Just like that a year passed by. A year of choosing freedom over mundane routined life being the prisoner of making someone’s fortune while counting pennies for my self.
Exactly a year of quitting my corporate job and being my own boss.
A year of taking risks and struggling with it.
A year of changing hobby and passion into a profession.
A year of achieving the so-called fame that faded with time.
A year of confusion and fear of failure.
A year of several months ending with empty pockets.
A year of shedding tears in countless silent nights.
A year of making new friends and losing some.
A year of finding a long-lost love and falling in again for it only to be broken to let go as always.
A year of standing up from being broken again.
A year of relationships formed, lost and formed again.
A year of unchained happiness unable to share with anyone special.
A year of being a misfit trying to fit in the world of my own that I created.
A year of Being and Nothingness.
It’s been long, like way to long to have written something. It’s another day , another Tuesday but a Valentine’s Day as they call it. Well, I didn’t find my love so I’m trying to find a way to love me more than before. To give into what I love somehow doing, than depending on people for love that hardly came my way.
It was just another day but without any routine, any expectation any rules. Just a day as it was but with memories of little things that touch today,that necessarily is not love anymore but a shadow of myself that I used to be. The memories are an ode to those little things I cherish about, that made them special to remember and smile when I look back at the times gone by.
Today I am free, free from the burden of scoring in class examination, free from the expectation of trying to be someone in life, to prove to the society , to prove to my parents, free from the thought of meeting the expectations of job, free from the thought that there is anybody out there waiting for me or me waiting for anyone. No hopes no expectations no feelings of pain or pleasure. Some days are just empty , today was one such day.
I have quit my first job and I know not where life will lead to. Today was the first day I stopped being a slave to the the societal rules and norms of what an average life should be. All day I looked at the watch and tried to match as to what I did at this hour of the day just a day before when I was in a full time job. Honestly a part of me was scared , it still is and will be so for sometime I know but there is also a satisfaction of making the call that I wanted to do for long but could not gather up the courage to do so. May be the upcoming days will be depressing, frustrating, I will curse myself for quitting my job, will run away from family and known faces for having to answer the same question again and again. May be someday I will get back to this life of slave forced by circumstances, till then, I want to try being someone different. The road is tough and I am alone in this journey but some little things, some words like “I believe in you” might help me keep walking the path of trial and error till I make any further decision.
You know not who, when, how comes to your help even without their knowledge. I waited for approval from my close ones, parents, friends but never said it to them. Some joked, some gave advice, some started listing pros and cons. What I wanted to hear was “go ahead I believe u can”. Then someday someone said this to me a few weeks back “I believe in you”. The decision I was wanting to take became easier. Somehow I gained a confidence, how I don’t know but I remembered how I used to be confidant back in the days when that someone was around.That very someone had said a few days earlier to this -what have I done to prove to my parents that they will believe in me. That didn’t go down very well with me as I was not prepared for such a statement and suffered questioning myself for a week till the lump in my throat subsided and I started to a peaceful sleep at night. I know not how to respond to all this but these little things, that touch and go.
Virtual relations command today on social media than what used to be real someday in the past. You realize time and tide has moved things way past that you can not reach any closer but only drift farther apart. You have nothing else more to do than smile back to yourself when you meet after years of silence and in the tension of the moment you can not put in the jack of your helmet’s belt. That someone watches over it standing by your side, seeing you fidgeting with the thing, still trying hard but does not lend a helping hand because you do not share that space anymore. Only a voice you hear from the covers outside the helmet that you have been putting the jack in wrong place all these time.
Someone admires you and then you admire someone, the never ending chain goes on and on for few people. Some people are like parallel lines of rail tracks. In ways more than one they feel, look similar or are heading to a similar unknown journey they know not where but they are travelling together ignoring each other’s conscious presence in a forbidden distance that at times tend to meet but they never meet.
Mountains are places where you come to terms with nature and appreciate its wonders that are mostly taken for granted. It melts down your earthly pride and materialistic glories that define you amidst humans. It strips an individual from the shades of city comforts and tests their mettle in the wilderness, bridging the gap with nature that seems to have widened by man himself. This was my first time experience of trekking in the Himalayas, going for the Hampta Pass Trek in Himachal Pradesh, India, with Trek The Himalayas (TTH).
My brother, Anindya had just completed his first trek with TTH to Kuari Pass on December, 2015, when he called me, of how motivating and refreshing it was and would love to tick all the rest of the treks in the list. From the day he returned home, he kept on sharing his experience for the next few days refusing to stop, texting, calling, messaging on Facebook about his desire to do more such treks. Being motivated by his words we planned The Great Lakes Kashmir, for July 2016. Seven months of preparations, excitement, and curiosity were all blown up as the turmoil in the Kashmir valley began from 8th July, 2016. We waited for the last few days for things to settle down but fate had some other things planned for us. Finally, we had to call it a day as the trek got cancelled, with a heavy heart we had to shift our plans to trek The Hampta Pass.
We went in with zero expectation and no research, being drained of the enthusiasm, emotions and the energy for not being able to be in Kashmir Valley. As my bad luck continued, I got my phone stolen from the weary journey of nearly 35 hours, in express train, that got dragged even longer by a delay of 5 hours. We landed in Chandigarh railway station early morning, with feeble mind and body. Somehow, gathering up whatever strength was left in us from the previous two days of journey, we got ready for another dreadful journey of 10 hours to Manali.
