Run To The Rann: The Delhi To Rann Of Kutch Itinerary/Story

The Idea


To see the Rann of Kutch, in the Kutch region of Gujarat.


Just like happens in every group, everybody was excited on what all we’ll do there, and how we’ll go about it. But after 5 minutes they realised their problems – exams, work, salary problem, family problem, and the impracticality of the idea. Everybody thought that Delhi to Gujarat wasn’t practical, and definitely not a weekend trip. In the end who remained was just I.

So if you really like a place, and traveling then come up with an idea and plan it in such a way that even if nobody else comes with you, you could still execute it.
The key is: believe in with your ideas, no matter what. And before that, get some ideas.
That’s the thing with those who do their shit solo.

My photographer friend from Ahmedabad, Himani Malhotra identified this as a wonderful opportunity to cover the place in collaboration.
Some more friends from Ahmedabad, including my Russian friend Masha thought that it’s a good idea to catch up in Kutch.


Getting Ready

My plan mostly is to have no plan. But generally, I thought that I’ll be taking the route via Ajmer, as it will take me there 2 hours faster.
The other plan in my head, as I was having my supper was to have my breakfast in Gujarat the next morning.

I packed in a heavy dose of t-shirts and socks in my bag. Apart from my camp, sleeping bag and sleeping mat, I also had my laptop and a foot pump.
I looked at the sticker on the tank of my Thunderbird 500 – Made like a gun.
With my helmet, riding jacket and gloves in place, while snugging on a buff, I sure looked like a man on a mission.


How To Reach

I started off from Delhi at 7 in the evening, with no particular pit-stop in my head. The road until Jaipur would have been smooth, if not for some really nasty rumblers. Seriously, rumblers on a highway are a deliberate call to accidents. Anyhow, I usually get tired after spending just two hours on bike. But here I reached Jaipur in under 5 hours, and was still doing okay.

And in the dark when I couldn’t spot this nasty rumbler, I got shaken up terribly. But I was doing alright.
After some 10 km from that place I started to feel something was wrong. I stopped and found indeed there was.
My camp and sleeping bag were securely tied on my back seat, but my big bag containing everything else wasn’t anywhere to be found. My heart got stuck in my throat. It had my laptop, and some other important things. I felt like a fool here.

Hopelessly, I turned my bike around to go find my bag. I couldn’t even be sure that I lost my bag at that rumbler, but I could only hope.
Just then an overspeeding applied sudden brakes as it crossed me and stopped screeching-ly. The co-driver jumped off, came running to me and said “bhaiya aap ka bag!”
I was correct. My bag fell off at the rumbler 10 km ago, and this heroic guy went out of his way, all the way to chase me down.
He also told that he thought he would never find me.
I was totally humbled by his gesture, and didn’t know how to react to this.

IMG_20151112_205042-2
I wanted to thank him more than just verbally. I thought offering money wouldn’t be appropriate. So I requested him to have tea with me at least. We went to a dhaba at about a km from there, and talked for a while.
After that I again told him a big thank you, and then we left.

I entered Jaipur, and then I seemed to have lost my way. I wasted some 40 minutes inside of Jaipur trying to find my way. But it is noteworthy that Jaipur now looks like quite that jazz place with the metro links adding to its charm.

I stopped at a chai shop to ask for directions and to hydrate myself.
On spotting me, two inquisitive youths approached me with a smile and we hit a little conversation. Turned out that they were avid riders too, and so we exchanged some destination stories.
They inquired me of where I was going to take a halt. I didn’t want to appear like a hero by admitting that a halt is not in the scene, so I just blurted out the closest milestone in my head – ‘Mount Abu’.
‘Woah!’, their jaws dropped. Apparently it was too far too.

They then put forth their opinion that Mt. Abu is a touristy place, and that I should probably see around Chittorgarh.
‘Umm yeah, probably’, I started rerouting the map in my head.


We bid each other farewell as I left with a fresh thought.

Jaipur and Chittorgarh were ‘only’ a 300 km from each other. It was a smooth ride. I kept singing exciting songs all the way, which kept me charged up. Yes, it works for real. Within no time I was in Chittorgarh.
But yeah, soon I realised that there was nothing much to see in that place. Just the fort, which was of course closed at 3 a.m.

I would return some day soon to see the Tower of Victory and the Tower of Fame in the Chittorgarh Fort. Apart from that Chittorgarh is primarily an army area, and aren’t we aware that cantt areas are always such beauts?


And soon enough I was in Udaipur too. It is another dreamy little town.
Abode to both, mountains and lakes, this place is a treat to everyone’s eyes alike.
For the home to a number of royal families this city of lakes is, it provides for the sight of Audi Central here from between the trucks which comes as a refreshing surprise.

I reached Udaipur by 5 in the morning. It was still dark. I sat myself by a lake and revelend on a joint, as the darkness of the night started to subside.
See sunrise in Udaipur, by a lake side (while smoking on a joint) – Check! 😀

As I took out my phone, I saw messages from Masha asking me if I could pick her up from Ahmedabad as her friends wouldn’t be coming anymore, and she couldn’t find the bus to Bhuj.
I then picked myself up, and managed to leave no trace of me in Udaipur by 5:40.


The ride to Ahmedabad from here did not feel like a task anymore. Today I can stand and swear by this road.
This entire 260 km strip from Udaipur to Ahmedabad makes up for one of the most gorgeous rides in India.
Mountains on the way, hairpin bends, straight long roads, scenic views, disciplined driving, cleanliness – it had everything.
Though there were also too many toll plazas on the way for anybody’s liking. But thankfully, all of them were free for two wheelers, yay!
I would go for a spin on this road anyday, anytime.

But by now I was on the road for over 12 hours, and sleep started to take the toll on me. But I backed myself to keep going for 2 more hours, until I reached Ahmedabad.
I started singing loudly again, which got the attention of some fellow bikers. And we started riding and singing together.

Finally after 14 hours of continuous riding I reached Ahmedabad. 
I was welcomed warmly by the friendly strangers of this city. At least 6-8 different people overtook me on their bikes and autos, showing me a ‘thumbs up’ and shouting with a big smile – “welcome to Uhmdavaad (Ahmedabad) ney!
There were red lights at every 100 meters, stopping on which is risking your life. I was the only one to be stopping at the lights, while other vehicles zipped past me. I still stayed put sincerely until a traffic policeman came and indicated to me to get going, with the expression thinking as if I must be crazy.

I met my friend Masha in Vastrapur near the lake. After spending about 2 hours catching up, eating, charging my phone and refueling, we left for the Rann of Kutch.


I happened to exit Ahmedabad from an alternate end of the city that took me over an hour longer. It definitely wasn’t a comforting decision for me, riding already over 15 hours.
One sad thing I saw across all Gujarat highways was dead dogs on the roads. From Udaipur to Ahmedabad to Bhuj, I saw about 40 dead dogs in the middle of the road in 700 Km.
First three times I got off my bike and pulled them to the roadside with a heavy heart, but after that I would just move on. But please you guys, drive/ride carefully, and at a controlled speed. And even if you see a dead animal on the road, please make sure to pull him to the side of the road, or a biker could easily trip over it.

After 6 hours of a very fatiguing ride, we finally reached Bhuj.
Masha did a very good job keeping me from dozing off while riding the bike. Without her it would have taken much longer for me to complete the journey.

After reaching Bhuj, it only took very little effort to find the way, but too much time to find the correct person who could tell us the right way. Looked like the people who lived the closest to the Rann of Kutch haven’t even heard of it themselves.
Look for the old Bhuj Railway Station, and ask around to take the next turn for the White Desert of Rann  of Kutch.


There’ll be signposts welcoming you to the Rann. It’s a beautiful 70 km passage here which will take you to Dhordho White Desert.

But it was late at night by the time I reached the entrance to the white desert. The BSF guards asked of us to come in the morning.
So morning it was.

The Great Rann Of Kutch

Or not.
Something is as big or small as you make it. It’s all about what you expect, and what you get in the end.
Nobody was able to provide me with first hand concrete information on what I will find there, and how to go about it. So I felt free to expect a never ending playground, straight out from my motorbiking dreams . Riding towards the horizon at night, whitened by glistening crystals. To feel stalked by the stars and the moon, and to challenge them by camping right there, under their noses – this is what I expected now.

Contrary to what I was told by some people, no special permission from Bhuj Police Station is required to enter the place.
I straightaway stopped at the BSF checkpoint at the entrance of the desert. I just had to give my Driving License to them (to collect it while exiting from there), and Masha being a foreigner, just had to mark an entry in their register.

After 1 km there, there’s this final entrance, beyond which 4 wheelers could not be taken. Though camel carts, and bikes do fancy the small 200 meter stretch of tar there.

My heart was already beating faster in anticipation.
I could see half dried sort of salt beds on the edge of the road. I kept riding, hoping to see only salt and no water, so I can ride on it. But it turned out, it was only like a complete sea bed.
I wanted to cry. I came so far all the way just to see a 200 meter road, and water? I couldn’t go ahead anymore, it was water shin-deep all around.

IMG_20160101_210012_541
A beach is a beach, said Masha.

