Tag Archives: Offbeat India

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.

IMG_20170307_070712
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.

dsc_02162499234078978353895.jpg
The replica of Krishnas Footprint at Golokdham

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.

20200526_14470353833319360455278.jpg
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…

img_20200526_1501081388858492136879642.jpg
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.

img_20181028_1720451090248996987769050.jpg
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 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 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’.

IMG_20181031_161950
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.

DSC_0603
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.

DSC_0626
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.

DSC_0661

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!

IMG_20200426_223708
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.

IMG_20181101_105225-01
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.

IMG_20181102_172816
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)….

Travelling down the memory lane- Malgudi days

The unfortunate lockdown that the pandemic has brought has sure got the netizens busy. I’m not a TV person but sitting in a spot for video conferences all day (for work) gets me worked up sometimes. My terrace is too hot to go out in this hot summer month. This has given me some time to indulge in watching some series online. Not to fall into the fancy of the latest trending series, I preferred to catch up on some old classics that were a hit on Doordarshan, back in the days of my childhood. I started with Malgudi days.

While some claim that Agumbe was the ‘Malgudi town’ and there exists a ‘Malgudi house’, nobody really knows where the entire ‘Malgudi days’ serial was shot. However, since most of the episodes were predominantly shot in and around Shimoga, the present-day railway station at Arasalu (near Shimoga) is named as the ‘Malgudi station’ in honor of the famous serial. One of the trains too is named as the ‘Malgudi Express’ by the Southern railways. However, the popular serial telecast in the late 1980s comprised of 39 episodes shot and directed by Late.Shankarnag. Banking in on its popularity, the other 15 episodes were later directed by Kavita Lankesh in 2016. From what established a cult in Indian cinema, I am keen on taking a trip down the streets of Shankar Nag’s Malgudi because that is what I grew up watching.

Based entirely out of Karnataka, the rural setting, the culture and top-of-the-notch actors were totally relatable for me as I watched it. As I continued to watch the episodes, what started to intrigue me were the typical Karnataka style of buildings. I also started to take note that I could recognize some of the buildings and structures featured in the serial. All were not in Shimoga. So that is what motivated me to write this post. I wanted to relate my travel through my home-state Karnataka and map some of the heritage structures that have been featured in the classic ‘Malgudi days’. So, here are my relative screenshots from the serial and the related photos of the landmarks, as it stands today. You too can contribute your findings and let us unravel the mysterious locations of the old-timer 😊

1. Episode name: Oldman of the temple- Mandir ka budda
The episode opens with the author R.K.Narayanan himself telling that Malgudi is a fictitious town. It being located in Southern India is only half truth. The truth is, it is applicable to anyone anywhere across the world. Here, starts my quest to map the locations of Malgudi, spread across the state of Karnataka.
a. Ofcourse, Sheshadri and his friends are seen sitting on a platform of a tree that is present even today, at the town centre of Agumbe.
b. The old dilapidated temple that the Old man- Krishna Bhattar’s spirit lived in the episode is the ‘Thimmarayaswamy temple at Bettadadasanapura’ on the outskirts of Bangalore.

2. Episode (serial) name: Swami and his friends.

a. This is an 8-episode long story and is one of the most iconic part of the series. The ‘Doddamane’ in Agumbe perhaps is what was Swami’s house. We still need to look at several other structures that have been featured in the serial.

b. Although I am unable to locate the structure that housed ‘Albert Mission School’ in the series, I sure know where the School logo ‘Fide Et Labore’ featured in it came from. It was easy for me to point it out as my brother happens to be an alumnus of the 150+ years old ‘St. Joseph’s European High school’. Given the setting of pre-independence days in the serial, it was obvious for a Bangalore based director to be inspired to borrow the school logo from here.

c. Swami’s Friend- Rajam lived in a huge bungalow. This is the Thippagondanahalli IB (Inspection Bungalow)

d. Yes, most part of the series was shot at Agumbe. But when the team had packed up and Director Shankar Nag felt that a few scenes needed a re-take, the entire street of Malgudi was setup at a street adjacent to Yediyur lake in Bangalore.

img_20200419_1558003885394149311384243.jpg

Top- The map of Malgudi as conceptualized by Shri.R.K.Narayanan; Below- The present day Arasalu railway station

3. Episode name: A Hero
With some actors replacing the characters of ‘Swami and his friends’, it somewhat is a continuation of the 8-episode series. Though the house indicated as Swami’s house in this episode may not be wholly same as the 8-episode series, it is true that a large part of this episode (The attic of Swami’s house and the riverbank) are common.