Day 1: 31st July, 2016. The sun filtering through the embroidered curtains of our hotel rooms woke us up for the commencement of a new day. We reached Rambagh Chowk in Manali, the place all members trekking with TTH for Hampta Pass were to meet at around 9:30 am. While we introduced ourselves to each other and took the instruction of the trek guides, we came to know most of us were first time trekkers in the Himalayas. The members hailed from varied backgrounds and ages ranging from 14 to nearly 50 something. My brother had already struck a chord on social media, before the trek days with three musicians, Abhinav, Nakul Krishna and Sanjay who were in the trek with us. Fate was not done with me yet I guess.
Our car stopped nearly a mile and a half before reaching Jobra, the starting point of our trek, approximately 15 kms from Manali. An empty fuel tank forced us to stop, as fuel leaked from it all the way up the mountains. We luckily stopped by a family, who offered us tea, as we waited for another car to arrive for the rest of the ride with our luggage. After our luggage was sorted and distributed for the mules to carry, we embarked on our journey. Roshan Thakur, our trek guide led the way while Nitin, our official trek leader, accompanied the trekkers in middle of the chain and Bakshi Ram with his cheerful character stayed back, making sure the last few trekkers fall in line with the rest ahead. Being a photo enthusiast I started trailing behind the rest, absorbing the scenic beauties and carefully framing them in my camera.
Crossing over the first few uneven terrains, small bridges over streams running down from the high up mountains at nearby sight, I kept on collecting memories in the memory cards of my camera. First few steps through the dense vegetation of trees brought us to an open field with lush green mountains on one side and a steep rocky one on the other. The sun had started playing hide and seeks, casting dark shadows on the mountains, adding textures to the brightly lit green meadows. High on energy and enthusiasm the members had scaled up the mountains in no time. Trailing at last, my curious eyes continuously searched for a perfect moment of memory to be framed.
Early into the trek Mr. Kiran Bhatia from Dubai struggled with his heavy bag pack climbing up the rocky terrain. Bakshi Ram kept motivating us to follow the others and not fall far behind. Unchained horses grazed the lush green mountains by our side. The river flowed at a distance babbling, burbling, and dribbling through the timeworn rocks that lay on its course, at times splashing against them changing its path. Women in groups sang hymns playing dholaks asking us to join in the middle of nowhere in the valley, surrounded by mountains.
Crossing over a huge rock we came to our first halt for the day in a tea store set up in tents by a local, for refreshment of the trekkers. For some the tea felt bliss, while for the rest, the bowl of maggi never tasted better. By the evening after a walk of nearly three and half hours to four we reached our first Camp site in Chika or Cheeka. The ones, leading the trek had already started pitching their tents, guided and assisted by the TTH group staff and other trek members. Learning to put up the tent was a sense of achievement in itself as it went beyond the learning of a text book or the computers. As soon as the tents were up, tea and snacks in the form of papads and pakoras were served to us. It felt delicious. There is a certain joy of experiencing unexpectedly the readily available foods of city life in a mountainous background beyond hotel rooms and human establishments.
A waterfall at a distance, high up than our camp site, lured some of the young legs in the group to climb higher. The senior members gradually followed and the cameras and iPhones started flashing the smiling faces. A sudden change in weather and clouds started taking cover. Like a CGI scene in an animated movie, we saw the clouds coming from behind the mountains gliding across the valley reducing the visibility to a few meters in vicinity. While all were lost in gossips for a while, a cow took to advantage, swiping clean the bowl of sauce and the plate of leftover snacks. Soon the lights for the day faded, dampness set in, making us feel the chill in the air to be experienced further by the night. A hot spicy bowl of tomato soup was what made the taste buds tingle with joy and heat us for the cold night ahead. Sumptuous dinner by 8 and a small get together in a make shift tent for the night marked our day’s end.
Day 2: 1st, August, 2016. A thumping knock on the tent and a cup of lemon tea was with which we woke up to a rainy morning. It had rained most of the night and muddy patches developed outside of the tents. Trekking gives you opportunity to experience a plethora of beautiful moments in a span of few days that one yearns for, may be throughout the year. One such moment for me was the light drizzles that made rain drops collect on the pockets in the plates with grooves, on which we were having our breakfast. These moments are rare and hard to appreciate as they go missing from being noticed in our everyday hustle. This very moment that felt blissful in the mountains might seem to be irritating on the context of a city life.
After breakfast at 7 am, packing our luggage and tents we got ready to set foot for Balu-ka-Ghera, our next destination at 8:30 am. The rain refused to stop as it varied from heavy showers to drizzles at intervals. Abi and Nellie, two American girls in the trek were way ahead of the rest, followed by the Bhatia siblings, Dhriti and Hans, all four in their teens and in a better physical shape and condition than the rest. A few hours of climb and the rains had stopped by then. We reached a point going below a waterfall, partly drenched, when we were surrounded by sheep all over who were coming downhill guided by their shepherd.
It was such a rare beautiful sight and experience to cherish. The climb uphill and the sun beginning to shine above raised the temperature to strip off our warm covers. The rain in the morning had delayed our start and our trek leaders feared we have to cross a stream that gains depth as the day proceeds. However, their experience found a sweet spot for all of us to cross the stream in least trouble. The water was chilling cold. A sense of numbness prevailed in the feet for few minutes after crossing the stream hand in hand, forming short human chain of three to four, sticking together against the drifting current of the fast flowing stream.
