Bir, Billing, Barot

A dear friend was whining about not being able to go for this creative writing workshop, in the Himalayas; it was a free workshop, and he said that I should give it a shot. Well, yours truly “learning” creative writing? Ahem…no thank you; but the free workshops bit intrigued me. I went to the website (deerpark.in), and it was love at first sight. I checked their schedule and saw that there were to be classes (9 days) on Buddhist Psychology. I mailed, got myself registered, and promptly reached the place as scheduled.

I took a bus till Baijnath and took a cab (15-20 mins) till the Deer Park Ins, Bir. The workshops are free but you need to pay for lodgings and food (check their website for more information).

Words cannot describe it. It’s not just the beauty, Bir is a pretty little place, but the entire vibe of the place, esp of the Deer Park Institute, is something else. Very, peaceful, quite, and loving, and light, and joyous; all that is good and positive in the world. Bir is a paragliding destination and the place is mostly full of “fliers/flyers”. There are many places around to see, though my friends and I had a great, great time just walking around locally in the evening after classes. Try the Joy and Friends cafes.

Made great friends, met some amazing, very interesting people, and had an amazing, amazing time. I look forward to going back there soon. Bunked one day and went to Barot (2 hrs drive in a cab). Enjoyed the drive, the company of friends, and yummy food.

On the way back, went to McLeod Ganj (rs 1200 cab, 2 hrs) and took a bus to Delhi. Most amazing 12 days. I am thankful, dear Universe. 🙂

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An impromptu Jaipur weekend

I went on an impromptu visit to Jaipur this past weekend; it was very, very relaxing. And hence the lack of pictures, I did nothing but relax. 🙂 I started making my way towards ISBT after checking online for buses to Jaipur. I was thinking that I may need to go to Sarai Kale Khan, but apparently, according to the rsrtc website, the place for a bus to Jaipur was ISBT (not a/c Volvo as I soon found out). It is not an easy website to find the information you are looking for. Thankfully, on the way to the Metro station, the person I shared the cycle-rickshaw with informed me that buses for Jaipur leave from Bikaner House, near India Gate. I was to get off at the Central Secretariat Metro station anyways, which is close to India Gate, so I concluded that I’d check out Bikaner House and if need be rick-it to ISBT. And lo and behold, an a/c Volvo bus was standing there at the Bikaner House, ready to leave. Buses leave every hour; 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00…though I don’t know when the last bus at night leaves. And to my pleasant surprise, they charge less for women (travelling alone?). It is rs 815 for a ticket, but they charged me rs 675. 🙂 A very comfortable bus indeed, and very friendly staff; takes six hrs; blame it on the city traffic. After a good 1.5 hrs, we were still in Gurgaon. 

I am a hard to impress person, esp when it comes to hotels, and Le Meridien, Jaipur, didn’t exactly impress me. But I fell in love with it when I saw the bill. I have to admit that it is very, very good value for your money. I would definitely go there again, if I ever. The food was really good, although when I asked them to customise something, it wasn’t what I was expecting, or explained. What I absolutely loved was that the massage lady asked me if she need focus on the “chest” area. At almost all the places, they quietly ignore that area, and I feel somewhat cheated. Not here though, the woman did a very thorough, professional job; although they could do with renovating the spa area a bit.

What I absolutely must share is that the cab guys take the tourists to shops that although stock everything, but offer no variety or quality at all. And those shops are no where near the real Jaipur. All fakes. The cab guy even took us to a fake Rajasthali. They must have duped so many tourists like that. He was insisting that due to some construction work the interior pink city is inaccessible. But we insisted and when we reached there we raised that he was lying; no traffic or construction problems anywhere. So if you wanna shop real authentic Rajasthan stuff, please go to the real Rajasthali and Bunker (pronounced Boon-kur), govt authorised crafts shops at Ajmeri Road only; amazing variety and quality.

I did miss my camera, when I saw the city that actually is pink; the old Jaipur. The old double-storey buildings reminded me of Darya Ganj in Delhi, but a much cleaner, and a bit spacious version; pink and aesthetic. 🙂

10 tiring days…

I wasn’t going to “document” this trip. But then, I did create this space to put up everything related to my days traveling here. And I was traveling these days. So, here goes.

