Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Trip to Himachal trip [Shimla - Kinnaur - Manali]

This trip was originally planned last year, but due to sudden cloudburst in Uttarkhand and Himachal, with heavy heart I had to cancel our plan. After a long wait of a year finally our plan to visit beautiful Himalayas finally got realised this March (March is end of winter).

I have put down my itinerary. I know it looks quite elaborate but my idea was to record everything I have seen, heard and felt. Here’s the first part.

17th March’14 - Mumbai – Pashim express – When I planned our trip, we were not sure of the dates and the delay landed us in sleeper class coach. I need not say how much we suffered as we boarded the heated train from Mumbai. The nights were better though and the prospect for cooler coming days gave us the strength.

18th March’14 - Shimla
Once we reached Chandigarh, we met Mr. Vinkal Handa whose car we had booked, and started our journey to Shimla. We had suffered enough in train and were desperately waiting for the cool Shimla breeze. But as our car crossed the borders of Haryana and entered Himachal, we noticed the change in climate and our minds started finding its peace. It was approx four hour journey and we took a break on the way to have hot Maggi and Tea. By the time we reached Shimla, it was dark and we hurried to find a suitable hotel for one night. Our driver, Vinkelji, suggested Hotel Sangeet where rooms were available but I thought it expensive for just one night stop. We were supposed to leave the next morning.

But after the endless train journey, searching for hotel sounded a big task. Hotel Sangeet too was full by then and we had to drag our feet to look for others. We met two helpers, Mr.Nari and his brother who took us to hotels per our requirement. Finally after checking 2 hotels we settled for hotel Sea rock. The room was more of a enclosed box but we were good as it had hot water and it was just a matter of one night. If you ask for review I would rate it 2*.

Next morning, we strolled through the Shimla market and bought a few winter items for dad. The market was reasonable and we got some good deals. I found the locals walking to their offices in trendy clothes. It was a pleasant morning and we were happy, finally satisfied to be there.

Source : IntenetShimla also known as Simla, is the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. Most of the town lies between 2,100 m and 2,300 m. Shimla is well known as a hub for India's tourism sector. It is among the top 10 preferred entrepreneurial locations in India. Its name has been derived from the goddess Shyamala Devi, an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.


The Green Valley

19th March’14 – Sarahan

We skipped sightseeing in Shimla and started our journey for Sarahan at noon. It was a long road along the beautiful landscaped mountains and we took stop at Narkanda for lunch. The hotel owner was Tibetan and chatted with us as we paid the bill. She had been to Mumbai few months ago in December for fortnight trip. They had also been to Ajanta & Ellora caves and enjoyed the trip. We left with smiles and with her good wishes for our journey.

Sarahan is small town and has the famous Bhimakali temple, dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali, presiding deity of the rulers of the former Bushahr State. The temple is situated about 180 km from Shimla and is one of 51 Shakti Peethas. The town is known as the gateway of Kinnaur.

It has an average elevation of 7,589 feet.

The temple is made of wood and has intricate beautiful carvings.

 

We reached Sarahan at around 6:30 pm. I asked Vinkelji about hotels. He mentioned his friend's hotel Green valley. I still went to see the guest house in Bhimakali temple but decided in favour of Green valley which had better view than the Bhimakali guest house which was nothing more than a close room without windows. By the time we freshened up and reached the temple by 7:15 pm, (the Aarti starts by 6:45-7), the Aarti was finished and the temple was closed. The next morning we got ready and visited the deity. We were impressed by the temple’s peculiar architecture and by it’s intricate wooden carvings. The premise is spacious and we sat there for some time taking in the beauty of the temple and basking in the sun in the chilly morning.


Shrikhand View from Hotel


Village

20th & 21st March’14 Kalpa

Sangla Valley or the Baspa Valley starts at Sangla and ends at Chitkul. The Baspa River flows in the Sangla Valley which is rich in pine nut orchards, Royal red apples, cherry trees, and glacial streams with trout. The main villages in the valley villages include Chitkul, Rakcham, and Batseri. 

Sarahan was the last town in Shimla district and was also the last with proper roads. As we entered Sangla Valley, after a few kilometres, the roads got narrower and crude. Those who are afraid of height may find their BP rising as the car treks it’s way thousand feet above the steep slope. We took stop at the Mata temple which was built by military to please deity for frequent accidents on the road. There we met an appointed military personal from Maharashtra. He was pleased to find someone from his homeland and so were we.