The fresh weather perfectly suited for a break to loosen up our muscles and fill our stomachs with the lunch packs from TTH. The half an hour of refreshment infused new energy into all of us to march ahead for the rest of the day’s trek through the remaining meadows after crossing over the mountainous terrains in the first half of the day. Abhinav, the drummer, seemed lost in the tranquility as he started playing drums in the air, in sync to the tunes of his favorite tracks playing from iPod on the large headphones resting on his bald head.
As we walked through the meadows pink and yellow flowers bloomed along the path making the valley even more adorable. Around 5 in the evening we reached our destination welcomed by rain. A severe headache grasped some of us after having scaled a higher altitude, neglecting drinking enough water as prescribed by our trek guides.
Day 3: 2nd August, 2016. The day that we were all waiting for, to reach the summit of 14,100 ft, the highest point in our trek of the Hampta Pass had arrived. It was going to be the toughest and the longest trek of all the days. Rain had refused to stop for the second consecutive day. This made us feel the easy to moderate trek as labeled by the trek authorities, to turn into difficult for beginners. The day mostly remained cloudy, with drizzles accompanying us all the way. Somehow we were caught in the middle of a mixed feeling of desire to see a brighter better sunnier view and the comfort of a cool cloudy weather.
The American family of Gold-Pastor teens seemed like having a cake-walk in the rocky terrain, while the Bhatia siblings accompanied by another musician drummer Sanjay, scaled heights away from the tracks in the cliffs by the side, as others gasped for a normalcy in their breath from the long walks. The Karnani family seemed unstoppable, moving steadily behind the teens, even though burdened with their bag packs. The elder wiser minds of the American economist couple, Gonzalo and Judith, who used to find their alternative shortcuts than following in the footsteps of others, caught up shortly, with the ones leading in the troop. The rest of us, more or less traveled together following up these few that reached the halt points before us and were cheered by the predecessors from a distance, clapping, encouraging from far as we succeeded them. Some of us were exuberant by being able to walk on hard ice, below which roaring waters flowed in a stream. Being an avid tourist visiting some of the highest mountainous terrains in Himalayas since childhood from close and afar, I could feel the delight that showed on their countenance.
Being obsessed with photographing, I still prayed in my mind for the sun to shine upon the mountains and the rains to halt, for a better picture to be framed in my camera when I reach the summit. My mind had shut otherwise. Harsh weather had made it worst of the conditions to climb the last few hundred meters of steep ascent to the summit. Reduced visibility, feet slipping on mud, stumbling on rocks, gasping for breath, we trudged along, chattering our teeth in response to the falling temperature exacerbated by rain and strong wind. Our couple from Bangalore, Saurabh and Tanvi, who had injured herself on way up the summit in the last few hundred meters, was constantly motivated by our trek guide, Bakshi Ram, with his motivating words, songs and dance to cheer her up while enduring the pain from injury.
Finally the moment came where we reached the highest point of our trek. The moment was short lived for those, who reached late and too long for the rest, who reached first, sticking by, waiting for the rest to arrive for a group shot, in the unfavorable weather conditions. The descent downhill was tougher than we thought as the paths were too slippery and the downward forward momentum even made it difficult to grip on the mud tracks in between rocks. While we were on way downhill, from a distance the campsite of Sheagoru could be seen, still not ready, although few staff and members had reached. The brothers from Jaipur, Akash and Ashish, were leading in the middle with Divya Bhatia, my brother Anindya, Nakul, Nanda Kishore and myself trudging along guided by Bakshi Ram. Bakshi had taken the trouble of carrying luggage of three individual trekkers on to himself relieving them of their struggle and stress in the climb uphill. In a moment of quick response he took a decision to reach the valley to prepare the tents for us before we arrive. Bakshi, a man of lean structure, with super ability to carry luggage, beyond his weight and apparent physical strength, ran down the mountains like a super human being in no time. Before we could locate him he disappeared only to be found later in the camp site, cooking, preparing our evening snack with a smiling face, while the tents were made ready by him already, to be occupied by us trekkers, after the strenuous day.
Starting at 8:30 am in the morning and reaching at about 4:30 pm, taking the average time of all, we had finally completed the hardest part of the trek and were relieved. The evening seemed beautiful even than the previous day. Some parts of the sky cleared to give a glimpse of the mountain range that enveloped the valley of Sheagoru. The wind was strong and the loose ends of the tents flattered like the wings of a bird while the toilet tents at a distance formed weird shapes like the fake fire balloons on display in the concerts or events. Wild horses chased each other in playful manner in the open valley by our camp site; giving us a rare sight to cherish of what freedom feels like for animals and why they seem better in their natural habitat than in human captivity. Being exhausted by the day we had lost track of time and before we could ponder on the thoughts of having achieved something, tiredness dawned on us.
Day 4: 3rd August, 2016. It had been raining since previous night but to our amazement, it stopped by early morning. The sun was shining bright and we were cheerful, with no dark clouds in vicinity. The day started by crossing over three streams of water one separated by the other by a narrow patch of land, with support of ropes held together by our guides. Dipping our toes at first and then being knee deep with mistaken footsteps, into the coldest water of the trek we experienced so far, in the stream, coming down from the glacier behind us. After successfully crossing the stream we all had to heat up getting the numbness in our feet to come to normalcy. Thus, we started a dance like form as done in tribal events, where we gathered together in a circle and danced in and out of synchronization. This was the easiest trek of all days descending from the mountains in a sunny day. Starting at 9 AM in the morning we reached Chatru, our final campsite by 1:30 PM. Cars were waiting for us at Chatru from where we left for Chandratal – the Moon Lake.
