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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!!