4. Episode name: The hoard- Maha Kanjus
This too has been shot in the ‘Doddamane’. The main road facing entrance, the sit-out on either side at the entrance with wooden pillars and doors and the central courtyard indeed are from the ‘Doddamane’ of Agumbe.

img_20200419_1558408646436733945467627.jpg
Episode: The Hoard; Location: Doddamane, Agumbe

5. Episode (serial) name: Mithai Wala- The vendor of sweets.
All I have heard is that ‘Malgudi’ itself is a fictional town created for the serial. The name was derived as a combination of two prominent townships of Old Bengaluru: Malleswaram and Basavanagudi. The story of its origin can’t go away from its offspring, right? What has always been popular as the ‘Shooting house in Basavanagudi’ is in fact the house where the Mithai Wala lives in this 8-episode long series.

img_20200419_1820188489192852779148580.jpg
Series: The vendor of sweets; Location: The shooting house of Basavanagudi

6. Episode name: Nitya
Nitya, the protagonist is taken to a distant hill-temple where his parents had a prayer to be offered. The entire setting of the hill-temple is the present-day popular trekking destination- Devarayanadurga’ in Tumkur district, on the outskirts of Bangalore.

img_20200419_1556242313197449996913817.jpg
Episode: Nitya; Location: Devarayandurga

7. Episode name: The seventh house- Saathvan ghar
This episode has been shot across multiple locations. However, there were a couple of them I could identify.
The scene where the couple and their families go to offer pooja in a temple is Devarayanadurga, same as the one in the episode Nitya.
a. The scene where the couple meet after college has the Town hall building of Mysore in the backdrop.
b. The scene where the protagonist rides to see an astrologer is the temple at Kaiwara. It has largely been renovated as on today. But the Narayanappa temple in the background, the rocky hillock on one side and a motorable road seen in a glimpse indicate it is indeed Kaiwara.

img_20200419_2359087779830708236567927.jpg
Episode: The seventh house; Location: Top- , Below- Kaiwara

8. Episode name: Iswaran
a. The college or the senate hall with its Gothic style of architecture featured in the episode is the ‘Central College of Bangalore University’ located in the heart of Bangalore.
b. The Protagonist, Iswaran watches a movie at a cinema. The palace featured in the movie is the ‘Bangalore Palace’.
c. Time and again, Sarayu river has been mentioned in the episode. Given the typical setting of Karnataka and the writer’s hometown of Mysore, the lifeline of this region is river Kaveri. I believe that the river where the protagonist drowns in at Sangama, near Srirangapatna.

img_20200419_1557072785711876990109400.jpg
Episode: Iswaran; Location: Top- Central college, Below- Bangalore palace

9. Episode name: The performing child- Abhinetri
Given the fact that it is still one of the iconic lung space of Bengaluru and there runs a toy-train amid a lot of greenery, the train journey featured in the child’s dream is in Cubbon park.

10. Episode name: Roman image- Rome ka Murthi
a. The stone temple that Sheshadri and Professor walk around after climbing up a rocky hillock that overlooks green meadows is the ‘Mantapa’ located at the peak point of Kodachadri.
b. The red structure where professor Bandopadhyay is indicated to be working on a renovation of a Jaipuri palace- is the Shivappa Nayaka’s Palace located near Shimoga.

img_20200419_1559211829629155025381725.jpg
Episode: The Roman idol; Location: Top- Kodachadri, Below: Shivappa Nayaka’s palace, Shimoga

11. Episode name: The watchman- Chowkidar
Although the structure and the surroundings seems to be in a dilapidated condition in this episode, it has been largely renovated and restored as on date. The entire episode has been shot in the ‘Thimmaraya swamy temple complex at Bettadadasanapura’ in Bangalore. The large trees in the premises, the temple pond, the entrance stone pillars and the fortress like wall encompassing the temple premises on a rocky hillock are the things that stand testimony to the famous episode.

img_20200419_1603378700133774239826933.jpg
Episode: The watchman; Location: Bettadasanapura temple

12. Episode name: A horse and two goats- Muni
Given the rural setting of the protagonist’s house and the fact that he eats Ragi mudde, it is a story from the Mysore region. The place where he goes to graze his goats daily in a eucalyptus grove and the slopy terrain of the hills where the road passes, could it be the road that leads to Chamundi betta? Or could it be Nandi hills? (as guessed by ‘The light baggage)

13. Episode name: Trail of the green blazer – Pocket maar

The temple where the protagonist offers his prayers with a coconut before heading for stealing is the Panchalingeshwara temple at Begur, located in the outskirts of Bangalore. (Information contributed by ‘The Light Baggage‘)

img_20200421_0011247701976065440120278.jpg
The Panchalingeshwara temple at Begur

Are there any familiar locations that you could identify in the serial? Let me know..