Leaving behind the lush green meadows and mountains, dancing inside our car from the highly uneven road, cut out from the rocky mountains, we headed through the dry barren valley surrounded by dry rocky mountains, leading to Chandratal. As we entered the Spiti valley, the landscape had changed drastically. I have previously been to the Spiti Valley, Kaza and Ladakh, so was quite familiar with the landscape, while the others, specially my brother found it amazing, witnessing his long cherished desires of visiting the dry valley of Spiti come to fulfillment.
We stopped by some local establishments for refreshment at Chandra Dhaba in Batal, some 14 kms before reaching the Chandratal. Crossing over a bridge over the Chandra River, we moved from Batal to the mountains that led the roads to Chandratal. The food is decent here, rajma chawal is the hot favorite preferred by many and readily available, which according to some of our trekkers tasted good, other stationary stuff, chips, biscuits are available too at a marginal cost extra than the MRP.
Clouds floated like heaps of cotton in the clear blue sky. The Chandra River below appeared like a flowing stream of liquid silver, reflecting light from the sun shining behind the mountains to our left. The barren brownish yellow mountains, gilded by the sun in the base and veiled by milky white snow at the helm welcomed us afar. Nearly one and a half miles before the lake, our cars were parked. We had to walk down the cirque to the lake for a mile or two.
The blue waters reflecting the skies with the Chandrabhanga range in its backdrop, made us go wild with joy and cameras flashing for the next hour or so till the sun rays started fading. The vastness of the lake, never felt enough for me watching from a single direction bounded by time limit. My heart ached to walk on the other sides and discover other angles to view the lake than usual. Some travelers from Israel stayed back cherishing the setting sun on the lake as the rest of the travelers, tourists and trekkers started evacuating. It got dark outside as we made our journey back to Chatru camp site. A huge cake marking the end of the celebrated achievement awaited us in the dining tent, where we had our last dinner together in the trek with all members.
Day 5: 4th August, 2016. Nitin, the trek leader who generally awoke us every morning with a thumping knock on the tent and a cup of tea, spared a few more minutes on this final day before waking us up. It never felt so good, with no rush for the day to trek, less of packing and above all a bright sunny day with cheerful smiles of accomplishments on everyone’s face we greeted each other peeping out of our tents. The last few days of pain and pleasure had yet not sunk in while we had to do the most difficult task of the trek, packing our sleeping bags and putting back into their case. Believe me, it is not as easy as it seems while in its pouch bag.
Hot tea, puri and sabji for breakfast, gave way to distributing our certificates of achievement and a few words of our individual experiences coupled with emotions from the everlasting memories that had got etched in the pages of our lives in the past few days. The last few words of inspiration came from our trek leader to motivate, making us pledge to continue on this journey of trekking and exploring the Himalayas that we have embarked upon. Later, all dispersed loading our luggage on the cars, packing our tents for the final time and bidding goodbye to some wonderful memories, scenic beauties and a group of strangers that became a new family in the past few days.
For some of us who still had time in the evening and the rest who had to board a bus to Delhi later in the evening, we all met for the final time at Johnson’s Cafe & Lodge, in Manali, where the American family was staying. We shared a slice of our daily lives, moments that we recalled from the trip and laughed in unbounded enthusiasm, forgetting everything and anything that withheld us from such experiences in the daily hustle of struggle for existence, over plates of delicious food and drinks, for the one last time.
A man of few words, shying away from pictures, preserving his anonymity with no footprint in social media and modern day human socialization.Yet a man of strong character, mentally and physically, Nitin, our trek leader, to whom life and its struggles had submitted before his indomitable spirit, said a short shayari (poem) on being asked to express his views on the trek before we all parted. This kept lingering in my mind.
“Khuda Ki Banai Aisi Qudrat Nahi Dekhi (Have not seen such a creation by the almighty)
Dilon Main Chupi Aisi Daulat Nahi Dekhi (Have not seen the wealth hidden in the heart of people)
Jo Kehta Hai K Doorion Se Mit Jati Hai Dosti (Those who say friendship ceases to exist with distance)
Us Ney Shayad Hamari Dosti Nahi Dekhi.“ (May be, he has yet not seen our friendship)
For more pictures visit the link :- http://kaustavsarkar.com/hampta-pass-trek/
Note: All images are without watermark to let viewers have an uninterrupted glance from corner to corner of each frame of the images. Please do not copy or distribute for commercial purpose.
The Land of The Thunder Dragon, popularly known as Bhutan (Drukyul- called locally), is a tiny land locked Himalayan Shangri-La in between two other ancient giants, India and China. Bhutan, with a sparse population of around 7,00,00 and nearly 70% forest reserve, is governed in a constitutional monarchy by the King and the Queen who are worshiped as almighty in their Kingdom of Happiness.
Being Indian, my family members and me had the liberty of travelling to this pristine country without the need of visa or passport and a mandatory tourist guide as required by other foreigners. Though some prior permissions are required on paper, it is not that difficult a task. It was a short trip of hardly a week. Being a Bengali, we had the perfect gateway planned in for the holidays during Durga Puja. One might be wondering which Bengali on earth would abstain from the once in a year majestic celebration of the Durga Pujas? Well you have the answer now. I hail from a small town, called Chandannagore, some 40 odd kms from Kolkata. We have our own majestic celebration of the Jagadhatri Puja, much similar in way of celebration to the Durga Puja but restricted only to certain places in Bengal.
