Apr 16, 2012

Mcleodganj - III

Continued from Part-I and Part-II:
As hinted by SK in her comment to the earlier post, Day 3 was the day of enthu people. The bug hit us first, when we defied our own expectations and woke up at 6.00 am to watch the sun rise. Well, all except RK, who had ended Day 2 in ‘Signature’ style. Yours truly had too, but then the prospect of welcoming the Dawn sufficiently enthused one to shrug off the alcohol-induced sleepiness and actually get out of bed that early.

Our ancestors were a wise lot. Unlike the modern day religious nut-jobs folks who keep preaching without having the ability to ever come up with anything original, one can sense genuine wonder for the miracles of the Universe in the writings (or rather, the sayings, since they weren’t written down until later) of the earliest Aryans. It reflects both of the majesty of the sight of dawn breaking, and on the imagination of the person observing the same to come up with something like this:
We see that thou art good: far shines thy lustre; thy beams, thy splendours have flown up to heaven.
Decking thyself, thou makest bare thy bosom, shining in majesty, thou Goddess Morning.”

Dawn was called Ushas, and was frequently depicted as a "beautifully adorned young woman riding in a golden chariot on her path across the sky". Another of the hymns refers to her thus:
“Gone are the men who in the days before us looked on the rising of the earlier Morning.
We, we the living, now behold her brightness and they come nigh who shall hereafter see her.”

Men may come and men may go, and the relentless march of time shall continue, made joyful by the breaking of the Dawn every day. I couldn’t come up with anything poetic (I restrict myself to silly limericks), but I immersed myself in the calm of the morning, as the sun’s rays slowly changed the snow-white of the mountains to a shimmering gold, as the birds woke up with a chirp, as the dew in the grass slowly licked my feet clean, and I felt immensely thankful for just being alive. It was one of those moments which cannot be described in words.

One of my quirks is that I can quickly degenerate from such a contemplative mood to my usual goofy self. So, I reverted to striking silly camera poses, which MT and SK happily clicked to make up for the non-entertainment no-show of the banana-milkshake bhang.

After an hour of going trigger happy with their cameras, they left me and lovely Ushas in peace once again, and I sat down on a bench cross-legged and closed my eyes, and pretended to meditate. I have never found out what it is about holidays that makes one re-evaluate whether what one is doing is what one wants to do. Is it the time one has to stop and reflect, is it the place which induces deeper thinking, or is it just crazy wishful foolishness? Sometimes, I wonder if the quest for meaning is quite meaningless.

As I was sitting there thinking such profound thoughts, I heard a noise and found that one of the pre-Rig Vedic ancestors was staring intently at me. My mind went: “Does the monkey know that it is my ancestor?”, then “Is the monkey sitting there wondering “does this guy know that I am his ancestor?””. I soon snapped out of my meta-stupid phase once I saw the monkey eyeing my sneakers that I had taken off for my barefoot walk across the lawns. I quickly snatched them up and went back to my room.


We  went to Palampur market area, had a hearty aloo-parantha-with butter breakfast and then brain-stormed on how to while away the last few hours of our all-too-short vacation. After negotiations with multiple cabbies, we settled on one who promised to show us all the local sights and then drop us off to Chakki Bank where we were to board our train.

I don’t know if it was in his nature to be talkative and cheerful, or whether in spite of our negotiations we had committed to a princely amount of cab fare, but our man displayed all the enthusiasm of a Duracell bunny as he first took us to Sherbaling Palpung Monastery. There was some group prayer meeting going on and it was very colourful and had some wonderful music (bells chiming, drums beating and chanting) and I quite liked the fact that they allowed people to drop in and take pictures of that. A refreshing change from no-camera-not-even-your-shirt-go-in-a-dhoti rule of Kerala temples.

We found some Tibetan kids, one of whom was very cool about being photographed while his brother displayed all signs of a paparazzi-weary celebrity. We also came across one super-cute kid whose style is best seen than described: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCiCBFbx0Aw

From the monastery we decided to head to this place called Neugal Café which was highly recommended by the locals there. En route, our cabbie decided to take a detour to show us a suspension(?) bridge built in honour of a soldier I think, but I was too hungry to listen to his guided tour while he went “hamara farz banta hai ki aapko yahan ka sab kuch dikhaaye.” Anyways, we landed at Neugal Café and had our first disappointing meal of the trip. Less said about it, the better. 


