All posts by thelostlander

getting lost in traveling through places and time...

A quick getaway from Bangalore- Siddarabetta trek

Lockdown 5.0. simply put, was just another normal day in Karnataka, except that the educational institutions were still under lockdown. So, unwinding on a weekend after a long work week was normal too. With friends, I chose to hike on a Sunday morning to Madhugiri betta, the second highest monolithic hill in Asia. We started from Bangalore at 04.30.am. hoping to start the hike as soon as the gates were opened. While KSTDC has been abundantly promoting post-Covid tourism in the state, we had a surprise awaiting us at the trek base. Since Madhugiri fort comes under ASI’s protected monuments (controlled by the central government), we were told that trekking wasn’t permitted by the Central government. Hence, we were left with two options. Either return home or find another hill nearby where we could hike.

We chose the latter. So instant suggestions that came from someone in the group was Devarayanadurga and Siddarabetta. Then, we decided to give Devarayanadurga a miss as we all favoured a hike over a flight of stairs. We arrived at the base of Siddarabetta where we noticed a board that said, ‘climbing the hill with footwear was a sin’. Since many people use this path to visit a temple situated halfway, we didn’t want to hurt the local sentiments by wearing our shoes. Thinking that ‘a barefoot hike was definitely going to be an experience’ in our heads, we left our shoes back in our car.

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Below: The welcome arch at the base; Top: The initial climb

The initial part of the climb, until the Siddeshwara Swamy temple was steep but easy with well laid out steps and iron rods to hold onto. When we reached a small temple kind of a spot, the path split into two. The Siddeshwara Swamy temple was to the left, where too many people seemed to be as if there was no pandemic going on and there exists no concept called ‘Social distancing’. We decided to distance ourselves from the gathering and took the path to the right. With having to pass between too many boulders, it did seem a little confusing initially. The distant passing clouds now seemed as if they had come to meet and greet us. But after walking a little ahead, we reached an area that was a transition from dry rocky mountain to rain soaked green forests. The real challenge of walking barefoot started there, with unassumed ground with gravel and possible thorns from the shrubs.

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Left: The rocky path to the temple; Right: The forest path to the view point

A little further, we reached an open rocky area where the view in front of us was playing hide and seek with each passing cloud. Apart from the drizzle and gusty winds that made it difficult for us to stand, we were mind-blown by the view we saw each time the clouds cleared out. There exists a small rain fed pond, a couple of meditating chambers that house Shiva Lingas (history unknown) and dilapidated remains of an old fortress. There was nobody else other than us in this entire stretch. We walked further and crossed two more hills before deciding to return, or else we would lose our way back.

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Top: The dilapidated fortress wall; Bottom left: A large rock; Bottom right: One of the meditating chambers

It started to rain on our return, and we were quite drenched by the time we made it to the car that was parked just at the base point. The small eateries and stalls were slowly opening by that time which we chose not to visit, in order to avoid any social contacts with anyone else outside the group that we had gone in. We ate a few biscuits as a substitute for breakfast that we had carried from home and decided to stop the car next, only at home. It was a much-needed break and a pleasant little hike.

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The view at from the peak

Summary:

Fun experiences at home during the lockdown

Over the recent years, I have travelled more in seek of new experiences and less to see new places. When the nationwide lockdown happened, I was confined to my house for nearly 3 months. Those familiar with me asked how I coped with not being able to travel. Honestly, if not for the need to be able to stretch my limbs for some physical activities, there wasn’t a day when I felt the need to travel. There were ample things through which I could gain new experiences. Here are some fun experiences during my lockdown.

The first three were motivational experiences that the government of India had assigned as tasks to thank the Corona frontline warriors. All to be performed within the confines of the doorstep of every Indian household. Keeping all the memes and politics aside, participating in them was something I personally enjoyed.

  • Clapping & Clinging of utensils: Calling a day long voluntary Janata curfew on 22-Mar-20 was a preamble to the lockdown. In the evening, Indians were asked to clap their hands, cling plates with spoons or make any sound that would reach the Covid warriors. The outcome had various perspectives from people with varied background. However, our family did our bit by actively participating in it. While I clapped, my mother went a step ahead and blew the conch from our balcony. If not anything, hearing so many types of sounds from the ENTIRE city/ state/ country in unison was a once in a lifetime experience.
  • Flash a light: It was like revoking the real meanings of festivals like Diwali, Christmas or Shab-e-barat by celebrating a day of lights on 05-Apr-20. I personally have a thing for lighting clay diyas and I could not miss this opportunity either. We hung LED lights and mobile flashlights on the outside walls and lit candles and clay diyas on the balcony. And seeing the entire city go off at once and watch the horizon blinking with flashlights was another experience that gave me a high.
  • The flower shower: On 03-May-20, the Indian defense forces took to the skies to salute the Corona warriors. The IAF choppers showered flower petals on various Covid designated hospitals across the country. Also, there was fly-past of various airplanes / jets/ choppers through the length & breadth of the nation. Having an inborn corner in my heart for airplanes, I couldn’t help but run out on the terrace and catch a glimpse of the two C-130 Super Hercules that flew from up north in Srinagar to down south in Thiruvananthapuram.
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The candles in my balcony

The nature bestowed upon me some unique experiences as well.

  • Watch squirrels grow from babies to adults: From a pair of squirrels nesting in our bathroom windows to their four new borns taking over our entire house as grown adults, our family has witnessed it by staying at home during the lockdown. Even as the babies were learning to walk, they had us a hard time. They would try to sneak into the house through the bathroom ventilator and often fall inside the bucket or they would simply forget their way out of the house and wander aimlessly. Lucky that a couple of times, they fell into the buckets with only an ounce of water, got their tails soaked and would just not be able to balance themselves. All we had to do was keep an eye on them by checking the bathroom or ensure they found their way out of the house without touching them, every time they came.
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The squirrels of my house
  • Watch a goat deliver a pre-mature calf: With a farmer who came to my backyard to graze his herd of goats, it was one of those days when one of them sat amid a bush and started to cry. The she- goat was 2 months due to her labor, but the pain had started early and the entire herd had surrounded her. The farmer telephoned a Vet who arrived in a while and helped the expecting mother to have a safe labor. The baby was removed out of her body whom we initially thought was still born. However, the little one wriggled in the hands of the Vet with a wailing cry giving a sense of relief to the vet, the mother goat, the farmer and to our family who watched all this unfold in front of us.
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The farmer with his goat and her new-born calf
  • Watching a million butterflies: With permission from the authorities, it was loss of a family member that drove us to a riverbank to let her mortal remains flow in the holy river Cauvery. But as if it was a soothing balm to our family that was going out for the first time during the lockdown, we were surrounded by a million butterflies around us. Under the canopy of red gulmohars flanking the empty roads, the mighty Terminalia trees (need to fact check the correct name) holding up the banks of the river flowing full, with ABSOLUTELY no one to disturb them in an otherwise overcrowded weekend destination, these butterflies were flying FREELY, literally. It was as if we lived a scene out of a fairy tale.
  • Star gazing: While at the terrace, we even witnessed a meteor shower and a comet. The Lyrid meteor shower is an annual phenomenon that can be usually observed around April. Apart from that, the comet SWAN was a treat for early risers, visible from May 13th through for a week.
  • Watching the sunset: As I worked from home, I was bummed indoors from morning to evening. So, winding up my day by watching the sunset from my balcony with a cup of tea was my excuse to get my daily dose of vitamin-D. Probably, the beautiful evening views from my home was something I had long forgotten as I returned home after dark on a regular work day and went chasing sunsets at fancy travel destinations on holidays.