Road


Power Plant

We followed the steep path, in awe of the skilful driver as our car passed along the edges, with River Sutlej flowing below. Our itinerary was for Sangla/Chitkul but due to weather havoc, the road was closed, so we headed to Kalpa. We took halt at Reckong Peo for lunch. Reckong Peo, also simply known as Peo by the local inhabitants, is headquarters of Kinnaur district. It is at a height of 7,513 ft.

Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, above. Inhabited by Kinnauri people and famous for its apple orchards. Apples are a major cash-crop for the region. It has an average elevation of 9,711 feet. It is located at the base of the Kinnaur Kailash snow-capped ranges. The Shivling peaks rise up to 20,000 feet. Kalpa is among apple orchards, pine-nut forests and the stately deodhars. It is above the town of Reckong Peo, the district headquarters of Kinnaur, which has a hundred-year-old Buddhist monastery.

There was fresh snowfall at Kalpa the previous day and most of the hotels were closed due to insufficient staff and water. Vinkalji took us to Rolling Rang resort where we got ourselves a room with direct and perfect view to Kinner Kailash & Shrikhand. We were so close to snow, we gasped at the magnificent mountains as we had a nice hot cup of tea.

The Kinnaur Kailash (locally known as Kinner Kailash) has a height of 6500 meters and is considered as sacred by both Hindu and Buddhist Kinnauris. The pass accessible on the trek is the Charang La at an altitude of 5300m. It is considered as the toughest trek in Himachal Pradesh.

As per legend this shrine too finds its presence since the time of bhasmasur, the Deadly Asur/demon who got a boon/vardan from lord shiva that whoso ever's head will be touched by him, will be turned into bhasma or ashes. Seeing the powerful effects of this boon he tried to bhasma Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva kept on hiding from place to place and then finally came to this place. He resided here for some time meditating with Lord Vishnu. Then finally Lord Vishnu helped him by killing the demon.

Kinnauris believe in the shivling seen on the Shrikhand range as shown in the left pic (picked from net, my camera lens is not powerful enough to capture it). As per locals, the snow never settles on the shivling.


Sunrise View

View

On the second day we went out for some wandering. First on our list was Roghi village. The road to this village is very narrow and it added our admiration for the local drivers. We went by car but there were people who had set out on foot. Along the road was the suicide point with cliff with a terrific fall below. As we reached Roghi village, we found a truck filled with construction materials taking reverse on the steep, narrow, unsettled road. We stood by to look at the operation with eyes opened wide.

Suicide point

Cabbages at the village

I went into shooting spree through the almost-empty lanes with traditional houses & beautiful wooden temples.


Temple


View

Next on our plan was the Tibetan monastery in Chini village a few meters below our hotel. As we reached the temple, a few monks were leaving. We were surprised to see them photo-shooting with iMac. We went around the temple, spinning the prayer wheels offering prayers. It was nice peaceful place like a world in itself. The next morning we could hear a players from the monastery, it’s vibrational rhythmic chants engaging us immediately.


Monastary


Interesting setup

Even though days are warmer in Kalpa, nights get cooler. My parents found it an effort to adjust to the cold. One can also get a heater on rent, thought we came to know about it only on second night.

22nd & 23rd March’14 Rakcham

Next morning we started for Rakcham. Another Bengali group from our hotel was also following the same route. The manager of Running Rang, Mr. Thakur also accompanied us after Sangla. Thakurji is an interesting person and has lots of stories about the place which takes you to closer to the native and makes you more curious about the Kinnaur.

Rakcham is at an altitude of approx. 10,000 ft. Being at higher altitude and almost in the cold mountains, it is quite colder here than Kalpa. So our accidental change of plan in visiting Kalpa proved to be in our favor. It helped our body to get accustomed to cold and direct transfer to Raksham may have proved adversely on our health.

At Rakcham, we checked in at Rupin river, the only hotel there. As it was end of winter, the water pipes was not operational yet and the water was been provided from buckets. Thakurji (who runs this place too), showed us wooden cottage which he said would be less cooler than the cemented hotel. But when he showed us 301 room with a beautiful view to the mountains and the soothing flowing river, we comfortably voted the room over the cottage. But this time we asked for heater which is must here.


Beautiful view from hotel


River

After lunch we headed towards the river. It was 1:30 pm and the sun was shining brightly above us. As we trekked down to the bridge, we found the snow under our feet soft and our shoes sinking and getting wet. We hopped our way carefully to the bridge. Even though the river looks calm from the hotel, it is not so calm under the bridge where it is forceful enough to bore multiple holes in the big boulders through which you see water coming through. Next few hours we just sat in the hotel balcony under the sun and soaking in the magnificent surroundings.

