Sunday, April 30, 2017


One has to reach Joshimath in Uttarakhand to follow the trails to Badrinath, Valley of Flowers, Auli and some other beautiful treks. It took me more than 9 hrs to reach here from Dehradun.
Joshimath, originally called Jyotirmath drives its name from the fact that here under the Kalpvriksh, Adi Shankaracharya did tapasya and had the darshan of the Jyoti.
Kalptaru,uner this tree Adi Guru did tapasya for 2 yrs
On my way to Pangarchulla trek, I reached Joshimath late in the evening.The hotel didn't serve the  food so I went out to  explore the city and look for my dinner. Ah! The bliss of a new city where nothing is familiar and monotonous. This city seemed lucky for me, as I got the clothes fit for the trekking. The shopkeeper suggested me 'Chauhan Tea Stall, run by a lady, for dinner. Food tasted home cooked and lacked the dhaba taste, good enough for me.

After a fantastic trek to Kunwari pass I came back to Joshimath on my way back.I was not exactly tired, but had bearable body pain due to the trekking on snow, grass and stones for four days. After a hot shower I walked towards the Marwari Hotel for a cuppa of hot tea.With a little limp I climbed up the ascending road to Kalptaru, the famous Tree under which  Rev Adi Shankaracharya did the tapasya.

In the evening I strolled through the streets of Joshimath leisurely. I was more aware of the surroundings with a free mind, as the trekking part was over successfully. The moment I came out of the hotel, I noticed cleanliness all around. Each and every nook and corner of the city was spotlessly clean. From Shankaracharya Math at the top to Narsingh Temple at the lower side of the town, it was a pleasure to walk. To reach the Narsingh temple I walked narrow lanes with the houses in a row beside it, with friendly residents who guided me reach the temple. I wished the lanes of my lovely Benaras were also equally clean.

It was getting dark so I couldn't go further and gazed at the temple from the distance.I found the clean lanes more worshippable than any temple in the world. I thought of the holy hands behind cleaning the place and keeping it in that way.

At Marwari Chawk, I congratulated one of the sanitary workers for keeping the city so clean. About his routine he told me that he, like twenty seven others are given particular areas. He works from 6 to 11 in the morning and then 2 o'clock onwards in the evening.

He thanked me for the compliments and said that it was nice that I had noticed it. My dear sanitary angel, you are no less than a soldier, or an engineer or a politician who is doing his bit in taking India forward.Keep shining!

I think there should be rewards for the cleanest states, city and area.The sanitary workers should be given uniforms and right to object and punish the people who litter the street.

 I'm thankful to the cool shop-owner of the Marwari Sweet Shop, who allowed me to sit and wait in his restaurant to make and wait for phone calls as there was no signal available in my hotel room. Tea was good and sweets were tempting.

Joshimath please call me again for my dream trip To Valley of Flowers in coming August.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Post Valen'day Thoughts

I belong to the generation who watched News, one-day matches live from Sharjah, Gulzar’s movies on Doordarshan and discussed it the next day in college. Unlike now, we believed what all we watched on TV. News in the newspapers used to be fresh, and not already read and devoured on TV channels and Internet. So some of the incidences shown on TV infused in my mind so deeply that even after decades I think of them often.

I never fell in love the way they do in films, nobody does. But seeing it in the lives of celebrities intrigued me. A person committing suicide after getting rejected in love never had my sympathy. Just like Elizabeth Bennet I believed in pride and self esteem. Admired successful people, especially if they were from economically weak background. At this point I read about Syed Modi’s murder. Syed modi married to an another shuttler. Inter-religion marriage and must have been against the wises of their parents. What a lovely picture of love and romance that was! But he was shot dead at the gate of KD Singh Babu Stadium Lucknow. I still wonder why the lady didn’t just go for divorce and parted ways.Why he had to be killed?

