It is Time to Live with My Mad Decision

This year when I was planning my one week January break I considered exotic locations. I tried booking Kenya and Seychelles. Seychelles was way too expensive, so was Kenya. I thought I would shell out the money for Kenya but then yellow fever vaccination came in the way. I finally gave the go ahead for Bali only to find even that was not available on my dates.

Then in a fit of madness I decided to trek in winter! Now it is time to live with that decision. I am heading to Himachal Pradesh later today and the mere thought of cold scares me. I am trekking with my long time guide Sohan Bisht. Seshadri and I first trekked with him in 2006!

Snow

Snow and Cold is What I Expect

The idea is to go to Kareri Village near Dharamshala. The original idea was to trek up to Kareri Lake. But given the weather conditions and the reports we are getting, it may not be possible. We might just do a home stay in the village and do day treks, come back to the home at night and not camp at all. The mere idea still feels very cold to me. But then it is now time to live with my mad decision. I feel so lazy to venture out of my house, and yet Sohan ji would have started in the morning from Joshimath and I can’t ditch him now or he will never trek with me again!

I wonder why I feel so unsettled before the trip? I wonder why I feel so unsettled at the start of 2015. I hope I will find some answers in the Himalayas. Sitting on a flat rock in the mountains, I have often taken earth shattering decisions (pun intended) which I have not regretted! I hope the cold will not mess with my thought process.

On another note even Chhavi has been to Kareri Lake but she went with Seshadri and Sohan ji in summer! Now they were a sensible bunch!

PS. There will be no blog updates but I should have some connectivity to update on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The Real Nomads!

It all happened because of the small girl. She was at the hand pump, washing her face. We were visiting the museum at Sirpur. And that is when I met the real nomads!

Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

The Small Nomad at Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

There were a lot of people camping in its grounds. I started kidding around with the children, soon they wanted a photo. That was the ice breaker, the kids started talking to me and the adults followed suit.

Sirpur

The Story Teller at Sirpur

Suddenly the man sitting in the middle announced to me in Hindi, “we are from a place near Nasik and we are coming from Jagganath Puri and we would go to Shirdi in Maharashtra.” That caught my attention like anything, for the ground was full of children and women. There was an elderly couple and their belongings were scattered all over the place. Fire was lit in at least two places. It was soon obvious to me that they were spending the night in the open.

Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

With their Belongings in the Ground at Sirpur

They told me that when they are on the road, they put all their belongings in the jugad (motorized cart) they have. Children also travel in the same cart. Elderly might take a bus for a while but generally they walk all through the way! Now that sounded like traveling in true nomadic style and suddenly I felt like such  loser!

They ask for a camping ground once they reach a new place. Then they go around the town asking for bhiksha (food, probably money too) and that is how they are supposed to fund their travel!

Nomad

Engrossed in the Pictures

They are actually farmers in their village in Maharashtra, so they are not without means. They take such a religious journey once in every 5-6 years and for that duration they live like nomads.

The ladies offered me tea and allowed me to take selfies with them! One of the bloggers, Gaurav, tried to talk to the ladies and he got no reply! Next day, he had a chat with men and I am waiting to read his account.

True Nomads

The Farzi Nomads with True Nomads

It was one of those occasions when I didn’t even have a candy with me to offer to the kids. It did not feel appropriate to offer them money for tea or for kids. I felt very bad that I had nothing to give them in return for their hospitality!

Late at night at the Hiuen Tsang Resort I woke up at night in my room. I was finding it cold and I put on another sweater before I curled up tightly in the blanket. I thought of those small faces, sleeping out in the open. Then I drifted back to sleep again.

Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival 2015

I attended the recently concluded Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival 2015 in Chhattisgarh. Now that I am back, if I could have it my way, I would like to attend the next year’s festival too. You can read about it all in this post or you may go and check out my short videos on Vine and listen to the music. If you would take my advice, that would be the better course, but then free feel to ignore it, that way you will read my post!

Sirpur Music Festival, Chhattisgarh

A Young Music Fan at Sirpur Music Festival, Chhattisgarh

Sipur is about 80 KM away from the capital town of Raipur, where we were staying. The festival is held against the ancient Laxman Temple of Sipur. It was a three day event held from 16 to 18 January 2015. Each day presented scintillating music, I was surprised because I never expected that I would enjoy it so much. I found myself tapping my feet, clapping to the tune, or more likely out of tune, things I hardly ever do because I am tone deaf! And yet at Sipur even this tone deaf person was enchanted!

