Thoughts from a window

The aisle seat has it’s mighty benefits but there is something that a window seat of an aircraft can offer that none other can; the top view of the clouds. After the rattling take off, the clouds are not around you, but below you. The soft bed of cotton, stretches far and wide. How is it’s character I often wonder. If I were to jump on it, will I softly land on it or will I fall right through into the ocean below or will it make me jump back up.

There are many textures to this cloudy cotton sheet , it can be scattered, it can seem super thick, it can be in different shapes which make no sense at all(I always see a combination of dragons and dinosaurs) and if you concentrate hard enough you can even see a path through the clouds leading up to the horizon , where the sun shines bright. A bright sun is directly shinning upon me as I look out the window. I feel it’s warmth on my hair and my cheek . As I stare at it directly with my eyes closed, the yellow in my eyes soon turns into an orange and then into a red. Unable to bear the intensity anymore I look in the other direction and I immediately see patterns of blue and green in front of my closed eyes. It’s almost magical. Then I open my eyes and see the sun shinning through the opening in the clouds onto the ocean below. The interactive map on Air France tells me that it is actually the English Channel which is glistening like a million diamonds.

Another little adventure that this tiny airplane window offered me today was a bucket list tick. Two weeks ago when I flew atop Paris , I thought of the Eiffel tower and realized that I have only seen two wonders of the world till now. I made a resolve to spot the Eiffel tower from the plane window(because actually going to Paris is beyond the dimensions of my purse right now) and efforts I did make. I scanned the entire expanse of Paris at night, like a hawk. I could spot water bodies and buildings and bridges but the Eiffel tower was not in sight. On another occasion, I umm fell asleep. But today in broad daylight as the plane took off, I was certain that the dark triangular structure I was seeing was the Eiffel tower. But as I saw the structure from a different angle it was probably a church or an old building for I could not spot the metal frame. But I did not give up, and kept looking. I saw a river and my hopes went up. I knew the Eiffel tower was besides a river, so I scanned along it’s banks. And lo, there it was, in broad daylight, by the river, standing tall in all it’s glory, one of the seven wonders of the world. I tell you, the top view of the Eiffel tower is it’s best view(Please ignore the fact that I have seen no other view).

Now I must sign off, for the sunrays are falling on the tray table onto a book, almost beckoning me to read it. And when the sunrays call, one must answer.

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Mumbai musings

Some people say they love the city of dreams. Others absolutely hate it. I have never quite been able to make up my mind about it, until recently.  With Mumbai it was never love at first sight, like it was with Mysore and Mussoorie. It was not pure flinching either like it was with a few cities I wouldn’t name. There were times when I hated the bantering crowd of a BEST  bus, but there were also times when I found myself enjoying the wind of a local train in my hair. After coming back from a hiatus from the city I have now lived in for 15 plus years, I saw it in new light. The first thing I noticed was the sounds. There are hundreds of them in each moment. There is the sound of a crow, of a vehicle, of a pigeon, of a child, of rickshaws honking, of my grandma cooking in the kitchen. The nose also has its fun in the green trees, in the tea pot, in the garland shop and in the not so pleasant smells at times. Overall it is chaos, but a beautiful one at that. There is action and life in every moment and in every corner you look.

I have seen Mumbai through various modes; sometimes luxurious , sometimes touristy, sometimes through the ways of a localite, but the closest that I have been to Mumbai has been through the  Sunday morning rides through BEST bus 84 ltd. My little adventure would start at Vile Parle and would take me to Nehru planetarium. This bus allowed me to catch the city, otherwise always busy and bustling, in a rather innocent, out of the bed light. The tea shops just opening in Parla West, Bandra with its sunlit buildings, a glimpse of the Mahim church and then of Siddhivinayak temple while they were still at peace and not thronged by people, the turn at Doordarshan after which the landscape changed  and finally a glimpse of Rolls Royce(my dream car)  in Atria mall before arriving at Nehru planetarium.