Other families there were still enjoying. It was now just a tourist spot. That’s the difference. If the place is only regulated, and rest on you to explore and discover then it’s a traveler/explorer’s place. But if it’s been restricted then it ceases to be a tourist spot.
I chose the wrong time to go. But that’s alright. What was wrong time for me, may just be right for somebody else. And the entire journey was still totally worth it. And from this trip I got to experience and learn a lot too, which I am already sharing with you guys on this blog, and the next.

[And so again turned up to the Rann of Kutch after a month. Watch this space for what I thought of it on my second visit 😀 ]

Where To Stay

There are some 3-4 resorts on the 70 km stretch. I inquired of each of them, but apparently none of them had a room available.
Finally the guard of Suraj Hotel, at 12 km from the Rann offered me a spot to pitch my camp. The site was clean and gave protection from wind from two sides, and the guard was really helpful.
We also had the washroom at our disposal. So much, without having to pay anything..

Since there was no space inside, half our stuff was on the outside of the camp.
It was 2.30 at night now, and it started to get cold. Absolutely tired, almost immediately we were in deep slumber.
At around 5 am, as some early morning men were walking around, I snuck my head out to check up on my stuff outside. I was scandalised to not spot my stuff. But soon enough realised that its because of the fog which has talismanically turned up on us. All my stuff was still very much there.
The guard brought me tea.

I also saw more cars parked near me, in which those why didn’t get a room like us were sleeping. They thought that our idea of camping here, and I coming all the way from Delhi was amazing. They themselves were from Surat, Gujarat.
The fog stood in front of us like a wall till 7 am, but after that it disappeared completely in 20 minutes like it were never there.

Generally, all the resorts have rooms starting from 1300 Rupees per person. Though one should note that if you book a resort online, or go through a guide, the same room can cost more.
But once again, it’ll at least keep you from getting stranded, in case everything is full.
In case you’re on a really tight budget, there’s a government guest house at 20 km from Dhordho, at 200 rupees per person.
Note: All the rates are sky high at the time of Rann Utsav, and resorts start at 6,000 INR. Homestays in the villages are also quite a thing, but they might also start at 2,500 INR.

 

What To Eat

In the morning, we packed our camp and freshened up. The guard told that breakfast is almost ready, we  should eat before we leave.
We went inside. The guy asked “breakfast?”
“Yeah”, I said.
He went inside and brought two plates, each having two aloo paranthas, poha with sev and tea. Having that scrumptious breakfast brought a smile on my face. I asked for a poha refill later.
One plate was for a 100 rupees.


While returning, in Bhuj I had quite a few dabelis. They are a handful, and at 7 rupees they’re pretty cheap too.


 

The first time I reached Ahmedabad, I wanted to have  some traditional Gujarati food, for which I was sent to Gordhan Thal. This place had a 40 minute waiting, and the waiting was out in the  sun. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Only a 100 meter apart was Pakwan restaurant, and the waiting list even deadlier here.
And then we went across the road to Honest Restaurant. The restaurant had nothing from the Gujarati cuisine, but still everything they had hit my soul. Food seemed fresh, and incredibly tasty! Oh also, honestly, the food was actually w on the expensive side.
And as I travelled further in Gujarat, this restaurant looked like quite the thing. Their restaurants were spotted at a number of places.

Note: All this is only from my first trip, where I only had limited time in hand. I found a lot of new and amazing range of food from Gujarat on my second trip to the place.


IMG_6709-112244292_1043942462317544_3526901156026598262_o12240434_1043946882317102_7254686071676325477_oIMG_6938-45

Photos by HimaniMalhotra.com

In The Posts To Follow:

This was the Part 1 of my journey. Coming back was another story, which I’ll tell in the next blog.
I was so amazed by Gujarat and its uniqueness that I returned after a month to see the whole of Gujarat. And how the beauty of Diu especially won my heart.
Watch out for some really interesting stories in the posts to follow.

Advertisements

Bir Bites: All About The Magical Little Bir

Bhaiya rukna nahi hai, bhaagte jana hai. Ruke toh mare!” – Keep running, don’t stop. If you stop, we die. I could faintly hear my instructor screaming.
I was sure I was going to wet my pants. I start to shiver and tremble when I even think of standing at a height.
Moments ago there was such silence that I could even hear the soft wind blowing. But now my ears failed to register any sound.


HOW TO REACH

 

New Delhi – Bir: 510 km
Dharamsala-Bir: 70 km
Baijnath – Bir: 30 km

Time from Delhi to Bir: 15 hours (via Bilaspur)
Bir to Delhi : 12 hours (via Una)

There are some direct buses to Bir, and more to Baijnath. Or you can take a bus from the easiest accessible Dharamsala, all of them being very interesting places themselves too.

T.H. reccommends: While going, take the route via Bilaspur. It will be longer, but as always in Himachal – really beautiful.

Crossing the river Beas and the little villages of Himachal give a magical feeling.

Most importantly – you will see a bridge immediately after crossing Nagaon village. A kutcha rasta which you can otherwise easily miss will take you to this unique Sankat Mochan temple.
A huge premises having only one Panditji gives a very positive feeling.
This temple not only boasts of idols and paintings of many conflicting gods (Hanuman, Shani Dev, Shiv, Budhha, Krishna) in one place, but also gives a beautiful view from the top with the river flowing in between the mountains.
T.H. chose to relax himself in the shed here for an hour.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0081.
The Entrance Of Sankat Mochan Mandir had to be huge!
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0083.
All in just one. Never saw them together before.

Bir

Finally by 5 pm we were in district Bir.
I kept riding as everybody kept gliding from over my head.
After riding for 4 kilometers, on the right fork of the road there was Friends Tours & Travels. We stopped and directly asked if paragliding is happening. The response was positive and we were put in their jeep.
All of a sudden so much was happening. Only I knew how much I am scared of height.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0330.
The Entrance To Bir.

 

The road to Billing was a narrow 14 km ride, with tight hairpin bends. But we took a long time mostly because it was a 2 way traffic road.
The view once again from the top was breathtaking. It is unfair what these mountains have been doing to me. Each mountain I go to, sets up a new sort of heaven in front of me. I was standing meters above clouds here, refusing to acknowledge that I’ll have to jump off after a while. I wouldn’t have made myself happy if I shied away from here.
And as fate would have it, the weather was declared inappropriate for paragliding, and the day was called off.

WHERE TO EAT

At night, we decided to have dinner at proper Bir, and then go to Billing to camp for the night.
And as in small places, there are too less an eating joints, and then on top of that it was 9.30 at night. After walking around for a bit, we found a tiny eating facility having only two tables.
I entered the place, and figured that there was no menu to be found. I inquired of a guy, for what all was available there.
Bhaiya dal hai, kadhi ho jayegi, gobhi bhi hai, aur roti laga dunga.” – I have dal, can also give you kadhi, maybe a cauliflower dish, and yeah some bread too; he articulated his generosity. 😛
I asked him to get one of all that he has, which got me a plate of momos, manchurian and chowmein too. The food was nice and homely, and momos absolutely fresh. After binging on it all like a monster, the bill was a mere 95 rupees.
I smiled and handed him a 100 rupee note, and a 20 more. He said a firm “nahi bhaiya” and returned the extra money.
.
In the morning, we thought of having breakfast at Bir itself before leaving for Delhi.
I asked some locally made friends there for some recommendations, and they all suggested Surya Hotel.
On reaching it I found that it was a classic restaurant sort of a place, of which I was in no mood. As I walked around, I found two little tea stalls together, with one table outside each. The one on the right looked like also serving north Indian food, while I spotted mucktoos (momo steamers) outside the other.
I chose to take myself to the latter, which soon turned out to be a sweet decision.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0325.
Humble Shop. Amazing People. Even Better Food.

 

The Veg Thukpa, And The To-Die-For Ginger Honey Lemon Tea

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0313.
Veg Thukpa and The To-Die-For Ginger Honey Lemon Tea.

 

I got talking with the lady about the Paragliding World Cup that was going to happen there at Bir the next week, and to keep up with the small talk, suggested them to also sell souvenir, selling local and Tibetan products. To which she had to say,
Hame toh bas khana banana aata hai. Logo ko khana khila ke sukh bhi milta hai, aur do chaar paise bhi kama lete hain. Isse zyaada paise ka kya karenge?”  – I’m good at cooking. Feeding people gives me some money, and a lot of satisfaction. What am I going to do with money more than that?
The simplest of people can sometimes make one feel the smallest.

OTHER OPTIONS

Garden Cafe, I’ve heard makes the best pastas, salads and sandwiches in the Bir Tibetan Colony.
Lhakpa Cafe serves the most sublime momos in Upper Bir, but only until the afternoon.
Four Tables Cafe will require a little bit of looking around in Upper Bir, but totally worth it.

WHERE TO STAY

There was this another solo traveler I met while having dinner. He pitched his camp around some trees on the way to Billing at around 5 pm.
To be clear, the name of the district is Bir, while Billing is the top-most part of Bir, also known as upper-Bir.
This also happens to be the take-off site for paragliding.
So this guy pitched his tent in the evening, while trying to shoo the monkeys away who were constantly trying to have fun at his cost.
After putting the camp in place he took another hour to light fire.
But by this time he thought that he couldn’t take the ‘monkey menace’ anymore. So he packed his camp and came down to lower BIlling and got himself a room at a guesthouse.

