Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Alibaug

At the time of sunrise
Fresh clean air, small busy town, and most interestingly just a stone's throw away from Mumbai. Hard to believe eh? That Saturday, 16 Dec 2006, was quite a warm day in Mumbai, and we had an appointment to keep with the small beach town by the coast - Alibaug. Unfortunately although we were supposed to be 8 of us; busy city schedules and unplanned activities made it possible for just the 3 of us to keep that appointment. Although at first we were a little disappointed that the others dropped out, the place and our host, R made the holiday worthwhile.
We met at the docks, and embarked on to the 5.30 pm launch to Mandwa. No ferries go upto Alibaug since the waters on the coast are shallow. The weather changed gradually in the next 45 mins as we drifted away from Mumbai towards Mandwa. We caught the lovely sunset.

Ship at sea
The sea was dotted with a few cruise liners, one particularly good looking Luxury Liner, many launches, some catamarans (the only difference between these and the launches are that they move on 2 hulls, making them more sophisticated and stable -with fewer jerks...I am talking about the physical ones and not the human jerks ;) While we sailed past, the birds were returning back to their homes, and the seagulls tried to grab their last bite in the vast oceans.
At 6.20 pm sharp we disembarked at Mandwa. Had we been 8 as planned earlier, we would have to take a bus to Alibaug, but then R was sweet enough to play the gracious host and came specially to pick us up in his vehicle. The car looked brand new and we were surprised to know that he had already done 1,00,000 kms in it!!! I guess these are the benefits of living in Alibaug - even the car shows it :)

The ride to Alibaug was ~25 mins by road. The winds were chilly, and the air fresh n clean. An hour fm Mumbai, and here was a different world. Dotted with wadis - small independent houses with their own little orchards/ back + frontyards. Some modernised, while some still retained the old world charm.

We first went to grab some food since we are forever hungry souls. We had some "ragda pattice" at a popular corner and moved on to Versoli beach, just 3 kms from Alibaug. This is where we would stay until the end of tomorrow. After depositing our bags there we moved on to the beach. The time was well past 8.00 pm. The sun had set without a trace. We walked on the sands under the dark night sky. It was closer to new moon, so we had a panoramic view of the night sky, with very little moonlight. We were lucky to see a shooting star too. It looked so beautiful when it shot right past the skies across zillions of galaxies. I hummed to myself ...

"Starlight, starbright,
The first star I see tonite.
I wish I may, I wish I might.
I wish my dreams come true tonite"

Interestingly, we four were not the only souls that night at the beach. There were other beach bums, some merely drinking, some enjoying the sea breeze and some others contemplating at a distance from the shores whether it was safe to take that nice walk along the sea. Luckily we had R with us, who is a local and so we felt safe just by his presence.
While we strolled, B suddenly remembered some ghastly tales. She said they were true tales about ghosts which she had watched on the channel Travel n Living. She went on to relate the ghastly tales about a haunted home. The channel name she dropped did lend the whole tale credibility.

Then suddenly a thought crossed my mind. The conversation that transpired....
Me : R do you believe in Ghosts?
R : No
Me : is it because you believe in God and so you dont believe in Ghosts?
R : No I dont believe in God either
Me (surprised) : and whyever not?
R : It would be hypocritical to believe in the positive or the negative alone. Where there is good there is evil too. So I would rather not believe in either :)
M (thoughtful): Hmmm... that's interesting

The night sky was a delight. The walk got us all hungry and I was keen for my plate of fish. R took us to a nearby joint which served some delicious varieties of fish and local fare.
We then split, promising to meet at sunrise. Just before that R reminded us that the guesthouse we were put up at belonged to an Exorcist :). Thank God! for that.

Palms lining the beach
The next day, passed by rather quickly. A quick walk to Versoli beach, which was just a few minutes from our guesthouse, to watch the sunrise.
The first sunrays
R joined us by then, in time for our breakfast. Had a long chat, about travels and plans, over a hot cuppa. Spent a few more minutes at the guesthouse and then got going. B noticed some gooseberry and supari trees in the guesthouse frontyard. So she had them plucked...anxious to check out the taste :)
The Supari palm
On the itinerary next was a fort right in the middle of the sea. Called the Kolaba fort, the only way to access it is on foot or by a buggy. However care needs to be taken to make sure that whichever route you take you need to be back before high tide. At the time we decided to go there, the low tide had just about set in, so the waters were not very shallow; and we decided to take the buggy ride. Not easy! Dink, donk, clunk....those were my bones bumping into each other while the horse waded through the Alibaug waters.

The (in)famous buggy ride
It took about 30 mins to look around the fort - 2 old Brit Canons, the Someshwar temple and the magnificient view of the seas from the top.
From a distance (the Kolaba fort)Old Brit Canons
From the fort
Sorry R! I dont remember any historic details, thanks to that shaky ride on the buggy. My grey cells got completely jammed! ;) Also the heavy breakfast I had grabbed just before the buggy ride only made matters worst :p

Once back, we went quickly for our lunch, some desserts and then R dropped us off at Mandwa. We took a catamaran back home. This time since we had learnt from the trip the previous day, we asked specially for tickets to the top deck. The view was blissful. There were some funny humans with us who fed the seagulls(chips, biscuits, and God alone knows what else) almost the entire way back, so through the journey we had an entire flock of seagulls on our trail :). In case you haven't figured out, you would by now why species get endangered and then extinct. Whoever said Seagulls love Fritolays!