Here are the remaining episodes 🙂

14. Episode name: Leela’s friend- Siddha

15. Episode name: The missing mail- Dhakia

16. Episode name: Engine trouble- Engine Ki kahani

17. Episode name: Forty-five a month- 45 rupiya

18. Episode name: The career- Ramji Ki Leela

19. Episode (series name)- Naga

20. Episode name: Sweets for angels- Kaali

21. Episode name: A willing slave- Aaya

22. Episode name: Cat within- Paap ka gada

23. Episode name: The gateman’s gift- Govind Singh Ki Bhent

24. Episode name: The edge- Dhara

The truth that Travel influencers will NOT tell you

Being an Influencer is a BIG responsibility. It means, that person has the power to ‘INFLUENCE’ people. It doesn’t matter if you are a nano, micro or a mainstream- fully-fledged influencer, it only means that you have the POWER to influence a certain group of people in a domain of your expertise. So, every person with this power has to be EXTREMELY careful and responsible about what you are going to communicate to your followers because they follow you for the knowledge that they will gain from you in YOUR area of expertise. (Click on the below image to know how social media influencing is used for marketing products & services)

20200411_205329

I am a travel influencer. I write about travelling in INDIA!

So, when I write, I shall be RESPONSIBLE to share what is relevant and falls within my forte ONLY. That said, I’m writing this long post because I am deeply saddened about how travel is taken for granted and how the generation is being WRONGLY misguided by some of the top Travel influencers. So, here are some SERIOUS Stuff that I want to discuss about becoming a travel blogger! Let me break them down into parts…

Part 1: Becoming a Travel blogger

1. Myth: They left their high paying corporate job to travel the world
Fact: A paratrooper or skydiving trainer will take you high up in the air and teach you how to jump or fly. But what he never tells you is that if things go wrong, he will have a backup parachute. Similarly, what these top travel influencers don’t tell you is they are ALL from affluent families who have strong financial backup. If their experiment on the road fails, they always have a family to support them financially and to help them start afresh. Ask me- I have a full-time job and I slog my ass through the entire week to make ends meet and to support my family financially. I save up a portion of my salary to travel and build connections with local people about whom, I can then write.

2. Myth: They sold their house and all the belongings and lead a nomadic life with just two backpacks
Fact: Not every monk will sell his Ferrari! Now that all these nomads without houses are not travelling because of Covid-19, tell me which road are they sleeping on? They are ALL back in India, living in their parents’ houses which probably you hadn’t given a thought prior to this lockdown. So technically, they have a house of THEIR own. They did not have to buy one or spend on renting one because they are not going to be using it while they are travelling. But you perhaps thought it was easy to give up everything and go one day.

3. Myth: They get to travel to all fairy tale places.
Fact: No doubt traveling offers surprises at every step, but what a follower doesn’t see is that MOST of these travel posts are sponsored. Hence, the influencer comes under an obligation to write all things nice about the place where they are getting their payments from. Social media influencing is their “Profession” at the end. They must abide by their sponsors’ terms and condition, no matter how natural their smile in the photo may seem to be like!

Part 2: Becoming an influencer

Creating content and manipulating behavioral patterns of followers using data Analytics: This is the single most important factor that brands ask for while working with an influencer. Their target reach and engagement ratio (You can look up on google to learn more on these terms). Take for example, the below graph of the analytics of my Instagram page. It shows the age group that is MOST responsive to feeds from all TRAVEL bloggers. So, the content created will be considering the psychology of people who fall under this target group. These insights are the basis on which these professionals (Social media influencers) try to manipulate the thoughts of their followers and thus influence them into buying whatever they want to sell (or Tell)! Remember, they are showing you what they are paid to sell.

IMG_20200411_211926

Part 3: Indian travel influencers on Social media

1. They are not true experts: Yes, they have gained certain experience over time, but they are glasses that are half empty. For example, here is a screenshot (taken on 11-Apr-20) of my reply to a TOP traveler’s post. The person had posted an animal’s photo and said how (he/she) empathized the spotted deer’s death. I corrected the influencer telling it was a sambar deer. Do you see how well informed they are about their posts? If probably wildlife was your forte, you would perhaps know the difference and know how one of the most commonly seen species of wild animals looked like!
PS: You shouldn’t post something that is not from your field of influencing.

20200411_211150

2. They do selective replies and reposts: They don’t like to acknowledge when they are corrected. They get offended when their mistakes are being pointed out. My message above has never been read (even after 2 months!). But every day, I see them reposting stories and appreciation about them that were in someone’s story. (FYI, story lasts only for 24hrs and all the tags get delivered as messages in the inbox). How possible is it that my message went unnoticed, till date? No, they did see it. They chose to keep it unread. I get replies from influencers who probably have 3-4 times more followers and spend most of their lives without network.
PS: Be just and fair to all followers.

