|A day at Surajkund International Crafts Fair |
|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.
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:
|Kutch by Cycle |
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.
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
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,
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:
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,
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'.
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 |
|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’,
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,
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,
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,
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 |
|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.
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.'
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,
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside Lahore fort
Lahore Fort- Outside.
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 |
|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.
things at the Pakistani side were quick and smooth,
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,
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 |
|The Road less travelled, takes me to the forbidden land |
Never did I think,
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...
|Discovering Kumaun |
|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,
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,
as some time has passed,
my pace has quickened again,
lets see how I slow down now.
The Baghnath temple at Bageshwar,
another Shiva temple near Baghnath
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.
lakhan's brother and sister.
the snow at a distance.
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.
it blocked our way, basking in the sun.
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?
|Ladakh in Winters |
|Sitting in my room, |
I look for places to roam.
The occasion was to be Losar,
This was actually on a different date,
Than what I saw on the net.
From wandering around Tabo, Kaza, and Chakrata,
In my mind, which knows no bounds,
Comes a stray thought of being in Ladakh- The mini Tibet they call it,
And it quickly vanished, as soon as it came.
As leaving the ground was not my idea of travel,
And the roads to this land were under snow.
Days passed, and my body reached home,
But I was still in the valley of Spiti,
Longing to be there with my physical form.
A casual search on the net, by HIS grace,
Told me that Losar had passed,
And so all this exercise was in vain.
But a similar search on the same day,
Told me that the town of Leh was celebrating its annual festival 5 days hence,
What followed was a discovery that it was not all that beyond limits to leave the ground,
And I decided to fly, though on man-made wings,
But before, I messaged my friend staying in the land where I was headed,
To know if I could be there?
‘HE’ was smiling, moving me by his wish,
And arranged that my friend saw the message in time,
To reply that I was most welcome in his homeland;
What could be better?
I gathered courage, booked my pass to fly,
And also the wheels which would take me to the capital from my home next morning, early before the sun rise.
Who could sleep when such a plan was to be made?
And why would I be an exception?
The early morning train took me to the capital, from Rajputana, my home.
The day of 15th Feb was also the last one for Surajkund fair,
And my day was spent there, walking around, getting tired.
Night approached fast, and mini Tibet was not that warm,
Apart from the warmth of its people that I’ve now experienced.
In hurry, some winter gear and wear was bought.
I was up for 40 hours now, and thought of reaching the port before the date changed,
Too exhausted I was, and I slept, albeit for a couple of hours.
The early morning, or the late night, was refreshingly cool,
And a three wheeler, man driven automobile took me to the port of air,
Thus, here I was, to fly on borrowed wings,
And reach high, up there within no time.
Things went on smoothly, and my destination arrived,
Nestled among snow clad hills,
White as white, white with snow.
I came down, back on land, to see my friend smiling,
He was in fact posted at the tarmac.
Now, that I sit at the same port of air, again,
After some days, the count of which I forgot,
The smile that welcomed me,
The cold blast of air that hit me on arrival,
Sleeping all day, on day 1,
The Shanti Stupa covered with snow,
And seeing myself shivering in the cold night there, to catch the gompa after twilight,
Feeling at home at my friend’s place,
Getting treated by his mother as her own son.
And guess what? The Ladakhi hospitality is much warmer than what is needed to survive the winters there.
What do I recall now?
The ‘Desmoche’ festival, which was exactly the way I had imagined Losar to be like,
The huge crowd on the markets of Leh, for Desmoche,
The revelry, the roadside ‘casino’,
Bathing in the Indus, the frozen Indus,
And fearing later that I’ve got frost bite.
Trying to learn Ladakhi, and making mistakes all the time, confusing ‘nono’ with ‘nomo’
Moving through snow, slipping on the ice covered streets
Forgetting chargers, so careless of me.
Trekking all the way to Rumbak,
On my own slow pace,
Getting rebuked by my dear friend, for not pushing hard,
Watching frozen river and a waterfall standing still,
Loosing balance over ice, and getting up again,
Sitting on the hill slopes, watching the cautiously grazing ‘barhal’
Focusing and trying hard to spot the snow leopard,
And imagining its figure on the rocks,
Sitting in a Ladakhi kitchen,
Listening ladakhi conversations, and understanding nothing,
Sitting there, as if in a trance,
Managing a troubled stomach, in the remoteness of Hemis,
And getting cured by the local medicine,
Getting lost, and being found,
Getting scolded, and being loved,
Getting selfish and selfless, at times sleepless,
Wandering alone in a monastery,
Talking to the lord, sitting in his lap,
Making friends, meeting families,
Acting touristy, and as a local,
And finally, bidding goodbye,
Finding myself surprised on returning to the city,
Surprised to see green,
I remember everything, while recalling nothing.
Ladakh in Winters was a blessing for me,
This was my serendipitous journey, in prose, in brief.
the view from the Tsemo Gompa- Leh
waving flags- Shanti Stupa
the stupa after sunset
the crowded street of Leh- which turns to an open air casino on Desmoche.
the Indus, near Choglamsar
yours truly, Drk.
The Indus- zig-zagging through its gorge
In the quest for snow leopard- Hemis National Park
Barhal- the blue sheep
Water- in its liquid form.
time standing still- the frozen river
the village of Rumbak- Hemis National Park
the bridge on Indus
inside the Gompa
the holy books
Dosmoche Festival: 19th February.
Dosmoche is the mask dance festival, held in Leh. It signifies the triumph of Buddhism over ancient animistic beliefs, and makes the people aware of their deities, of Tantrik Buddhism.
Here is how I captured the atmosphere
the monk who...
the palace and the festival
the bad guy
and the good lord, who brought love and peace- The Shakya muni
happy we are, happy we'll remain
bajaate raho- keep it on.
these were some images of Dosmoche.
On this day, the streets of leh turn into an open air casino, where people try their luck. Everyone makes merry, shops, and the streets are full of locals. The town of leh comes on its streets, and celebrates.
this lady is one of the descendant of Alexander's Greek Army.
Welcome to Leh.
The next part is a feature on the Dogs in Leh, the beautiful creatures who caught my eye.
I am a dog lover, and there were many adorable ones in Ladakh. I though why not capture the dog life of Ladakh, and hence, this is what I came across.
This is actually something close to my heart, and something for which I put special efforts. Hope you like it.
Some images depicting our persuit of the snow Leopard, in Hemis National Park.
The Avi-fauna of Ladakh.
The Indus at Choglamsar
After fresh snowfall in Rumbak
The barhal- Blue sheep in plenty.
around the stupa.
The runway of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport.
One of the good ones.
new roads, newer destinations.
and here we go, in the quest of Snow Leopard.
