey.

Dr Bisht, with whom my acquaintance was of a couple of minutes long,
asked his helper to shift my luggage to a guest-room near his halting place,
and soon, three of us- Dr Bisht, me and Dr Srikumar Menon,
were in a conversation.
Dr Menon teaches architecture in Manipal University,
and has published books on Megaliths.
We gelled up well together, and our talks were not confined to history alone.
The ideas of Dr Bisht were not 'conventional' while explaining various questions that 'haunt' our historians,
one example being the reasons for the decline of Harappan Civilisation,
and regarding who the Aryans actually were.
I got to know a lot, in a short time.
recalling what I can remember,
regarding Dholavira, Dr Bisht was very enthusiastic,
because here in Dholavira, were discovered two different series of weights,
and all the weights in the series were found,
ranging from less than a gram,
to more than 50 kgs,
and those weights were made of stones as well as metals.
The weights were verified for their accuracy, and the correct weights were punched.

'sir, why did this civilisation cease to exist?', I asked.
and his reply was among the most comprehensive answers that I have got on this subject.
According to him, this was a trading civilisation,
the Harappans were traders par-excellence,
they had different people assigned for each step of manufacturing merchandise-
from sourcing stones and raw materials,
to sorting them, cutting them, polishing, weighing, packing and exporting.
It was a civilisation that had evolved itself into a complex one,
and thus, in this complexity,
the cities were of primary importance,
where these activities were co-ordinated.
Mesopotamians were the chief trading partners,
and if trade happened with the Egyptians,
it was via Mesopotamia.
During what is called the Late Phase of Indus Valley Civilisation,
and this was around 1900 BCE,
there were internal disturbances in Mesopotamia.
This led to reduction in trade between Meluha (as this land was known) and what we now call Mesopotamia,
This was a blow to a trading civilisation.
But these were no ordinary people,
they were far ahead of their times,
but even nature was against them.
There were a series of drought years, with little rainfall.
Climate was changing,
and mighty rivers ran dry.
Thus, the agricuiltural produce also lessened.
Agriculture was a rural activity, while trading happened through cities.
So, when trade declined, people moved back in smaller settlements,
which are now seen as Late Harappan Settlements,
these settlements, though small sized, fairly outnumber the large cities.
This migration led to the apparent decline of Indus Valley Civilisation.

A fair explanation.
The curious guy in me asked about what those people ate, how they lived,
whether they shaved or kept beard, and things like that.
And, Dr Bisht answered them all.
He is an impromptu poet, and we relished his couplets in Urdu,
accompanied with their explanation in the language that we understood.
What an evening it was,
as it slowly receded into the night.
And bidding him a goodbye,
I continued the conversation with Dr Menon,
telling him that I would leave the next day,
and receiving a book written by him.
Thus, passed another day,
but this particular day was among the most eventful ones during the journey.
Kutch was indeed turning to be a surprise package,
and my love for this land deepened with every passing day.


The plan was to get up at 5 and catch the 6 am bus to Rapar.
Dholavira lies in Bhachau taluka of Kutch,
Bhachau lies 141 kilometres from here,
and I wonder if there is any other similar example where such distances exist to the nearest seat of administration.
The district headquarters is at Bhuj,
230 kms away.
Rapar is the nearest town,
at a distance of 90 kilometres,
and instead of cycling back on the same route,
I decided to take the early morning bus to Rapar.
But, neither did my alarm ring,
nor did my body wake up automatically.
And, I woke up around 7 am on that December morning,
to find Dr Menon smiling.
The previous day, I had told him that we would not be meeting each other,
as I would have left by the time he woke up.
Happy I was,
to see him and Dr Bisht again.
The bus journey back to Rapar was not un-eventful.
But yes, distance did pass quickly,
and even this slow bus,
that returned back to pick-up a missed passenger in Dholavira,
that stopped wherever and whenever we encountered someone by the road,
and that took three tea-breaks and 4 hours in a 90 km journey;
appeared quiet quick to my 'cycle habituated' mind.
At 1 pm, I unloaded by ride from the roof of the bus,
and was standing in the middle of a small town.
There was no destination that I could think of for today,
but I knew that I had to proceed towards Bhuj- 150 kilometres away.

From 1 pm to 6 pm, I had 5 hours of daylight remaining,
and my lunch was still due.
This day, in retrospect,
would turn out to be a difficult one.

After a quick lunch,
and a repair of my cycle by an obliging mechanic in Rapar,
I decided to proceed towards Bhuj via Ramvav.
The state highway went via Bhachau,
but I decided to go via a road less travelled,
and shorter.
Thus, I did not get entangled in the traffic of a highway,
and continued my journey in remoteness.
But in remoteness,
distances appear longer,
and I had just half a day remaining.

Ramvav was around 20 kilometres,
and that distance was covered easily.
I talked to a tea-stall owner,
trying to convince him to educate his younger child further;
rested besides a beautiful farm,
but ultimately, continued cycling.
Kharoi was the next big village,
and from here, I realised that I could take a short-cut to Bhuj,
but through unpaved roads.
I took that chance,
but got lost somewhere in the middle.
I tried to ask for directions,
but the people who I could find around were migrants,
having little idea of the place.
I continued, and realised that this was not the right way.
There was nobody who I could ask,
and I encountered the biggest enemy that I faced as a cyclist in my journey-
Prosopis juliflora- commonly called as Kikar, gaando baaval, baawar, angrezi babool or vilayati babool.
All the punctures in my cycle tyres can be directly attributed to this enemy.
Both the tyres were punctured by now,
and in the darkness,
in the middle of no-where,
I was dragging my cycle,
knowing that where I was going was not the correct way.

I met Govindbhai, while he was returning with his buffaloes and children after a day's work.
I told him the story, and he took me to his home.
His brother-in-Law came,
and repaired the punctures,
which took more than an hour of continuous work.
We inflated the tube thrice to find that always,
there was a puncture left to be repaired.
Finally, we abandoned the work, for the next morning.
It was an untold truth that I could go no-where else,
and Govindbhai was to be my host.
He was worried that his place was not appropriate for me,
and I assured him, that I was indeed happy to be with him and his family.
Thus, once settled, be began our conversation around the bonfire that kept us warm in that December night.
Govindbhai came from the Koli community,
and cultivated a piece of land that he got in inheritance.
Two buffaloes supplemented his income,
and half of his produce went to the Patel,
who provided him with water for irrigation.
The Patel had monopoly over water,
as getting permits for new bore-wells was impossible for a person without resources.
The prices of land in this area have gone up substantially over the past few years,
and NRIs, who never visited their ancestral villages,
were now looking at their ancestral lands with regained interests,
at times to find that people have sold those lands by fraudulent papers.
Kutch, being a princely state, did not have proper land records,
and there are ample cases of illegal possession by forged papers.

