Friday, August 22, 2014

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Glimpses from Down Under

 A regular visitor at the Sydney Harbour

Loved this walk by the Sydney Opera House


The Opera House behind bars!
Truly a 'birds-eye' view
The Seven Apostles... well, atleast a couple of them :)

I so wish I could fly!!

A view to remember... always!!!!

A perfect way to end the 'Great Ocean Drive'

That Just Caught My Eye!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ladakh- The Journey continues…

With each experience that I had on these mountains, I felt as if Nature was turning yet another page of her Book of Secrets…

A little brown ball scampered across my vision waking me from my trance… For the last two hours, I hadn’t seen any movement in the mountains around me…

It is so easy to get entranced by the towering mountains, rising on all sides, marked by the scars of time… We were on our way to a lake in one of the valleys of Ladakh. The Himalayan peaks kept us constant company, along with the re-mixed Bollywood songs that blared from the Jeep’s stereo… The songs were the only thing that kept me from drifting into a fantasy world that I’d never want to leave.

Everything around is raw and rough, yet perfect! That is why anything even slightly out of the ragged perfection catches your eye. Just imagine my amazement when I witnessed a huge avalanche of rocks cascading down the sides of a mountain not too far away!

I immediately drew the others attention to this… Then suddenly, to our horror, we realized that a man in a red shirt was also being carried down with the rocks, mud and gravel! Just as we started panicking, we felt that there was something odd about what we were witnessing… On straining our eyes, and very carefully observing the sight, we realized that what we were seeing, was actually a man in a red sweater guiding a large herd of galloping Yak down the mountain!

Before this point, I hadn’t truly realized how distant even the closest mountain was, and how insignificant anything looked when near these silent, giant mystics. With each experience that I had on these mountains, I felt as if Nature was turning yet another page of her book of secrets…

People jealously guard their most prized possessions with barriers and defenses that would deter thieves from reaching their treasure… After I visited Ladakh, I was sure that man learnt this from Nature herself…

After a long perilous journey that is not meant for the weak-hearted, you get a glimpse of what could only be described as the Playground of the Gods… Pangong Lake! It could only be in a place like this that Nature was designed and given the breath of life… A sight more beautiful and more perfect than this, I would think impossible to find!

The serenity it inspires, no other place can; the ever-changing hues of blue, even the rarest gems cannot match; It is impossible to ever capture its beauty in a single frame, because it changes every moment… Never before had I felt a place with all my senses… Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the water in hues of blue; I can feel the cool, refreshing brush of the pure air on my skin; I can hear the gentle soothing sound of the tiny ripples of water… It is so mesmerizing, that even an eternity would not be enough time to spend here!

Unfortunately, I had even lesser time than eternity to spend here. We needed to get back to the city by sundown, because the roads were too perilous to travel on after the daylight has dimmed. I promised myself that I’d be back here someday… Alone… I’m sure I’d be able to convince even my thoughts to leave me alone to enjoy the solitude.

My heart felt so light at the lake, but as soon as it grew steadily distant and finally out of sight, a sadness came over me… The mountains around me seemed to be mirroring the state of my heart… Thy too seemed sad, but were comforting. It seemed as if they were the only ones who understood what I was feeling…

I once again got lost in my silent conversation with the gentle giants. Each one of them seemed to have a distinct personality… Some were fashionably multi-colored, with a dotted coat of snow, some seemed bent and humble. Some had the towering arrogance of youth, while some had gentle curves, like a mothers arms, wide open to embrace her little one…

Just as I was getting to know each of these mighty giants, the little ball of fur re-appeared, once again demanding my attention. This time he stopped, stood up on his hind legs, and as I curiously looked at him, he tilted his little head and looked back at me with equal interest, until the squeals of delight from my fellow travelers scared him away…

As people expressed their disappointment at not having been able to click a picture of the Marmot, I simply smiled… Atleast for a brief 30seconds, I had excited the curiosity of a true Mountain Adventurer…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A one-on-one with Nature

She looks stunningly beautiful in her gown of green… but when she bares it all, there are simply no words to describe her. I discovered this as I traveled along the winding roads from the Garden City of Srinagar towards the Barren Beauty of Ladakh.

Every traveller is always looking for something- be it the sights a new land has to offer, the high that adventure gives to all those who seek it, or just an escape from their everyday lives... Each travel is always a quest. My travels are a quest to seek the missing link between Nature and myself.

When I embarked on my trip to Ladakh with my family and some friends, I never thought I'd hear Nature speak so close to my ears... It was a journey that touched something in my very being.

The journey began with a flight from Mumbai to Srinagar and then a two-day drive along winding roads through the most mesmerizing landscape I've ever seen, to Leh. The drive was as much an adventure with myself as was my stay in Leh.

As the road leaves the city of Srinagar, winding towards Leh, Nature sheds her beautiful green gown and strips bare. It is impossible to decide whether She is more beautiful in her green gown, embellished with life in a million different colours, or as she stands naked, every curve displayed in its splendid perfection.

