Posted in Life Travel, Rajasthan, shiva, travel

Is Pushkar the new Hampi ?

I have been to Pushkar a long time ago and I vaguely remember the colorful bazaars and the saffronized Ghats of the Pushkar Lake. However, I distinctly remember the Brahma temple, the only Brahma temple in the world, making Pushkar a uniquely important spot for the followers of Hinduism. The atmosphere here is very spiritual, there are stories about the cursed creator, which almost everyone lives by and there is a lake in the desert that amazes everyone. Despite its relevance in the religious circles of India, it has managed to remain a tiny town with no real projection of its own. This perhaps, brings Pushkar on the world tourist map, especially for the ones who wish to disconnect. And this is precisely what I wanted for myself. I have been following the social media posts for Pushkar lately and I wonder what attracts the young to this undeveloped and undisturbed town that sees almost no action all day long.

The town of Pushkar is spread within a few kilometers only. The road from Ajmer that leads to Pushkar is a hilly terrain with some simple curves. The hills that you would be turning around are dusty, rugged and uprooted; they are rather rocky than tall making themselves very distinct from the skyline, they look vulnerable, dry and dead. They are not yet parched by the sun for the summer heat will snatch away any of the life left in them. They are spread far and wide, commonly also known as the Pushkar Tirathgarh Forest. There is an enticing route leading in that you would come across on the way. If only I was not sitting in the bus and had a bike to ride inside, it would have been an adventurous day.

Nevertheless more adventures were waiting for me up ahead. In no time, I reached the Pushkar bus stand. I had already made my bookings with Zostel, one of the most upcoming hostel chains in India. A GenZ concept, this one had all the cues of a cool and free spirited stay. A bunk bed cleanly prepared, just next to a rooftop restaurant, sharing the dormitory with travelers across the globe, bean bags and floor beddings everywhere, creative graffiti and posters, the ambience was just right to spend the day.

As I spent the breezy afternoon, lazing on a yellow bean bag, listening to some psychedelic music, I suspended myself to this carefree atmosphere of Pushkar. With no one around and no thoughts on mind either; I was smiling for being there. Sometimes, these simplest of experiences become the most precious of all. Being alone and yet not lonely counts as one of the richest moments of life.

The evening was spent exploring the town of Pushkar which spreads in only a few kilometers. As I walked out of my hostel towards the main bazaar, I kept revisiting my time in Hampi.

Is Pushkar the new Hampi? I wondered.

Amidst all its innocence and ignorance, Pushkar boasts of significant global attractions, a culture of peace, a carefree attitude towards life and no signs of fast paced urban development making it a hotspot for the hippie tourists. I could see another Hampi in its streets. Randomly spread rocks, unfinished houses, cows everywhere, open drains, selfless people, command over various languages, a sun that bakes the place during summer but keeps the sky bright, the hindu trails, a long treasured history, all those small yet noticeable things were coming to my mind. These places refuse to accept the urban phenomenon but happily embrace the humans of the world.

While Hampi has more historic signs, Pushkar is witness to the spiritual signs of life. There is a sincere sense of devotion towards the Hindu Gods, there are sadhus who withdraw from the conventional life and accept the beggars’ lifestyle and there are tourists, both Indian and foreign who want to be a part of it.

These long bearded Sadhus are found at every nook and corner of the town. Many immersed in high spirits most of the time, they keep a possession of their own delusions, it never seems like they have any kind of connection left with the rest of the world and yet they are pretty much a part of the Hindu clan. They are the true wanderers of our planet; they are the ones without motives and plans.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

Mythological tales of this lake suddenly appearing in this deserted region makes it all the more significant. Endless stories of Lord Brahma and his encounters with his angry wife, the falling of the two lotus flowers and the lake that appeared overnight, every being here has grown up knowing these facts and the belief is stern. It is the strong faith that people live by, keeps the spiritual fire alive.

The Brahma Temple in Pushkar is the only Brahma Temple in this world. The God of creation is praised, adored and shown reverence in this otherwise insignificant town of Pushkar. Not only is there a Brahma temple to be visited here, as I checked the map of this place I also happened to come across a mosque and a sikh dham (Gurudwara) in the vicinity.

The beauty of Pushkar, and even Ajmer for that matter is the coexistence of and the attitude of sharing the space with other religions, despite the stronghold of one of them.  This was a trip dedicated to witnessing the spiritual symbolism, only differentiated from one another by means of culture and old established religions. Starting my trip by visiting the dargah, followed by the visit to Brahma temple and ending the journey in the warmth of Gurudwara, it became a kaleidoscopic journey into the rituals of peace.

I concluded this solo voyage at the bazaar of Pushkar, brimming with colorful vibes that is so in tune with Rajasthan. The picture postcards, the loosely hung bags with glass and thread works on them, the usual handprints on the modern designs of clothes, all of them make this bazaar a concoction of new and the old. There are newly opened cafes serving world cuisines that typically reminded of Hampi and how the remotest of places in India are accepting the farthest of cultures.

Italian food was on my mind since morning and I was affirmative to get it. I looked at the pale blue evening sky as I relished olives, jalapenos, mushrooms all wrapped in the molten cheese over a thin crust. I walked back happy, though a bit confused about the way back as there are too many forky ways that dissect and are hard to identify after dusk.

If unwinding is a part of your plan, then let Pushkar be on your list. You can be with the wind and your own thoughts at just the pace that you want to be in. If you are a solo female traveler, you can leave behind the safety related worries and have the peace in your mind.

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Posted in European Trips, Life Travel, road trips, travel, UK Dairies

10 things that crossed my mind, in Nottingham

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Nottingham happened long after my Scottish holiday. I was mostly sauntering at the Rising Sun Country Park in New Castle, because it was the most accessible and the most peaceful around my home stay there. I conversed with the strong, gusty winds if I should do the next leg of the trip. There was a lot more to see and experience in this town but the south of England was luring too. The winds convinced me that it was yet another chance to be on the road, meet a few people out there you haven’t seen in a long time and no one really knows when will be the next chance to do so. A large wave of thoughts swept my mind and this led to book my tickets. I was ready to see the next high street, Next River and most importantly the next deck of hills, but this time more residential than solitary.

It was a short stay at Nottingham; life here was a bit fast paced than New Castle. At first sight, it appeared to be a hub of the Asian community, a bit too crowded and a bit too untidy. There were lesser countrymen and more immigrants visible. Very soon it also started appearing to be a student city, not just because of the display advertisements of the colleges in the city but also because of the part time jobbers who fill up the supermarkets and food joints. Many a things that I was observing around were regular, daily bits of life for them and yet appeared to be so different and sometimes strange for an outsider.

Here are a few things that I took note of in Nottingham, however, I wouldn’t hesitate in saying that they pretty much define the life around this country.  Though they are common in the West, I wish the East, especially India picked them up.

