Celebrating a mountain wedding in the Himalayas at Geu

The weather had gotten colder and windier when I woke up that morning at the Nako homestay. The met department had issued an alert for a possible snowfall in the next 48hours. After finishing my breakfast, I decided to head further up the highway. My intention was to drop by a village named Geu, enroute and reach Tabo for the night’s stay. Geu is a small deviation from the highway with no direct connectivity of public transportation. I enquired with a couple of people at Nako for a taxi and I was offered a round trip for Rs.4000. I didn’t want to return and having to pay that amount even for a drop seemed more since I was on a budget trip. I decided to take a chance and go there by myself. I boarded the next public bus until Geu cross and hoped to hitch a ride to Geu or hike up the 8kms road leading to the village. ‘Why so much adventure?’, one may ask curiously. “I wanted to see a mummy in India, the unknown, for which Indians travel to afar countries.” Not many people know that there are about five mummies in India itself, out of which the one I was going to see is of a Buddhist Llama. It is believed to be over 500 years old and has been there in the open without any preservatives.

After alighting at the Geu Cross, I waited at the small bridge for about half an hour, hoping for a ride. As the cold winds were getting harder to stand, I decided to start walking up the trodden road with my backpack. Just then, a pick-up truck came in honking behind me. I put my hand forward signalling them to stop. The driver told me that he was sorry as the seats were filled with more people than what it could accommodate. It seemed to me like they were a large family, all dressed up in their ethnic Kinnauri attire. I told them it was Ok for me if they let me sit in the trailer. “The weather isn’t good outside. You will feel cold.” He politely said out of concern. I told them I’d be fine and hopped on after he nodded an approval.

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The Buddhist shrine atop the hill at Geu

The drive along the next 7kms to Geu was as insane as it could get. The super bumpy road runs parallel to a river in a scenic yet landslide prone barren land. Hence, there is no tarmac and is filled with rocks and gravel all the way. If not the thick layer of thermals and my balaclava, I would look like a zombie doused in south-Indian sambar. I mean, there was a thick layer of dust all over me from head to toe, all thanks to the open trailer and dry winds. It was already noon when I reached Geu. The family with whom I had got a lift until there, invited me to join them for lunch. They had come there to attend the wedding of a family member, they said. It was a small hamlet with about 15 households and no hotels or restaurants. When I turned down their invitation telling I had to head back asap after seeing the mummy, they insisted me to join them in the celebrations and that something can be managed for the night’s stay. I nodded an unsure okay!

Next thing I saw myself doing was being guided into the dining hall with a grand welcome alongside a traditional Kinnauri Band baaja. The meal served mainly comprising of wheat bread, dry fruits and nuts was healthy and simple as per the norms of rest of India where a wedding food is usually heavy on ghee, oil and sweets. The welcome drink too was a subtle namak wali chai, being served from a centrally placed firewood oven in the dining hall. I was force-fed and taken care of as if I were a part of their family (and the village itself). There is always this special thing about the people in the hills, their hospitality would have no match. After the meal, the Bride’s village got ready to welcome the groom to Geu. He belonged to Hurling village. It was an evening of colour, music, dance and fun. I got to experience a tradition which I had never heard of until that evening… Just a couple of hours ago, it was not even in my faintest thoughts that I’d be dancing in the mountains along with the baraatis (the wedding convoy, as it is called in India). What an unbelievable experience!

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The Kinnauri women in their traditional ceremonial costume

After the baraatis were taken inside the house, A few villagers and I walked up the small hill where exists a Buddhist shrine. The mummy is housed in a small room alongside the shrine whose key was taken from one of the caretakers at Geu. When I got there, I was rather surprised to see this mummy comfortably sitting in the open room…. With no preservatives, no wrapped fabric and just a small glass case to keep it away from direct human touch of the visitors, it is still very much intact. Its hair and nails are believed to be still growing. While the locals with me offered their prayers to this mummy Llama, I was watching this INCREDIBLE piece of science and faith!

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The mummy Llama

With the setting sun and dropping temperature, the winds were getting stronger and we all headed back to the house. Each house was filled with so much chit-chatting and laughter going on, around the central fireplace where the guests were munching on the local snacks and hot brews. I was accommodated in a large warm room at the village’s only guesthouse. My stay was sorted for the day and I heaved a sigh of relief for the faint doubt I had until I had a confirmed place to stay.

Very unusual to a regular day in the mountains where all villages sleep early, the celebrations had only begun at 07.00.p.m. to say the least. The evening faded into night and the night became morning… The wedding was an all-night affair. There was food, drinks, dance, songs and so much fun as in any wedding. Everyone had lost sense of the freezing temperatures outside the hall. What was surprising? While there was so much fun and frolic inside the wedding hall, the men in uniform from the Border Security Force continued to perform their duties outside, walking around the village keeping vigil on infiltrators. “The Chinese territory lies just behind this hill”, a localite explained. “We have our kith and kin who are married off there. They are all Kinnauri and share exactly same culture as us. Sadly, they can’t come here to join the festivities because they are Chinese. It is not that we don’t meet, Chup-Chup-ke koi climbs the hill and comes here and goes off there occasionally. That’s why the BSF is here”, he said. It was 02.00.a.m. when I returned to the guest house with a few others to get some sleep before a long day that followed.

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The Kinnauri men in their traditional ceremonial costume

I woke up at sunrise the next morning and got myself ready with my backpack. I had to find transportation and hence wait until someone was heading out of the village. From 07.00.a.m., I was walking up and down the village street because I had to keep burning calories to keep myself warm. The villagers noticed me and insisted me to have breakfast with them. Just as I was washing my plate, I heard a car. The Maruti 800 was already carrying more than its capacity. As I continued to wait, another pickup truck ignited its engine. It too was full. Yet, I found another pickup. The driver said he would go only after all the members came. I said I will wait with him for them to come. A good half an hour and three cups of tea later, the members finally arrived. I was again seated in the trailer with a couple of others on our way out. This time, the cold windy, dusty and bumpy drive was accompanied with some nice warm conversations with the mountain people. We arrived at Hurling; the groom’s house was a short hike up the hill from the main road. The family insisted me to tag along with them for the second day too. “You have seen only half of the ceremonies at the Bride’s village. Now, the convoy with the couple will arrive here to continue the celebrations at the groom’s house. We came early to see that all arrangements are in place before the rest arrive. Please join us.” They insisted. Hurling was halfway to my next destination- Tabo. As tempting as the invitation sounded to experience a complete mountain wedding, the fear of getting stranded in a snowfall made me decide to find a way to reach Tabo asap!

Thus, ended an experience of a lifetime- A wedding in the mountains! There is always magic in these mountains and its people that will keep calling me back again and again!

Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky… And that’s how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales like… Right? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked. Further, we trekked down to the Nongriat village- where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ lies. One needs to climb over 2500 steps each way, so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal folks who live in the deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a couple of decades and it only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya and most of them continue to be untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness.

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The route to Tyrna village

At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat whom we befriended and agreed upon to guide us through our trek. Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first hand experience of treading on a living root bridge… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge…

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek, while our new friend cum guide continued to enlighten us about the rich traditions and culture of the Khasis. We stopped by for a quick breakfast at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering- The Double decker root bridge. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale- Creepers hanging across a little waterfall that was fed by pristine river in the middle of nowhere! While a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes over the previous night were enjoying their swim in the cold waters, we decided to move away from them after spending some time admiring this beauty. Next mission- Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

The small number of tourists who make it to the double decker bridge seemed to have disappeared thereon owing to the tiring path that lies ahead. But, nothing comes easy- Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, Butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes greeted and accompanied me all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking by clearing the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little creatures. The path was so full of butterflies… The walk that cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense- I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing atleast 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flows down with its seductive clear blue waters.

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature was unfolded amid the greens.. We stood there in AWE….. the Green trees and bushes opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue waters and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums adding to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall- giving the place its name.. Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago…

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The Rainbow falls

Had we known a little more about the enchanting beauty of this trek, we would have extended it by a day.. As narrated by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves(2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls- the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this path before starting. So now, it was well past afternoon and we had a long way to walk back. And very less time left until sunset.. We stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way my guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds and leaps so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna while the sunlight was still available for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee. A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Summary:
• Although, we missed to trek up the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight facing the waterfalls and caught the sunrise over the waterfalls!
• Plan a 2 day trip covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai- My friend Denzil can be an amazing guide to accompany you!