Someone please send this to Mahindra.
I asked God, I wish to see snow. He said, So be it.
And now, how it all unfolded:
This is what happened, and more importantly, how it happened.
Going to Ladakh was not on my immediate agenda, not by the air route, not during winters, not alone. But, things happen, and they happen beautifully, to leave you with memories that make you go back in time, again, and again. And now that some water has passed under the bridge, I sit down to write what I recall.
I got the information that the Tibetan Festival of Losar was celebrated in Feb, this year, around 22nd Feb. I wished to celebrate it in a monastry. The monastries that I had read about and where I would have loved to be were in Spiti- Tabo, Kaza and around. This part was inaccessible in winters. I asked friends how monks would travel to these places in winters, but not many seemed to have an answer. Time passed, and I was told to try going to Ladakh, but the airfare was prohibitive, not less than 7500. I went home, but the search continued. Also, I realised that Losar in Ladakh had passed in December. Much later, I was told that The Tibetan Losar was in Feb, as they followed Mongolian Calender, which is two months behind the Ladakhi one. THe source of my earlier date was a Tibetan website. These all dots would be connected at a later stage, and I was just moving in that direction. Leh.nic.in said, that there is another festival- Leh Desmoche, on 19th Feb. I checked the airfare again on 14th evening, and found that on 16th, I could fly to Leh in 4k. Instinctively, I booked my departure, and return. I have a friend from Leh, whose number I had lost, but a message to him on Facebook was instantly replied, and he said that I was most welcome to his home. Another friend had a friend working in Leh, in Indian Oil. With this, I was assured a bit that things would be good, and the next day- ie on 15th, left for Delhi from Kota. Many things had to bought- Warm clothes, green vegetables (as a gift ). Also, the fair of Surajkund ended the same day, and my attendance was not marked there, so half a day was spent there. Tired I was, having not slept for many hours, with no prospects of sleep, but somehow, I got my bags packed by midnight, and reached well before departure of my flight, this was to be my first one.
Many things happened, and I reached Kushok Bakula Rinpoche airport, Leh, at 7 15 am. My friend who works for Indian Oil (yes, now he is My friend, not a friend's friend), was posted at the airport, and he arranged my stay at his place. From here, I would write it in verse:
A blast of cold air welcomed me in Leh,
and so did the smile of my friend standing there to receive me.
Tired I was, but does that lessen my excitement?
They said it was sub zero, but since its dry here,
the air does not feel as cold as it should.
at the transit, where my friend stayed,
I met his friend, and slept,
did I sleep? I guess not.
The body was tired, but the mind was eager to explore,
and in this confusion, I just lay there till afternoon.
A little child woke me up, with her questioning eyes, asking who I was?
An orange pacified her, and she taught me the first word in Ladakhi- 'Juley'.
'Juley' when you come, 'Juley' when you go.
to Achele, amale, nono, and nomo as well.
I did feel breathless on these heights,
and continued to feel the same way for the next 4 days, getting better each day.
later in the day, we visited my friend- whose home was to be my home for the remaining days,
Being overwhelmed by his mother's hospitality,
I knew I was in a different land,
with different people,
blessed I was, to be there.
The first taste of Butter tea, which was going to be my staple drink in the days to come,
I spent the night in the transit, my last night there.
The next days passed before I knew.
Our treks to the Leh palace,
and the Tsemo gompa above,
the sight of White snow covered leh,
the attempt to capture night shots of Shanti Stupa, and getting frozen there, shivering.
the wait for Desmoche- the mask dance festival which was also the percieved reason for being here,
up close with Indus at Choglamsar,
and whistling back to Ladakhi girls, the unending series of whistles by us and them, as we walked.
Getting lost in the empty Spituk Gompa, as someone locked the doors from outside, thinking no one was in.
Sitting in the lap of Gods,
And then, The Desmoche festival:
The unending performances by mask wearing monks,
the good ones, the bad ones, and the funny ones.
the Shakya muni, oh! how beautiful he looked.
And how did I forget that dip in the Indus.
I think I need another one.
How a stray thought of bathing in it turned into a reality,
as I was goaded by my friends, thinking it was not happening anyways.
Walking barefoot on the partly frozen river was easy,
but immersing myself in it, woof.
Calmness still prevailed on me, as I stood in her,
I was shouting as I came out,
and the doctor friend told, 'you are hallucinating'
all the tips of my body froze, my toes, fingers, and other tips that my body possessed.
On returning, I was sure of having frost bite, but nothing really happened.
The other beautiful thing was my encounter with the Dogs of ladakh,
the beautiful creations, in all sizes, colours, attitudes.
As Desmoche mask dances ended in the palace,
the streets of leh were overflowing with people,
as if the whole region had converged there.
normally deserted places were now bustling with people,
And there we were, persuing the pretty one,
after being persued by her.
The people here are blessed,
and so is the land.
Things did happen.
How can I forget my stomach which was continually upset,
and the way cold hit me.
Things do happen.
The high point was our persuit of the snow leopard.
And about Hemis National Park:
'Would you like to see the snow leopard?' asked my friend,
what problem could I have,
and so, Regzin was called,
to drop us to Jinching
on the next day of Desmoche,
The Leopard lives in the mountains of Ladakh,
where it has plenty of its prey- Barhals, the blue sheep,
The road was covered with fresh snow,
and we moved along the Indus, the harbinger of civilisation.
the mountains had their own story to tell,
after all they were young,
how the river had shaped them,
how they had risen out of sea,
and were still rising.
a signboard said- Hemis National Park,
and nearby a flock of Yaks was grazing,
Regzin bid us a goodbye, promising to return after a few days,
and 'here we go',
My first encounter with a frozen stream,
and I slip over her, balancing myself,
Welcome to snow leopard territory- the place seemed to say,
and humbled by the peaks surrounding us,
slowly but steadily we moved upstream through the valley,
the frozen river was a constant companion,
intermittently showing us frozen tributries joining her,
and at a point,
I just looked- to a sight which was never imagined-
A frozen waterfall- standing still.
We moved ahead, me lagging behind.
I was slow, specially as we were moving uphill, through snow,
this was not what I was ready for,
but there were many similar things I ahd done before,
and I kept on moving, encouraged to Push Harder by my friend,
The leopard was not the first thing in my mind,
reaching our destination was.
By dusk, we reached outside Rumbak- the place we were headed for,
'whose turn is it today?' asked my friend to the owner of first homestay,
'homestay'- a home away from home,
in this wilderness.
Nobody came here during winters, nobody was expecting us.
to be continued...
Regzin and Gulzar- my friend. The snow covered ground, and the new Xylo, which we were the first ones to hire.