Mumbai is the local train and the Audi. It is Vada Pav and the Pad Thai. It is the street side tapri and the five star restaurant. It is of the poor and the rich. It is fancy pubs and it is also Dinanath Mangeshkar Natyagruh. It is not an or, it is an and, maybe hence it assimilates all the people that walk in and out of it. On a more personal level, Mumbai has given me the much needed hard push when I became complacent with life, and it has taken me lovingly into its arms when I have returned hurt and broken. The city through its spirit and numerous examples has taught me to hold on to things and with equal  intensity has taught me to also let go of things. It’s sunsets may leave you upset with life, but it’s sunrises somehow bring new hope.

I once asked a person I had just met, “Where are you from?”, expecting a simple answer. When they asked me in return, “What do you mean where am I  from? Do you mean where I was born? Do you mean where I currently stay? Do you mean where my parents stay? Do you mean where I did my schooling? Do you mean where I was in college? “,it was then that I realized the ambiguity of my question and changed it to ,” To what place do you feel you belong? ” and got a prompt reply. I am yet not sure if I love this city, for love is a word whose meaning is still beyond my tiny brain, but  if someone asks me, “What place do you belong to?” , I proudly say Mumbai.

On Sustainable Travel.

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                                                      Let’s save our planet!! 

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”

This is what travel meant in yesteryear. In today’s time travel has become a trend. It is the next “in thing”. Open any social media platform and you will see hundreds of articles on “Ten places you must see before you die”, “Ten ways travel changes you”, “Ten reasons you must quit your job now, to travel” and many more. There are hundreds of travel websites which do their best to sell a destination and give you a feeling that if you haven’t visited a particular place then what in life are you doing? When such is the motivation to travel, it is no surprise that the main purpose of a tourist is to broadcast what all they have ticked off the bucket list created for them by the hundreds of travel articles that show up on their feed throughout the day. Instead of observing the intricacies of an architectural wonder and appreciating it, today’s tourists are busy taking selfies. Even when a really scenic landscape is staring straight into their eyes, today’s tourists are busy bowing their heads to a smartphone. The true essence of travel is lost somewhere. We hear a lot of terms like travel trends, adventure travel and luxury travel. A term that is lost somewhere in today’s travel business is “Sustainable travel“. The term was defined by the international ecotourism society (TIES) as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. We travel to appreciate the beauty of a particular place. Travel is an escape from everyday routine and revitalizes us. Then why do we want to deprive others and our future generations of this beauty? Why are we so unmindful when we travel? When we travel to a particular place it is up to us to not damage the place. Throwing garbage around, creating a ruckus, disturbing the calmness of a place, what good does our travel do? It is important to respect the place you are traveling to. Would you want your children to see a yellow Taj Mahal, raft in dirty river water and go for a safari in a garbage littered forest? It is our duty as travelers to not destroy, but conserve and replenish the places we visit. So how does one travel sustainably? Does it cost more? Not at all!!! In fact, sustainable travel can help you save a few bucks and will definitely help you get a richer experience out of the place you are visiting. Here are a few simple tips to help you embark upon a sustainable travel journey:

  • Walk or use public transport whenever possible, save fuel.
  • Do not overuse water, energy.
  • Pack light.
  • Don’t throw garbage on the road, in the forest or in the river water. Throw it in a dustbin or bring it back with you.
  • Find Eco – friendly stay options.
  • Never use hotel laundry – They wash each customer’s clothes separately, even if they are in small quantity, thereby wasting a lot of water.
  • Don’t leave behind – Take any leftover soap, shampoo and toothpaste with you.
  • Shop Mindfully – Buy local produce and souvenirs.
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – Use your own bottles and packaging instead of buying new ones every time.
  • Go paperless and help save trees.
  • Volunteer and help in giving back.

These simple steps can help preserve beautiful places of our earth that we are currently so ruthlessly destroying just for the sake of recreation. So next time you plan your travel, remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints.

 

 

Jaipur : A photo guide

This is a photo guide based my three-day visit to Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of the desert state of Rajasthan. Jaipur is famous for its forts, palaces, Rajasthani food, block printing, blue pottery and its colorful people.One of the first things that I noticed about Jaipur was its cleanliness. Never have I seen a tourist place, so clean. So with this introduction let us begin our photo journey through the Pink City.