Anyways, I am narrating this because Govindbhai also had issues with his land,
and explained them to me for a suggestion.
Our talk continued till late,
and after a hearty dinner,
with rotlas of Bajra, tomato curry and lots of milk and curd,
I retired in his hut,
with his son giving me company.
The day was a hard one,
but had I not encountered the hard part,
there was no chance of me landing into this remoteness,
close to the heart of the real India.

My day began at sun-rise,
and we went to visit Govindbhai's father,
he was a religious man,
and the only room in his house was turned into a 'worship place'.
Breakfast followed,
and with Govindbhai's brother-in-law,
I began my journey back towards a metalled road.
We passed through a kutccha road with gaanda baawar on both sides,
and though I was very careful,
both the tyres got punctured again.
Repairing punctures is something which I have now become expert at,
and this expertise was gained mainly while repairing consecutive punctures on this kutccha path.
I still remember looking at the thorny twig of angrezi babool stuck in my front tyre,
I knew removing the twig would lead to opening a new puncture,
but having no option,
I pulled it out,
to an unpleasant sound, 'phusshhh...'
All I wanted to see now was a paved road,
and after a three kilometre walk,
we reached a village named 'Nehar', from where I could resume cycling.
Bhuj was still 80 kilometres from here,
and the road that led to the highway was desolate.
Again, this was a road seldom taken,
and I continued in the barren territory.
Flocks of sheep owned by Rabaris, but fed by nature, passed me,
and so did herds of neelgai fed by man, but owned by nature.
I stopped at a primary school,
to find it well equipped with a computer lab,
but not a soul, including the teacher, knew how to operate these electronic boxes.
This road joined the highway at a village named Budharmora.
And now, this highway- State Highway-42 would lead me to Bhuj.
Enroute, I stopped at a large village,
the purpose being to meet a doctor at the Primary Health Centre.
Till now, I had visited 4 Primary Health Centres after entering Gujarat,
and found doctors at non eof them.
This was to be no exception.
Regarding the health needs of the local population,
a BAMS doctor stayed here.
I went to his residense,
and told the lady of the house that I too was a doctor,
and wanted to meet the local doctor.
She offered me tea, and called for the compounder who treated patients when the doctor was away.
I was told by the compounder that the doctor was in Bhuj,
and he (the compounder) started his daily OPD.
A lady came with two children,
the younger of them had cough.
The compounder prescribed some medication,
and then, focussed his attention to the elder child,
who was apparently alright.
The elder child was also given some medicine.

The lady went to the drug-store,
and the pharmacist (by profession, not by degree), who was till now sitting by the compounder,
went to open his shop, and dispensed the medicines to the lady.
thus, the elder child was also given medicines which were not needed,
by a person who was not entitled to prescribe them.
Moving on, I saw a cart loaded with local block-printed dress material being taken to a shop,
and expressed my desire to be taken to the shop, which was readily fulfilled.
The shop was a decent one, looking at the size of the village,
and fabric from here was sent across India.
I bought a ladies' suit,
and this was among the few items that I had purchased in this journey.
Bhuj was still 45 kilometres away,
and this highway was not conducive to cycling,
actually none of the highways are.
The road was under construction,
and the traffic load was substantial.
Somehow, I managed to continue,
frequently leaving the road to avoid being knocked down by an approaching truck.
Enroute, there were villages reconstructed after the Kutch earthquake of 2001.
the state government or NGO that helped in reconstruction of a particular village was credited by making a doorway in its name,
at the village entrance.
And I felt happy to see that there were many by the Rajasthan government,
and others by Mata Amritanandamayi trust, etc.
The sun was not going to wait for me to reach my destination,
and I saw it leaving me in darkness.
The remaining 30 kilometres were difficult,
on this highway.
My stay was arranged at the SP's Bungalow, who I knew through a friend.
Thus, all I had to do was to continue cycling, and reach Bhuj.
The road got busier as it joined the national Highway that connected Bhuj to Gandhidham,
but by now, when the distance was reduced to single digit kilometres,
I pedalled harder, and reached the outskirts of Bhuj.
I had to cross a hill before entering the city,
and from the top of the hill,
the whole city was seen, in its evening glory.
My attire and appearance was inappropriate for meeting a senior official,
and a quick shave at the barber's shop was the only palliative measure that I could adopt then.
Around 8 pm, I reached the SP office, to meet another interesting and affectionate person of this journey-
Dr Bipin Ahire, Superintendent of Police, Kutch (West).
India By Cycle
Date Posted: Dec 11th, 2012 at 00:31 - Comments (1)
Cycle Yatra ...
Before climbing a mighty mountain,
When one looks it from the foot,
The 'lesser mortal' wonders,
Can I? Should I? Would I?
And then, the first steps are taken,
Full of insecurity, self- doubt and may I confess- Fear?
'HE' smiles assuringly, and he smiles back,
This is how the journey begins ...