Initially, the Indus gave us company, though at a distance in its gorge:
The newly laid Road
the road ends here:
and we continue the rest of journey on foot, me following Gulzar.
and all the time near the frozen stream:
sometimes walking on the river, as they do in Chadar, slipping on every step,
but most of the times alongside it, on the trail left by ponies, and humans:
or a mixture of both- ice and rugged ground:
the frozen fall, as if time has stood still, and yes, the place was sacred:
there were plenty of trees around, this being a national park, and later on my return, Gulzar's grandpa also told, 'there is a lot of wood out there'
At times, the V shaped valley turned into a U
as we approached Rumbak, we left the stream, and took a left turn, moving through snow. I was wondering how far it was now, as I was tired to my core, and every step at this time seemed difficult, the place should have been above 3700 metres.
and finally, we reached our hosts, eager to welcome us; this was to be our home for the next three days, and those were the days I remember.
Knocking at the door of our new hosts,
we knew it was a new beginning.
Juley, said Gulzar,
and got a Juley in reply.
Now started a conversation of which I understood nothing.
We were welcomed in,
and our host, a lady in her early 30s,
was happy to see us,
as hardly a soul came here in winters.
A tea was served, not the Ladakhi butter one,
but the one which we normally have- a respite.
I was exhaused, both of us were,
and hungry too, polishing off the buiscuits served with tea.
The homestay was perfect-
good hosts, a nice room, bukhari to keep us warm, blankets,
who could resist a sleep, and why?
we hit the bed, though sleep was late to come, maybe because of a new place.
Gulzar thought me to be an amatuer, which I was,
but I had to pull up my socks from the next day, if a leopard quest had to be fulfilled.
I asked our host, during one of the endless conversations we had had-
'Have you seen a snow leopard?'
'Once', she replied.
'when it came to the village, 7 years back'
I was somehow not very keen on finding a leopard,
as the surroundings themselves had many things to offer-
but who knows, I might be lucky?
Our evening was spent in the kitchen,
where a neighbour came, and along with our host's 3 year old son,
we had a conversation, while food was being prepared.
I sat there, dazed, not understanding anything,
but still being a part of it,
Hungry we were,
and we were served thukpa (I guess), and ladakhi green vegetable,
and some rice.
over a period of three days, different things were served,
some delicious, some others unpalatable,
and I forgot the names, did I learn them, no.
the nights here are longer, and cold.
Time stood still, and the days gave way to night, and the night was followed by the day again, with us loosing count.
our days began with a breakfast, of tea, and something,
the visit to dry toilet,
bathing was out of question (except for the one I had in Indus)
we used to set out on our daily treks,
to look for the snoow leopard.
There were numerous blue sheeps,
the leopard needed little effort to hunt,
and from some corner, would peep,
a hare, or a fox,
or a snow cock, or local birds.
But what was elusive was the big cat.
Did we try hard?
Hmm. Yes, I suppose.
But not desperately.
We ambushed for hours when the news of leopard being around was confirmed.
We saw his pug marks, on the path where we strolled many times,
and spotted his shit.
But no leopard.
I later realised,
the blue sheep were difficult to see from a distance,
as they blended totally with the rocks.
The leopard needed to be more camouflaged, as he was the predator.
And until he was moving casually, on ice, he was difficult to see.
We climed over glaciers (smaal ones), over rocks, and moved inside gorges,
but he gave us another reason to visit his home again.
the only humans there except us were enthusiastic firangis,
coming from distant lands to spot the cat,
and it was indeed cute to see them struggling, bravely,
with a sense of purpose.
We sang on our way,
requestion the leopard for a 'darshan'
I even tried talking to the spirit of leopard, calling it to me,
but I had not learnt that art yet, or maybe no such art existed.
My stomach was upset, very upset.
And here I was in wilderness, without drugs, eager to return.
Our host gave me her remedy- which worked,
and I was happy again,
so was she, saying, 'nono, I am also a doctor, ladakhi doctor'
I could not agree more.
We stayed back,
and continued our search.
There was fresh snowfall every night, sometimes during the day,
and the landscape everyday became more familiar.
Each turn on the train was anticipated, so was the occasional stream,
our only source of liquid water,
We climbed over mountains,
often in a foot of fresh snow,
saw avelanches that had just happened, small ones though,
slipped on frozen stream, skidded on snow, countless times,
I climbed up a place from where I could not come down,
sometimes, there was no fear,
as I ran down mountain slopes, steep ones included,
and sometimes the fear was so overpowering that even descending a metre would take ages,
I twisted my ankle, not seriously though,
fell on my knees, but keeping oneself flexible and not taut helps,
a lanky frame falls many times, but avoids serious injuries.
as time passed, we could move closer to grazing blue sheep,
and there were tens of such grazers spotted at a single place.
Such herds made us believe that the leopard would be around, ready to hunt,
but to spot a leopard, one either has to wake up at 5,
or be lucky.
Rocks resembled the leopard, but the real cat was hiding somewhere.
At last, after giving up, we returned, and found Regzin waiting for us, as was decided before.
He drove us back to civilisation, as I looked back into the rear view mirror.
My journey was to end the next morning.
The journey back home was paused at the Hall of Fame,
and it was an amazing place.
I had talked to Kashmiri's about the state of their state,
and their cause made sense to me, partially.
The letter of a young 23 year old officer of Indian Army,
who wanted to be reborn as a soldier to serve India again,
in the event of his martyrdom,
made me realise the value of each inch of land, which was being defended,
the pendulum now swayed totally to the right, passing hurriedly through the centre.
Things are not the same everywhere,
and soultions are not based on percieved facts.
Hope the lord brings peace to the heaven on earth;
a misunderstanding followed with Regzin, as we were overcharged by 1500 bucks,
but it got cleared soon and we got back those yellow banknotes.
the evening passed, as I had my last dinner at my friend's home.
I told his mother about my departure,
and she knit me a gift.
I was loved here, hope I may love the same way.
the next morning, Regzin came,
and our short ride to the airport did not last long.
The ice was now melting.
Inside the port of air, two workers sat besides me.
One of them told me, 'I got cheated'
And his story followed, in detail.
A worker from Nepal came to Ladakh,
called by a Nepali contractor,
worked for six months in Nubra,
and was promised to be paid in Leh,
Now, his contractor swiched off his mobile, and was not responding.
Another friend of this worker had paid 7000 for return air tickets,
which were never booked.
Hence, the contractor was being cursed.
The irony was, that this contractor was a Nepali, a compatriot of these workers,
and he had cheated them.