Day 1  Sirpur Festival 2015

Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

Showcasing the Tribal Culture, Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

The best event of Day 1 was the performance ‘Taal Chhattisgarh.’ Actually it is useless to try to capture that divine music that Pete Lockette produced with 60 tribal musicians in words. It has to be experienced. Chhattisgarh has an extremely rich tribal culture which the MD Chhattisgarh Tourism, Mr. Sanotsh K Misra, was quick to highlight in his media briefing.

Yamini Singh Kathak

Yamini Singh and Her Group at Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

The sequence was followed by Kathak by Yasmin Singh and Group. The last performance of the day was by Shounak Abhisheki & Asha Khandilkar’s devotional songs. The program used to end around 10 at night and by that time it would get cold. On day one Anuradha Shankarn and I were in a deep conversation about music and everything else. It was difficult to believe even for us that we met for the first time in real life! We two had the cab to overself on our drive back to Raipur!

Day 2  Sirpur Festival 2015

Sirpur Music Festival 2015

Leonardo Eto from Japan on Drums at Sirpur Music Festival 2015

On day 2 of the festival I was completely swayed by Rahul Sharma and his group and the music they created. Also amazing was Leonardo Eto on drums from Japan. Day two also saw the crowd puller Anuradha Paudwal performing with her group.

Sirpur

Anuradha Paudwal was a Crowd Puller at Sirpur

By day two I realized that if I wanted better pictures I need elevation and I started climbing on the platform where the TV cameras were hosted. No one asked me to get lost and that became my preferred position to watch the program.

Day 3- Sirpur Festival 2015

By the last day I didn’t want the festival to end! And I am saying this about a cultural festival, when I hardly consider myself cultured! I enjoyed two superlative performances on this day, one by Ustad Shujaat Khan and his group. I enjoyed Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram on Ghatam. I never thought a Ghatam could sound this amazing.

Birju Maharaj

Pt. Birju Maharaj and his Group Performing at Sirpur Fest 2015

Then of course the finale was superlative with Pt. Birju Maharaj and his group. I could only marvel at Pandit ji’s energy and devotion to his craft. It was such a cold night and yet he performed with such a zeal.

The Legend, Pt. Birju Maharaj

The Legend, Pt. Birju Maharaj

If you are a music lover, you would truly enjoy the festival. I can vouch for it. If a stiff person like me can go foot tapping, clapping and swaying, anyone would, I can take a bet on it.

If you wish to know more about the festival you can go to the official page of Sirpur Festival.

PS. I was invited by Chhattisgarh Tourism Board to attend the event.

Videshi Aaye Hain! The Foreigners are Here!

While we were walking around the ancient excavations of Sirpur in Chhatttishgarh, I wandered a little on my own. I heard a bunch of women whispering to each-other, “Videshi aaye hain” (the foreigners are here). I was quite intrigued, because barring one of us, Mariellen Ward, who is from Canada all of us looked as Indian as we could.

Surang Tila, Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

The Women who Declared us Videhi at Surang Tila, Sirpur, Chhattisgarh #Canon550D

As they sat admiring the Surang Tila, I decided to sit with them and see if they would talk to me. Even their dialect was a little similar to my native tongue Bhojpuri. We talked about this and that. They asked me indirectly whether I was married. When I told them I had a daughter too, they asked who was taking care of her while I was away. When I said she was with my husband, they concluded that I must be a working woman.

Chhattisgarh Women

Proving that I am not a Videshi! #Lumia1020

They were from a nearby village and on a sightseeing tour. I told them I was from Gurgaon and I was here to attend the Sirpur Music and Dance Festival. They asked me if I had seen their airport and when I replied in affirmative, one of them said, “My daughter and son-in-law went to Mumbai by plane. They ask me to come as well but I do not want to sit in one!” Her expressions told me that she was probably scared. They told me about all about the top malls Raipur. A little while later I took my leave as I was scared that everyone else from my group would walk off and leave me behind. As I walked for about five steps I realized that I had left my precious, my DSLR behind! They had not even noticed it, though they laughed a lot to see the panic in my face.

Sirpur

With a Group of Young Girls at Sirpur #Canon550D

Then while we were on top of the Surang Tila Temple, climbing the crooked steps that led to it, I heard a group of girls giggling and saying the same, videshi hain! Once again we got chatting in Hindi and I did my convincing act. The young girls told me they were from a place which was two hours away from Sirpur. They were on their own, on a day out! At least that is the impression they gave me. They wanted to take a picture with me, which I did with immense happiness. They have no clue how scared I am to click people.

Then it happened with a group of young boys. Now as I rule I stay clear of local boys as they can be quite rowdy in some places, but by now I was so intrigued that I chatted with them as well. They were NABARD employees! As I can speak Hindi, in fact I speak Hindi all the time at home, they would believe me that we were not foreigners!