All good things come to an end. So it is with wonderful meals. Even more so with happy vacations, and all one comes back with are good memories, some colourful snaps, and in some cases, an infuriatingly long three-part blog post.

How I wish this vacation continues...

Apr 13, 2012

Mcleodganj - II

Continued from Part-I

From Naddi, we took a bus to Bhagsunag, a unique temple with a swimming pool in front of it! In its defence, the water appeared cleaner than Dull Lake, so I guess, if the hypothetical God forced me to take a holy dip at the pain of gouging my eyes out, I’d rather jump in to the pool than the lake. The temple also has a sign which says “pracheen Shiv Mandir” prompting us to wonder whether the sign was placed when the temple was constructed itself in the foresight that it will survive many eras.

For all my skepticism about the gods, Shiva is my favourite. A deity who is usually stoned and high, can put up a mean dance and is destructive to boot gets my unflinching vote. But we skipped the temple and went in search of the essence behind the deity, to the infamous Shiva café. My co-passengers (for this para, they are not my friends!) were not too enthusiastic about getting bhang for our bucks from this trip. It took a lot of persuading, a temporary detour to cool off by dipping our feet in the ice cold water, and a promise to act funny and spill out all my secrets after getting high to convince them to tag along. It was a long climb, and even I was getting tired of it. Let’s just say that we reached the place, found a bunch of kids staring into space, and picked up a glass of bhang lassi, which tasted like banana milkshake and failed to give any sort of levitating feeling. If I had a third eye or even a Veerabhadra to order around, I’d have burnt the bloody café to ashes. Total disappointment! Although on second thoughts, I don’t know if it was the café owner who fooled me, or the friend who gave an order for milkshake when my back was turned and told me it is “bhang lassi”. I guess we’ll never know since neither of them is likely to confess.

On the way back, we stopped at German Bakery (another must-visit place according to many online accounts), and ordered pakodas. We must have been the only idiots who would have ordered pakodas in that place, since they took an hour to get it by which time we had lost all enthu for the snack. This was followed by dinner was at a place called Mc’llo, and I quite liked the place. The place wins the award for having the most enthusiastic waiter I have seen, making me suspect that he was the one who had had the bhang.

Day 2

Since we had covered most of what Mcleodganj had to offer on Day 1 itself, we decided to act a bit lazy and thankfully got out of our ‘checklist’ mode. So, a nice aloo-parantha breakfast with a huge blob of heart-attack inducing butter was followed by general walk-around, and a repeat visit to the Bhagsunath temple and another session of freezing our toes in the water. Now, I am one of the most tone-deaf persons around, but I am a big fan of the sound of water gurgling through the rocks, and I could have spent another week sitting there. Another thing I am a big fan of is splashing cold water on my friends, but we are mature old people now and so I decided to behave responsibly (it had nothing to do with the fact that the bugger was holding my sweater as a protective screen and I didn’t want to lug around a wet sweater!).

Attempting to splash water when I still had my sweater...
Reluctantly, we left the water spot and headed towards Namgyal Monastery. It is a beautiful place, and has some stunning paintings of Kalachakra (or something similar sounding), but what I really liked was the all-round views of gorgeous mountains with snow-white tops and green valleys. We also met a really charming old man who gave a most disarming mischievous smile and asked where we had come from, and was really surprised to know that four of us came from four different cities in each corner of India. As is the norm, we (or rather, the camera experts) clicked snaps of everything interesting and that included the old man.

After yet another sumptuous lunch at a place called Tibetan Kitchen (the meals formed a very important memory of this vacation, and hence the repeated references), we took a brief walk in time to reach the spot for a breath-taking, stop-in-your-tracks-and-forget-everything-else view of the sunset. The sight of that ball of fire, slowly turning from a bright yellow to a warm orange as it slowly sinks behind the mountains is a memory that I will cherish for a long time to come.