  • World Radio Frequency – Radio never fails to surprise me. It is a forever young idea to listen to a song that pops up on the radio out of nowhere. What was even more surprising was to catch a bollywood number on an international frequency. It was probably the last thing that I would expect in a foreign land but made me the happiest of all. Radio, the communication stream that can never go out of fashion, and carries these little bundles of joy. I was happy to hear a Shahrukh Khan’s movie song playing here in Nottingham and what would be equally interesting will be to catch the latest Ed Sheeran’s song reaching out to me when I reach back home.

 

  • Skateboarding – The kids live by their boards, no matter where they go, they want to be on their own two wheels, even if it means an extra luggage to carry around. The feeling of being able to fly, of being on their own and the one of being unstoppable, all come in a package. The fun lies in being able to twist and swipe through the herds and yet not losing the speed. English kids have certainly mastered the skill.

 

  • Cycling – A city without a defined cycling path is a city that needs restructuring. A city with a cycling path is the one that never turns old. Cycling, in my opinion, is the most natural expression of freedom and independence. Whether you are competing with the wind or you are slyly moving the wheels and singing along, the joy of riding was visible around the city of Nottingham. Besides, there is never an age for it; it is something that everyone here loves to do. As I see the rising number of cyclists back home, I only wish there were safer paths.

 

  • Running – Runners need no set paths; they only need destinations and clean air for their lungs. It is a sport without props; all that I saw in people here was the motivation to run.

 

  • A central river – Though it is a natural historic phenomena that cities in their early days developed around the source of water, in modern days, many cities are losing the sheen and shine of their rivers. That however is not the case with Nottingham. Trent River flows through the center of the city, the embankment is well covered with the greener shades and the river is put to use for some really interesting activities. As I walked along the embankment, I saw some houseboats, which I was told were the permanent houses of the families living within them. They, apparently, loved the idea of being on water rather than being on earth. I even feel, it is a great idea to have a home which is just easily movable. Apart from these floating families, there were rowers, speedily rowing across the length of the river. They caught my attention for a really long time. They were fast, moving in an organized way, synergized in their actions. All their energies were put in just one act and whosoever did it the best was always ahead. It may be too much to demand for developing this sport back home but it would not be wrong to demand for the redevelopment of the central river of my city again.

 

  • Country Parks – Country Parks are the proof that we are able to maintain the natural habitat of our area and that we are still closely connected to nature. While we may not be able to go on adventure holidays all the time, we would not mind to get a glimpse of dense, forest-like, natural trails around the house. The green cover of Nottingham is worth the attention it gets from its people.

 

  • Pet-walking – Talk about dogs, cats and rabbits and there is none you will not find here in Nottingham. While some need hand holding, some others are sincerely obedient. There are not just dog lovers around the city but also bird lovers and animal lovers. From horses to rabbits, everyone is pettable. The love for animals is unavoidable here; there is a pie of cuteness in every living being here. My favorite was a rabbit named Jessica, who is fond of strawberries and can chew on them all day long.

 

  • Old Age Enthusiasm – It is not just the animals that are being cared for, everyone who needs attention are entertained here. I happened to witness some feeble, old souls with a very strong heart and a desire to live. Their spirit of life, their will to keep going, their bodily incapability being supported mechanically and the ever shining bright smile that they never forget to carry is evidence that the city never ceases on hope and happiness.

 

 

  • Intended Politeness – This is the one I wish I could pack in my bag and take along with me. What they taught us in our childhood, is practiced all their lives. The mannerism, the amiability, the expressions that kills the ego, they have it all in abundance. It is totally harmless here to be polite; in fact it is a bit negative to be mean and arrogant. It is very easily assumed here that you too will maintain the politeness, but what wrong does it do! It is one of those things that they say speaks aloud of your character.

 

  • Public Display of Affection – And this one is my most favorite. This is the one that brings a wide smile to me. If only love was more acceptable in everybody’s eyes, would there be lesser hatred around. I see it as a sign of hope, as a sign that we all need a little bit of expression in our lives. And an expression of love is also an expression of freedom. The more we can feel it around, the better we are.

Nottingham is the quiet kind of place where I sat and observed. The home stay where I was staying was situated on the hill top, the one that descended downwards and with each descend spread out far and wide, with little houses built in this expanse where the people who carried these small acts each and every day lived. The window of this room opened to the whole city, the city that was vibrant yet simple. No matter how much I was enjoying the simple acts of life here, many of them making the mundane life interesting, I had already started missing my kaleidoscope; my plethora of cultures, food and people. But hey! Not so soon! The Kaleidoscope of England; the city of London was still undone. And that is where I was going to bunk for the next few nights.

Posted in Himalayan Getaways, Life Travel, mountains, travel

Mussorie Library

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Sometimes the most conventional places manage to surprise us, Mussorie was one such spot for me. They call it the cliche hill station now, but I saw the most iconic structure there… The Mussorie Library!

Those who have been reading this page since some time now would have figured it out that mountains are my first love! Every time the four-wheeled vehicle takes the uphill road, my eyes sparkle and the smile widens, leading to at least one dimple visible on my face. If it is an undone route, I wonder what magic awaits me, and if it is an explored one, I am surprised with what was missed earlier.

Believe it or not, but the road to Mussorie was still an undone route for me, until the last weekend of February. Call it a shame or just ironic, but I, in my twenty six years of living in India had not yet witnessed the charisma of the queen of the hills. While the Brits must have whiled away their summers peacefully on this hill top, the town now hustles and bustles with all sorts of eateries and other shops, bringing it off the list of offbeat destinations around Delhi. Yet if someone was to come up with a list of summer vacation destinations around Delhi, Mussorie will top it without an iota of doubt.

So, as my car took rounds of the mountain and started gaining altitude, I wondered what would greet me. Would there be monkeys hopping on the handful of Deodars, would there be too many similar faces on the Mall, would the Mall still have those ancient buildings reminding of the magnificence of the Great British Raj, I could not stop wondering. And as the last curve on the road was conquered, the gears were relaxed for a bit, the Magic of Mussorie cast its spell on me.

It came to me in the most literary form and shape and was extremely pulling from the very first sight. The Mussorie Library, situated right on the cross roads of the Library Chowk left me bedazzled. A public library on a hilltop is like nothing less than cherry on the cake. Though I have always dreamt of books in the woods, this time it appeared in front of me for real.  I had no clue about any such structure in this hill station. In fact the building had an air of mystery to itself.

Once again I started to ponder to myself; is it still functional, is it even a public library, does Ruskin Bond ever find his way here, would they let the visitors sit inside. The answers to all these unbridled questions were there inside the mysterious building which I decided to explore.

Mussorie Library stands tall at one of the ends of the Mall which makes it appear like an extension of a shopping arcade. The complex on the ground floor has a lot of showrooms making it difficult to figure out the way to the first floor. Facing towards the arcade, on the right hand side corner you would spot the stairway to heaven.

