Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pushkar Holi - Festival of Colors in True Sense

It's HOLI the next day and the holy little town is full of festivities. In all major chawks people are lighting fire for the ceremony called Holika Dahan, and rituals are being performed by the locals. People from around the world in their Indian traditional attire are gathered here to witness it. Celebration, fun, laughter and music is in the air. While purohit is busy performing rituals, people are busy clicking and recording to capture the moment. Ceremony ends and atmosphere gets filled with music and sound of dhol. I found myself dancing surrounded by people from all over the world connected by the sense of celebration.



And the big day is here. We all dressed in our best whites start towards the market.
 The first one we met on the street is a sweet English lady who with a broad smile and red color packet in her hand, wishes us. We are going global :).
Little farther we meet some kids who playfully apply color to us all. And that's how meeting unknown people from varied backgrounds and countries we reach warah ghat where everyone has gathered.


The atmosphere is full of colors. Everyone is wishing each other, applying colors and dancing to the tunes of music playing in the background. In the streets, I see local kids smeared in colors and playing with whosoever happens to cross them. Mithai wali gali is open and people are enjoying kachori and malpuas.





And hey wait a minute, what is this that I see!? Some shirts in the air, and many more on the floor. Yes someone did tell me that it's kapdaphad holi were all guys are stripped off their shirts. Some sight it was... everyone was very respectfully wishing holi to the female while stripping the male counterparts. After a point no one was allowed to go with their shirts on.

Kapda phad Holi - It was fun!                                 Picture by Vinod Verma
The streets are full of people, it is estimated that more than 20,000 people visited Puskar on the day of Holi. It was a mega event that left me overwhelmed with joy and happiness.


I had read some articles where it was mentioned girls need to be very careful and that it is not meant for them. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning but believe me not even a single time did I feel unsafe. So ladies feel free and go out celebrate the day that is meant for celebration.
Picture by Vinod Verma

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Simple Girl From The Mountains

The phone beeps early morning and it flashes -

 "On this beautiful day just a few years back a very special person was born with a magical wand which could persuade people to roam around the world freely and understand the love for nature... she is one of the wonder woman in today's world... and I wish this wonder woman a very very happy birthday!"

Another message says "Happiieee happiieee bday to a person who is inspiration to many..."

What a wonderful start to my big day... !
A simple girl from the mountains have made it big... I thought.

Making it big for me is not earning a bomb and having a lot of possessions, but to spread happiness and making a mark on people around you. If you are able to inspire and help people in any way to live better and meaningful life... I think you have made it big.



In the mountains, there was this tiny place called Lohna, Palampur. There lived this shy little girl who was mostly lost in her own world of thoughts. Tea gardens were her second home and pine forest her playground... birds were her friends and air breeze her companion. She grew up eating wild berries (of course not just that) from the forest behind her house.
She was a mediocre student who could manage to secure decent marks and was very fond of participating in activities related to art... rangoli making, henna applying, flower arrangements... These were the things she thoroughly enjoyed. Debates, quizzes and all were not her cup of tea.

After completing her college in agriculture university with flying colors she was offered scholarship for MSc. But she had larger things on mind.... She wanted to see the world, experience life outside the hills, so she made her decision to move out to a bigger city and do a vocational course. She started by staying in a paying guest accommodation but she would not fit in the crowd there. She felt all the talks meaningless and all the actions thoughtless, so she decided to go independent which did not go very well with the relatives. But who cared... her close family was fine with it and that's all that mattered.  And going independent was not just restricted to accommodation, she started doing part time jobs.

By the time she completed her studies she had good experience in sales. She did a direct sales job that again did not go very well with the relatives, but who cares. The sales job taught her good life skills and opened up a whole new world to her. She was very happy with her progress in the city, she started with a language institute inlingua and eventually got job in Google India that is a dream company for almost everyone. Everything was going great, but something was missing somewhere. Again she felt meaningless and empty.

This time she wanted to explore beyond her native place and her city. The hunger to explore more was increasing. So she started her own travel group ChaloLetsGo to connect people like her who want to be with nature and explore as much as possible. It's been more than 5 years now and she is doing great with many more dreams waiting to be fulfilled...!
                                                                                                                 

"Continue blasting your way through life!" another message said.
Yesss... I will keep rocking and enjoying the beauty around till I am there on this beautiful earth. I thought.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rejuvinate Yourself at Aamari Resort Ramgarh

I get invites from many big and small properties but I hardly get time to visit and review them all. This time around when I got the invite from Aamari resorts, a luxury resort in Nainital, something clicked. May be it was the perfect weather for an outing or it's location - the quaint Kumaon hills or it was meant to be like this. The property looked inviting in pictures on the net. So without any second thought, I instantly finalized the plan and headed towards it the very next day.

