Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Stay


I don't know you too well,
But I'd like to change that.
It isn't the way you dress
Or even the bronze tan you’ve acquired.

Your hair hasn't been washed in ages                              
And your skin has a layer of grime.
But your eyes have that faraway look,
The distant wondering, that I love.
                                                                            
Can you teach me how to have 
A spring in your step, without seeming fake?
And the ease with which you befriend strangers,
Please tell me that's contagious?

You've perfected the skill
Of soaking in the present moment,
Something I've yet to master.
I wonder, what’s your secret?

I can tell from the way you walk
That you've moved beyond mundane questions.
Instead you sit and think of how sheep get to sleep
And whether shepherds are lonely.

You’re always prepared for any situation,
That we have in common.
But the way you let things happen to you without getting in the way,
I’m still to learn.

You hum to the tune of the river,
You hop on the first bus you see;
Favour moonlight over torches
And puppies over humans.

Trying new foods, collecting rocks,
Ignoring the souvenir shops.
Letting cuts heal themselves
And pathways lead you where they will.


I've caught glimpses of you before                                                                                                              
On buses and trains.
You’re familiar, yet not familiar enough.                                                
You always slip away too quickly.

I try to stop being in awe of you
So I can focus on being more like you.
But the train pulls into the station,
The suitcase is unpacked, and you disappear in the shadows.

I know I’ll only see you
When the next ticket is purchased.
Traveller me, I’d really like to know you,
Please don’t play hard to get.

By Mihika Mirchandani

Monday, 23 February 2015

Juggernaut of Happpiness - Sikkim Diaries


The moment I stepped into Sikkim, I instantly knew that my first post in the brand new year would be about Sikkim and no other place. There are a few places that you may like, a few places that you may end up falling in love with, but there are only a handful of places which you can actually connect to. You know the feeling of owning the place, the feeling that only your home can bring it to you. This is what I felt when I visited North Sikkim. Yes, I did travel West, South and North Sikkim. All of them equally enchanting and having different things to offer but it was North Sikkim that cast its spell on me. So, the title had to be what I felt while I was there - Juggernaut of Happiness that is and this post is all about North Sikkim.

We started our journey from Gangtok towards Lachen at about 8am in the morning. It  is a good 6-7 hour drive. It takes a long time to get from one place to another due to the high altitude, terrain and some of the roads aren’t in a good shape.

These vibrant flags are so totally synonymous with Sikkim region. It indicates the divine power and it is believed that as wind blows, the prayers that are written on the flag will have effect on people and surroundings. The colorful ones are the prayer flags and all white flags are set up in order to pray for the peace of the deceased.


This is Tashi viewpoint where you can catch the breathtaking view of Khangchendzonga a.k.a Kanchenjunga. Tashi viewpoint is on the highway en route to Lachen.

The snowcapped mountain peak that you see is Khangchendzonga. You get to see it literally from all the places in Sikkim. Best view can be found from Pelling, West Sikkim.

After a very beautiful drive, where we was totally engrossed in taking pictures, we reached Lachen village. As you can see in the picture, mineral water bottles aren’t allowed here. This is done to reduce plastic usage. They provide boiled water to drink. Don’t come here thinking about big fancy hotels. Most of the houses are converted into home stays and they completely ensure that they take good care of you. No dearth of hospitality here in Sikkim. Overnight stay at Lachen would be needed if you’re heading towards Thangu and Gurudongmar Lake.