'When you start travelling across India, you realise how Big your country is,' said a learned man,
I added, 'on a cycle, this realisation comes sooner, even before you start.'
It was 18th November, 2012, no special day according to the calendar.
The alarm rang, as it was supposed to, at 5 am.
I woke up, as I was supposed to,
But this was when I could decide whether to stay or leave.
Hesitantly, I left.
No flag offs, no Historical monument to begin from,
This journey started from a friend’s home,
And I pedalled on day 1, matching my pace with the music from the headphones,
Towards my destination for the day- Pilani- 160 kilometres away.
Delhi is a big city,
and it was noon by the time I left this city,
and entered Haryana- through the town of Bahadurgarh.
this was going slow,
I was already tired,
and the journey had just begun.
I got lost on a highway that led to a signboard saying-
‘Sorry for the inconvenience, work stopped due to litigation.’
I was not taking any pictures,
I was not stopping to meet anyone,
I did not visit any of the schools or colleges that came my way,
The priority today was to reach Pilani.
By the time I reached Jhajjar, it was 3 pm.
I had come 70 kilometres. I was to cover 80 more kilometres which was not possible today.
‘Isn’t it too ambitious to reach Pilani on the first day?’ A friend had told me.
‘I’ve cycled 80 kilometres in hilly terrain, so it won’t be difficult,’ I had replied.
But cycling alone, is a different story altogether.
And once you have fixed your destination,
You count every kilometre, and kilometres pass slowly while you are cycling.
I went to the bus stand,
And looked for a bus for Pilani.
On my very first day, I was taking a short cut.
The bus went till Charkhi Dadri- about 40 kilometres enroute.
And on the roof of the bus, both of us- me and my ride were resting after a day’s work.
The roof was soon full, and I was upfront with Haryanvi hospitality- hostility.
As the 40 kilometres passed,
I was with a regained vigour that it was not impossible to cover the remaining journey today,
And I pedalled towards Pilani.
Where did I have food- I can’t recall.
Did I have food?
As it was 5 pm, a car stopped ahead of me,
And I was asked ‘hello ji. kya Plan hai?’
This was the first person to ask me what I was upto.
And I conveyed this to him- Mr Ashok, a College Lecturer.
A short way ahead, was his village,
And warm milk awaited me as I reached there.
He was ‘on the same wavelength’,
And provided the much needed ‘boost’ to me.
As I moved ahead, I saw road-sign,
Showing that a temple that I had ‘much heard of’,
Was nearby.
When would I come to this place again? I thought,
And turned the cycle in the direction shown,
Reaching there, I was told that the annual ‘fair’ of the temple was on the next day,
And I met the trustees, who I happened to know from my stay in Maharashtra,
And thus on the first day, I was treated well.
My stay was taken care of, my hunger was taken care of, and I slept a sound sleep.
He smiled assuringly, and I smiled back.

Day 2 Getting up early is a routine now, and though there is a festival today at the temple, I would be leaving soon. The destination today is Pilani, and I aim to reach there by lunch time. It is around 60 kilometres, and I start at 8 am, pedalling faster than the previous day. Yes, today another 'uncle' stops me to ask what I am doing, and I am offered a glass of 'lassi'. The pedalling continues, and without much 'happenings', I reach Pilani, where my friend awaits me. I would not be cycling the whole dya today, like the first day, and thus, get some rest. The evening is spent exploring Pilani- the educational town. I am staying in the BITS Campus, and an evening stroll around the campus is rewarding, specially the visit to a Saraswati Temple in the campus. The values which were in the mind of the founding fathers of this institution are still existing, and thus, this is among the few campuses in India where the students become not just engineers but all rounders.

Day 3- A reporter is informed avout my presence in town, and comes early morning for an interview. When he realises that there is no defined 'purpose' of this journey, he gets clueless, thinking, what he would be writing. I tell him, 'I do not wish to appear in the paper. This is a personal journey.' And after a brief meeting, I leave for my destination- Jhunjhunu- my home town. The road today is a village road, and I pass through the daily morning routine of villages- children going to schools, looking at me, farmers moving towards fields, the school bell ringing. Cycling on village roads is a nice experience, its just that there aren't many village roads that can substitute the Highway routes, for a particular destination, and later in my journey, I took many detours looking for village roads, but ended up no-where, or on the sandy tracks created by passing camel carts, where I dragged my cycle, wishing that the road was nearby.
Reaching Jhunjhunu- my hometown on a cycle, was different, yet the same. I stopped at an Ex- IAS officer's home, to give him the good news of my beginning the journey, and he was visibly happy.
Known people stopped me, and guessed that I had cycled all the way, and were thinking- this guy is ruining himself. At home, food awaited me, and at last, I was happy to be here. Normally, this kind of journey starts from home, and proceeds to a destination. I was lucky to have home on my way, so that I could rest for a few days, and that too at the start of my journey. This did give a moral support.

Days Passed, and a friend joined me now. SO, after a few days, both of us now started from Jhunjhunu, heading towards Salasar- a famous temple dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman.

Why we chose Salasar is an interesting story. WHen I left from Delhi, people on the way asked if I was going to Salasar, as many people undertake such cycle journeys, to religious places. When I did not want to explain, I said 'yes' and thus, I has said 'yes' to many such people on the way. Now, if I did not go to salasar, that would have been not keeping my word, and thus, the destination was chosen as Salasar. What after that- none of us knew.