'our 7000 is more than 7 lacs for us,
and the contractor will pay for this'
I was saddened, but my new friend look a bit relieved.
a 6 month payment was not made to these people,
and they could do nothing at the moment,
as the police was said to be part and parcel with the influencial contractor.
With this, our flight was announced,
and I went ahead, saying a last goodbye to Leh, and Ladakh.
The mountains gave way to the plains, as we descended to Jammu,
and ascended again to land in Delhi.
Back were the cars, and buses,
back was the metro.
Though I physicaly reached home,
I have somehow lost my mind in the wilderness.
I hope to find it soon, but till then,
Let me remain in Ladakh.
The URL to the images has been too old, and hence, not showing here. SO, attaching the images again.
This happened one year back, enjoy...
The town of Leh, on a winter morning.
The Leh Palace,
View from the top.
Enroute to Tsemo Gompa, from Leh Palace.
Inside out- Tsemo Gompa
The road to Shanti Stupa
Prayer Flags- Nam Myo Ho Renge Khyo
At The Shanti Stupa,
And above it...
A panorama at dusk.
Evening colours- icy blue and white.
The stupa lights up...
The Indus at Choglamsar, with its guests.
The Entru into Leh Market
The Runway of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport, Leh
The Canines of Ladakh
Yours Truly, truly relaxing...
Gompa Soma- Leh Palace
Leh Desmoche Festival- Leh Palace.
Chasing the Snow Leopard- Hemis National Park
|Braj bhraman- Touring Braj |
|'Now no more trips for one month' I resolved when I returned from Chattisgarh. And, for 5 days, things kept me busy. But, visits to Indiamike, and calls to my friend in Uttarakhand to confirm if there was a snowfall to happen anytime soon made me restless again. 'One last trip, just one' I said to myself. The research for this led to jotting down the options- From Munsiyari to Mathura, and khajuraho to kashmir. I booked a train ticket for Khajraho, but it got cancelled on virtue of being waitlisted. So, I had to cancel the remaining sequence of connecting tickets as well. I found reservations for Jhansi (with thoughts of visiting Orchha- Gwalior) the same night, but payment was declined as I had exceeded the transaction limits. I gave up and slept. |
Next morning, I woke up again, thinking, where to go, and thought, Mathura be it.
Tickets were available in Kota janshatabdi, and one of my friends (who lends me his camera) wished to accompany. So, two of us reached Mathura; by an asymptomatic journey on a nice train.
'I like this train,' my friend told me, and I smiled in reply.
The first stop was Krishna janmabhumi, the place where lord Krishna is believed to have appeared on earth. On the gate, we were asked to leave our bag,camera and mobiles in cloak room, which we did. The temple was always on high alert, and we were just short of getting molested in public view, as the policemen checked us thoroughly, not once, but thrice. On getting in, it was not a crowded place, which was actually good. We were roaming around, and were impressed by the sight of The temple and the mosque standing side by side. I tried to judge, which one was higher, but to me, both of them seemed to be equally high. This place was sensitive, but since there has been round the clock vigilance, it has remained peaceful. Digging deeper into history, I realised that the site was a hindu temple, which was broken down by Aurangzeb, to build a mosque, which still stands. In the premises of all the sacred hindu shrines, there is a similar story- at Kashi, where Lord Vishwanath is in company of Gyanvapi Mosque, and The lord of Ayodhya is sharing space with babri masjid (remnants). all the three places are guarded by para military and police forces to avoid a repetition of Ayodhya.
For sometime, I was there looking at the beautiful sight caused as a result of a temple and a mosque. They actually appeared consoling, and assuring, as if both the religions were pillars on doctrines of which the country sustained itself, and in harmony, they could not just co-exist but prosper. Their facades were in opposite directions, and a narrow lane separates the two. A small part in the wall of the mosque is believed to be the birth place of the lord, but the temple fails to attract many devotees, mainly because it appears more a place at seige, which even the lord must feel uncomfortable to stay (if he has human nature and qualities), but the omnipresent needs no definition- of space, time, and words.
There is a modern temple built neraby, in the same premises, which has a beautifully decorated idol of Radha- Krishna, but what is old is revered, specially in matters of faith, and this temple, the present one, is more of a 'sight seeing' place, or maybe I am being cynical.
From here, we went to a 'dhaba' to have some food, and with our stomach full, we departed to the next destination- The dwarkadhish temple.
Lord Krishna is worshipped in many different 'forms', the laddu gopal or infant form, the bankey bihari, the Gopal (the cowherder), and the Dwarkadhish (The king of Dwarka). A local told me, that since Dwarkadhish is the King, he is the most revered and rich lord. Almost all temples in Mathura- Vrindavan are managed privately, and Dwarkadhish has some strict rules and regulations.
It closes down by 7 pm, and the offerings to lord are to be bought from inside, made from milk of the cows managed by the temple. The priests keep themselves pure by avoiding any contact with 'the mango people'
Anyways, before going to Dwarkadhish (as it was closed till 6 pm, we were approached by a pundit, who offered to show us around. I told him that I would not give anything more than 20 INR, and he agreed happily, telling, pay more when you come as a couple. Nearby, are temples dedicated to yam and yamuna- the only temple said to be dedicated to brother and sister, and it is said that on 'bhai DUj' thats 2 days after Dowali, if a brother and sister take a dip in Yamuna together, they reach heaven. Hmm- so there are many cheat codes in this game of Moksha, and we Hindus have mastered them all, isn't it? The final cheat code is 'death at kashi' and if that does not work, there is one more, of remembering 'narayan' at the death bed.
Those who are acquainted with Indian mythology would relate to what I am saying. The rest may PM me, or ask Google, or stay blissfully ignorant about the mumbo jumbo.
From there, we visited Vishram Ghat, the only Ghat on Yamuna in Mathura which is beautiful, where the 'aarti' takes place, and where the lord rested after killing his uncle. On the whole, I found the pandas of Mathura decent. They don't run behind you, or force you for anything. On asking the boatman at the river about the fare to cross the river, he said that we could hire the whole boat and he would show us around. i had heard that there is 'Durvasa mandir' on the other side, and thought it would be good to visit the place. We were to be charged Rs 100, which was reasonable, as I realised later.
The yamuna is not a clean river, and it passes through the filthiest cities, where it is deprived of its water, and refilled with sewage. After mathura, it is barraged at Gokul downstream Mathura, and so, there is some sevage/water on its banks at Mathura. We do worship rivers, but in reality, rape them. I saw people drinking this Yamuna water, to wash off their sins. Down south, Kaveri, though carrying lesser water than these rivers, is still clean.
Coming back, we reached the other side on the boat, and though the boatman said there was nothing much to see, we went to Durvasa temple, which was being maintained by ISKON.