Then while we were walking across Buddha Vihar, it happened again! I wonder what we were doing to be labeled videshi or foreigners! I have seen some people being extremely curt with the locals, which truly sets my teeth on edge. But other than that we obviously looked as Indian we could.

Do you have a clue about this videshi business? Is it that the mannerism of a normal city person so different from what is expected in rural India?

Breaking All Records

I do not quite know what to make of 2015 in the first 15 days. On the first day itself my car got a new scratch and a check that I received for a blogging assignment was mildly torn.  I am hardly sentimental towards my car, but I am quite sentimental for my blog. And yet I took such a long unintentional blogging break, breaking almost all past records! I hope there will be no repeat performance of this sort again in this year. Intentional blogging breaks are allowed.

Other than visiting my sister, which I enjoy a lot, I have not done much by the way of traveling. However, this is going to change from tomorrow. The first trip of the year is about to begin. I am traveling to Chhatisgarh for the first time to attend the Sirpur Dance and Music Festival 2015. I am so looking forward to it.

On other updates, I was planning to take a break in the last week of January. I got quite excited about Kenya only to find you need a yellow fever vaccination to visit the country. And it is available only in select government clinics. That lowered my enthusiasm quite a bit. Then I settled on Bali only to find that my preferred dates were gone. So, I have decided to trek, in January. A small, mild one but still a trek, a freezing cold trek! I am having second thoughts about it every day but I am going to go through it now.

So you know, I do not quite know what to make out of 2015 by the first few days. But then 2014 started with a cancelled trip and it turned out to be quite fine. I am hoping for the same for 2015 too.

Oh and that check was honored by the bank. The scratch on the car, I am not going to do anything about.

To Make a List or Not of Must See Destinations

I was firmly in the camp of not making list of the places I really want to see. The problem was I wish to see almost all the places in the world! I have anyway no control over who likes my blog and invites me! South Africa was not even on my radar and yet I traveled there in 2013 as I was invited by the SA Tourism Board. So, the question for me is to make a list or not of must see destinations.

But off late, I have started spending my own money on trips abroad. And how expensive they are! Now belonging to the the camp that did not have any list, I simply go any place which seems feasible a month before a vacation. Visa on arrival countries are my hot favorites as I need not plan much to visit them. Maldives was one such trip. And I am in the midst of planning another such trip for January end.

It was while planning this proposed January trip I realized that in all probability I am going to overshoot my budget. The budget anyway in imaginary as I firmly believe in saving. I spend only a part of my savings on these trips.

Empty page

Time to Move from an Empty page to a List of Countries?

 

However, as I start planning really late, I might end up visiting a country, which is visa on arrival yet again. Now that gave me some food for thought. If I am going to spend my hard earned money on these trips why not to make a list of places I wish to visit first and research them?

So, at the moment I think I am going to research a few destinations which I do wish to visit. And then see what type of budget and visa I really need to visit them. Near the very top of the list is a trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Antarctica as a tourist is also there at the very top but the budget is going to remain out of reach for maybe half a decade or more.

This is roughly the plan which I should be able to put in action maybe later this year but certainly next year. After all it is my hard earned money. Now why do I end up having such expensive hobbies? Do you have a list of must see places or not? What has been your experience with such lists?

Sky Watch Friday- Skies from Batal, Spiti

Another year is here with new possibilities. I have two major chunk of leaves, one in the last week of January and another in the last week of March. I am already planning for the January vacation though I have not been able to finalize it. It was for March I was thinking hard and then I decided I am surely going to trek, where I do not know as of now. I was looking at my Chandratal pictures for posting to today’s Skywatch Friday and that made me long even more for a trek.

Our Tent at Batal, Spiti

Our Tent at Batal, Spiti

There is something about staying in a tent that makes me so happy. I guess it is not so much about the tent as much as about the surroundings with the peace and quiet that comes along with it.There was  big group of foreign trekkers that had camped in the same field at Batal and yet it never felt crowded.

Batal, Spiti

Stones near Chandra River, Batal, Spiti

The sky at Batal did put on a show for a few hours. Before and after this evening all I got was grey clouds. The stones left by the Chandra River held a fascination both for me and my nephew. We walked by the river collecting stones for quite sometime.

I usually stay away from deciding what is good for others, but if I could make one recommendation to everyone, it would be to try trekking once. I love it so much that I am sticking my neck out for it! If you like walking and don’t get too bothered about staying in a tent, you should try trekking. I mean I do not believe in travel will set you free theory but the closest I ever came to believing it is on a trek!