And yet, there were several experiences that our family created for ourselves. Apart from sharing long conversations and discussions over shared meals, there were several things that we did in collaboration and had our share of fun at home.

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My experience of taking mango delivery through India Post
  • Setting up our own home-gym: With pleasant breeze in the terrace, good night view, ambient music and peppy music under the starry sky (considering that the sky was its clearest during the nationwide lockdown), we set our own gym on our terrace with DIY dumbbells and stands.
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The night view from my terrace
  • Growing our own kitchen garden: Brinjals, green groceries, beans, tomatoes, drumsticks etc. were just a few things from my parents’ own backyard kitchen garden that helped us to reduce the number of visits to the stores.
  • Enjoying homegrown fruits: Watermelons, muskmelons, night shade berries, mulberries, avocados and Papayas are those that our fruit relishing taste buds were able to devour from our own backyard. Not that we have a big space in our backyard, these were all grown in pots with the wet waste from the kitchen that went into composting.
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Homegrown Fruits and vegetables
  • Celebrating birthdays of friends & family members: Baking birthday cakes, making streamers for decorations, sending video wishes and experimenting in the kitchen, these celebrations were fun and different from the usual. In the middle of all this, someone sends a watsapp forward of reminding the pre-Covid situation of how strangely we all ate a cake into which someone had blown air from their mouth to put-off the candle 😀
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DIY birthday decor in the making
  • Mask making at home: I took my mom’s help to learn sewing and that is a new skill I picked up during the lockdown. Apart from making face masks with upcycled fabric, we made new caps, T-shirts and backpacks at home for our personal use.

Oh, I had shared a list of activities that I had planned to do during the lockdown. Have you read it yet? Here’s the link: (Click here to continue reading)

The little Kabini of Bangalore- Gullahatti Kaval

It has been nearly 3 months of staying at home due to the nationwide lockdown and the fear of the pandemic. With India’s unlock 1.0 in place, our family of four decided to take a short drive outside to breathe some new air. We planned to head to ‘Mango Mandi’ at a village called Somanahalli, off Kanakapura road for this weekend. As we reached there, we learnt from the locals that the government run fruit trading market has been shifted elsewhere for social distancing purposes. However, buying mangoes was just a reason for us to go out and the idea was to go “somewhere” outside home.

This reminds me of some old travel tales of my family. On weekends, my parents used to take us to Majestic bus stand from where we would board a random bus to a destination, that we had unheard of. Back then, BMTC buses plied with boards called red-board and black-board. Red-board for villages outside the city limits and Black-board for those very much within the city. We would sit in just any Red-board bus and buy a ticket to “the last stop”. Most people (Villagers travelling to and from the city) on these routes used to be familiar with the drivers and conductors. Hence, on issuing the ticket to the last stop to us, the conductor would enquire “Whose house we were visiting or where we wanted to go in the last stop”. We used to then get into a conversation with them and get details about the village we would reach at the end of our journey. We would then walk around these villages, appreciating the lung space, learning about new crops, new traditions in the countryside etc. We had thus explored “Remote” villages like Kumbalagodu (coffee plantations), Begur (the oldest Kannada inscription), Hesaraghatta (horticulture & animal husbandry farms), Gollahalli (so many varieties of Gollahallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Harohalli (so many varieties of Harohallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Haniyur (Madure Shani mahatma temple), Devanahalli (Tippu’s fort) etc. Come today, Bengaluru has grown to ‘Bruhat Bengaluru’. People would laugh at you if you called some of these places remote. Why that… even the house where we live now had once been our destination on one such Red-board bus journeys!

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The road between Mukkodlu to Gullahatti kavalu

Back to this weekend of Unlock 1.0, we decided to continue on the road that we were driving until we reached the dead end. And that’s how we reached a village called ‘Mukkodlu’. The name of the village came as a surprise as there exists another village of the same name, back in my native district. The red soil of the farmland was being ploughed all along our route and readied for sowing Ragi millet during the monsoon. The clouds looked amazing with newly laid asphalt road. The green hills complimented the scene well, with ‘Munikallu betta’ to the right and ‘Ragi halli betta’ on the distant left. A little further from there exists the Muninagara reservoir. We thought we would stop by this place on our return.

The reservoir and beyond comes under the supervision of the forest department, a sub-division of the Bannerghatta National park. We proceeded further to know where the milestone indicated ‘1km’ – Gullahatti Kavalu. That also happened to be a ‘Dead end’ on Google maps, from where we would return. Also, the idea of our drive was to not meet any villagers or eat at any petty shops which we normally did on such trips. When we reached our destination, the end of the village was marked by a peepal tree and a government school. The ‘Arali katte’ are arenas buzzing with life and a hub of activities on a usual day in the Indian villages. This one here, was staring at us with all villagers confining themselves to their homes for social distancing. We sat there for some time, soaking in the fresh air on the fringes of Bannerghatta National park before returning.

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The dead end point at Gullahatti kavalu

On our way back, we decided to stop at the sight of the reservoir. My itchy feet wanted to hike a bit and I dragged my folks along with me for a few meters away from the road. It was indeed a good decision. Considering we were in the fag end of summer, the reservoir still held a good amount of water. A localite who had come there to graze his cattle told us that wild animals like elephants, leopards, deer, peacocks, wild boars, porcupines etc. are spotted here in the mornings and on most other occasions. At the first sight, it seemed to me like the Kabini backwaters. Kabini is like a summer resort for all wild animals. When all water bodies within the forest run dry, this spot holds enough water and all animals come here to chill in the summers. The fact and the view of Muninagara reservoir too gave me a similar feeling. We sat there for some time until the rain gods showered blessings on us.

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The Muninagara reservoir with Ragihalli hill in the backdrop

Thus, a day in India unlock 1.0 was well spent.

Note:
For the adventurous ones, there exists a trekking trail called ‘Muni nagara trails’ on google maps starting from the reservoir to the Ragihalli betta. But ensure that you have all permits in place before venturing on a trek here. As afore mentioned, this area belongs to the Karnataka forest department.

India Unlock 1.0 – Going back to school

So, we finished our exams in March (Read- Annual appraisal). There’s an ongoing worldwide pandemic. And our summer vacation began (A nationwide lockdown in India). We were not allowed to go out anywhere to spend the vacation. All we had to do was stay indoors for the entire period, until school (Read- workplace) re-opened. Until when? That was indefinite!

But yeah, typical of any Indian schools, they would not let their pupils enjoy their summer vacation just like that. So, load them with holiday assignments. (Yes, I worked from home. From Monday to Friday!)