I told him that –
1. He should have not set up his camp near the trees, and in fact chosen a clear patch of ground, as wild animals are more reluctant about coming out in open.

2. Most animals, including monkeys don’t act naughty at night and prefer sleeping ( except for animals of prey).

So because of these things, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, I’m going to go up to camp, and he should come with me. But by now, he was too much against the idea.

Camp Crop


My bike and my camp make me feel like the freest bird.

They make me feel I can go anywhere and anytime I want, and stop anywhere I want.
So I rode in the night which was darkened by the dense trees all around, to the peak of the district in the at 11.30.
As I reached the top, the whole scene was different.
I didn’t need any light. The moon was enough.
It was cold, and my shivering self took half an hour to find a nice spot and pitch the camp. Finally after all the hard work, my camp was standing upright.
I entered it proudly like entering my newly built house. Laid down, and stuck my head out and slept the night counting stars.

OTHER OPTIONS

Chokling Guesthouse is next to Chokling monastery in Bir Tibetan Colony. The rooms are decent and cheap, and they also serve nice food including veg sushi.

Dzongsar Guesthouse is situated near Deer Park, but will be an interesting choice because of the cave-like rooms it has on offer. Though seemingly made of stone, it can be quite cold in winter. Another cheap option.

Bhawani Guesthouse is in upper Bir, so the location has to be serene. The rooms are comfortable and cheap, but food will have to be ordered in advance.

Colonel’s Resort, set amidst a tea garden in Chowgan, has an interesting location. It offers nice rooms and cottages with good quality food, and will be one of the most expensive options in the area.

GLIDING

I was shit scared of height. Still am. We both are.

When we reached Bir, the first thing we saw was a paragliding agency. Within the next two minutes, their jeep was taking us to Billing take-off site.
Even the butterflies in my stomach were trembling.
I knew I was going to back-out after reaching the top. But if I do, I’d still have to pay them 500 rupees. Even that wasn’t acceptable to the stingy me.

It was a breathtaking 30 minute drive to the top, Billing. And now we were again amidst my beloved clouds.
It was one more place I felt myself falling in love with. I was some clear meters above clouds, and absolutely on top of the entire area.
Now I was shaking not only because I was scared, but also because it was extremely cold.
I was nervous. I didn’t want to glide.
I could see myself falling just before the glider spreads itself, and thus probably dying. But I would sure be seen by everybody as a wuss, if I back out now. But then again, did I ever really care about what others thought of me?
Thankfully for me, soon flying was put on a halt. The weather was declared inappropriate for flying.
Everybody started returning disappointed, and now like a real coward I started jumping around and taking pictures.

The next morning around 7 as I was still sleeping, I was taken as a surprise when my instructor from last evening was trying to wake me up from outside of my camp. When I didn’t move, he started packing the camp already, yelling excitedly that the conditions couldn’t get any better for gliding.
Usually after I wake up, I’m still sleepy for another two hours. But here, as soon as I stepped out, all my sleep vanished.
The scenery of Bir showed me one of the reasons why it is the second best locations for paragliding in the world.
Second after who? We never cared. Some place in Italy.
But most of us don’t even know that there exists this place called Bir in India. And shamefully many of us aren’t aware that this part of India hosted the Paragliding World Cup not even a week ago.

So finally I was standing there, without even washing my face or brushing my teeth, but wearing the harness. I was shaking not only because of fear, but also because it was eerily cold.
I was still rubbing my sleepy eyes and then – Bhaiya rukna nahi hai, bhaagte jana hai. Ruke toh mare!” – Keep running, don’t stop. If you stop, we die. I could faintly hear my instructor screaming.
I was sure I was going to wet my pants. I start to shiver and tremble when I even think of standing at a height.
Moments ago there was such silence that I could even hear the soft wind blowing. But now my ears failed to register any sound.
My instructor continued saying some other things too, but it was hard to hear him through the noise of my pounding heart. My feet and stomach started feeling tickling.
I really didn’t want to do this. The fear of height was strangling and smothering me like a python.

‘Okay bhaiya, start running’, he was all ready and beckoned me to start off.
I made my last remark like a dying goat bhaiya please zyada tez mat udaana” – please don’t make it fly too fast.

IMG_20151019_182458
My Happy Scared Look. And Helmet Always!

And finally the moment arrived!
I started running to take off.
The end of the cliff came really close.
I should have still not stopped, but I really wanted to. I remembered if I stopped now, we’d crash for sure.
So now, I my closed my eyes and started running like a bull.
And bam! I was flying!

I realised I was still trying to run even when I was in the air now, like Looney Toons.

I started screaming at the top of my voice. But not out of fear this time, out of sheer joy.
I don’t know whether the feeling was unreal more or surreal more. I could feel the wind brushing past my ears. I was cruising at that altitude, steering through the clouds.
I saw a bird flying next me, and I told her ‘I see what you see.’
All my life being scared of height, this was an amazing, freeing feeling.
Still screaming, testing my lungs and my throat, my throat sure soon gave up.

The speed of the glider in normal conditions is usually around 20-30 kmph.
The scary bit was only until the part where we have to keep running , and after that it was a smooth and comfortable ride.
Apart from that, all the instructors are all certified and well trained.
However, if you wish to glide without the instructor, then you’ll first have to do a 15-day certificate course with them.

AROUND BIR

Walking Around
One of my favourite things to do in Bir was just to soak in the place, walk around.
It is truly a serene place, and each

location gives a new feeling. It is more fun to walk and explore here because there is a good chance you will always find something new.
People here are really happy and humble, and believe in always keeping their town clean.
And in this small town too, they installed a portable toilet.
Young monks playing and running around is also a common site here.
Happiness is the USP of this place.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0310.
But Look Where The Shit Goes..

Monasteries
There are a number of monasteries in and around Bir area. Two important ones being:
Chokling Monastery, which is situated right in the middle of Bir Tibetan Colony. It looks very attractive from the outside, and inside it has a large stupa and a beautiful looking statue of Padmasambhava.
Palpung Sherab Ling Monastery is Bhattu, near Bir.
It is the monastic seat of Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche, offering periodic courses in Buddhist mediation and philosophy.

A MEDITATION RETREAT

The whole place is yours for the taking. Mountains or forest, take respite in whatever you like to get in touch with your inner self.
Also the Deer Park Institute, the Dharmalaya Institute, and Sherab Ling Monastery sometimes host (free) special courses in mediation, yoga, and periodic meditation retreats.


 

There are all the reasons why you should come to this place. Really, this is one place in this country that would never disappoint you.
It is a bit far off from most cities (not very far from the famous Dharamsala though), but totally worth it.

*
How It Fared

The whole trip was covered within the weekend, for only 3700 rupees.
Since we were two people on the bike, the fuel share of one person for the trip came out to be 1700 rupees. And paragliding cost us 1900 rupees.
We slept in our own camp, so stay was free! 😀
Not having any food on the way, and eating twice in Bir made us shell out about only a 100 rupees. [And a stick of good quality hash for 1100 rupees per tola]
The place was extremely happy and scenic.
So all in all, the trip was worth every single penny.

Travel Problems That Nobody Talks About

Of course, travel is the best teacher!
Isn’t everybody’s Facebook timeline a constant reminder of that?

One single solo trip to another country, another city, a restaurant, a movie hall, or a library holds the potential to change your whole life from then on. And finally you have booked the tickets to your favourite travel destination – Goa/Bangkok. Yay!
Or, no.
You have already been spending the last three new year eves at Goa. Now you need something less party like, and more peaceful. More traveler like.

So now the traveler in you has woken up.
A trip to Kasol/Manala/Sri Lanka has been planned.
You have booked the cheapest flight/train/bus tickets, packed your backpack wisely, kept a tent, rented a bike in the new place.
Nothing can go wrong from here. Nothing should.
But still, there are some not so nice things that most definitely will happen if you’re out for a long term travel, and there’s very little that you could do about it.

  1. Bike Problems

    Bikes are my favourite mode of transportation.
    To me, it is synonymous to freedom, and adventure. Along with that, they take you to places which are otherwise hard to get to.

    If you have taken a bike for yourself to travel for days, it is a certainty that the bike will break down at some point.
    You should know some basic things like how to handle a flat tyre, how to tighten brakes and how to tune your bike.

    Tip: Get to know your vehicle, read the manual. Keeping a foot pump and some tools and spares will also give you some secure feeling.
    When your bike gets punctured in the middle of nowhere, pump some air into the tyre with the help of the foot pump. The tire shall be now fit enough to take you some kilometers.
    Keep repeating the exercise until you reach a place to get the puncture fixed.


    Bikes help you widen your horizon. But keep your spares with you, else you’ll have to do the entire journey this way. Source

     

  2. Rain Problems

    Please!

    Rains are never a problem! I love rains.

    Where on the one hand, rain makes me want to dance like crazy, while on the other, I can just sit and listen to the sound of rain.
    It’s a special feeling to feel the rain from your camp in the mountains or a river.

    But travelers know how much it hampers their mobility when it’s time to make a move.
    It not only slows traffic down, reduces visibility, but also wets your equipment, clothes and luggage, managing which is already a problem.

    Tip: Keep rainproof jackets and some plastic sheets with you.