Celebrating Diwali in the island of Satras- Majuli

A good photo can tell a story… But a camera can never capture what the real eyes see…

The above expression explains my feeling when my drive to Majuli started. We drove to Neemati Ghat from where we had to get onto a ferry along with our car onboard… Although the ferry sailed away from the banks, we saw ourselves approaching the same bank within 15mins after a detour. A person who had alighted at Neemati Ghat had created a ruckus for having lost his bag of crackers in the ferry. Oh yes… Diwali with no fireworks?? After all the drama, our ferry took sail on its final trip of the day… It was approximately an hour’s journey across the mighty Brahmaputra towards Kamalabari ghat on the other end that had conveniently faded into the horizon.

We were sailing in the middle of the widest of the Indian rivers which seemed no less than a sea… In no time, it was sunset in the sky!! We saw the gold of daylight changing into molten red merging with the darkness of the sea to call it a day! Each fraction of a second was a spectacle to the eye while the universe around us was changing into hues of red. And at the distant horizon, the dark sky was being lit up with fireworks as if the world’s largest river island was set for our grand welcome. With last drop of the set-sun, our ferry touched the Majuli island at Kamalabari Ghat. The welcome was more than what we had imagined while in the waters… The streetlights in the entire island were switched off and it was like time travel to the history books of ancient days when all towns and villages used to be lit by lamps with oil soaked wicks… All villages, all streets, all houses & shops, every courtyard and like every damned place in the island was lit up with diyas of Diwali reminding us the exact purpose of the festival- Celebration of the grand return of Lord Ram, Sita & Lakshman at Ayodhya..!! The distinct rural ambience with lamp lit bamboo huts reflecting in the swamp waters just added to the amusement we had.

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Lamps being lit at one of the huts at the Missing village

After getting directions from our homestay owner, we drove through stretches of Gurmur only to be guided with lamps that marked the boundary between the road and the bamboo forests on a moon-less night… A neatly done-up bamboo cottage was awaiting our arrival in that bamboo island… After freshening up in our cottage, we took a stroll in that magical village in search of some local food for dinner. We had to satiate our hunger at a small but pleasant hotel with a simple Assamese Thali.

The rest of the night was spent star gazing in a clear moon-less sky outside our bamboo hut, with moist dew-kissed grass underneath and sipping apong- the local rice-beer… Right there, I found what I wanted from my trip- A piece of peaceful life… It was BLISS..!!

Day 2: The next morning, we woke up leisurely and took a stroll around the village enjoying the rustic countryside… As it was start of the winter, we witnessed several endemic & endangered bird species including migratory birds that had come to nest in this extensive wetland. After breakfast, we decided to explore the cultural diversity offered by the island. Although I would any day choose to cycle around this vast district, my friend wanted to drive around instead and so we did… Majuli has always been the cultural headquarters of Assam. It is known for its ancient monasteries which have been practicing various forms of art for over 500yrs now. These monasteries are called Satras. There were over 660 Satras in the island which has reduced to a handful of practicing schools now. We were hence keen on exploring a few of them. The drive around the bamboo groves alternately opened up to the swamp waters of the island making the drive very enjoyable. And every household had a loom placed outside under the shade of the hut with several women folk weaving the famous textile of Majuli. Several others were busy with the preparations for ‘RaasLeela’ the biggest cultural festival of the island flocked with people from across the world due for a few weeks ahead.

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The bamboo huts/ houses in the Mising village

Firstly, we visited the ‘Natun Samaguri Satra’- known for mask making. The humble person Mr. Hem Goswami was patiently explaining the process of mask making to every visitor who dropped by. Since, the preparations were on for RaasLeela, most of the masks available were those of characters from Ramayana. We were amused with the way Mr. Goswami got into the skin of the character of the mask that he wore each time. Be it the aggression of King Vali or the gracefulness of seditious Mohini- He adorned them all with ease… We then drove across the island to ‘Uttar Kamalabari Satra’- famous for the origin of Sattriya dance, ‘Kamalabari Satra’ known for boat making and ‘Aouniati Satra- the largest among all and ‘Dakhinpat Satra’- The oldest of all Satras in Assam. The monks or Bramhacharis as they are called were all occupied in the practice of hymns for the Raas night!

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The masks at the Samaguri satra

The island is inhabited by the Mising, Deori & Sonowal Kachari tribes in separate villages in this bamboo district. And hence, the indigenous culture of the tribal folk is another attraction in addition to all the cultural and bio-diversity that the island has to offer. After all this exploration of the island district, we headed towards Dhunaguri Ghat from where a 3hour drive would get us to the gates of Arunachal Pradesh. Firstly, we need to cross a small swamp with a ferry which is available at any point in time, so one needs to just hop in and get rowed across. There is a bamboo bridge being constructed by the local tribes parallely which I think is eligible to be called world’s longest bamboo bridge. The amount of engineering and effort the locals have been putting in is noteworthy. Next was a short drive through the tribal settlements to catch another ferry that runs on a fixed time. But, this drive was again like an emotional farewell to us by this beautiful island… The oblique rays of the setting sun laid a golden tone for the entire backdrop. With the bamboo huts onto our right, the view to our left was a visual treat! Grey waters of the Brahmaputra, green paddy fields, blue Himalayas at a distance with the golden sunset- all in one sight looked like layers of colours and terrain merging into one another forming as if a dream was frozen on canvas.

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The ferry and the under construction bamboo bridge at Dhunaguri ghat

We waited at the banks for a long time and captured various silhouettes in the backdrop of a dreamy sunset until our ferry arrived. We boarded our car onto the launch and bid a final goodbye to the beautiful island and its people…

Summary:
Majuli is THE place for a traveler who wants to break through some offbeat destination with multiple touch points- Cultural, traditional, geographical, eco and biological diversity all at one place!

Must do:
• Take a cycle tour exploring the Satras around the island.
• Attend the annual cultural festival- RaasLeela in 3rd week of November.

Marvel at Caves and Crannies- Kurnool

A trip that was pending since over two years, finally took wings last weekend. The places covered were an unusual combination of natural and contrived elements that created beauty. Had the both not been there, the existence of these places would have a lesser value than what it is today.

An overnight drive was aimed at starting our trip from Bethamcherla- a town in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. A couple of articles on the internet had caught our interest to visit this place which is a treasure trove for archaeological studies. Invaluable Pleistocene remains have been excavated from several caves that are scattered around this region. We wanted to explore the Yerrajala & Billa Surgam caves in particular after being impressed by the photos online. However, even after talking to several localites, we failed miserably to get anywhere close to the places we were looking for. Language was a BIG concern there and for any small enquiries too, the curious people would throng in large numbers and stare at us while we were trying to communicate with our hand signs. Luckily, we had a Telugu-ite in our group who would do most of the talking throughout the trip. So without really finding the place, the day started somewhat on a low note.

As per the plan, the first day was a long one with target being to reach Gandikota for sunset. In quest of the place, we had already lost 3 hours doing nothing. So, we decided to skip Yerrajala and proceed accomplishing the rest of the itinerary. The winding roads of Tadipatri are carved out of the rocky hills. These hills are rich sources of the infamous Kadapa stones used in constructions. Its sedimentary rocks formed over years can be seen in layers, which make driving along this stretch a delight! We stopped at several spots to photograph the beautiful landscape as we drove through, to reach our next destination- Yaganti.

This is an ancient cave temple patronized by the rulers of the Sangam dynasty. ‘Keep left’ is the rule one needs to bear in mind in order to cover all the caves located around. Here, every cave has a special story to tell. Just keep taking the stairs whenever & wherever you spot them, so that you don’t miss out on any cave. At a point, a flight of steep stairs takes you to Agastya Cave where Lord Shiva is worshipped. And yet another chamber leads you to Lord Venkateshwara. Although, the lord is otherwise known for all the wealth, the minimal deco and the dimly lit chamber here, has some positive energy that emanates out of the place. We needed a little more time than what we had initially thought we would need to observe this place, where art, history & mythology co-exist.