Just sitting was never so interesting. In the mornings, we watched people walk easily over the snow (the snow gets hard in the cold morning and begins to melt in the sun) on which we were struggling a day earlier. People carried fodder, wood over their back. There were college students who trekked to the other side in morning and were out in afternoon skiing. We realised that this place has the least of entertainment and I wondered how much time one will have on hand after daily chores. Also I read this place is absolutely free of any form of crime.

After breakfast we thought of just checking around. Thakurji told us that Chitkul (which is the last Indian village before the Tibet Border was on our original itinerary and not Rakcham) had fresh heavy snowfall and one of the cars that had gone there that morning had stuck in the snow and had to be pushed. The road towards Chitkul was breath-taking and we came across a few glaciers. However after a few kilometers, we turned back to our hotel. 

Chitkul (Chittkul) is the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border. The Indian road ends here. During winters, the place mostly remains covered with the snow and the inhabitants move to lower regions of Himachal. Potatoes grown at Chittkul are one of the best in the world and are very costly. It is also the last point in India one can travel to without a permit.


Glacier


Temple Wooden Carvings

After lunch at hotel, we strolled through the village, which unfortunately was mess with cow dung and melting snow. We made our way to the only temple in the village but found it locked. Later we came to know that it opens only once a month, on the day of Sankranti. The wooden walls displayed Hindu dieties and also hint of Tibetan influence with dragon carvings.

** Indented red text is taken from net, mostly Wiki & Himachal gov tourist site for specific details.

…Part 2 to be continued

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Divine Intervention

 
This post is written for Indiblogger contest British Airways India – Go further to get closer.
British Airways India - Go further to get closer
 
Even in the early hours, her surrounding looked more like a marathon than an airport. Every body was like rushing for their winning post. Men in business suits moved around, most of them looking tired as they dragged their baggage. There were families struggling to contain their children as the little devils were at their best in creating havoc on their new playground. There were groups of college students who were leading at the cheers and jeers that the Mumbai airport was abuzz with. Tulip looked around desperately to find any lone traveller like her. Not that she wanted company, it was only for consolation. Across the passage, she saw a backpacker, alone, looking into a book buried in his lap and in between, stealing glances around. She felt a little peace. But she was still lonely.
 
Her phone rang. It was her husband calling. She clicked the receive button and before he could say anything, she busted. He will have to pay the price for ditching her at the very last moment. No matter how many times he apologise, she will stay put, she had decided. His apologies were now turning into pleadings, and she was on the verge of melting but decided to stay put. She was about to cut the line when she saw a face in the crowd, looking around in amusement. Her mind started racing fast, like torrential rains and heart sinking in it. When the face turned to face Tulip, her reflexes returned and she quickly looked away, regretting instantly. It was inappropriate but she was afraid what the encounter will turn into. She felt somewhat incompetent and a bit stuck, in moral dilemma. Should she show courage to face or be a coward insensitive bitch and quietly slip away from her mother?
 
Still rooted, she wasn't quite herself, her purse slipped from her hand and cosmetics spilled out. She saw her mother moving towards her from the corner of her eye and panic took over. She sat down and started gathering things urgently, when a pair of Kolhapuri chappals halted before her. As if a statue, she stared at the beautiful red peonies on the light peach sari before her. It was as if the saree had a life of its own that it grabbed her hand and took her down the obscure dark corridor at the bright end of which she saw herself, as a child wearing mother's saree, with towel around head to match mother's long hair. Putting the round red bindi on forehead and running around humming and swaying the paloo in air. The image kept replaying on her mind like a scraped record stuck on the track where the little girl was still innocent and free, until a hand reached out to her and brought her back to reality.
 
She looked up to find the calm and peaceful face looking at her. Tulip caught herself smiling while her mother looked at her intently, her lips turned into a smile. For a moment the two ladies looked like two breathing mannequins in the race of stolid crowd in the middle of the airport.
 
It was her mother who spoke first. “How are you?”, her voice, just the same, sounded like melody but catalytic to Tulip. She moved her lips to say fine but it sounded more like a croak. Mother nodded and directed towards a corner. When Tulip still struggled to move, her mother assured, “Your father is not with me. I am travelling alone”.
 
As they settled at the bench at the corner, it was still her mother who was conversing. “Papa flew to London last week and I am joining him now”. Tulip gasped at the mention of London and silently prayed her mother didn't hear. “Where are you travelling?”, mother asked. “London”, Tulip croaked. Mother nodded. There was a long moment of silence and then the boarding announcement saved her. They moved towards the gate for boarding. She stole a look at mother. She looked the same tough woman she was....seven years ago when...her heart sunk as her mind went down to the time when...she saw herself before her mother and father, angry, very very angry. She could see a wall been built between them and her, brick by brick. They would never accept him. How could she, an intelligent MBA student with bright future ahead select a struggling stage artist. Stage artist? They questioned her in unison. But she was determined. She tried to convince them hard but every argument of hers was just another brick in the wall. Their final words kept ringing in her ears, If it was her final decision to Samit, then the parents will show their presence at the wedding but that would be her last sight of them.
 