Yatra Day 4: the journey has to begin again,
and one has to leave home for the same.
Thus, on another winter morning,
the journey began again.
The difference now was that we were two of us,
and that gave a morale boost, for sure.
This was my home district,
and I had acquaintances in many villages on the way,
so even before we reached the tenth milestone,
I took a right turn into a village,
and told Om, my mate, companion, friend- to come along.
We went to a relative's house,
an elder in the family, who was happy to see us.
it was still early morning,
and after a glass full of milk, and some conversation,
we went ahead.
Then, there came a diversion for a famous temple 7 kilometres inroad.
A beautiful village road it was, I still recall.
And thus, 15 kms were added to our journey.
The 'tilak' that I applied to my cycle here, is still present after about a month of travelling,
and I know we have been blessed.
Cycling on country roads is a pleasure,
and on highways, a hazard.
I have always been looking for country roads throughout the 'yatra',
and have been fairly lucky.
Our lunch was fixed beforehand,
at my mother's friend living enroute.
And what a lunch it was!
A beautiful home in the countryside,
and two of us were fed with love that is reserved for one's own children,
so this is how our experience was going on,
in the home- district.
'What would happen elsewhere?' Did this thought cross my mind?
I don't think so; was probably living in the moment.
Soon after, we reached Mandawa,
the town, once obscure, is now a well known destination in the foreign tourist's itinerary.
We were not tourists of course,
we were travellers,
but more about this later.
so, after entering Mandawa,
we looked out for the 'famous' havelis or palatial buildings,
and were guided to 'mandawa Haveli'
We entered the premesis,
a beautiful, well maintained 'heritage' haveli, now a 'hotel'.
We were expected to pay cover charges, but that was not something we could accept,
and our cycles were the 'ticket' to enter any such premises.
The manager welcomed us in,
and a guide accompanied us around.
Beautifully maintained, neat, affordable and elegant- this is how I would define Mandawa Haveli to anyone who would be interested to stay there.
The next stop was a 'manihari' or bangle maker's shop,
she was making Lac bangles,
and two of us sat there,
lazily, looking at her, ordering a fresh pair of small bangles to be made.
I tried to learn the craft, but one has to try it by oneself,
and the old lady might have felt 'competitive' had I asked her to let me try my hand,
so I just quietly watched.
A pair was made, and bought.
The next stop was Mandawa Castle.
The previous 'monument' was a haveli,
but this one was a 'Castle'.
Thus the cover charges here were Rs 250, as compared to Rs 70 before,
but what remained static was our 'cycle yatra' status,
and thus,
another guide here showed us around the beautiful palace.
Again, well maintained, palatial, with all modern amenities, but heavier on pocket-
this was Mandawa Castle.
One may splurge here if one Can.
The guide who showed us around was an elderly local,
and the castle gave employment to many,
now, Mandawa, and other towns of Shekhawati- the region where this town is located in, are well known tourist destinations,
and I had never been to these places which were in my backyard all these years,
this happens, I guess.
We bid a goodbye to Mandawa soon,
and were looking for a shorter route towards Salasar,
the route existed, but nobody knew of it,
and thus, we used the highway,
a local guy told us after we had covered a fair distance,
that the route existed,
and we had missed it,
and showed us another way to join it;
another village road,
which ended into a dirt track,
and dirt track in Rajasthan turn into sandy tracks,
where we were dragging our cycles,
hoping that the road be visible soon;
what a contradiction-
when on the highway, one resents it,
when away from it, one misses it,
but through my journey I've realised,
one should stick to metalled roads,
not the highways,
but at least those that have 'tar' on them.
We finally reach a proper road,
and ride over it, along the setting sun.
It was Moharram that day,
and we cross a few processions with rhythmic drum beaters and chest thumpers,
acrobats and fire handlers,
and one funny incidence that happens involves us crossing a circle with a live fire performer, to the amusement of kids who make way for us,
finally out of the crowd, we reach a village,
and look for a Primary Health Centre,
basically, to find a doctor who can accomodate us.
Doctors are a rare species in village Health Centres,
and we were told that we would not see one here as well,
but the purpose of the 'vivit' to PHC was solved,
as there was a place where travellers like us could spend a night,
as far as food was concerned,
a person managing a sweet shop got food prepared for two of us on our request,
and declined to accept the payment for the same.
This is India.
Thus, passed another day.
Thus, passed another night.

Day- count forgotten- Om was new to cycling,
or to resume cycling, I must say,
as cycles have been the childhood buddies of most of us, Om very much included,
so, he was tired but naturally,
butt naturally,
But we never remained less ambitious.
Thats the advantage when you are two- you dream bigger,
Lakshmangarh- the next major town enroute was about 13 kms,
and with some effort, from our tired muscles,
we reached there before noon.
Since the town's name has a 'garh' at the end of it,
it was expected to have a fort,
and it did have one.
This one is a private fort,
sold to a merchant by the original owners;
it has thick walls,
and provides a bird's eye view of the whole town.
One may visit the fort, no harm.
The inside courtyard gives some beautiful photographs.
There is a temple inside, of Lord Hanuman,
the priest is not a teetotaler.

We bought some fruits (which have incidentally become expensive these days),
and moved to meet the Lord,
one crosses the national highway, and moves on the district road leading to Salasar,
this road is well maintained, and I was impressed,
but the Toll Plaza at some distance took away all the good impression that I gathered.
This too, was a toll road,
and thankfully, cycles aren't expected to pay,
we stopped at a farm enroute, as Om saw trees laden with Amla- the Indian gooseberry,
this was a farm of the priests of the temple,
and it was a large one,
with horticulture, agriculture, and dairy - all going on there.
The Amla looked beautiful,
and a kilo of them were packed for us.
soon, we entered Salasar, a bit tired.
This is the most revered hanuman temple in the country, as per my knowledge,
and the town is like any other temple town,
after spending about an hour or more there, we proceeded ahead.
Where next was one question, as the next destination was not known.
there are two main routes to reach Salasar-
one that we took to enter, and the other of our exit,
as cycling again on the same route is no fun.
so, we moved towards Sujangarh,
very sure of not reaching Sujangarh the same day.
The question of where we would be spending the night became eminent with every passing minute,
and we could not find a functioning Primary Health Centre in the area.
I asked Om to look for a place,
and he took me the the house of Sarpanch of Lodsar- a village.
This way to the sarpanch's place was not a direct one,
by which I mean that we first tried to talk to the villagers about any prospective place to stay,
and all that they could suggest of was goat sheds and places like that.
So, we were a bit depressed,
and without much hope,
we went to the sarpanch's house.
He was away, but his mother welcomed us,
and offered us the best room in the house,
later were we told that her daughter in law is the sarpanch,
and the elder son is the real sarpanch,
the Panchayat has been performing well as the best Panchayat not only in the state but on National Level as well,
and all this was true.
The children of the family gelled up well with us,
and had to be taken away by their parents at bed time,
so, thus passed another day,
and this night was more comfortable than the previous one.

Day- who knows?

Now, this travelling had also become a routine,
though a recent one.
getting up early, having a breakfast, whenever available,
cycling all day, visiting places, and then finding a shelter- this was the routine,
but today was going to be different day.
As Om later commented- we must have seen the wrong face as we got up this day.
The sarpanch's husband, who was the de-facto sarpanch,
met us early morning,
and did not seem particularly happy on our arrival,
he checked our credentials, and satisfied himself.
we left after breakfast, of milk- fresh cow milk specifically, and biscuits,
and then set out for Tal- Chhapar, a Black buck sanctuary.
The town of Sujamgarh has nothing much to see,
and we confirmed this by searching the town for something worth taking some photos of.
There was just one Tirupati temple, made in the south Indian style,
which can be visited,
but it does lack the real feel of a temple, but thats a personal viewpoint.
As we were moving towards Tal Chhapar,
I was accelerating my cycle to beyond its capacity,
and suddenly,
the cycle stopped with a snapping sound.
It did not move a single metre,
and the tyre was badly deformed, with a few spokes broken.
Om stopped behind me, and we tried to find someone who could take both of us- me and the cycle to Chhapar- the nearest town.
A bike rider stopped and gave me a lift,
and we were in Chhapar shortly.