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The temple pond at Yaganti- amidst a backdrop of several caves

On our return, we halted at Banaganapally village, in front of a mansion that stands magnificently atop a small hillock, by the road side. An old rusted name board read- ‘Nawab’s bungalow’. Though the exteriors have stood the ravages of time, the interiors of this imposing structure built of wood and rock, is crumbling. Inspite of being featured in several movies, nobody really knows who the Nawab who owns this bungalow is.

Further into the drive, we stopped by for a quick group photo at the Owk reservoir. We were ‘literally stopped’ while we were trying to capture a photo with the serene backdrop of the dam. The wind blew so hard that we were struggling to move against the strong currents and felt stationary most of the times. It was my first time experience, of ‘fighting’ the wind. I really wonder how strong a ‘storm’ could be..!!

Click here for more weekend trips from Bengaluru

Having found NO hotels for breakfast, it was a hungry drive down until Belum village. After wandering around, we settled down to have lunch at the only A/C- restaurant in the region (with no electricity for A/C service) on a recommendation by a localite. Not like we had an option either..!! After a quick lunch, we drove over to Belum caves.

As expected, the weekend crowd was insane. But, the weather was in our favour on that breezy afternoon! On a flat/potent fertile land that seemed fit for cultivation, there appears a deep well like opening in the land. A steep flight of stairs takes one by surprise, as he enters the infamous caves. The magnificent stalactites & stalagmites formations of limestone make Belum caves the longest and the 2nd largest complex in the country. Several ancient remnants of pre-historic human dwellings and relics of the Buddhist era have been discovered, marking the caves on the map of archaeologically and culturally important places. Due to the crowd, high humidity levels and low level of oxygen inside, most of us had a severe headache by the time we walked out of the place to sunlight. But whatever the hardship, it was totally worth every drop of sweat.

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Inside the Belum caves

We were running behind schedule and we had to zip, zap, zoom… to reach the sunset point… After a 2-3 hrs drive, we were excited to spot the windmills dotting the distant horizon. The long wall of the Jammalamadagu fortress stood spread across, bordering the land’s end. It was an indication that we were approaching our destination- Gandikota.

But the sunset..??? Hell yeah! We did make it in time, but the clouds played spoilt sport! Never mind, we still had chores to accomplish before it was dark. We wanted to trust the roads and go where they took us. That’s why, we hadn’t booked our stay. In worst case of not finding a hotel, we had carried tents and sleeping bags as backup. The trip had been good so far and we hoped that all went fine till the end.. As expected, the rooms were all occupied at Haritha- The only stay option around, for miles (A resort run by the AP tourism). We negotiated with the caretakers to let us use the washrooms and dining facility.

We struck a deal with a couple of villagers and then hiked down the steep gorge to pitch our tents for the night. It was really dark and well past 9.00.p.m. when we started our descent down to the river ridge. The descent seemed longer than expected, with the luggage and the total darkness of the night adding to our woes. A few loose stones rolled down our feet as we paved our way down carefully. Once we reached the bottom, it was immense silence that had engulfed the calm environment and our ‘cubicle bred minds’. The fresh cool air filled our souls. It had been a windy day throughout, and the night by the river side could’nt be any different. We managed to pitch one tent with great difficulty and the rest of us decided to just cuddle inside their sleeping bags. The weather wasn’t harsh and the cool temperature remained pleasant, right till dawn. The only thing we were hoping for was, that no dam gates were opened for that night and that we all don’t get washed away in the dark 😉

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That’s the view from our tent- from the Pennar river bed

We all were awakened by the first rays of dawn and opened our eyes to a dream… We all knew we were camping on the ridge of river Pennar all night. But only with sunlight, we realized that we were actually sleeping on the ‘river bed’!! No wonder that, the soil felt moist and loose while we were struggling to pitch our tents last night!! With the mighty gorge standing all around us, our hearts skipped more than a few beats at the splendid view of the painterly beauty. We strolled across the river bed till both ends of the fort wall, taking in sufficient clean air into our lungs through the billowing winds and the burnt yellow-green grass. We returned to our tent, cooked maggi and ate bread-jam for breakfast. Soon, we had to undesiringly call it ‘Pack-up’, lest face the brunt of the burning sun while climbing back with the entire load.

Once on top, we explored the view point, the old mosque, the fort remnants, the granary and the temples in the village. The entire village exists within the fort walls. It was a beautiful place to bid good bye!

The Pennar gorge at Gandikota Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.
The Pennar gorge at Gandikota Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.

For a pious traveler, a visit to the Lakshminarayanaswamy temple in Kadiri town and the Madhvarayaswamy temple at Gorantla is recommended. Both from the Vijayanagara era, would complete their religious trip. Half a day could be well spent at the Lepakshi complex too, if opted for on the way back to Bangalore. We opted out of these temple visits and drove back to Bangalore through the bypass road. In this route, we travelled mostly through protected forest reserve area which was another highlight of our journey. The Rollapadu bird sanctuary, the only habitat in Andhra for the largest flying bird in the world, the endangered – ‘Great Indian Bustard’, lies just a small deviation away. The mighty rocks balancing on each other and the greenery all along, just made every bit of the trip so joyful.

We had to reach Bangalore to drop a friend at the airport for her late evening flight! Thus ended a quick weekend… like zip, zap zoom…!!!

The Mis-adventurous trip to Haflong

As I had mentioned in one of my previous stories about my first solo trip, I had tagged along with two Bengaluru boys whom I met at Shillong. After covering Meghalaya, we took delivery of a brand new ‘Maruti Swift’ from a showroom in Guwahati and set out on a random road trip across the North-east. (click here to read the complete story). We finished exploring the Ziro valley and were left with 4 more days before our return flight to Bangalore. We worked out many options to best utilize the available time (4 days were too little to go ahead to Mechuka and return to Guwahati, we would be on a tight time if we did Tawang and had no backup in the eventuality of a car breakdown on those bad roads, Sandakphu was doable but we weren’t equipped with sufficient gears).

The National Highway at Ziro

That’s when I popped the option of visiting Jatinga. An unheard place for the other two with me, I explained: “It is a place where mass suicide of migratory birds takes place due to an unknown phenomenon. And this is THE season to witness it!”. There was enough curiosity inside the car but no clue on how to get there. We browsed quite a bit, scrolled through several web pages of the forest department and landed on a random contact list of IFS officers in Assam. We picked a random name (it sounded very South Indian, hence we wanted to try our luck). We got lucky and the call got through. A little perplexed at why random tourists may be interested in visiting this place, the IFS officer asked us to call him a day later as he was travelling. We were ok to wait for confirmation, as we were anyway going to reach Itanagar only on the following noon. That’s where we had to pick our route, whichever worked out- Guwahati or Jatinga.

On the following day, we called on the same number again when we had reached a good network zone. The IFS officer got us connected to another forest officer, posted in Haflong. We got in touch with that officer, who then guided us to reach his office in Haflong. He warned us against stopping ANYWHERE along our way and keep updating him every now and then about our location. We relied heavily on Google maps and were driving through Asian Highway no.1. PS: We would be heading towards Dima Hasao district and the entire route was notoriously infested with anti-social elements.

We commenced our drive on a road that would lead us to Thailand (only if we extended our holidays by a fortnight more), guided by Google maps. But for now, it was destination: Haflong, the only hill station in Assam. The under-construction road was patchy every few kilometers, alternating with smooth asphalt and bumpy gravel. At one point, the road with endless stretch of forest cover was so beautiful and intimidating for a photo stop but we were scared for even a pee-stop. We were however, at the mercy of google-Mata’s directions!

The Asian Highway through Dima Hasao

So, the scene what happened after we passed the Mahur cross is documented in another post for you to read. Long story short: we missed a diversion in the under-construction road, continued on AH1 as per google maps and our car got stuck in a deep ditch, in the middle of a forest reserve. We were stranded without help almost until sunset. Finally help and the forest officer’s army, all arrived together to get us out to safe haven. We waited at the officer’s makeshift container workspace until he finished his day’s work and took us to Nothao lodge, a place where our stay in Haflong was arranged at. It was a nice resort (good for a less touristy place like Haflong) but most of all, the owner was a resourceful person who was going to take care of our travel activities for the next couple of days.