As we approached the shore, we could smell Mumbai....
Such a striking contrast, an hour away fm Mumbai lies a blissfully peaceful beachtown, which offers so much solace to the aching ears and tired minds. However, just like any small town, it faces shortage of infrastructure - power cuts for ~4-6 hours daily.

In this small town, our friend R, the enterprising guy that he is, runs a communications centre (the only communications centre). His challenge is to ensure that he is able to provide internet facility through the day, even when the power is cut. He runs on generators and invertors and makes sure that his business does not stop, and customers never disappointed. We need more like him don't we :)

As for Alibaug....would definitely be there more often :)

Special thanks to R for the lovely holiday and B for the great pics! :)
Before memories fade....







Alibagh

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ganapatipule beach holiday

Achoo! I went, achoo! again. Oh God! I hope I make it this time to Ganapatipule, a beach that has been on my check list for long. And thank God, we managed to take that weekend (1st weekend of Dec, 2006) off to G'pule.

There are 3 ways to get there. Either one drives down or opts for a bus or train. The journey being 8 hrs long, we thought train would be a better idea. The closest station to G'pule is Ratnagiri which is connected to the mainland by the Konkan Railway - all credits to the Konkan rail go to Mr.Sridharan, bless him for it and for the wonderful metro-rail network that he is putting in place in Delhi and Mumbai. I sure wish there are many more like him.

The Matsyagandha train beginning at Tilaknagar terminus, Mumbai and terminating at Goa, left the station at 2.00 pm and got us off at the Ratnagiri station at 9.00 pm the same night. The road journey to Ganapatipule from Ratnagiri was a pleasant one hour drive, complemented by good roads.

By the time we checked into the rooms, it was well past 11.00 pm. Our plans had worked out just fine so far. The nomenclature "Sea view" rooms was not a let down since the rooms were indeed right by the beach. They were on a hillock ~30 ft above sea level. The rooms had a porch which opened onto the sea and the sands.The path outside

Right by the room
While I lay on the ledge, there was nothing or no one that came between me and the pristine sands and vast ocean....I turned around to lie on my back to see the dark skies sprinkled with stars....almost like a part of designer bridal collection (a la Tahiliani) - dark prussian satin with shining silver sequins.

Early morning skies
The next morning, we were up early by 6.30 am. A lazy stroll on the virgin sands, the cool winds caressing us, sent a gentle chill down the spine. The sun was still wondering whether it was too early to rise. When it finally did, the gentle morning rays unvieled a flock of little birds busy with their morning ablutions. It was a delight to see them in flight.
As we continued the stroll, we looked back occasionally at the footprints we left behind in the sands, and were reminded of the Psalm of Life by Longfellow.......

.....Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.


Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.



Two generations...
It was 9.00 am and time to get back to the rooms for our morning chores. Had a good hot bath followed by some tasty Maharashtrian fare for breakfast - masala chai and kanda poha. Not bad. The morning was spent lazing around on the porch , dreamily observing the now azure skies and palms gracefully swaying in the breeze. The waves that moved back and forth tirelessly, the trollers that busily went about their daily routine.

So much calm & serenity; the only sound was that of an occasional bird and the waves that danced to the tune of the gentle breeze, almost like an opera to the conductor. Each time the winds blew harder, the waves lashed out higher......completely in sync :)

A quick lunch at the closest bhojnalay, and we set out to look around.Some places we visited.....
Ganapatipule temple
Ganapatipule temple, right by the beach. While the entrance to the temple lies along the roadside, the temple opens onto the beach. What a lovely sight. The deity worshipped is Swayambu Ganapati (the Elephant headed God).

An unusual banyan tree
We also saw a century old Lighthouse, albeit from a distance. On way to Jaigad fort was an interesting Banyan tree, with trunk at the extreme left and the foliage all bent towards the sea (pic above). Very little is known about the fort - who built it, who resided there, is pretty much a mystery. The fort remains on the list of the Archealogical Society of India, as a piece for preservation. The only reason of visiting the fort, was the view from the top.

Atop Jaigad fort
By the time we got back that evening, it was late. But were keen to watch the sunset. So back we went to take a dip in the ocean, and soak the atmosphere while the sun set.
Sunset at the beach
We then headed for dinner; the main course followed by some delicious 'modak' - a jaggery based sweetdish. It is almost like a sweet momo. Made of ground blackgram and rice flour steamed with a filling of coconut, jaggery and cardamom. Yum....

That night while I lay on my bed, I pulled back the curtain to look out at the ocean which was clearly visible on the moonlit night. The silhouette of the palms and pines made for a lovely picture.

The only time I regretted being there was when I could not have some good fresh catch (fish) for my meals. Imagine being on the Konkan coast and not being able to bite into some delicious fresh fish in coconut curry or simply in fried / tandoored form. But well as usual Pari, my kind, amiable better half came to my rescue. He said "dont you worry! we are not leaving this place until you have had your fill" and off we set out to Ratnagiri. The road journey takes an hour and fifteen minutes and is ~48 kms long. Unlike Ganapatipule which does not serve nonveg fare owing to the vicinity to temple (holy) premises, Ratnagiri has some good fish served at reasonably priced places.