But believe me when I say that even without leaving home, this was the BEST summer vacation ALL my life. As a matter of fact, we have visitors in our house almost on 360 out of 365 days in a year. And when our family of four decides to take a vacation, it is either one person short or we have a tag along. It has NEVER been “FOUR” of us. And this has been the story of every vacation and every summer for as long as I remember. On the contrary, we are glad we lived this NEW normal. Chilling at home with JUST family was the most luxurious vacation EVER. (How we chilled staying indoors, that’s for another story).

Come May’20: It’s result time. Performance card didn’t look good (company & market condition is bleak, thanks to the global pandemic).

Come June’20: India unlock 1.0 begins. My summer vacation ends. And the school re-opens…. 08-June-20, I’m asked to report for work.

Typical scenes on a night before first day at school:
Pull out the uniform from down under the shelf. Press them to perfection. (Yes, my workplace has a uniform). Find the school bag from the upper cabinet (yes, I carry a backpack to work). Pack the essential books and stationary (oh, they’re called laptop, electronic gadgets and their accessories). Set an alarm so that I catch the school bus on time, the next morning. (Yes, I travel in a company provided bus/ transport). I have barely slept that night. I’ve checked my phone every half an hour to know if the alarm was working fine.

On the morning of 08-Jun-20:
Hell yeah! First day, after summer vacation. Gobbled down the breakfast in a jiffy, packed lunch (just to avoid mass gathering at the company canteen) and happy feet (wearing a training shoe for the first time since lockdown). Off I go!

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That’s how we roll! 😀

Did I forget something? Remember, a handkerchief was always pinned up to your uniform bib? My mum came running after, this time with a facemask (Times change, man!) Dad pulled out his favorite friend from the garage. He has mostly continued his tradition of dropping me off on first day of school, this time too. Mom stood waving a bye from the portico. I waved back at her while riding away on the pillion seat…

Butterflies in the stomach. I’m going back to school after summer vacation. The only difference now, I go back to the same classroom. I’m not promoted. Again, this year too!

Visiting the last Indian village in Baspa valley- Chitkul

As I arrived at Sangla, the setting sun had already laid a golden welcome… I started to walk around the town looking for a homestay. After walking here and there, up and down, I decided to settle down at a homestay, which seemed like a pretty big bungalow. The owner of the house was away, and it was let to the caretaker’s responsibility. I was the only guest. However, this seemed to be better than all the properties I had seen thus far. I freshened up, unpacked and unwound myself while watching the daily evening procession of the deity of the ‘Chandi Mata’ temple from the homestay itself.

Post sunset, I wore all the thermals I needed and ventured out to explore the town. The commercial area seemed just like any other small town I had been before and didn’t want to get too adventurous on my first day in the valley. In the entire town, I was drawn towards a very small restaurant called ’The Buddhist Café’. I was being just one of those typical Indian tourists in the Himalayas; I was tempted to eat momos 😛 The place rather looked dinghy with dim lights and no customers in their main dining area. On enquiry if the restaurant was closed, I was greeted by an old Buddhist lady who guided me to follow her to the kitchen inside. Despite being a little suspicious of her gesture and given the shady looking walkway, I continued to follow her. She made me sit at a table where she served me steaming hot momos and black coffee after taking my orders.

There were a couple of people who came in and out whom the lady attended to but did not take any money from. It seemed to me that they were mostly labour who helped her in fetching supplies to her kitchen and she retuned their favour by providing them free meals. She was speaking very gently to them as if one would talk to their family members. I felt so much positivity emanating from this lady. Eventually, she pulled a chair next to me and settled down to have a long conversation with me. She enquired about my journey and said a few things about herself and her family. We both were so engrossed in our conversation that it was 09.00.p.m. by the time I realized that I had quite a distance to walk back in the darkness to reach my place of stay. The lady took my hand in hers and asked me to promise that I would visit her daily for as long as I was in Sangla. “Tumse baat karke bahut accha laga mujhe. Kal Aajao, gappe maarenge. Zaroor aana, mein intezaar karoongi”, she said. Amused, I left by promising her that I would return.

I was an early riser on the following morning in order to make it to the bus stand on time. There was only one bus that ferried passengers to and from the last village in this part of the Indian borders. It ran twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Chitkul is a tiny settlement beyond which, the mountains belong to Tibet & China. After having read enough articles on the internet, I wanted to check this off from my list of places to visit in Himachal. I however de-boarded the bus at a village called Rakcham, a few kilometers ahead of Chitkul. I was standing on the rear side of the famous Kinnaur Kailash mountains. With curious villagers staring at me as if I was a lost alien wandering alone and children walking to school posing for photos looking at my DSLR, with a beautiful sunrise over the mist laden valley and the gushing Baspa river on the other side, the morning walk on the empty road felt magical. Although I had seen apple trees earlier, it was the first time I was seeing apple orchards. The houses in the settlements on the slopes were unique to the area. I spent good amount of time exploring the village perched on hilltop and down in the cold waters of the Baspa before settling down with a cup of sea-buck thorn juice at a campsite that was being disassembled.

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The view of Rakcham

I had read that Rakcham valley looked vibrant with pink flowers of a native millet during its season. But I seemed to have arrived late to see the famous pink fields of Rakcham. Anyway, the orchards had turned the valley equally vibrant, in myriad shades of golden. But, honestly, there was nothing specific to see or do there, apart from the solitude that I had found thus far in my trip. I walked back to the main road and enquired with the shopkeepers about getting to Chitkul. A few localites who overheard my enquiries tried to pitch in their suggestions. Going by their suggestions, I waited by the roadside engaging myself in answering the enquiries about my solo travel. It was well over half an-hour as a shared jeep arrived, which they asked me to board to reach Chitkul. Just as the jeep cranked to start, one of the men talking to me asked the driver to wait. The man ran to a shop and returned with a bag. “It was nice talking to you; this is for your way.” he said while dumping a bag full of apples into my hand… I picked two from the bag (not wanting to disappoint him), thanked him warmly for his gesture and convinced him that I couldn’t carry so much luggage with me and bid him goodbye.

The road ahead was bumpy, yet interesting. It passes through forest area that was in bloom, opened to large meadows and then, the snowcapped peaks appeared rather suddenly. Foreigners need to register at the check post that falls enroute as Chitkul is a sensitive area guarded by the ITBP. On reaching Chitkul, I started to walk towards the viewpoint. Yes, no doubt it looked beautiful and I could walk right into the river below that demarks the border. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw the solitary Indian national tricolor waving in the middle of nowhere. Apart from taking a walk along the valley and exploring the tiny hamlet, there seemed nothing much to do. There are quite a few options to stay at both Chitkul and Rakcham, but for a moment, I feared the temperature that I was warned about. The temperatures in Chitkul are colder than anywhere else in Kinnaur. That’s why I changed my mind to return to Sangla for the night. As there was still lot of time left before the bus started, I decided to walk towards Rakcham so that I could click some good landscape photographs along my way. Anyway, the bus arrived in a while and I returned to Sangla.

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The Chinese / Tibet border at Chitkul

There was still enough daylight time left, and I decided to explore Sangla that evening. I climbed up the Kamru fort from where I could see the magnificent view of the town and the golden sunset that had welcomed me last evening. An ancient wooden temple stands strong on top of the fort and looks brilliant with its detailed sculptures and friezes. There is a dress-code to follow (a head gear and a waist band needs to be worn) to enter inside. Since most of us there didn’t have it, we had to wait for the priest to provide the same to us, and go inside, in turns. The priest also gave me a peak into the history of the fort and how the temple came into existence. It felt very peaceful and I sat back there until the sun had gone down completely.