What to See?

The most popular tourist destinations in Jaipur can be divided into two groups. City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Albert Hall are at a stone’s throw away from each other. At the other end of the city lie the Jal Mahal, Amer fort, Jaigarh fort and Nahargarh fort which can be covered together.

1) City Palace: Once the seat of Maharaja of Jaipur, a part of it sill serves as a royal residence.

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City Palace

2)Jantar Mantar: This astronomy observatory which houses the world’s largest sundial left me awestruck about the scientific advancement of our ancestors.

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Jantar Mantar

3)Hawa Mahal: An ornately built, high screen wall which was used by the ladies of the royal family to view proceedings on the street below, this one is an architectural beauty.

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Hawa Mahal

4)Albert Hall: A museum made out of white stone, this stands in the middle of a busy street but oddly its serenity blends perfectly with the hustle and bustle of the state capital.Of all the monuments, this one was my favorite, I sat for almost an hour gazing at the purity of this white building, looking at pigeons fly by, even as cars and bikes honked around, one look at the Albert Hall and I was transported to a different era.

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Albert Hall and Pigeons

5)Jal Mahal: Located at the center of Mansagar Lake, this five storeyed palace is for floors under water when the lake is full. Due to its cooling architecture, it was used during summers. This palace is closed for tourists and can be seen only from a distance.

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Jal Mahal: Have to be a VVIP to gain entry here.

6)Amer Fort: This is arguably the best tourist attraction of Jaipur. The fort campus is huge and offers scenic views of lake Maota, alongside which it is built.

Amber Fort
Amer Fort

7)Jaigarh Fort: A military fort, this houses the largest canon in the world.

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Largest cannon in the world

8)Nahargarh Fort: Situated at the highest point in the city, Nahargarh fort offers spectacular views of Jaipur city nestled in the lap of Aravali Hills. This one should not be missed at any cost.

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Nahargarh Fort

9)Birla Mandir: One of the many beautiful temples built across our country, this one needs no introduction.

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Birla Temple

#Tip 1: Most of the tourist attractions in Jaipur are historical monuments. What brings these stone walls to life are the stories that surround them. Take a guide to fully understand the grandeur of each of the palaces. They usually charge up to Rs 200/- (depending on your bargaining skills). If you don’t want to be bound by the itinerary of a guide then get yourself an audio guide. They come at Rs 100 /- and are super easy to use.

#Tip 2: Check the timings before you plan your tour. Most of the monuments are open from 8 am to 5 pm.

Experiences:

1)Block printing: Rajasthan is famous for block printing, using vegetable colors. Visit one of the innumerable factories located here, to see this art first hand. You can try it yourself and take your block printed fabric as a souvenir.

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Made by me!

2)Chokhi Dhani: This is a traditional Rajasthani village themed restaurant. Expert performs showcase Rajasthani dances, magic shows, fire stunts and more. There are many games and Rajasthani thali restaurant. Although this place is very famous, the performers looked very tired and a lot of food is wasted in the thali restaurant. I didn’t leave this place with a good feeling and it doesn’t really fit into my traveling ethic.

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3)Camel Ride: Being in a dessert this one goes without saying. The thrill of rising with a camel and sitting down with it is no less than that of a roller coaster. Again, be humble, be respectful to the dessert ship.

Camel
I wonder what it is thinking? 

4)Shopping at Bapu bazar: I am not really the shopping types. I prefer exploring a new place rather than spend hours in a shop. But shopping in Jaipur is totally worth it. It introduces you to the variety of handicrafts that Rajasthan has to offer and you stand a chance at having some interesting conversations with the local shopkeepers. While popular in the tourist circuits is the  Johari bazar, it is the nearby Bapu Bazar that locals shop at. Block printed bed sheets, soft blankets that make you feel like a king, colorful Kurtis, antique wine glasses and what not. Put your bargaining hat on for a 2000 can easily mean a 800.

bapu bazar
Trinkets at Bapu Bazar

Places to eat

When in Jaipur make sure you try Pyaj Kachori, Mirchi Vada, Laas Maas, Ghewar and the DAAL BAATI. Here are a few places I visited and their reviews.

