Travel! My Friend

Travel my friend, do a journey

Move away from a static point

Discover yourself and discover the world

Explore the nature, the beauty

The miseries, the pain and the sufferings

Dynamism will make your life sweet as honey

Travel my friend, do a journey

See the structures that were man made

But still withstood the withering of time

See them because they are wonders

Marvels not created by nature.

Because they will make you sit back and ponder

Is life only and only all about money?

Travel my friend, do a journey

Get away from the maddening crowds

The shrieks of the ever evolving dwellings

The concrete that has silenced the chirps

The walls that have stalled the winds

Creations that have even blinded the sun

Get away, get away while it is still sunny

Travel my friend, do a journey

Run! Run from your friends and foes alike

Run away from your loved ones

Run away from orders, advices and requests

Run from your iterating schedule

From bed to work and back again

Do not wait for your death bed to flee

Travel my friend, do a journey

But where will you go?

To the wild streams or to the jungle

To the towering hills or to the vast oceans

Or to the serene farm lands in deep woods

Or may be to a pious place for worship

Or wherever soul doesn’t demand alimony

Travel my friend, do a journey

Travel… turn back and travel in

Explore yourself from within

Develop a feel that has feelings

So that you can enjoy the world

And every crystal that’s part of it

Connect to the nature but not bodily

Travel my friend, do a journey

Rohtang and beyond!

Vacations had come and the planning was in the air. Hills…only hills because it was summer time and the plains were burning hot. After lot of deliberations, it was decided we would be going to Leh, a dream destination of every Indian traveler. Itinerary was penned, route decided but 1000kms of journey on bikes in the boring plains that too in the scorching 40+ degrees was a big no. So we all had decided to do it in a car.

We were four and on the scheduled day we had left Lucknow in the wee hours of the day. The drive was fun but only for the one who was on the wheels. The remaining co passengers had lost their zeal after initial few minutes of enthusiastic chatting. Devoid of even a refreshment stop in the newly constructed and much acclaimed Lucknow Agra highway we were speeding off to Delhi. The smooth ride had an abrupt halt after 2 hours and 200 Kms when Atul [on wheels and only one awake then] announced that he had forgotten the papers of the vehicle.


Road to Delhi and Beyond

We had to return. The entire day was wasted. Next day same time we had to go through the same route with even less vigour. In five hours we had covered 520 Kms and were at New Delhi, primarily because nobody had any interest in the repeat sightings enroute. We had an overnight stay at friend’s place. Meeting with long time friends meant that we had to be awake till the early hours of the next day. We had our slumber broken only the next afternoon. After freshening up we were off to our next destination.


Shri Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara at night

Delhi and the nearby traffic is always a mess. The next few hours of drive was a heavy drag with frequent stuck ups. We had our evening snacks of stuffed parathas at Pehelwan Dhaba at Muruthal. The next few hours had seemed as if we were paying zig zag as we made through the evening traffic on the Delhi Chandigarh highway. After cool 8 hours of drive covering 350 Kms we were at Anandpur Sahib.


Serenity around the Gurudwara

The place had its own pious essence. Also known as the holy city of bliss it is one of the most sacred places for the Sikhs. Founded by their ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur it was earlier known as Chakk Nanaki. The warmth with which we were welcomed at the place is beyond words. We stayed in one of the rooms at Gurudwara. It was only the next day that we experienced the serenity of the place and its surroundings.


Towns enroute Manali

After offering our prayers and seeking His blessings, we continued with our journey. As we progressed we could experience the beauty and brightness of the atmosphere increase. The drive was picturesque but cautious. After a brief halt for lunch at a roadside dhaba at Mandi we carried on.


Lunch at Mandi

As we had passed Kullu, two things never left us, the roaring river Beas along the road and a long queue of sluggishly moving cars. One thing is for sure, we are gradually eroding the nature’s tranquility by storming at some place in large numbers and when we do so, along come our cars with burning fuels, our high decibels, our electronic gadgets and our nuances. I could sense and foresee once beautiful places like Manali and beyond, decaying under the burden of visiting tourists in a very near future. The sad part is that how much I may proclaim to be a nature lover I am a part of the crowd responsible.