3. India and its’ government have NEVER given them enough: Tell me how often do they travel in India, on a self-sponsored trip? As fancy as their life seems, they have travelled the GLOBE on freebies. Tourism promoters of various countries invite them with free tickets, free stay, free food and everything else that’s nice, for FREE. Which happy person doesn’t speak nice things when they’ve been given a free meal? Another country and its people will SURELY seem better than theirs, because their poor country doesn’t give them freebies to explore it.
PS: Don’t mis-lead your followers about India and its capacities.

4. They care SHIT about Indian economy: I took the ‘Dekho Apna Desh pledge’ to travel to at least 15 places within India. It is my service to MY country to promote tourism and thus aid local economy (Click here to read how traveling local contributes to economy). Can you name at least five among the TOP travel influencers of India who pledged this for INDIA’s economy? I save up my leaves (and a portion of my earnings) every year and manage my exploration of INDIA as much as possible. I want to do my bit to promote domestic tourism by writing about how MUCH more my motherland has to offer, that no one place in the world has.
PS: I don’t take free tickets to travel and I promote local artisans in India, sorry!

Screenshot_20200411-212152_Gallery

5. They never feel ‘belonged’ in India: The feeling of belongingness should start from “HOME”. As the saying ‘Ghar Ki baat Ghar main hi rehna Hai’ goes, ‘we should not bring our family matters to the streets’. We should rather sit at home and discuss jointly and find a solution. But the people who refused to call their parents’ home as theirs, would never feel belonged to a ‘Motherland’. If you feel there isn’t enough justice, there isn’t enough equality, there isn’t enough security in India, will you give up your Indian passport that bears the emblem of integrity and sovereignty? Nope, I’m sure you flaunt around the passport when you are abroad.
PS: I would never let go of the perks and the attention I get of being called an ‘Indian’ after all!

6. They give a damn about India’s image in the global front: They sit in foreign countries either with a free ticket or have fled India to work for another country. But what they do is, call out on mistakes from their home country’s governance. Can you imagine the amount of negativity this is spreading about your home? They sit in a distant country and instigate their followers to participate in protests for which they won’t be able to come. Why? Because their tickets are not sponsored, know? Rather than picking out mistakes, how often have these people suggested solutions?
PS: If you can’t be a part of the solution, then you are the problem!

With reference to influencers off-late posting about politics, You can’t always pick on ONE person in the government for all the wrong that happens. Do you think the team of technical experts across all domains who are in the advisory team of the government are also half empty glasses like you? Do you think the 100+ million citizen of democratic are dumb to have unanimously elected their representatives? And you are the ONLY intelligent alien here?

It is disheartening to see influencers leaving their field and misusing their powers to call out anti-national slogans (against the ruling government) even in this testing times where the entire country is required to stand as ONE! Oh, come on… to err is human. Small minds discuss people, Average minds discuss events, Great minds discuss ideas! As Gurdas Maan sings in ‘Ki Bannu Duniya da’, the lines ”Par pakki vekh ke kacchi nai dhai di” translates to: Don’t demolish the old foundation for the new and fancy.

As responsible influencers, we must subside picking up negativity. This creates sense of differences. Instead, pick up positive stories and try to unite the people. Both are different ways of approaching the same problem!

Five ways to experience travel during lockdown

Continuing my posts on managing anxiety and keeping up self-morale during the lockdown, here’s some more on self help..

Binge-watching on Netflix, Hotstar or other OTT platforms, reading books, Cooking, meditation are so cliched. Doing these things daily too can get monotonous. Doing something for 21 days can lead to a habit. So, by the end of this lockdown period, we all don’t want to become couch potatoes..

Yes, every Sunday evening of our lockdown period has been made interesting by our Honorable Prime Minister. His tasks have made sure that we all came out to our balconies to get some fresh air and break the monotony. The clapping, clanging of plates, bells and blowing the conches from the confines of our balconies with an aim to Thank the frontline warriors of the Covid-19 Pandemic on 22-Mar-20 was a nice exercise to come out of our couches. Similarly, I’m sure the nation showed its unity and solidarity in hard times by switching off lights and lighting up lamps, candles, torches and flashlights on the evening of 05-Apr-20.