1)Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar – I had heard a lot about this place and was very excited to visit it.It is situated very close to city palace and I went in on an empty stomach. To my disappointment, this is a classic case of “Naam bade aur darshan chote”. The place is very old and was once famous for its food. Now it is a rather overpriced restaurant which serves a not so good tasting Daal Bati for Rs 400. The only positive I found here, was its Pyaj Kachori.

2)Peacock Rooftop Restaurant –  Now this one is a gem and you cannot miss this at any cost. A rooftop restaurant with quirky furniture, this place offers superb food for a budget price. When here, you have to try the Laas Maas and their cheese garlic naan(Foodgasms all the way).

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Laas Maas and cheese garlic Naan

3)Indian ice-cream and Kulfi Falooda –  I stumbled upon this place while shopping near Bapu Bazaar. I am not a Falooda fan but after having it here, I stand converted. All their ice creams are homemade and the place is so old that when they first started selling Falooda its price was only 25 paise.

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Faaalooodaa!!

4)The Thali House  – Very close to Jaipur railway station, come here for the Daal Baati. Though not out of the world, the best one I got to taste in Jaipur.

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Daal baati churma

Where to stay?

Jaipur is thronged by Indian and international tourists throughout the year.There are many stay options available, from high-end Havelis to backpacker hostels. I stayed at Gumaan heritage OYO premium. The hotel simple interiors with a Rajasthani touch. The best part was its open terrace with dome shaped kiosks which gave it heritage hotel feel.

Getting around

There are many options to travel around this beautiful city. You can take rikshas or taxis. Taxis charge around Rs 2000/day. My favorite mode of transport though was an environment-friendly one – eco Rikshas. These run around the city palace and can sometimes take you farther than the Birla temple. For a meager 10Rs, you can reach your destination and reduce your carbon footprint.If you have more time you can explore the city using a bicycle or even on foot

eRiksha

#Tip : The people of Jaipur are usually very good and helpful, but a lot of drivers get commissions from various shops and restaurants. Distance and timings may increase or decrease based on their convenience. So make sure you double check these details through an authentic source.

 

When you come to Jaipur, bring time along. It is not a city to be visited in a day. It is feeling the history in the palaces, going back to the realm of royal families, it is walking on colorful cobbled stone pathways and it is meeting equally colorful people.

This was my Jaipur experience and my search for the best Daal Baati still continues. Have you been to Jaipur? What do you most love about the Pink City?

 

 

Sanchi: The unexplored India

Have you ever wanted to read stories not off books but of beautifully carved stone pillars? Have you ever wanted to travel 2000 years back in time? Have you ever wanted to be at a place from where a great world religion spread? I wanted to and I did this by visiting the Sanchi Stupa situated in Madhya Pradesh. The Stupa was built by Ashoka in 3rd century BC and it contains the ashes of Lord Buddha. As I entered the premises, a very colorful tree welcomed me. The tree was covered with Buddhist prayer flags. These flags are believed to carry their positive energy with the wind and are known to bring harmony in people’s lives.

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The colorful tree

Surrounded by stone structures all around stands Lord Buddha’s Stupa .It has four beautifully carved gateways which depict the Jatak Kathay (A must read if you already haven’t).The gateways are so intricately sculpted that one can identify emotions, mood of the scene and even the ethnicity of people. From the tale of monkey who sacrifices for his clan to the story of how Siddhartha became Buddha, from the scene depicting foretelling of Buddha’s birth to the one where the young prince gives away all his wealth, these pillars will tell you all the stories.

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Stupa 1
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The intricately carved stone gateway

Engraved on the pillars is also the Brahmi script. It is amusing how even after all these years the inscriptions remain so legible.

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Bramhi script

After seeing the main Stupa I trekked down to see the monastery built by Ashoka for the monks who practiced here. It is so easy to imagine hundreds of monks going about their daily activities, meditating below a banyan tree, bathing in a nearby lake and eating off the giant Bhikshuk bowl.