    Keep your hands free. Handling an umbrella could be too much of a hassle. Source

     

  3. Falling Sick

    Already motion sickness was trying to corner you, on top of that you get wet and fall sick! Not only you have fever, but a bad body ache also.
    The traveler friends you made on your way will now either stay put because of you, or will have to move on.
    Both the situations are going to make you feel bad.

    Now you’ll not only be stuck, but also if you’re staying at some hotel/resort or rented camps then you’re going to waste more money staying there for one more day. And hopefully just one.

    As you’ll be bed ridden and will have nothing to do, you will probably have all the haunting questions about your life and existence too. This is also the time when you’ll be missing your home the most.

    Tip: Keep some trusted medicines for fever and body ache. Follow tips from point number 2.
    Have fruits, and then the medicines and then go for a good sleep.
    In the evening, explore the nearby area, interact with the locals.

  4. Delhi Belly

    Oh the movie has made the term famous worldwide. The other worldwide known name for it is ‘traveler’s diarrhea’.
    It is caused from:
    * Drinking contaminated water, and not being able to adjust to the local food.
    Also if you’re going up the mountains at a considerable speed from the plains,      your stomach will feel the pressure because of the altitude.
    You decide to not stop and keep moving. Having to control your poop for long hours while traveling also leads to a bad stomach.

    Tip: Invest in water filter straws. They are portable, and with them you can make any water drinkable.


    Another reason for upset stomach is dehydration.
    Keep taking sips of water regularly, and keep packs of ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) with you.
    They cost barely a rupee, and are available easily at any chemist.

    Don’t drink untreated water, and avoid food of questionable quality.

  5. Midnight Cravings

    Don’t we all have that?

    Even sitting in front of our laptops at home at night we crave food.
    We crave a pizza at the oddest of ours. And then its a fight with ourselves.
    We do everything to make ourselves understand that we’re on a diet, and it is insane to turn every single day into a cheat meal day.

    But when in the mountains if you crave crazy food, the feeling you feel is called helplessness.

    Tip: Well. Wipe your tears. Drink water.
    There is not much that you can do to fulfill your cravings here.

    But for times like these, you should keep peanuts with you.
    They are not only a good source of protein and energy, but also fill your stomach in very little.
    It will help you cut down on your craving. Moreover, it will go well with your booze.


    Apples, honey and lemon are other things that are handy and help to replenish.

  6. Stinky Clothes

    You are going to sweat like a pig no matter how you travel during the day.
    All your clothes will be super dirty within 2 days of traveling, and your stink will declare your arrival to people even before you physically arrive.

    Tip: Find opportunities to wash your t shirts and socks every evening, even if with just water.
    Keep a deodorant.
    Take the t shirt out that you will be wearing the next morning, and keep it under your mattress/sleeping bag or any luggage with a clean and flat bottom. It won’t look crushed like you took it out of a pot in the morning.

  7. Losing Things

    Agh! I hate losing things.
    I have lost count of the things I have lost while traveling in the last one year.
    From big burly cameras to the best of phones, keys, money.

    There are many interesting stories also related to the way I have lost some of those stuff.  But it has only given me experience and stories to tell, for instance – Things Lost And Found.
    However the fact will remain that if you are a traveler, you will lose or break things, or have them stolen or robbed, no matter how careful you are.

    Tip: Don’t keep an expensive phone with you.
    Traveling is an outdoor activity. And most expensive phones are usually the most fragile.
    Keep harness keychains, wallets and water bottles. If you can’t find them in stores or online, then DIY.
    Keep track of your expenditure. Count your money before you sleep and before you leave the next morning.

    Blah! Now I’m sad thinking of all the memories I lost in my phone and camera.


    But if you think that you are ready to tackle these problems, then go out and travel today! And let us know here if you faced similar or some other kind of problems. Hope you don’t though.
    All the best, I’ll seeyouontheflipsyde 🙂

Things Lost, And Found.

My Flight. Almost.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M LATE?” I started shouting in disbelief at the boarding counter, at Almaty airport, Kazakhstan, “the flight is at 6:30, and it’s only 4;15 now!”

In return they just kept pointing at their wrist watch, while shrugging their shoulders indicating they couldn’t help me. I checked time on my phone and thought what could they possibly mean that I’m late when I  still had a good two hours and fifteen minutes in hand. It was my 24th hour in Kazakhstan, the transit country from where I had my connecting flight to Russia. It was also the 24th hour of we not understanding each other, because of the language barrier. I still kept shouting and fighting with them for what’s right, my right.

But oh boy, turned out I wasn’t right. My eye fell on the wall clock at the airport, and my mouth remained wide open in the feeling of realisation, embarrassment and helplessness. The Kazakhstan Eastern Standard Time was 6:20 now, and somehow I kept my phone as per all ‘local’ times, except for this one. This is when they underwent a heart transformation and indicated me to enter the boarding gate. A special car was waiting, which took me to the plane. The plane was already on the runway, and the steps were being arranged for me to go up the plane. Thanking everyone so loudly I kept running, like a school kid whose school just got over, until I got to my seat. As soon as I sat, the plane started moving, and within minutes we were in the air.

Now I Have To Send Proof To Friends Every Time I Manage To Not Miss My Flight

My Friend

After such a long toil I felt so relieved as I found myself sipping on red wine, while flying along the beautiful snow clad mountains of Kazakhstan. So relaxed at the thought that I’ll finally be in Russia soon, I couldn’t go anywhere else from here. I reclined my seat and put earphones on, and put the song | Dil Dhadakne Do | from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara on . The title of the movie translates to – You Only Live Once. The movie and the song both always inspired me to travel and do things which let me loose, and liberate myself. I closed my eyes and started tripping on the song, it took me to a flashback to when I heard the song last –

It was some 2 months ago when my closest friend Kartik and I were running excited about going to Russia together. We both wanted to go to Russia since we were little, and now we were going to do it together. As the time drew closer, some misunderstanding between us happened, and he stopped talking to me, and I didn’t exactly know why. I booked my tickets to Russia, and wanted to know when he will, but got no reply from him. Now I was stuck in a strange situation with nowhere to go. I didn’t want to go to a whole new country all by myself, where I did not know anybody. I was contemplating canceling my tickets. With some recent failures playing at the back of my head, and the song | Dil Dhadakne Do | being played in front my eyes, I dramatically got up from my seat and in a hoarse voice delivered a monologue.

” This is the time to do something new. This is the time to free myself. This opportunity will never come again. Go alone, and show them what you’ve got, show yourself what you’ve got! Go out there and kill it! This is it! ‘THIS IS SPARTA!'” The song got over, and so the flashback.

Why aren’t Bollywood movies shot here in Kazakhstan? So exotic 😀

My Way

With Couchsurfing.com  by your side, it’s impossible now to be alone in any part of the world. You make friends in a foreign land even before you arrive, and after you arrive, it won’t be a surprise if they become your source of survival, and then if you guys stay friends for life. Also, there will be a good chance, that these friends, if not anybody else will have a common language as you. Or will at least make efforts to speak to you. That is how you interacted on the website in the first place, no?

So after landing in Moscow, I tried to get to my newly made friend – Anna. I first had to catch a bus to Rechnoy bus station, and from there catch the Metro to Teatralnaya, and then change metro line to finally reach Arbatskaya. The catch – I didn’t know how to; nobody spoke English; all the signboards were in Russian.

After somehow getting to Rechnoy bus station, I tried asking somebody where the metro station was. In response, the person turned his back towards me. Shocked as hell, as I was at this rude response, I asked somebody else and got the same reaction. Soon I learnt that this behavior was mainly because they don’t understand English. Strange, I know, but that’s how it was, is. After trying for a long time and a lot of people, I tried asking this lady who looked like she was walking to work. She did not speak English, but she did try to explain to me. Finally she just indicated me to follow her. She came with me to the metro station, inside the metro, and traveled all the way to my station with me. We got out, and after trying to find, walking for a good half an hour we reached the address. And then she left without giving me much chance to thank her.

My Allies And Twilight Sort Of Parents From Moscow 😀

Passport

As I roamed the chill streets of Moscow with the Colombian friend I made, a carnival at the marketplace kept us busy. She – Natali, and I had one thing in common. We both couldn’t speak Russian. But she was in Russia for 4 months already, and had to catch her flight back to Colombia the next week. She was definitely better than me at Russian. But also couldn’t speak English much.

It started to snow. I gave my passport to Natali to keep it in her wallet. After 30 minutes of roaming about, yes – no points for guessing, the wallet was not to be found.

And it turned out she had about $200 in her wallet. I was not even sad for my lost passport when I heard about her loss. I wanted to laugh. She didn’t know for what to feel more sad, losing so much money, or losing my passport. But yes, she didn’t even talk about her money even once, and kept apologising to me all the time.

I spotted an extremely beautiful woman in a bluish uniform. I ran up to her and asked – “Heyi, are you..umm.. police?”

“Yeah, I guess..” chewing on a gum, she responded in a very cool looking, American sort of way.

I tried explaining everything to her, but appeared like that was all the English she spoke.

She took us to the police station. The entire police station, and we two tried to explain ourselves to each other for over an hour. Nobody understood English there too. The procedure to be followed after filing the FIR was to go to the Indian embassy and apply for a temporary visa. And many other formalities, which were to take about ten days. I had to cancel my scheduled flight to Chelyabinsk for this.