So in the month of October 2015, we set out for our journey to Bhutan from the Howrah station. An overnight travel in the Kanchankanya express brought us through the forested landscapes of Dooars in West Bengal, to Hasimara. This station Hasimara, serves as the starting point for tourists from Bengal and other states of India to travel to Phuntsholing, the entrance to Bhutan from its southern borders with India. As the train stopped, our driver and guide was waiting with a red Travera for our 8 member family. Packing up the luggage, we set off for the pristine journey only to be welcomed by the rain gods before we could enter Bhutan. Well, the road up to Bhutan is not a very comfortable journey, and to add more to the dismal start, we got stuck in a traffic jam owing to a marriage celebration that took to roads. Running out of options and empty stomach forced us to break off for a lunch in a hotel just outside the entry gate to Bhutan. While the food ordered by us was being prepared we got an opportunity to catch a glimpse of a wedding celebration in the Hills. Unfortunately, the cameras were still packed and we missed out on framing the celebration.
By the time we reached Thimpu, the sun went into hiding behind the mountains. The chilling winds zoomed by our ears, greeting us with the pleasant weather of the mountains as we stepped out of our car, giving goose bumps. Our hotel though not very expensive, but offered a scenic view even at night of the hills and the establishments below in the valley.
The next day was for local site seeing. Our first attraction for the day was the Buddha point, located just a few miles from Thimpu in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. The place had a massive statue of Lord Buddha. The Buddha Dordenma Statue made of bronze, gilded with gold stands at 51.5 metres being one of the largest in the world. It sits on a throne that houses a mediation hall with 1,25,000 such small structures of Lord Buddha built similarly with bronze and gilded with gold. The area has a massive opening space around it providing panoramic view of Thimpu.
While descending from the Buddha point, our driver acquainted us with the view of the dwelling pace of the King and the Queen. The area is well restricted and can be seen from a view point downhill from Buddha point. The area also has some of the essential government buildings of the nation. Next, in list was the handicraft museum. Not stunning but might suit to the taste of some people.
We headed out for lunch, in one of the restaurants; the driver thought would suit our taste buds being Indians and prone to spicy flavors. Food is costly and the less one talks about the better it is. Indians for sure would be disappointed with the flavors, no matter from which part of India you belong. The cost of food items were really shocking. Hailing from an average middle class Bengali family accustomed to foods, cheap beyond imagination and taste beyond perfection, the cost was unacceptable to start with. Just to give a glimpse, a plain chapati, with the size of a puri, could range from about INR 15 to INR 25, a piece of omelet at INR 50 to INR 60 which is actually 3 to 5 times the normal rate in West Bengal. Well, one shouldn’t compare as the land is in difficult terrains. So we sunk in the shock and let ourselves get overwhelmed by the beauty of the land.
As the evening dawned on us, we head out for the market. Unlike other bustling market places, here it seemed much more organized and peaceful, clean. The traffic guards take control, who look lovely in their black uniforms. The splendid thing about Bhutan is that every piece of material reflects their willingness to retain their culture and tradition, while embracing modernity. Even the police posts and designed in the traditional Bhutanese architecture. The evening light feels warm and beautiful on the skin. The gradual warmth of the setting sun and the cool breeze of the approaching night could provoke one to stroll through the ascent and descent of the roads for long enough as one feels like.
The following morning we set forth for Punakha. A short distance of a few hours’ drive turned a nightmare as we saw a long line of cars queued up. It was Sunday, official workers were on leave and there was no one to remove the boulders from the early morning landslide. However, I should appreciate the quick service, within no time police and respective personnel for the job were on site and started clearing the road. Unfortunately, the matter was more complex than it seemed initially and we got stranded for over an hour.
Once the traffic resumed normalcy, we reached the Dochu La Pass, where there are 108 Chortens (Buddhist Shrines). The area is quite picturesque and provides a panoramic view of the mountains around. As fate would have it, the delay in the journey made sure the clouds covered the surrounding mountains which played hide and seek as the clouds hovered over them. Afternoons are not always sunny and clear in mountains like in plains, it was around 12 noon and covered with blankets of clouds. It was the peak point in our journey to Punakha from Thimpu , after which the roads gradually descended into the Punakha valley.
The Punakha valley is beautiful and simplistic to look at from a distance across the Puna Tsang Chu river. Its nearly a 3 hour drive of 72 kms from Thimpu that once used to be the capital of Bhutan. Not much of a civilization exists in Punakha, the building and hotels are similar in structure, evenly arranged in blocks. While crossing the Puna Tsang Chu River, the burned ruins of the old Punkha Dzong atop the hill is visible in warm orange hue of the setting sun.
The arrangement of the buildings in neat planned blocks with the traditional architecture gives a sense of amalgamation of the western and the eastern civilization. The road in and out of Punakha runs along the river side. The place is quiet enough to let the sound of the waters of the flowing river reach your senses. Even with enough light of the establishments around, the night sky is prominent with stars. A walk down the empty lanes, with children playing around gives a sense of a childhood lost in technology and mundane life taking over in adulthood.
Our tour was bit weird as we first went to Thimpu, then Punkaha and then to Paro crossing over Thimpu in the way to Paro from Punakha again. On way next day, we went to The Punakha Dzong. It stands at the confluence of the rivers Pho(father) Chu and Mo(Mother) Chu. The Dzong is better experienced than explained, as words fall short. I will leave it to one’s own understanding that could be made out with the pictures below.
As the path from Punakha to Thimpu was similar as we had come, we thought may be luck would give us a chance to see the Dochu La Pass without the cloud cover, but no. So without a halt we were on route to Paro. The scenic beauty by the roads to Paro did seem better than that to Thimpu from Phuntsoling.