And with that, we took a cab and proceeded towards Palampur.

(to be continued…)

PS: This is turning out to be lengthier than I anticipated, and I hope to finish it before I grow tired of putting this down.

Apr 9, 2012

Mcleodganj - I

We are in a cheerful mood today since we are back from a nice weekend break in Mcleodganj / Dharamsala. As we have done in the past, we will duly document the trip in a few (ok, more than a few) words, partly for our own nostalgia trips sometime in the future, and partly to remind ourselves that we do need to take more such breaks. As some of you may recall, we use the ‘royal’ we (or the Bihari ‘hum’) whenever we are happy.

The genesis of the trip started in yet another mail written to our friends screaming “I NEED A BREAK!” in the middle of some really frustrating week. Considering that most of our weekends have been wasted in house hunting, and strenuously avoiding bride hunting, we were most assuredly in need of a break. Not just any 2 day back before you even started break, but a slightly longer one. And so, we mailed, proposed places, rejected them, held conference calls, negotiated over how many days can we take off and at one point, it looked as if this project will also stall like the many others which preceded it. But by some miraculous coincidence, 3 perfectly sane, well-educated, smart, professional people agreed to trade an eminently enjoyable long weekend for spending time to go on a trip with… ME! Makes us doubt the part about their sanity and their smarts. But what the hell, off we were, to the place of the Dalai Lama.

We landed in Delhi on Thursday and took a train to Chakki Bank. The train journey was made interesting by the fact that there were some 120 people sitting in the 3A coach that was clearly meant to seat half that number. And we (this time, I mean myself and the friend RK i.e. 2 people) had 1 reserved berth between us. Let’s just say that the TTE didn’t budge, and people in Jallandhar and Udhampur are still laughing at the memory of seeing two rotund guys trying unsuccessfully to fit into one 'side upper' berth. But we managed to reach Chakki Bank without incident, slightly groggy and promptly took a cab to Mcleodganj. And reached the Bhagsu at 6.30 am, only to be told that since the check-in time is 12.00 noon, we couldn’t be given the room. Whatthe! So, we placed our luggage in the room taken by the 2 other friends (let’s call them MT and SK, and let them choose whether they want to identify themselves with their blogger / twitter profiles) who had reached earlier, and set off for a walk.

Only to be greeted by pleasant visuals of snow-capped peaks in the distance glimmering in the early morning rays. And air which didn’t smell of sweat and smoke. And greenery all around, as far as the eye can see. Truly Magical!

Our agenda for the vacation was very simple: Do Nothing. Except of course, eat a lot, laze around, chat and read a bit. And crack a few bad PJs. (The last item was only on one person’s agenda). So, we had a nice breakfast at the roof-top of a place called Jimmy’s Kitchen. Chocolate pancake (I like to indulge my sweet tooth at vacations… and at all other times) and French toast, with a majestic view of the mountains to go.

Most Indians vacationing in India have a minor flaw: they are what I call ‘checklist’ tourists. So, instead of soaking up the place and drowning in the majestic beauty of it all, they hop from one ‘must-see’ place to another, ticking items off a list which they would have copied from the some travel blog / journal / magazine. The routine usually consists of going to the place, creating a loud ruckus, littering a bit and posing for pictures focused on themselves while the really beautiful mountain / sunset / beach is hidden behind a group photo of all 27 people in the joint family posing together. I take this detour in my narrative not to criticize my countrymen, but to admit that we succumbed to the check-list mentality briefly (thankfully, without the loud noises or the littering).

And hence we set off to St. John’s church (chapel?). A nice, lovely stone building with stained glass windows and wooden ceiling, with tragic blots of ugly electric wires and weird white lights hanging about. It was Good Friday, and there was a sermon going on. The priest said “He sacrificed himself so that you may be absolved of all your sins” and I happily decided to commit some more sins by eating some more (gluttony) and lazing around (sloth).