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Remains of the monastery

A little further is a smaller Stupa which contains the ashes of two genius disciples of Buddha. I went around the Stupa and could see vast expanse of fields, the entire city of Vidisha and a train going in the distance. Standing at the stone stupa that was built around 3000 years ago, I actually felt like staring into the future.

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Vast expanse of land visible from Stupa

Travel tips.

#Sanchi is situated very close to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal is easily accessible by air, road and rail transport.

#When you come to Sanchi don’t forget to take a travel guide (human or in form of a book) to uncover the wonderful mysteries that this place has to tell.

#The Madhya Pradesh tourism offers a wonderful accommodation option in Sanchi which goes by the name of Gateway Retreat. A luxurious hotel situated just 10 minutes away from the Stupas is a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate your soul. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous there is also the jungle resort situated at an hours distance from Sanchi, right behind the Udaygiri caves.

#In the past few years, technology has made travel planning very easy. I hadn’t heard about Sanchi , until it popped up as a suggestion for me on www.metripping.com. It’s a really cool website where you enter your trip dates, budget, the kind of accommodation you prefer, the kind of experiences you are looking for and it suggests the top three destinations that match your choices with the option to book at the best prices. It is like your very own travel genie.

Visiting Sanchi was a wonderful experience for me. It made me realize  how great civilizations have been nothing but a blip in the time of the universe ,but then again it also made me realize that these civilizations stay alive long after they are gone through their thoughts, their wisdom and  their  culture.

Andy,the cat and Jimmy,the dog.

A few days ago I went to Vattakanal. It is a mini – hill station located in south India. Read more about it here. While in Vattakanal  I came across many interesting people (which forms another blog) and much more interesting four legged bundles of love (which forms the content of this blog). There are many dogs that roam around the streets of Vattakanal (I envy them for staying in such a beautiful place).

But today I would like to tell you about Andy, the cat.  He is the angry young cat of Vattakanal. His usual hangout place is the very famous Altaf café. Now here is the thing about Andy, he doesn’t like humans (travellers or residents), he doesn’t like dogs, he doesn’t like anything (except maybe milk and chicken). Every visitor to Altaf and Vattakanal  is given a very cold treatment by Andy. Every chair and table at Altaf is reserved by him. If you happen to sit in his place, God save you. He will give you the “How dare you sit in my spot” look and meow at you endlessly till you actually get up from his place. He will then reclaim his throne and give you another victory meow.andy1

In this pic: Andy asking(commanding) me to get up!!

Andy does not like dogs either. There are many dogs around Altafs but it is Andy, the cat who rules them all. Anyone who enters his territory is greeted by hostile gnawing. All the dogs are terrified of him and keep a safe distance. But there is one exception. The moment we entered Altaf  we saw a very jolly, loving Jimmy . He is a puppy and looked like a pet dog. We asked the owner of Altaf about him. He told us that some people came here for vacation a few days ago and brought Jimmy along with them. But when they left they didn’t take Jimmy along. I felt a bit sad for the little fellow. But Jimmy quickly made Vattakanal his home and is easily the most loved dog at Altaf.

Now you can imagine how our Andy would react to this. All the human emotions of jealousy, insecurity and even hatred could be seen in him. Jimmy on the other hand has two very self – destructive traits. He is very fond of Andy and he is very persistent.  A usual scene at Altaf, these days, is Jimmy following Andy and Andy gnawing him away and then Jimmy following him again. They reminded me a lot of Tom and Jerry.

On the day I was to leave Vattakanal, I sat at Altaf’s for a very long time, inhaling every bit of the mountains. For hours, I saw Andy and Jimmy doing their usual ritual. Throughout the day I saw Andy pushing Jimmy away and Jimmy albeit a few bruises not giving up. As I left Altaf for a final time, I saw a rare sight. Both Andy and Jimmy were peacefully sitting next to each other, watching the sunset. Was this just a brief break from their Tom and Jerry game or had Andy at last, found his first friend, in a little persistent puppy?

Har-ki-dun : THAT Valley!!!!!