As I got butterflies in my stomach while climbing up, I also got a bit saddened by looking at the notice on the entrance door which read “For Members Only”. Anyhow determination took me up the wooden stairs. The sound of silence was at its peak. The only sound I heard was that of someone walking towards the entrance. She came out and told me the same once again, ‘the library is for the use of members only.’ I wanted to question her but I dared not. Since my days in Mussorie were numbered, I decided to let it go. As I told her that I am just a visitor in the town and only wish to take a look, she nodded approvingly but at the same time cautioned me not to click any pictures. I assured her of that and because I did not even carry any camera along, she trusted me better.

As I stepped inside the huge entrance door, I saw the wooden cupboards evenly spread across the length and breadth of the room. Some of them were embedded into the wall like the one that used to be in almost every Indian household till some about two decades ago. All of these loosely locked cupboards had books, books that represented an era. The cover pages of many of these books were fading, like a memory being lost. They were not covered with dust, giving it the vibe of an uncared national museum. The titles were unheard. May be my grandfather would have heard some of them. Or they were perhaps older pieces of literature representing the times when Indians were not well versed with the English language.

I moved forward with a focused glance, reading the name of almost every book. The subjects seemed to be interlinked. I wondered if all this literature has become obsolete in today’s age and time. I am not sure; it is still a good reference point for comparison between the generations; the comparison of now and then. The cataloguing was also manual. In fact it felt good to not see any of the modern materials around this place. The belonging to books seems deeper when men use their own sense of arranging and rearranging.

On my right hand side, I could see tiny rooms full of almirahs and yet space for one to sit. The solitude in these spaces was soothing. It was rustic as well as attractive. For some, it would be addictive; an addiction to the aroma of the pages, that have not met a reader since long. Everything here has a vintage look, whether it is the hard wood table, the cloth of the floral print around the seating, the photographs of the royal men and women, everything looks antique. Through the window of these reading rooms, the view is restricted and offers the sight of only a tall mountain, home to many of the chirpy sounds. Once in a while, they would visit, say hello and break the silence.

Even with so much cold and shrill, the Mussorie library is a warm place. I started a word with the only other soul in the building. I asked her about the procedure for procuring membership to which she replied with pride, ‘it is available only for the locals of Mussorie’. At present there are only seventy members, Ruskin Bond is one of them, though he does not visit Mussorie often.

While most books are preserved from the pre independence era, some new material does arrive once every year. The membership fee is nominal and allows users to borrow the books; however, rarely anyone pays a visit. Neither a tourist attraction, nor a regular spot for members, my heart ached at the thought of losing touch with this paradise. I longed to stay there and possess the treasure but all I had an informal permission to look at it from a safe distance. I extended my hand forward towards them in a friendly way but it was futile and my connection with them was only to gape at them with all the awe.  Thirty minutes of staring at books would not quench any readers’ thirst but will only reassure that books have always been man’s best friend. They are a reassurance well created by the man and for the man.

Posted in Beaches, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Three – Ernakulam

Ernakulam, also known as Kochi, is one of the most happening cities in the tiny state of Kerala. Brimming with art and history it is a paradise for those who are explorers of the city culture. You may find your style, your connection, your purpose and your relation with this city in any of the settings of this place, be it the sun drop sunset, or the coffee shop chronicles with a newbie, be it your love for descriptive or the performing art or be it simply the fishing point, the air here is enriching.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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It was the 5th day and the 3rd destination on our list. We started the day early and hit the road before breakfast. In Deepu’s car we drifted on the National Highway 66, leading us to the port city of Cochin. It is a single lane highway and takes about two hours from Alleppey. On our way, we pulled over for the classic South Indian breakfast at the Indian Coffee House. The specialty of this age old chain of south Indian restaurant is the beetroot Masala Dosa, which is not at all easy to find in other parts of the country. It also has a particular style of making coffee distinctive from the western, whipped style coffee.

One of the many perks of traveling far and wide is greeting and spending the time with friends that you had not seen in a long time. I happened to meet one such friend in Cochin. Alyce, my close friend from the UK, also spent the day with us traversing through the streets of once famed Jew Town in India. We came across the remnants of the Dutch and Portuguese exploitations reminding us of the era when the Dutch and Portuguese had entered India through the sea centuries ago in search of spices.

Fort Kochi still beholds some of the stories from the colonial rules that existed in this part of India. From the Portuguese setting up the base, to the Dutch defeating Portuguese and the British conquering over the Dutch, the colonial history of Kochi is an interesting narration through its monuments that have stood against the test of time and in fact are a testimony to the strength of the human skills of those eras.

All of us on the hot Friday afternoon decided to dedicate the day to the significant history of Fort Kochi and the art culture that continues to add more colors to its cultural palette.  Here are listed a few “must visits” and “must dos” in the Fort Kochi area that we took upon ourselves before the sun set for that day.

  1. The St Francis Church, built in the colonial era of the Portuguese, it is also known as the Vasco De Gama Square for Vasco De Gama was once buried in this church. At present, it is undergoing a major restoration process but visitors are allowed during the weekdays.

 

  1. The Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi – visit for grabbing a bite with the backdrop of contemporary artwork. The café is a cozy hangout and the gallery too boasts of a new and fresh collection every day.

 

 

  1. The Mattancherry Palace, is actually a Portuguese palace but popularly known as the Dutch Palace, located near the Jewish Synagogue. A monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, this palace showcases some of the archaic Mural art in the form of paintings of the Hindu folklore. A peek into the history, this palace would easily hold interest of those who are aware of the Rajahs of Kerala. The art flourished in there reign and fortunately preserved till now.

 

  1. The Jewish Synagogue is perhaps one of the major attractions in this area for one simple reason. A handful of the descendants of the Jew Community reside here. There are no more than 2 or 3 Jew families living in India now. It is astounding how they have been able to maintain their true identity amidst many other large communities that have equally contributed in shaping up the history of Kerala. In that sense, the heterogeneity of Kerala is worth admiring. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the synagogue because of the Passover Festival, due to which the monument was not open to the public. This 10 days festival usually takes place in the month of April.

 

  1. The Jew Town Street, right behind the synagogue, is a street buzzing with people selling artifacts and souvenirs to take back home. All the walls here are painted with bold colors that are brightened even more under the sun. A vivid collection of art pieces, metallic as well as beaded jewelry, coffee table books, picture postcards, and a lot of muffins to munch on, make you stay a little longer than you would anticipate. An ideal spot for street photography, Nikita quenched her thirst for photography here.

 

  1. The Tourist Police Museum is also situated on the Jew Town Street. We had no awareness about it, until we actually decided to go inside and check it. Turns out, it was actually one of the funniest museums I have come across till now. Of course, it had a superb collection displayed of the weapons used by the police and its evolution with time. What were disturbingly funny were the effigies of humans that displayed injuries while on duty. Also the fact that there was no one to elaborate on the museum did not leave an everlasting impression on us. Nevertheless, all of us had our five minutes of entertainment inside the museum.