After a few days, I got a call from some stranger person who wanted to meet me, without imparting me with much knowledge on what this was about. A meeting was scheduled for the same evening. We met, and I was told that he was an Indian, working in the Indian embassy in Moscow as a yoga instructor. (6 months in Russia, and now he was turned into an American – Australian albino with his accent. Nobody knows why.) And that somebody found my passport, and gave it to the police station. The police station gave it to the embassy, and now I was being handed it over by this person.

In return, he asked me for a promise that I should carry parcels for him back home to Delhi, when I fly back.

And of course, Natali’s money was never recovered.

My Phone

I have had a serious fear of height since childhood. But since last year I’ve been doing activities that involve me climbing up a good height, so that I feel less scared. Miass was a beautiful and a far away sort of place, being two hours away from Chelyabinsk. Perfect place to snowboard at, among other things. Network was on a fall here, and battery not so full. I put my phone on offline mode.

The mountains had been commercialised. The snow clad mountains were aided by giant snow making machines. Don’t think Russia ever needed them, though. I rented for myself board shoes and the snowboard. We had only 3 hours in hand.

First step on the board, and I realised that this wasn’t going to be easy. Paaji, assi such a pussy cat. After little practice, we had to go up the mountain to finally start. It was already very high up, and then as I stepped on my snowboard, it started to slip again. I thought this wasn’t happening at all. But I didn’t stop believing in myself, and started singing – I Believe I Can Fly. And so, as I kept at it, I started getting better, and finally found myself surfing smoothly down the snow mountain. The feeling was so nice. I spread my arms like an eagle, and felt the cool wind go past me.

I thought of singing another song involving flies and mosquitoes but – “first lemme take a selfie..” As I took my phone out of my pocket, it slipped out of my hands. I tried to catch it multiple times from the moving snowboard, as it fell down in slow motion before it finally hit the snow. I put my heart back in, which had fallen out through my mouth. Managed to stop my snowboard, took it off and climbed up the mountain to find my phone. We eight friends searched around that area for 2 hours, only to fail.

Last Selfie From The Dear Phone, Thanks To Cloud Backup

Camera

It was the same night. We were partying, and everybody was trying to make me feel better. Everybody had their own DSLRs, taking pictures all the time. Taking pictures is not much of my thing, I’m mostly too lost in the moment to be taking pictures. So here my friend Alexander took so many pictures that there was no more space left in his memory card. He saw that I wasn’t taking any pictures, so asked me if he could borrow my memory card. “Why just the memory card, take the whole camera and return later”, I thought it was one good way to not carry the heavy camera all the way on my own. And so he took charge of my camera.

Later at night, we were going back home together in the tram. As we got off the tram, I asked him, “hey, you’ve taken the camera right?”

“Which camera?” his answer scared me already.

“My camera!” duh?

“Your camera, you should take it?” almost guilty, he tried justifying.

“But I gave it to you..”

“Uh ohh..”

Now The Camera Is Only In Memories, And This Picture

Immigration Slip

I’m the most careless person I ever came across. Finally at the Moscow airport, as I was going to return to India I was asked for my documents. I passed on my ticket and passport to the lady at the Passport Control Office. She said “sir, your immigration slip please.”

I said, “what?”

“Your. Immigration. Slip. Sir!” She looked me right into my eyes, while bringing every word to emphasis.

“Right..” I knew right away that I have lost my immigration card, since I did not see it since I acquired it some two months ago. Still I had to look for it, and I kept looking for it in all my 12 pockets, for ten minutes. She kept looking at me, while I kept checking all my pockets in the same order for the sixth time.

Pointing at a room she finally spoke, “sir please go to this room and sit.”

I froze. All my life flashed in front of my eyes. There is nothing else apart from me getting detained happening here. She still had my passport. I walked to the room, but couldn’t sit. Checked all my pockets once again, then started walking about in tension, then checked my pockets again, this series continued to the power n. 

I saw another lady in uniform there, I asked her “excuse me, it looks like I lost my immigration card, is it a big problem?”

“No problem sir, now go there AND SIT!” she answered so angrily. Right. No problem. Now I was worried all the more. I never felt this screwed up in my life ever, except for when my ex said she missed her periods. I waited all alone in that room for more than one hour.

At this point, a young, uniformed lady came and asked me to follow her. We went at another counter at the Passport Control Office. This lady and the guy at the counter had some conversation about me in Russian, while I stood clueless there. The guy looked at me in a strange manner and put a red stamp on my passport. I kept freaking out inside my head. I couldn’t even ask them anything, because they understood only limited English.

I didn’t have to stop anywhere now for security checks. She kept showing her card at the checkpoints, and I had to just follow her. Finally she took me inside my plane, gave me my passport and then disappeared herself. In no time my plane started flying, and I started thinking that now definitely some other security officials will come to take me after the plane lands. In tension, I kept drinking wine after wine in the flight, which soon made me feel sick. High altitude and too much alcohol is not a good combination, as they say.

Anyhow, soon I was in my own land, Delhi. Nothing happened, nobody came to catch me or something. I bought myself a bag full of chocolates from duty free first of all to celebrate. Came out of the airport, breathed a cool deep breath and kept smiling looking around. Delhi never looked this beautiful.

Myself

It was my first time taking a flight by myself. On almost all previous occasions I took a flight with my family, where I am a baby, and don’t have to do anything. I never cared what the procedures were. So this time I was clearly nervous, asking at every counter and every person where I had to go next. I had a closed body language, having butterflies in the inside, but trying to look confident from the outside and like I do this travelling alone thing everyday. So I was little under confident, and lost.

As with the language, I was taken aback when I found that nobody spoke English there. I didn’t know what to do for the first four days. People didn’t seem helpful either. On the fourth day, I was traveling from Moscow to Chelyabinsk. It was a one day and 12 hour journey. I had a 2 paged train ticket with me, apart from a lot of time. It was all in Russian. I decided to read what the train ticket had to say. Took help from fellow passengers, who didn’t speak English. I discovered the beauty of speaking to people when you don’t have a common language. Taking wild guesses at what might the other person be saying, and talking through hand gestures mostly, it was so much fun as we all tried to understand each other. We were sort of playing dumb charades. That’s when I realised the worst time to get a heart attack is while playing dumb charades. By the time I left the train, I wasn’t illiterate anymore. I read the whole ticket out to them. Even though I didn’t understand a major part of it, it gave me a lot of satisfaction. Some English and Russian words are common, some are pronounced only a little differently. Everything made much more sense to me now, learning got easier. It took myself only a little bit of a push, to start feeling confident, to going out there, and learning, living it out. Learning started giving me a high. Everyday I woke up to learn something new, and to test what I learnt.

I loved giving myself time. I used my phone to only use Google Maps sometimes. Phone has been my enemy always. I always fail to attend calls and answer messages on time. I leave my phone at places and forget. And later find a flood of calls and messages on it. But in Russia I actually managed to lose my phone and camera, and never find them again. Apart from the monetary loss, it didn’t affect my journey and experience on the whole. When my friends see the limited number of pictures from there, they ask if there’s roaming charges on taking pictures also in Russia. Yes, I do feel like Rose Dawson from Titanic a little, having an ocean of stories, that might go buried with me. But as they say – best things in life go undocumented.

In You.

So as my phone was lost, I was cut off from social networking, the world. Even though I don’t use it too much anyway, it’s considered the first, and the most cliche thing to do when you are traveling. I was lost for the most part. Lost in the most fun and happy way. I loved getting lost, being lost, and sometimes trying to finding my way. Lost in where I was. Lost in the snow, the mountains, the language, the culture, the women (men too), the people, the place, the accent, the learning that I got everyday. True, time and travel are the greatest teachers.

But I don’t understand what is really up with ‘finding yourself. Many friends asked me, ‘ah! So you were on a trip to find yourself?’

“What does that even mean?” I asked that, only containing a strange expression. Really, if I got lost in a foreign country, only to find myself eventually, it would also mean that in reality I was lost while I was in my homeland, in my own environment.

Was I not making full use of my capabilities while I was back home? Was I too deep inside my comfort zone? Was I not being myself all this while, all these years? Who am I really? How am I different from what I have become now, now that I’m traveling. What did I want to find in myself? Where was I lost?

Don’t know, don’t care, I.

But I did find a me in me which wasn’t there before.

After recovering from the language barrier, I also started realising the beauty around me. A whole new world was in front of me, and I was ready to explore it. I started making friends wherever I went.

Almost like the process of life, I came to an unknown place, didn’t even know how to speak. A couple, both aged around 20 took care of me, like I were their baby. I learnt to speak, and read, in reverse sequence though. I traveled from north to south. Made mistakes. Recovered. Made some more. Lost things, found love. Set a target , formed a team, nailed it. Came back, and thus completed my life circle there.

But not yet. They say, a part of me is still there. In some train in the form of my camera, in the mountains of Miass in the form of my phone, in the eyes of all the babochkas (grandmothers) who always squished me with all their love. In those curious hearts who gave me a lift in those long and lone stretches of roads, and tried to talk but couldn’t too much. In all those random strangers who came to me saying, “vy Indiiski? My braatya, to! ” (Are you Indian? We are brothers then!) And in all those tears that were shed from the eyes that came to see me off at the airport.