 

Life has its way of throwing little seredipitious treats at us, every once in while.When my sister called me I became a part of one such treat. She was going to a 11 day trek in the Himalayas and she wanted company.I had just left a few things behind and was looking for a fresh start. A trek was perfect. I hadn’t really heard about Har-ki-dun.I googled it up minus the images(I don’t like to see the places that Im going to before hand). From what I read I gathered that its a valley (dun meaning valley)from where one can see the Swargrohini peak.Swargrohini is of importance in the Indian epic Mahabharta as it was by climbing this peak that the pandvas went to heaven.So, with a little bit of prepration: not so much for the trek as for the weather, my sis and I were ready to go.

We boarded the train from Manmad station and an unknown adventure with 30 strangers began. The train journey that started with awkward hellos  and  formal introductions went through the fun card playing sessions, eateries being passed around and ended in us being a bit less of strangers.We reached Delhi the next day.The sun was a bit lazy that day and we were greeted by cloudy weather. The butter, the paneer,the kaali daal and the mighty lassi at a small hotel near the station made for the perfect north Indian lunch.

Next we boarded the train for Dehradun, Ruskin Bonds very own Dehra.It was here that we started feeling the difference. The air became cooler, the people friendlier, the barren concrete landscape gave way to lush green fields and small streams.It was here that a kind stranger offered us a seat. It was a mighty one mind you,not for the weak hearted.After 22 years of living and in the absence of parental supervision, my sister and I got the opportunity of sitting at the darvajja of the bogie. And we were kids again. We saw the fields passing by,the farmers ploughing their fields, the kids waving good bye to the train, the setting sun, the breeze on our faces, the wind in our hair. No other thought crossed our minds except for the wonderful scenery passing in front of us.We were feeling more and thinking less. This by far is the best seat I have had while travelling.

We reached derhradun at night. It seemed like a confused place. A city that has left its stature of being a town but has not yet arrived at the one of a state capital. Nonetheless the city had beautiful plantations and some nice architecture. The hotel that we stayed in gave a direct view of masoorie in the distance.

IMG_0576A view of masoorie from dehradoon.

Nestled in those lights in the distance somewhere was a man, a simple man(yup the kind is rare but they do exist),a man who spoke very less, but was a man of words nonetheless(OHK im digressing!Though u can read my other blog “A day in masoorie” for further info… ) . So, coming back to the hotel in dehradoon. The hot water bath after a long journey was relief. Little did we know that this was going to be our last bath for almost a week.We got up early next day and started the 8 hour bus ride to Sankri.The route was beautiful and haunting. Haunting because the roads were extremely narrow ,as if the mountain were shrinking anything artificial built on its face.On one side was a valley,one miscalculation on the part of the driver and we would all go down the gushing waters of Yamuna. Beautiful,well, pretty much for the same reason. At around noon the weather started changing.It changed from pleasant in dehra to rainy on the way and finally to chilly when we reached Sankri in the evening. Sankri is a beautiful village. Around 20 houses and a few shops nestled in the Himalayas.It was first from here that we could spot the snow clad peaks. There they stood in the distance, seemingly unconquerable.

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We all took a good nights sleep as the next day would be a long and ardous one. A 14km trek to a village called Seema.All of us woke up early(thanks to the innovative ways of our trek lead). We were taken by jeeps to a place called Taluka from where we were to start our trek.On the way to Taluka our jeeps went through waterfalls and while trying to enjoy the scenery around we hoped that our drivers knew what they were doing. When we reached Taluka, it had started pouring, the ponchos and the caps came out and we marched out for the trek. The trek was like a beautiful long walk through a dense forest. The rain had made the forest even more beautiful-The mist down the valley,the petrichor, the continous  sound of the river flowing down, the sight of the mighty Himalayas. This was pure bliss.

10362906_10152440961784201_1802384259_oEnroute Seema

When we reached seema the sun was out as if congratulating us on the days hard work. Seema seemed like a trekkers village.There were 2-3 lodges and a few Tapri’s(small shops).These Tapri’s welcomed us with piping hot chai and chulha made maggi. After eating the simple and tasty dinner(yes thats a possible combination) we went to sleep. Next day ,as usual, we got up early and started on the main trail of our trek, the one leading to Har-ki-dun.This trail was amazingly scenic.By now the sound of the river below had become a constant companion, Himalayas were in every direction you look  and  the village of Seema now looked like it had come straight out of the sets of Honey, I shrunk the kids.