The other stories involved Kamal Hasan, who every North Indian adored after the block buster EDKL, left his wife to marry his pregnant lover. I read very sophisticated Vani’s detailed interview and felt her pain deeply the way young girls do. Dimple Kapadia, who got the most expensive ring (in India at least) from her beau came back to films to raise her daughters.

After three decades Kamal Hasan, who does not believe in the institution of marriage, divorced twice and got into a relationship and parted too. I was happy to see vivacious Vani’s pic at a book launch in Bangalore. Ameeta has become the queen of Amethi and contesting for election against Sanjay Singh’s first wife Garima Singh.

So, where is love? In small pieces here and there in moments and memories, may be.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Day 1/7
Solo travelling may be a bliss, but travelling in a group has its own joys. I met five of my group-mates who were from different countries of Europe, at Rishikesh. All of them but Ami were into Hinduism and Yoga, which brought them closer to me. My trip began well when Matte suggested shopping from the crowded market of Rishikesh. She took a long time to find a kurta, loose and long enough to cover her knees. She took me to a gem jewellery shop and also bought herbal products of Patanjali and Himalaya. Actually I felt like a foreigner and she a native.

Devprayag is 46 miles from Rishikesh Which is on the way to Guptkashi, our destination for the day. It is a place where the two rivers meet and then is called the Ganga. Alaknanda from Badrinath and Bhagirathi from Gomukh, 18 km from Gangotri temple. I had seen this amazingly colourful confluence from the the road many times before, but never thought of walking down to take a dip. How much the company you keep can change the way you look at things. I walked down, touched and heard the holy water roaring. I came back carrying that sound and sight in my heart


My white companions were prepared for the holy dip at the confluence. Then I knew the urgency behind buying the long kurtas in Rishikesh. No way they wanted to temper with the sanctity of the place. Thank god they have not seen us bathing at Sangam during kumbh.

 By the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi stands an ancient temple. Lord Rama meditated here after killing Ravana, the demon king. 

We continued our journey and reached Kedar Camp which was my our abode for the next seven days.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Brick by Brick

Apna Skool for kids of kiln workers.
A brick-kiln at Tatayaganj, Kanpur

Make a picture in your mind of a school in which every door and window opens to green and blue of the earth and sky. Where students willingly stay back during their four month long break. Teachers keep them occupied with Maths, Evs, Science and English labs.The co-curricular activities include music, story telling, performing plays, making paper toys, games and other outdoor activities. This sounds like any other elite school. I had the opportunity to visit such a school and even if you are not a teacher like me, you would love to meet the confident students who have an urge to learn. These students, children of brick-kiln labours, have made to come to school by pampering, coaxing, requesting and luring by the volunteers of Apna Skool run by Vijiya Ramachandran near the brick kilns at  the outskirts of Kanpur city. They run 11 schools covering around 28 kilns.

Sangita, a devoted volunteer took me around the school. Class 1, the youngest in the school was the chirpiest. The classroom had two batches of kids as some of them joined late. Opposite walls had black boards and two teachers taught them. Each child stood and gave his/her introduction in English. All 54 of them wanted to speak. The teacher in me saluted the volunteers for such a show. They recited poems and talked about the little pleasures 'Apna Skol' offered them. They learn to read and write in an academic year which doesn't even have 12 months. Thanks to the books specially designed for them by Eklavya. Students are evaluated on the basis of exams conducted by National Institute for open schooling.

Class 2 and 3 shared one classroom which was big enough for around 20 of them. I asked them the  question which we adults are never tired of asking. Most of them wanted to be teachers when they grow up. Did they know any other profession? I wondered. Then someone told me that he wanted to be a 'police' and would catch thieves. Before I proceeded to the next class, they said they too had some questions for me, which ranged from my qualification to my favourite season.