Getting a room for 4 of us was a new dilemma. Fortunately our net services were working and we booked a hotel online through oyo at Rs. 2500 per night [lucky bargain]. The traffic in Manali was even more chaotic. Coming here after 12 years I was anxious to get out of what once was my dream destination but that was not easy either. We learnt that to go beyond Manali a permit is needed and we applied for it online immediately. Only 800 petrol vehicles are allowed in a day.


Crowd at Manali

To add to our woos the road beyond were to open a day later. We explored the place next day visiting Hidimba temple, Vashisht temple and Manu tempe [was bit far]. Next morning we all were men in a hurry. Already in the car at 6:00 am we were off to Rohtang Pass. The drive was bit scary but the cops on the way were doing a good job. Just before noon we had arrived at Rohtang.

Had a short stay at the Pass which literally divides the Kullu valley that follows hindu culture and the arid Lahaul Spiti valley that follows Buddhism. Beyond, the greens had vanished and only three colours were visible, dark blue sky, grey road and white snow covered hill slopes. As the gradient increased the driving became wearisome. The bends were a plenty and the roads were narrow. Intermittent weather and water falls had taken toll of the roads and very often loose stones would disrupt the drive. None of us had ever driven at such high altitude and this fact was catching our nerves too but the excitement kept egging us to continue.


Rohtang Pass

We continued towards Keylong but to our horror we were stopped by the security personals who explained that the road ahead was in pretty shape and the continuous rains aren’t helping either. With heavy heart [can’t express in words how heavy?] we had to turn around. While riding back, we promised ourselves that next time we will come on bikes. We were back in the evening  and next day we started back our long drive back home.

It was a curtailed trip but nevertheless we enjoyed the company of each other. We could not complete the last 200 Kms of our planned trip but we did complete the remaining 1400 Kms and we enjoyed every Kms of it. Next year I will be back with the complete venture but then who can foresee the coming tomorrow.

Varanasi! : An ancient mystery in modern era!

Characters: I, LK & Atul.

Last weekend I along with my friends decided to visit Varanasi. A city that I had heard so much but never had a chance to have a glimpse of it. Somewhat like a hindi movie, Sholay. Wondering, what a simile? I saw it when I was 18 and it was released when I was born. When I saw it I knew each and every dialogue of the movie but was experiencing it for the first time in visual form.

Varanasi is different. It is historical, majestic, spiritual, classic, aesthetic, pious… [… running  out of adjectives]. Before even I had embarked upon the journey I felt as if I knew the place inside out. The only apprehension was whether the city would live up to its aura pre etched in my mind. With lots of expectations we all left Lucknow at night.


The route that we took was via Sultanpur and Jaunpur. As per the maps it was the shortest route but as the saying goes, ‘shortcuts are the longest routes’, we all realized it the hard way. Hardly 300 Kms but that took us good nine hours, thanks to the horrible road conditions especially after Sultanpur.

Varanasi, earlier known as Banaras or Kashi[city of lights] is a holy city in literal sense. Not only because of Kashi Vishwanath temple that also finds mention in our Skand Purana but also because it also witnessed the beginning of Buddhism when Lord Buddha gave his first sermon way back in 5th century BC. Ram Charit Manas was written here, the two icons of Bhakti movement, Kabirdas and Ravidas were born here and Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s visit in 15th century played an important role in the founding of Sikhism.


Holy waters of river Ganga

Although famous for being on the banks of river Ganga, it derives its name from two tributaries of Ganga namely, Varuna and Assi that form the precincts of the city. As we approached the city, the tinkling of temple bells and the religious chants, amplified through loud speakers, seemed to welcome us on our arrival to the consecrated place.  When we entered the city it was already 8 am.

Driving through the chaotic traffic of Varanasi is a test of patience of the person on the steering. You need to have a firm grip on the break paddle as anyone can pop up from anywhere as it is not two way traffic, it is multidirectional. Adding to the woes was the fact that the all the city roads and sanitation work is going through a major renovation.