 

  1. Onyx Art Gallery, also located on the same street, very close to the Police Museum, is actually an art studio that belongs to a local artist Sara Hussein. She is ‘Oil on Canvas’ painter who strongly believes in the power of her imagination before she strokes her brush on the canvas. A streak of confidence runs all through her work, there is also awareness and an ounce of her surroundings in her work. It was only by chance that we happened to visit this gallery and sensing our interest in her art, she unveiled her actual art gallery for us. It was a reservoir of her work which exclusively opens up for buyers. She also owns an art corridor in Le Meridian in Bangalore where she regularly exhibits her work. It was by far the most awe-inspiring place that I had visited in Kochi. I guess, some of the best things in life always knock as a surprise. And here stood we, not only surprised but also inspired and stunned.

 

  1. We retired for a while in Café Qissa, on Jacob Road, to have some coolers and contemplated on the overwhelming day. It is a great place to experiment with food, the music and the setup is classy and sophisticated. But they are a bit slow in their service which naturally leaves a lot of room for storytelling. I believe the inherent unhurriedness just grows into everybody and everything here.

 

  1. There wouldn’t have been a better way to bring a closure to our stupendous time in Kochi than catching one last glimpse of the Vembanad backwaters from the Fort Kochi Beach. They submissively merge into the Arabian Sea like the child fondly hugging her mother. The sun sent for us its last rays of warmth, making us slightly sad about our departure from the city. The Chinese Fishing Nets leaned onto the water flirting with the fishes once in a while. The breeze and the waves seemed to be in perfect harmony with each other which the crows seemed to enjoy the most with their little playful acts. All we wanted to do there was to observe the world around us and be immersed in its happiness.

 

It was hard to bid the final Goodbye to Alyce, one last hug is difficult yet mandatory. In reality, we were bidding farewell not only to her but also to Kerala. Kochi was our last stint in God’s own Country, until next time. Kerala has never failed to grow on me and my connection with it only becomes stronger each time. No matter how many times you are here, there are always more reasons to return. With great hope in my heart I promised myself to return soon and moved on to my next destination in Karnataka.

Posted in Forests, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Two – Alappuzha

After exploring the tea estates of Munnar and deep forests of Wayanad, in my third visit to Kerala, I decided to spend my time in the backwaters of Alleppey. While tea gardens and forests can be found in many parts of India, it is the backwaters that add a flavor of uniqueness to Kerala.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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From Trivandrum, Nikita and I boarded the Hapa Express, a superfast express train that runs on the Konkan railway route. Though the sight of backwaters was visible from the train window itself, we were absolutely in awe of the canals and streams of water that were spread across the city. A main canal flows through the center of the city, not only dividing the city into two but also serving as one of the major means of transport in the city. There are government run ferries that stop over at the jetties carrying the people from the remote hidden villages along the banks of the Vembanad backwaters to the central part of the city.

Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in India, through its main water body seeps out numerous streams and rivulets, stretching into the hinterlands. Holding onto the banks of these streams are the coconut and mango trees, which bear plentiful of fruits throughout the year. Within a measurable distance, the villagers have also utilized the part of their lands for growing paddy that extend till the highway roads. Many different shades of green would catch your attention but it is the tint of cloudy blue sky amidst the green that will make your heart wonder and wander at the same time.

As Alleppey is quite popular on the global tourist map, Nikita and I decided to explore the city in the touristy way. In the three days that we spent there, we flitted between some of the well known tourist spots and some untouched routes into the wild. Our close friend Deepu, a localite from the Kottayam district of Kerala joined us and subtly enriched our interaction with the minute cultural nuances of this place.

Here are a few experiences that we enrolled ourselves in and elated our travel-itched souls.

Visit the Punnamuda Lake:

This lake happened to be the first spot visited by us due to the location of our resort. Ramada Resort is situated on the edge of this lake, sharing boundaries with the Nehru Trophy boat race finishing point. For those of us who might not know this, Nehru Trophy is for one of the largest boat race events in India, which happens annually in these backwaters. We spent our first evening admiring the widely spread water body and wondered how it was only the baby of the Vembanad lake. Though many options regarding the houseboats and shikaras were available in this lake, we decided to take a bigger shot by witnessing what is known to be the largest lake in India.

Canoeing in the Vembanad Backwaters:

One of the major attractions in Alleppey that tourists enjoy is taking a boat tour in the backwaters and tasting a slice of aquatic life on their plates. Shikaras and house boats are easily available and can be pre-booked for any given amount of time.  If you are traveling in big groups like a family holiday or a friends’ get together, then house boats can set a perfect tone for a floating private party. However, we tweaked our plan to experience something more traditional. Instead of a huge houseboat, we hopped into a four seater canoe. Nikita contacted Tony, a local tour guide who arranges day trips into the backwaters, inclusive of authentic Kerala meals along with the rowing. Canoe is a traditional wooden boat that can even be rowed through the narrow channels of backwaters, thus reaching into the interiors, where there is found a life of imagination coming to reality – peace, peace and only peace. There is stillness in the water and slowness in the air in these areas which can only be touched for a while. We rowed in a canoe that belonged to Satchidanand, a resident of Kainakari village who was also our host of the day. While his wife prepared sumptuous south Indian meals for us, he took us into the by lanes of Vembanad. This way we were able to chit chat with a lot of people around us, getting to know the whereabouts of a tropical lifestyle.

Must Know:  Try and book the canoe one day in advance. Off Season rates vary somewhere between INR 800 – 1000 per head for an 8 hour journey, and is inclusive of food and ferry charges. Tony can be contacted @ +91 9387812427

Good to Know:  Kainakari village offers some extremely scenic views of the lesser visited streams of the backwaters, gives an extra edge to your mission of exploration.

Visit the Alleppey Beach:

We returned to the main part of the city from the ferry and deboarded at the fishing point jetty. It is a 15 minutes ride in the auto rickshaw till the Alleppey beach. An evening hangout spot for the locals, what first caught my eye was an ancient and a rotten pier, unrestored and uncared for and yet complementing the view of the sunset. Though there are hardly any eateries on the beach and you may also find difficulty in finding a bottle of Coke, you would see that the locals are busy picnicking with their families. The water is clean but there are hardly any tourists on this beach. People were busy flying kites in the backdrop of dark grey clouds, on the other side of the sea the sun went down without much intimation, under the cover of these clouds. Getting a glimpse of the sunset is all a game of good luck, especially during this time of the year.

Good to Know: Do not expect a lot of eating joints in this place, but expect a lot of family crowd enjoying the evening breeze along with sea water. 

Visit the RKK Private Museum:

Located on the main road of the city, on the way to Alleppey beach, Ravi Karuna Karan Museum is one of the very few private museums in India. Dedicated to her husband, Betty put on display an enormous variety of collectibles that she received from some of the eminent personalities around the globe. The couple comes from a family pretty well known and well established in the coir making business in this area. Ravi during his glorious days expanded the trails of his business outside India and was one of the major exporters of coir. During his travels to many other countries he was able to collect the souvenirs gifted to him by the presidents and other important personnel. Betty, who now lives with her daughter in Alleppey, is the mastermind behind this enormous collection of art. From the wooden carvings to paintings, sharp cut crystal pieces to scintillating Swarovski work, shining silver to metallic stone work, there are craftworks collected from many different art forms. There is also a magnificent collection of ivory, ebony and tusk in the form of single piece designs. If you are an art lover then you could easily spend at least a few hours admiring not only the collectibles but also the far and wide travel that the couple must have done.