the story ahead
Date Posted: Nov 16th, 2012 at 19:35 - Comments (0)
In Lahore, I'm in Pakistan.
The eyes looked out inquisitively,
as we realised that we've entered Lahore.
Yes, there were friends waiting for us,
Yes, we were assured of a warm welcome.
Yes, our expectations came true.
The bus dropped us at Liberty Market,
And at the gate were our friends -Talha and Kamran.
Hugs followed, the real ones.
And we were told that we should get into the next bus to Islamabad- our final destination - not the Hollywood one.
Anyways, I was made of different stuff,
and the good thing was that Talha had the same thoughts.
I am staying for the night-Yours truly declared.
The aim was to get return tickets booked.
And to breathe in a bit of Lahore.
And so,we dropped our friends to the Daewoo bus terminal,
For their onward journey to Rawalpindi -Islamabad,the twins.
And here I was, on a motorbike, roaming in Lahore.
'how do you feel' Talha asked.
'just like being in Delhi.' came my genuine reply.
Similar roads, being with a friend, same language, and riding casually- that was my first encounter with this city,
and the country in which it exists.
'kehte hain dooja mulk jise, us Pakistan me pahuncha.'

Daewoo buses are the mode of travel,
for the 'with money' class in Pakistan.
These buses have a bus hostess,
and run at above 100 kmph speeds.
An effort to replicate the flight experience,
The Daewoo is popular privately owned mode of transport.
saying that Public transport is non-existent,
would not be a lie.
And yes,
There is a huge class divide that I could sense,
There; not that the same does not exist here.
Coming back to The roads of Lahore,
Where I was roaming on the bike.
Talha took me to his 'bachelor's pad'
He stays with 3 other guys,
My age, similar backgrounds .
Their alma mater was Lahore University of Management Sciences,
A famous name in Pakistan.
The good thing was that the university ran an outreach program,
And gave scholarships of 35lac Pakistani rupees,
to each meritorious student who could otherwise not afford this 'elite' education.'
Felt good.
I did not feel 'not belonging' to the group even once.
Same issues- jobs, movies, and of course- girls.
Soon came the most memorable part of the day-
Dinner in Lahore.
'what do you like to eat? You have non-veg ?' I was asked.
'anything that is a speciality here. And I have non-veg once an year, on particularly special occasions . And yes, this looks like a special occasion.' I replied.
The food of Lahore in particular and Pakistan in general, is a good reason to visit Pakistan.
'aadha Lahore khana banata hai aur aadha khata hai.' said Talha.
So we were to this particularly well known restaurant, with great interiors,
And keeping me in mind,
Vegetarian and chicken handi - both were ordered.

Hesitant I was,
While serving chicken on my plate,
As our relationship had ended some time back;
But that first bite still lingers on,
And so began my love with Pakistani food,
Particularly chicken- my staple diet for the next few days.
The vegetarian stuff was good too,
And the various 'naan s' that accompanied it-
Roghani and other names that I can't recall,
Tasted great.
For my friends who were vegetarian -
This was not a good experience.
Why? You might wonder.
Because they no more remained 'chaste'
The innocuous looking bread-spread, the sauce and other regular stuff-
All were not kosher for vegetarians,
And the realisation dawned on them after they had 'tasted blood.'
Dinner in Lahore was something I was lucky to relish,
But the story has to move on,
And began our night ride again.
Three of us,
On the bike,
Spotted a red car,
With a ferrari logo.
'Its a ferrari,' I declared.
'can't be' came a reply.
But a second look was enough for my friend to exclaim-
'saala Sach me ferrari hai'
And three of us, On a 70 cc bike,
Began the ferrari chase.
Signals in Lahore helped us,
And we managed to get a closer look.
The leftist in me was not happy,
but the chase was fun.
Reaching home felt good,
Conversions followed, and I realised that these guys watched more Hindi movies than me,
And that Indian soap operas were equally devastating in Pakistani homes as in Indian ones.

'You snore hard'- I was told the next morning.
I smiled back, realising that this secret of mine is now international.
Anyways, today was the day meant for exploring Lahore.
And no better start to it than a hearty breakfast of halva puri, nihari and aalu ki sabji.

Tickets to Delhi- my 'raison d'etre' of being in Lahore, couldn't be booked.
Important info- on can not get a return bus ticket if one doesn't attach a copy of police registration report.
This registration for me was to happen in Islamabad,
Now, my friend Talha and me went on a ride across the city.
A beautiful city I must say.
And what better time to see it than a November morning.
I was shown the mall road, with its British and French buildings and famous colleges.
We moved towards old city,
And I saw the fort, the Badshahi Mosque, the Gurudwara and the Minar-e-Pakistan.
All these were seen from outside.
Nowhere could I gather the courage to stop and go inside,
As within 24 hours of my entering Pakistan,
I was supposed to report at the police station in Islamabad ;
But later I realised that these rules are flexible,
And as a result, we were registered after 2 days.
Anyways, one gets cautious if on a visit to an 'enemy nation';
this is how our governments see each other.
Personally- did I ever feel like visiting an enemy nation?
Never.
In fact, I never felt like visiting a different country,
In spite of the custom checks and registration formalities.
This was possible only because of the warmth that welcomed me,
And anyone who returns from Pakistan would tell you this story.
I find a simili to this-
Imagining us as cousins whose parents- siblings themselves, never stop fighting.
The cousins realise how similar they and their parents are, and wonder what still keeps them away.
Their roots are the same,
But what happened now?
The way ahead now is trying not to get into the past,
but work together for a better future.
This is what this conference aimed at-
To bring the youth together for a dialogue,
But before that,
I should return to Lahore,
Where I am standing outside the Minar-e-Pakistan.
The monument celebrates the Lahore declaration,
Which was the foundation of a separate Pakistan.
Hmmm.
Now since Pakistan is a reality,
And this reality is well accepted and established,
Working together, and coming closer as separate entities would be the right thing.
On my way back, I saw a building with Hindu architecture;
It is called 'Islamia College,'
And later I was told,
This was DAV College,
Where Bhagat Singhji studied.
Hmmm.
Now it was time for me to take a Daewoo bus to Rawalpindi.
And began a new journey to a different city.