Class four side of the room had the model of 'Rafael' fighter plane hanging from the ceiling. I was told by a student  everything about the model in Wikipedia manner. In class 5  a child told me how to create table of 19 by a math-magic and many interesting games with numbers. (write odd numbers from 1 to19 vertically, then write 9 to 1 backwards.) After that they challenged me with crossword puzzles.
Table of  19 made easy

It was time for lunch, but there were still things they wanted to share. Ashok,who is from Bihar played the guitar and Rohit played the violin. The child who knew to play the flute was absent. They had all the praise for their music sir who gives special classes on Mondays.

Brick-kiln labours live  at the worksite itself  from the month of June to October when the production is on. for rest of the months, with no work in hand they go back to their hometowns. Apna Skol volunteers arrange jobs for them so that kids could study without interruption.This year for the first time, 20 boys and girls were lived in the hostel for 4 months.
After class 5, kids are sent to other private and government schools. Neetu, a class 7 student showed me how Excel works. She goes to Adarsh Inter college.When her school is closed she comes to Apna Skol with other ex-students to clarify the doubts in Maths and science.Today is one such day when DM has declared a holiday due to some reason.

What would she do here for the whole day, I wondered. "She loves to teach class 1 and 2 students and she does it so well", beamed a proud teacher.

It was a pleasure watching the little ones going towards the light of education from the darkness of illiteracy. A day well spent indeed, but not without guilt that what am I doing for the adorable underprivileged kids of my country?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Jan Gan Man ki Baat

The Supreme Court has asked all cinemas to play the national anthem before a film is screened. This may have become a national debate now but our National Anthem nudges me every morning at the most inappropriate hour. There is a school near my house. Their morning assembly ends with ‘Jan gan man’ which coincides with the time when I’m shampooing my hair and my head and face is covered with foam or when I’m talking to someone over the phone.I can’t be against the lovely ritual of singing the anthem in school assemblies, but the loudspeaker.

A teacher’s day at work begins with the national anthem. I have come across lovely things related to it. Most of the times we have to tell the little ones not to close their eyes while singing. And oh my, you should listen to a kindergarden child singing it. An eight year old NRI student of mine was astonished to see that everyone knew and sang the National Anthem so well in the school. In the US, he said that nobody knows their anthem after a line or two.

When there is s a big discussion going on about respecting our national anthem, I think of the gardener who I saw standing up straight while weeding the flower beds, as soon as students started singing Jan gan man. I went to him and appreciated him for his gesture and humiliated an SIS guard for fidgeting and being indifferent throughout.
In my city they already play National Anthem in cinema halls. I witnessed it before watching Pink in a theatre, when I was expecting "Vicco Turmeric, nahi cosmetic" ad. There is a mood for everything. I love my country, but movies and National Anthem do not match. National Anthem is too pious to be related to something we do leisurely.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Kedar Camp, Time to Stand and Stare.

The group I chose to be a part of for my Kedarnath trip was comprised of six people from Switzerland, Denmark, Russia and Germany. Agastya and Anna (Savitri),  Ami and Anja aka Shyamala, and Matte. They were into Yoga and Hinduism which brought me closer to them. The itinerary had names of the places unknown to me and I resisted the google search of the places as I didn't want to miss the element of surprise.

Our base,  Kedar Camp, Guptkashi, was my home for  seven days. We climbed many mountains, but by  evening came back to the camp for sumptuous food, stories around the fire place, cosy tents with hot water bottles tucked under the blankets and relaxing hot water bath. Next morning we used to be ready for another peak, lake or a lake on the peak. The homely warmth of the place made me realise that before making a house one has to plan and before making such a camp one has to dream.

my tent

Six hours bus journey from Rishikesh ended when I climbed the stone steps which lead me to the camp where I was offered homemade rose drink. The row of tents faced the mighty peaks of Greater Himalayas. Variety of flowers added to the beauty of the place. Lovely collection of roses, passion flower, queen of the night and so many.