Her eyes went to the lady beside her, as they walked towards the plane, thinking, how bluntly she had declared, it was fine. She shivered as the words replayed on her mind. Guilt drenched her and she felt her heart swollen and refuse to budge from ground due to heaviness.
 
She came back to reality when her mother tugged her forward. She nodded but her mind was at odds. Does mother really want to talk to her? They said they would never see me. Was this just customary talk? Do they hate her? She didn’t see a hint of emotion in her mother’s eyes. After all these years, any mother would have broke down, but not her. She was surprised that she herself had not shed a tear, but she reckoned that was because she was too afraid to face mother than to look at the situation emotionally. But she has to talk. She has hurt both of them enough. But even if she manages to talk, what would she say? About her life? Or her parent’s life? How was their life without their only unworthy child? Were they years of yearning? Or they flew without any passing thought of her? She took her seat mechanically when she realised that her mother had already traded the seat next to her. Tulip smiled politely at her as they both adjusted their seatbelts.
 
As the plane took flight, Tulip closed her eyes very tight. When she opened her eyes, she saw her mother looking at her with a sweet grin. “You haven’t changed”, she said. Tulip simpered when the air -hostess broke in for their menu preference. Her mother was quick to respond, for herself and Tulip and like every time, mother was spot on what Tulip had on mind. “You too haven’t changed, mom”, she muttered. They both looked into each other, with complete acknowledgement. It must have been an intimate moment for the air-hostess looked at them intently, rummaged her pockets, and took out few samples of expensive Belgium chocolates. She made a face as she handed it to them, looking disappointed that she couldn’t get something better than the chocolates. But the duo were visibly pleased, like little girls. Was it the chocolates or the magic moments a few seconds earlier, but her eyes turned moist and mom patted her hands with a motherly assurance. Tulip was amazed that such a trivial moment could break the solid ice they both were frozen into.
 
“How are you two doing?”, Tulip initiated. “Good”, mother replied smiling. “How is he?”, mother enquired. “Good”, Tulip answered. “He is still same, isn't he?”, mother asked. Tulip knew, by ‘same’, mom meant 'same struggler' but she ignored the implicit adjective and nodded yes. “But you are happy with him? Aren't you?” She looked at mother and nodded yes. She searched for pity in mother's eyes but instead saw them gleam. “I am happy for you”, mom replied and the words broke down Tulip. Was it her mother’s acceptance or the affection in her voice, Tulip stretched through her seat belt and hugged her mother tightly. All the fear, awkwardness and apprehension, evaporated instantly like an open bottle of spirit. They talked in incessantly as the flight flew them backward in time and they were two friends meeting after years, sharing their lives, not missing the smallest detail.
 
The flight was pleasant and they did not realize how fast the time flew and it was time to land in London. When they started to walk down the flight stairs, a realisation started pecking Tulip. "Don't worry, it would be fine" mom said sensing her fright of meeting her father. Tulip nodded.
 
They walked out when she saw him in the  crowd. He was wearing nice stripped shirt and dark pants, looking handsome in his own way. He had grown thin and as she advanced towards him, his features accentuated before her eyes. His hairline had receded. A few years had added to his face. There were wrinkles around his eyes and they were strangely sad. She was now standing before him and could not see him any more as her vision blurred with the tears. When she wiped her eyes dry, she saw his eyes moist. There was a long silence, not awkward but heavy with emotions as silent words flew between the trio, touching deep inside. The very next moment, the three bodies were single soul, hugging tightly. When they separated from the hug, they were crying and laughing at the same time.
They laughed for no reason and at one point their laughter grew so unstoppable that people started turning heads to look at the three funny Indians at the airport who had gone crazy.
 
“Where should we go?”, dad asked. “Anywhere”, she replied beaming. Thoughts of work and preparation had vanished. They dumped luggage at dad's hotel room and went for city tour.
 
They had travelled for more than fourteen hours in flight but Tulip felt as if the journey has only added strength to her body than fatigue. As they wandered though the Victorian streets, they talked and took pictures one of which she decided would go on her beside table. She had never been so happy.
 