Must Know:  Photography inside the house is prohibited. It is closed on Mondays.  The entry ticket is INR 150, but totally worth it.

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Take a Drive on AC Road:

If you are one of those who love taking a shot at driving at new places, then Alleppey – Changanaserry road is your kind of thing. Bordered with backwaters on the both sides, this road is ideal for a scenic long drive especially during the monsoons. The locals here are skilled in growing paddy fields a little below the sea level which may receive irrigation from the backwaters before the onset of monsoons. So if the paddy has gained enough length and it is not the busy hour of the day and the rain drops are falling on the windshield, you can imagine what it would be like. If you wish to continue the journey, the road further leads to Thekkady, the spice town of Kerala. For us, even though the monsoons had not hit and the paddy was still very nascent, our drive was a fantabulous one, thanks to our dear friend Deepu, his car and his music that made it just the right thing to do that afternoon. What was even more exciting was the detour into one of the pocket roads that led to Thiruvalla city. An insignificant looking lane took us to a village where there were white churches, white eagrets binging on the paddy, a huge lotus pond and backwaters in the hindsight to complete the background for our selfie sessions.

Good to Know:  You can try the local Kerala meals at Avees. They serve some authentic fish preparations like Karimeen (a sea water fish prepared by spicing it up and steaming it while wrapped in a banana leaf).  Average spends – INR 1000 for 3 for a heavily loaded Kerala Meal.

Visit the Mararikulam Beach:

Mararikulam town is located on the Alleppey- Ernakulam highway 11 kilometres away from the Alapuzzha main city. We decided to spend an evening on the Marari beach, quite popular for its Hammocks. We took an internal road to this town instead of the main highway, thanks to the Google maps; it was indeed the right choice made. On the way we saw quite a few home stay options to pick from. The town seems to be popular with the foreign tourists as many were biking and enjoying getting tanned. As we found our way to the Marari beach, we were amazed to see the green cover just before the beach. Tall coconut trees and the stout grasslands holding them looked even more glorious when the divine sun shone behind them turning the green into gold. The beach is a pulling and compelling one. The waves are sluggish which would calm down an ever sprinting mind. The sand was smooth near the water; it looked like a dark brown smoothie; compelled us to take a long stroll while letting our feet dip into the waves time and again. Some real good laughter echoed in the air and we absorbed all the goodness of nature into us that evening getting extremely high on the happy hormones. Though we could not see many hammocks on the beach we were delighted to see the sun making its way through the clouds into the sea.

Good to Know: Much less crowded than the Alleppey Beach, very few eateries. Still holds the feeling of a non commercial, not so touched beach on the western coastline of India. Water is clear and safe to be in.

Visit the Pathiramanal Island:

Pathiramanal in its literal sense means “Sands of the Midnight”. I wonder how it would be like to be on this uninhabited island during the midnight. Belongs to the magnificent Vembanad Kol, this island is a paradise for bird watchers. We were welcomed by the chirping sounds in an otherwise bereft piece of land.  At first, we felt we were about to enter the Forests of Fangorns (Lord of The Rings) which may be guarded by the evil spirits against the holy spirits or vice versa. From the very beginning, the island embraces you and introduces you to a thick forest cover, with trees hugging each other at many different heights. The entangled green makes it dense and yet the sun forces to beam its rays through the natural net. Though a stone trail takes us into the intense wilderness, very soon we find ourselves walking on the dry leaves. The sound of crushing them made us believe in the rawness of this island.  Leaving the concrete behind we were experiencing the vibe of a natural habitat and what life would have been when development was not a daily affair. In these routes, we tried searching for our roots and it so appeared that men with great adventurous spirit have always walked and conquered the unknown. With our minds sunk into deep thoughts, we decided to spend our afternoon under the shades of these spectacular trees. In my illusions, I felt these trees were the close cousins of Onodrims from the ‘Lord of the Ring’ series. How I wished they carried us onto them and had some real historic stories to tell us. Nevertheless we had our own little history there with “We Were Here” selfies. Nikita and Deepu experimented a lot with their cameras as it is a photographers’ paradise too. Only because we were hungry, we decided to take the walk back; else this island would also make for a great camping spot. Though not sure, if they let you stay there for the night.

Must Know:  The place is more enjoyable in small groups. Carry your water bottles along as the place is absolutely uninhabited, you may find a few more tourists though. There are various ways to reach the island; we decided to take the speed boat from Kayyipuram Jetty Road.

Speedboat charges: INR 600 for a to and fro service.  Can take a max of 4 people in one round.

Good to Know: Visit www.pathiramanal.com for a detailed history about the place.

Visit the Thanneermukkam Bund:

To know and enjoy your time in a place like this, it either has to be extremely popular or you need a local guidance to bring enough light on it. For us the latter worked out, and the three of us whiled away our last evening in Alleppey relishing a local mango ice cream sitting on an embankment and discussing some very interesting differences between the three Indian cultures that each of us represented. We never lost the sight of our beloved Pathiramanal Island from here, keeping the smile up on our faces for the rest of the evening.

Good to Know: A tiny hut restaurant called Tharivadu in the Kumarakom city is worth betting your taste buds on.  You may try the mucles, clams, kappa and the meen curry. A great company to this sumptuous meal is the local Toddy, available in this hut.

This pretty much sums up our 3 days in Alleppey. Alleppey also has a popular spice bazaar and a few temples which we could not visit due to paucity of time. Who knows these may become our reasons to return to this alluring city. However, what may really bring me back would be the season of the snake boat races and the enduring monsoons.

Posted in Forests, Life Travel, Sahayadris, south india, travel, YHAI

First Mountain Biking Expedition at Ooty

Another wish from the list was ticked off this January. I celebrated my 26th birthday biking in the tea estates of Udagmandalam. The mountains and the bike did not just mean a perfect combination for birthday ideas but also the adventure spirit that stays alive even as we grow old.  This piece goes on to detail out what to expect from your first ever mountain biking experience. Know the challenges and the achievements before you set out on your own journey.

Suited for – Beginners

Difficulty Level – Moderate

Prior Preparation – Advisable

Feel free to contact, if you are planning on taking one such route in India.

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“Life is better on a mountain bike!” said someone who literally lives off the two wheels. I questioned it in my head again and again until I got my own bum on the saddle to test it out.

Biking is fun, too much of it. For many, including me, it clearly points towards a happy childhood that once was. It doesn’t matter what is your ride but once upon a time, those two wheels hooked through a greasy chain were everyone’s ride. Once we grew up, the wheels changed, the chains disappeared but the nostalgia stayed back. Nostalgic enough, one day I decided to give it a shot once again. It was some sort of second innings with the bike but with a twist of adventure this time. The twist was in the form of my first mountain biking expedition on the hills of Ooty.