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Temple atop Kamru fort

I had decided to leave Sangla on the following morning to continue my journey ahead. I had also not forgotten that I had promised someone that I would visit her. I wanted to inform her before leaving. That’s why I then headed towards her café for that evening. It is hard to explain how excited she was at seeing me. “I wasn’t sure that you would return. But I was looking for your way”, she exclaimed! She served me noodles and black tea, introduced me to her son whom she had called to talk to me and found good company in talking to me. After a couple of hours had passed, I informed her that I was going to take her leave. Guess what? She gave me a rucksack full of apples which she had specially bought and kept for me. She didn’t own any orchard and hence, she ensured she bought the best apples as souvenirs for me. When I say BEST, I mean THE BEST…. Kinnauri Golden apples! Can you imagine me carrying a rucksack full of apples (souvenirs!!) along with 10kgs of additional backpack that I already had. for the rest of my journey??? 😀 I convinced her that I was sorry, and I couldn’t accommodate so many apples in my luggage. And she still managed to squeeze in a good few kilos telling 2 apples for each member in my family, back in Bangalore…!! She had tears as she saw me off and I cried as I was missing my mom! Sometimes, you never understand how connections work with strangers…

Next day, there I was… Inside the bus, chattering in the cold morning… on my way to my next destination in this sojourn: Kalpa

To Spiti valley- The journey

So… I headed straight from office to Bengaluru Airport to catch a late-night flight. Just so that I could make it to the railway station to catch the early morning ‘Himalayan Queen’ on time. Just so that I could reach Kalka on time. My friend in Delhi helped me in my commutation juggle between the airport and the railway station. Then, the Himalayan Queen chugged off from Delhi. Apart from seeing a hazy sunrise through the windows, I slept through most of the journey until I reached my first destination in my 10-day long tour, that afternoon. I ran to the special platform in the other end of the station at Kalka to board the ‘Himalayan Queen’ that ran on a narrow-gauge thereafter. Only to realise that it was delayed by an hour.

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The Himalayan Queen Trains. Top: The narrow gauge train between Kalka & Shimla; Bottom: The broad gauge train between Delhi & Kalka

Anyway, the ride in this train which is a part of UNESCO Heritage was a different experience. The 1st class bogie had old cushioned wooden adjustable chairs like you would have at old single screen cinemas, an unfamiliar thing for those familiar with the regular compartments of Indian Railways. The route was scenic as the train passed through hills, forests, tunnels and cliffs. It stops at several stations that allows ample time for photography and for exploration for passengers who are mostly foreigners. One such stop was the halt at the Railway museum at Barog. But yeah, the initial excitement of experiencing a narrow-gauge waned down soon as the journey got monotonous and long having none of the co-passengers to talk to. It was dark and cold by the time I alighted at Shimla. That’s where my real trip began…

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The Barog railway station and museum

After searching multiple online sites and walking around in the unknown city in search of a suitable place to stay, I was still clueless of where to go. I finally settled down at a rather shady looking place when I realized that the backpack was quite heavy, and the cold was becoming unbearable for me. The guest house was old and the things in the room were unkempt too… Anyway, I had settled there as the caretaker seemed okay to believe in. I locked myself up in the room, used my sleeping bag inside the warm blankets that were provided and tried to sleep (although I didn’t!).

I checked out of the place at 05.00.a.m. on the following morning and started to walk towards the HSRTC bus-stand based on directions given by the caretaker. I took the wrong deviation and lost my way. I saw that I was reaching the city central area and continued to walk as I hoped to find someone. I heaved a sigh when I saw the army command building. I stopped by to enquire the guard outside for directions. Since I was carrying a large backpack, walking with a face covered with a balaclava, all alone on the empty dark roads, he began to question me suspiciously. Once he heard the girl’s voice and I told him that I was traveling from South India, he introduced himself as a Tamilian who had been posted there just a couple of days ago. He was of little help and I proceeded. Google maps didn’t seem to be of any help either, as the distance only increased every time I walked ahead. I then came across a man on his morning walk who guided me through what he called was the shortest walk path. It was long, dark and scary initially. Although there didn’t exist an official road, the distance (may be aerial) on google map kept shortening. It was a descent downhill and I did back and forth when I had my doubts. Finally, it had dawned when I reached the bus stand and relieved when I saw a few newspaper distributors sorting their dispatches. I had missed the first bus that was heading towards Sangla. They introduced me to a man in a tea stall, whom they said was the driver of the next bus which was scheduled an hour later. The driver offered me chai and asked me to stay around.

Finally, the bus started. It would drop me until Karccham from where I had to board another one. The journey to my destination was going to be a long one. Amidst the early morning rays, the verdant hills looked amazing and I was excited about the road. The bus conductor and the driver were both nice people who kept checking on me every now and then as I was alone and new. They even bought me peanuts to munch along for my journey. An hour on the road, our bus halted. There was a massive traffic jam due to an accident on the highway. A car had gone almost completely under a lorry that came from the opposite side. It was over an hour by the time the police arrived and cleared the spot after inspection. Meanwhile, the hospitable people in the hills obliged to allow me inside their house when I wanted to use a washroom. Would you allow a random person on the road enter your house? I’m certainly not sure if I’d do that myself.

By around noon, the bus that I was travelling in broke down. Given that Rampur Bushar was the nearest town where he could find a mechanic, our driver somehow managed to negotiate the ride till there. Also, the passengers could board another bus from the large terminus in the town. He ensured that I sat in a spot, informed the bus station master to keep an eye on my safety and to guide me to the right bus when it arrived. These are the kind of interactions that make you feel confident about having a safe journey ahead. isn’t it?

That said, I sat in the next bus a good 2 hours later. It was a direct bus to my destination: Sangla. But I had a carry-over ticket from the previous bus only until Karccham. The conductor of that bus was fussy about considering the carry-over ticket until Karccham. But I stuck to what I was instructed by the previous driver. A good argument later, I got my ticket extended by paying only for the journey between Karccham to Sangla. The sun was slowly coming down as I approached my destination.

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Sunset view from Sangla bus stand

Finally, when I alighted at the Sangla bus stand, it was by far the most magical sunset I had witnessed all my life until that day. Right in front of me lied the snow-capped Kinnaur Kailash mountains and the peaks had turned golden. The rest is for another story!

A town in the foothills of Kinnaur Kailash- Kalpa

That morning, I had arrived at Reckong Peo and already done 4 rounds of the main road in the town with my heavy backpack, an uphill climb and down. I was searching for a hotel or a homestay. The only one that I found near the bus stand was out of my budget. I enquired with a few in the town and they suggested me to go to Kalpa. Kalpa is around where, all sightseeing places are situated and has a range of options to stay at. Accordingly, I sat in a local tempo traveler and started my ride towards Kalpa.

