Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat (and LOTS of crying) – Inside a traditional Gaddi wedding!

Growing up in India, one does know that we love our overly-extravagant weddings. For those who don’t, here’s a small insight: the wedding industry in India is over Rs 100,000 crore and a regular person spends one fifth of the wealth accumulated in a lifetime on his/her wedding ceremony. Decorators, caterers, make-up artists, costume designers, choreographers, henna artists, hair stylists, it’s all so crazy! I saw my older sister organizing her wedding a year ago, and just the craziness of it all made me make a not-at-all-grand-wedding pact (I’d much rather splurge on traveling!)

And then I attended a traditional Gaddi-style wedding in Himachal earlier this year, which easily was the most beautiful, life-altering experience for me! The sheer simplicity and amount of love I observed at this one wedding, made me see more clearly how fickle and pretentious everything at our regular wedding functions back home is.

Minni Di, as she is known to everyone in the tiny hamlet named Khirku, is one of the most beautiful Himachali women I’ve met. She’s an independent young woman, working odd jobs to look after herself and her brother, while also saving for her own marriage. The first thing I noticed about her was her relentless love for animals, ALL kinds for animals! She can just naturally sense their fears and needs, like a psychologist of sorts for animals, and this positive vibe always attracted them towards her.

Minni Di - The bride-to-be! Ooo rhymes :D
Minni Di – The bride-to-be! Ooo rhymes 😀

Gaddi’s are a tribe in Himachal, essentially the shepherd tribe, people who move from one settlement to another with their families and flock of sheep. Things have changed for them over the years, and so you shouldn’t be surprised that most Gaddi men are not wandering shepherds anymore, but have settled in villages like Khirku to bring a little stability to their lives. Minni Di belongs to one such Gaddi family.

My connection to Khirku - friends beautiful little haven up in the mountains!
My connection to Khirku – friends beautiful little haven up in the mountains!

 

Minni Di ki “Chhayi”…

The excitement of attending her wedding began in April, when I was living in Khirku for a good fortnight, which was also when her first wedding function took place and got me hooked to the beauty of it all.

It was Minni Di ki "chhayi", a simple function that marks the beginning of wedding preparations, wherein all the men (and boys) of the village go into the forest to collect wood for the wedding cooking and ceremonies (hawan). 
It was Minni Di ki “chhayi”, a simple function that marks the beginning of wedding preparations, wherein all the men (and boys) of the village go into the forest to collect wood for the wedding cooking and ceremonies (hawan).

 

Chai and food being prepared over gossip!
Chhayi ki chai pe charcha!

 

Watching all neighbors come together, taking an off from their work, to manually cut and collect huge wooden logs from the mountains, made me realize how beautiful the sentiment of a community belonging is. A wedding for them wasn't just about dressing up and showing up for 2 days, but they were all a part of it in spirit and soul, and isn't that a memory you would cherish all your life?
Watching all neighbors come together, taking an off from their work, to manually cut and collect huge wooden logs from the mountains, made me realize how beautiful the sentiment of a community belonging is. A wedding for them wasn’t just about dressing up and showing up for 2 days, but they were all a part of it in spirit and soul, and isn’t that a memory you would cherish all your life?

 

This was going to be a wedding where neighbors were family, men of the house were decorators, chefs and servers, women were makeup, hair and henna artists, and almost every person at the wedding was sans-makeup & jewelry – the true and purest emotions of a union came to the fore! And I wasn’t going to miss it for my life…

 

(A month later) First ceremonial shower!

Day 1: Food being prepared for the bride. So the wedding functions begin 2 days before the actual ceremony, by giving the bride a ceremonial shower. Here, the bride is made to stand between a circle of women in the kitchen / verandah, and everyone puts water over her head to help her "cleanse". This marks the beginning of festivities, and the bride must not step out of the house after this first shower!
So the wedding functions begin a month after the chhayi. 2 days before the actual wedding, the bride is given a ceremonial shower. Here, the bride is made to stand between a circle of women in the kitchen / verandah, and everyone puts water over her head to help her “cleanse”. This marks the beginning of festivities, and the bride must not step out of the house after this first shower!