As she lay on the bed that night, she thanked God a million times, for the miraculous journey that changed her life. She wished Samit was with her. She will call him and ask if he could still make it to London. She will send him a ticket the next moring, she decided. She could not sleep, planning weekends, trips and food, her mind was on roll. She kept wiggled in bed, overwhelmed by the thought, how complete home will look when they will be together in Mumbai, Mom, Dad, Samit and her. A Happy Family.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Other Side, a book review

 

"A slow rasping sound made me turn. I jumped back, the cell phone leaving my hands and smashing against the concrete floor. Someone was seated on the chair, rocking back and forth. Through the fallen light, I could see those hands placed on the arms of the chair, two gruesome wrinkled limbs with ugly boils plastered over the black skin. The red bangles on its wrists shone in my eyes, momentarily blinding me. That thing and I call it a thing because I could sense it wasn't human as no human could have such a hideous form, as vile an existence as the one seated opposite to my horrified self."

The Other Side' is a collection of thirteen tales of the paranormal. More than scary, I thought the stories had the ability to amuse you with its twist in some of the stories.

The book is co-authored by Faraaz who is 2013 National Debut Youth Fiction Award winner and Vivek Banerjee who has authored couple of books.

I am a fan of horror and thriller genre. And though it doesn’t take much to scare me, I still find enough interest to watch or read this genre. It is a all-right attempt by the authors to write a book in this genre but to be frank I was very disappointed with it.

The book claims to take you through force of unadulterated horror and draws upon the deepest fear in the human mind- the fear of the UNKNOWN!, though it failed to scare me even once. The reason being, almost all of the stories were quite predictable and that stole all the fun.

The book has quite rave reviews on the net and it could be that it was just me who didn’t like it. Could it be that I like elaborate writing and quite approve situation and character building, which in case of this book was missing it has short stories.

My review – 3 stars out of 5

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A hundred questions...

You should love your work, is the mantra for successful life. A few posts back I exitedly lectured on this mantra. But somehow, now post that inspiring and buzzing time, as I am settled in the back-to-normal life, I feel getting dragged in it's dullness. I plan to do million things but only to feel tired to do anything but just lazy around reading books or watching movies. I love my work, no doubt, but that is not my final saviour, I know. With a target in sight, I will do anything to achieve it but there is more to Life than work.

I sit here and while everyone at home has left for shopping from which I have excused myself. As I see the sun setting, I listen myself sigh and see my heart seeping into the melancholy of this sad city evening. Thoughts rush through me. Why can't this evening be a colourful, beautiful and memorable evening. Why can't it be for an empty street waiting for a stroll. Why can't it be for sitting in some wicker chair in veranda and maybe watching a river flow by. Why can't it be for lying on the cliff staring the sky which is cloudless and beautiful blue. Why can't it be for a calming surrounding free of all the noises, so that I can hear myself, clearly and don't have to push hard why all these thoughts are flowing out. I want to know but these noises, inside and outside, just don't let me. Will it be like this, forever?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hunt for Kohinoor, a book review

 

A spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the worlds most dangerous terrain where history collides with gunfire. Will Mehrunisa get out of this one alive?

One morning on her way to work, Mehrunisa gets a call that will change her life forever. The truth about her missing father is at her fingertips but it will take her on the most desperate chase of her lifetime.

A chase that will pit her against hardened jihadi’s plotting the deadliest terror attack on India, that will test her mettle against history’s deep secrets, that will teach her that the price of love can mean bloodied hands.

The Hunt for Kohinoor hurtles from icy Kashmir to snow-clad HinduKush, from the sinister corridors of a military hospital to the warrens of Peshawar, even as the clock counts down to the impending catastrophe.

First of all I want to congratulate the author, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar for picking a sensitive topic such as political tension between the three countries, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and weaving an adventurous tale without touching any open nerve or without sounding fantastical.

As we read the book, there are several references to politics of the four countries, as I add US to the list, when you read about their history, policies and vicious decisions taken by them in the name of politics and at times peace and order. Many of them too real to believe but then looking at the research behind the words, you do believe.

The book starts with a mission and on-boards you immediately. It keeps you engrossed and alert. In all, I would say this book is for everyone and satisfies every ones curiosity. For a reader is it a non-stop thriller, to a director, it can be a live action scenes flowing, to a traveller, it a map and to an enthusiast this book is an information feeder, in fact I have many folds in this book, marked for a Google search later to learn more on the topic. It’s the extent of research behind this book that amazes and inspires me. Only one minute thing, I think, could have been better is the handling of emotional scenes. I feel they were a bit cut short and would have been more effective had the author was more descriptive.

Manreet is a talented author and her writing crisp and engaging. I definitely look forward to see more books from her. This book is second book in the trilogy but if you haven't read the first book, that should not keep you from reading this book. Definitely recommended.

My review - 4 stars out of 5