Since the entire day was to be spent at Ratnagiri, we decided to make the most of it. We hired a vehicle to take us around to some popular, historic spots. We visited the home of Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak, the man who popularised Sarvajanik Ganapati celebrations (community celebrations during Ganesh chaturthi), with the objective of spreading awareness and support for the Indian Freedom struggle.

Some of the other places which deserve a mention are - Museum by the Fisheries dept; which houses the skeleton of a huge Whale (Devmasa),
Bhatye beach,
The Thebaw palace; home to the Burmese king Thebaw (1858-1916) which finds mention in Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace,
Thebaw point, an attempt by the inhabitants of Ratnagiri to have a recreational spot of historic significance,
Patita pawan temple, the first temple where Veer Savarkar allowed non brahmins to worship Lord Vishu and Lakshmi

After the regular site seeing, we went to a hot fish spot ;), and relished some freshly fried surmai and solkadi (a coconut milk and kokum based accompaniment)


There are friends who ask me whether Taarkarli or Ganapatipule is a better beach. While the sands are more clean at Taarkarli, Ganapatipule has some great views as the cottage is housed on a hillock.

I would cherish this trip as long as I am not down with Alzheimer's!, and as for you...I will leave you with something to look forward to....

Somewhere
- Linda Harnett

Oh, to be lying,
On a beach,
Somewhere,
With sand in my toes,
And the wind,
In my hair.

And only the sound,
Of the seagulls,
On high,
On a beach,
Somewhere,
Under sunny blue sky.

The gentle caress,
Of the waves,
On the shore,
And you close,
Beside me,
Could I ask for more?

A soft sandy beach,
That goes on,
Forever,
You, me,
And a beach,
So happy together.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Goa

Thank you Manish for this lovely piece ....u guys sure ate a lot ;). We had been to Goa a long while ago, must be close to 7 yrs now. I did make a business trip there last year, but that wasn't as much fun as being there on a holiday :) Thank you for rekindling good ol' memories.

Over to Manish.....
We are back from our Goa trip and heres a brief update for your blog.......
We started from Delhi on Trivandrum Rajdhani which leaves Hazrat Nizammudin at 1100 hrs and reached Goa the next day at 1500 hrs a full 1 day and 5hrs. We have been enquired a number of times as to why we didnt take a flight and all about flight fares being cheaper. Of course, flight fares have nosedived and we have no nostalgia attached to good old train journey but still train remains cheaper especially if you are travelling with small kids. We had two, 4 and 6 years old and you have to pay full discounted fare for them whereas train you buy only 2 1/2 tickets.Anyway, we had kept a lot of activities books for the kids and Jo had brought a set of 5 Cosmopolitons , i thinks it was their 10th anniversary issue.
Marquis Beach Resort
We arrived in Goa and checked into our hotel by the Grand name of "Marquis Beach Resort" (seen above in pic) at Candolim Beach , bordering the Taj Heritage village and Kingfishers House of Vijay Malaya. It is spread over 4 acres of land , having a beautiful landscaped garden and a swimming pool. Its USP is that it is absolutely close to the Beach. As close as you could possibly be. You just walk out of the hotel and you are on the Beach.

The Candolim Beach is a beautiful strech and it is not very crowded. Not many outsiders snooping into your privacy. No wonder it is shared by the likes of Vijay Mallaya and Taj Village. It overlooks the Fort Aquada, on its left and has the Calangute Beach on its right. Lots of activities and water sports are available which I will tell later. The only sore point is a stranded ship "River Princess" which has been there for the past 6 to 7 years. Having arrived after a long journey we straight headed for the pool.

Cooling off at the pool
Later the evening was spent with live music at the resort, that had announced "A night with a lady singer" Somehow the lady always stayed in the background. Good Prawns are served here. We started our day by doing what became a ritual for the next three days i.e. jumping in the sea and playing the waves and then cooling at the pool. Hired two Honda sooters available at the hotel gate for Rs 300/- each with petrol extra.

Little Miss Muffet
We took a long trip to Arambol beach which is on the northern most tip of Goa around 30kms, and on the way visited the Baga Beach, missed Anjuna, stopped over at the beautiful Mandrem beach and finally hit the wild Arambol. Goa near Candolim was sophisticated but as you move north it becomes more and more wild.

At Baga we met Leo who handed us a surprise gift sponsored by a resort celebrating its 14th anniversary, a T shirt for me and a 7 day free stay for two at Bali, Thailand or 14 days at Goa for Jo. Of course we were told to participate in a 1 hour presentation which we wriggled out. The Baga beach in day time resembled Chowpatty. The surprise was Mandrem beach, which is surrounded by coconut trees and gives a magnificient view.

We
were told that the sand at North Goa is golden whereas it is silver/white in the south, some difference. The way to Arambol is through a small lane where you bump into dirty looking foreigners riding bikes.Another 1 km ahead is the Arambol Keri beach , if you are looking for those nude ones.