A narrow winding road, lined with apple trees on both sides with golden foliage, finally took me to a seemingly small town. The conductor announced: “Kalpa, last stop!” with narrow cluttered lanes, shops and eateries inside small sheet moulds, houses tucked behind high rise stone walls- the town looked very old school. Imagine a quaint town overlooked by the beautiful mighty mountains.. for me, it was a moment of ‘awe’ at first sight. I enquired with a few shops at the bus-stop for my stay and they guided me to walk further inside the village. I found a good one and the hotel was very new. So, the clean room, warm blankets and 24×7 hot water were just perfect for me to settle in there. But what lured me the most to the hotel room was the view from the window. Kalpa is very famous for its apple orchards. I was there towards the end of the apple season and so all the leaves were just about to shed their golden leaves. So, imagine a golden stretch against a background of white Himalayan mountains? I was mind blown!

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A view of the Kalpa apple orchards with the Kinnaur Kailash mountains in the backdrop

My stomach was growling, and I fed it with Paratha at a small restaurant opposite my hotel. The lady running the eatery was quite amused to see a lone girl who had travelled so far. She enquired about myself and asked me to return in the evening after I had finished my sightseeing. “I am busy attending to customers, come in the evening when both of us are free, let us chat up and spend some time”, she said.
I walked down the alley to the only Buddhist monastery I had seen in the entire trip thus far. It was a very small one compared to all the other ones I had seen in Ladakh or back home in Karnataka. But irrespective of their size, Buddhist monasteries always have their own charm and pull. I lit a couple of incense sticks, rolled a few prayer drums and sat there for a few moments watching the mountains in silence before continuing my walk further, randomly through the alley.

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A street in Kothi village, Kalpa

I stopped along my way to ask a man across a fence, for directions to Roughi village. He was working in his apple orchard, busy getting the fruits harvested. He called me inside his farm and enquired where I wanted to go. He told me that my destination was 6+kms away. It would be difficult for me to get a vehicle at that time. I said I was Ok to walk the way as I was more curious in exploring the place. He was quite surprised when I asked him if I could help in plucking the pome. After a while, he handed over a packet full of apricots when I began my hike towards Roughi.

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A walkway past an apple orchard at Kalpa

The walk and the scenery are best, only when witnessed and cannot be expressed in words. Only little would my limited photography skills help. I quickly made friends with a dog at a random house along my way. The dog accompanied me, and the owner let it come. Re-iterating again, the view was unbelievable. The stretch of road happens to be one of the steepest and I tried to take a peep down the deadly valley below. I pulled myself back after my head went into a tizzy. The dog continued to walk when I walked and stopped when I paused for a photo. There was a point when he was tired and panting and I had to make a bowl out of a plastic sachet from my bag for him to have some water. That said, we together reached Roughi village just after noon 😊

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A bus passes the suicide point, enroute Roughi village

Beautifully groomed orchards, the suicide point, a quaint village in the foothills- Roughi was a warm tiny settlement with nothing very specific to do. After wandering around for a while, I made friends with a few kids who were returning from school, ate a few fresh apples from my bag that I had been received from random passersby on the road and finally settled down at the village entrance, hoping to find a ride back. I was all alone on the road. I spent almost an hour waiting and I was losing my patience as well as fearing the cold that would be brought in by the setting sun. There was no way I could stay there because I had dropped off all my essentials in the hotel in Kalpa itself. I started to walk rather than waiting there. After covering almost a mile, I heard an engine from behind. I turned back and waved them to stop. It was a couple in an Alto car, heading towards Reckong Peo. They obliged to drop me off along their way.

There was still time for sunset, and I thought I could use the daylight to explore the lanes of Kothi village. Although I aint a trained architect, the structure of the ancient Kalpa fort was something that I loved. I walked down through the villages, spoke up with inquisitive villagers, visited the chandika temple and finally settled down at the viewpoint to grab the golden hour of the setting sun over the Kinnaur Kailash mountains. I had seen the mountain from the rear side at Sangla. Now here I was, experiencing the moments of tranquility, in front of one of the holiest destinations of Lord Shiva. Believers who cannot make it to the Kailash mountains in China come here. Hence, Kinnaur Kailash is believed to be the alternate abode of the Lord.

As I was admiring the sight and capturing it in my DSLR, an old Bengali couple identified me as the one who had taken some nice photographs of them at the Kamru fort in Sangla, a couple of days ago. They asked me for a favour. They asked me to zoom into the peaks of the mountains with my camera and show them their deity… I was perplexed and asked them what it was. They explained……. “To the left side of the mountain was the Shiva Linga and right side was his consort- Parvati”. I was quite amused at hearing this and tried to capture images of both the manifestations with my camera. When I showed the images to them, to my utter surprise- they both started jumping and screaming and clapping with joy. They both folded their hands in front of my camera screen and chanted their prayers. Next thing I saw was the lady kept her palm on my head and saying, “We were saddened that we couldn’t get a closer view of his manifestation even after travelling this far. You showed us our lord! May he bless you with all the best and happiness in the world”, they wished me a good future. For me, it was quite an experience. I was unsure if I had to call it their innocence of praying the camera or admire their faith that had brought them this far. But I was feeling very good about myself that I was able to bring so much joy to someone. I was feeling an inexpressible emotion from within.

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Top: Sunset over Kinnaur Kailash; Below: magnified view of the manifestation of Shiva and Parvati

As the sun went down, my jaws started to chatter in the biting cold. I rushed to my room, warmed up myself with the thermals I had and stayed indoors until I felt comfortable. Around 7.00.p.m., I decided to step out to meet the aunty running the restaurant just outside. She said she would be free after closing the shutters at 07.00.p.m. I had carried millet Rotis from home which I thought I will share with her while buying some curds from her to make a dip for my rotis. She was excited at seeing me and called her family members to meet me. The restaurant was only an extension of her house, separated by a closed wooden door. Hence, she took me in and showed me around how traditional Kinnauri houses looked in Kalpa. We were back in the restaurant, chatting up over a hot glass of chai that she made for me. I gave her my rotis for tasting and she made me pulkas for supper. I returned to my hotel after a good couple of hours with her.

The next morning, I woke up early to catch the bus to my next destination, Nako. I grabbed a quick bite of bread omlette at the restaurant before saying a goodbye to my new friend at Kalpa.

A list of local brews from all Indian states

Micro-brewing has been a known recipe back in the Vedic era, where Sautramani was sacrificed to the gods. Known evidences have been excavated from the Indus valley civilization sites of fermentation and Distillation. The Indo-Aryans are known to have Madira or Madu, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey. Good poetry flowed down as same as liquor, an essential part of the courtly culture of ancient India. Spirit or liquor is a substance that needs no introduction and unarguably is a part of our lives. While the infamous modern ‘Desi daru’ manifests with various names, yet a lot them remain unknown to the outside world and largely endemic to specific regions.

Here is my attempt to enlist the traditional brews from all the states of India that can help you as a ready reckoner while you are out travelling in this beautiful land. I would like to crowdsource the few missing details, please drop in the comments if you have anything to share.

Andhra Pradesh:
Kallu- This is fermented palm sap that is consumed as a beverage in most places in Asia. In Andhra, there are mainly two types. Thatti kallu, a fermented beverage made from palmyra tree and Eethe kallu, a fermented version of the silver date palms sap.