But, what about the other days of being locked down at home? Do your itchy feet rare to travel? And oh, those with little kids must be having the hardest time to keep them indoors. So, if you are looking for an offbeat travel experience to break your routine, while being locked up inside your house, here are five handpicked DIY ideas for you 😊

  1. Have your own bedroom rave party: An endless playlist is available either in your collection or on the OTT platform. Use the apps that also provide disco flashlights. Place your mobile screen between two mirrors that are placed at a distance away, facing each other. Switch off all the lights at home and let your playlist take the center table. Voila, you have your own dance floor! Make some drink or look online for some cocktail ideas with whatever ingredients are available in your kitchen and your party is good to go!
  2. Pitch your own tent or pillow fortress: For those of you who are frequent hikers, chances are that you have your own tent. You can pitch it in your own balcony or terrace and experience the outdoors in your own little campsite. For the others who don’t have a tent, fret not. Remember the ‘Pillow fortresses’ we made as kids? Why not let that kid out of yourselves now? Fold up your beds and stack up you pillows. You can even tie a string across your room and hang down a bedsheet from it. You have your very own DIY tent.
  3. Set-up your travel corner: Re-living old memories by digging up the old photo albums itself can be a great way to time-travel. You can pick up some of your favorite photos and hang-it up with lights in a DIY corner of your house. All you need is some strings and clips to hold your photos in place. You can also draw a huge map and mark the places you have been to and have it in your travel corner. Arranging your collection of souvenirs from your travels around this place too is a great idea.
  4. Star gazing from your balcony or terrace: Now that the skies have cleared, it’s a good activity to hone up your skills of star gazing. There are several apps and websites that can help you in identifying the stars and constellations. It’s a great idea to go out to your balcony and admire the vast expanse of the night’s sky. Who knows, you might even get a glimpse of the ISS (International Space Station) which is believed to be going around the earth- 16 times a day! There is usually one major meteor shower every month. Look up on the dates and catch the shooting stars 🙂
  5. Celebrate a festival: Light up your house as if you would do it for Diwali or for Christmas. Make up a mock festival at home. Festivals have always been a great way to bring in fresh energy and pep up the mood. I’m a sucker for diyas and candle lights and totally in love with the positive vibes it brings with it. No mood for festival décor? Why not cook up a nice meal and have a candle lit dinner?

Sounds fair? Let me know how you are dealing with the lockdown…. What ideas do you have to experience travel without leaving your doorstep?

As the Neelakurinji blossoms, the Nilgiris spectacles

Heard of the blue hills? Does the name ‘Nilgiris’ strike any bell? For those who know less, it is a part of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World heritage site in the southern peninsula of India. The ‘Neel-giris’ literally translates to ‘Blue-Hills’ because these hills get their colour from a particular phenomenon. A particular species of the Strobilanthes kunthiana flowers, locally called the Neela-Kurinji bloom once in twelve years. When in full bloom, the entire hill range looks blue, thus giving the hills their name. The last mass-flowering of the neelakurinji flowers happened in 2018 and I left no leaf unturned to witness this spectacle. There were a couple of hotspots identified by the Kerala forest department where arrangements were made to allow visitors to see the flowers.
My friends and I decided to visit the Eravikulam National park, located close to Munnar. This stretch of the hills was where most of the blossoms were supposed to happen. After finalizing the visit dates in Sept’18, the Delhi friends had booked their flight tickets to fly down and the remaining of us booked our bus tickets from Bangalore to Munnar. I had got all the necessary entry permits from the forest authorities and booked accommodation in Munnar for all of us. All this was done months in advance to have a confirmed entry anticipating the tourist influx for such a spectacle, if we waited until later. We were all set and waiting for the travel to finally happen.

Come July’18, the rain gods had wreaked havoc in the western Ghats. The entire stretch of western Ghats in Karnataka and Kerala had been damaged by the heaviest rains in eight decades. The damage done was massive to geography, property and life along these areas. In the event of things, damage was done even to the neelakurinji plants and the blossoms were feared to be washed out. Once the rain gods had calmed down and the ground situation of floods seemed to have receded, we waited to see if there was any luck in waiting until September. We were in constant touch with a few locals who gave us the updates on the status of the blue hills. Come September and we decided to go ahead with our original plan. We all had finally arrived at Munnar and were heading towards Eravikulam National Park.

Once there, Yes, there were enough plants destroyed. The stronger few, had managed to bear flowers. We walked along the laden path, feeling grateful for at least so many of the plants had survived. Since these plants blossom only once every 12 years, it means that their reproduction cycle is longer than usual. This also means that, most of the Neelakurinji vegetation is lost in the 2018 monsoon and the next flowering cycle of the year 2030 may not happen at a mass-scale as it is usually supposed to happen at all!! Anyway, we enjoyed whatever we were witnessing.

img_20200216_1230514763208106210940115.jpg
The Neelakurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

Also, Neelakurinji is only a sub-species of the larger group of flowers called the Kurinji. The Kurinji flowers come in several colors- white, peach, purple, etc. Here is a collection of the Kurinji flowers from Eravikulam National park that we saw during our visit.

img_20200216_1232387674453963735820057.jpg
The various Kurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