We had dinner at "Sweet Chilli" as suggested by Leo. Its a place
where the local crowds hang out. The place had lovely live music and the singer played to the gallery as he had few friends sitting and rooting for him.He even played " Una paloma Balanca" , "I just called to say I love you," and "Summer Holiday" for my kids.Good place to prawns and Goan Fish curry chawal. We started our next day deciding to stay put at the Beach and not to move out. After playing the waves, we took a ride on the water scooter, I thought Karthik would fly off. We then went for a ride on the speed boat for dolphin spotting. The speed Boat took us at a point from where you could see the mouth of River Mandovi.Amazingly , there were 20 other boats waiting to spot these dolphins, poor little mammals.We did spot quite a few travelling in threesomes diving to hide themselves being surrounded, rather hounded by hundreds of eager onlookers. On the way back Mahika slept off on the speed boat.
Watching the kids...
We got back to our resort and cooled ourselves in the pool. We had lunch at the "Calamari Shack". It is famous for hosting the grand beach marriages, the "Salaam Namaste' types. I had to try Feni, I was a bit >conservative so I took it with Sprint, otherwise i was told that It smells really bad. It gives a great feeling of being in trance and you feel being a part of the sea.Jo tried King Prawns which were sumptous and I tried Fish. A bit expensive and uppity, but highly recommended.A bit of afternoon seista, then swimming in the pool and then we were ready for a night out. this time we tried " The Stone house". It is a place frequented by mostly foreigners especially The British. a decent ambience, the service is slow but the staff will explain it to you that when you are in Goa you relax.

The next day was our anniversary, the most uneventful day, We met my
brothers family who were staying with a group of friends at one of the celeb bunglows, closeby, were the gleterrati stays. Karthik and Mahika were most excited on seeing their cousins. While Jo went for an ayurvedic Massage I caught up with some gup shup with family and their friends and some beer. Played water polo with a bunch of 11 -12 year olds.Lunch was good old rajmah Chawal, I was getting sick with the sight if Jhinga kekras.

The kids took to the sea with me. Unfortunately Mahika started having slight temperature,but her spirits were high. She was not willing to miss the fun. The group decided to have a full fleged water polo match which was chaotic.In the evening we decided to be on our own. My bros family was sweet enough to baby sit my kids and the kids were thirlled to be in the company of their older cousins and their friends. We decided to go to Baga by the night on our hired scooter, which we were told is the most happening place in Goa. Went to Brittos. It is one of the oldest restaurants and opens on to the sea.We got a nice table near the beach, but there was no music. had our candle night dinner. One of our friends were also in Goa and we caught up with them. Went to a rocking place called "Mambos" It had an entry fee of Rs 300 per couple. They were having a Retro nite. Played great music ....."I want to break Free..., Doors and the works..... They crowd started getting more and more and the place got full when we decided to leave and enter. Had a couple of beers at a place called "Lazy Days, and caught up with some gossip. Called up the day at 0100 hrs suddenly remembering the call of duty, Picked up Mahika who was better after having couple of doses of crocin syrup.
Another day....
The next day was a final stroll at the beach and sadly time to say "goodbye Goa" . The kids refused to move insisting that we stay there for 20 days..... If not 20 we really feel one should at least stay for goa for at least 7 days, but then there is always a next time... this was our first trip to goa together as a family but we will be back again.... This time perhaphs will stay at South Goa , to see if the sand there is really white..... but that will be another story.... Until then.... Goa we love you.....

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rajasthan

November 2004...

We landed in Baroda at 3.00 am....thanks to my cousin who took the pain to pick us and get us home to his place.

Baroda has changed.........looks more like a metropolis (not as bad as Mumbai tho')

Our bus ride from Baroda to Ahmedabad was quick.....three cheers to Vajpayeeji!!!...the express way couldn't have been better. Ahmedabad dint meet our expectations.........highly polluted and sickening...our eyes were watering. We spent the evening at Mc Donalds (the most familiar and comfortable place we could find). Were we relieved to get out of Ahmedabad?!

The journey from Ahmedabad to Jodhpur was comfortable(except that I got tossed around easily like a lone noodle in a pan). Began at 9.45 pm on 9th Nov and we reached Jodhpur at 5.00 am. Toured around the place

Jodhpur - the blue city. All houses here are painted blue. The story goes that the paint containing a pesticide was used in the good old days to ward off insects, and this was blue in colour. So the blue city!..... Today however, it is simply a trend to get your house painted blue....if you live in Jodhpur.We did pick up Jodhpuris back there :)

... the Umaid palace, which has 365 rooms of which only 16 are still with the royal family as residence. The rest have been converted into a Hotel (which is still run by the royal family) and a few other rooms now function as a museum. This is one of the most recently built Asian palaces. Earlier the Raja used to reside at the Meherangarh fort...but later he got the Umaid palace built and moved there - interestingly as the folk tales go....he got the Umaid Palace built to provide livelihood to the inhabitants of Jodhpur........some say that the artisans who built it did so for a meagre meal a day...that's how bad the situation was.

The Meherangarh fort (the spot used in many ads ...where women are shown peeping out of he 'Jhankis' (little windows all around the central chowk.) We had a lovely time at the fort...a rooftop candlelight dinner (the food was tasty, simple....but a little pricey)

The local bazaar vends typically rajasthani stuff - handloom, leather joothis and bags and artefacts. We opted for joothis and leather ware.

That night we set out to Jaisalmer . A 6 hour train journey which gets one off at the Jaisalmer station by 5.00 am. There was a chill in the air while we made a quick beeline to the Jaisalmer fort where we were put up. One of the only forts (~850 yrs old) that we have seen which has an entire city based within it. With growing demand for space, Jaisalmer city has extended outside the fort. To get a real feel of what Jaisalmer is all about we decided to stay within the fort, in a haweli which is partly occupied by the original inhabitants and partly lent out to tourists.