Lachen Village is run by a self-governance system called as Dzumsa, where a headman is elected to settle the disputes in a democratic way. Shot this picture in a place called Thangu, which is the last civilian settlement that you can come across before heading towards Gurudongmar Lake. Ensure that you take permits before entering these places. At every place, including Lachen, checkpoints are present. Without permits, no one is allowed to enter these zones.
This is the magical Teesta River, lifeline of Sikkim. She is there all along the journey and in more ways than one, she makes the journey very special. I can’t pick whether it is the amazing sound that she makes while flowing or whether it is about the very distinct green color that she possesses or whether it is she along with the surroundings that make it all very enchanting.
This was a local’s house in Thangu where we had breakfast. Thangu is at an altitude of 13000 feet. What you see in the picture is actually a form of stove. They use it to cook food as well to get some relief from the cold. This stove apparently has been got from China and it costs about 10-12k.The best part in this North Sikkim trip was that we got a chance to interact with so many locals and we got to know their way of life. 
Of course dogs had to be there to make it so memorable for me. It just made my day. These two munchkins were in the same local’s house. Chai, Maggi and doggie - Amazing combination isn’t it? 
On the way to Gurudongmar lake from Thangu. If you do not wish to see snow, best time to visit Sikkim would be April-May. If not in these months, visit from October-December 1st week. Post that it’s dicey as roads may be blocked due to snowfall and Army won’t give permission to get to many of these places. Even otherwise, roads would be filled with snow and there is no way to get past.
I think Sikkim visit, in particular North Sikkim, has had a lot of impact on me personally. It was more like I got as close to nature as possible. It made me feel that I should get down there and explore more places within India. It also helped to know that people of a region can be so warm and nice to fellow Indians. Content in life and bereft of selfishness.
Getting closer to Chopta Valley. In winter, it is completely snow covered. But if you get there in summer, you get to see a riot of colorful flowers, mainly the famous rhododendrons.
This is how Chopta valley looks. When we went to Lachen, the temperature was -3 to -4 degree Celsius. It was freezing cold and no heaters were available given the electricity fluctuation at Lachen. To top it all, no mobile network other than BSNL [Vodafone and Airtel may come up in few months] and sorry, no TV also in the rooms. But that was the least of our concerns.
This is Chopta Valley and foreigners are not allowed beyond this point since it gets closer to Indo-China border from here. In winter, Gurudongmar lake is completely frozen. But it is also said that at any point in time, there would be some part in the lake that would not have frozen.
This is the water coming down from the snowcapped mountains, now frozen !
It was now time to head towards Lachung, 2-3 hours’ drive from Lachen. This is yet again a Kanchenjunga view in the evening from our hotel in Lachung. Overnight stay at Lachung is required before you head out the next day towards Yumthang-Yumesamdong.
This is how it looked as we entered Yumthang Valley or popularly known as “Valley of flowers”. Yumthang Valley is actually a rhododendron sanctuary. It is at an elevation of 11,800 feet.
This is on the way to the hot spring present in Yumthang Valley. These hot springs are rich in Sulphur content and the average temperature is around 50 degree Celsius.
Aren’t these roads absolutely stunning? En route to zero point, Yumesamdong. Some of the places are so surreal that you may end up wishing time to come to a standstill.
Yeah reached Zero Point!
It’s called Zero Point as this is where the road ends and you would find some snow over here throughout the year.
This was at Zero Point where you get to eat amazing chana, maggi and not to forget coffee and old monk ! 
One of the local people who was kind enough to let me take his pic at Zero Point
This has to be one of my best trips till date. So thankful to all the people who I could get to interact with for not only making me feel one among them but also for the amazing hospitality given to us. I already miss Sikkim! I’m not sure when I can get there one more time, but I know I will, for sure!
Surya Raju
January 2015

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Going the Desi Style...


With a constant doubt hovering over my head, I packed my bags and headed off to Lalitpur. The reason for my doubt was due to the presence of 3 Lalitpurs in India. Luckily I was in the right train and alighted at the right station. With my doubts banished, I was all set for my vacation which started off with a bumpy ride to a small village called 'Pranpur'.


Legend has it…

Pranpur which means a 'place of life' derives its name from a story which Rajpalji (Manager, Amraee Guest House) will passionately explain. So legend has it that a princess was traveling from Chanderi and she mysteriously fell unconscious on her way. The king's men tried to revive her but in vain. They approached the local doctor from the village (Vaid) and he got her out of her unconscious state. As per the story, the princess named the village 'Pranpur' as she got her life back thanks to the village and the local doctor. True to its name the village is truly full of life.

Yes to Data – No to Calls…

After the 1 hour ride, I was welcomed warmly by the staff of Amraee. One look at the guest house and facilities and you would wonder how a staff of just 3-4 people can maintain it so clean and green. The day starts off with a hot cup of tea and breakfast served under a tree that I named the ‘Wi-Fi’ tree. The reason for such a name is because your phone will show full network only at this spot, but try calling someone, the call won’t get through but try using the data network and it works, slow but fine.
 
Amraee Guest House
Better than an Alarm Clock…

After all that Bundelkhandi breakfast and lunch, I decided to take a nap and within 20-25mins of deep slumber, I awoke to a shrilling electric shock like feeling. It was a loud drilling noise and this noise was certainly not one those noises by machines. With my body in half shock and half sleep, I scuffled around the curtains to find out what was the source. I opened the curtain closest around my bed and found something I would never find in the city. It was a full grown wood-pecker that was looking at the reflective glass from outside and assumed that it had a competitor in the mirror. This encounter with Mr. Woody Woodpecker continued every morning, where my alarm clock used to fail waking me but our little birdie here ensured that I was up on time.


Getting Down & Dirty…

While I stayed at Pranpur, I had included a village tour in my itinerary and this was quite an intriguing walk. Thanks to the dedicated work by Amraee and Travel Another India, I was pleased to notice the friendliness of the people. Usually as a tourist, you are hounded by beggars or people asking money in return of their photos. This is one unique village that is so tourist friendly and yet shares their rich culture and heritage.

Some of the things to do when you are on your village tour:
  • Making Pots – Go ahead and get your hands dirty and feel the soil take shape as you wish
  • Bullock cart tour – Though I did not try this but this is one aspect that is not available in cities
  • Chanderi Sarees – Do pop your head into some of the weavers’ homes and ask for some already prepared Chandhri sarees. You may even get a good price due to the elimination of the middleman.


The village tour guide and other villagers will certainly rave about the ‘Baodii’, which is a step-well and there are quite a variety available in this village. Notice the color change in the waters as you check each of these cryptic wells. Experience the serene and simple lifestyle of a village through a stay at Amraee at Pranpur. This is one off-beat destination you cannot miss.