We reached our hotel, hotel Ajay in Gawdolia at around 9 am. The city has either high end hotels at its outskirts or it is dotted with dharmshalas and guest houses. Economical hotels are hard to find and you will have to work hard to locate one with a decent parking space. In fact parking is a big problem in whole of Varanasi.

After a short sound sleep in the cozy hotel AC room that costed us Rs. 2000[$30] per night we set off to have our first sights of the river Ganga. The river was 3-4 Kms from our hotel and we took an auto [best option in Varanasi] to reach there.


First glimpse and you realize that Varanasi, the city and Varanasi, the river along with its ghats or banks are two separate entities. The yellows, the blues and the dusk all around created an aura which weighed upon my mind and heart rather than just being pleasant to my eyes. An hour long boat ride from Bhonsle Ghat [a relatively new ghat] was eventful, memorable and something that I will cherish life long.

We passed through Mankarnika Ghat with numerous pyres illuminating the river in the fading lights. The ghat is famous for cremations in hindu community as it is believed that as the river at the ghat flows out of its normal course and heads in the opposite direction, in the same way, cremation here means the soul moves away from the infinite cycle of death and rebirth.


As the sun sets and the lights come out, the serenity can be experienced amidst the reverberations of hundreds gathered at various ghats. It is a mass amalgamation of rural, urban, traditional, rich, poor, locals, tourists and foreign nationals into one gigantic solemn and yet vibrating ethos that thinks inwardly and philosophically.

As the aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat began the crowd came to a stand still. There were more lights and chanting as the eternal essence dispersed in the air. I stood there not as a hindu but as an individual trying to search for my own self. The city makes you think that way.


The commotion began immediately as soon as the Aarti concluded. As I was returning I wondered… Why so many peoples come here? Why the place has an incomparable aura of its own? What do they seek here? Why I felt the way I felt? Why? There is so much of crowd, there is so much of filth, bloated floating dead bodies can be found around some of the ghats [I saw one] then why so many peoples come here from all over the world?

 May be the answer lies in the same dirt and grime. May be it takes them away from all the worldly and monitory things. May be it forces them to think deep about life, about pain and sufferings. May be…! With all such thoughts cluttering my mind we travelled up to Malviya Bridge which is said to be the last point to which the River Ganga flows in the opposite direction.


We had the famous baba thandai at Gawdolia Chowk [the plain one] and had a hearty dinner nearby. Next day we went back to the ghat early morning and experienced the silent harmony of the same ghats that were so vibrant and noisy in the evening. We also went to Kashi Vishwanath temple and Kaal Bhairav Mandir. I did not carry any camera as I was told that nothing, not even watches, belts or wallets are allowed inside some of the temples but I was unaware of the fact that nearby shops do provide temporary lockers for the same. I do not know how Gods are affected but humans are, but then, let them all live with their faiths.

In evening I started my return journey, this time via Faizabad. The route was better and smooth just like my mind. You can say the after affects of Varanasi. I will visit the place again for sure…. When? Why? I do not know!

Are Travelers Escapists???

Travelers are Escapists?

Matter of debate but at least in literal sense they are.. or rather I am! We call our short trips get aways. Get away from what? Isn’t that escapism, an act of escape from routine boring and dreary daily routine, both physically and mentally. Do not take it as an accusation, it is just another view one needs to ponder upon.


Whenever we go to any destination, our first priority is to look different. Camera hanging from the neck, hat on the head, goggles and casual attire, we do everything to ensure that it is apparent to everyone around that we don’t belong there. We take pictures of locals, purchase local artifacts and enjoy local cuisine just to cement our own perception that we are tourists there.

The word ‘tourist’ owes it’s etymology to the latin word ‘tornare’ which means ‘turning on the lathe’. When you visualize a lathe machine in context to ‘tourist’, the initial thought is that of going round to a place and coming back. Think deeper and you will realize that in this process you have been molded differently. It is true that when you return from the tour you regain your original shape as per the human behavior but as long as you were on the lathe you were in a virtual cast.