Jaisal castle....the haveli where we stayed...is really intricately carved out of sand stone and a lovely place to simply sit, eat...relax. The structures in Jaisalmer are mostly sandstone structures (very little concrete). The old hawelis use the interlocking system to hold the sandstones together. All hawelis exhibit ' fine jaali' work which are simply beautiful. The sandstone remains cool all day and all night.So even when it is really hot in summers the homes remain cool due to the sandstone.

We shopped for camel leather bags and some neat bedcovers at great bargains. Living inside the fort has a charm of its own. Infact some resident of the fort actually told us that they felt good having fellow Indians inside the fort, since it is largely phirangs who are found here. Primarily because when Indians are out on a holiday they believe in luxurious living....not one among the local folk which has an added local flavour.

There is a really old Jain mandir inside the fort! (about 250 yrs old).

We took a guided tour of the Patwaon ki haweli, Salem Singh ki haweli and Nathmal haweli. Patwaon is beautiful - no wonder that Indira Gandhi got the govt, way back in the 70s', to purchase one wing of it for a few lakhs.(they say around 5lakh of Rupees!!!).This is indeed not much given that it would cost a couple of crores to set up something similar today. Right now there is restoration work being carried out there.

The synotaphs. These are little stone umbrella like structures created over the tombstones of the dead during the British era.Against the backdrop of the synotaphs, and well beyond can be seen the Jaisalmer fort. Ghari sagar dam. A famous spot for hindi movies in late 80s. (You could actuallly visualise a Sridevi or Jayaprada dancing inside one of those sandstone structures with a dome top.)

Below are pictures from the Camel safari that we embarked. The journey on camel back began late afternoon and we reached the Sam-sandunes in time to watch the lovely sunset.
This was followed with a ride to the Swiss tent, where we stayed overnight and got up early enough to watch the sunrise in the Sam-sandunes.
Some pics below :


These pics were shot by Pari in a matter of few minutes at the same spot, while the sun set beyond the Jaisal fort.....among the Sam sand-dunes.

After witnessing picturesque Jaisalmer, what remained was some tummy delights. Our all-time favourite is the tall-glass of makhniya lassi available for Rs.15/- at the most exotic of places.
It is sweetened curd, whipped well and garnished with saffron, pistachio and almonds. For the less health conscious, it comes with a layer of cream on top! :))

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Taarkarli beach


"Known as the Tahiti of Konkan"
We took this trip in 2004. It was a weekend trip in the month of January. Taarkarli is a virgin beach on the Konkan coast, a few hundred kilometers before one hits Goa. It takes ~8 hrs by road to get there. We however opted for a ~6 hr train journey to Kudal and an hour and a half drive down to Taarkarli. The road journey is through the villages and offers a flavour of the native culture, homes, people whilst getting there.
We stayed at the MTDC "Konkan huts", as the cottages are fondly referred to. The cottages are ~60 in no. , each complete with a hammock and a palm tree by its' side. We landed there at around 10.00 am, refreshed ourselves, got into swimwear and walked right to the ocean, which is only a few steps from the cottages. After a refreshing bath, we lay in our hammocks with a book and the quiet sea breeze and graceful waves making it to the shores; for company.
The food, is made to order. It is best therefore that one tells the cooks a little in advance, since otherwise you might end ravenous with nothing to eat :)

The next day was reserved for a river cruise upto the Karli river,

Bhogve and Deobagh beaches which are a just a few kms on either side of Taarkarli. Virgin indeed! we could hardly see another soul in sight ; and the popular Sindhudurg fort, where "Dil Chahta hai" had been shot. At the Deobagh and Bhogve beaches, we caught some seagulls hunting for food.

We made the trip to Sindhudurg fort by ferry. It was a Sunday, so we had a few locals, and a few weekend picnic goers for company. The fort is situated in the sea, and spread across a few acres. Like all sites in Maharashtra, this too has its history linked to the valiant Chatrapati Shivaji, although it is now yet called the CSF (the Chatrapati Shivaji Fort!!!).
We were shown around the place by the guide,
and he made special reference to some hand prints (which looked more like a 14 yr olds) in the concrete, which he said belonged to Shivaji Maharaj. Pari managed to find some eco wonders like 2 palms on a single trunk

When we got back in the afternoon, we grabbed a quick lunch (which we had ordered for when we left early for the tour) and proceeded to the market area.The market area is not as crowded as a city market, but the shops are well stocked. We managed to pick up some cashews - that the Konkan belt is known for and some Kokum syrup flavoured with local yummy spices. It was late in the evening while we walked back from the markets, and so we grabbed some pakodas and chai to go with it. The pakodas were simply delicious - they were made of fenugreek leaves ("methi") and were so fresh that they simply melted in the mouth.

We caught the shimmering yellow skies with hues of orange, while the sun set. Before we got back home, we headed for a local restaurant that served yummy "solkadi" (made from kokum) and varieties of the fresh catch.

Special thanks to Hemant and Ajit without whom I would not have been able to upload the pics. Tnx Guys!





Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ladakh


"
A dream becomes reality"
With few words to express the ephemeral, unreal, celestial experience, I choose to resort
to my normal style of writing, which is "dramatic". However no words could do justice to what we experienced........you gotto be there to believe it!

In the month of August 2005, after having always had to sadly let go the idea at the last minute, on account of several reasons, we managed to embark on our journey to the beautiful land. We were in all 29 ppl (yes that includes us).We had for company, a small group of photographers, doctors, architects and.....corporate zombies like ourselves.