Arunachal:
Apong- This is a local version of rice beer.

Assam:
a. Judima- This is a rice beer that is brewed to a mild yellow colour and a famous drink among the Dimasa tribe.
b. Xaj- This version of the rice beer that the fables narrate that it was used by the Ahoms to dip their new-borns to bring good luck.

Bihar:
**Need Help**

Chhattisgarh:
Mahua wine- This is a wine made with a native flower called Mahua.

Goa:
Feni- The party capital of India cannot be without its own potion. Feni is an alcoholic beverage brewed either with coconut palm or cashew apples.

Gujarat:
**Need Help**

Haryana:
Kanji- This is a speciality consumed during Holi festival. It is a naturally fermented drink made with water, carrot, beetroot, mustard seeds and asafoetida.

Himachal Pradesh:
Ghanti- Also called as the Kinnaur Chulli, this local beverage is an apple and apricot based liquor.

Jammu & Kashmir:
Lugdi- This beverage is prepared by fermenting cooked cereals.

Jharkhand:
Handia- This is a rice beer, popular not only in Jharkhand, but also in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Karnataka:
a. Fruit wines- The quaint hill station of Kodagu is popular for its homemade wines. You name a fruit and you will get the wine here. Even ginger, betel leaf or bird’s eye chilli wine are available, flavors that will linger in your tastebuds for a while.
b. Sendi- This is fermented tree sap from the areca palm. It is largely popular around the coastal and Malnad region.

Kerala:
Toddy- This is coconut tree sap which is left to ferment overnight. It is sold in government approved toddy shops across the state.

Madhya Pradesh:
Hariya- This is a rice beer fermented along with herbs, a speciality of the Santhalias & Mundas tribe. It is offered as a gift to god, dowry during marriages and gifted to relatives on special occasions.

Maharashtra:
a. Strawberry wine- Satara is the strawberry heartland of India and it is that they have their own version of fruit wine too.
b. Orange wine- Nagpur famous for its orange orchards has its own recipe of the love potion too.

Manipur:
Sekmai Yu- This local rice beer is potent like the Vodka and is often called as the Indian Sake.

Meghalaya:
Kyat- This is a rice beer which was originally introduced as a medicinal remedy to the Pnar people.

Mizoram:
Zawlaidi- The name means ‘love potion’ in the local language. It is a local version of grape wine.

Nagaland:
Zutho- This is a generic name for rice beer across Nagaland. However, the flavours, ingredients and brewing method varies for each tribe. Some are even millet based. Hence, it is a great idea to taste all of them while you are there!

Odisha:
Kosna- This rice beer is like handia and has similar origins. Hence, it is also popular in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Punjab:
Tharra- Also called as Punjabi desi, this is a rum brewed and distilled from sugarcane molasses.

Rajasthan:
Kesar Kasturi- Often referred as the ‘Royal brew’, this potion is a blend of saffron, dry fruits, herbs, nuts, roots, spices with milk & sugar which is distilled into alcohol.

Sikkim:
a. Chaang- This is a fermented millet drink and is generally served hot.
b. Kodo- This too is a finger millet drink, like Chaang and is served hot.
c. Raksi- This is a local brew that is consumed during local ceremonies, especially before participating in possession of evils.

Tamil Nadu:
Kallu kadai- Pathaneer or Neera is the unfermented palm sap which is very sweet and considered very healthy. When this neera is allowed for a few hours, it ferments naturally and then kicks you like any other alcoholic beverage.

Telangana:
Gudamba- This is a local liquor made with sugarcane.

Tripura:
Chuwarak- This is prepared through an elaborate process to intoxicate rice and pineapple or jackfruit.

Uttar Pradesh:
Bhang Thandai- This is a milk-based drink that is a concoction of natural herbs, dry fruits & nuts and spiked up with cannabis. It is available in government run Thandai shops across the state and a speciality consumed during the Holi festival.

Uttarakhand:
Buransh wine- Buransa is a native rhododendron flower. It is believed to be very juicy and used in local squashes and jams. This is fermented and the rare wine is thus made.

West Bengal:
Bangla- This is fermented starch prepared as an offering to Goddess Kali. Often, it is believed to have spurious concoction and usually not advised for consumption.

Aren’t alcoholics the true economic warriors of India? Do you agree or not?

A colourful heritage of Indian paintings- a list from all Indian states

Art is an integral part of human life. Paintings are yet another form of expressing imaginations. The history of paintings in India dates to pre-historic times where there are several rock and cave paintings scattered across the sub-continent. Painted pottery on terracotta and ceramic too have been excavated at several sites. Eventually, it became an attempt to bring the storytelling of the Indian epics to a visual form, each one using the material available locally for colour and canvas. Some forms were patronized by the kingdoms that ruled India and yet a few, used by the local tribes to decorate their dwellings. The use of natural colours on naturally available surfaces has evolved with the generations, picking up influences from various events, people along the way.

This is the land of great artists like Nainsukh, Raja Ravi Varma. Bright and rich colours are now an inseparable part of vibrant culture and lifestyle of being Indian. Here is my attempt to enlist the traditional and folk paintings from all the states of India that can help you as a ready reckoner while you are out travelling in this beautiful land. A few, I would like to crowdsource the details wherever I failed.

These paintings can be strategically used in our daily life that will help revive, sustain and promote these ancient art and rural economy.

Andhra Pradesh:
a). Deccani paintings- are miniatures which predominantly feature palm trees, men & women. The art has a significant influence by the Deccan sultanates who ruled around this area.
b). Nirmal art- is where the artisans have developed their own canvas using cardboard and luppam. The striking designs in the form of creepers, flowers etc. have evolved on furniture today.
c). Savara paintings- This wall art is practiced by the Savaras tribe around Vishakhapatnam. The wall is readied with a mixture of red soil and paper. The painting is done with brush prepared by chewing tender bamboo into various thickness. White colour is derived from rice powder and black colour is derived with a mixture of coconut ash & castor oil.
d). Kalamkari- This is a fabric painting form popular in the rural parts around Machilipatnam. Primarily human faces are block printed using vegetable colours.
e). Tholu Bommalaata- This is an art of making leather puppets that are hand painted using vegetable colours, mainly found in the region around Adilabad.

Arunachal Pradesh:
Kuthang strolls- These are intricate religious paintings of the Buddhists. These are derived from the Tangkha paintings that are auspicious symbols hung in every monastery and houses.

Assam:
a). Khanikar art- These are religious paintings that adorn the monasteries & Satras around the state.
b). Assamese silk scrolls- Traditional colours of Hangool & Haital are used to draw representations from Ramayana and Mahabharata on silk strolls. This is practiced in the upper Assam region.

Bihar:
a). Mithila or Madhubani- These are originally intricate wall paintings that depict Ramayana & Mahabharata adorning walls across the rural parts of Mithila region and have now become synonymous with the state.
b). Patna Kalam- this is also another art form largely patronised during the Gupta era. Several paintings have been found in the Nalanda excavations.

Chhattisgarh:
Godna- This is a primitive art form that has been largely in practice as body tattoos by the women folk in the Jamgula and Bastar region. It has found acceptance in the form of motifs on textile with natural colours mixed with acrylic paints.