It wasn’t a particularly pleasure/vacation trip. Well, it was a small vacation-like for my daughter, and of course it was immense pleasure meeting her. But in the end we both felt that it’d been better if she had just come to Delhi for these days. We both absolutely love “traveling around” in the city, in the metro, swiping our merry cards at random stations, wherever our whim takes us on a particular merry day. 🙂 That is one reason why she decided against it initially, cos she just had five days of the long weekend, and two would be spent traveling and she felt she’d hate to spend just 3 measly days in Delhi, the city she loves so much. The ten days turned out to be tiring more than anything. And I didn’t even feel like carrying my camera around much so didn’t click many pictures.

Reaching Kodaikkanal from Delhi is a bitch. You either fly down to Coimbatore, or Madurai, and then drive up the hills. It’s a four hours ride from Coimbatore, but I prefer it to the 2.5 hrs one from Madurai as there are no direct Delhi-Madurai flights, and just reaching Madurai could take most of the day, so no, thank you.

Day 1 I flew down to Coimbatore (Indigo provides convenient direct flights mornings and evenings), drove up the hills to Kodaikkanal (2.5 hrs on regular road and 1.5 hrs in the hills, twisting and turning and resisting falling to the sides) and reached my daughter’s dorm room by the afternoon, welcoming a little shut-eye till she returned from her classes. Around 5 pm we left for Coimbatore as we had an early flight out to Goa next morning, via Chennai.

For some strange reason, my cab guy send this sad, old, beat-up Indica that wouldn’t go above 40 km/hr and by the time we reached Coimbatore, it was around 10:30 in the night. Thankfully, I had seen this decent looking hotel very close to the airport (Hotel Skylight…Skylite?) and thankfully, they were able to get some food for us, from outside.

Day 2 started out comfortable. We reached Chennai airport and were pleasantly surprised with the developments since we were last here, I think last year. They now have a nice, little cafe, serving breakfast and snacks and also a Krispy Creme. My daughter’s happiness knew no bounds; she is a doughnut freak. With a nice breakfast and the free wi-fi (only 30 mins), we breezed through the couple of hours and were in Goa by the afternoon.

Landed in Goa...not happy getting clicked... :)
Landed in Goa…not happy getting clicked… 🙂

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, which at first look, looks amazing. Reminded me of Taj, Kovalam and the amazing property they have.

Grand Hyatt...from of one of the Guest Homes
Grand Hyatt…from of one of the Guest Homes

Day 3, 4, and 5 It was only the pretty property which Grand Hyatt people have developed very well spreading acres that left me not feeling too flustered. The food was bad. The rooms were comfortable though. The bathroom could use some re-doing. We had to call to get the faucet changed it was so … tight and uncomfortable. The bath-tub was small(er) and narrow and no bar to help one get up after a nice, long relaxing soak in the hot water. And there’s no real beach anywhere close by. The one on the property is a calm, quiet, small one, ok for nice walks and all. It’s walled in by the bay so there’s no surf to speak of. But I liked the spa; nice steam room and jacuzzi. A good 40-45 mins cab ride away from Calangute, Baga, and other known spots.

Grand Hyatt beach
Grand Hyatt beach

IMG_4988 IMG_4992

We spent the last coupla days driving around in Calangute, Baga area…visitied Fort Aguada, churches in Old Goa, and Panjim. I love walking around Panjim. I showed my daughter the places I had been the first time I was there, in the early 90s, back-packing with a cousin.

Day 6 we returned to Kodiakkanal; my daughter happy to be back with her posse.

Days 7, 8, 9 I spent doing the regular thing around her school, meeting her teachers, other parents, her classmates.

Random view
Random view
Kodi lake
Kodi lake

Day 10 I was back in the cab driving back to Coimbatore, feeling sick. For some strange reason, coming down the hills from Kodi has started making me sick. I have never had that problem. Never in the  Himalayas. Strange! I hadn’t had lunch before starting at around 1 pm. Around 4 we reached this place, middle of nowhere it seemed, and this little “tiffin” place. It was a beautiful afternoon, cloudy, amazing fresh breeze. I loved sitting there for a while, enjoyed this really good bowl of fried rice and some chai, before heading on.