Bismilla ur Rehmaan ur Raheem - this is the Daewoo bus to Rawalpindi .
Welcomed our bus- hostess.
Lahore -Islamabad motorway is an alternative route to the GT Road.
And this route passes through the salt ranges,
And otherwise empty territory.
400 kilometres in 4 hours- impressive.
Landing in Rawalpindi happened soon. )
And a shuttle took me to Islamabad.
I was wondering what to see in Rawalpindi.
'Islamabad is worth a visit, there's nothing in Rawalpindi.' a friend told me.
'Lahore has a soul, Islamabad lacks one.'- I gave my opinion. 'I think Rawalpindi would have that soul.'
But I never got the chance to explore the city.
A shuttle took me to the planned city
the new capital of Pakistan.
Islamabad comprises of roads, wide and straight.
Sectors- alphabetically named.
Markets -expensive.
This city was for the elite.
Entry and exit into this city could be controlled,
And this control was frequently exercised.
'Kaisa tha aapka safar ?'. I was asked as the organisers received me.
my smile gave the reply.
And I was now to face the questioning eyes of my friends-
As they were eager to know what I did in Lahore,
While they remained confined to their hotel rooms.
I assured them that their next day in Islamabad would be exciting,
And there was a lot of interaction that went on,
Among the Indian delegation and also with friends from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal.
Another day ended,
And a different set of people were to witness my snoring tonight.

The plan today was to sneak out
and explore the city of islamabad.
the city which was the venue of our conference,
And where the organisers were afraid of us getting lost,
Or getting in trouble.
I had to leave after two days,
Because of an interview in Delhi,
And thus I was the one interested to absorb assuch of Islamabad as I could, in this short span.
4 of us, randomly got together,
And hired a taxi for monument.
Yes, our destination for the day was officially named 'monument'
A short trek from 'zero point' took us to the gates of 'Pakistan monument'
All sorts of doubts surrounded us-
Should we take tickets for foreigners?

we were foreigners in this land, officially.
but revealing our identity at thwarting national monument dis not make sense,
and before anyone would realise,
I had 4 tickets and we were in.
museums- the ones that depict history -
bring us face to face with the past.
the history of Pakistan and India is a shared one
I was eager to know what was officially shown to the people here.
this museum had no 'real' collections;
and by this I mean that there was no pottery from the Indus Valley civilisation,
no statues of Buddha depicting the gandhara school of art,
nothing from the medieval period.
there were just clay models and written depiction.
the history proper began with Allahabad statement by Allama Iqbal and the Lahore declaration by Muslim league.
the museum also depicted how Islam brought a new wave of scientific advancement to the declining Indian society.
regarding the freedom struggle,
none of the satyagraha finds any mention.
Gandhi is depicted in confrontation with Jinnah;
no Nehru, not even Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan finds place here.
there was a section on the atrocious behavior of Hindus towards Muslims and the Two Nation Theory.
I discussed this with a Pakistani friend, who was well read and aware.
he replied - 'saari baat batai to log kahenge - kyun banaya Pakistan?'
this is the question of the existence of a nation state,
a nation and nationality that was artificially created.
and yes, this question does arise even today in the minds of a Pakistani- are we a 'kaum'- the approximate Urdu word for a Nationality.

after looking at their 'narrative', at their 'museum'
we moved to the nearby monument which looked like a lotus.
six petals coming together symbolized the six states being a part of one Pakistan.
on our side, the same lotus would have 28 petals,
an interesting challenge it would be to the architect to build such a monument.
the city of Islamabad could he seen from this view point more clearly,
specially the Faisal mosque- which is a symbol of this city.
on our return, we discovered that our remaining delegation was visiting Faisal mosque, and we managed to find them in the huge crowd that was visiting this newly built, huge, white mosque.
this was all the sight seeing I could.do.in this city.
many beautiful things happened.
an over-enthusiastic taxi driver. who took us around the city.
the 'Indian discount' that we got at every market we went,
and gol gappa is tastier there, than here.
one particular incidence is worth mentioning.
we went to the high- commission to get our 'bus' visa to be converted into 'on foot' visa.
the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad is a fortress.
and getting in was initially difficult.
but when the police knew we were Indians,
they let us in.
the Indian high commission was a white, decent, large building with the tri-colour atop it.
but the building wore a deserted look,
as the Indian Lok Sabha speaker was on a visit and everyone was busy in that function.
we had no option but to return.
a shopping session followed.
and as I was buying dry fruits,
a bihari accented voice was heard.
'aap Indian hain ?', I asked the man dressed in a suit.
he affirmed, and I guessed again- do you work in the high commission?
he was a senior official in the high commission and an IFS officer was accompanying him.
he was visibly happy to see us and told us that Pakistani people loved and his actual statement was - 'we command a lot of respect here.'
our meeting was a co-incidence,
co-incidences and travellers encounter each other frequently,
so much that after sometime, these encounters are taken for granted.
coming to the conference proper,
which was our 'raison d'etre' of being in Islamabad.


The crowd at Wagah.


A rare sight- the two Delhi Lahore buses together. And one can see, the Indian bus has flags from both the countries on it.



We were welcomed at the Wagah, courtesy being with Salman Chishti ji, the Gaddinashin of Ajmer Sharif.


The Liberty Fountain, Lahore.


Minar-e-Pakistan, the monument celebrating the creation of Pakistan.


The Gurudwara outside Lahore Fort.

Loose control.


Inside Lahore fort


Lahore Fort- Outside.

Minar-e-Pakistan.





The city of Lahore...


This image is of the time when we were returning.



Badshahi Mosque, by Aurangzeb.


The Salt Ranges, and the Lahore- Islamabad Motorway passing through them.


8X m- The most popular Music channel, which is an exact replica of 9 X M.


The Faisal Mosque, and we.


the brown bears enjoying a stroll in Islamabad Zoo.