10371218_10152440911889201_17704044_oMAGGI!!! Whoever invented this, should be given a nobel prize!

10374070_10152430516012165_5445675151958419411_nA view of Seema from above.

Then terrain was :lush green fields at times, rocky at times.With the sun above our heads ,electrol and glucose had become our best friends.But more than the energy boosters I think it was the cool water which we drank from small waterfalls on the way that did the trick. By noon we had covered half of the trail. We sat on the sides of a river and had our packed lunch.

10329663_10152456766509201_2313497240341906846_oEnroute har-ki-dun.

10339661_10152249370813682_1927017828926968483_nOur lunching table.

Then as we moved on after lunch, the nature decided to treat us. It is rain!!It is hail!! NO,its a snowfall! Probably the first proper snowfall for me. We were all very happy. The spirits swelled and the tired faces turned brighter.But soon its intensity increased. After trekking in heavy snow fall and with only one question in everybodys mind(Aur kitni dur hai?)we finally reached Har-ki-dun.

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10376592_10152442562474201_1925148900_oEnroute Har ki dun in heavy snowfall.

There’s always a point in every trek which is extremely dangerous and beautiful at the same point.For me it came just before reaching the destination. By now most of us were scattered. The people who were walking ahead of me had reached Har-ki-dun,the once behind were nowhere in sight. There was no sight of land, it was snow coming from the heavens and it was snow on the beneath our feet. There was one particular inclined patch: the Supin river flowing below,nothing between it and me except for that slippery incline of snow. I looked down marvelling at the beauty and the sereneness of the sight  and when I looked down again  I was scared. One slip of the foot and I  would probably go tumbling down. In that moment I froze. I looked in front, I  looked behind.There was no one. My legs started shivering.I just couldn’t take the next step. Its surprising how in such crisis situations your brain responds. It becomes its own motivator,its own analyzer and its own driver.From some hidden pool of courage you never knew existed in you, it draws strength.And LO!! Everytime you do end up taking the next step.And with such courageous little steps you reach the destination. The moment I reached Har-ki-dun I  rushed into the little cottage which is the only sign of humans there.The place was warm because of the fireplace. We were greeted by chai and Parle-G biscuits. It was only after about 10 mins that I ventured out to see what exactly this har-ki- dun is. Looking at the sight i thought that maybe this was not just the route that Pandavas took to heaven,this is a part of heaven itsef.The valley is peace. It is all that we long for in our hectic crowded city lives.It is that good nights sleep. It is a long sigh of relief.It is the smile that you long to see. It is the birds chirping,the wind blowing,the river singing,the ring of innocent laughter,speechlessness,hope everything combined in one.Looking at that site I felt more alive, I felt happier and though no body was at my side: no messages,no facebook no whatsapp, I did not feel alone.There away from everything else in the world I felt connected.

IMG_0734Har-ki-dun

1907338_10152430521547165_5336333280986539231_nOur cottage at Har-ki-dun

Soon the sun went down and the stars were out. We could see the Swargrohini peak standing tall in the east,very close to us. And then we saw the moon rising  from behind the peak. At one point the moonlight from the Buddha Poornima Chandra seemed to meet the mist flying away from Swargrohini’s peak. It was not clear whether its the moon that has come closer or is it the peak that is spacebound.

IMG_0747Moonrise behind Swargrohini.

After a comforting glass of bournvita all of us slept like logs. There was only one realisation, that of being tired. Inspite of the cold, the aching in the entire body,the longing for being some place more comfortable, the need of a bath, I had the sweetest  sleep I have had in a long time. Now, that is something that luxury can’t buy.Next day morning was the rest day.We were told by the local guide-Gulab (an amusing man in himself) that the sun would be out from early morning to afternoon and the snow is your playground.So we went out and became 5 yr olds again. Snowball fights, making snowman and snow fairies, sun bathing(maybe shouldnt have done that said our tans later),taking pictures,we had alot of fun.