All that remains of those ten days are beautiful memories on my daughter, and tiredness. I am getting old. 🙂

An old, 2008, trip…interesting story

early morning the day of the trek to triund, i woke up with an unsure mind. i did want to reach the top and view the awesome view that i had last viewed a good ten years back, but my mind, and my body also remembered the treacherous trek well. something i wasn’t much looking forward to. so i closed my eyes again, trying not to stir too much. all four of us (i, cy, M, and Hir) were huddled under three heavy quilts in the same bed, pretty comfortably. i wanted to see what the next couple of hours would bring, without any dis/en-couragement from me. i could go on sleeping till 9 and then wake up for a beautiful walk to a beautiful cafe and a beautiful, lazy, breakfast, followed by shopping in some beautiful shops. or, i could wake up in a short while and start the trek to triund. our cab guy had told me last evening that he will call first and then come over, and that was another reason i urged my mind to relax and sleep some more under the cozy, warm quilt, waiting for his call, thinking that well, we could still cancel and ask him not to drive over. but suddenly i heard the hotel/inn keeper knock on the door announcing the arrival of the cab guy. we had decided to drive 2 KMs up, of the total 9 KMs of trek, knowing that Cy (she is 6 yrs old) might give up anytime, anywhere on the trek. hence, we had also hired the services of a “guide”, which turned out to be a boon later, i will reach that part soon. now this “guide”, sansar chand, is actually a coolie (luggage bearer) who accompanies trekking groups going with licensed guides. our cab guy had told us that licensed guides charge rs 1200 (sansar was costing us rs 500) and do not even carry your bags, if need be. we made up our minds fast. 🙂 i phoned praveen, our cab guy, who was waiting down the stairs, and requested him to give us another half hour to get ready as we hadn’t woken up in time.

McLeod Ganj
McLeod Ganj

it was 9 by the time we started out. after a beautiful and a bit scary drive up a winding, narrow, and a very broken, quite dug up mountain road we reached the “base camp”, dharamkot. we were awed, and quite fascinated to see a solid sheet of ice on the small pond right in front of the little shack that sold limited breakfast and chai to trekkers going up triund. rubbing our frozen hands, and talking excitedly about anticipated more cold as we go up, we finished maggie, a rockhard sandwich that Cy didn’t touch, and lots of chai. that was our … lag, that pinched us hard later. we spent more time than we should’ve, but we were having fun and after all that’s why we were doing everything that we were doing on this holiday. by the end of that day we had realized that having fun and doing things for fun also needs some thought beyond a point.

dharamkot_frozen
dharamkot_frozen

as we stepped on the trek trail, old memories flooded in. and i started remembering turns, and mountain bends, and stones, telling M and Cy (Hir had decided to skip the trek and went shopping instead) that this is where we had rested, and that is where there was a little rivulet the last time i was there (in 1998 me thinks). Cy happily hopped and jumped up one stone, then another. sansar looked at us pitiably mumbling that guys don’t take that long. apparently it was about a 2-2.5 hrs trek and we were taking just too long. we had started at 10:15 after the breakfast at dharamkot, the cold ice-sheeted pond place. soon our sweaters came off, and we were down to our t-shirts. the sun was awesome; bright, warm, and oh-so-loving. before we knew, three hours had passed, and we’d find sansar waiting for us at a mountain bend, sitting serenely on one big stone or the other, waiting for us to catch up .. just looking at us. he did volunteer picking Cy on his shoulders, but she resisted aggressively. forget being picked, she doesn’t even like being touched by someone she doesn’t know well. she gave up that resistance around the end of the fourth hour; but we were almost there by then, the top. the meadows beyond, the distant mountains and hills in the distant mist on the far-off horizon, the clear blue sky, just the thrill of being on what seemed like the top of the world made us forget the misery, the stones, the jagged, pointy rocks might be causing our feet, and we kept moving forward, upward.