Passion Flower

The tent  with mosquito repellents, switchboards to charge the mobiles n laptops was a delight.The biggest relief was the wash room.

later I saw a slide show of the pics of  more than  hundred types  of birds that visit the camp during different seasons of the year. Some of them come back for their yearly visit.There are a few wild berries n fruit trees purposely planted to lure them. Some come in flocks like parrots and others just two of them year after year. The few names I remember are seba, babbler, fench, red bellied bulbul, hupoo, yellow crested woodpecker, plum headed parrot, sunbird and munia. During my morning walk I could also spot a pair of pheasants. I also realised how difficult it is to take bird pics.

Pic: Agastya Seikritt 

Like the kitchen at home dining hall proved to be the heart of the camp, Food was not spicy and  tasty enough to make us overeat. I, a homemaker envied the chef who never repeated a thing throughout our stay. I also wondered how those European fellows never missed their staple food at all. I could only hear them sigh, Wow, I like it, yummy.. From pickles, salads, daals, vegetables, sweet dishes, we loved it all. Porridge, Dalia  topped with mountain honewas a big hit with everyone. Honey reminds me this beehive  which could be seen from the dining hall.


Like we Indians are particular about our chai, my companions were about their coffee. A coffee maker was taken out and different types of coffees were made which were not in the menu, but our host made sure each one gets what he wants. He wanted us to be happy. I, a pahari got ghee  for my khichri and gur, jaggery to be eaten in the end, on the table. Isn't it amazing?


The  adorable fire place in the corner used to be our adda after dinner. Agystya told a kissa about how he was separated from his friends at Gomukh during a storm and heavy snowfall. There appeared a sadhu who gave him shelter and food. As things became normal the sadhu was nowhere to be seen. Years later he saw the same sadhu at Varanasi, but only for a while. He vanished again. Goosebumps!

Add caption

Our host also told us about his regular clients, they call them guests. Most of them become good friends. Victor Banerjee and the Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic also stayed in the camp for a month for the shooting of a film ' Devbhoomi'

One more group came to the camp a day before we were leaving. A swamiji with a few of his disciples. Swamiji brought a garland of colourful flowers for Shalendra, our host. He did make him wear it. This is the relationship he shares with his guests. Most of the ppl in the party had been there before. One of the girls, from Belgium saw our group leader and sprang up shouting his name Majojjjj!! and hugged him. She came to India a few years back and might have been in his tour group. Savitri, from Russia also told me, "Manoj is an angel." I was so proud of these entrepreneurs  who treat these tourists/ guests so well that they remember them forever."

I heard Shalendra refusing an another group over the phone saying the camp is full. I could see that there were a couple of tents lying vacant. I asked the reason and his answer left me speechless.He said,"These many people are enjoying. I'm easily providing them what they want. Quality of service should not suffer." He wanted to give happiness to his guests.They should remember this place. Memories made and lives enriched, that is what he wanted.

The beauty of doing one's work sincerely is that people remember you, they do. This is what I'm doing past midnight, thinking of Kedar Camp, smiling and reliving those happy moments.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

हम तो झोला उठा के चले,

Husband gave me a look of, "Simran,ja ji le apni zindagi" when my train chugged towards Dehradun and he took a flight to Chennai. I chose mountains to beaches. Spouses should give space to each other, literally!
Invoking my muses Mridula, Shivya nath and Writer's Block and many others I broke an imagenary coconut and unplanned my trip. I have decided to take things as they come. I had to go to Uttarkashi, but how, when and duration of the stay was not decided. Even return tickets were not booked.

Dehradun is home which does not recognise me now. Roads are better but Lichi orchards and canal are missing. Visited my college, met a dear friend who is teaching there and roamed about the Pultan Bazar, Astley Hall nand Rajpur Road, places Ruskin Bond mentioned in his award winning novel.

Travelling in mountains is a nightmare for those who suffer from motion sickness. My Uttarkashi trips are enjoyable, thanks to the good roads and the car my brother arranges for me. But he looked at me disdainfully when I asked him to drop me at the trekker (an 8 seater vehicle) stand. During the ride I got to hear Garhwali songs which I didn't like at all. I wished he had played the ones I love. I begged  the driver to play Kishor Kumar or Asha songs, but no luck. I enjoyed half of the journey, had tea, but after that the sickness began. I regretted for not listening to bro. Looking at the brighter side I thought that no dashing young man would have offered me a toffee if I were travelling and puking alone in a swanky car.