Whenever we plan a tour, we explore the beauty of the place. We enquire about its accessibility, the natural and man made sights of the place, the excursions from the place, accommodation, weather conditions but are we ever inquisitive about the socio economic issues of the place, the hardships that locals face or even how the locals have been able to preserve the splendor of the place. I can read the answer sailing in your mind …. NO!

Why No? because then our preference will be in staying and worrying here rather than traveling and worrying there. It is just like asking peoples to smile before the click of the camera because no matter what, we want our memories to be pleasant and they are supposed to have smiling faces without realizing that smiling exteriors often have painful cores.


In vacations we always rush off for hills, mountains, sea beaches, deserts or forest reserves. Except for some exotic locations, we all enjoy and appreciate the humility of the locals. Humility in the sense that they are helpful, caring and do not charge too much for goods and services. What we don’t apprehend is that all these landscapes are harsh for human life.


What happens to them when the tourist season is over? We [the vacationers] do not care because we are on a lathe machine, remember and we have to return and some one else will be on it. This will go on and on and the lathe will keep moving round and round creating lively eventful moments for the riders but do we ever give a thought about the equipment [lathe] that is stuck to its axis and working nonstop.

Bhutan is the best example for the issue I am talking about. It is the most eco friendly country of the world with more than 70% of its land under forest cover. To the world it has the highest Gross National Happiness ratings but the fact is that 70% of the population still lives there without electricity and is one of the economically poorest nations of the world. How many of us have visited Bhutan and how many are aware of the fact mentioned latter. You can draw parallels to the place you have visited recently.


So, what to do? Give up traveling and exploring! No way! The only request is, include these kind of thoughts in your planning for a trip. Give some time to the gloominess of the place you visit and do share them. It’s not to much to ask for and as for the rest, you all are wise enough!

WHY do Hills keep calling me?

It is just an after thought. I have been traveling for the last 20 years now and I have traversed varied landscapes including mountains, deserts, cities, villages, pilgrimage, plateaus, forests, river beds, beaches and ravines. Today, when I look back, the astonishing fact that emerges is that I have explored all these places, other than hills, only when I was visiting my friends or relatives, luckily I have many of them, and sight seeing was a convenient getaway from their places of residence. Other than that, all my trips have been to the hills, primarily Himalayas.


The Hills

I always travel in the company of my family or friends. After some of the arduous itineraries I even promised my companion/s that I won’t be repeating the journey to the mountains at least for a while but whenever I had sat down to plan the next outing, rest assured the destination always had been HILLS. What is in those hills that fascinate me no end?

The Might: As I sit back and ponder, the first reason that comes to my mind is the apparent might of the Himalayas. As one ventures couple of hundred miles or more into the hills and the greens turn into grey then black and finally white. The road ascends beyond 2500 mts and more and loses its bind of mortar and you find less number of fellow travelers on them. The sound of the gushing water of the river along side the road or trail, if you are on foot, becomes deafening and the weather conditions become more and more unpredictable. The brightness is lost in the shadows of the high lofts of hills that are around you and you can see sun or clear sky only when you strain your neck up. All this and other such factors instill in you a sense of fear and this fear in self is what that I long for.


The might

Many do not undertake such trips and treks just because they never had such an experience or they know it but do not want to experience it. I have experienced it but the question is why I wish to undergo it again and again.

The might factor is not so dominant just because of its physical impacts only it has some psychological impacts too. The fear in you makes you realize yourself. Ever thought why we have temples of different religions at such heights? If we ignore the accessibility factor that has increased manifold in recent years, the risks involved in reaching them are still aplenty. They are not there so that less number of pilgrims visits them but it is because of the self recognition of the individual.


The Majesty

Self recognition means being with self. One’s mind is everywhere, in the job, in the family, in the social networking and in daily chores. It is in the state of extreme chaos in normal daily schedule. The fear of extreme weather conditions, the landslides and the other mishaps one is reminded of through various past incidents brings an individual closer to the self.


Don’t Look Back! Give it a try

I can assure you from my past experiences of high altitude treks, that whosoever explores the difficult terrains and conditions of hills has high regards for nature. This respect for nature originates from that fear, I have talked about earlier. Do not misinterpret the fear with its negative form. Just give a thought and if you have not experienced it yet, go and do it NOW!!!!