 

After the shower, the bride is made to eat her food, because she won't be able to for the rest of the night (Mehendi ceremony begins right after!) Here, it was interesting to see little kids come to the bride and ask her to offer them food (like asking for prasad at a temple).

After the shower, the bride is made to eat her food, because she won’t be able to for the rest of the night (Mehendi ceremony begins right after!) Here, it was interesting to see little kids come to the bride and ask her to offer them food (like asking for prasad at a temple).

 

So, about the crying!

Now one thing I have to mention here, while the bride is being “made to shower” by the women, the brides only task is to cry! YES, to CRY HER EYES OUT! It is considered as some kind of a ritual almost, wherein the bride is intimated 2 mins before any ceremony begins, so that she can get into the mood and begin to bawl. I will be honest, the first time I actually saw this I was so taken aback (which explains why I have no pics of the showering ceremony). Ladies around me didn’t find this odd at all and no one tried stopping the poor bawling bride. In fact, I could overhear stories of women boasting about how they cried louder, or “almost fainted”, when it was their turn! And mind you, this continued before EVERY SINGLE FUNCTION until the wedding, and then there was the bidaai which was even more disturbing to watch.

So I tried asking everyone why is crying so important for the bride. No one could answer reasonably. And I was convinced that just like any regular Indian tradition, the original reason for the tradition has been twisted manifold over the years, and no one now knows what the actual reason is anymore! But one of the more sensible friend of mine offered the argument that maybe (and I kinda like the sound of it) the crying tradition began as a means of catharsis to allow the bride to enter her new life with a clean slate. What d’you think?

Ok, now back to the wedding…

 

Mehendi ceremony:

Cousin sisters and neighbors of the bride moonlighting as mehendi artistes, and doing a very good job at it! Also note here, the bride didn't wear a single new piece of clothing until the main wedding function (which is also a part of the many Gaddi beliefs)
Cousin sisters and neighbors of the bride moonlighting as mehendi artistes, and doing a very good job at it! Also note here, the bride didn’t wear a single new piece of clothing until the main wedding function (which is also a part of the many Gaddi beliefs)

 

Happy kids with happy painted hands!
Happy kids with happy hands!

 

Dulhan ki Sakhiyaan
Dulhan ki Sakhiyaan

 

Day 1: Mehendi - Done and done!
Day 1: Mehendi – Done and done!

 

Haldi…

Day 2: Haldi ceremony during the day. While the tiny house was choker-blocked with more guests than it could practically accommodate, panditji came in the initiate the haldi preparations. He collected all the havan samagri, hand-decorated the place with powdered inscriptions, and ordered for the bride to be brought down for the ceremony.
Day 2: Haldi ceremony during the day.
While the tiny house was choker-blocked with more guests than it could practically accommodate, panditji came in the initiate the haldi preparations. He collected all the havan samagri, hand-decorated the place with powdered inscriptions, and ordered for the bride to be brought down for the ceremony.

 

When I went to pass the message to the bride, she was happily chatting with her cousins, but like I knew would happen - the moment she heard that she has been called - she started crying again. Her friend helped her put on the traditional luan-chhari (which was passed down from the brides grandmother), and we took the crying, bawling bride to the puja.
When I went to pass the message to the bride, she was happily chatting with her cousins, but like I knew would happen – the moment she heard that she has been called – she started crying again. Her friend helped her put on the traditional luan-chhari (the gown) – which was passed down from the brides grandmother – and we took the crying, bawling bride to the puja.

 

The puja to initiate the haldi ceremony
The puja to initiate the haldi ceremony

 

Haldi is an important ceremony in our tradition, wherein the bride (and the groom over at his place) are caked with turmeric paste on their bodies. This helps add a tinge of pre-wedding glow to the stars in focus!
Haldi is an important ceremony in our tradition, wherein the bride (and the groom over at his place) are caked with turmeric paste on their bodies. This helps add a tinge of pre-wedding glow to the stars of the moment!