Now, the images of Pakistan Monument and the museum:






the conference proper:






The city of Islamabad:



Image courtesy- my friend, Vikas Gujral, from Delhi. Thanks buddy.
Reaching Pakistan
Date Posted: Nov 10th, 2012 at 21:30 - Comments (2)
Why Pakistan

where did this journey start?
I guess at the gate of Pak High Commission.
Where I met Mr Bashir,
a polite young man who makes the visit to this High Commission a pleasant experience.
this man has no fixed place,
and keeps on moving from one window to another.
Luckily, during all my encounters to the High commission,
I encountered him, and no one else.
I have been to other Embassies as well,
but Pak High Commission was more welcoming,
and less formal.
So, I was told the process to apply-
One should attach the passport copy, an identity proof,
4 filled Visa forms and a letter from a reference in Pak,
and of course, the Visa fee- INR 15.
Yes, there are no Zeroes after 5.
The Visa was issued in two days,
and we got it because we were a part of a youth conference.
Tourists do not visit Pak,
and the only people who line up for Visa are the ones who have relatives across the border, and there are many such people.
Yes, people do go for a pilgrimage to Nankana, but still, the cross border (official) movement is less,
Now, the bus tickets were also available for Lahore,
and it costs INR 1500 to take a bus to the city,
which is now the capital of their Punjab.
We woke up the whole night on the eve of our journey,
and some other delegates of the conference had joined us.
At 4 am, we were at Ambedkar Bus terminal,
the place where the bus starts.
After a baggage check,
we were given boarding passes,
and at 6 am, sharp,
our bus left for its journey.
Later, I realized that we were being escorted,
by police all through our journey.
And yes, it felt different.
500 policemen are deployed only for the safe passage of this bus,
and the whole route is cleared beforehand,
as the bus wizzes past the GT road.
I was later told that the bus even ran empty on some days,
and by empty, I mean there were NO passengers.
On a normal day, one can book tickets just a day before,
so you must be getting an idea of the extent of people to people contact that is happening,
and the potential that exists for the same.
Anyways, breakfast in Haryana,
lunch in Punjab,
evening tea at Wagah,
and dinner in Lahore-
can be achieved easily during peace, than war.
Breakfast was tasty,
lunch in Punjab was in a PTDC Hotel, on Bhakhra Canal, in Sarhind,
and the taste of that Dal makhani is unforgettable-
What a treat it was!
a movie was screened,
and (it was pirated)
so, 'khaate peete, mauj manaate' ie 'eating drinking, merry making',
we reached Attari Customs check post.
Immigration forms were filled,
and our baggage screened.
The currency exchange took a lot of time and was confusing.
So, those who leave for Pakistan,
are advised to take Dollars,
and get a small amount converted to Pakistani Rupees at the State bank window at Attari Customs check post, on Indian side.
The rest of Pakistani currency can be obtained at Lahore,
in exchange of Dollars that you have obtained in India.
Do not carry much 'Indian Currency' in Pak,
as one can not bring back more than 7500 INR from Pakistan (as an Indian national).
The Pakistani nationals can not carry any Indian Currency, back to India.
Anyways, the currency and customs thing took some time,
and as it was over,
we had to bargain a lot with the porters there.
As we boarded the buses again,
before we realised,
the bus was moving through huge crowds waving at us,
and it took us just seconds,
and we crossed into Pakistan.
That was one moment.
I looked as the gates of Indian side moved farther and farther,
and felt a sense of belonging to those gates.
We were taken to the Pakistani Customs,
and among us, was a famous delegate,
who is the "gaddinashin" of Khwaja sahab Moinuddin Chishty,
he was given a VIP welcome in Pak,
and we tagged along.
Anyways,
things at the Pakistani side were quick and smooth,
and shortly,
around 5 pm,
we were taken to a Pakistan tourism hotel for tea and snacks.
By now, we had befriended many co-passengers,
and this tea was had together with them.
Our presence made the bus more lively (that's what others said),
and the journey was indeed memorable.
Now, we opened our eyes to see Pakistan,
and yes, those eyes were Judgmental.
The police jeeps that escorted us now were basic,
the mo-bikes of Policemen were 70 cc,
and their appearance more un-professional.
Shortly, as we moved along a canal,
we entered Lahore.
Lahore- on our first encounter,
appeared to me as a twin of Delhi.
and there were people to receive us at the terminal.
And this is how, we reached,
Sarzameen-e-Pakistan.
Some pictures to tell you the story till now.

All set to leave.


Taking a Pit stop, and the thing to notice here is that the flags of both the countries are displayed and given space. The Bus from Pakistan has only the Pak Flag.


The inside story.


VIB- Very Important Bus


Lunch in Punjab, tastes good.


Floating restaurant, Sirhind.


Lets get closer to each other, lets make this a better world.


The restaurant has a message board too, meaningful.


Customs, on the Indian Side.


The porters- make the journey a bit expensive.



The crowd on the Indian Side, for the Flag ceremony.


This was actually taken during the return journey from Lahore to Delhi, but is relevant here.
Pakistani side of Wagah border.


Pakistan-India- and the No man's Land.


The gates on Pakistani side.


Welcome to Pakistan. we are just tagging along.


This is the Hi tea, on the other side.


the sun bids us a goodbye, happy that it gave us company all the way.


Punjab Police- Pakistan. Feel the difference.




So, this is the story of reaching Lahore.
and from here, begins a new story,
which would follow soon.
Pakistan Diaries
Date Posted: Nov 4th, 2012 at 11:47 - Comments (0)
The Road less travelled, takes me to the forbidden land

Never did I think,
that,
The first Visa to be stamped on my passport would be from Pakistan,
that a bus would cross over swiftly, from my country to another one,
with me looking back at the borders that separate us.
But yes, He has his own ways to make things happen,
and here, by His grace,
I sit back to tell you a story,
less commonly told,
The Pakistan Diaries...