So that said, I was back in my hometown the following week and visited our piece of farmland to check on its status after the monsoon. It used to be a spice plantation that remained unmaintained for a long time before we, siblings ventured into developing it. our farm is a short walk away from the main road. When we arrived there and decided to walk, the entire path was filled with what seemed like some weed that had overgrown during the monsoon. We used a machete to make way for ourselves to walk further. Just a few steps into the area, we were surrounded with pink/ maroon flowers all around us. ‘These weeds had flowered expansively’, we wondered. We took a lot of photos, made way for ourselves, finished our work and returned home. When we discussed about the weeds with the elders in the family, we were surprised to hear that these plants also belonged to the Kurinji family.

img_20200216_1228147702483363187051058.jpg
The Kurinji flowers from our farm in Kodagu

Further, an important month in the Kodava and the Tamil calendar is the month of Kakkada or Aadi. In Kodagu, on the 18th day of this month a special dish is prepared using a locally available herb. Its juice is believed to contain 18 medicinal values. It leaves a very deep blue/violet pigment when cooked and consumed only on this day. And what is this plant called? Don’t even guess… Locally called ‘Maddh thoppu’ or ‘Aadi soppu’, it is also a variety of Kurunji.
So, Kodagu primarily has three types of Kurinji; the flowering weed(Maley Kurinji(as in hill), Etth Kurinji(as in cattle) and Maddh Kurinji(as in medicine).
A little bit of googling allowed me learn that there are many sub-species of the Kurinji and each have their own flowering cycles. While some bloom annually, some bloom once in six years and some take a couple of decades. Neelakurinji was just one among them.

Lesson learnt: How often do we tend to ignore the little things from our own backyard? We think these are too trivial to spend time and look for things elsewhere. It is often that people associate that better things come only when money is spent and distances are travelled, but the truth may be that it is something that we have been conveniently ignoring in our own vicinity.
What is your take on this thought?

A festival to Raid the graveyard- Mayana Kollai

Come the night of Mahashivaratri, there will be festivities across the country. People stay up all night and participate in bhajans, pooja offerings, chariot pulling etc. all to keep themselves awake for the night, so that their beloved Lord, Shiva gets good rest after taking care of them all year. But it is the day that follows the revered night, that is the essence to this story of mine. The day that follows Mahashivaratri is when Shakthi, the consort of Shiva and thus, the female power is celebrated across the Northern part of Tamil Nadu. The companionship of Mother Angalamman to Shiva, the graveyard dweller is celebrated with a festival called the ‘Mayana Kollai’. As a friend explains, Mayana Kollai translates to the ‘Raid of the graveyard’ in Tamil. I had planned to witness this festival at one such temple dedicated to Angalamman, closer home, at Kaveripattinam.

The festivities had started as early as the sunrise at the Angalamman temple, with the Goddess being taken on a temple car/ chariot. She is supposed to travel along the streets of the town, to the graveyard by evening from where she returns to the temple by night. All other rituals that are part of this journey of her’s are what make this festival more interesting. It is a festival where the entire town / village participates with no barrier of caste or societal status. The chariot leaves the temple with the idol of Angalamman.

20200222_1339022711065229733285812.jpg
The diety- Angalamman being taken on a procession on the temple car / chariot

She is greeted by devotees who throw a mixture of salt crystals and black pepper or beans all along her way. She is hailed as a symbol of fertility who is calm throughout the year and takes on her powerful form on this day, once in a year. The villagers get their body pierced with various things near the temple premises and walk across the village to the graveyard, where the piercings are removed. This body paining is what they believe, is a gratitude to the almighty for the wishes that have come true or as a part of a prayer that needs to be fulfilled. The size and things pierced can vary depending on individual’s prayers. While those with tridents pierced around their mouth are a very common sight, the more pious go further to get their torso pierced with hundreds of lemons. Yet, a few pull cars, buses, trucks or large stones with ropes that are hooked through their bare skin.

20200222_1103493355118405534738936.jpg
Stones being readied to be hooked to the body as a man with a trident pierced to his cheeks walks past

If u peek into one of the many shops (I don’t know if that is the correct noun for such places) around the town, apart from those getting the body piercings, you will find another set of people. Men and children will be getting their faces painted and dressed up in sarees, a representation of Angalamman. With metal arms attached to the backs, elaborate costumes, jewelry and crown worn, Angalamman is impersonated by these people. They hold tridents and dance to the beats of drums across the streets. Several times on their way, they get possessed or get into a state of trance, until they all finally congregate at the graveyard. Animal sacrifice too is a common sight on the streets on this day.

img_20200228_1030393231357977862522692.jpg
Stalls where the body piercings and paintings will be done

It is evening by the time the temple car and everyone else reaches the graveyard. That is when the most interesting part of the rituals takes place. The folk impersonating the goddess gather around a random grave and dig it up. The bones from the grave are pulled out and chewed by them. This is called the ‘bone chewing’ ritual or what gives the festival its name: Mayana Kollai or the ‘Raid of the graveyard’.