Passing through the village, we reached the temple. This was a good time to be there, and there were few people around. Calm, serene, beautiful. Though I saw a few ISKON people, I kept mum, and then, tried to befriend a monkey, by going near it. The whole region has lots on monkeys, maybe because of the patronage the exercise by virtue of Hanuman ji. My friend was happy, and we returned to the boat after some time. While crrossing back I tried to row, but it was difficult, mainly managin the direction, as I started rowing in the opposite direction. There was a beautiful view of the ghats visible from the river, and it was the time of Aarti.
Initially, I thought that Yamuna aarti would be a leesser affair as compared to the worship of her elder sister, the Ganga, but as the aarti progressed, I realised that this aarti was different in its own way, yamuna is worshipped here as the wife of Lord Krishna, and in the birthplace of the Lord, where he was carried across this river on the very day he was born, how could the same river be not revered?
A sentence in the aarti says 'keshav ki patrani' meaning- the principle wife of Keshav/Krishna, addressing the river.
But the reality agin remain, the river is no more a river, it is a drain, and will remain so as there seem no sincere efforts happening to change the status quo. With Delhi, Agra and mathura on its banks, the task is herculean;
from Vishram ghat, we went in time to catch the Dwarkadhish temple open. The lord was truly a king, who gave 'darshan' to his subjects during a short window of time. At 7 pm, the gates closed as we came out. from here, we walked across the lanes of Mathura, to reach Deeg gate, to catch a shared auto for Vrindavan, the place where we would spend our night.
|the journey, is yet not over. |
|We departed for the big temple, and the first funny thing was getting on the bike wearing th 'veshti', and as I folded it up, the sight must've been a treat for the onlooker. Anyways, I was dropped to the Big temple, and went inside. The air blew my veshti now and then, and in spite of acting casual, I was wondering what to do. Ultimately, I found a way to hold it in its place, but now, the lord had gone for his afternoon nap, and I was not allowed to disturb. |
From here, we went to the palace. My friend was constantly reminding me, ' The palace is not very good, so don't expect much.' Maybe he was thinking that I would compare things with my home state-Rajasthan- the land of kings.
I found the palace nice. It was more like a big house. The durbar hall was the best part of this palace, and I clicked many photos, which came out peautifully, looking better than they actually appeared. The link is this:
Our visit to the palace was over within one hour, and now was the question of where to go?
Kumbakonnam was fixed to be the place, and we rode the bike towards Kumbakonam- The Temple town. Midway, we had to return, but then, we went to Thiruvaiyaru. The temple where one needs to cross five rivers to reach. This is the Cauvery delta region and hence there are many distributries of the ‘Ganges of the South’. Saint Thyagaraja composed his hymns here, and the place recuperating from the annual ‘Thyagaraja Archana’ finished the day before. The temple was also beautiful, and it was undergoing renovation. Before going in, I was taken to be purified by Cauvery, and the view of this river was beautiful.
On our way back, raunchiness took over me. The veshti fluttered high by the wind, and I was cool about it. My friend tried to cover up, but inhibitions are less in a foreign land, I guess. The sight of the river made me stop, and though there was nothing to change, I went to take a bath. The water here was just a feet deep, maybe two. But then, formally, I had now bathed in another river, adding up to the list, and fortunately, here, the water is better. Further down the road, a pretty sunset awaited us, and we returned home.
The next day was to be my last day in Tanjore; we took a bus for Kumbakonnam after breakfast, and got down at Darasuram- Among the Great Living Chola Temples- World heritage site. This temple has intricate carving and is in the form of a ratha or chariot. Initially, I had expected little, but was pleasantly surprised by the sculpture, and intricate details carved on the pillars. The images would speak better-
The Bull and the Elephant
Since the lord had to take his afternoon nap, we were rushed out of the main shrine, but the beauty of the temple was now for us to be seen, alone.
After taking many beautiful images, we returned home. My friend wanted to show me some village, and canals, and we ended up near a canal, I took a dirt track along the canal, which led us to a beautiful place, amidst paddy fields,
a small anicut,
and plenty of trees.
The ripe paddy in the fieds is another beautiful sight.
After stopping there till the sunset,
we departed to Tanjore, via a way which was along the main canal. Then, I was taken to the South Zone Cultural Centre, and since it was closed, we went to the medical college, had an ice-cream and returned.
This was the day of my departure, and henceforth, my solo travel would begin. My friend’s mother insisted that I take a train to Chennai and then return safely, and I had to lie that I would be doing the same, meanwhile departing to Nagapatinam- the coastal town.
The love that I got in Tanjore is beyond words, and my friend was genuinely concerned about my safety, but, I had to leave, and start my solo journey. Introspecting now, I look back at it with happiness, and satisfaction, but the main fact is that God was kind, always, every moment.
My departure from Tanjore was against the wishes of my friend and his mother, as they thought it was better if I leave for Chennai, rather than going to a fishing village alone. But, I had made up my mind; and after convincing my friend, and saying goodbye, with loads of love and food, I departed for Nagapatinam by train. THe train passed through the detla of Cauvery, and I was told later that this period (January) is the greenest month here, when rains have just stopped. THe coast is showered by retreating monsoons, in winters. As the coast approached, rather as we approached the coast, paddy fields gave way to marshes, and the smell and sight of the sea announced its arrival. After getting down at Nagapatinam, boarding a bus for Velankanni was no problem, and without stopping much at this fishing town, I headed south to 'Our Lady of Good Health- The Basilca of Mary' at Velankanni. Reaching their, I was greeted by the sound of joyous songs and the town itself was bustling with activity. The basilica was made by the Portuguese (the old one) but since the Tsunami had destroyed its existence, a new church has been built there.
Some time was spent at the beach, which is beautiful. A trial of confession was made at the church, and after spending 2 hours in this town, I took a shared auto to Nagapattinam.
On our way, a mobike had met with an accident, and the auto driver appeared to be the relative of the one who was injured. We went to a dispensary, and I went inside.
'Naan Doctor' - I told in broken Tamil that I was a doctor.
There was nothing much to worry, and after reassuring and prescribing an injection and medicines, I returned to the auto. By now, the auto driver was elated. He was not expecting a doctor to be available when needed, that too in his auto. I was also happy, and I was dropped to the connecting auto for my next destination- The Nagore Dargah.