I chose my hills very carefully keeping in mind the altitude, the good roads and the good weather. The hills of Udagmandalam, though a part of Sahayadris are very unlike them but in fact similar to the hills of the North. The altitude is challenging enough but doable for a first timer. The roads are concrete, well maintained and sufficiently curvaceous bringing to us the most gorgeous scenic views of the hills.

In this week long expedition, we explored Ooty like none other. From impenetrable forests to the local tea culture, from the hidden villages to the distant spots visible only from a height, we were seeing it all. The first day was relatively relaxed where I reported at the base camp of YHAI, Ooty. The YHAI Campus is within the main city, and is situated on the top of a hillock, which feels closer to the stars at night. On a January night, this place does become cold and by the morning you may see the frost frozen on the grass.

Not an ideal spot for sunrise, you may choose to stay in the bunk bed, at least until the bed tea arrives. The second day started on a yummy note with a sumptuous breakfast of idlis and vadas and a quick briefing from our group leader Sarvesh about how the coming week is going to be like. There were two thoughts constantly playing on the mind – thrill and fear. While the ups seemed thrilling, the downs seemed scary. Suddenly the nostalgia disappeared and biking didn’t seem to be too much fun. Fortunately this feeling didn’t stay for long.

As the bikes appeared in front of us and the organizing team handed over the necessary gears to us, the excitement and enthusiasm returned in full swing. Aluminum frame, 21 gears, Firefox MTB, covered with dust and yet shining under the sun was going to be our priced possession for one week. Back home, I was practicing on a non geared Kross bike, so Firefox didn’t seem to be a bad ride at all, though some disagreed because of the better brands available in the market. But for beginners, brands do not matter, the will power does.

With a high dose of will power, we set off for the practice ride on the other side of the same hill. To start off, we were required to go down the hill, take a U-turn and then make an ascent towards the other side. This was the first ever mountainous ascent that I was going to make on my wheels and I clearly didn’t think through it thoroughly. Probably it was a good idea to not have thought too much about it because had I done that, most likely I would have just given it a pass. Now that I was here, making my first attempt worthwhile, I realized within no time that I was constantly losing breath. Like a dog, I was huffing and puffing. I was touching the ground more frequently than the paddle. But, was I the only one who was graciously failing all the time? I had to keep moving forward to yet figure that out. The light weight of the cycle was definitely bliss but I did take my time to excel in the art of balancing on a mountain. Moving forward, my fears were withdrawn to a large extent when I saw a few more groupies equally failing. Heavily panting, it wasn’t a good sight at all but at least I felt I was in the right group. These dynamics have the potential to bring back the lost confidence and what prevails is a feeling of belonging. While most of us made it to the top, and it did feel good but it definitely got me thinking for the days to come. My doubts deep down were now floating on the surface. I was determined nonetheless. Each day was going to be different and I said to myself, aloud – Life is only better with the mountain bike!

As it turned out, the coming days were indeed better. The faith in the mountains and the numerous ways to explore them were restored soon as arrived the first day of moving to the first higher camp.

The third day of the expedition, coincidentally my 26th birthday, was much easier than the practice day. We biked through a variety of landscapes, many of them exclusive to Ooty’s weather. There were lush green tea gardens on both sides of the road, sometimes they were too close, other times they were up there, visible at a distance. It all seemed to be in the vicinity, unless we pedaled a bit more and scaled that height. There were villages on the way and the villagers seemed familiar of the fact that bikers pass on these roads, recognized from their yellow reflectors and blue helmets. They waived at us with bright eyes wishing us good luck through their good byes. Perhaps, the little ones were inspired and the mothers were in awe. These are some rare sights in their otherwise simple life. These hamlets making a sudden appearance at times when we took turns never failed to amaze us. The tea gardens grow beautifully under the sensuous foreplay of the sun and its shade. We took our first break of the day at the Chamraj Tea Center, sipped on the local flavors of the tea and slid under the sky before moving any further. The shades of the sky were multiple, it wasn’t absorbing the greens of the gardens but it certainly was influenced.

On many cross roads we stopped and reassured ourselves of the direction that we were moving in. From the Chamraj Tea Center, we biked towards Bikketti, a hamlet that leads to Manjoor. On the way somewhere, we also passed through the Lovedale Crossing of the Nilgiri Railways. By the time we reached our first camp at Manjoor, we had mustered enough courage to keep going. The spirits were lifted high and so was the confidence. In these high spirits, my newly formed friends got a birthday cake for me and the party went on for quite some time. No matter how tiring is the day, camp fires are a must because some of the best stories remembered later are created in these moments. For us, it was the game of Mafia that is most fondly remembered even today. We played and played it to death. Until the city really dropped dead, the God went on and on. Deepu mastered and won everytime and Thakur learnt it way too quickly. And then there was no stopping. But then there was the thought of the next morning and its expectations, which used to show us the way to our bed.

The next day we pushed off towards the higher camp; it was a long day of pedaling. With a fresh start and minimized panting, we were gaining altitude. We were first transported to Yedakaddu via jeep, on the way we crossed a magnificent building of the Good Shepherd Boarding School and finally had our lunch at the Fernhill point. With each passing day, we were getting one step closer to the challenge. In my head, I was drawing comparisons between hiking and biking on a mountain. Personally, I was finding biking to be the trickier one, especially when came the stretch of downhill. Hairpin bends, as they are known in the south, the sharp U turns, they demanded absolute control on both the speed and the direction. They were the epitome of adventure during the expedition. A stretch of 36 odd hairpin bends, one after the other, with only a short straight distance between the two, led our way into the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. From the 16th hairpin bend, we had entered into the tiger reserve.  Even though we were managing to apply the brakes with full force, the descent was so steep that the bike was still moving at the pace of at least 20 kilometers per hour. I wondered where the friction was! There was thick forest around us and a few vehicles plying on the roads, as if playing around the probability of collision. An alert mind and a control on the direction was the answer to everything at that very moment. The art of lane driving also helps here. The turn should be taken in such a way that the bike does not move forward diagonally, if that happens correctly, we have sorted most of the challenge there itself. It was wrongly perceived by many that downhill will be more fun, in fact it was a lot of extra effort and energy, somewhere compromising on the fun element. I was constantly concentrating on these bends for about one and a half hour. True, I wasn’t pedaling, but my arm strength on which I was thriving, was giving up.  Many bridges were crossed before we hit the straight road in Masinagudi, the plane side of the forest. By this time we had bypassed Ooty and were now in Masinagudi.

As we reached the town of Masinagudi, we were once again transported via Jeep to the Kargudi forest guest house. Sitting in the jeep, we covered about 15 kilometers inside the forest and saw that the forest houses tuskers, baby elephants, peacocks and peahens and not to forget, the tigers who complete the family. We were happy to see that the bikes were also loaded in another jeep coming along with us. It was till now the most tiresome night that we spent in the middle of a forest at the guest house. The beds creaked and the night was nervously dark, tall trees that were playing Chinese whispers with the air were bringing alive the ghost stories from the childhood. But it was no child’s play; it was a reality that we were breathing in. The silence and the calm tends to scare the city inhabitants so much that they do not agree to believe in the simplicity of the darkness, the darkness that is simply empty and nothing else.