20200228_104051-01534021689575161698.jpeg
Men and kids dressed up like Angalamman

There are several legends and references that explain the significance of this ritual, depending on the region. Here are some of the references I found on the internet.

  1. The significance of the costume (Click here to read further)
  2. The significance of the Bone chewing ritual (Click here to read further)

Post this ritual, the goddess calms down and returns to the temple on the temple car. The festival culminates when the it reaches its home.

While witnessing all this self-violence, I started to deeply think, why this is necessary to please the gods. Although I couldn’t find a convincing conclusion, what I realized is that this form of ritual is not unique to Hinduism alone. It has been largely practiced worldwide, across all major religions. Some of the closest references are:

Whichever faith be it and whatever the belief, the intentions of every person involved is the same. To get closer to god. Aren’t all our beliefs connected?

The coldest place with the warmest hospitality- Pfutsero

More often than always, the stories we carry back from our travel are about the people we meet and less about the places we see. Our definition of whether our trip is good or bad is defined by the way we are made to feel by the people we come across. My experience in Pfutsero too has been one of those, where the warmth of the people made me fall in love with Nagaland. All I knew about Pfutsero was that it is the largest town in Phek district, and it is the highest inhabited place in the state of Nagaland. High altitude also means that it is the coldest place in the entire state. Having very little information available on the internet only meant that the place is still off the radar of mainstream tourism. This is what got me inquisitive and itched me to visit Pfutsero which would give ample scope to explore and experience something so raw and unknown to the outside world.

From the day I arrived at Nagaland, I had started to talk to a lot of people to get information about getting from Kohima to Pfutseru. With lack of clear information and high cost of travel, I had almost dropped the plan until the end of my 10-day trip in the state. One last try at finding a cheaper travel to Pfutsero, landed me in a small grocery store at Kezekie taxi stand in Kohima. My friend and I realised that we were at the right place. The courteous owner of the store guided us with all the required information and got our seats booked in the shared taxi that plied from Kohima to Pfutsero the next morning.

As instructed, we had reached Kezekie by 07.00.am. the following morning to be assured of a seat. But thanks to the traffic, it was 10.30.a.m. by the time we left Kohima. However, there was one ambiguity before leaving for Pfutsero- We hadn’t booked a hotel at Pfutsero for our stay yet. Despite several failed attempts of calling the mini-tourist lodge at Pfutsero, their phone continued to remain switched off. But my friend and I were up for some adventure and decided to travel without a confirmed stay, go there and find one.

Watch the video of my roadtrip to Pfutsero:

Phek district is inhabited by the members of the Chakesang tribes in majority. With the friendliness of the grocery store owner, we had already started to feel the positive vibes of the place we were going to. She had given the contact information of her family who lives in Kezakeno, another village in Phek. She had not just shared the contact info, in fact forced us to stay with her family. We were feeling grateful and partially sorted in the eventuality of not finding a hotel at Pfutsero.

There were both good roads and no roads, all adding up to a patchy drive to Pfutsero. Apart from the mountainous roads that seemed charming outside, the people with whom we shared our drive made our trip indeed a memorable one. One of them helped us to contact the tourist lodge and confirmed our stay at Pfutsero even before we reached. I had clearly started to feel overwhelmed with the hospitality of the people in this part of the country where the locals wanted to make all visitors feel at home. Almost everyone whom we got talking to, was excited to invite us over for a meal with them. Finally, it was 02.00.p.m. when we reached Pfutsero and a cup of hot tea was what we relished at our co-passenger’s house before checking-in at the tourist lodge. A colourful garden welcomed us into her wooden house that was perched on the slope of the hill. Its windows opened out into a majestic view of the entire town and overlooked a lake surrounded by green lawn. The dreamy house seemed to be no less than out of a Bollywood flick. We soon bid her a warm goodbye and headed to the tourist lodge, freshened up and proceeded to the target destination, before the sun called it a day!

dsc_03735231748998416964061.jpg
View from Glory peak, Pfutsero

Glory peak is the highest point in Pfutsero. A short taxi ride of 3kms through an under-construction road, jaw-dropping view of the surrounding valleys and a climb on a watch tower got us to the top of the town. Mt. Saramati is the highest peak in Nagaland and Mt. Everest needs no introduction. On a clear, bright afternoon, both the mountains can be seen from Glory peak. Since, we had reached there before sunset, the distant mountains were partially hidden by the haze and hence we could get a clear view of only Mt. Saramati. Nevertheless, the 360deg view of verdant hills from the glory peak was something to die for.