BINSAR: The forest trail

Preface: The trip was planned only a day before the departure. With the cancellation of a long car drive my friends, Atul and LK [aka Laxmikant] were clueless about what to do in their short winter vacations. Sitting together, I and Atul finalized a car trip to Binsar. We rang up LK and got his affirmation in no time. We had two more fellow travelers, my wife, Mukti and my 10 year old son, Aru. More than the destination we were excited about the long car drive of about 1000 Kms from Lucknow to Binsar and back given the fact that none of us had driven in the Himalayas and there was a height of 2600 meters to be attained.


Preparations: I got my car washed and serviced and made sure that the packing was compact as the boot space of the car was not that huge so as to accommodate the luggage of warm clothing of five individuals.

Leg 1: Once again we started at night. Our route was through Sitapur [80 Kms] and then to Lakhimpur Kheri [another 40 Kms]. By the time we reached Gola Gokaran Nath it was midnight and the streets were deserted with occasional sighting of heavy trucks or tractors. Suddenly there was a thick fog as we were crossing the forest areas. I was reluctant to carry on and suggested that we should wait knowing very well that the fog won’t clear in a short time but my friends had other ideas. So we kept driving relying heavily on the car lights and horns.

Luckily the fog lasted for about half an hour or so. We reached Pilibhit and continued towards Tanakpur. At dawn we were at Tanakpur and I thanked God and LK, who was on the driver’s seat then, for driving us safely through the dense foggy stretch.


Sunrise at Tanakpur

My son, as expected, started to have nausea feeling and there was a strong need felt among all the group members for a halt. After going through another 76 Kms of twists and turns we decided to give ourselves and our car a lengthy and much needed rest at Champawat. We chose a newly constructed Shivam Hotel on the main road to stay.


Roadside snacks just before Champawat

Champawat: A small but an important town of Uttarakhand that lies on NH-125 that connects Khatima to Pithoragarh, is nestled amidst thick forest and at a height of 1650 mts gives a panoramic view of the lower Himalayas. It also has some historical relevance as it was the capitol of Chand rulers. 10 minutes walk took us to Baleshwar temple that is dedicated to Lord Shiva.


Compound lawn of our hotel at Champawat

The thing that appealed to me the most was the soulful calmness of the place. Sitting in the hotel lawn and watching the monkeys play I could clearly hear the rhythmic rattle of motor engines of the occasional car or scooty that would pass by the road that was about a kilometer far. The food at Champawat is cheap but delicious.


Calm and quiet Champawat

Leg 2: After a good night rest we started off for Binsar via Almora along NH-309A. Atul had been on the wheels since the hilly terrain began. The reason behind was that he was the only one who had driven, although only a little, on the hills before. Encouraged by the fact that the road was devoid of any traffic whatsoever I expressed my desire to drive my car for the very first time on the mountains.


Joyful ride through the forests enroute Almora

Once in the driver’s seat my admiration and the joy increased manifolds. With my son on the front seat and his nausea all long forgotten and the thick cover of oak and deodar trees along the route we all were exclaiming praiseworthy adjectives for the serenity of the nature. The only thing missing were the food joints or the road side dhabas.


The Almora Champawat was dotted with numerous temples.

It was 4 pm by the time we reached Almora. We were hungry by now and were frantically looking for a good restaurant but we realized that we have crossed the whole of Almora main market searching for a parking space which we could not find. We found a small Chinese restaurant at the fag end of the market and as the saying goes beggars can’t be choosers, we decided to satisfy our hungry stomachs there only.


The first glimpse of Almora city

Almora City: Perched at around 1800 mts in between a small crust of two hillocks it gets its name from a small plant named Kilmora. It is also known as the cultural heart of Kumaon.


We ate to the satisfaction of our appetites. The Maggie and the Chowmein were a delight to our eyes as well as to our taste buds. The Coffee though was much more of a chocolate milk but all this at Rs. 410 [around $7] add to it the smiles and love of the person serving it was an astonishing experience.


Binsar Forest Reserve entry gets closed at 5 p.m.