The last few weeks had aroused many anxieties, owing to the relentless rainfall paralysing the city and it's rail services, and also owing to the past experiences of having to cancel the trip at the last minute.....we were to say the least 'simply hopeful'

The rain Gods blessed us......the waters had subsided allowing us to carry on with our "mission" of visiting the land of The Buddha.......quiet, serene, peaceful and compassionate........I fall short of words here.

The packing took a while - it was simply because the temperatures could vary from -5 deg celcius to 25 deg celcius and we needed to be equipped for it. The cameras were all set to roll, we carried with us more rolls than we had imagined........a recharger for the batteries......a few woolens and warm clothes thrown in......jacket, scarfs...hmm quite a 'bagful'.

Our first destination was Chandigarh, after travelling ~27 hrs on rail..... we had an evening to ourselves before we proceeded to Manali.

At Chandigarh, on the evening of the 9th, we visited the Rock gardens and the Pinjore gardens. Nekchand's marvel is definitely an architectural delight....our very own botanical gardens with 'stuff from the attic & basement' thrown in....old tiles.....faucets.....broken earthen ware....

We arrived at the Pinjore gardens by ~10.00 pm enroute to Manali, it was lit and we had crickets and glow worms for company. It is a huge park which is being underutilised - that's our take!

It was a comfortable night in the bus.....the driver was speeding initially and was then instructed strictly to follow speed limits laid down ; to avoid any mishaps. We touched Sundernagar at ~6.00 am...it was chilly...really chilly....we spent a few minutes there and then proceeded to Kulu /Manali. It was our first visit to Manali.....the drive was indeed beautiful with lovely apple orchards and waves of coloured glories (the sight of the flora was refreshing).....apples, sunflowers, cosmos, asters, dandelions.... We got off at Manali on the morning of 10th and spent time until the morning of 11th there.
Here is where we visited the Hadimba temple and Manu mandir. We are not much of 'temple ppl' (if you understand what I mean). My personal belief is that only a handful of temples can be referred to as 'sanctum santorum' .....and these in my opinion were not the sort.

Evenings were meant for shopping.......keen to pick up a monks garb I realised that I wouldn't be able to display it anywhere...and on myself....the idea seemed far fetched. However we visited this little shop across the monastry which stocked some 'lucky charms and souvenirs' and picked up a few.

The next morning, 11th August we took off in our respective jeeps for Leh.........11th Aug night halt at Keylong,

12th Aug night halt at SARCHU (yes you are right....I have indeed mentioned Sarchu in "caps"......not without reason ....will explain a little later when I get there....patience!) and 13th August is when we finally hit Leh after spending the afternoon at Pang.

What is indeed important to remember is that the group was all Mumbaites....used to living and surviving at sea level and , Leh is at ~10000 ft above sea level. The three day trip to Leh via Keylong (dist Lahoul Spiti), treacherous Sarchu and Pang were a means to acclimatise our bodies to the high altitudes.

11th night at Keylong......was .......hmmm....unexpected. We turned lucky when we got to meet the Head Lama of the Dugkpa sect. (the buddist religion has four sects - the Nimma Guligkpa, Dugkpa, Karjut...the last one I cant quite recall). Dugchen is the head lama for the Dugkpa sect while the Dalai Lama (currently Tenzin Gyatso) heads the Gilugkpa sect. He blessed us all.......I think that was the reason that we got past SARCHU :)

Next on our tour map was the journey to treacherous SARCHU, around 15000 ft above sea level. We reached there on the 12th night. By evening time ~90% of us were breathless, heavy headed and felt nauseatic. Most of us had thrown up and hallucinated through the night through temperatures of -5 deg cel, in swiss tents.....the night seemed endless.......shivering, throwing up, bandanas tied around heads to prevent them from throbbing. The locals insisted that this will pass and that we should consume lots of water (blech!.... you would understand what I mean if you had tasted the waters there........POISON........) so the body acclimatises faster.

Pari was completely sick....he threw up a couple of times on the evenining of the 12th......while I managed to hold fort despite feeling really terrible. However at 2.00 am i couldn't hold back any more and threw up. We could hear ppl throwing up in their respective tents. There were ppl who had begun to hallucinate and talking about how this may be their last night after which they will join their loved (dead) ones. Well, I am not kidding and nor was anybody else. It must have been the worst night of our lives.

We were told by Soul (our leader) that things would only get better. We (Pari and me) decided to do something smart....we decided to proceed on an empty stomach with only a bottle of mineral water to help us acclimatise.......we needed to reach some 'sane place' fast where we could refurbish our supply of mineral water.......
On 13th morning we keft Sarchu for Leh........we ate nothing.......despite that I still threw up once more at Pang.
The only hitch in this entire journey is that between the the time one sets out in the morning from one destination to the next.......the only relieving spots (loos) available are at the destination you set out from and the destination you reach in the late evening. All places in between are only ranges.......rocks......arid land......with no humans for company. Often the lunch breaks are at the only spot you find humans however there are no loos there!!! So it is a real challenge........to relieve oneself in the wild.

Pari and me were functioning on empty stomachs ....this in our opinion was the best thing to do. But with temperatures hovering below 10 one feels really hungry. ...This is exactly when one starts wondering if we city breds are rotten spoilt.........we find it so difficult to adjust!