People who cannot walk or do not like to walk, are not going to enjoy trekking, that goes without saying. But even then, you never know unless you try!

May We All Travel More in 2015

Wish you all a very happy, travel filled 2015. May we all travel more. That is what I have been wishing for, year after year! And if I can get more of the same as 2014 travel wise, I promise I am not going to complain!

May we All Travel More in 2015

May we All Travel More in 2015

Other than the constant desire for travel, there are only two things I wish to do in 2015. Both of them figured on the last year wish list as well.

The first and foremost is to get more sleep. I simply need more hours of sleep. I have never been one of those who could survive on 4-5 hours. I need 8 hours at least, the more the merrier. And I have been missing on it badly, which leaves me thoroughly tired. I don’t think I can survive another year of lack of sleep and tiredness.

The second thing I wish for is to get fitter. To this end I did take some initiative in 2014 itself. The story goes like this. I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law. My sister has been after my life to do something about my weight since ages. But then I always used to ignore her advice as she had seen me pencil thin in my younger days. But sometime in October even my brother-in-law Amrit also chimed in with my sister, not directly but he conveyed the message via her.

Now that is when I sat back and took notice. Action was imminent. Even before that my nephew asked me if I would like to join his gym nearby but I always thought I had no time. But with Amrit weighing in with my sister and nephew I had no option. I joined the gym sometime in October. I have been fairly regular with it. It is not entirely about weight loss but that would be welcome too.

As I like to trek so much, it is imperative that I remain fit, after all I am not so young anymore.  Also, on every trek and trips to the mountains since 2013 all I got was rains. I thought that too was a sign. The mountains were telling me to come back when I was fit. After all, I have been trekking on will power much more than anything else and it felt as if the mountains were repelling me.

But like so many good things in life, blogging included, it was my sister and brother-in-law who set me on the path to fitness once again. So, in 2015 I wish I would get more sleep and keep fit. Everything else can wait. And even though I don’t say it on my blog, the important thing for me is the health of my dear ones. I say this very often in my conversations offline. 

Now that I have got everything out of the way, here is to a rocking 2015, may we all travel more!

If You Had to Pick Only One Picture III

It is almost time to let go of 2014. It has been a good year for me. So to sum up my travels for this year I continue with ‘if you have to pick up only one picture’ series. Only I am posting 10 pictures this time as I do need to warp up the series today! The first ten trips of the travel 2014 are covered here and here.

Pragpur (with Judge’s Court, Himachal Pradesh)

The Judge's Court, Pragpur, Himachal Pradesh

The Judge’s Court, Pragpur, Himachal Pradesh

Pragpur is a small little town in Himachal Pradesh. Judge’s Court is a family run hotel there. The place so reminded me of my railway childhood home. My father retired from railways sometime back. Before that we used to live in a fairly large home with litchee trees (among many others) in the compound. This scene was so reminiscent of my childhood days when eating litchees from the tree was a norm.

Chandratal, Himachal Pradesh (Personal Trip)

Chandratal

Chandratal

The trek to Chandratal was certainly one of the highlights of this year. I do not know what is wrong with me but unless I walk for a good many kilometers (about 14 in this case) in a day every year, life feels pretty incomplete. My elder nephew was with me on this trip and it was after a long time that we traveled together. The younger brat and I have traveled much more with each-other.

Thailand (with TAT New Delhi)

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

This was trip number 2 of the total 3 trips to Thailand this year. Friends on Facebook have mentioned that it must be like my second home! I do like going back to Thailand so much. It is a very special place for me.

Bhutan (With Makemytrip) 

Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest, Paro, Bhutan

Bhutan is an absolutely gorgeous destination. I fell completely for its charms. It is tranquil and it feels as if I stepped back 50 years in time! The people are gentle and gracious. It was also special because I could trek on this trip as well to the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Paro. I am certainly going back to Bhutan some day.

Hong Kong (Personal Trip)

Hong Kong with Chhavi and Vasu

Hong Kong with Chhavi and Vasu

Hong Kong was truly special because it was the first trip abroad from both these brats. It was so much fun. They didn’t know I was clicking a picture or else they would have protested. Soon after I took this shot, they wanted to jump in the water below. The elder one told me in all earnest that she knew swimming, so she could jump! They did nothing of that sort in the end.

Gulmarg, Kashmir (With Khyber Resort and Spa)

Gulmarg, Kashmir

Gulmarg, Kashmir

The first thought that comes to mind about this trip is that I almost got caught in the floods! I was very lucky to get out when I did. Nothing would have happened to me as Gulmarg was unaffected. But the phone lines went down and if I was stuck it would have been very difficult for my family.