Nagore had a heavy police presence, which appeared unusual to me. It was the shrine of a sufi saint who lived, loved and propagated Islam in the coastal Tamil Nadu. Inside the shrine, I was asked for donations, but 'I am a student' - this line helps in such situations. I tried to talk to the resting soul, and returned with a prayer. Now, I was told that a political leader was killed the day before, and hence, there would be no buses plying that day; also, the police was there to avoid any escalation of tension. After a long wait, a bus came which took another route, but i still boarded it. After changing two buses, which by God's grace were available in time, I reached the town of Chidambaram. On the way, I had a chat with a few good people. Once in town, I had to look for a place to stay , and I checked in Apollo lodge near the temple, for Rs 250 for a single room. The room was decent, and I was in no mood to go out- for dinner as well as temple visit.
The next morning, I again woke up late, and visited the lord.
He is here as the Nataraja- anand tandavam posture, but I could see little detail in the idol. Also, in the same campus are temples dedicated to other Gods including Vishnu and Lakshmi.
Outside, I took some pictures:
After thinking a lot, on whether I should visit Pichavaram or leave for Pondicherry, I took a bus for Pichavaram, which passed through the villages of Tamil Nadu. Reaching there, I realised that there was nothing much to do for me. Deliberately, I had not withdrawn money at Chidambaram, taking only Rs 200 with me. Here, the boating charges for a single boat were minimum Rs 200. So, I took a Rs 5 ticket for the watch tower at the bus stand, and contented myself with the view from there. While coming down, a saw a group of 8, and went to them, to share the boating charges. So, now, we were departing for the mangrove forest, and this site was to be among the best in my whole trip.
Our boat had 4 people, and a boatman. These were friendly guys, working in Chennai. The whole area is a wetland, 2-3 feet deep, with patches of mangrove forests, which become dense as we approach them. The mangroves are said to be the healthiest in India, and support an ecosystem of shrimps, crabs and avi-fauna.
This was a memorable experiences and I returned with many beautiful clicks.
Deep into the forest.
God takes good care
Now, coming back from Pichavaram was an issue, and I was planning to visit Pondicherry the same day. After saying goodbye to my buddies, because of whom I could enjoy the boat ride, I moved to the bus stand, and saw an MH 12 number car departing.
Tumhi Pune che aahat? (you are from Pune?)
'mi pan tithlach aahe, Sassoon la hoto. Aat yeu?' I am also from there, was at Sassoon Hospital. Can I get in?
'Ho, ya na.' Yes, please.
So, now I met Atul, a mirror image of me in travelling, and I realised it instantly. He was also exploring the place, alone; and he was pursuing this along with balancing his profession. We chatted on our way, and he dropped me to Cuddalore.
This area was recently hit by cyclone Thane, and the effect was still seen. After a sumptuous meal, I departed for Pondicherry. I was getting tired by now, and was not certain where to go in Pondicherry. One option was JIPMER, other was Auroville, or some beach. After reaching there, I somehow found myself at the beach near Auroville, and started chatting with a guy from Holland. What followed was a walk along the beach, and unfortunately, one does not see the sun setting in the Bay, but it was a pleasant walk. We went with a local kid to his home, talked to people in broken Tamil, tried to figure out the French connections they have, and returned. Not knowing what to do now, I came back to the bus stand. The plan now was to visit Mahabalipuram, rather than departing for Chennai, where my friends were waiting. I wanted to see the sun-rise and so, took a bus for Mamallapuram. It was already 10 30 when I reached there, but this town had transformed totally from what I had seen way back in 2000 AD. It had posh hotels, and I had difficulty finding a lodge in reasonable rate. Finally, I stayed at Apollo Lodge, in front of Radisson, for Rs 250 for the night. The owner was a gentleman, and the room was basic. And yes, I could find food at 11 PM
Barefooted in Mahabalipuram
I had lost my footwear, and the shoes were not appealing me to take me to the beach, so, I walked barefooted, in a veshti, early morning along the streets of Mamallapuram. I had heard that this town was known for all bad reasons recently, peadophilia being one. I saw some boards of children's home. At the beach, the sun was still waiting to come over the horizon. I saw some foreigners strolling, and doing 'yoga'.
A pretty lady volunteered to capture my images, and suddenly, the sun showed itself.
Unlike the setting sun., which tiredly moves doen the horizon, this rising sun was quick to rise up, and had a last sip of water before finally starting its journey across the sky of Mamallapuram. It was indeed beautiful. The lady with me showed me a nice way of eye massage, for sunrise. The temple was calling, and I moved through a throny patch to reach there, to see the remains of one of the most ancient Shiva temples in India, and one of its kind on the shore, aptly named- Shore Temple. This structure had withstood the attack of sea, its waves, its salinity, and the cyclones, which pay a visit every now and then, and was a witness to all of them.
Back to city
Back to my room, I was now gearing up to leave for Chennai, the metro of the South. I was also expecting amazing views of the East Coast Road, but things turned out differently. The bus to Chennai was full, with hardly any place to stand. Also, there was not much to see on the ECR. Getting into Chennai, traffic welcomed me. Yes. the city was relatively cleaner, but all this while, I was in the towns of Tamil Nadu, which had a different feel. The laid back approach gave way to an organised chaos, rush and apparent 'purposefulness'. After a while, I reached Adyar, after missing it and returning after 10 kilometers. I was still laid back, maybe more time was needed for Chennai to have its effect on me, but I was leaving the same evening. My friend met me at Adyar, and took me to Nalli, as I was asked to get a silk saree. The shop is amazing, and trusted. I got what I needed and departed to another friend of mine, who was waiting since morning. What followed was a heavy lunch at his place, and I took some time uploading photos, and booking my ticket from Raipur to Delhi. My ticket from Chennai to Vizag, which I booked from Tanjore, had got confirmed. The last stop in Tamil Nadu was marina beach, where a friend's birthday was celebrated. And now, after a beautiful stay in Tamil Nadu, I was leaving for Vizag, for which, I had no plans when I started this. But I am glad it happened.
The sun rising from the Bay of Bengal:
Now, begins my journey to Bastar, via Vishakhapatnam.
My train- Chennai Bhubaneshwar express was to reach Vizag by 10 30. At 9 am, I slept again, thinking- Even if I miss Vizag, I'll go ahead, as my ticket was till Bhubaneshwar, and I was also thinking of going to Orissa instead of Bastar. I woke up at 11, the train was standing at the Vizag platform, hurriedly, I deboarded it and the train left. So, another state, and a different city.