A few good men, the care takers of the forest guest house, prepared a sumptuous South Indian meal for us. Even while relishing the food, the thought of next day kept us occupied. In all our tiredness and a head that was still taking virtual turns on those bends, we retired.

The third day and the longest of all comprised an interesting route. From Kargudi, we set the journey towards Gudalur in the same jeep, and from there set forth an uphill journey of 26 kilometers on our bikes. Soon it turned out; the third day was like a test; a test of patience, a different kind of patience, the one that emphasized on not giving up. While the previous day was all about taking control, this day was solely about pushing the limits. The mantra of the day was “Do not stop, keep moving”. Most of the times, the mantra worked. Many a times I found myself cursing the one who designed the route. Why did it have to be all uphill? Is it only me who thinks this road is straight while actually it is not?

Well the road did have an angle, which was only invisible because the buses were passing so swiftly. It was an angle of contemplation which took me back to the day when I decided to put my bum on the saddle. The fortunate part of the day was that nobody gave up. Everyone took to the challenge, some fast, some slow and some very slow. We pedaled, and supported each other on the way, cracked some of the silliest jokes to keep the momentum on but we never gained speed. We moved but slowly. In two words, we were bike crawling on a mountain bike. Not just one, but everyone. The best thing to do was enjoy the shade of eucalyptus trees while passing underneath them. The highlight of these forests was the birds of the Nilgiris who were chirping and chatting continuously. We were fortunate to have a few bird watchers in our group who were able to make the distinction between the birds’ songs. The other big thing to notice was the hopping black monkeys who were restless and unsettled throughout the day. There jumps from one tree to another were huge and always emerged from a green background and grabbing something vegetarian to eat. It was either the carrots or some leaves around it. In fact, we also relished carrots which were being sold in all the tiny markets that we passed by on the way.

We broke our heroic voyage at Tan Tea, for the lunch. We had merely covered a distance of 15 kilometers in about 3 hours. Post the lunch break we were drooling on the front of our bikes, it was only getting harder, until came a quick breather. A miniscule stretch that for once was going straight. The heart beat fastened, the pupils widened, the ray of hope had emerged. Before I could grasp and enjoy, the moment had passed. Within a single pulse of joy, we were back to our uphill regime for the day. Another 6 kilometers to go before more such pulses of joy. Someone at the base camp had told me that the last phase of day 3 would be worth the effort. Well, clearly, the last phase was far from reality. I was only wishing to stay alive to witness it. Today, I wonder what was it that was making me take that push, why wasn’t I giving up. I guess it is the feeling of accomplishment that we all grow fond of. Surely, the tea at the next Chai shop was helping.

It took me thirty minutes to hit the road again. Biking towards Pykara falls via Naduvattam, I was happy to see the sign boards. In approximately an hour or so, I had hit the straight road. Between the forest and the hill, the view of the road was fantastic. I was screaming, I was laughing, I was weaving, I was singing. I was living. I did not want to stop for anyone. As a matter of fact, I did not even want to be with anyone. In my solitude, I wanted to stand while biking, be loud, be swift, be carefree that I once used to be. Even as I write about it, I recollect the memories of the butterflies that were dancing inside my belly, shaking my breath. The air talked to me while I was having my fun ride. An element of fun ride in the mountains is like a reward. Finally, we were at the last higher camp, the one by the Pykara Falls. The forest behind us was both, dense and intense, making it extremely cold in the night. The fall however did not have much water due to no monsoons since a few months now. The landscape however was nothing short of a web shot image.  The tall trees were reflected in the stagnant black water. There was a pond somewhere far, the eagles floated over it. There were rocks orange in color which seemed to be painted into the picture. It was surreal. Serene.

The last day of the biking happened to be a Saturday; perfect day of the week to party. And today, the reason was going strong. There were enough reasons to celebrate. The last day was a little more than a joy ride. We rode freely. This was going to be one of the last sights of the tea gardens. There were white shining stallions on the way as if coming down from the sky to greet us. The magic was rolling. There were endless stops that we all took. Once we stopped to click funniest of the selfies at the shooting point, another time it was in the background of a lake only because all of us wanted to sing a song in our vernacular languages; the Indianness never runs short, and then some pointed at the coconut cart on the way and so it was declared as time for some coco water; in fact once it was merely out of nostalgia of the past one week.  The driver of the support vehicle was almost irritated for he could not wait to reach the base camp and we did not want to be back yet. It was 25 kilometers of pure joy, showering happiness. The whole group stuck together on the last day for they knew that this time is not going to return and is definitely irreplaceable. All 25 of us, on the two wheels, in a forest, this company and this view will not coexist ever again.

From new accolades to new resolutions, new milestones to new stories, everything was shining brightly in front of us. We all had our experiences to share, to spread the vibe of two wheels; we were now the victims of two wheels that rolled up and down the hills.

 P.S. The photographs put up on this page are contributed by dear friends Saurabh Patil and Davneet Singh. Special Thanks goes out to them 🙂 

Posted in Forests, Life Travel, mountains, road trips, travel

Pahadi House – Of Hills, Peace & Freedom!

Pahadi House, a homestay venture in the Garhwal Himalayas is a retreat to the mind, body and soul… especially for those seeking time away from the mundane routine. Read on to know more about Pahadi House

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Society, you are a crazy breed

I hope you are not lonely, without me!

I sing those lines to myself, time and again, in the busy hours of my work life. They remind me of the lifelessness that I feel in the endless working schedule that I have created for myself. Some days the infinite material pleasure feels like a pain because in all that I manage to achieve for myself, I lose a bit of myself.

I lose a piece of myself, in keeping myself at par with the society. Indeed, it is a crazy breed!

It takes a massive amount of sweat these days; it eats up so much of your time that you forget to breathe at a calm pace. You forget to eat your meal on time, you miss the laugh you shared with your friends, you can’t care for the music you loved once upon a time, and you only wish you could finish reading that book, which you bought so fondly. You so want to see the orange flare of the sun in the evening sky, but you are blinded by the blinds of your 6th floor working space. There is hardly any time to take your dog out for a walk; even he has stopped demanding it. The kitchen has not seen you in days, the food that you eat gets taken care of by some random woman who knows how to cook. You don’t remember the last time you had put on that old radio station, put some beauty face pack and meanwhile cleaned the mess of the room that you had created. The mess now remains the mess. And the beauty pack? Really no time!

Life altogether seems like a mess. You can’t walk, you can’t run. Your body becomes so stiff. Your mind gets clogged and you don’t know what has become of you.

It feels like you are always on the go,

But you don’t know, where to go!

And when all of this happens specifically to me, I start thinking of the escape routes. Routes that can pull me out of this crazy society for a while. Escape to some place where I don’t lose a bit of myself, instead I gain my energies back. Routes that lead within.