After returning home, I realise that I just returned from the geographically biggest country in the world. Scaled it from north to south. Learnt their language, and survival skills. Escaped some dangers. Had ups and downs. Ups more. Saw snow for the first time. Made friends for life. All this gives me a high. A sense of achievement, and supreme confidence.

From here I knew, if I could do these, there could not be many things that I could not do. Life started setting on track now. I am on way to pursuing a passion of mine, and taking it to new levels. My best friend and I have started talking again, and things are now better than ever.

Conclusion?

Okay, once again, what’s up with finding yourself? Do I have to spend so much and travel to another country to find myself?

The truth is, if you want to “find yourself,” you must first get completely and utterly lost. Lost in a good book; lost in the eyes of the perfectly wrong person for you; lost in the ideas of a philosophy, truth or belief that challenges your own philosophies, truths or beliefs; lost on a back road, dusty trail; lost in a decision, a choice you don’t know how to make; lost in something you don’t understand; lost in the true sense of the word — as in you’ve lost all sense of direction, been turned around and backwards and senseless in circles and have finally thrown your hands in the air to say, “I give up.”

Henry David Thoreau said it best. “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” And that’s really what we mean when we say, “find ourselves,” isn’t it?

The plain truth is that our lives generally don’t lead to one giant, ultimate moment where we come to say, “aha! There I am!”Because we’ve been there all along.

It’s in the moments that challenge us that we truly find out who we are, how much we can handle and what we are capable of. And sure, maybe for some, that is far, far away in an untouched land — or, maybe it’s on your backyard swing, while you sway, squished between your siblings. It is largely our experiences, our relationships, and our choices that make us the perfectly unique individuals that we are.

Travel, change and grow. Be wildly adventurous and wildly independent. Stop searching for yourselves in foreign towns and just enjoy the process of getting there instead. Wherever it is, wherever you are, whoever you are — be that.

Kill Cows, Now! A Markandey Katju Story?

To begin with, we have two things in common already – belief in science one, and in the judicial system two. And I think only these two. But two is good too.

So the first one should also mean that we both don’t believe in religion either.  The last time somebody hurt my religious sentiments was never. But atheism is too extreme, and is another sort of blind faith. I don’t think that the existence or non existence of god could be proven. So I’m agnostic.

Besides, it was highly immature what the respected ex judge had to say about cow as being referred to as our mother.

DOYOU
” Source: JusticeKatju.Blogspot

Cow is most definitely not my mother. My mother is my mother.  We worship tulsi, but it doesn’t mean that it is (considered) ‘god’ for real. Both, cow and tulsi are given the respect because of their high medicinal value, and diverse utility. You might want to read into the never ending benefits of cow’s milk, urine and dung, and tulsi. The reason cow is given extra respect. I sincerely hope other animals get the due respect too.

So as I said, cow is not our real biological mother, of course. It is just symbolism. For respect.

And anyway, we should give all elderly women respect like our own mother, right? But I’m sure you don’t go out on the streets and bring all the old-age women home who are found eating filth and garbage (which by the way are too many, in India). At this you could say that, no you don’t treat all old aged women like your mother. But most of us Indians are taught to respect elders, thanks to our mothers.

Moreover, I can’t bring cows home. Experts will tell you that it isn’t viable for a cow to live in an apartment. Having said that, if I ever happen to have a cow at my place, I’d make sure it never ends up abandoned on the streets, or gets eaten.

*

It’s turning funny the kind of things the government has been banning of late. The word “ban” itself has become the butt of jokes. Laws are funny too. It’s not so easy to understand them. Killing humans is criminal, but about animals, we’re calling it a ‘ban’.

There is no doubt killing is hurtful, and insensitive. There is a reason that most people won’t be able to eat beef if you keep it in front of them on a plate, and keep a calf by their side, and show a video of how the cow was killed which is brought to their plate. Don’t we all want killing of animals to be stopped when we see videos of animal killings on Facebook? It’s the same thing most of us are feasting on the same evening. How many of us could kill the chicken with our own hands before eating? Everybody will have the guilt of taking life which would make the killing extremely difficult.

I condemn atrocities on everyone“, was said by you in one of the comments on your Facebook page. Of course it isn’t the case, duh! Otherwise clearly, you wouldn’t be encouraging eating (killing) of cows and pigs (and other animals).

You of course were sarcastic, but I’m In favour of the bans that you suggest. Snakes, buffaloes, owls, frogs and all the other animals in the world. What gives us the right to kill anybody?

I wonder what uproar it must have caused when it must been declared for the first time that killing other human beings is “banned”. I’m guessing the same kind of , that was caused by banning of meat for four days a couple of weeks ago. “How can they deprive me of my right to eat any human I want. What kind of society do we live in?” somebody must have said.

*

“But mom, half the class failed the test!”

What is wrong in eating beef ? Most of the world eats it—Americans, Europeans, Africans, Arabs, Chinese, Thais, Australians, etc. Are they all wicked people, and we alone saints ?

See the similarity?

At the risk of sounding offensive, I hate to realise that such a statement comes from somebody who was once the judge of the Supreme Court of India. Have I been doing that a lot in this post? I really admire that at least you’re going against the wind, trying to take a stand, asking people not to follow things which are baseless.

However, are you trying to take us to the herd mentality, where if a particular set of people are doing something, then it must be right, and we should do it too? Are the Americans, Arabs, Thais etc the standard of comparison for us? I thought we are a different country altogether. When is it too late to give up on killing? But I wouldn’t call those who eat beef and pork evil. Who am I to call them that? I shouldn’t even call the ISIS or Taliban evil, since they’re right in their own right. Not comparing, just saying.

If we really want to take some inspiration, then why don’t we legalise marijuana and/or homosexuality first? The most harmless, and in many ways beneficial things have been kept banned, based on some prejudices. If you want to provide freedom of choice, then why didn’t you show any support when hundreds of people were fighting for this right?

*

Finally, sir! Since I too am all in for science, I hate to realise that science fails to firmly tell us whether we should eat meat or not. I really wish it did. These are a 100 Scientific Reasons To Not Eat Meat. I’m sure we can easily find other links too stating how science tells that we should in fact eat non vegetarian food. Apparently there is not one stand that science roots for. So what we should do in that case is, take other rational factors in count, for example humanity, empathy, common sense.

I still fail to understand the reason for which you ask us to eat pork and beef. Farms where pigs are bred in India are still as filthy as Indian streets. All chickens for a fact, have skin infections. Do you really think chickens and pigs bred in farm are free of diseases? Sir, do you have any concrete reason for why we should eat these animals? You could have chosen to not eat any of these at all too. All vegetarians are always as healthy as non vegetarians. Or sometimes less, sometimes more. It depends person to person.

I, being vegetarian myself, wouldn’t still want a ban on meat. I wouldn’t want to impose my opinion on others. People should have their options open, and then think rationally to do what they have to.

*

Some people said that I should not hurt Hindu sentiments by saying here is nothing wrong in eating beef.

 But that is precisely what i will do.”

What you are saying might have some weight, but the reasons you are giving holds no water at all. And this way, you’re sounding like just another religion. As an Indian, I have had enough of that sir. I am ready to listen to you. And so I demand more reasonable and accountable answers.

That’s all, your honour!

When A Delhi-ite Fell In Love With A North-Eastern State

Must – Do Things in Meghalaya

Not even joking, I would go to Meghalaya every vacation, every season just to do these below dictated things. These things gave me an experience of a lifetime, and made my first solo absolutely worthwhile and to remember forever. The first two in fact, are absolute gems, and are a matter of national pride, in my opinion. I tell you them in the order, of their deep impact on my memory.

1. Visit Mawlynnong

The gross happiness of me sky rocketed the two days I was in this little village called Mawlynnong. This place declared as the cleanest village in Asiaby Discover India magazine, is also called “god’s own garden”. Who would have thought, the country which has 2 of its cities in list – Top 10 Dirtiest Cities In The Worldwill have one of its villages awarded the cleanest village in the continent?

Mawlynnong prepares you for its famous sense of cleanliness, with signboards, while the village was still 12 km away.

How To Get There

The most convenient airport and railway station that I found were both in Guwahati. From there we took a cab to Shillong, where my father lived. The 140 km Guwahati to Shillong journey was smooth, and took about 3 hours.

Later on, I was set out to explore the state alone, after my family went back home to Delhi. I wanted to visit Cherrapunjee, and Mawlynnong both, but didn’t have any concrete plan in head. The day I was set out, I found a car going to Cherrapunjee, and since I was hitchhiking, I went to Cherrapunjee first. After spending 2 weeks with the locals there, I headed towards Mawlynnong.

Guwahati / Shillong                   – 140 km ( 3 – 4 hours )

Shillong / Cherrapunjee           – 55 km   ( 1.5-2 hours )

Shillong / Mawlynnong            – 98 km  ( 3 hours )

Cherrapunjee / Mawlynnong  – 90 km  (3 hours )

Who Lives Here?

Mawlynnong is a compact, garden like village with only 90 households. The main source of survival here is agriculture, but also has a 100% literacy rate. The village is a East Khasi community based eco-tourism initiative. It is evident that the community has made an effort to plan and maintain the ambiance of the village, and sometimes it starts to feel like nature too is consciously trying to cooperate with them.

What Do They Do?