Luckily, we could see the road to Binsar climbing right in front of the restaurant and with only 22 kms it was presumed to be an hours drive only but we were at the gate of the Binsar forest reserve in about half an hour with 10 kms yet to be covered. We were told by the old man at the gate that the entry is not allowed after 5 pm.


Evening fires at Hotel Dolma, Kasar Devi

I had assumed Binsar to be a small town but at that moment I felt we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. The old man came to our rescue and advised us to go to Deenapani which is about 7 or 8 kms and stay in any one of the many hotels and rest houses there. Without wasting any time we turned back and soon came across hotel Dolma at Kasar Devi.


Beautiful sunrise from our Hotel Room. Also notice the moon still in the sky.

Surprisingly the hotel was along the main road and rooms were reasonably priced. Not luxurious but they were clean and tidy. The food was good too but the best part was that the rooms opened towards east and that gave some beautiful view of sunrise, a delight for camera lovers.


The dense forests of Binsar

Next day, after offering our morning prayers at Kasar Devi temple, which was adjacent to our hotel, we set off for Binsar. The tickets costed us Rs. 150 each. The next 10 kms drive is a steep incline through dense forest. Some patches of the drive were literary scary but luckily Atul was on the wheels. I must admit I might have chickened out because at one place our tyres did slip because of the incline. We took an hour to reach the Tourist Rest House of KMVN from where 3 Kms trek route originates.


The forest trail is scenic and thick cover of trees adds to the splendid view. Word of caution, go to Binsar if you wish to love serenity and nature. Do not expect even a chance sighting of any wildlife, big or small. Not even Birds though the locals will never tire of telling you that they have seen a leopard on the prowl a day before.


Distant Snow Capped Mountains as viewed from Zero Point

Only the silence and solace stands out at Binsar. The zero point, which is the end of the trail, does give you a good but distant view of snowcapped mountains. This year being the hottest ever, we felt robbed because forget the snow even the chill was missing in the air as we stood atop Zero Point at the height of 2600 mts.


The descend

The descend was relatively comfortable. We decided to enjoy one more evening at Hotel Dolma because of its food and the fire that they lit in the courtyard. Another fact, they do not sell alcohol nor is there any shop nearby and never ever purchase it in black coz it won’t be good enough. We found this out the hard way. The evening we spent showing the zoo to Aru which was 3 Kms downhill.


Just trying to hold the sun!!!

Next morning we were heading home this time taking the Almora, Bhowali, Bareilly, Sitapur route to Lucknow. We purchased the Bal Mithai from Almora as the sweet is not available anywhere else. After 13 hours drive we were back home safe and with pleasant memories.

SUNRISE: A Daily Spectacle

aSun rises from the East…… A very usual and natural reasoning but it gives apparently a wrong notion that the sun is moving while our earth is stationary. The fact is totally the opposite but then who cares about the science when you are witnessing the majesty of the morning sun in it’s bright golden glory breaching all the obstacles of darkness of the night.


Sometimes you often ponder how weak and frail is the darkness as it is literally knocked out by the initial first few rays of the sun. Sunrise is that initial moment when the sun just appears on the horizon. Suddenly the whole sky is full of hues of red, orange and yellow. No blue or green thanks to their short wavelengths as their absence fill up the eyes of the beholder with delight and appreciation.

c.JPGSunrise is the phenomenon that fascinates everyone no matter what the backdrop is. There must be millions of zero points, sunrise points or they may go by any other name that promises a good view of the moment. They are spread across the mountains, desert stretches, plain fields, sea beaches, islands and forests.

d1.jpgAdmiration is maximum for the sunrise on the hills, just because of clarity and may be because right from pre primary classes we are used to drawing the sun rising between two mountains. For a philosopher it is a symbol of a new beginning that reoccurs every 24 hours giving one a chance to initiate anything afresh. For an artist, a nature lover and a lens man it is a spectacular view. For a commoner it is an imposing act of authority of the Lord Almighty.

d.JPGFor me it is a new day and I pray the lord Almighty to give strength and longevity to the eyes of all my friends, including myself too, so that we all may see this manifestation for as long as we live !!!!d2