The entire road stretch throughout the country seems well maintained, though at the entry to Paro, the road running by the only international airport base in Paro was rough. It was early evening by the time we reached Paro. Our hotel was located on the outskirts of the city in the lap of nature, which for me was perfect.
Next morning I woke up to a blissful sunrise in a comfy bed. The view of sun kissed glass of the windows, cold from the overnight chilling weather outside, gathering droplets of water running down its skin shining with the sparks of a precious stone were disturbed by my father yelling at me to get ready for the day. A short trip doesn’t allow the flexibility to rest always as there is a lot on the platter than that could be touched upon. We started at about 8 in the morning towards Chele La Pass. It is at an elevation of 13000 ft, considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour and half drive from Paro, the road up to the pass leads through lush valleys, rice paddies, bucolic villages, pine and rhododendron forest. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake.
Descending from the Chelela Pass there comes a point from where the total stretch of the Paro Airport , the only national airport of Bhutan can be seen.
There is lot of tourist attractions in Paro but being a Buddhist Country, the obvious attractions are its Dzongs. Rinpung Dzong was out next stop from Chele La Pass.
From the balcony of the Dzong, the valley of Paro and the only international airport of Bhutan with its runway could be seen. One needs to be extremely lucky as there are only two flights to Bhutan operated only by their national carrier, Druke airways, twice a day.
Descending from the Paro Dzong, we went to one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, Kyichu Lhakhang, (also known as Kyerchu Temple or Lho Kyerchu) situated in Lango Gewog.
Our final destination was the Tiger’s Nest, which we had to observe from a distance unfortunately due to shortage of time and having aged members in the family, unable to trek .
The day could not have ended without a visit to the Paro market, where the women in the family went on to collect gifts and souvenirs. To my surprise, I came across a road side event performed by school kids on some occasion.
The following day we bid adieu to Bhutan and headed back home from Paro.
The greatest thing about Bhutan is that you come back with a sense of tranquility. The slow paced life style , the serene beauty untouched by human encroachments, the amalgamation of human culture civilization with a sense of respect to nature, the wind that set sails through your veins a sensation of composure from the daily hustle of a modern day city life culminates into a sense of unity of the the mind and the soul of an individual.
for more images of Bhutan refer to this link Bhutan
One of the oldest existing inhabited cities of the world, popularly believed to be the holiest city in the world by the Hindus, situated along the banks of the sacred river to Indians, “the Ganges” is the timeless city of Varanasi or Banaras, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The pursuit of photography and exploration takes one to different places. I had been to Varanasi in June,2013 but my exams in the city forced me to just visit Sarnath and witness the Ganga Arti for the evening. The quench for exploring the city had remained a long cherished desire since then. Two and a half year in the process with better knowledge and gadgets finally set out foe the city in one such impulsive decision.
My friend and relative Sreeman, his family had planned for a trip to Varansi this January 2016, and had asked if I was willing to join them getting some days off from Office. I could not resist the opportunity. 10 days, trip to Varanasi feels both long and short at the same time. Initially it seems 10 days for a place like Varanasi is too long to explore but then as one starts walking along the ghats and then enters the narrow lanes, one gets lost in the timelessness.Every day is a new discovery and opportunity for a person interested in street photography.
We were fortunate to have got booking in Dasaswamedha Boarding house, just 2 minutes walk from the Dasaswamedha ghat. It was luck that favored us to experience humid, cloudy conditions to rain and the mystic foggy winters in Varanasi, all at once in a span of 10 days. Having said that I would still want to visit the city during monsoon and other season to get an actual feel of change in the ambiance of the city.
It has been many a times that motivated by someone or something that I have taken to writing. But every time, I pledged it to continue for a prolonged period or for my entire life time, I failed to live up to it as the feelings that motivated me, subsided. How time heals nah.!! Yes, as like you are apparently travelling in time now, reading the last few sentences, I too travel back and forth in the life I lived during my college days of engineering. One thing I realized for sure that it is not always that one has to attach emotionally to someone other to be motivated enough to continue something over a period of time. Pleasing self is quite the motivation enough at times to take the steps ahead.
Anyways so where were we??.. Yep, remember…
Of all the memories my life has offered or is still to be experienced, a part of me will always breathe for the moments spent in bliss in the land which apparently became my home for the 2 and half years of my engineering days, that’s Kalyani. Though the name change game is on to change Kalyani to Samriddhi by the present state government. It doesn’t matter whichever government at their own free will changes the name of a place for the so called benefit without considering the identity, emotion, memories people attach with the place. The place still holds it’s existence in the heart of the people with the name that with which it was first etched in history of its existence. No matter how much I move on, wherever I move on, those days I still cherish. For those that have not led a hostel or mess life and those who complain about the life without knowing enough have seriously missed a fortune. Point to be noted, by hostel life it doesn’t necessarily mean to get addicted to drugs and alcohol. Having friends worth dying for is reason enough to avert the addiction and remain one’s usual self.
It was a movement that I had started in home, a revolution against my parent’s will to shift to Kalyani from Chandannagore. The first one and half years of engineering days had kicked off well only to be knocked down by failed attempts on childish crush that lasted short but left the heart battered and bruised for months. Thus was the primary motive of the decision for a change in life and lifestyle. I feel satiated on the fact that I could fight up the conventional perception and fear of my parents to find my own way and stand by it. Hope I could do it more often to not live the rest of regrets I have that I wish I didn’t.
