Somewhere in the middle of nowhere

By the Kargiak river, Zanskar

I took this shot while resting my legs during the long walk from Lakong to the village of Kargiak on the trek from Darcha in Himachal Pradesh to Padum in Zanskar. The mountain that looms in the background is the Gumbaranjan, the most prominent and unique geographical feature on this part of the trail, a massive granite peak that stands alone, higher than anything else in visible range.

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Getting out of Sarahan

A glorious greeting

Most people travel to Sarahan for the spectacularly located Bhimakali Temple and I was no exception. That’s all I had wanted to do, spend a day or two in the serene surroundings of the temple guest house and move on to more exciting things in life, like a short trek in Kinnaur or home-stays in Spiti. Only, I ended up spending a week at the Bhimakali Temple out of sheer inertia.

The village of Sarahan is a dull cluster of dhabas, hotels and a few shabby under-construction guest houses set around the temple. Apart from the odd pack of Israeli backpackers and a Bengali family or two, there was a feeling of desolation here that I hadn’t encountered elsewhere in the Himalayas. Although the views from my verandah were fantastic and living within the grand architecture of the temple precincts was a unique experience, things were beginning to get depressing. I started feeling sad and angry for not getting a move on especially when it was so easy to get a move on with buses leaving regularly for the places I wanted to go.

Bhimakali temple at Sarahan

But the baba had an explanation for it. I was “meant” to have stayed longer than I wished to because I had no choice in the matter. We were “meant” to have met at the temple and he was “meant” to be there to show me the right path. He looked ancient, with a long scraggly beard that extended all the way down to his waist. He was so skeletal in appearance that I felt he grew his beard that long just to cover his bones. He was upset about his previous disciple deserting him on the way to Kedarnath leaving him to fend for himself and I started to get the impression that I was being measured up as a replacement.

I accompanied him for a walk into the forests, him effortlessly walking barefoot, me in my Coleman boots struggling to keep pace. After expounding much on the Upanishads and mythological lore, a lot of which flew over my head, he advised me to do a trek to the lofty peak of Shrikhant Mahadev and said, “I have been to all the abodes of Lord Shiva but none have the ability to make your blood freeze, your feet bleed, your inner systems growel like the Shrikhant Mahadev. At this time of the year, the snow would bury you up to your neck and treacherous crevices could open up at every turn. If you harbour evil thoughts, you will certainly be swallowed by the mountain. But if you have a pure soul, the grace of God will keep your body warm and show you the way. I can help to purify your soul. You can spend months here in these beautiful mountains and get your soul cleansed with the beautiful air and a good diet of fresh fruits and herbs. If you take care of me well enough, we can go climb that mountain together.”

The Shrikant Mahadev Peak from Sarahan

Feeling a little (unjustifiably) creeped out, I told him politely, “I don’t have the faith or ability to live like you do but am highly thankful for your offer to take me into your fold. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run because a friend is waiting for me in the village to take me to Rampur. Again, thank you and good-bye!” I scurried down to my room in the temple guest house, packed my bags and hitch-hiked in a milk van out of Sarahan into Kinnaur.

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Masala cheese omelette in Jodhpur

Ready to fire

Even though I was here in November, it was a hot, hot day in Jodhpur when I took this picture. The Mehrangarh Fort looms over the city of Jodhpur like a behemoth and while other forts in Rajasthan may be more beautiful to look at (Bikaner and Jaisalmer come immediately to mind), none is as imposing. It’s big enough to wander around at peace allowing one to take in the delicate artistry of its many walls and windows.

You could see this massive monument looming in the background when Christian Bale crawls out of a well to save Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s snorefest “The Dark Knight Rises”. It was one of the very few scenes in the film that managed to wake me up and pay attention!

One of the chief pleasures of Jodhpur is getting lost in the narrow lanes of the old town, passing through ancient looking temples and between a sea of blue coloured walls of very old houses. It’s remarkably different from the ugly, noisy new city that sprawls uncontrollably beyond the clock tower. The old city is also home to the “Omelette Man”, who’s been making omelettes in his tiny little shop for 36 years and claims to hold the record for making the maximum no. of omelettes single-handedly in a day. He’s also the most enthusiastic street vendor I have ever come across, always making conversation with his customers and sometimes, even advising and admonishing them for being unhealthy. If someone looked too thin, he would mock them and ask them to eat more omelettes to get healthier. The stall was as cosmopolitan and busy as a place like that could get with rickshaw-wallahs, turbaned locals, European backpackers, Israelis, college-going boys and girls, policemen, all waiting patiently for a plate of masala cheese omelette.

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Green Bee-eaters at the Pench NP

Green Bee-eater

While every other gypsy had gone looking for tigers, I managed to persuade Arun, who was my gypsy driver, to take it easy and show me some birds instead. He looked surprised and unhappy initially but gave me a wide smile when I showed him this picture of a couple of bee-eaters perched on a branch.

One of the true delights of traveling alone is that you can do whatever the hell you want. I could have saved money and shared my gypsy with other people but since most people go to tiger reserves like Pench to see tigers, I would have been trapped in their narrow-mindedness and ended up missing truly beautiful moments like this one. I wish more people would go to wild places to see birds, animals, even insects and be pleasantly surprised when they see a big cat.

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