Our car being towed by RSA

“Not all who plan and come here get lucky, as the weather plays a crucial role in being able to see it, even after reaching here. The wind direction tonight is very favorable. You are here at the RIGHT time to witness the mass-suicide of the birds. Be ready by around 12.00.a.m., the jeep will come here to pick you all. The officer and I will join you at my house and then we shall proceed to Jatinga.” The Hotelier said before leaving us. We were all excited! After freshening up, we placed an order for a hearty Dimasa meal for supper. ‘Try Local cuisines, wherever you are’ was a mantra all three of us religiously followed. The must try-dishes were recommended by the friendly chef at the lodge.

The poor car had gone through so much abuse on its very first road trip that it deserved a good shower. While the boys drove out to the town to find a good spa for the car, I decided to stay back at the lodge. The wooden furniture in an open dining space with mellow music playing in the background and cold misty breeze from the green trees around, blowing on my face was enough reason for me soak up some inspiration to write my next story. As a couple of hours passed, the boys returned. I don’t know if the car found a spa, but the boys for sure found a bar 😛 They returned with a few liters of judima, the local brew of rice beer.

We were the lucky few who were to witness nature’s phenomena, one so rare that it is unexplainable by science. We had braved quite an adventurous drive to make it thus far… But the weather was such, that I can’t blame them. The two drank up the stock ignoring all my alerts, warnings and requests! It was now nearing 9.00.p.m. and so, blame it on the ambience of the dining area. While the meal was being arranged on the table, the two were dozing away. Jatinga and the birds were all flying away from me now, faintly to the elusive distance 😛 I tried to keep the two up, at least to finish up the meal and not waste it. The two walked up to their room and had passed out within the next few moments. “See you Jatinga, next time!”, I silently spoke while breaking the roti in my hand.

It did not feel right for me to drive into a forest alone with someone whom I barely knew. Hence, I decided to make ‘Nothao’ my destination for the night.
I requested the hotel staff to serve the same food on the following morning (there was SO MUCH food, that neither of us would want to throw it off), informed the hotel owner and the forest officer of my situation and silently slid into the comforting warmth of the rugs in my room.

Anyway, the miss was made up for, by the two boys who had been my travel partners for the last 2 weeks (well… partially). We explored a little bit 9f Haflong. The duo spoke to the officer and a hike to the highest peak of Assam- Hapeo peak was organized. That’s yet another story you might want to read here. Thus, happened our misadventure to Jatinga and the last bit on my fortnight in the north-east.

Hiking to a massive natural arch- Bheemanakindi

With a closed group of family and friends, about 10 of us planned this weekend trek to this lesser known hill, a little away from Bangalore. We started from Bangalore at 05.00.a.m. with an intention to finish the hike back down before the sun goes up. It was dawn by the time we drove towards Kanakapura and reached a village called Kanchanahalli, in Malavalli Taluk of Ramanagara district. The Kaccha road thereafter till the base of the hike, passes through fine landscape and traditional village of ‘Mysore Karnataka’ region. The hill is a part of the ‘Kabbala Forest reserve’ area. The early morning rays added extra charm to the cloud kissed peak of the ‘BheemanaKindi hill’ at the distant end and the fog covered coconut groves and vibrant green farms on either side of the road. What else? Picture this: A dozen peacocks dancing in the middle of the road! Well, a pleasant welcome; I must say 😊

The Drive and trek to Bheemanakindi

We finally arrived at the base of the hill, parked our cars and started the ascend. It starts at a small godown sort of a structure from where, is a well laid out stone path through the forest, right till the destination. Well, let me clarify that unlike most of the common treks around the city that promise you a breathtaking view after a good climb, this one has a MASSIVE stone arch at the end. With this large arch, goes the legend from Ramayana. ‘Bheema’ hit the large rocky monolith with his ‘Gadhe’ and thus resulted this Natural arch, locally called as ‘Kindi’. The smaller pieces scattered are believed to be the ones which appear to have been arranged one on-top-of the other in the adjoining smaller hillocks by the consecutive civilizations, over a period of time.

The difficulty level of the climb is moderate, but the gradient is steep. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous afternoon, acidity was taking a toll on me. I was feeling nauseous and tired and trailing everyone on this trek. (That’s also the reason I didn’t take many photos of our ascent and the video attached below includes more visuals from the descent). I somehow made it to the top, all worthwhile the effort. A small temple dedicated to Nandi sits in a corner underneath the massive rock arch overlooking the dense forest cover below. Apart from a few squawking peacocks and chirping birds, we thought we were the earliest mammals to arrive there. But not until we saw some freshly laid elephant poop at the peak…!

A portion of the Stone arch and temple at Bheemanakindi

I had some biscuits and relaxed there for a bit until I felt fine. From a few known localites, we had heard that there exists a perennial pond somewhere close by. We walked behind the boulders that overlooks the millet farms beneath. We climbed up the hill further and we ventured out in pursuit of the pond. Mind you, the trek path ends at the temple and we were venturing out beyond, into the forest (Do not try this adventure). The sloppy path didn’t have a proper trail and we followed each other and stayed together so that we wouldn’t get lost. We walked further, a few broken trees (Bamboo, Indian Gooseberry, hog-plums etc.) perhaps warned us from going further, the pachyderms had just crossed the path. From there, we arrived at a small opening in the green cover- a large boulder. As the mist had engulfed the entire view, we sat there for a while hoping for it to clear out and get some good view of the valley below. But no luck and we decided to walk back.

Our stomachs were grumbling for food by the time we reached back to the base by 10.00.a.m. One of the members in our group had a relative in Kanchanahalli and hence, we were invited for brunch at their house. We drove to their house, passing through my FAVOURITE views of Karnataka: The rural hamlets of ‘Mysore Karnataka’ region. Traditional houses with wide porticos on raised platforms, red-oxide floors, clay tiled roofs supported by wooden pillars are a delight, I tell you!! Sometimes, cattle sheds on one side and a bicycle on the porch too is a common sight, so very typical to this region and so warm and old world. I have always gaped at those tiny streets in awe. So, today was my first opportunity to see the interiors of one such house, all that I had only seen in Kannada movies till date. Picture this: they are locally called ‘Thotti mane’ and the central living room has a central area which opens to the sky. Talk about natural ventilation and lighting, it has been part of our ancestral architecture from time immemorial. It also serves as an area to wash our feet and hands when we enter home, before we touch anything else. (Connect it with self-sanitizing during Covid times, after you come home from outside??)

A street at Kanchanahalli, overlooking the Bheemanakindi hill

Well, a pleasant happy day for me and a nice, happy, simple, warm meal for the tummy 😊 We head back to the city…. Hoping for another warm weekend to arrive soon….

From three directions to one destination- Ragihalli Betta

This post is of my family’s random “target destination-less” drive during the Covid unlock period. We set out in three different directions on three separate weekends but reached a place from where we got the view of the same hill, every time. By the shape of the solo hill, we would know that it was the ‘Ragihalli Betta’, located on the fringes of Bannerghatta National park. So, here are the details.

Direction 1: Kanakapura road; Destination explored: Gullahatti Kaval; View: Ragihalli Betta
The aimless drive culminated at a beautiful spot at the backwaters of the Muninagara reservoir in a village called as Gullahatti Kaval (Click here to read the detailed post). The route was mainly through millet and Banana farms dotted by small hamlets.

The road leading to Yogavana Betta, from Kanakapura road

Direction 2: Bannerghatta road; Destination explored: Koratagere Doddi; View: Ragihalli Betta
An offroading drive through Ragihalli state forest, stream crossing, forest trail and then culminating at a viewpoint- was a very welcome drive (Click here to read the detailed post).