Started early morning from Indirapuram. Around a kilometer before Gajraula when I was looking for a place to have breakfast, an interesting sign board attracted my attention - "Enroute - The Dhaba". The place looked interesting, so thought of checking it out. A very good decision it was to stop there. The ambiance, the cleanliness, the staff all looked perfect. And the food was just amazingly delicious. (review in another post). Such a good start it was to the trip. 

It was an enjoyable 8 hrs journey through the villages, green fields and small market places. I took a detour from the highway through Suar and Kaladungi to make the drive more interesting. The road condition also is better on this route than the highway. Via Kathgodam, Nainital and Bhowali, driving on the picturesque road through pines I reached Ramgarh.

The scent of pines and the lovely view of the valley and the snow covered peaks welcomed me to my lovely abode - The Amaari Resort. 


Picture by Vinod Verma


The smiling staff showed me around and took me to my room. It's a huge property with 22 rooms and 3 villas located on a hill, Mine was a well designed room with huge glass window overlooking the valley. A hot shower after a somewhat tiring journey refreshed me to the core. A small walk in the woods there after made me forget all the worries and hurries of the busy city life and I was fully in the holiday mood.

The next day was spent exploring the surroundings. There's a lot that can be done in the area. Go to Mukteshwar temple located on a top of the hill, do bird watching at Maheshkhan, visit Sitla for a panoramic view of the gorgeous snow covered Himalayan ranges or just relax at the resort. I went to explore the nearby village Nathuakhan. Had fun time interacting with locals and having local sweets and snacks. After a tiring day, my evening was spent relaxing at the resort and enjoying the play of colors on the sky that created dramatic patterns along with clouds.

Picture by Vinod Verma

WHAT I LOVED:

The location:
A cozy corner in my room
The place had a welcoming aura to it.  It is placed beautifully on a hill amidst pine forest with a wonderful view of Himalayan peaks and is perfect for those looking for a relaxing vacation in the lap of nature.  Most of my time was spent by the huge glass window in my room sipping tea and watching the sky and peaks changing colors. I wasn't surprised to hear that Aamari is built on the same hill where the famous writer & poet – Rabindranath Tagore wrote the verses of his Nobel Award Winning Epic Geetanjali and also Poetess and Freedom Fighter Mahadevi Verma got the idea of writing her famous story “Lachma”.


The pool
The infinity pool overlooking the Himalayan ranges and the valley is the highlight of the resort. 

The range of activities:
Inspite of its remote location the resort has a wide range of activities to offer for all age groups and interests. The games room for kids, outdoor activities for the teenagers and adventurous lot, a well equipped gym for health freaks, the spa and sauna for relaxing, nature walks and bird watching for nature lovers. This makes the resort ideal getaway for group of friends, families and corporate, precisely everyone!

Activities in the resort

The classy restaurant and the smiling staff:
Tastefully done interiors combined with the tasty food and perfect service made the dining experience something to remember.
The well groomed local staff ever-ready to talk and help was commendable.

Picture by Vinod Verma








My cozy room, sleeping to the sound of wind passing through the pines, waking up to see the valley being slowly lit by warm sun rays, the nature and village walks in the day, the evening snacks and hot cup of tea by the pool side, watching the changing colors of the evening sky and sleeping while watching the stars at night... I loved it all!
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Calm in the Chaos - VARANASI

A humble try it is to understand the phenomenon called  Varanasi, not as an expert but as someone who has visited it just twice.


It is a city full of chaos. Be it the slow paced traffic of cars, cows, rickshaw, cycle and pedestrians all on the same bumpy road with continuous honking from all sides; or the streets and lanes, not even wide enough for 2 people to walk side by side, full of people, cows and even bikes running on them... You can expect anything to come from anywhere and hit you. And mind you, don't expect a sorry. The accused will smile at you and move further.
Inspite of all the chaos hardly did I see anyone getting irritated or shouting at each other. There is a strange calm that drive these people. It's hard to say where it comes from. It can be their faith in the place they live in and the spiritual aura that surrounds it. Or it can be the patience they have developed over time by experiencing the chaos day and night Or have they gotten so use to of all this, it no more feels like a chaos? Whatever it may be, it is exceptional.

Another aspect that attracts my attention is "Thugs of Banraras". I have heard stories about the pandas... how people would give all their belongings to them and get killed at Banaras to attain salvation. I hope it no more exists but till today people are being fooled on the name of salvation. Pandas take huge amounts to perform rituals and collect money. And faith makes them do it all. They get robbed willingly and return happy. Who would decide if they are fooled or they get (bought) what they were looking for - the inner peace, at cost of  whatever. Who cares!

The ghats are no less amazing. While one ghat gives you a calm serene feeling with cheerful crowd hanging around and nice book stores and cafes to be at; some other ghat gives you an eerie feeling with strange looking people hanging around as if each one is carrying a secret within.
At some place on the same river they are dumping garbage and at some other place they are taking holy bath.