Almost all houses are also turned into little cafes. The houses have thatched roofs, which speaks of its authenticity. The cafes are usually empty, as there are very less tourists coming to this place. They cook for themselves, and if a tourists lands up at the cafe, he gets to eat the same thing, which would mostly be rice with chicken or fish. They cooked dal for me separately.

I should bring it to notice if it isn’t yet – these people don’t get paid to clean.

There is a cute small room, which is a school. All elders one by one teach children different subjects on different days. The children are given homework, are given tests and are evaluated, and are promoted to next class. The teachers are only villagers, not qualified teachers, but they teach all children with keen interest themselves, and children too love to learn with them.

The super healthy and sour fruit – Soshang.

The main source of income is agriculture. The main produce here is rice, betel nuts, black pepper, pineapples, oranges, local fruit – soshang and wild berries. There is no scarcity of food here. People spend a huge portion of their time in maintaining the cleanliness and tidiness of the village, they love to live up to their image everyday.

What Does This Place Offer?

Wonderful view from tall 20 – 30 feet high tree houses, overlooking beautiful contours of mountains separating Bangladesh from India. And not too far from Mawlynnong one can also take a shower under the gushing waters of Niriang falls. The village itself is a beautiful garden filled with flowers exotica such as orchids, roses, lilies, the carnivorous pitcher plants and some more local flowers. Just standing here gives a rich and fulfilling feeling.

This tree house is named Sky View. Back to childhood.

This place also has a Church and a football field next to each other, so all can practice their kind of interest. I loved playing football with kids here, they were pretty skilled too, and their passing game was worth seeing.

Dawki is the last village of India in this part of the country, bordering Bangladesh. You’ll probably marvel at the way, the young and old maintain their balance on the boat while fishing or simply having a fun ride. They could be sitting, standing and doing all sorts of things, but they don’t fall! Tempted to sail with them on the clear turquoise waters? All you have to do is ask.

There are two famous living root bridges in Meghalaya. One of them is 5 – 7 km away from Mawlynnong. After getting off the road, you have to walk down only for about 30 minutes. This would be one of the root bridges, which requires least amount of trekking, thus relatively easy to reach. For me, these root bridges are one of the wonders of the world.

Beautiful Mawlynnong.

Also, all houses offer a home stay at a very low price. I stayed with a family for a week, cooked with them, used to clean the streets with them, give them a hand in farming, but enjoyed the most in teaching children English, Hindi and playing football with them. At the end of the week, it was time I had to leave. The family refused to take money from me, in their humbleness. I then bought a lot of pineapples from them, as I didn’t want a completely free stay, but for it too, they took only a little money. Also, telling all this I do not intend to imply that if you volunteer in helping them with certain things, they’re liable to offer you a free stay. With a heavy heart, bye bye sweet people of Mawlynnong 🙂

2. Trek To The Double Decker Living Root Bridge

There are quite a few root bridges in Meghalaya, but the most famous one is near Cherrapunjee.

How To Get There?

Shillong / Cherrapunjee – 55 km

Cherrapunjee / Tyrna      – 20 km

Tyrna / Nongriat               – 7 km

Bus services to little towns are dependable only sometimes. Following my favourite way of travelling, I walked and hitchhiked to Tyrna, the base village to the beginning of my trek. Made many friends sitting on top of a mini bus, which was the only vacant seat I found in the longest time. After a memorable 45 minutes of journey, I reached Tyrna.

After walking for 1.5 km and about 30 minutes, I reached the end of village Tyrna, and that’s when my trek to the bottom of the valley – village Nongriat began. The trek was carved with stones as steps, which were 3000 in number. Another small village comes in the way while trekking, which you could count as a milestone. Also come on the way, two man made, pretty weary hanging rope bridges, which also manage to look quite authentic. It could have been very tiring, if not for all happy and smiling faces of local people and little children there greeting us.

root-bridges
The unstable and exciting rope bridge.

What is a Living Root Bridge?

When roots of two trees on either side of a river or valley grow so much that they together connect the two ends strongly enough to enable people cross side from over it comfortably, it’s named a Living Root Bridge. This particular bridge near Cherrapunjee has a ‘double decker’ to its name because there are two bridges parallel one over the other, giving it the look of a double decker bus. The bridge lies at the bottom of the valley in village Nongriat, where stream Umshiang flows from under it, because of which it is also called Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge by some. The naturally growing bridge grows stronger with time, unlike man made bridges, and are helped by the villagers from generation to generation, who patiently guide the roots of the rubber trees across the river with the necessary supports. The trees are a species of Indian rubber tree, which grow only by river or stream side, and thrive in this climate. This tree can comfortably perch itself on huge boulders alongside the riverbanks , or in the middle of rivers and send its roots down to the riverbed. These trees shoot out many secondary roots from their trunks, which with time grow so strong – enough to hold 50 – 70 people at a time.

It looks even more magical in real.

What Does It Offer?

As the last steps were closing in, I could see myself getting closer to the bridge. Sweat on my face, forehead started giving me a chill, and I realised an obvious smile on my face. The long walk, I knew was now totally worth it. I touched and felt every root to check I weren’t in a dream. I was lost in a dreamland, such world of wonders we live in. These living root bridges are only found in Meghalaya, in this entire world. We are so lucky to have miracles such as these, and many more in our country. I then, took my shirt off, and lay floating in the stream for the next half hour. It made me feel pure to the cure. The most natural, and magical pool ever!

By now I knew I didn’t have much time in hand, as it starts to get dark by 4 – 4.30 pm in this part of the world, and trekking up in the dark will be really difficult. I still chose to spend a little more time there before I made a move. Some more time, and all of a sudden the sun disappeared, like it were a conspiracy, and it became scarily dark. A race against time, which I always happen to lose, I was now trekking up in the light of my flashlight from phone. On reaching the first village, a local suggested it was only wise to spend the night with them. Such proposals always made me happy, apart from other things.

3. Caving

Before this one I went only inside the little caves in Vaishno Devi, and Amarnath, for a few seconds. That doesn’t count, right? I’m a person who likes night more than day, dark more than light, cave more than no cave. I always wanted to be in one, and explore the insides of it, to the deepest. And then be | rolling in the deep |. And here in Meghalaya, you find caves as caves could be.

How To Get There?

In Cherrapunji, keep the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort as the landmark. There are many many caves from around that area, in the distance of 10 – 22 km. Some of the recognised and well known ones are Krem Umthloo,  Krem Chympe, Krem Sim Thabbalong, Krem Rubong, Krem Mawmluh, Krem Umshyrpi, Krem Umjasev, Krem Umsong, Krem Shella, Krem Wahlong, Krem Synrang Labbit and Krem Laiseng.

What Do They Offer?

This is definitely one of the most thrilling things I did in my life, and by now I’ve done quite a few of them. Inside the caves I found myself in a whole new world, trying to explore the unexplored. Some caves I found, might still not have been found by the others, or still is un-researched. Krem Mawmluh is 7 km long, as yet. Over time, rocks keep falling, and the way inside the cave gets blocked. It is being hinted by archaeologists and experienced cavers in this region that this one could be as long as some 300 km, if explored carefully.

Tricky insides of the cave.

It really tested all my skills. As you keep going further inside, you keep falling short of breath, and you start feeling the heat, getting drenched in sweat and humidity. I couldn’t recall how many times I slipped and banged my head on the walls, and how many times I had to walk on all fours. There were times when I was walking with water up till my waist. No matter how much I tried to keep my phone safe, keeping it in waterproof bags, somehow it always got drenched and stopped being with me. I had two more locals with me, who I found at the beginning of the cave. We never quit being with, and for each other. They were obviously much more experienced than me, and kept showing me different kinds of fossils on the walls of the cave, and guiding me through.

Fo-ssil(y) walls of the cave.

I did not do Krem Umshyrpi in Mawlong, as it required expert level of caving, apart from the heart of a lion. I wasn’t an expert yet, but plans are to do these soon. However, it required a 40 feet vertical descent to begin with, and then later on too, to climb down with the help of rope ladders inside the cave. Krem Umjasew in Mustoh village starts off as a small hole in a stream bed, then becomes a large passage and takes you to another whole wide world, as it goes into a sharp incline. And interestingly, this one’s stated to be the 3rd deepest cave system discovered as yet, in India.

This was surely an adventure of the ultimate sort, and required a lot of bravery, skill, strength, endurance and curiosity. This could also turn out to be the the adventure sport of the future. It tired me out mentally too, but gave me high satisfaction, and for the rest of the month, even as I used to sleep, I would dig caves in my dreams and reach lands unknown.

4. Elephant Waterfall Rappelling

You sure have done rappelling, right? Here too, you get to rappel down a mountain, except there’s also water flowing along, making it a waterfall.

How To Get There?

Elephant Falls is the most famous waterfall, and one of the most popular tourist sites here in Meghalaya. Located at the beginning of Shillong, it is very easily accessible. All shared taxis will go there, and you could easily find buses too. A walking enthusiast like me could also manage to walk down to it, to avoid the city traffic. It should be around 1.5 – 2 hours of walking from the city center, while about 30 minutes by any transport.

Police Bazar in Shillong / Elephant Falls – 11 km

Used to watch waterfalls only from far away until now. Source

What Does It Offer?