For those who have an additional day at hand, a day hike to the frozen lake from the glory peak is highly recommended by the locals. We decided to explore the town a little bit, before it was dark. A hike down the peak was fun as the staircase leading to the town passed through thick forests, strange creepers and colourful butterflies. We spent time exploring the town until sunset. It seemed dusty with poor roads. Apart from a few local snacks, we couldn’t find anything interesting. However, there is one souvenir shop run by an NGO that supports local artisans. One can buy some traditional Chakesang tribal jewellery, textile and food products as souvenirs from here.

The dropping Pfutsero temperature had started to numb our fingers and we decided to head back to the lodge. The lodge is situated on top of a hill and the setting sun looked glorious from the corridor. After wearing my thermals and gloves, I decided to take a stroll around the lodge. It is located adjacent to defence property and that gave me a sense of confidence to venture alone after dark. All the people from the neighbourhood were busy in decorating a nearby church for Christmas. They got me talking to them and eventually I joined them in their chore of setting up the wreaths and light bulbs. It was a fun evening until I decided to head back for the warmth of my room. The lodge was a HUGE property, but we were only two girls staying there that night. Although it was a little scary at the first thought to be the only guests, we were soon occupied in long conversation with the caretaker family of the property living in the same building, later to be joined by the owners. The conversation covered a range of topics and ran into the night. Given the lesser crowd of the cliched tourists, company of comforting hosts and warm conversations, we couldn’t have asked for a safer and a better place to be!

The comfort of the heater, cosy blankets and carpeted floors let us sleep like logs, unaware of the freaded freezing sub-zero Pfutsero temperature outside. We were woken up by the alarm next morning, only to be mind-blown by the view of the rising sun over the clouds from our balcony. We packed up and prepared to leave as that was our last day in Nagaland and we had to make it to Dimapur for the night’s train. Meanwhile, we had booked a personal taxi for our return, since we wanted to explore Kezakeno on our way back.

img_20200105_1611043685340147598805647.jpg
Top: Sunset view from Tourist lodge corridor, Pfutsero; Below: Sunrise view from Tourist lodge room, Pfutsero

The first stop was at- Chida lake. Locally called as Lowho, this off-road destination is a favourite hangout among the locals who come here for games like fishing and boating. Some enjoy a trekking trail from glory peak to Chida along the Kapamedzu range as well. There is a Border Security Force camp at Chida and hence, it is also referred as Chida Post at times. Since we had reached very early, we were the only tourists there and the place looked absolutely calm and serene.

dsc_0431262998177924315700.jpg
Lowho lake at Chida, Kezakeno

From there, we headed to Lazami village. This tiny village is of very high historical importance as it is the site from where the various Naga tribes are believed to have migrated to different parts of the state. A veteran from the village was excited to narrate the legend of Tsotawo, the spirited stone in the village. We were warmly invited by almost every person in this village into their house. We finally settled down at a little traditional house for breakfast and a large cup of tea. We carried back love in the form of guavas and local walnuts given by our hosts from this village. Seeing so much affection in these hills was a wonderful feeling that cannot be expressed, for which a city soul in me would want to come back again.

20191207_0813055438719679675247622.jpg
The spirit stone

While continuing our journey from there, we did have a stop at Kami village view point to admire the terraced paddy fields of Lekhromi village, the view looked magnificent under the oblique rays of the early sun.

Making our way through the maddening traffic jam of Kohima is for another story to be written about, some other day! Thus, ended our 2 days of amazement and overwhelming hospitality in the Land of the Chakesang Nagas- Phek district.

dsc_04289012507604352153301.jpg
Terraced farms at Lekhromi village, Phek

Summary:

Must eats:
* Pfutsero is famous for its organic farming and terrace cultivation. We bought fruits (some known and some new) from the local shops that we could eat once we were back in our room.
* One would find a lot of bakeries in the town selling local cookies and muffins. Sticky rice cake, banana cake and banana chips are few of the things I recommend.

Getting around:
* Daily shared taxis ply between Kohima and Pfutsero. There are limited seats and the taxis leave immediately when filled. The taxi leaves Pfutsero around 6.00.a.m to Kohima and the same returns to Pfutsero on the same day on a first-cum-first serve basis. So, if one is not early enough to get a seat, he will have to hire a full taxi for him/herself or stay back until the next morning to share it. A one-way shared taxi seat costs 300Rs. Per head and a personal taxi would cost 5-6000rs. irrespective of whether it is a 1 or a 2-way journey.
* Within Pfutsero, most places are at walkable distances. But internal taxis are available for local commute. Talk to one of the shopkeepers in the town and they must be able to help in finding one.

Stay:
* A very well-maintained tourist lodge and a government run mini lodge are available at a very affordable price.
* There are a few homestays available for a more local experience.