From there, we caught a bus to Dal Lake (note, it is not pronounced like the food, more like Dull Lake). I still think they got the pronunciation right and the spelling wrong. If that rectangular hole with stinking, stagnant, green water was a lake, then my house in Mumbai is Buckingham Palace. There was a board that helpfully said people take a ‘holy dip’ in the lake, so I guess their collective sins made the place so dirty. If only the people had realized Jesus had already taken their sins. Poor, misguided souls.
And from there, we went to Talon De Naddi (or something like that). For a wonderful lunch again in the open with views of the mountains, mildly distracted by the cootchie-cooing firang couple in the next table. I am not judging, but the lady had her hair dyed pink, something that made my heart sink (Rhyme!).

(to be continued…)

Apr 3, 2012

Dear G

Congrats and welcome to the family. We may seem a bit weird at first, but as you will soon find, we can be fun in our own way. Especially the one you are getting hitched to, my little cousin M (ok, not so little since she's only six months younger, and we'll drop the cousin since I treat her as my own sister). She has a talent of making friends of any random person before you can say 'Dale Carnegie'. I remember her visiting our place when she was 7-8 years old and suddenly, I started to know people whom I hadn't even realized lived in the same neighbourhood. And, even though she left after a stay of hardly 2 weeks, they kept asking about her for years.

As her brother, and your future friend, I have some stuff to tell you. If you ever gift her chocolates and see her gobbling it all up in one go, don't blame me. It so happenned that her dad had bought us 3 Cadbury Dairy-Milk chocolates, and while me and S (her brother) ate ours at once, M decided to eat one small square piece and kept the rest in the fridge to enjoy it at leisure. Well, all I can say is when she came back after an hour outside, the chocolates were nowhere to be found. I am not saying we ate them, I am not saying we didn't, they may have 'evaporated' in the fridge, but all I know is that we got a firing and she decided to adopt a policy that valued immediate consumption over saving up for the future, which probably helped her understand the Americans when she went there.

Btw, while we are on the matter of gifts, don't get her any dolls either. She had an enviable collection of pretty Barbies (am ashamed as a guy to even say this) and one slightly mean looking large doll. Well, when we were kids, we had rented a video cassette of the movie 'Child's Play', watched it late into the night, and then went to sleep with our minds full of terrifying images. Again, I am not saying I picked up her doll and placed it next to her, I am not saying I didn't, but all I know is the she woke up next morning, turned and saw a doll next to her first thing, screamed loud enough to wake up the entire apartment complex, and the next thing I know, all the dolls she had were being donated to charity. The poor kids were very happy since they had obviously not seen Child's Play.

She tells me you sing very well, and you know what, she could have been a good singer too. She had a good voice, she had the enthusiasm to learn and for once, I decide to accept some blame. Every time she returned from 'paatu class' to practice, she found one more unearthly accompanying voice grating along "Saaa Reee Gaaaa Maaaa" till she decided that she'd rather sacrifice the possibility of becoming a good singer in the interests of the sanity of the everyone concerned. But then, I did ensure that you will be the undisputed singing champion in your family, and you can thank my wonderful foresight for that.

There are so many memories to recount, and I don't want to bore you with all of them. Besides, if I tell you all the stories now itself, we won't have much to talk about over the beer that you have promised me.

Take good care of her. To borrow a line from that stupid sitcom, "You guys are getting married and I couldn’t be more thrilled for both of you, but as M’s older brother I have to tell you this. If you ever hurt my little sister, if you ever cause her any unhappiness of any kind, I will hunt you down, and kick your ass!"

PS1: G, I had partially drafted this post before I came down for the engagement, now that I have met you and found that you are a nice guy (and not because I realized I couldn't kick your ass), you can ignore the last para. But I was serious when I wrote it.

PS2: To the rest of you who are scratching their heads wondering what on earth I am blabbering about, well, my little sister got engaged to G and I am sort of excited. Or at least was, till she made me sit through a whole day of saree selection, debating the merits of 'copper sulphate blue' versus 'mazhil kazhuthu (peacock neck) blue' versus 'maroon with gold border'. The very tragedy of it all cannot be described in words even by the best of the writers, forget about yours truly.