A fall which was known to me for its astounding scenic view and serene nature, left me astonished when I came to know that Elephant Falls can arrange for an adrenaline orgasm too. The thrill here is all the more because in the mist, you couldn’t even see where your foot is going, which could be difficult for somebody who isn’t used to rock climbing or rappelling. But it was fairly okay, as the elevation was 40 feet only, and rocks on both the sides were working as support to strengthen hold. The level is not that tough but enough to satiate an adventure hungry soul. Now each time I see a waterfall, I imagine how it would feel to rappel it. I’m ruined. I can’t simply appreciate the aesthetics of beautiful, falling water. If I lived in Shillong, this would surely become my favourite time pass.

*

As more and more I travel, the more I keep learning. Especially, solo has become for me, the way to go. This way I get to live with people, change my plans at convenience, stay at one place if I have to, or move on if I should. Make fun of people (for instance, my girlfriend) and run away. I have never felt this rich ever. I’m getting to understand my own country in a broader way now. I fall in love with every place I go, it’s people, culture, and all the stories. And with these, I keep stacking up tales to tell. I’m still stunned by the sheer beauty, and the vast range of marvels that this place has to offer, as I leave for my next destination.

Meghalaya: Why This North Eastern State Is Nothing Like The Rest Of India

| Meghalaya Meghalaya, Meghalaya Meghalaya

Mat pardes ja re, Aaj tu prem ka sandes barsa re |

When it had been just one or two days in Meghalaya, I was ecstatically reciting to my girlfriend what beautiful a place this wonderland was. In disagreement with John Mayer, definitely better than her body. And with this I risked breakup for the sake of the pun. She intervened, “so if you had a choice, would you rather live in Delhi, or Meghalaya’s fine?” You know the thing with girlfriends, you never know what might come up next so you have to answer smartly. Well, “I’d live here for the vacation, then get back to Delhi, to you.” Nothing extraordinarily smart there, but at least avoided breakup by not being prompt. It was scheduled to be a one week stay. Plans changed soon. My family went back, I stayed. For 3 months. And thus confirmed breakup this time, hah! But every single moment there, totally worth it!

So what’s so special about this place, you ask. Everything! From people to culture, to mountains, to waterfalls, to nature, to maize, to pineapples, to waterfalls, the roads and much more! People from the rest of India really treat north east Indians like they are not from India. Of course, people from the North East are much more conscious as human beings. During my stay of 3 months, I was in Meghalaya for the most part, and apart from it, I was also in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Assam is the transit state to the north eastern states, which we together call the 7 Sisters. So, I can say Assam, and particularly Guwahati is nothing like the rest of north east India, and in fact is an amalgamation of the cultures of the north east and central India. It is a general notion, and an unofficial, but established fact that India is a very dirty place. Nature has been very kind to us, and tries its best to give us its maximum, but with our careless (read retarded) behaviour, we mess it up. My friends don’t think even once before ‘innately’ littering here and there. As they buy a pack of chips, assured is, that there will be litter. It never occurs to their conscience that the waste belongs to the trash can, such a shame! But such is not the case with this special part of India. Anyhow, there is an endless list of things which caught my attention there, all of them in positive sense. To tell you, here are some of them –

1. Trash Cans At Every 20 Meters 

Yes, there’s a trash can in sight from wherever you are standing, at any given point of time. For most people I know around me back home, they wouldn’t bother to put it to use if it’s more than an arm’s distance away. But in all parts of north east India, I saw everybody felt responsible for cleanliness, and families worked together to keep their surroundings clean; and never saw even one person being a crack. There were dustbins woven out of bamboo for the most part. This place always maintains cleanliness so much that anybody would feel too embarrassed to litter here, I hope.

Cleanliness wasn’t specifically imperative here, but spotted such creativity also.

2. More Chances Of Finding A Public Urinal, Than Yourself

What’s also impressive is that there is a pay and use urinal in sight from everywhere too. The charge is nominal 5 and 10 rupees, and always shining clean and odour-free. And it’s not like their poop doesn’t stink, I’m sure; but nobody misuses the resources, and proper and timely cleaning is ensured. In India, it would really qualify as a luxury, for most parts. And never did I ever find somebody spreading the ‘dirt’ in open. People come to such peaceful and off-the-center places to take a break from their routine, and maybe to “finding” themselves. They can at least find a healthy habit and take it back home.

Construction workers in Guwahati more civilised than some educated people in other parts of the country.

3. The Language Barrier

I heard my brother trying to indulge a local tea stall owner in a conversation, with some serious struggle, because of the language barrier. “What all..you put..in tea?”, in a strange accent, my brother tried to break the sentence down for him. The local framed his response with same difficulty, and in an accent – “sorry I don’t understand”.

My mother oblivious to all this came and asked the stall owner, “Is chai mein kya kya daala hai?”

“Ji is mein, odd-rock (adrak/ginger) aur elaichi daala hai” spoke he, so fluently.

Apart from Khasi and Garo languages, people speak Hindi the most, and then English. So. I’ve established that it’s a lie if somebody tells me that all North Easterners speak English, but struggle with Hindi.

But sometimes you have to be less cute to understand simple things anyway.

4. Superlative Condition Of Roads

Apart from scenic beauty, the state is also endowed with large deposits of a number of valuable minerals such as coal, limestone, kaolin, clay, granite, glass-sand and uranium. The state is one of the largest dealers of asphalt in India. The government has taken appropriate steps, and first of all made sure that there are proper and high class carpets of tarmac to connect every little corner of the state. The condition of roads is so fine, that it puts the roads of Delhi to shame.

Went pot-hole hunting to far away villages, but the quality of roads only kept improving.

5. Nature Friendliness 

The thing with India and Indians is that we have everything here, but we don’t recognise or value it. Mostly. But not here. The state is the wettest region of India, and the rainiest place in the world, recording an average of 1200 cm of rains a year. About 70% of the state is forested. It has absolutely gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, lakes, caves and much more. But something as simple as a huge piece of rock, standing on little surface area has also been respected, and been protected. They call it the balancing rock.

No child is allowed to play see – saw on this, and test it’s balance. If they do, it’ll be from – ‘we see’ this rock, to ‘we saw’.

6. No Alms State

Coming from Central and North India, it was so refreshing to enjoy this scenic place without having beggars play the spoilsport. I never spotted even one beggar, and I’m sure you wouldn’t too. This is the place of hard workers. Meghalaya has predominantly an agrarian economy, with a significant commercial forestry industry. I also call this the land of pineapples, and always found my face sunk in one of them. You can find it for as low as just 10 rupees. Maize is another main produce here. People here are self sufficient, and more importantly, always happy and content.

They were the (pine)apples of my eye.

7. Momo Land?

No, not really. Momos are not the staple diet in this region. And not all people eat them. In fact not many of them know of momos, and it could be really difficult to find them too. Momos are originally a Tibetan, and Nepali delicacy, so started spreading from their nearest states – Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. And then is found a lot in Darjeeling also. It started gaining popularity in Delhi, as trying to run free from the clutches of Chinese imperialism, and Mao-ism in Nepal, people from around these areas started migrating to Delhi. To adapt to Delhi, they also had to give us vegetarian and chicken variants, and added more of the sort as they made progress. So this way these got only selectively popular in the places of their migration as yet. But of course, the popularity of momos has always been on a rise in mostly all the states of India, at different rates though.

Our Kung-Fu Panda feasting on the Chinese variant of momos – dumplings.

8. Not Dog Eaters Either

No they’re not. Well some are, but it’s not primarily a dog eating state. I know some who’ve had dog meat in Delhi too, and Delhi’s not a dog eating state either. The staple food of the people in Meghalaya is rice with spicy meat and fish preparations. They rear goats, pigs, fowl, ducks and cows and relish their meat. Typical north Indian dhabas are also found without much hard work, I will not give them a nod for taste though. Even when there wasn’t vegetarian food on the menu, the dhaba/restaurant owners were kind enough to arrange for me rice and dal, from some nearby household.

Mostly the food spoke of simplicity, and health.

9. India’s Gateway To Tree-Houses

Didn’t we all dream of living in a tree house as a child? We saw them mostly only in American TV shows. Didn’t I tell you this state is far ahead of us. This place really fulfilled the fanciest of my childhood fantasies. In the one I stayed, it was more than 25 feet up in the air, overlooking a waterfall and a placid pool, a dreamy little house constructed entirely of bamboo. The tree house culture is catching up fast, and now tree-house resorts are coming up with lavish and luxurious rooms.

Straight out of dreams.

10. To Get Around The City

Travelling to different parts of Meghalaya could be a task. There is a frequent bus service if you want to travel within the capital – Shillong. The city appears to be swarmed by a fat lot of black and yellow painted Maruti 800 and Alto 800 taxis. Also the concept of shared taxi has been absolutely normal-ised here. Sometimes as many as 8 people could be fitted inside one taxi, and without paying extra for the super driving skills, you get to see the little engine-d taxis crawling up the steep mountainous roads. The places that I really wanted to see were a good 2-3 hours away from the city, and I hitchhiked to get to almost all of them. It always took me a long time waiting and walking before I had a car passing, with a vacant seat. And so by now I know why some people call this place the ‘pedestrian’s paradise‘.

Truckers became my best friends.

*
Sure, going places in Meghalaya was an adventure, and the destination was like a treasure. Each place almost brought tears to my eyes. This is what it holds in its chest.