Teasers:


Discovering Kumaun
Date Posted: Jul 20th, 2012 at 23:20 - Comments (2)
Serendipitous Kumaun
My love with Uttarakhand,
and with the Himalayas started in Garhwal.
Kumaun was its lesser known side for me.
This time, when the roads to the Devbhoomi were to be packed,
the map of UK was asked for a suggestion,
and HE whispered, escape to Kumaun.
Ah, the tickets to Haldwani were available for the same day afternoon train,
and within 5 hours, I was in the train to Haldwani.
A friend boarded the bus from Delhi, to accompany me,
and by 11 pm, I was at my friend's house in Haldwani,
catching up over dinner.
As my friend from Delhi (Shashi) arrived,
we walked to the bus stand at 2 30 am,
not wanting to wait anymore.
Ah, I forgot to tell the destination,
it was to be Pindari,
but both of us were sure that we had less time for the trek,
and so, lets see, where we go- was the attitude.
co-incidence was that we got the bus going till Song- the road's end for Pindari.
The bus moved at its own pace,
as we caught our lost sleep.
At 5, we were still at Bhowali, 45 kms from Haldwani.
The slow pace was a boon, slowing us down further,
and we woke up at times to stop for breakfast,
to repair a punctured tyre,
or to look around the bus for a lost mobile,
thus, after passing through Almora and Binsar,
we reached the temple town of Bageshwar.
the bus was to stop here for an hour,
and we roamed around,
saw the temple of Baghnath (shiva) and confluence of Sarayu and Gomti,
stoked up ourselves with dry fruits, maggi, raincoats and other provisions,
on our return, the bus was still there,
and was to take time to get herself repaired.
We were given refund for the remaining journey,
and took another bus for Baradi,
and a jeep to Song.
the path was a dirt track now in monsoons,
a site of frequent landslides,
and we could not be sure of getting a jeep back when we returned,
thats why, no tourist came here during monsoons,
amidst a downpour, and with a new friend- Gokul,
we went up to Loharkhet, a village towards Pindari,
this guy had his guest house, where we stayed for the night,
dinner was in his home,
and we had a chat with his family,
it always feels to be good at home,
any home.
We were adviced not to go ahead to the glacier,
as the streams would be in their full capacity during monsoons,
and difficult to cross.
the next day, after breakfast,
we started our trek,
the leeches met us soon,
and any sensation now in the feet brought me into panic mode.
we got lost in the jungle when I took a shortcut,
and my friend bore with it patiently,
this was his first trek,
a dog was moving with us,
and I looked at him to guide us back to the right path.
suddenly, I heard a woman's voice, and moved in that direction,
and in a short while, we were guided back to the trek route,
with me resolving not to take shortcuts again.


So, back on the trek route,
we moved up, and up,
and HE was in a good mood,
so, there was little rain to slow us down,
the streams of white water were omnipresent,
and so were the leeches,
now we got used to them,
and the panic reduced.
the route was frequented by villagers,
their homes being at Dhankuri, Wacham, Khati and beyond.
a family was carrying an infant,
returning from the doctor at Baradi (down on the road)
we reached Dhankuri top by 12 noon,
and then, moved down to the clearing in the woods,
where the rest houses of PWD and KMVN exist.
After a cup of tea at the local tea stall,
we decided to stay there, instead of moving ahead,
and return the next morning.
Tired we were, and slept lazily,
I woke up Shashi and cajoled him to come out,
Lakhan, the shop owner's son took us around,
and four of us- me, Shashi, Lakhan and our dog- who was named- song went for a trek to Lakhan's village,
the landscape changed markedly after Dhankuri,
and this valley was beautifully surrounded by mountains,
at Lakhan's home, Song was chased by his dog,
and yours truly, being an expert with dogs,
pacified both of them,
now, we returned with two dogs,
and ours was enjoying being at a new pace,
at times disappearing to a puddle of water,
to appear suddenly when we almost loose hope of its returning.
So, thats how, the day passes in the hills,
for me, it would've remained incomplete without a cold water bath,
so, I take one, rejuvenating myself and finishing a ritual,
the sun sets beautifully,
and we retire after a hearty dinner.
An early morning breakfast starts our day,
and we target reaching Delhi within 24 hours,
a walk downhill takes less time,
and by 10 30 am, we are at Gokul's in Loharkhet,
Without stopping, we continue our trek to Song, and hope that we get a jeep waiting there,
and as I hear the jeep's horn,
I run down, asking Shashi to come slowly behind,
huffing and puffing, I find a jeep there.
Two of us get in,
and here we go, back to where we came from,
there was little time to say a goodbye,
but as the jeep moves along the Sarayu,
I look out of the window and absorb what I see around me,
changing jeeps, we reach Bageshwar,
and immediately take a shared taxi to Almora,
the Pine trees of Binsar stand tall,
but we have left behind the dense, diverse forests,
after packing some parathas at Almora,
we take a bus to Haldwani,
and I call my friend there,
that I'd be there for dinner,
we were saying goodbye to the Himalayas,
the last ones standing at Bhimtal,
and leaving them, we descended to the plains,
like the river that meandered out of the hills with us,
at the bus stand, we were approached by a driver who was driving back to Delhi after dropping clients at Nainital,
he was to charge Rs. 500/person,
and was incidentally going where I stay in Delhi,
so, after meeting my friend and his parents in Haldwani,
we allowed ourselves to be taken to Delhi,
the suspicion that we had soon vanished,
and talking about hills, rivers, ghosts and Gods,
we returned to Delhi.
It was 2 am, and we were back in my room.
The short sojourn to Kumaun ended soon,
I was to return again or sure,
and for the next few days,
I could deliberately slow down,
miss a metro instead of rushing,
go out in the rain,
pause.
as some time has passed,
my pace has quickened again,
lets see how I slow down now.
Till then,





The Baghnath temple at Bageshwar,


another Shiva temple near Baghnath


Loharkhet village


A temple on the way to Dhankuri top


the trek route passes through the woods


fungi growing on a tree trunk.


a mule grazing in a meadow.


white waters, the taste of which I now miss a lot.


SONG- our dog loves water. here, he pauses for a drink.


Tail wagging, grazing horse.


this is how the landscape changes after Dhankuri.


the Himalayas on the way out o Dhankuri


Lakhan, his friend and SONG- our dog, seen as silhouettes.


our home for the night, at Dhankuri.


the Sunset.


lakhan's brother and sister.


the snow at a distance.


Dhankuri top.

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and I return.


with time, I got used to the leeches, so much that I could let this one continue sucking, while I captured her image.


cannabis is a popular crop here. so...


the Sarayu turns into a significant stream at Bageshwar.


The pine trees at Binsar.


cows eat the grass that grows after the fire in Pine forests.


Binsar


it blocked our way, basking in the sun.


Standing Tall


A fully grown Cobra lily.


lakhan at his shop.


the Sarayu near Song.


SONG having his own fun.


he was a constant companion, except for the few times when he went on his own.


I don't know what this plant is called. can someone tell?
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