View from Yogavana Betta

Direction 3: Mysore road; Destination explored: Yogavana Betta; View: Ragihalli Betta
After passing through small hamlets, an art school and a road with a foresty canopy leading to an ashram called as ‘Yogavana Betta’. We skipped the ashram visit and walked up the hill and climbed up a meditation hall, apparently called ‘Anubhav Mantapa’ to get a 360deg view of the surrounding. One of the views from atop was the Ragihalli Betta. Apart from a casual walk in the green neighborhood, there was nothing specific to do here. But it is a DEFINITE recommendation for those seeking a good ‘Sunset View’ point. Watch the below video of this place and the view surrounding this place.

Yogavana Betta

Nestled in the oblivion of Bannerghatta- Koratagere Doddi

This is yet another of my family’s random drive day, thanks to Corona unlock weekends… This time, our random pick was in the direction of Bannerghatta forest. We drove past Jigani marble market towards Ragihalli state forest. We drove around randomly and stopped wherever we thought we had a good vantage point. The place being around the fringes of a national park and in the fertile stretch of countryside, there was lots and lots of greenery all along. We stopped by at the IIM-B new campus plot near Mahanthalingapura from where we got a distant view of the ‘Ragihalli Betta’. (Remember our drive to Gullahatti Kaval? We had the view of the hill from a different direction- Click here to read the complete article) The cloudy and cool weather here made everything perfectly amazing, with a great combination of bright green and dull grey. With permission of a millet farm owner present there, we sat in his farm overlooking the green valley for a while, with some packed food and water.

After resuming our drive and on recommendation of a friend, we deviated from the main road leading to the Ragihalli state forest. It was quite an offbeat surprise for our ageing hatchback, but he performed smoothly compared to any youthful 4×4 SUV. A random deviation got our hatchback into an overflowing stream (with water level almost up to the doors). We didn’t know the way ahead, but our driver(my brother) didn’t switch off in the middle of the stream. Another car in the opposite direction directed us to the correct road from where, it was an unpaved gravel laid forest path for a few more kilometers, before passing through a couple of laidback villages. After the tree laden trail was over, small rocky hillocks appeared to our left and a vast stretch of farmland flanked the valley to our right. Apart from a few villagers transporting their goods on two wheelers, we were the only people in this stretch for most distance. We continued an uphill drive until there appeared a junction with a temple at the top. Watch the video of our drive below:

The drive to Koratagere Doddi

A milestone at the junction read that it was ‘Koratagere Doddi’. Thanks to the lockdown and social distancing norms, it had been several months since I had been to a temple and I was excited at the sight of it. From the architecture of it, the structure seemed to be a Sun temple. But google says it is a ‘Paanchala Kshetra’ that was closed at that time. However, the place seemed to be beautiful and we decided to park our car and take a stroll. We walked a few yards to our right and believe me when I say, it looked BEAUTIFUL! We were at a flat rocky tabletop cliff from where we could see a good stretch of the city outskirts. We decided to sit there for an hour at least and enjoy the strong breeze that kissed our faces hard. But yeah, the time was cut short by the rain gods who manifested themselves from the distant dark clouds to a sudden pounding of rain.

The misty Ragihalli forest viewed from a farm

We had no choice but run to our car for shelter. But wow, what a wonderful setting it was: Green grass, grey sky, hill on one side, valley on the other and a lonely temple ahead of us. We saw no signs of the rain stopping as we waited in our car and decided to continue our drive, back home but in the direction of the road ahead of us. Thanks to the rain, we did nothing specific to stop-by and take note of. But yeah, the Ragihalli Betta now appeared closer and COMPLETELY mist / cloud laden, a view not everyone gets lucky with.

Overall, a wonderful day out with family to a place where I belong: to Nature 😊

Silicon city to Magnetic fields- Part 2

…. Continued from Part 1

So yeah, the bike is fixed. I am fresh. I remove and keep my sweatshirt in my bag in a way that I can pull it out without having to open the bag. It’s already about 12:30 by now. I set out to cover as much distance as possible by dusk. Well I took Nashik-Shirdi road because that was the shortest distance. Oh boy, shortest distance turned out to be a nightmare. The road is okay for maybe about an hour from Pune; there on, it is more of a fucking off-roading course. The road is literally non-existent for a hundred kilometres atleast, riddled with huge potholes and roadhumps where it is not necessary. One fucking hell of a road! Pretty fortunate not to have crashed on this section because of the unmarked roadhumps. Even in broad daylight, I couldn’t go past 40kmph without risking a fall or ruining my bike. The road pretty much stays the same till Malegaon.

The stretch at Sangamner

I leave Dhule just before darkness prevails. It becomes a very monotonous situation from here. Almost zero traffic after dark and no street lights or illumination for the highway. It is just me, riding alone in the dark, among occasional trucks. I have to ride through Khargath Sendhwa. The Road seemed twisty turvy with occasional potholes and what looked like debris on the sides. I passed a R15 couple here in this section. Without much thought, I continue my journey in the darkness. I did stop once, near what I can explain as a petrol pump- pretty much away from me. Just when I’m stretching my ass off, the R15 guys show up right next to me. They stopped to enquire about my destination and why I’m riding alone. I initially thought I’m about to get mugged, but these guys actually advised me to stop for the night as the journey on this road, at this hour was not safe. And they ride off.. Of that was so not expected, from a stranger..!

Above: Tollgate at Kalghat; Below: Tollgate at Dhule

Well now, I also ride out almost as soon as they left. I next stopped at Khargate tollgate. Here, I had to listen to three people advising me to stop and take the night off because it is not safe to ride alone on this road. Oh okay, now I’m kinda curious and cautious about riding anymore. So, I ride a little further from the tollgate till I find a brightly lit place which had boarding and lodging. I decide to finally take off for the night and catch a shut eye for the ride next day. It’s about 9.00p.m. now. And I take a room that is pretty huge for a single guy like me. All I had to do was to uncloth myself. That was it, I set an alarm for 5.00 in the morning because I can’t wake up any sooner. That’s all I remember. One super deep sleep I was in, as soon as I hit the bed. So peaceful sleep I got, like proper deep sleep…

The alarm went off on time, only to be snoozed till 7.00a.m. because I’m lazy to ride out in the cold. So I finally get off the bed, take bath etc. and ready by 8.00.a.m. I have 2 cups of tea and vacate the place. Remember, I’m still a 1000kms away from my destination.

Photo stop near Gujri

By 8:15 I’m already on road riding out, not till I spot a board indicating a town called Gujri. Oh well Gujri, what better name to have a picture taken with. Just a brief picture stop. Okay.. that’s the last stop major picture stop of the day. The whole day went riding pretty much non-stop, except for the fuel stops. So yeah, I rode and rode the whole day because this was my last day to reach in time. I pass through Dhar, Ratlam, Mandsaur, Neemuch City and Chittorgarh. This Chittorgarh happens to have a massive fort. But for me today, no time. So onward… The whole road has been good wide road, so no tension. But now new tension, I can rain see clouds in the far distance. So I take a brief pitstop to cover my bag and continue.

Nothing much worth mentioning along the route there onwards. However, it’s become pretty late by now. Almost past lunchtime. I ride till I reach Kishangarh. Oh, this place is like Jigani neighbourhood of Bangalore. Only Marbles in this city. This city is filled with marble sellers. Italian, Indian, whatever marble you want you will get it here. A Marble market city. So by the time I leave this city, it is already 5.00.p.m. I drape my blanket and get prepared for the “Thand”. The next city is Kunchaman city. This city seemed a little dirty with slush almost everywhere. Then I realise that it had rained here. It’s kinda wet and cold. So take the road to Jhunjunu via Sikar. This road is good but single lane, no street lights. Almost reached Sikar, when I’m having a tough time riding the bike. Because it suddenly became unbearably cold and was completely covered in fog. Even the other vehicles seem to be driving super slow.
I almost fell off once because of a mound in the middle of the road. I almost immediately stopped, to take stock of the situation. The road was wet because it had rained. Not only had it rained, but it was a hailstorm and the temperature had dipped to near zero. The mounds on the road were mounds of hail stones and I had almost fallen off because of them. Shit crazy it was. Who expects rain in the middle of a desert region? Yeah, so I pass through that area and reach Sikar. Then reach Jhunjunu and finally take the deviation towards Alsisar. This fucking maps can take through some crazy routes if you are not careful enough..!