Vishakhapatnam is a nice city, with a clean station. On coming out, I went to the tourism office and was handed out a list of tours conducted by AP Tourism. The list was informative, and helped me to plan my stay in Vizag. I found a lodge near the station, for Rs 200/night (but later had to pay 250, my foolishness)
Without thinking of lunch, I hurriedly bathed and set out to explore the port city. First stop- Simhachalam- A temple on a hill near the city. Vishakha or Vizag is surrounded by hills and flanked by sea, and has a pleasant climate. I took a bus for Simhachalam, and enjoyed my journey through the city. Reaching the bus stand complex- I realised I was hungry, and had one of the tastiest rice- plate in South India. I think Andhra people make good spicy curries, or that place might be an exception. In both cases, I was the lucky one. Another small trip by bus and I reached the hill temple. An elaborate queue, specially as the lord was enjoying his after noon nap, and we had Darshan of Narsimha- an incarnation of Vishnu. The temple is beautiful, but no cameras are allowed. On the backside, there is a famous image of Narsimha opening up the stomach of Hiranyakashyap 'the evil' , by his nails. The 'laddu' is also tasty, and after roaming around, I took a bus for RK beach. It said Beach, so I took it, as this would be my last visit to the sea in this trip. The journey was long, around 90 minutes, but I was in no hurry. The beach was also peautiful, and luckily, there was a nice cultural show organised by South Central zone cultural centre, which was too good, I enjoyed , the program, and the co-incidence of being at the right place at the right time.
After some shopping, which I later regretted, I was back to my room. and slept.
All about BASTAR
Even for a seasoned traveler like me, the region of Bastar had an impression of a dense jungle, with tribals, extremists and backwardness. This was reinforced by the talk I had with my friends from Chattisgarh, though none of them had themselves been to Bastar.
With all these notions, I took a train from Vishakhapatnam, to Jagdalpur, not during the bike journey that I had planned, but another journey that just happened.
The train departs from Vishakhapatnam by 7 am, and passes through the highest broad gauge station on the Indian Railways. The route is among the scenic rail routes in India, and has many attractions on the way- The Limestone caves of Bora, The Araku Valley with its rolling hills, and the Bastar tableland. From Araku, the train entered Orissa, to pass via Jeypore and Koraput- the areas infamous for all wrong reasons. While in the train, I interacted with a few locals. Finally, by evening, I was in Jagdalpur, my destination.
On coming out, I found the town similar to any other town in India, with shops, autos, and I passed by the Chandni Chowk- A city square in the main market. My accommodation was arranged in the circuit house by a friend. I also met another friend of mine who is a Lecturer in the Medical College there.
I by now understood that my perception of this place being out of this world and inaccessible was a myth, a myth that sustains itself from hearsay, and my three say stay in this land made me much richer, in experience. This is my journey, for you all.
Here I Go
Getting up early had by now become easy, but 5 is that way too early, that too if you slept at 1. The previous day in Vizag was better than I expected, specially as it ended with a cultural extravaganza by South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur, at RK Beach. The performances made me happy, and the thought came- 'Any planned visit could not be this good.'
COming back to day 1, though my alarm rang at 5, I turned it off, to wake up at 6:20.
One thought said, leave the train, go by bus. But then, I would miss the train route. Without wasting time, I packed up, and rushed to the station. While cheking out, the man at the counter by himself took a Rs 50 tip, and though I was annoyed, I just left. Getting a ticket from the line was another issue, but somehow, calmness had dawned on me, and I boarded the 6:50 train, for Koraput, and later took the same train to Jagdalpur.
The first major attraction was when the hills started after Vizainagaram. The train went up, crossing the tunnels. The Eastern Ghats are not as high as their Western Sibling, but they are broader. Gradually, the train ascended, reaching the famous Borra Caves station, where half of it emptied. I was going ahead, so, decided to give these caves a skip. Then, we ascended further to cross the highest broad gauge station- Simaliguda, at 996 metres (nothing much to see here)
Thus, we had reached the table land- a flat plateau which is vast, and has rolling hills, valleys somewhere, but most of it is a flat plateau. The train stopped at Araku for sometime, and the beautiful rail route is actually after Araku, as that is the true Araku Valley.
Araku to Jagdalpur
The train moved over this flat table, and I saw few people around. In the train, we were comfortable, though in general class. I got down at Koraput, as I was told that the train was running till there only, but on inquiry, I realised that it was till Jagdalpur, and beyond. A mad rush to the ticket counter, and I got a ticket in time. Meanwhile, I also saw the First Class Non AC coach- avialable in very few trains now.
The sun was also ending his journey across the skies here, as our train moved to Jagdalpur. I got down, and went out. I was new here, but my sir, who is posted here, had book a room for me. I also met another friend, who I knew via Facebook, a doctor working in the medical college here.
The town was decent, much better than what I was expecting it to be. Our dinner was in a posh restaurant, I forgot the name now. On the whole, I tried to find the bastar that I was searching, but for it, I have to explore deeper.
'One cannot claim to have visited Bastar if he comes to Jagdalpur', my friend told as we were having our dinner at a restaurant in Jagdalpur.
Yeah, it seems true. Lets see, I have a few days. Also, God has been kind in this trip till now.
With these thoughts, I returned, and retired to bed.
The next morning, I took a 9:30 am bus to Chitrakoot falls. For those who wish to go there, buses are after 1 hour interval. One can book a taxi from Jagdalpur. The bus was filled with teachers departing to their schools, and by the time we reached Chitrakoot, after about an hour, there were only 4 people remaining. The bus driver said, I will depart in 15 minutes, you can come now or wait till 12.
Who had a hurry?
I went to check out the falls, and the view from up was Okay. nothing much significant. Also, I have stopped getting much excited, maybe. I removed my trousers, to cross the river to the other side. The water level was just about a feet, but since it was slippery, and I was carrying the camera, it took me 10 minutes to cross the 10 metre span. Also, I started singing to overcome the fear of slipping, and it did work. From the other side, I went near the falls to capture them in detail, and then, roamed around the place, looking at various rock formations. The thought of catching the departing bus had vanished long before. At last, when I had roamed aroud a lot, I searched for the ssteps to go down, and came across the area which consisted of many shiva 'lingams', being worshipped by the locals. Okay, so this was the place of local significance. I also later lerned that Sri Ram had spent few months here, at Chitrakoot, and the temples which looked ordinary, had ancient significance. I went at the base, to have a better look at the falls. From here, one could take a boat which takes you to the falls, where one can have water coming over. On reaching the river bank, I called the boatman from other side, he came, and took me to the other bank, and charged Rs 10. Pretty decent.
I tried to lift a collected bunch of firewood for a lady, but gave up after few metres. It was indeed heavy for me, and I do lift all my heavy luggage. She carried it easily up the stairs, as I followed.
A last look of the falls from the guest house near the road, and then, I left for Jagdalpur. Luckily, the bus was found waiting.
On my journey back, many school children weere returning to their homes. I was told that there was no ticket needed for them, and I loved this. Girls were cycling their way back to home, and I got down at the Anthropological Museum, just outside Jagdalpur.