Mountain air cured me immediately when I got down at my stop. I crossed a bridge over the Ganges (Gangaji, this is how my people call her), walked a km with my backpack to reach home. 

Hiring a cab and going somewhere was the only way, only if I could have a local guy or a girl for the company. I thought of the travel writers/ bloggers who paint an alluring  picture of a place, garnish it with engaging anecdotes. It was intriguing that how they get right people in the remotest places who take them around. I could only pray to God, specially Shiva who was not away from me even for a second while I was loitering in the market. He was on the signboards, temples, names of the institutions, on the cars windscreen and behind the trucks. He has fulfilled my silly and na-jayaz wishes then this one was at least sane.I reached home and got a call from a relative that he is going to Harsil for a day for his official work and I could accompany him If I wanted.

Getting to travel with locals is a boon. The tone and topics of conversation added a flavour to the trip. On the way to Harsil I witnessed innumerable waterfalls.The scenery was breathtaking even for me, a pahari.

I landed at a training centre for gals. The expensive woollen shawls we buy from the swanky showrooms were being made here in the cold and dark room. On the way I walked through a steep trail. I didn't even bring my shoes. I stood on a large clearing. It was a helipad, which was used during the great cloudburst at kedarnath to bring the people to safer places.

 I was given an hour or two to explore and enjoy while my godsent relative finished his meetings. I was told to go straight and cross a couple of bridges and I would reach the market place. I again looked for someone to accompany me. I was chided that the distance is not much. what if there are some wild animals on the way. But I met only pretty local girls and handsome army guys who happily clicked pics for me.

I passed by the Wilson Cottage and Bridge. Pahari Wilson, who married a local lass, had brought apples to Harsil. Walked for a while and I was at the quietest market I have ever seen. Two-three hotels, a general merchant plus woollen shop, a bank with an ATM that was all. A cemented pathway
lead me to the orchards full of green and red apples. I walked further and there were lovely neat and clean pathway and houses. At the diversion stood a post-office. Later I was told that this post-office was there in the movie which made Harsil famous. I turned back and to the market and looked around for an eatery. Had momos at a lil restaurant with local girls and boys. A boy was ready to be my guide and take me to a 3km walk upto Mukhba. I was told there were meadows and the famous waterfall under which pretty Mandakini bathed in the movie. But lo, the car was waiting for me for the return journey.


On the way back a co-passenger, who was known to my host took me to a village which had 2-3 scattered houses among the apple orchards. I met a family who lived in a typical pahari house. One of the daughters had a very different accent.I got curious and she told me that she got married to a guy from Haryana six years back. Many other girls from this area are married off like her. Had heard about the sex ratio going bad to worse in Haryana, but saw that they have to come so far to look for a bride. I felt relieved when she told me that she is happy. She took me around an orchard which was sold to a contractor. My craving for plucking an apple was ignited, but she told me contractors always keep an eye. The apples have become forbidden now! But she did pluck and gave me one.

Nachiketa Taal  
Chaurangi khal is 30 km away from Uttarkaashi.  3 km uphill walk took us to Nachikta taal. The cab driver and his pretty wife proved to be an excellent company.

While climbing a lovely trail I found blood on my toes and thong slippers. There were tiny leeches which were swollen a bit after sucking my blood. after a while they vanished. It took an hour to reach the top. And when I looked down there was a big lake. It was a lovely site, but I found it a bit overrated. The fish in the lake entertained us . A sadhu lives there in a tent throughout the year. He was chatting with the forest guards. Before going we offered him some fruits and money which he refused politely. I thought of the Pundas  of Sangam at Allahabad and Pushkar who almost snatched my wallet.

September was never so cool before.