Hailstones at Sikar

However, it took through some road and put me back on the right road in a while. Yeah peace. . It is 11:30pm and I’ve reached my destination. “Alsisar Mahal“. And I’m all set for the festival. It is cold and I am tired. I had been waiting to just get a place to sleep.

And so yeah, I reached a music festival in just around 50+ hours from Bangalore. To the ‘Magnetic fields ‘ music festival from the ‘Silicon City’ Bengaluru in 50hours..!

To be continued….. Part 3

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Silicon city to Magnetic fields- Part 1

So, as the title suggests.. this is about my journey between Bangalore and Alsisar, in the winter of 2019. It is not another bike riding blog that you’d find spamming the internet. This one is a story.. About “HOW” I got there, when reaching the destination was the target. But as things unfolded, I’m writing this today to share my story with you all..

The background:

One day, while scrolling down on my Instagram feed, I come across a post seeking volunteers for the magnetic fields music festival. A festival I have been following for a few years. Given this chance, I filled in the questionnaire on the given link. A few weeks went past and I had eventually forgotten about it… To be noted: I was unemployed or rather occupied with agriculture, until this point..

So in the month of November, 17th to be precise- I applied for a job as a sales consultant at a luxury bike dealership in Bangalore and got employed also. Trust me, this was the easiest aptitude I have ever answered! The test was held in the dealership itself, which had a good playlist playing in the background as I was taking my test. It was more like: I enjoyed my time giving the test.. So, I sailed through that and got employed also. Well, everything was alright but not right.. I was employed at the place for exactly 8 days. Exactly a day before my birthday. The Best birthday gift ever, that was it: I got an employment termination. I was let go because I was not enthusiastic enough. Yeah, right! 100% agreed, I don’t give a damn either.

Post this scene, I’m cycling back home.. Well, that’s when I get a call. It’s a person calling to seek more information about me and my application for volunteering. She called to ask me if was interested and if they could hold a video interview. Oh, well! Why not? All done and now I’m in, as a volunteer…

They call again exactly 7 days before the event, to reconfirm my participation. Done, set I am; Atleast for the event. Not set with how to reach the event… Well I spoke to my parents and tried to get money for my journey tickets. They probably thought I was joking and did not  bother to respond. I did this till the last buffer day for me to leave home to reach the festival venue on time. Even on the last day, I’ve asked but no avail. Well, I’m not good at convincing I guess. I did my mental calculations and came to a decision that given the pace and ticket availability- train was ruled out and plane was fast but extra expensive, considering last minute booking. So, I decided to ride to Rajasthan.. In 2 days flat! Well yeah, I did ride 2200 kms.. in a little more than 48 hours, though.

Today:

I leave home after realizing that it was futile, trying to convince my parents to agree for plane tickets. I packed essentials like one thermals, one pullover, shoes, 3 pairs of clothes and not much cash. I’m full rich you know, only cards.!No one at home is happy about my last minute plans to ride 2000 odd kms with absolute no planning. Most important thing I did was stick my name and emergency contacts written on a paper on my fuel tank, just in case something went off route. Okay, tata, bye bye to home.. For the next 10 days.I leave home at around 4.00.p.m. straight to the service centre. Oil changed, chain lubed and tensioned, all while listening to the workshop supervisor telling me to replace the chain kit and tyres, as both had exceeded their life. Yes, I know they needed a replacement but I didn’t have enough time. Okay, I agreed to his advice telling him that I’ll do it in Pune. My bike was ready, atleast for the night until I reached Pune, just a few hundred kilometres away..05:15.p.m., I start my lonely ride to reach Alsisar as early as possible so as to not miss the reporting, day after tomorrow. So now, I’ve left home just before night fall and I have 2000kms to ride. I stop for dinner at a roadside hotel at about 10.00.p.m., the only hotel that seemed to be brightly lit. There was not a single tea shop the whole time. This first night is nothing much interesting except for continuous  riding all night, till I eventually got tired at about 02.a.m. I was finally tired, enough for a major pit stop in the middle of nowhere. Also, I had underestimated how cold it might be.. Standing cold and riding cold are very different levels of cold.! Had to wear my thermal and my pullover to feel, just warm enough that night. I eventually stopped at a truck lay-by, which are more common than hotels after passing Hubli. This place seemed good enough to stop because there was a bright mast light installed nearby and there was nothing else other than this small bus-stop like truck lay-by. I was tired, so I just decided to lay down on the broken benches.

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Getting a power nap at one of the truck lay-bys

My bad, this place sucked! Because, every now and then these sugarcane farmers went by in tractors, blasting music at that dead hours. And also because it is a national highway, every truck and bus whizzed past the shelter making my rest-stop unbearable. I vacated the place in 20mins to find a place that was more silent. I ride for the next hour, till I finally reach Kolhapur tollgate. Being dead tired and partially sleep deprived, I give up riding.. It is probably 3:30-04.00.a.m. Being at a considerably more safer place with constant security, I just pass out on my bike, at the tollgate! I did wake up eventually, feeling just a bit fresh at about 5.00.a.m.Time is running out and I’ve not covered half the distance. Oh shit, I’ll get late. I almost immediately leave. Sometime into the morning ride, I am greeted by a fellow rider on an older red Ducati while he gracefully overtook.By day break, I’m almost in Pune. At 6:30-07.00.a.m., I’m at Khatraj Ghat, full of fog. Well, I ride into Pune and miss the exit I should have taken to enter the city from Swargate. Instead, I happened to take the ring road which bypassed the city and took me through Hinjewadi and Pimpri. Here is when the first balls in my mouth scene happened… I just happened to go past Tata motors at Pimpri and stopped for my morning tea as it is almost 8.00.a.m. now.. I don’t know if it was the tea stop or some inauspicious time of the day; My bike chain seemed to have gotten jammed and was making a very uncomfortable metallic rubbing noise. At this point, I was barely able to ride it.. I got off the bike and started to push it, because the nearest service centre at Chakan was just a few kms away.. Even pushing became difficult as the chain had jammed or become tight. I gave it a thought, then hopped on and rode. It was nerve wracking to listen to the chain rubbing against some other unfigured part… I prayed the whole trip from Pimpri to Chakan, just that the chain doesn’t snap.

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Somewhere in Pune

For my good fortune, the chain repaired itself I guess and everything became normal again, just as I neared the service centre. Guess what? I’ve arrived too early to the store. It’s 9.00.a.m and the service opens at 10.00. Good that the showroom guy had just opened. He was cleaning and setting up the store. I tell him to inform me when the service supervisor arrives and pass out on the showroom table, till almost 11.00. Eventually, he did come. This service centre guy gave me the best attention I’ve got. I told him the problem. He however, was not able to verify it because the chain had magically fixed itself. I got it lubed and tensioned again. Trust me, the chain and tyres had become overused by now. I tell him my destination and he was surprised. He also repeated the same, what I had heard in Bangalore. “Change your chain set and tyres, or you’re not going to make it back to Bangalore..!” I give him my assent to do it in Jaipur.

To be continued……. Part 2

The two greatest Indian epics- The Conclusion

Where do the two largest Indian epics end?

I remember how Indians went frenzy to watch the movie- ‘Bahubali 2: The conclusion’, a story that is something purely fictitious. But, ever bothered to know what the ending of the two greatest stories of Indian mythology is like? What happens to the protagonists in Ramayana and Mahabharata? No, they don’t end at wars. There’s more to it and I’m pretty sure most of you wouldn’t know.

I was lucky that my travels took me to these places that are often spoken less about. Tucked away from the mainstream tourist circuit, these places were a sort of discoveries for me that happened only because I travelled. Read further to know more.

1. Ramayana- The conclusion
Ayodhya and SriLanka are two places that comes to our mind instantly when we think of the epic Ramayana. The climax of the story has Lord Rama bringing back his wife Sita safely, after waging a war against the demon King Ravana. They then return to Ayodhya where preparations are on for Lord Rama’s coronation as the King. But sooner, he realizes that the purpose of his incarnation on earth was completed and he had to return to his abode- Vaikuntha. The story concludes in Lord Rama undertaking his Jal-Samadhi by walking and drowning in river Sarayu. This place is marked by the modern day ‘Guptar Ghat’ at Ayodhya.