During those three days from Manali to Ladakh we passed Barlacha la, La Chang la (these are passes at high altitudes). The landscape is simply beautiful.........but if the body is not acclimatised one is too busy trying to get over the giddy headedness to observe the beauty around.


On the 13th....we finally reached Leh. It was a relief. Our bodies had begun to get acclimatised to high altitudes


There are a lot of Israeli and European tourists who cover the route on bike.....believe me this is no joke........it's a tough ride up there. We pass through some really high passes (referred to in Ladakhi as 'la'). So we passed Rohtang La(~13000 ft), Baralach La(~16000 ft), Lachang la(~16800 ft) , Taglang La (~17000 ft).
These are long winding roads which are surrounded by beautiful landscape - ranges of various shapes, sizes and shades......the terrain too is very different from point to point. We could see the snow capped peaks during our drive, glaciers melting into to streamlets....which run parallel to the long winding roads. There are few spots which are green.......largely it is a rocky landscape....leaving little to imagination......

Leh - a district well equipped to cater to its vast tourist population. It is a neat and clean place with most activity happening in and around the Main street/ Main market. One sees a lot of the armed forces here. There are two kinds of well defined faces here - the Ladakhi face and the Lahoul spiti face......also there is the typical Goncha wearing crowd and the newer generation which like us, wears jeans and salwar suits. The Goncha wearing crowd ....has very well defined pahadi features and their dress is a woolen gown with a broad colourful belt....the women wear a lot of jewellery....silver, pearls. One finds them often with prayer wheels chanting the famous 'Om Mani Padme Hum' or busily moving from one place to another to sell their wares (Our opinion is that the Goncha wearing traditionally dressed ones are largely the labourers or craftsmen,m in short the poorer class). The salwar suit clad ones are more urbane.

In Leh, we spent ~3 days - we looked around the popular monastries - Hemis and Thiksey, the Shanti Stupa and the ruins of the Shey and Leh palace. My personal opinion is that the Thiksey monastry is more colourful and well maintained compared to the Hemis. The palaces have not really been maintained too well. We were actually wondering where the funds that the Lamas get from Holly wood biggies go.....the monastries are definitely not opulent....leave alone opulent they are not even very well maintained as I would have hoped they would be.

The second day was spent at the Independence day celebration at the Thak Thok monastry and the evening thrown in for shopping. At the monastry there was a mela and some cultural dances.....I picked up some earrings for myself while Pari purchased some colourful bandanas. The stalls had a lot of Tibetan jewellery but they quoted exorbitant prices.

The third morning we took off for Nubra valley , saw the Diskit monastry and the monastic schoool. The monastic school conducts classes till class V for fresh monks who then proceed to Kushal nagar in Karnataka for further studies. We got there via the Khardungla pass (the highest motorable roadway at ~18600 ft). There were no signs of mountain sickness now since our bodies had acclimatised rather well at Sarchu, Pang and then Leh. The little monks in the school looked cute.......will share with you a pic with one.......I was glad the little monk relented to taking a picture with me :)

On our way to Nubra (which means green valley), we rode double humped camels. Unlike the Rajasthan camels, these look tougher, healthier and are more comfortable to seat oneself. They are infact shorter than the rajasthani camels. Pari decided to take the ride while I stayed back to photograph the Great Dogra!.......the warrior ;). I simply posed next to the camel hoping it does not sneeze while I assumed my ' I am ready to be photographed ' pose. I fleed the moment the snap got done, while another poor tourist got showered down !

The Nubra valley is an interesting spot.........the mountains above.......some snow capped, green pastures below and further away there are sand dunes - Hundar with double humped camels.It looks more like a film set where there is EVERYTHING.......grass, mountains, streams, sands.......couldn't ask for more.



There was delight at Khardungla.......the weather which is most unpredictable in the hills (like in Mumbai), decided to play games - a bright and sunny day turned to a snowy, wet one. We were all excited. I hadn't seen snow before ........it was AMAZING........I loved every moment. I was wrapped in a black shawl on which the flakes emerged out like chocolate chips in a cookie! (some simile eh?) Our group of 29 had to split while going to Nubra......the youngsters ~12 were all bundled into a mini bus while the older ones took the jeeps. We all had similar energy levels and could relate well.........this only made the trip more memorable. We all posed on the world's highest motorable road with faujis and snow flakes to watch on us!


On the trip back we agreed to drop some locals back to the city........(although we kept wondering what the locals were doing there in 'no man's land' at a height of ~18000 ft with none other than faujis to keep company)

Something that we will never forget........the roads from Manali to Leh are not the best and are really tough to maintain. They are hilly....treacherous and subject to constant landslides. There are constantly melting glaciers which change course and come onto the roads. All this makes the ride really bumpy, slippery ........And guess what...the roads are maintained by the GREF (General reserves and engineering) which belong to BRO (ie the Border Roads organisation). The workers however are Biharis (whose life after they begin working here is only ~15 yrs). The conditions are terrible.........huge amounts of dust on the roads, no water, no greens and treacherous mountains all around.....these poor souls are definitely not immune to mountain sickness.
The locals, apparently, do not like to do this kind of work and so it is the poor Biharis fm Laloo land who are willing to be in high altitudes...get breathless, in the chilly biting cold willing to fix (tar) the roads for the BRO. It is indeed a sad sight. That's reality.......in a dream land.........dream for us.......nightmare for them