IMG_0737Our guide-Gulab!

IMG_0750Snow

We found a rock each and sat there just looking. It was here that it really sank in. This was not a scene out of a fairy tale neither was this a picture on one of those exotic travel brouchers. It was real, we were actually here. Yes,something so beautiful does exist and yes we were experiencing it.

IMG_0807The thinking spot.

It was here that I finally had the breath to look back at the journey and do a little bit of thinking(yes I do think, rarely happens but happens).I have always believed that treks change you in the smallest and the widest of ways.You discover things in you, you never knew you had.Treks are probably the best form of meditation.The only moment that exists is your next step.About the Himalayas,I’m confused. They offer the best to your eyes, and just when you think that the mountains are your friends,they turn hostile. They tell you that you do not belong here. And just when you feel like the only thing that you want to do is get away from the mountain, go to your home,to the comfort of your own bed,they extend a hand of friendliness again. They do welcome you but only as guests.Well the Himalayas are mighty.Sitting there on that small rock and surrounded by snow clad peaks all around, me tiny little at their mercy, I truely discovered the meaning of the word humble.Here it didn’t matter what I was in the outside world.Whether I was the president of united states or the greatest football player in the world(Go,messi!)or whether I was lost in the lanes of mediocrity with nothing to look forward to.In this mighty place it didn’t matter. The mountains have stood here for thousands of years and will do so even if I top my next exam or I screw up my next interview. Everything I did in the real outside world seemed insignificant ,outright useless.Suddenly all my horrendous problems didn’t seem big enough.The mountains seemed to be looking down at me. Mocking. Saying is it really the Humans that the earth is of? Do you really rule the world? It is my kingdom that you are in now.Now see for real, that the earth is not just a brain on two legs walking around. It is us,the mountains, the rivers, the horizons, the deserts  who’s mother you call your own.You are just intruders.And like an intruder I did feel.Intruding into the serenity of nature, going against it, my kind hurting it in every horrible way possible.I didn’t feel very proud of the all brainy human race then. Yes,that little bird that flew by seemed more vidvaan than us. It knew that it is the one who is supposed to adjust with the nature and not the other way round:a knowledge that illudes most of us ‘well educated’ people.I felt like bowing down and saying sorry.Only if that could make the situation better.

10268602_490179871084119_6301863699931065616_nThe ‘vidvaan’ bird.

10363654_490175167751256_8356226850632901832_nBeautiful flowers in the snow.

The trail of thoughts was interrupted by a beautiful purple flower that grew in that hostile environment.And i turned my attention  to the hostilities that we humans had faced while coming here. Physical exhaustion,torn down limbs,illness.Each of us had fought an internal battle. At some point of time everyone felt that they couldn’t do it. But then something moved.Something inside each of them gave them the strength to see it through to the end.Yes,the mountains were unconquerable but so is human spirit. I looked back up again,this time straight into the eyes of the mountain and I thought that Yes you are mighty, but who were to acknowledge your mightiness if it weren’t for us humans?Who would have known about your existence if it weren’t us  who would have come up?Who would have known that you are unconquerable if we hadn’t tried to conquer you?Your strength ,mighty, your force, unstoppable and yet you do need my validation and the validations of the small birds and flowers who battle you and find their air.

And then it felt like there we stood as equals, smiling because both of us were humbled. None lessened by the mightyness of another. The mountain had got its validation of greatness and me human of my spirit.The trek changed me. I came back knowing that the world is much more than just me and my life.I came back more alive. More happy. The people I did the trek with were strangers.,but we  bonded strewn together by the yearn for adventure. Friendships bloomed. A long trek back home which could have been a dreary walk because of a swollen knee turned into a fun leisurly nature trail because a friend kept company, adjusting her pace according to mine. So, all of us came with different restlessness in their minds, did the trek together and went back into our lives with a liberated heart. That is what a trek does. It teaches you to live,live freely.

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Our lovely group!(Yes the dog is a part of it to.)

Photo credits: Ruchita Belapurkar,Pratik Mukund Langarkande, Rohit Kulkarni,Malvika Mayur.