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Our “The AYODHYA view”

2. Mahabharata- The conclusion
Kurukshetra, in the modern state of Haryana is one place that we immediately associate with epic of Mahabharata. Of course, the climax has the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas at this place. But the primary protagonist of the epic- Lord Krishna sees his end in the modern state of Gujarat. He finds his way back to vaikunta after serving the purpose of his avatar on earth. As he readies himself to leave earth, he sits under a tree in meditation at Bhalka theerth also known as Golok Dham. Krishna’s feet are shot at by a hunter named Jara, mistaking it to be that of a wild animal. Krishna who is fatally wounded then walks into the river Hiran, where he drowns for life. This spot is marked by a marble replica of a pair of feet on the banks of the river, near Somnath.

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The replica of Krishnas Footprint at Golokdham

An ancient Fort city of Gujarat- Junagadh

Visiting the Saurashtran region of India was a last-minute inclusion in the itinerary of our trip which was otherwise planned only to ‘The Rann of Kutch’. It was noon by the time my friend and I arrived at Junagadh, by a train from Ahmedabad. After checking into a hotel at a walkable distance from the station and freshening up, we relished a sumptuous ‘Gujarati Thali’ at a nearby restaurant. After a while, we set out to explore this historical city of Junagadh, a place lesser known on a typical backpacker’s circuit.

With a short autorickshaw ride, we reached the entrance of the Uparkot fort. This place is what gives its name to the city. ‘Juna-Gadh’ in local language means ‘Ancient Fort’. This fort dates to 3rd century BC, to the Mauryan Era. It must have been a massive structure back then. With several dynasties ruling this region over time, there are many historical remnants of structures that were eventually added. However, all are in bad shape now. The Buddhist cave, the Jumma Masjid, the tomb of Nuri Shah, the Naghan Kuvo stepwell are among the few that have stood in time. But Adi-Kadi Vav and Nawabi lake are the structures that I found interesting among all. Adi-Kadi Vav is a stepwell facing the Girnar hills, to which we had to descend a flight of stairs to reach water (mind you! The water is extremely dirty with all the trash). Whereas the Nawabi lake is an artificial pond that required an ascend of a spiraling staircase where the reflection of the Girnar hills looked beautiful in its water. This spot also had a dozen peacocks walking around the pond. Our walk tour ended in a couple of hours and we decided to walk back to the town.

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Adi-Kadi Vav rockcut stepwell at Uparkot fort

This gave us ample opportunity to photograph the rustic, old world and yet vibrant streets of the old city. Almost every corner of the lanes and its doors seemed like they had stories to narrate. As planned, we arrived at ‘Mahabat ka Maqbara’ at sunset time. These twin tombs of the past rulers are very beautiful, and it is only enhanced by the shades of the setting sun. We were very particular to photograph this place at the golden hour and were happy souls towards the day’s end for capturing those amazing silhouettes.

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The twin tombs at Mahabat ka Maqbara

After a long walk further in the quest to explore the market area of the old city, we kind of came to realize that we were lost in the cramped streets of a place that seemed like Namma Bengaluru’s Pete area. Google maps was of very little help so much so that we reached the same spot after walking around in multiple directions. Finally, we hopped into an autorickshaw to get us to the hotel, not minding the short walkable distance that was indicated by Google. We wanted to get some rest as our night was going to be long. We set the alarm to wake up by 10.00.p.m. so that we could start to hike by 11.00.p.m.

However, I slept a wee bit longer and had been shaken up neither by the alarm nor by the panic-stricken friend’s endless calls from outside my closed room doors. When I woke up from deep slumber, it was 01.00.am and my friend was almost in the verge of fainting to know that I was not responding inside a closed room 😀 We then got an auto ride to the base of the Girnar hills, the climb of 10,000 stairs had to be done before sunrise. The plan was to ascend at night, catch the sunrise from the peak and descend back before the harsh sun rose up during the day. Post breakfast, we would leave for our next destination. We were already running behind schedule.

We commenced our hike and there was barely anyone else with us. The winds were very strong and the rustle of the trees as we passed through the initial stretch of forest was creepy in the moonless night. The Girnar hills is believed to be older than the Himalayas and a pilgrimage site for people across faiths. Several structures like emperor Ashoka’s rock edict, Jain temples, ancient inscriptions etc. are things that kindle the history buffs if they are not interested in the pilgrimage including the Jain tonks or several other temples from across time in history. However, after climbing about 5,000 stairs, my legs were tired and couldn’t catch up with my friend’s pace. I could have completed it though, only at a slower pace. But, we wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time if we had to catch a morning bus to our next destination. Fearing which, I decided to sit back and let my friend go ahead and complete the hike. However, he was not okay with the idea to let me sit alone all night (it was bloody dark and windy with NO ONE around) and decided to head back to the hotel with me. So, the descent of 5000 odd stairs on our way back wasn’t easy either. I was unprepared for this long hike and I guess it was a wise decision for me not to continue the ascent. It would’ve taken a real toll on my legs and the rest of the trip would’ve been screwed up. But what makes this a memorable trip is the fact that this was the first EVER hike that I gave up halfway, without completing.

Then, we telephoned the same rickshaw guy to give us a ride back to the hotel. It was a short but a nice ride. The proximity of the Gir National park had herds of Nilghais, boars and other wild animals on the highway that we were travelling on. A stay in the ‘Gir National Park’ is a dream for another day. Perhaps when I have more days in my itinerary and more money in my wallet. Maybe that time, I will have more stamina to reach the peak of Girnar too. But for now, we were reaching our hotel for some more sleep.

Goodbye, see you at Somnath.

Five amazing experiences in India that will never be the same

With Social distancing becoming the new normal, the world and its people are never going to be the same again. Whilst at this, I consider myself fortunate for having some of the finest experiences during my travel in India, prior to Covid-19. Mostly village fairs and religious congregations are something that draw most crowds, world over. Apart from them, there are yet a few non-religious events that are extremely popular in India and are crowd-pullers.

Here is my list of five such events which perhaps are never going to be the same when normalcy sets in again.

1. The Live rocket launch viewing in Andhra Pradesh: With a seating capacity of over 10000 spectators, witnessing a rocket launch at Sriharikota is once in a lifetime thing. I was fortunate to see the biggest space vehicle yet from the Indian stables (the GSLV) roar into space. The launch of ‘Chandrayaan-2’ was the last biggest event from ISRO before lockdown. Click here to read further.

Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19
Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19

2. The Republic day parade at New Delhi: One of the largest displays of the Indian might in terms of culture alongside the discipline and strength of the combined defense forces, people throng the Rajpath road at New Delhi in thousands every year. I’m guessing that it may never be the same again.

3. The Boat race of Kerala: This event is a sporting event that’s more of a prestige to win and a craze to watch. I had the opportunity to witness this madness in the biggest festival of them all- The Nehru boat race. Click here to read further.

Boat Race finals (49)
Boat Race finals

4. The hornbill festival of Nagaland: An event to celebrate the amalgamation of cultures of all tribes of Nagaland, this annual event is a must be at-least once. I was fortunate to be there in the December of 2019, the last event before the world went under lockdown.

5. The Kodava hockey festival in Karnataka: The world knows that India is a frenzy nation when it comes to cricket. The madness at the stadium is on a next level. But the national sport of India- Hockey is celebrated at an altogether different high in Kodagu district of Karnataka. This congregation holds the Guinness record for being the largest festival dedicated to Hockey in the world. Click here to read further.

The Indian hockey team during the opening match

Le Freezer- A winter in Leh

Here’s a story of when the ‘Plan A’ went kaput and we were stranded in an alien land without a ‘Plan B’. No mobile phones working and no internet connectivity to reschedule our return tickets, here’s a snippet from our first trip farthest from home. This post is written by Lahar Ganapathi, my brother and my favorite co-traveller on most trips. This is a throwback post to the winter of 2015, When we were among the earliest few Indian travellers: Doing the Chadar trek.