Other landmarks to explore while you are at Pranpur:

Chanderi Historical Sites: Kilaa Kothi, Badal Mahal, Koshak Mahal, Jama Masjid, Raja Rani Mahal, Kati Ghati, Kandahaar-Jii, Shishupal Tank, Shahzadi ka Roza and Chanderi Musuem.

Visit to Nanon: A Prehistoric cave that proudly presents carvings and paintings from the Stone Age era.

Visit to Kadvaya: Also known as the mini-Khajuraho.

For booking and other information on travel, please check www.travelanotherindia.com or contact book@travelanotherindia.com
Rajpal & Jaghban
  Text and photographs by Shrikant Ayyangar

Friday, 11 July 2014

The forgotten palace of Kodagu



The grey ominous clouds sound a final warning and large droplets descend from the sky splashing on the brown dirt of the school playground. The characteristic smell of the land when its thirst is quenched by the rain on a warm summer day is complimented by the fragrance of coffee plants lined along the washed paved road. Beautiful houses straddle this road; the courtyard a canvas for hundreds of blooming red flowers and towering trees with hanging branches. Colourful pictures adorn the walls of the school – today is Sunday and a blanket of silence wraps this remote corner of the Western Ghats. Beside the school, behind a parapet wall, stands an aloof wooden structure topped with a sloping brick roof; its appearance is shabby yet it retains an unusual air of nobility. A creaky wooden door leads to the courtyard of the one storied Nalaknad aramane (house) where a sense of gloom and despair is palpable. This modest palace was the last refuge of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of Kodagu, before he was deposed by the British in April 1834. It was here that the Haleri Dynasty of Kodagu, established by Veera Raja in the 16th century, breathed its last and faded into the dense jungles and lofty mountains of the Ghats.

The palace sits in the shadow of the highest peak of Coorg, Tadiandamol which rises to the clear blue sky and is kept company by equally impressive lesser peaks dotting the landscape. The mountain looks over the plains of Mysore, with its paddy fields and the meandering Cauvery, to the east and glances towards the distant sea-shore to the west. The journey to the summit begins at the aforementioned school from where one must follow a paved road threading the coffee plantations to the edge of the forest. A mud track continues from here and climbs steadily along the mountain face; it bounds over small streams and dives deep into the jungle and then re-appears on the open slope offering unadulterated views of the heavily wooded foothills. It darts across the mountain face and emerges into a wide clearing looking up to the towering peaks. To the left the top of Tadiandamol is faintly visible through a misty veil, to the right rows and rows of mountain ranges fade into the distance. The path then swerves left and climbs along the spur till it reaches a thickly wooded and steep section; the summit is another half an hour climb from here. After a hard day’s work toiling up the mountain the vista from the top is tonic to the tired lungs and heart. The wind howls lending wings to the fog which runs amok on the lofty ridges and swoops down the parched brown hills reining in the unbearable heat of the mid-day sun.


Back at the palace an eerie silence grips the decaying walls, wooden pillars and perforated windows. In the courtyard a forlorn pavilion narrates the stories of King Dodda Veerarajendra and his beloved Queen Mahadevamma. It remembers the capture of the King by Tipu Sultan and his subsequent escape from the prison in Periyapatna; it remembers the coronation of the King, the accompanied revelry and the aroma of feasts. It also recollects the final years of the King shattered by the death of his Queen – a bitter and inconsolable man. A fading mural spanning a wall on the ground floor depicts Dodda Veerarajendra seated on an elephant surrounded by spirited Kodavas. The ceiling of the courtroom on the first floor is intricately painted with flowers and the patterns carved on the woodwork are impressive. A secret stairway leads to a couple of dark rooms in the basement designed as a hideout in the event of a raid on the palace. The lonely corridors of the house evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the glorious history of Kodagu and its people. The tales of courage of the Kodavas, the roar of the tigers in the jungles, the worship of weapons during the Kailpodh Festival and the songs about the monsoon and planting rice reverberate in these empty halls. These halls are mute witnesses to the last days of Chikka Veerarajendra, a somewhat unpopular and unfair ruler feared for his cruelty. In April 1834, the British had marched into Kodagu and had captured the Madikeri Fort; they had then summoned the King to surrender in Madikeri thus ending the era of the Haleri Kings who had ruled this region for more than 200 years.
 
In the olden times the Kodavas were considered to be reputed huntsmen - bow and arrows were placed in the hands of a new born in the hope that the child grows up to be a fine warrior; this martial tradition has been kept alive by numerous decorated officers who have served in the Indian Army. Today Kodagu is known for its sprawling coffee plantations, pleasant climate, warm hospitable people and a vibrant culture. The days of conflict have been forgotten and the neglected aramane in Nalaknad is an added attraction for people trekking to Tadiandamol but even so it never disappoints curious travelers searching for the past – the lost legends of Kings and Queens buried in the dark jungles.

Deeptangan Pant