Once you get over the stunning beauty of the barren landscape, you begin to notice the little details that make the view perfect and even more memorable. The clouds flaunt the cape of their shadows among the hills, adding more shades to the already multi-coloured yet barren surroundings. They almost tease you to come and join them in their game of running about among the mountains; a game which you can sit and watch for hours...

One of the strongest emotions that the surroundings brought out in me, was that of solitude... the desire to be left alone. Any company seemed intrusive, so much so that even my thoughts disturbed me. I wanted to become a part of my surroundings; timeless like the mountains.

At the end of the first day of our drive from Srinagar to Leh, we passed through the village of Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world, and landed in Kargil. This area still had the remenants of the Indo-Pak war of 1999. Shell marks, memorials and stories from the villagers gave us a small glimpse of what those times must have been like. It is really saddening to think that these beautiful guardians of the North now need guardians themselves.

The halt at Hotel Siachen in Kargil was only for the night, but it was a much needed break for for a group of tired bodies that were getting used to the freezing dry wind instead of the humid sea-breeze and the pure, thin Himalayan air instead of the the Mumbai air, thick with pollution.

Morning brought with it the call of a far-away land that I had heard so much about, along with the promise of adventure. As we once again braved the winding roads, the landscape now looked more dangerous, almost as if you need to prove your courage and determination before you were granted entrance to Nature's guarded halls. To make matters worse, we shared the roads with huge supply trucks and army convoys, that came face to face with our vehicle, forcing us to the edge of the road just to continue our adventure...

As I looked outside the window of our mini-van a thought struck me... The mountains around me are so ancient, that every stone, every pebble must have a story to tell, if only we would care to keep quite and listen. The streams, waterfalls and glaciers that cut across the mountains look like the veins and arteries of the Earth. If you keep silent long enough and listen carefully, the breeze, gently whispers to you of her adventures and beckons you to join her... I could hardly wait to meet the people who had grown up so close to the heart of Nature.

After close to 35 hours of travelling and around a thousand pictures, we reached the gates of Leh. Symbols of Buddhist faith greeted us from all sides and a sense of reverence of all God's creatures encompassed me. Navigating through the narrow lanes of the city, we reached Hotel Khangri- our abode for the next six days.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Deserts of Rajasthan

For miles just sand. Camels and goats feeding on the sparse grass around. The sound of silence can be heard… not even a leaf moves. Just some bare and rough shrubs around.

Then there are the huge dunes, hovering at the horizon, threatening to swallow everything… like guardians of the mystifying desert. They are like slow moving waves which come cascading down when the wind picks up.

Away from the maddening crowd, noise and millions of electric lights, in the midst of nature, under the sun, moon, millions of stars and the open sky, just sitting, lost in a world of dreams and not even the rustle of a leaf… the silence is deafening and soon descends over everything. The sound is so satisfying, yet there is an emptiness. A lonely feeling comes over you as you realize, you are all alone… you would do anything for company.

Then you begin to seek solace in trees and animals. You realize how much you have missed. Their colours have never been so beautiful, their demeanor, never so graceful and their presence, never so important. Then slowly you begin to reflect on your own thoughts and feelings. Altogether, they are as wide as the desert itself. Suddenly, loneliness doesn’t matter anymore and you want to stay away from the place you left. You are no longer lonely. Your two best friends are with you– nature and yourself. You can play in the lap of nature… in its unending deserts and its life saving oases.

And then, when you do have to return to civilization, you will miss your new friends and know that you will get lost in the crowd. The same kind of lonely feeling settles over you as it did the day you left civilization!

You can be lonely in a crowd, yet in good company alone!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Magical Mountains

A full moon hovered just above the peaks, the moonlight romancing the white snow amidst twinkling applause from the stars.

As a ten year old, I had seen a picture of Mount Everest on the cover of a magazine. It was amazingly beautiful and kindled in me a desire to go there someday. The towering presence of the mountains, softened by the white snow, made them seem fragile. The rays of the golden sun, bouncing off the carpet of glaciers, lending an aura around the entire mountain, beat any painting I’d ever seen. The Himalayas mesmerized me even before I had ever seen them standing right before me.

The experience of trekking in the Himalayas begins from the moment you begin preparations to get there. Each time you run on a treadmill, panting and sweating, you are aware of how much your body needs to be able to take once you are in the mountains. Each piece of equipment makes you aware of the risks you will be taking. All this just heightens the sense of excitement.

The trek began after close to 50 hours of travel by train and bus, from Mumbai. Each of those fifty hours was spent in getting to know the others who would be trekking with me. It was definitely a group of amateurs, with experienced guides to make sure we get the most of the experience, with the least of complications.

Dead beat from the travel, many chose to sleep in the bus as we made way to base camp. But while trying to catch up on missed sleep, they missed catching the first view of the snow clad peaks. A turn in the road suddenly revealed to us the guardians of the North. That view was truly breathtaking! Most of us forgot to breathe.