There are ghats that are cursed and there are ghats that give you salvation.

Every day thousands of dead bodies come here for burning. I am amazed to see how normal it is for the people here, or so it seems. They seem to be unaffected by the presence of dead, mere thought of which shakes us from within. Again in the chaos of burning the dead, there is a peace and calm. There is a silent understanding that what comes has to go one day.


Strange chaos it is,  full of calm!


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Monday, January 9, 2017

Pangong Lake - A Gorgeous Wonder!



The journey was no less than the destination...
It is an amazingly beautiful drive of around 6hrs from Leh on a dramatic mountain terrain via Karu and Sekti village.

We started early morning with Tenzing, an experienced and cheerful driver from Leh. We drove through the vast barren landscapes with small villages and some greenery appearing every now and then. This was followed by the barren mountains of interesting shades of blue, grey and purple. They soon started to get white with snow and was fully snow covered as we approached The Chang La (17,590 ft.), world's third highest pass. We took a break to have hot meal of maggi and bread omelette at then-highest cafe of the world. Now the highest cafe is at Khardung La.
As the day progressed water on the roads started increasing. Glad we were to have listened to our driver and started early morning.

Travel Tip - One need to hire cab from Leh as taxis from outside Leh are not allowed to ply on this road. Start from Leh as early as possible. Water on roads will keep increasing as day advances.

 
The view of the road that we came driving on from Chang La

It is always good to start as early as possible from Leh 

The drive was more or less smooth except for a few places near the pass. There are many interesting road signs from BRO that make the journey even more enjoyable. Below are a few of them that fascinated me:
"Be gentle on my curves."
"Don't be a gamma in the land of Lama"
"Darling I want you but not so fast"
"Feel the curves, do not test them"
"Mountains are pleasure only if you drive with leisure"
"Love the neighbor but not while driving" 

A little farther on the road we met these cute little creatures called Marmots. They came out of their burrows as we were passing by. They did not seem to be shy at all. Rather they seemed curious and playful. It was fun playing with them and clicking them.

A curious Marmot spotted on the way to Pangong approaching the camera 

The Gorgeous Pangong Tso...
While we were still in the awe of meeting marmots, we saw a hint of brilliant blue in the barren brown terrains. I could not believe my eyes. The whole tiredness and the cold disappeared and we were filled with a joy, excitement and anticipation of what is in store. The moment is still engraved on my mind. It was surreal to see almost every shade of blue in sparkling water in these barren lands.

Brilliant hues of blue in the barren brown terrain - the first view of Pangong lake
This was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations of nature that I had ever seen. The sight of unending expanse of deep blue water and the spectacular Changchenmo range in the backdrop. 

This beautiful Himalayan lake Pangong Tso (Tibetan for "high grassland lake") is situated at a height of about 14,270 ft and is 134 km long. It extends from India to China and around one-third of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point.

Pangong is one of the largest brackish water lakes of Asia

The fascinating fact about Pangong Lake is that it has saline water and even then the water freezes. There is no aquatic life but some migratory birds can be spotted. It was a visual delight to watch the gulls and ducks play over the beautiful lake

Brown headed Gulls at Pangong

The first place we crossed was the army camp at Lukung. From here till Spangmik, the road was merely stone filled dirt track. Spangmik is the last village till where foreigners can go with an inner line permit.

Spending night with the locals at the height of 14,270 ft. ...
The village has merely 5-6 houses of which 2 provide the facility of home-stay. We chose to stay in one of them rather than at the camps nearby; One, because in a remote place like this I want to contribute to the economy of the place and second, I love to experience the local life and interact with locals.

Me with my hosts in the neatly organised kitchen of our home-stay at Spagmik

The evening was spent in the kitchen-cum-common room chatting and having endless cups of tea. There was a biker who had come from Bangalore and was exploring Himalayas from past one month on his bike. I still remember his adventure tales that inspired me to do Leh-Khardung La on bike.
The hot dal-chawal and ladakhi rotis with vegetables tasted heavenly delicious in the chilling cold of Ladakh. We were provided with a cozy room with wooden flooring covered with carpets and wooden roof. The bedding was warm and comfortable. And the hospitality of the hosts made it even better.

The home-stay at village Spagmik
One can also stay in the camps on the shores of the lake. The camps are made of canvas and the floors are covered with jute carpet to provide warmth. Each camp has an attached bathroom with cold running water. Thick blankets and a hot water bag is provided for warmth.
On the way back we visited Shay and Thiksey monasteries.

This was undoubtedly one of my best journeys so far. Have already visited Pangong thrice and every time it seems more beautiful.


P.S.- Pictures are clicked while on a road trip Himalayan Voyage with INDIAN TERRAINS in June 2012 and July 2014


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