Since the time I gained senses, I had grown up in rooms separated by a 20 inch wall from the hustle of the G.T.Road. Though got accustomed with time with the busy road noise and pollution, overlooking the numerous old wooden framed iron rail protected windows of our house, even then, during sleep at night, the noises of horns from vehicles running all day just didn’t seem to fade away, as if it still felt hurting my ears than actually it did in my brain. Kalyani was just the opposite. I was stunned to find such a fine place so near by.
For those who haven’t been there. Its a model town. Fairly planned, more of residential than like industrial Durgapur. Divided in several small and large square blocks, lanes running as wide as the G.T.Road that I thought was large enough all this while. There is equal width of grass as wide as the roads on its either side and small to huge or no trees, then the boundary walls of one to at max three storeyed houses having furnished lawns and garages attached to each house and then the house started. It did feel like for once that I was in some townships in the States as I had seen in the Hollywood movies. Always thought such modeled towns only existed in the far west. Can you imagine the breath of freshness that spacing could inject in a person who has been living in a place where one house literally grows and breathes heavily on the other. For the start it felt like heaven to me and my friends and the presence of winter just made it awesome.
In the very beginning the roads seem to a bit confusing but then its like a complete block architecture where the map of the place can be pictured in your brain completely. Since college attendance was not an issue in the senior years, time for strolling out was more. The Kalyani bridge or the Iswargupta setu, covered the mighty Ganges and took one from Bansberia, in Hooghly district to Kalyani, in Nadia district. The bridge stretches over 1 km and standing their in the evening with friends or the love of your life as people generally do, is a common scene and just mesmerizing.To add to the senses the huge trucks make the bridge to vibrate like the feel of an earthquake is an eerie feeling to start with but one gets accustomed to. The breeze of the river soothing the senses with the setting sun as the backdrop, the smoke rising from the chimneys of the factories and brick kilns at a distance by the banks on either side of the river, boats carrying goods and men below the bridge providing a top view that one hardly has otherwise makes one linger and get late returning home.
The summers are as gruesome as much as the winters are awesome. Stepping out of the house feels like one would surely get a sun stroke, absence of tall buildings and tress at places makes it painful for one to get out on the roads until necessary. In the evenings as a medium of refreshment we friends used to go to the vast Gayeshpur lake and spend some time. We stayed in Kalynai A 11 block, that had a massive open ground in the centre of the block that provided a clear sky with galaxy of stars to gaze at, lying on the grass, as Kalyani is far more free from pollution than other cities or towns. The foggy mornings of the winter, and the wet grass from the dew overnight soaked the feet at times while walking down to Montuda’s Tea shop that was the hot spot all through the day, early morning to late night 24×7,all through the year. The winters made Kalyani feel like paradise. At times when we friends went down to B block for a dinner in the favorite and popular restaurant Dhakeswari, and then after returning from there we would hit the lanes beside the B 3 ground in Block B, which was equivalent to two football grounds. One could see the night time fog settling over the grass. As we returned back the grunting of the bike in low gear, letting the cold breeze send chill down the spine, while the fallen leaves rolled and rustled by the moving tires, gave us the perfect ambiance that the night demanded after the sumptuous dinner. At that moment it felt, life couldn’t be possibly better.
There are countless memories to pen down everyone one of them in here, but just as an archive that I would like to posses and dedicate it to the city, town whatever one call Kalyani to be is what was my intention here. Today after having moved on from the 2 and a half years stay in Kalyani, it still pulls me back to spend a winter night in there with the friends who all stayed there. But time has changed, our lives have changed, may be I am old fashioned that I hold on to memories, memories that still whisper in my ears, the life of simplicity that once existed till it diluted in the mundane routines of job life.
I had never experienced Holi, the festival of colors, in a way than I experienced it this time. Since childhood, I was warned of not involving myself into playing Holi with others as because of the the chemical components of the color are harmful for skin and bla bla bla. Shedding the fear and the warning that had prevented me from experiencing the limitless joy of being drenched in colored waters, I let the inhibitions finally go off. One fine morning being bored of the repetitive schedule of every day life, I called up my photography partner and we planned for a trip to Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon to be a part of the most mind blowing celebration of Holi that happens in India or around the world. These places are the core of this celebration. The origin. The holy place of Vrindavan, the city of Gods and temples provided us an inn for our night stay. We were on a very tight budget as we were spending from our savings. It was one of my long cherished desire to just set off for an unplanned tour someday for a while beyond regular travel companions or family. So this was it.
Barsana is some 42 kms away from Vrindavan and Nandgaon, 8 km even more from Barsana. In short, these places were the dwelling places of Radha and Lord Krishna and their love that kindled and blossomed in their times. People here celebrate the legacy of their love affair even today with colored powders and jets of water. So, as obvious these places have great historical significance to Hindus and most importantly for Holi.
We started our journey from Howrah in Avatoofan express, at 9 o’clock in the morning. Personal advice, don’t take it. It was 8 hours late and it usually does so. As it was a last minute plan for us we were out of options. Anyways, we were scheduled to reach Mathura at 4 pm next evening, but reached at 11:55 pm. Autos are available at night, so not to worry for road transport service even if you land up to such a situation. Reached our hotel, Sri Radha Palace, near police chauki, for 200 rupees. The hotel was decent for about Rs 600 a day, though services like food on call was below the level of expectation with hardly any variation and late service for food. Anyways, all set for next day, cameras packed in rain covers and plastics to be sheltered from the colored powders and unprecedented water jets.An auto at 8 am, just outside the hotel charged Rs 100, for going to Chatikara, the point on the high way from where bus and auto are available for Barsana. Bus costs Rs 34 each, auto around Rs 40. Don’t take advice from auto drivers to take you directly to Barsana, they charge a hefty amount ranging from Rs 200 to 400, which is insane!!! One more suggestion, usually it’s cold enough to be comfortable, but chilly wind in the uncovered autos makes the cold bitter. So an advice, don’t take too much of heavy winter clothes as you are bound to get drenched by the water jets, rather a rain coat suits everything, from fighting the cold to remaining safe from water jets. Keep a pouch bag for small and essential itinerary items. The view from the road is a sigh of relief with extensive green fields and some unrecognizable birds at a distance similar to cranes, sipping from water bodies.