That was when a strange thought came to my mind. You can never conquer the mountains, you can manage to get to the top only if they permit you to, because they have the power to wipe out your existence without any effort. It was a moment which actually reminded me of my place in the world.

With great respect mingled with my excitement, I settled into my tent at base camp. As Nature showered us with welcoming rain, and temperatures began to drop, I turned in thinking about just how the past day had changed something in me. I was looking forward to growing up in the lap of Nature over the next ten days.

Morning came with a flash- literally. I was among those who were late risers. We woke up at 6am. Since all the others were up, they wanted to get a picture of the ‘sleeping beauties’ and so they decided to wake us up with a yell and then click us as we sleepily looked back. The picture still brings a smile to my face.

All packed and ready, we went for a short three hour trek to the village of Trijuginarayan. This village is said to have been the place where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were married. There is a ‘havan kund’ where the sacred fire around which they had taken their vows is still burning. The priests have kept it alive over the centuries.

It was fun, as we got to know one another, and at the same time, much needed for our bodies to acclimatize to the altitude. At the end of the climb, we had an exercise of trust. All of us stood in pairs at an arms distance, closed our eyes and fell behind on our partners without bending our knees, completely trusting the other person to hold you. Initially, a lot of people could not fall back because it is not easy to completely let go and fall on someone, but we continued the exercise till each one of us were able to trust our partners completely. On a mountain that is so unpredictable, trust is very important and often the only thing that will save you.

After a brief session of breathing exercises and meditation, a subdued and tired group headed back to base camp. Evening brought with it a cool quiet breeze and conversations. Form first experiences of the past few days, to our veteran guides many stories, everyone was in good spirits.

After a quick dinner and an incident with a leech and a toe, a group of us headed for a walk in the moonlight. As fifteen pairs of tired feet started walking with torches in their hands, each trying to keep the other going, none of them knew the magical impression the Himalayas would have on them. Just like a bend in the road sprung upon us the beautiful snow clad peaks, another bend in the road revealed to us the treasure of the Himalayas that one can see only if one has been there.

A full moon hovered just above the peaks, the moonlight romancing the white snow amidst twinkling applause from the stars. It was an unforgettable sight. One that I don’t think any of us would ever want to forget.

As I watched the beauty before me, capturing it forever in my memories, some people tried to capture it on film. For me, it was impossible to capture such beauty on film. All those who tried, did so n vain because none of them got the picture when they printed the negatives; though the camera clicked, whirred and acknowledged the capturing of the picture, each one of them had another picture clicked over it and no signs whatsoever of the moonlight night. Sometimes, it is impossible to steal from Nature’s treasure box.

Next morning, we trekked up to Maggu, a village tucked away in the folds of Nature’s beautiful robe. We set up camp a little before the village and a few of us decided to clean ourselves up with a relaxing bath. The shock of the icy water on your skin can actually make you completely numb. The water was gently flowing but harshly cold. I learnt the hard way why it is important to be a bear with a thick coat of fur to jump in and swim in such waters. But it was an experience nonetheless.

As we trekked deeper into the mountains, away from the village of Maggu, we saw the landscape change from green grass and open fields to a forest of thick tall trees and finally to a white blanket of snow. Walking across sheets of snow that have covered the mountain slopes was quite tricky. The snow is soft and powdery and if you place your foot wrong, you can go slipping down a 300 foot slide with no way that you can stop yourself.

Crossing close to six such patches of snow covered slopes, we reached a ridge to go to a place called Panvali Kanta. We were supposed to make camp there, but a snow storm a couple of days ago had made the ridge very unsafe to cross. Just as we were turning around to go back, our Sherpa guide spotted leopard prints, around ten feet from where we were standing. All our disappointment was forgotten in the excitement that followed. The Sherpa identified the prints as belonging to a young male leopard.

Finally, as we headed back to camp, clouds that had been gathering all day long, decided to make their presence more strongly felt. We were caught in the middle of a shower of large, hard-hitting hailstones. The unpredictability of the mountains teaches you a lot many lessons. It just throws things at you (sometimes literally) and you have to deal with them.

Back at the village of Trijuginarayan, we had an evening to spare before our final descent and journey back to the bustle of city life. That evening, we decided to interact with the few inhabitants of the village. We had little interaction with them before this. We ha seen some work on their stepped farms and had spoken to some of the children.

It was with this interaction that I realized how very different our worlds were. I imagined myself to be as much a foreigner there as an American in Mumbai city. I saw their lifestyle with awe and disbelief. It was strange to think of the fact that we belonged to the same country, and even stranger to believe that we lived in the same period in time. The villagers were as amazed and curious about us as we were about them.

The lady in the colourful, hand stitched skirt and with layers of heavy silver jewellery scrutinized my friend in her jeans and t-shirt and decided she would probably look good in a hand stitched skirt too, and offered her nephews hand in marriage. Just as we heard this, we knew it was time to leave from there.