The mountain path
The mountain path
To Triund
To Triund

it was 2:15 pm by the time we reached up. Cy readily hopped on to sansar’s shoulder for the remaining 10 mins of the trek, declaring loudly that “it’s a very bad plan”. but all that changed when she reached the top; when we reached the top. the beauty of the nearness of the snow-capped himalayan peaks took our breaths away. though i felt bad a bit as the very green meadows that i remembered and had described to M weren’t there. the grass had turned yellow for the winter. but i just couldn’t take my eyes off those mountains. so big, so strong, still, and silent. i too wanted to turn to stone, still, and just gaze at least an eternity. both M and i thought that it’ll be nice to stay the night there. of course we weren’t prepared. there was a forest lodge there, but one needed to book in advance. the guy in another little shack that we had lunch (maggie and omelets) at got us in touch with the forest lodge guard/keeper. he said if we wished we could wait and “see”. if no one turned up till the evening, we could get a room. we were very, very ill-prepared to spend a night in case we didn’t get a room. and when we talked to a couple of people around we realized that waiting for “to know” if we will get a room was a dodgy matter. and then everyone, everyone strongly suggested that if we are planning to reach back to McLeod Ganj, we better make it before sunset. we took the advice and started down at about 3:30 pm. this time Cy readily agreed to travel on sansar’s shoulders and they both soon disappeared down the track. we too, M and i, were more relaxed and took pictures and all, and breathed in the beautiful views coming down.

Triund
Triund

it was only after some time that i started to panic. sansar and cy had been out of view for quite some time now. i wished i had told sansar to not go far from us. but we soon found them both sitting and waiting for us. they seemed to have established a deep bond; they were chatting and laughing so merrily; my 6 yrs old and that sweet guide in his late teens. when i reached them, i gave sansar an ok to go ahead and go all the way to dharamkot, the base camp, and wait there for us; a decision i’m glad i made. M and i sat some more and then started again. we started worrying after some time though, as it was taking us more time than we had anticipated to trek down. there was a tea-shop midway. it just wasn’t appearing, we crossed so many mountain bends. also on our way down i was constantly trying to reach our cab guy on the phone, to tell him to be there at dharamkot for us, exactly where he’d dropped us. there was no network in the mountains, though i did manage to get through once and inform him that we were on our way down. i believe it was a helping hand from God. one small help.

we did reach that tea-shop eventually. the guy manning it informed us that sansar and Cy waited for us a long time and then made their way down. he asked us if we’d like to stay; he had a weirdly worried look on his face. there was no way we could’ve stayed. my child was down there, waiting for me with a virtual stranger. the tea-shop guy asked us if we had a torch, he said ominously, “you won’t make it”. by then we had been walking for what seemed like forever. we were dying to reach “home” … or at least civilization and besides i thought that he’s just trying to sell us just another thing from his little shop and said a loud no. i did have a small torch with me in my bag. it was soon enough i understood that concerned look on his face. and then suddenly, one minute the sun was just going beyond the horizon and i was photographing the sunset and M in the twilight, and the next minute it was total, complete darkness; we couldn’t even see the track. now the track, at any random place, is about a meter wide, rocky, jagged, and God only knows where we will land if we happened to step over the edge. soon both M and i were cursing the government and M was telling me how well the trail in the grand canyon is constructed and that they have loos in the little nooks and corners, and of course our tiny little torch (though thank God i had it with me) wasn’t much help. it emitted a dull halo in which we kept our feet and walked, hugging each other tight.