Day 1:

So, it’s the peak of winter in the north of India. Chadar trek was finally happening which was planned a few months in advance. With all the built up excitement, we left Bangalore for Leh. Delhi was where we met a few others doing the same trek, however they had bad news for us. That was of the Zanskar River being blocked due to a landslide upstream and all activities downstream indefinitely banned, or rather a section 144 was imposed. We were not the ones to be disheartened by the news and continued to Leh, onward from Delhi after a night’s sleepover at the Indira Gandhi International airport. So, after an uncomfortable sleep in the waiting lounge of the airport and a few hours of delay later in morning, we finally took off for Leh.

The view from above the Himalayas was breathtaking from the point where the Gangetic plains raised up to the mountains. There was stark difference as we saw a plain flat ground rising drastically, forming the snow-clad mountains in a matter of minutes. A flight to Leh in peak winter provided a beautiful view of the mountains in full glory, as if they were majestically looking down towards flatter lands at the bounty they provided. So, after all the aahs and oohs we finally took notice of the changing landscape as we reached Leh, white snowy terrain giving way to brown rocky terrain. In a moment we were already over Leh airstrip and we landed without any bumps. The announcement stated the temperature as 6 below 0.

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You are flying over the Himalayas…

Being from the temperate part of India and never having experienced such a low temperature, excitement took over my sensibility and I got off the plane wearing only a normal woolen sweater (good enough to push through winter in Ooty or any other hill station down south). Yeah, such a jerk I was to do that. At first, the cold did not feel much different from other places. But, trust me it was -6 at 12:30 in the afternoon, with overhead sun. 10 minutes was all it took to knock the heat out of me. As it got unbearably cold, I scrambled for my warmest layer. It took three layers to feel warm enough. We caught a taxi to the hotel where we were scheduled to meet the other trekkers and the organizer. By this time, barely half an hour after laying foot in Leh, the cold had already F*&%$# up my toes to the extent to not feel anything for the next few days. The first news we got from the organizer was what we had heard in Delhi. ‘Zanskar is blocked and the government has banned activities downstream’.

Okay, enough for the first day. We huddled up near a gas heater in the hotel, while sipping on some hot yak milk tea. We were provided with a room for the night at a nearby accommodation. All done, we gathered in the room to discuss plan B for the next few days in Leh. Good night.

Day 2:

We woke up and immediately I noticed the frost on the window glass. The moisture in the room had frozen on the windows. First for everything, I was immediately mesmerized by the intricate pattern ice tended to have. Okay, so after a warm comfortable sleep we were ready to beat the cold. Once outside, we could notice that our body had “somewhat” acclimatized to cold. No tap water in Leh in winter; so don’t expect luxury of running water. You’ll be provided with a bucket of ‘hot’ water, which is normal water ‘feeling’ hot. We were then off to the hotel to meet the organizer, he had his own Plan-B for the situation. He claimed to take us to Nubra valley and Hemis national park, home of the rare Himalayan snow leopards. Our calculations were that, it would be a waste of money to do only two things for the cost of the whole trek. So, we opted out of his itinerary and took refund. We also made friends who liked our approach to the situation, a couple from Hyderabad who incidentally became best of friends over next the few days. So, now we are left in the streets with enough cash, more than enough cold and no idea as to what next.

Our immediate requirement was clear, to find shelter for the next few days. By then it was around 11.00 in the morning and we headed out hunting for a room. Since it was the season when Leh has the least footfall, it was kind of difficult to get a room as most of the hoteliers had shut shop for the season and the remainder were booked. Finally, we did manage to find an accommodation. We stayed with a family who rented out their son’s room to us. So accommodation set, what next?

We set out on a walk to the main market. We made a few enquiries around with the locals, about places of interest in and around Leh. We were immediately made aware of the ongoing Gustor festival at Spituk monastery. We immediately set out for the festival. Hired a cab and off we went. This monastery happens to be right across the Leh airport and has a commanding view of the runway. Looked like the whole of Leh had descended to the monastery. The road leading to the monastery was blocked a mile away due to the surge of vehicles and people coming to the festival. Chill, we ain’t scared to walk a few hundred yards. We passed through various stalls that were selling festive items and tents that served hot tea and lunch. The locals, all had a peculiar warmth in their sun burnt faces: so welcoming and refreshing.

As we walked, an air force plane flew past us to the runway. All ration to Leh is carried out by air in the winter as the roads are closed due to snowfall. The festival was one of a kind experience, something we probably had watched only on TV: Horns, colorful masks, bells, buddhist monks and their humming of prayers. Nice, we sat among the devotees and enjoyed the festivities happening in the courtyard. After it was done, we headed back to the parking. But this time, we stopped for lunch in one of the many tents. Ah, scrumptious, we filled our belly and topped it off with a hot tea. We were set for the next few hours. We headed straight to the main market since we had no other plans yet. Walking around the place, there were quite a few small stupas scattered around the main market area. We stepped into a few shops for the sake of buying souvenirs. At no time did we feel as being outsiders in Leh, pretty easy to mingle among the residents.

Okay done for the day. We walked back to our homestay and settled down. At dinner, it was decided that we eat something what the locals prefer. Not knowing what it was, we just told the landlady to serve us ‘whatever the locals eat’. Yeah, that’s it. In came a bowl of steaming hot thukpa for each of us. More like a thick soup mixed with chunks of meat and lots of vegetables. So much, for not knowing what the locals eat. Blah, it certainly did not satisfy my hunger and I ended up eating my sister’s share, as well as a serving of rice. Okay done for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.

Day 3:

We had done a little socializing in the town last evening and ended up getting a car guy to take us to places around Leh. His was a comfortable Tata Aria. We left to Pangong Tso, A bloody massive lake situated across India and China. We were told by the car guy that it was the lake or place where the last scene of the movie 3-Idiots was shot. Oh okay! We didn’t know that, didn’t care either. Enroute to pangong we passed through the school where the Phunsuk Wangdu from that movie resided. Also, we passed through lakes converted into ice hockey rinks. Ice hockey seemed to have a good following there. But as the driver noted, not much was done to develop the sport.

It was quite a long journey, we took a pee stop at some barren place. Tanks emptied, and what we saw was a vast barren stretch of land. So off we were back in the Aria. We could see snow filled peaks in the distance getting nearer with every passing kilometer. And after a while we were at Chang La, a pass situated at 17688 ft or 5360mts above sea level. Another pit stop, this time it was because of the snow. We stopped just to feel snow, because Why not! Okay my sister barely stepped out of the vehicle only to get back in. It seems she felt a jolt of extreme cold ride in her spine. Ha, rightfully the lostlander, who lost her senses in the cold. Kid me not, every breath there took an effort, the altitude made us tired for every step we took.

Okay Chang La conquered, next stop was Pangong tso. Maybe an hour or so from changla, we reached Pangong. So much excitement to get on a frozen lake.. So we spent a while there clicking pictures, admiring the beauty of the place. It has been the closest I have been to China. So long to Pangong, we headed back to civilization.

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A milestone at the Pangong tso

We were dropped off at Shanti Stupa, a major tourist attraction in leh. Thank god, it was winter and no tourist to crowd the place. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was around 5:30.p.m., so we walked back from there to our home, through the desolate streets of Leh. Not a single soul was seen loitering in the evening. It was getting insane cold as the darkness loomed over…

Oh, I forgot to tell about the magnetic hills of ladakh. Our Aria-man took us to this place called as the magnetic hills where cars and others wheelers defy gravity. Stop your car on the slope and watch it slowly roll up the slope defying all known logic of gravity. After this, we were taken to our beloved river which gave haath at the last minute, Zanskar. Or it was rather the confluence of Indus and Zanskar. We did actually go down to river bank when a police van appeared out of nowhere asking us to leave the spot because of the section 144 or curfew imposed in the area (remember the landslide that made us change our plans? That one!).

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The confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar

Okay lucky enough not to end up in a police station I guess. The road enroute to this place is somewhat good, vast stretches of dry land with snow filled peaks in the distance. Our Aria-man was kind enough to tell us that these vast stretches served as testing grounds for Mahindra vehicles in high altitudes and that they have tested almost all their vehicles there. This was quite a day actually, we’ve been driving the whole day. For lunch we stopped at this particular town which looked dreamy, with shops lining both sides of the road the entire town’s length.

To be continued…

You can also read my version of the same trip. Click here to read.

getting lost in traveling through places and time…

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