Anyways, coming to the point, we reached the main entrance of the Temple village of Barsana. A large gate at the entrance of the village welcomed us in. Hundreds of photographers and visitors from different corners of the country and beyond thronged the road up to the temple. The narrow pakka lanes had turned colorful and people waiting on the balcony of their abodes were welcoming the people passing by with water jets and powders of gulal. Children were mischievous and mostly the women were the target of the water jets. No mercy for anyone, photographers, women or children. Caucasian women travelers and photographers of far away lands beyond the border are often the prime target, be careful, if you are uncomfortable with some unprecedented attack on you.People dance and sing all along the way up to the temple, through the narrow lanes and the rugged terrains. On reaching the main temple there is another one, a few hundred meters away and some feet higher than the main. People rejoice here too.
Outside of the temple from a distance, an aerial view of the village can be seen.The journey on foot to reach the hilltop is tiring and people rest for a while overlooking the village below.On reaching the main temple which remains open to the public from the morning till 12 noon and then reopens its doors at 4 pm in the evening, witnesses a sea of people rushing in. The colored powder here is mostly red and it over saturates the air inside the temple at times too much to make it difficult to breathe.It is a divine scene to witness. Photographers throng around them and from the upper tier of the temple terrace from where red gulal is thrown at the men singing below.
People roll on the floor either in a form of offering prayer or in a playful manner.The floor turns red by the gulal, it feels like red clay and is slippery. Be careful.In the mean time, women of Barsana get prepared with bamboos to beat up and prevent the men coming from Nandgaon and to plant in the flag of their village on the temple of Barsana as a symbol of their victory. This is why it is named as Lathmar or Latthamar Holi. It is done in a ferocious yet playful manner trying not to hurt anyone, as the men prevent themselves by a shield while the women shower with the blows of bamboos.Finally the Latthmar takes place in the evening, upon the arrival of the men which continues from around 4:30 to 6 pm.Towards the end of the day, it was hard for us to find a vehicle to be back to Vrindavan. I mean it’s seriously hard luck, autos refused to go, no surety of buses as dusk sets in. But finally found some luck. A word of caution, take light packaged food for the day as nothing much is available while one wonders in the lanes of Barsana. Get some breakfast early morning. We were too excited for the day to leave early morning without a breakfast, except a packet of bourbon biscuits. Some snacks, fried stuff, lassi etc are available but that hardly suffices at the time of lunch. We practically went without food all day until we reached back hotel to a delight of roti and sabji, that felt like being in paradise. We hardly realized in the excitement that we remained practically empty stomach the whole day, until we saw the plate of food. Next day, we set off for Nandgaon. This place appeared a bit steeper than the uphill climb for Barsana. Frankly speaking somewhat we and many other fellow travelers and photographers found the people of Nandgaon, a bit offensive and hostile. May be it was our bad luck that we came across a handful of such men in the midst of some great people who welcomed every visitor to their village. Unlike Barsana, the deities are open to the people to be photographed without restriction. The area of the temple is vast. Without going into much details I would just put in some pictures as the events are nearly the same here too.
The view from the top of the Temple roof of the village and the far away land in the beauty of setting sun is amazing. To get the bird’s-eye view shots of the events happening below or that of the surrounding village, one has to have a prior permission as the roof remains heavily guarded by police, but one can always find a way for taking shots with a little coax and smile to the policemen who will let you climb the stairs to the rooftop.
The third day was for Vrindavan. The Banke Bihari Temple was a kilometer away from our hotel. It was drizzling since morning with overcast condition and we knew the shots of light filtering in the temple and creating beams and rays would be missed. Nevertheless, we had to go with whatever the condition was. As the gates of the temple opened in the evening, we just went with the flow of human stream. The curtains from the deities were taken aside and a rain of flowers pelted down upon us. It was mesmerizing. For one moment it lets you to stop clicking and just feel the moment of tranquility. At this point, one really feels to be in paradise, like the TV programs of the 90’s that showed us the gods and the goddess in heaven welcomed by flowers. It was magical. I bet one would hardly experience anything like that anywhere else. A few moments later the pushing and the shoving of constant stream of people finding way into the temple made me realize I was there to click. From one side comes the rain of flowers, the lumps of colored powder from the other end and the jets of water from another. This phenomenon goes on for 5 days at a stretch from morning to noon and afternoon to evening on daily basis. Unfortunately, we could experience only for a day as we were on a tightly scheduled tour.
Finally we had to pack our bags for the train at 4 o’clock in the next morning, Chambal Express. Though I had to regret as my camera stopped functioning properly and somewhat the images inside the temple lacked clarity, but the experience, the memory that I gathered, will forever remain fresh, functional and clear. It’s a life time experience even for an agnostic. There were still many more things to be covered and one trip is not sufficient enough to quench one’s thirst for the search of something more that is always a possibility in this land of the lords and gods, the creator, the Almighty.