The last sunset of 2008
The last sunset of 2008

and so we were fearfully keeping one step after another clutching each other, trying to keep our feet on the ground that was visible in the small yellow halo/circle of the torch light, when the spookiest of things happened. the darkness got thicker, almost solid, right in front of us, and M said let’s go this way, and i said no silly, look, here’s the track. and there it was, to our left, going sharply down, an apparent track, flat stone slabs the only things shining (spookily now that i think) grey in the night, going steadily down, making a clear path. i tried to peer to our right, nothing but a dark, black wall, which i thought to be the mountain wall. i hopped on to the first stone and tried to assure M that that was the right way, though she kept mumbling that she didn’t remember a track that steep, or a turn (she was right). i ignored her and kept on hopping down one stone after another. soon i realized that M was sitting on a stone. “i can’t go on, my foot is hurting terribly”, she said making herself comfortable on a stone. apart from the fact that her shoes were killing her, the overgrown big toe nail had started digging back into the toe. she suggested that i go on down and then send sansar back for her. i thought for a moment and then kind of agreed. i had to keep the torch with me, and my phone too was very low on battery so i couldn’t give her that to use for light. but as soon as i hopped down some more, i noticed that she had risen and was following me down the path. by that time i had started having my doubts, as yes, though it was a steep climb, even i didn’t remember going up something so continuously steepily steep. but i was glad that she had decided against sitting there in that thick, scary, spooky black mountain dark. as soon as she was closer she told me that she had heard something ruffling in the bushes nearby, which made her change her mind. we both got scared as that place was known for big cats and sometimes bears, and besides, we both believe in spirits. just then we heard human sounds and noticed two lights way above us, torch lights, and i knew we were on the wrong path and were going down towards the jungle; as where the torchlight was coming from, that was the path, above us; we were going down, like i said, deeper into the jungle. i shouted “hello” twice. someone shouted “hello” back, and told us that yes they were coming from dharamkot, the base camp, night trekkers. the fear was confirmed, we both rushed up the rocks we had just climbed down. it was only after we reached up and caught the right path that we realized that both the voices and the lights had just as suddenly disappeared. they were on the path right above us, we should’ve met them when we reached up; but they literally just disappeared; there was nothing. and when we reached up back on the path, there was no dark wall as we had felt earlier, but a path that went ahead. we thanked the wood spirits from saving us going into the dark woods to God knows what eventuality. by this time M was in immense pain and had started cursing sansar for abandoning us. i was thanking him, and God, that Cy wasn’t with us, in that dark, spooky, very scary place. it was so dark that i can’t put it in words. it was black, pitch black, is we couldn’t even make our immediate surroundings. i felt fear creeping in, but kept telling myself and M that as long as we kept putting one foot in front of another, irrespective of however long it takes, we will reach dharamkot. and suddenly we saw another light, ahead of us on the track. i wanted to beg for help if it was a trekker and beg for help, to help us reach dharamkot. to our immense relief, it was praveen, our cab guy. he got worried when he saw only sansar and cy, and that it had grown dark and there was no sign of the two “madams”. so he had come looking for us, with a big torch that lit up the entire track in front of us. we eventually did reach his car, sansar and cy were happily chatting and playing inside. wow! i don’t think i will ever forget that evening. though we later agreed that it was nothing but darkness … like we believe that .. ha ha ha ha … 🙂

Mori, Uttarakhand

Last weekend was amazing. I had been invited by a acquaintance to accompany a group of (bike) riders for a long-weekend (4 days) ride to a place called Mori, in Uttarakhand. I had never heard of the place before, but when I saw the pics on google, I got interested and said Yes. Also, an old acquaintance from Hyderabad too was joining in, so it would’ve been nice to meet up and all.

We were supposed to leave 15th (Aug) morning, so I wrapped up this outing with my dear pal Gur on 14th evening and reached home in time to pack and rest and all. Though I knew that there would be no sleeping for me cos’ of late my sleep cycle had completely turned and settled at the 7 am – 3 pm time slot; so I knew there was no way I will be sleepy before 6 am, and we had to leave by 5:30 – 6 am the next morning.

Lo and behold, I reach home and receive a call from the person who’d invited me saying how most people have cancelled and asking how will I make it to the meeting place at 5:30 in the morning and I will be very uncomfortable and all etc. It was clear that he wanted me to say No, but wasn’t saying so. At first I said ok, I won’t come, and ended the call. Then I got pissed, and duly took it out in a WhatsApp msg, after which he gave in and reluctantly agreed to take me along. 🙂

Anyhow, the ride started pretty uncomfortable. My bum and the entire lower area started hurting like crazy, like I was sitting on a stone bamboo, and each bump would hit and hurt like crazy. It was weird, cos’ I have gone on rides before, as a pillion, and I had never felt like that before. At one point I felt that I couldn’t breath it hurt so bad. After about 2-3 hrs of excruciating pain, and 2 stops later, I couldn’t keep it in and verbalised my pain. One of the bikers (there were total 3 bikes, and 4 of us) pointed out that i was sitting way out on the back seat, and that my bum was literally hanging half-out, so of course it was hurting. And the guy I was with also added that yes his seat indeed was a tad harder than other seats. Thankfully, the guy I knew from my Hyderabad days kindly offered to take me as pillion; and the rest of the way, though it was painful as the area I think had become sore, wasn’t unbearable. Also, I bought a small cushion when we stopped at Mussourie; it helped.