Goa:
Kaavi mural paintings- is largely popular in the Konkan region. As the colour says, Kaavi is a single colour- red pigment derived from laterite soil. Several structures, churches and temples are coloured with red paint on a white background.

Gujarat: This state is sort of a mélange with vibrant colours used across a range of art forms.
a). Pithora- These are wall paintings practiced by the Rathwa & Bhilala tribes
b). Miniature paintings- This art has been used to depict epics and large stories under the Jain patronage in 11th century.
c). Glass painting- It is believed that the earliest form of painting on glass (Belgium glass) originated in Gujarat.
d). Kalampari art- This is a fabric painting technique practiced by the Chitara community.
With many tribal communities living around the Kutch area, each tribe have their own unique art, patterns and colourations used in their daily life like walls, huts, attire, jewellery, pottery etc. It is an endless list but here are some of them from the Rann of Kutch.
e). Rogan painting
f). Terracotta paintings like Kavda pottery is believed to have techniques dating back to the Indus Valley civilization.

Haryana:
This is probably the only Indian state that doesn’t have a native art form. With several dynasties and rulers who came and went in this region, there has never been any specific art style that found patrons among who were always busy in fighting battles.

Himachal Pradesh:
Kangra & Chamba miniature painting- Although largely spread across all the Himalayan states and largely coming under the Pahari paintings umbrella, the region of Kangra gave its name to the paintings that was largely promoted and patronised by the Rajputs. However, each ruler gave the art form its own twist and called it a different name.

Jammu & Kashmir:
Basohli miniatures- Again a part of the Pahari painting, the famous artist Nainsukh is believed to have moved from Chamba and have settled in this region during his last days. Thus, giving its name to the bold and intense form of painting the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hence, Basohli is the first school of Pahari paintings.

Jharkhand:
a). Paitkar scrolls- Ramayana & Mahabharata stories are depicted on paper with colour made from vermillion. Fine brush is made using goat hair.
b). Jadopatia scrolls- This form of paintings is used for story telling which are believed to have healing effects on people.
c). Sohrai, Kohver, Ganju, Rana, Teli, Prajapati, Kurmi, Mundas, Turi, Birhor & Bhuiya, Ghatwal- these are mural paintings used to decorate the walls of the tribal houses. Each, representing a tribe and have their own style. The common factor between all these styles are that the designs comprise of animals & plants depictions thus indicating the connection of nature and the tribe.

Karnataka:
Mysore Royal painting- influenced by the Vijayanagar school of painting, this art flourished under the Mysore Wodeyars. Bright natural colours obtained from vegetables, organic, minerals were painted using natural brushes. Squirrel hair was used for finer strokes and brushes made with a specific grass was used for various thickness and strokes.

Kerala:
a). Kalam- This is a short name for Kalamezhuthu, a rural art of painting.
b). Face painting- with various traditional dance forms and ritualistic prayers, face painting is an essential part of art in Kerala. Largely seen in its vibrant designs and patterns during Theyyams, Kathakali etc.
c). Oil paintings- These murals are very elaborate piece of portraits largely practiced in the Northern part of Kerala.

Madhya Pradesh:
a). Gond art- A painting style that is used by the Gond tribes. This largely comprises of finely drawn lines in a picture that encompasses animals and plants.
b). Pithora wall paintings- this form of art is inspired by various myths and is used by the Bhilala tribe to keep away evils. You can often see walls and both sides of the doors painted with patterns that are believed to protect them.
c). Malwa painting- This folk art can be found on floors and walls and practiced by the Chitera community. Chalk powder blended with turmeric & saffron for suitable shades of the colour is used in doing these paintings.
Mandana paintings- This art is used to depict special occasions and festivals and used only during specific events.

Maharashtra:
a). Warli- Used to adorn walls by the tribe, this painting uses patterns like triangles and circles to represent community living, human being, trees, animals and everything in general.
b). Chitrakathi paper paintings- as the name suggests, Chitra (picture) + Katha (story)- These are single sheet paintings used by a specific migrating community of Thakkar tribe for storytelling. Local version of Ramayana & Mahabharata and other myths are painted using colours made from stones. These are also called as Paithani paintings.

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Compliments cards for gifts with Warli art

Manipur:
**Need help**

Meghalaya:
**Need help**

Mizoram:
**Need help**

Nagaland:
Naga cloth painting- Several Naga tribes reside in Nagaland and each have their own designs in their houses, dresses and morungs. However, the Lotha, Ao and Rengma tribes have their traditional designs painted on fabric. Fine bamboo brushes are used to transfer colours that are made by mixing tree sap, leaf ash and local beer.

Odisha:
Patachitra- These are traditional cloth-based scroll painting from rural parts of eastern Odisha. It is inspired by Mythic elements like Lord Jagannath and is derived from ancient Bengali art which is used for narration in the visual form when a song is performed.

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A Patachitra scroll based envelope- for giving wedding compliments

Punjab:
Sikh miniature painting- This an influence of the Kangra paintings and is used as a narrative of various stories from the life of Guru Nanak. Hence, has a vital role in Sikhism.

Rajasthan: The list of painting related art forms from this state is endless. Here is a small compilation of the same.
a). Phad cloth scrolls- These paintings are based on stories from Ramayana & Mahabharata. They have influences of both religious and folk performances by the local priests.
b). Rajasthani miniature paintings- When the Mughal artisans dispersed from the Northern India, they were sheltered and patronised by various Rajput kings. Individual ruler had his influence on the style, and it evolved into individual styles, largely coming under a common umbrella called as Rajasthani school of paintings.
c). Wall & ground paintings- Various styles like Devra, Pathwari, Sanjhi, Mandav etc. can be seen based on the individual communities.
d). Cloth paintings- like Pat, Picchwai, Phad scrolls etc.
e).Paane paper paintings.
f). Kavad wooden paintings.
g). Body paintings- various designs are drawn on human skin using natural colours like Mehndi & Godana
h). Thape paintings- This is a wall & door painting style that is used to invoke deities. Natural colours like turmeric, henna, vermillion is used.
i). Badaley paintings- These are either cloth or leather paintings that are used to cover metal utensils. It is prominent around Jodhpur.
j). Thewa art- This is a form of painting small pieces of glass with gold. It is a famous art around Pratapgarh in Bhilwara region.

Sikkim:
Thangka painting- These are religious strolls that depict important lessons from Buddhism. This uses organic colours and even gold dust and adorns walls, roof and mural in Buddhist houses and monasteries.

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Envelopes with compliments & paintings from Buddhism

Tamil Nadu:
Tanjavur paintings- This is a classical art form that has a 3-D effect with embellished with precious stones, glass pieces & pearls. It has been largely patronized by the Cholas and then have influences from the Marathas and others who ruled the region.

Telangana:
Cherial scroll painting- This is a folk art on very long cloths used for story telling that can sometimes run into several meters. It is painted specifically by the Kako Padagollu community.

Tripura:
**Need help**

Uttar Pradesh:
Mughal/ Persian painting style- The Mughals got artisans from Persia and used their designs and patterns in all their structures across. Art flourished especially during the reign of Jehangir.