After the first 3 days at Leh......we set out to Pangong lake.........lakes are called Tso in the local language...and so we visited Pangong Tso.It is 130 km long and is the largest brackish lake in Asia. It feels like paradise around this spot. A part of the lake extends in to the mountains of Tibet and so belongs to China. It is a secure zone with a huge core of armed forces deployed here.We halted at Tangstse for some tea and to grab a bite.
While we sat on the rocks by the side of the lake.......we remembered Wordsworth's ......"this is a life so full of care.....we have no time to stand and stare"....I had often wondered what he wanted to stand at stare at ?!........am sure he had visited Pangong!!!. I have never before seen skies so azure.......a lake so blue.......rocks so perfectly ensconced on the bed of the lake........a few terns and seagulls looking for food.......the breeze creating ripples which cause unusual reflections of the mountains and sky in the lake.........this is how paradise :) may look like, I said to myself.........

For those curious.........Leh is one place where one gets to see many gompas and stupas........gompas are monastries with idols...where Gods like Yamakala, Mahakala, Taradevi, the various forms of the Buddha - Gods of compassion, wisdom are worshipped. The monks too stay around there.
However stupas are structures which are created by ppl when their wish is fulfilled or just as a memorial ......simply put it is a monument. You cannot really enter a stupa since there is no real entrance there. Some families store hair, nail or some remembrances of their ancestors there and it is sealed. .....looks somewhat like a temple........it could be any size......that's what we gathered.They are mostly made of white lime (so it appeared).

In case I failed to mention - Pari and me have really clicked a host of photographs......right now we are waiting for the right labs to develop them. We dont want to lose any. We photographed just about everything .....lest we forget. The monuments, the mountains, streams, grasslands, snow, country folk, sunrise, sunset......ourselves :)))) too....the gompas, stupas, ladies in Gonchas, with prayer wheels. While I broach the topic of the prayer wheels, I think I should explain it's significance. These wheels come in various sizes. They contain a roll enclosed within a cylinder. The roll has inscribed on it the sacred words "Om mani padme hum". When one turns the prayer wheel , the roll is automatically turned (in the clockwise direction) and signifies chanting of the sacred words over and over again. We picked up a prayer wheel for our sacred corner....also I was enchanted by a Buddha statue and picked that one up too. Our luggage had increased by the end of the trip (in case you are wondering).

Every evening while in Leh, Pari and me made it a point to go to the market and purchase some fresh luscious apricots - just ripe and really yummy. We must have looked like 2 chipmunks sitting munching away at the tiny fruits......with as much fervour and zest as chipmunks would munch on their walnuts.

It was now time to say goodbye to Leh and proceed towards the valley......Kashmir (there is a urdu couplet which says - if there is paradise on this earth....it is Kashmir!!!).The journey commenced on 19th August morning.....at around 9.30 am.....we all were accomodated in Spacios (similar ones that we took fm Manali to Leh......these are Sumos which are more rugged and belong to the Tata stable).
The itinerary read - Leh to Kargil (on the way we were to do Moonland, Lamayaru - the oldest monastry, Al Chi - yet another monastry). By now I was wondering whom we would lose to Buddhism by the end of the journey......luckily a few who had thought of converting too had second thoughts!!!

We arrived at Kargil late in the evening on the 19th. Faces had changed, so had the terrain. The locals here largely spoke either Ladakhi or Balti (since they are from Baltistan, an area which now lies in Pakistan). They look like a cross between Kashmiris and Tibetans. We spent until 4 am in Kargil.......food was interesting - mah ki dal, rice, phirni (the typical kashmiri sweetdish). We took off at ~4.00 am on 20th for Drass (the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia). Luckily for us it was not winter.......otherwise you would have found our fossils in ice a few decades down the line. While we moved from Kargil to Drass, our driver kept informing us about the various spots that had been bombed and also spots where we were still under enemy vigil - since while we drive around one mountain, our neighbours watch us closely from the adjacent mountain which belongs to them. Infact, there are signs during the ride that read ' u are now being watched by the enemy' (talk about being nosey?!)

After Drass came Batalik.....the Zozilla pass which has only one way entry during one half of the day and the other way entry in the second half. In short if we dont get there on time then we are likely to be not allowed to use it, in which case we are stranded and cant move to Srinagar. However we got there on time........it's a dusty mountain road with strict vigilance by the army.......every 100 mts there is an army personnel in uniform waiting to obey the word 'Fire'.........After the long journey via Sonamarg (absolutely stunning place), we reached Srinagar and our cosy houseboats in Nagin lake. The next two days were spent around there - taking the shikara around, blowing up a couple of 1000s on the beautiful walnut handwork and ofcourse the well embroidered garments. We also visited Gulmarg (which has the world's highest cable car)...we dint miss it for the world We also visited Shankaracharya (which owes its popularity to the Amarnath yatris and Mission Kashmir). Kashmiris are a very rugged looking lot of people......with their harsh features....the women have a peaches and cream complexion though and one could get really envious of them.

At the fag end of the journey.......we came back to Mumbai with a well tanned body....the only solid proof of all that we had been through while India celebrated its' independence period!

That was the end of the splendid journey!

Juley (as they say in Ladakhi - its' a greeting) and Khuda Hafis (in Kashmiri)



It’s a beautiful life

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