Ibis, Airport, New Delhi (With Ibis)

Ibis, New Delhi

Ibis, New Delhi

I was not very sure if I should include Ibis as a trip or not. But it was certainly a first when I stayed in a hotel in my own city! Chhavi and I had so much fun together, particularly at the pool! So, I am including it as an outing.

Krabi, Thailand (with TAT New Delhi)

Krabi, Thailand

Krabi, Thailand

Krabi is a beautiful beach destination and this was my third to thailand in 2014! I have been incredibly lucky to be on this luxury trip where among other things, I had a complete speedboat to myself for traveling to Hong Island!

Jaipur (with Jaipur Marriott)

Letting my Hair Down at Jaipur Marriott

Letting my Hair Down at Jaipur Marriott

Even though Jaipur is touristy but I so like the place! And Jaipur Marriott was the touch luxury that made the trip extra special. This trip was quite different from my other trips as the focus was food. The note to self is to know my limits when it comes to how much food I can eat and not get carried away!

Sariska, Rajasthan (Personal Trip)

Sariska National Park, Rajasthan

Sariska National Park, Rajasthan

Sariska was the last trip of the year and the first trip this year when all of three of us traveled together! We hope to improve our family travel record in 2015!

2014 has been an incredible year travel wise and otherwise as well. I do not wish to be greedy but can I please have more of the same in 2015?

The Last Trip of 2014- Sariska, Rajasthan

We did a quick trip to Sariska Rajasthan over the extended weekend. This was the first time in 2014 that all three of us traveled together! I took Chhavi out and Seshadri took Chhavi out, I went out and Seshadri went out but somehow the dates never coincided for the three of us. And more often than not I was the guilty party! But we finally managed to go to Sariska for a peaceful vacation.

A Blue Pansy Butterfly

A Blue Pansy Butterfly #Lumia1020

In all our visits to Sariska we have stayed at the RTDC’s Tiger Den. It is a simple hotel but right at the edge of the forest. The best part of the deal is their huge lawn from where I do my armchair birding. Sometimes I manage to catch butterflies too, on my cell phone!

An Oriental Magpie Robin, Female

An Oriental Magpie Robin, Female

It goes like this. I usually sit in a chair in the lawn, basking in the sun. Then a bird will come close by and I click a picture, usually without getting up from the chair. Sometimes they do force me to move a bit to get a better angle. By the way, did you notice the blue sky?

Oriental Magpie Robin, Male

Oriental Magpie Robin, Male

The best part of this vacation was the sunshine. There was no fog at Sariska. Chhavi could sit in the lawn and play with mud and other kids, while Seshadri and I were just too happy to laze around reading books.

Rose Ringed Parakeet

Rose Ringed Parakeet

All the pictures up to now have been clicked in the hotel premises. Now what a luxury it was to click so many birds simply by sitting in a hotel lawn!

A Black Redstart

A Black Redstart

And it is not that the birds come for a fleeting second and then go away. They keep coming back, looking for food. Having said that, no one can sit in the lawn and eat anything because of the monkeys. There are just too many monkeys around. They don’t come nearby unless you have something to eat. So all the food items have to be consumed indoors, unless you wish to share it with the monkeys.

Shrike

A Long Tailed Shrike

Then I took a short walk out of the premises of the hotel and found this Shrike in a tree close to the road. It gave me only one opportunity to click the pictures! And then it vanished protesting further inside the overgrowth.

Yellow Toed Green Pigeon

Yellow Toed Green Pigeon

There were a great many yellow toed green pigeons by the road but they took a thorough dislike to my presence. They flew in droves to far away trees. So, managed to get this one picture on my puny 75-300 mm zoom by cropping ruthlessly.

Painted Storks

Painted Storks

Chhavi and I did a safari in the national park. This was the send visit to the jungle for Chhavi. She was having a conversation with other girls (working professionals) in the canter and in some context she told them, “I know because I have been here before!” Seshadri refused to budge from the hotel. He anyway has seen a tiger in Sariska on his first attempt, a trip he did solo. We didn’t see any tigers on this trip. But there was this group of painted storks with rudy shelducks for company!

A Black Winged Stilt

A Black Winged Stilt

Then there was this lonely black winged stilt going around in the lake in search of food. The lake is a very scenic spot in the middle of the forest.

Chhavi Trying to Feed a Jungle Babbler

Chhavi Trying to Feed a Jungle Babbler

And I sign off the travels of 2014 (only theoretically because some of the tales are going to spill in 2015 as well) with Chhavi trying to feed a jungle babbler at Sariska.