Uttarakhand:
Garhwal painting- Again, something that has been a part of the Pahari school, this form largely uses characters that depict romance.

West Bengal:
a). Patua art- This is a traditional narrative paper scroll painting style done by a community called the Patuas. The speciality of the art is its people who are mainly Muslim and paint Hindu religious figures in their artwork.
b). Kalighat painting- This started as paintings in items that were taken as offerings to Kali temple at Kalighat and has now become a specific form of painting.

And how not to forget the wonderful patterns in bright colours adorning the front yards of all Indian homes? Rangoli as it is commonly called, this art is called with different names depending on the region you are in. But is a representation of the artist that dwells in every Indian household.

A day at the doors of a holy place at Spiti valley- Nako

I missed the morning bus from Reckong Peo and that gave me some time to take part in the annual mela in the district headquarters. I boarded the next bus at noon, from Peo towards my destination for the day- Nako, a small township in the Hangrang Valley, a part of the Spiti valley. The place gets it’s name from a Tibetan word ‘Nego’ which translates to ‘The Door to a holy place’.

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The road from Kinnaur valley, leading to Spiti valley

The transition from Kinnaur valley to Spiti valley was evident in its landscape. The road changed from green to rocky to barren along the way, each being spectacular. The snaking road was accompanied by the crisscrossing Spiti river amid a mind-blowing scenery all along the way. Although I was travelling solo, I felt accompanied through warm conversations with the driver and the conductor of the HRTC bus. They were quite surprised and amused to hear that I was from South India, spoke fluent Hindi, was travelling alone and without a fixed itinerary. The bus was stuck in a couple of roadblocks caused by landslides for almost 3 hours in total and that meant- I arrived late at my destination. From all the online research I had done about the place, I knew that Nako was decently popular on the tourist radar and finding a place to stay wouldn’t be difficult. When finally the bus stopped at the Nako bus-stop at 07.00.p.m., I was in for the BIGGEST surprise of my life!

The bus stop was on the highway. That was the LAST public transport of the day. It was pitch-dark already. All the civilization I had read about, did not seem to exist there. Apart from the bright stars twinkling in the clear sky, the only light I could see was that of a dimly lit lantern hanging in a tiny shop. The conductor looked at me blankly and said- this is Nako. “Talk to the shopkeeper and he might help you to find a place to stay”, he said and signaled the driver to proceed their ride.

“Where am I going to stay tonight? Can I trust the shopkeeper? Do I have any other option apart from approaching the shopkeeper?” A million things were running in my head. I stood there for a moment to let my thoughts settle down first. But before that, the biting cold and the rough winds rushed me to the shop for some warmth. In the dim light, I saw hope. The shop was run by an old man and the wrinkles on his surprised face multiplied when I asked him if I could get a place to stay. He nodded a yes and asked me to wait until he attended his last customer and lowered the shutters of his little grocery store.

He walked me through steel shutters behind his shop, got a bunch of keys from his house and asked me to follow him to the floor above his house. He said he runs a homestay (Somang dhaba, hotel and homestay) during summer. Since I was there during offseason, the room wasn’t used for a long time. The room had a low voltage bulb and had no running hot water. I could stay there for the night if I could manage with whatever was available. He was not going to charge me for it. The room had a decent washroom, carpeted floor, enough blankets and a comfortable looking bed. The thought of saying no to the old man and getting adventurous in pursuit of a better homestay in the cold night did not even pass through my head. This place was more than what I had expected to get. I agreed to stay there and grabbed the room keys from him.

As I unpacked my bag to pull out my thermals, Mr.Somang knocked at my door with a bucket of hot water for me to freshen up and told me that he had informed the small dhaba next door to stay up for me so that I can go have my supper. If there was any other problem, I could knock at his door, Mr.Somang lived with his wife in the ground floor. The dhaba was a tiny shed put-up with sheets, was run by a Nepali family and fed the occasional truck drivers who stopped by for chai and Paratha. I had the same for my supper too. As I answered the family’s curious questions, I sat warming myself around the fireplace in their kitchen for some time before heading back to my room.

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The township as viewed from the Nako helipad

I was in for a surprise when I woke up in the morning. The view from the window transcended me to another world that I had imagined only on Microsoft Window’s wallpaper. Barren, dry arid landscape and distant snowcapped mountains. A lonely road ran uphill, and I had slept in a roadside house that had this magnificent view. I immediately jumped out of my bed, fetched a bucket of hot water from the host’s house, freshened up and got out quickly, to sink in the morning vibes of the place. I took a walk to the nearby helipad from where I could get a 360deg view of the surrounding mountains. That was the first time I was seeing a landscape so arid, so dry, so different and so beautiful.

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The view from Nako helipad

As I walked further, is when I realized that the real civilization of Nako village existed only if I walked further away from the main road. Doing this on a moonless night, in order to find a place to stay would have been next to madness. I was greeted by tiny tots with their heavy backpacks and playfully jumping on their way to school. The sounds of mooing cattle and crowing roosters echoed in the silent streets.

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The sweet smell of incense arising from the monastery had engulfed the ambience as I walked towards a small red structure made of clay and red oxide. Prayer drums on its outside indicated that it was the ancient Buddhist monastery where people seemed to be coming to offer their morning prayers. An interesting structure caught my attention to up in the hills. “That’s the old and the main monastery from the 11th century ”, a passerby answered to my question. But it seemed quite far for a lonely walk, so I decided to keep it for some other day. When I have company, perhaps!

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The Old and the new monasteries at Nako

The further I walked into the village, the more magical it started to seem. The structure of the houses was unique to Nako, from what I had seen all this while. The houses are built at an elevation from the ground with wooden beams holding the dry stones, slate roofs covered with hay and all houses painted with white lime. While I was finding my way to the Nako lake through the muddy lanes, reaching random dead ends and taking blind turns, I felt lost in the maze. Just then, a man appeared in front of me and greeted me with a warm smile. He saw me taking photos on my cellphone and asked me if I minded a selfie with him. Although bad at taking selfies, I did not mind getting myself pictured in that unique looking place.

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The Nako village

He invited me to his house for a cup of chai and not for a second did I think again. I nodded a yes with joy and followed him to his pretty haven whose courtyard overlooked the Nako lake. His wife got excited at the alien visitor in their little abode and got me chai and biscuits along with some hearty conversations. She took me around her home, and I was quite amused at the style in which it was built (almost entirely of clay, stones and hay), a first time for me. Apart from a heartfelt thank you, I did not have anything to give them back for their wonderful hospitality. And neither did they expect anything in return. I bid goodbye and walked down the lane to the lake, a holy place for the villagers.

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The Nako lake / The sacred pond of Nako

Apart from a few grazing horses, I was the only human there that morning. It was the first time I felt like meditating and decided to sit by the waters for some peaceful moments. The Nako lake is considered holy among the Tibetan Buddhists as Lord Padmasambhava is believed to have meditated here. It is no surprise why I was feeling the unusual calmness and serenity at that place.

A few running kids got me back to reality that I had been sitting there for a while by then. I woke up and got back to the homestay to figure out a way to get to my next destination. But that’s going to be another interesting story (Click her to continue reading)….