The museum is among the few where you do not need ticket, and I got in happily. It is a small museum, with two galleries, one on the left, and other in the right. There is a collection of tools, fishing nets, utensils, ornaments and dresses of tribals. The museum takes less than an hour to see, and is worth a visit for someone coming to Jagdalpur. After moving around, I asked the guard to visit the office, and meet the official there. I was taken to Mr Sinarao, who is among the most memorable person I met in Bastar. We talked for long about his stay with the Jarawas. His thoughts touched me, and he was happily narrating me his valuable experiences, with the tribes of India. This person is among the two Indians who can speak Jarawa language fluently, and who stayed with them for 6 months. He also visited Sentinel Island, and Shompens. We chatted for along time, and then, my friend came to receive me.
He is a government official in Bastar, and I moved in with him. We talked about the place, about ourselves, and then, slept.
The next morning, I went to the collector's office at Jagdalpur. The previous collector had transformed this office into a Gandhi Ashram, where the gates were called- Satya, Ahinsa, Aparigraha. The next day, my friend called me to say; 'main satya par hu aur ahinsa ke marg par aa raha hu' - 'I am on Truth (gate) and moving towards Ahinsa- Non violence (gate)'. Inside the office also, the three monkeys of Gandhi adorn the building, and the office has a pleasant vibration of its own.
From here, my destination today was Dantewada- The town infamous enough ot skip, but I was accompanied by a local who was my friend's home-guard. We went on a boke, though there are regular buses available. Till a town called Geedam, the road is good, but the last 10 km stretch is in poor condition. Dantewada is famous for the temple of Ma Danteshwari- The local deity of Bastar. It is said that 'Sati's' tooth fell here, and hence it derives the name. while returning, we went to a salva Judum camp. HEre the judum members were staying for the past 5 years. This is all that I can say here for now. The next destination was Barsur- the place famous for many ancient temples.
While returning, the petrol got over, but we managed to get some nearby, Also, the bike was still not starting. Finally, we reached Jagdalpur, and then, I went to a party organised at an officer's place.
Thus, another day ended in Bastar.
The third day was my final day in Bastar. It was 25th January, the day when a boat race was to be held here. I reached there in time, and captured some good images of the rowers. It was an experiment to promote local sports and tourism. Jagdalpur has a lake named Dalpat Sagar, and this was the venue of the race. The lake was being cleaned every week at a huge cost, my friend told me.
I also bought brass metal souvenirs from 'Shabari' the Chattisgarh emporium, and then, departed for Tirathgarh Falls, another famed waterfalls in Chattisgarh.
Tirathgarh lies on Sukma road, and buses ply for this route also. After 15 kms, the Kanger Valley national park begins, and as a result, the road narrows down. On reaching Tirathgarh, I moved down the stairs to reach the falls, and then went further down to reach the second part, as this fall drops in two successive phases. Tirathgarh must be more beautiful during monsoons, but otherwise too, the flow remains years round.
I had to skip Kutumsar as it was getting late, but these limestone caves are also in vicinity.
During this trip, I observed that the state government was trying hard to promote tourism, in this yet untouched place. The tourist arrivals are few, and hence, developing a tourism infrastructure here is financially taxing. Yet, the charm to explore this less explored paradise has its own bliss. How would it feel to boat around a mighty waterfall like Chitrakoot, alone. Feeling it up at close quarters. Looking at it, crossing the river to the other end, listening the boatman talk to a woodcutter in the local language, and hearing those words in the video you have captured at that moment. Watching children play in the water, and waatching them again, in your laptop. Bastar is a personal experience, and by now, I have stopped categorising things as good and bad, Things exist, for the sake of existance. At these places, one can be closer to existance. Bastar exists. Now, it exists in my mind too.
After returning from Tirathgarh, I went to the Circuit House to meet my friend. THe Chief Minister was in Jagdalpur for the Republic day Function the next day. I also went to see the stadium, decorated for Republic Day parade. I had to take a bus now, and after dinner, we returned to Bastar town- which is a town 20 km from Jagdalpur, on Raipur road. My bus arrived at 12, and I slept well, to be woken up at 6 am, near Raipur Railway station. I missed the Keshkal valley views as it was night, but lets keep them for the next time.
Returning to Delhi
So, now, my journey was coming to an end, though the last leg was still remaining. I entered Raippur Railway station at 6 am. It was still dark, but not very cold. God was kind and my ticket in Sampark kranti, booked 4 days back, got confirmed. Hail Indian Railways.
I had nothing much to do at the Raipur station. I roamed around, thought of taking a dormitory bed at the station, as my train was at 12 30, but decided against it, and went to the waiting room, to spend some time on the internet, writing trip reports, uploading pics, searching places in Raipur. As far as I realised, There is nothing much inside the city to see, and the places worth visitng are about 70 kilometres. I could have thought of going somewhere in Bilaspur side, and boarding the train from Bilaspur, but, I have turned calmer, and thus, stayed back. I did venture out, to catch a bus for Ghadi Chowk, a famous clock tower nearby, but since the bus was taking too long to move, I returned. There was a 5 storied temple at the station, but I didn't go in.
Raipur station is vey clean, truly. I was astonished to find it in this way, particularly because it is located on north India. Continuous cleaning work was going on and I wanted to congratulate the station master for his good work, but then, moved to my platform. The train arrived in time, and I got seated with a Chattisgarhi family going to Delhi.
The day was spent sleeping, till Bilaspur. Later, I got up in time, to catch the beautiful scenery; crossing the central uplands is always a nice experience, and this was my first trip on this particular route- Bilaspur Katni Rail Route. I crossed Pendra Road, where one gets down for Amarkantak. As the sun set, I read a book, actually I tied to read, but was not feeling like doing anything. The next morning, I was to be in Delhi, and I woke up between Agra and Delhi.
Oh, I missed an important thing. The night. I froze in the night, and somehow, managed to exist till morning. Till Raipur, I could manage with my bedsheet. Before that, I was in South India, and hence, nowhere did I encounter cold. While going, I had taken a morning train towards Trichy, so, I felt a bit of cold between Bhopal and Nagpur, which is tolerable.
This time, I was exposed to the real cold, and I had my bedsheet, and not many clothes, but as the night passed, it became the past; in short, I was lucky all through my journey to move around with a bedsheet, but the final day, I met Ms Cold Weather, and she treated me well.
Climbing down the steps of Nizamuddin Railway station, I remembered the day when I had been here the last time, and taken a general class ticket for Trichy, to depart on an unplanned, memorable trip, and in retrospect, all by the grace of Almighty, I was taken care of, everywhere I went. SO, this was my serendipitous journey, and I hope you enjoyed it too.