I pull myself together once again, clear my clogged mind once again and thank my stars for they at least have me kept closer to the hills, if not let me be a native of that land. They are my favorite escape routes; my soul keepers, my second home.

This time, it did not take much effort. All I needed was a few days off work, some good music and my closed-knit folks. This visit to the hills was long overdue, but the more time I took, the more joyous it became.

I was invited to these lovely homestays in the Himalayas, about a year ago. It just took me a little while to grab onto this opportunity, but I guess there could not have been a more appropriate time to visit this part of Dev-Bhoomi, when all I was looking for was some solitude and yet a home away from home.

A “Do Not Disturb” land, where the silence remains unperturbed by the miniscule mankind that dwells here.

Pahadi House, Kanatal, is one such tiny paradise on the top of the hill. Situated on the Chamba – Mussorie road, at an altitude of about 8500 ft in the Shivalik Himalayan Range, it is an unspoiled respite from the city madness.

One of those trips which does not demand a lot of planning, demands either the right company or your “travel-solo” instincts to make it a memorable kind of trip.

I along with a handful of my friends started my journey from Delhi before the day-break. My melodious collection of Coldplay, Eddie and a few others accompanied me. I deliberately did not carry any book, to relax my eyes, though I missed it once I reached the cottage.

The gentle curvaceous bends of the hills, greeted us with a little chill. Through the greens, we hovered our Honda City very smoothly. We crossed the two main cities on our way – Narendra Nagar & Chamba. Pahadi House, Kanatal is another 6 kilometres away from Chamba.

This was my second time to Kanatal in this year, though my very first time at the Pahadi House Homestays there. If you are looking forward to catch enough view of the snow clad Himalayas without scaling great heights, then Kanatal is your destination.

Pahadi house particularly, is a runner’s paradise, a yogi’s meditation zone, a reader’s spot, a music lover’s utopia and a lazy man’s comfort zone. If you are looking for serenity and peace, your search ends here. A simple vegetarian food and the two sweet care takers, Manoj and Bikram definitely ensure a pleasant stay. From being chefs to being tour guides, they are a complete package.

I at the very first sight, fell in love with my cottage. I opened the wooden door, it creaked only a bit though I had to bend a little to enter inside this hut. While the muddy walls reflected the olden trends, the rosy aroma brought with it a contemporary mood.

Once you hit the bed, you will be attracted towards the velvety blankets. But the sun outside is also too tempting. So the moodas can be pulled outside, in the verandah or you may just leap into the wilderness around you. Apart from the wild grass, there is also an organic farm, a larger version of kitchen garden. Vegetation blooms in these farms and you may get the flavor of home-grown cabbages, tomatoes, pumpkins and chilies.

We whiled a lot of our time in the garden. The cottages are equipped with everything that is necessary. With the ambience that it provides, you may really start to think of it as your own. The evening was just too pleasant to take a walk in the Kadukhal Village. A walk down the settlement, leads to a beautiful forest, however we restricted our walk to the starting point of the village, due to the sun going to the west.

 

At Pahadi House, a bright sun during the day and a starry sky during the night will stay as your absolute partners. A bonfire under the stars will make it a perfect setting for the evening. The scholarly wisdom starts to flow soon; you might not even wait for the bottles to uncap.

From the history of wars to the political drama of today, everything gets served on the plate. From debating on the amalgamated colors of the human colonies to the very reason of our existence, we touched base with everything.

And this went on for hours, until we decided to take a walk till the backyard of the kitchen. It is a pure delight to be staring at the dwindling city lights. Look up; you will see the snow covered Shivalik ranges. Look down; you will see the back waters of Tehri Dam. The road to Tehri district is a long one, and the glimpse of the water makes us believe so. We ended the evening pretty early, succumbing to the tiredness from our long drive. But the coming morning was as fresh as the dew. We witnessed the hues of morning sky, through the window, while still keeping warm in our blankets.

Only when the sun was atop us, we decided to move out. The air felt cold yet free. I took the mountain freshness deep inside my lungs and found myself smiling, looking at clear morning. Delhi these days misses the bright blue color of the sky, and the clarity of the sunlight. There was not a sign of smog anywhere; the atmosphere was as natural as it could be.

Tea was served while we basked under the glorious sun. It was a perfect day to practice yoga and inhale the typical fragrance, exclusive to the Himalayas. The front facade of my cottage was a perfect spot for this – my view included a cabbage farm, some concrete households overlooking a cliff, and the road to Surkanda Devi temple. One of the main attractions in this area, it is actually an easy trek of about 3 kilometers that leads to a temple. This road further leads to the next hamlet, Dhanaulti, plush green during the summers and snowy white during the winters. I pondered for some time on taking this road to explore the trek to temple, but I finally settled with the thought of stretching myself to the yoga-asanas, some more sun and some more music.

The day appeared to be much longer than the usual, a much needed feeling, and I wanted to feel every moment of that day. Pahadi House is an impeccable place for relaxing the anxious mind. The ambience is such that there is nothing to hurry about.

The mind wanders for long distances. It touches the Shivalik peaks; it also goes back to the superfast city that I live in. There is substantial contemplation between the desire of my heart and the realism that I follow. There is enough room for thought and enough thoughts to occupy the mind. Outside this soothing and calm territory of the Himalayas, lies a chaotic life. With every long breath that I take here, I realize the scanty orderliness that I am brimmed with. I make some bold decisions in my head; I feel the urge for it. But it is just a few simple facts of life that stand as big obstacles before I could actually execute those decisions.

Thoughts kept me busy, and yet relaxed all day long. I was only thinking; I was not doing anything. I did not want to be doing anything. I wish I could keep the thoughts away too, but they were harmless. Until I did anything about them, they caused me no harm. And so I would not know, what was the harm I may face.

As the day went by, we decided to take a little stroll around the place. Walk through the village seemed like a good idea. The only thing I missed here was the company of a dog; a big brown furry dog. This time, we went far ahead and reached the starting point of the forest. Cabbage is grown in abundance in this land, followed by tomatoes, potatoes and kidney beans. At the entrance, there is a magnificent tunnel formed naturally by the trees; they all bend towards each other and keep hugging. We stared at them for such a long time, that we never could enter into it.

Besides, we also knew that it was almost time for the bonfire at Pahadi House. Between the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, we reached the main road soon. The city lights formed certain letters on the mountains, but they did not make a word. Without much thought, we immersed into the sight for quite some time. Then the chill took us back to our cottages.

Warmed with tea and bonfire, we sulked for some time on the thought of returning to the plains on the following day. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our last bonfire at Pahadi House, with an affirmative mind to return to this paradise.

On the way back, I met the owner of Pahadi House and asked if we could have a longer duration stay in the lovely cottage; the idea is to get our own food and some books to read. It is an ideal place for soaking yourself into the world of words. To my pleasure, he has agreed for it and all I need to do now is to pack a bigger bag and return to these woods soon.

 

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