And then the A-M-A-Z-I-N-G bit started, the mountains, the lush green, the clouds rolling in. The next 3 days passed by as if in a dream. The guys loosened up to the only (stranger) girl who’d tagged along and relaxed and started sharing, their conversations, their dawa, and their daru.

We couldn’t make it to Mori, as planned, and spent the first night in this beautiful little hamlet called Damta. Beautiful place, beautiful people. It was dark by the time we reached there, but thankfully we found a place that offered decent enough rooms; I think the only place in that small hamlet, a little bigger than a village I think. I found out later that it was a stop-over for buses and jeeps on their way from the mountain tops to Dehradun and all. After freshening up, and some good dinner, we made ourselves comfortable on the balcony overlooking the mountain stream and the hills beyond, sipping drinks and sharing ghost stories. The lush, green hills were only dark silhouettes now against the very faint glow of the cloudy sky. There were clouds all around, and mist, which glowed like a celestial wonder every time the lights of a car or truck got reflected each time it turned at the mountain bend. And then it started to rain, close to the middle of the night, and the power wen off. I could’ve sat there all night, enjoying the rain, the cool, cool, breeze and drizzle falling all over me with the wind. Alas, I hadn’t slept the night before, and we did have to ride some more next day to reach Mori. So around 1:30 am, we bid adieu to each other and I was out before my head hit the pillow. I got up at 6 and was mesmerised by the green, lush beauty all around. Thinking how lucky one is to be able to live at a place like this.

Damta
Damta

After about 3-4 hrs of riding enveloped in more cool, lush, green and breathtaking pine forests, we reached Mori. And wow, the google pics had not done it justice at all. Actually no “picture” can do the beauty of the place justice. So, so pretty, and idyllic, and the mountain river that gushed past all along the ride, sometimes looking dangerous, sometimes playful and inviting. If only one could come here every weekend. Sigh!! 🙂 Apparently the local people call the river Vinashak (destroyer). We arranged for rooms, dumped our stuff and headed out in search for a place where we could wet our feet. After looking around a bit we found a perfect spot, under a small bridge. And that is where the story of my “current pain” started unfolding. After having sat in the cold, cold, but very refreshing waters, I came out and tied just a sarong around my waist. On the way back, I spotted a mountain waterfall and asked my friend, the biker, to stop, which he did promptly. And I did something I had never done before; I tried to get off from the other side of the bike, the side that has the hot, hot exhaust pipe. I not only have a burn, I have a deep, 2nd degree burn for which I am going to the doctor daily now to get the dressing changed. Hopefully, another week-10 days from now and it will heal, though leaving a scar…a battle scar…ha 😀

Mori
Mori
Mori main crossing
Mori main crossing

The next day we started riding around randomly and found this unbelievable little mountain stream, a little upstream, which was deep enough to enjoy the gushing waters massaging the back but not so deep that we’d get swept by the water. It was the most amazing, memorable afternoon ever. And a little boy joined us, Navin, grade 4. The innovative little child. He build little rafts with pieces of tree bark strewn all around, sticking two pieces of wooden sticks in it. He would then throw the raft up stream with all his might and then jump, swim, and splash around to catch it as it came down the stream. It was so much fun just looking at him play.

On the way...
On the way…
Mountain path by the mountain stream
Mountain path by the mountain stream
Navin :)
Navin 🙂

If only, I could spend the entire week there, frolicking about in the cold, healing, refreshing waters. Water so cold, but not biting, soothing rather … I had never thought that I’d be able to take it, even step into it, but not only did I step in that cold, cold water, I sat there, enjoying it, gushing past all over me.

A most beautiful, memorable experience.

Clouds rolled in
Clouds rolled in

On the way back, I decided to bus it. I am glad that I did. I took a diversion and went to Paonta Sahib gurudwara; did darshan, had the yummy langar. And then people told me that it’s best to go to Yamuna Nagar and then take a Delhi bus. People were right; I reached Yamuna Nagar, and then took a bus to reach Delhi via Karnal, Panipat. It was a beautiful bus ride too all over. Had a good, good time. 🙂

Paonta Sahib gurudwara from Yamuna bridge
Paonta Sahib gurudwara from Yamuna bridge