 

The haldi ceremony was about an hour long, and my heart went out to the bride who kept crying throughout! At one point, a lady actually came next to her and asked her to stop by saying "Itna kaafi hai" (This much is enough) I was like WHAAAA?
The haldi ceremony was about an hour long, and my heart went out to the bride who kept crying throughout! At one point, a lady actually came next to her and asked her to stop by saying “Itna kaafi hai” (This much is enough) I was like WHAAAA?

 

Preparing for the feast!

While the haldi ceremony was happening inside, the men of the household were busy in the verandah, chopping and cooking for the big evening feast! I found this so fascinating, as all the women at this moment were, well, you'll see in the next picture.
While the haldi ceremony was happening inside, the men of the household were busy in the verandah, chopping and cooking for the big evening feast! I found this so fascinating, as all the women at this moment were, well, you’ll know soon.

 

Work work work work work...
Work work work work work…

 

Some women helped!
Some women helped!

 

This sight made me so happy...but not as happy as the next...
This sight made me so happy…but not as happy as the next…

 

Ladies party!

So, as I was saying, while the men worked and chopped and stirred the kadhais for the evening feast - the women sat in the balcony upstairs, drinking whiskey with chhole! Oh yeah!
So, as I was saying, while the men worked and chopped and stirred the kadhais for the evening feast – the women sat in the balcony upstairs, drinking whiskey with chhole! Oh yeah!

 

You go, girls (Um, ladies)!

 

The super pyaari (and only person who was supposed to be dressed up) maami-ji!
The super pyaari (and only person who was supposed to be dressed up) maami-ji!

 

Day 2: Ladies party

 

I told you there was no space!

 

Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat!

Day 2: Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat! The mandap is up, the food is ready, the baraat is enroute, and we're all set for the wedding to commence!
Day 2: Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat!
The mandap is up, the food is ready, the baraat is enroute, and we’re all set for the wedding to commence!

 

Preparing welcome snacks for the baraatis!
This is exactly 5 minutes before the wedding started. Everyone is busy making welcome snacks for the baraatis who will be tired after dancing their way up the mountain!

 

Swagat nahi karenge humara?

Oh, I had to look twice to make sure I was right. Yes, the groom is dressed with lightning from head to toe. Quite a sight, I must say! The stupid halogen light killed my thunder and I just couldn't get a shot of the heavily lighted attire!
The groom arrives! Oh, I had to look twice to make sure I was right. Yes, the groom is literally covered with trippy lights from head to toe. Quite a sight, I must say! The stupid halogen light killed my thunder and I just couldn’t get a shot of the heavily lighted attire! PS: He also had nail-polish on his feet and mehendi on his palms!

 

Would you look at that gorgeous, gorgeous outfit? Yes, it's a kurta with an embroidered ghaghra / skirt, and a beautiful sehra / headdress!

Would you look at that gorgeous, gorgeous outfit? Yes, it’s a shirt with an embroidered ghaghra / skirt, and a beautiful sehra / headdress!

 

Sister of the bride performing the rituals with the groom. The bride is sitting with her friends in a different room at this time.
Sister of the bride performing the rituals with the groom. The bride is sitting with her friends in a different room at this time.

 

So at this time, while the ceremony was taking place downstairs, I went to check how the bride is doing. And my first reaction was, why is she not dressing up!!! At any other Indian wedding (atleast the ones in our cities), the bride starts dressing hours in advance, and by this time is already too tired of the makeup and jewelry. Well, not in this one. This is exactly how the bride walked to her wedding. Isn't that amazing!
So at this time, while the ceremony was taking place downstairs, I went to check how the bride is doing. And my first reaction was, why is she not dressing up!!! At any other Indian wedding (atleast the ones in our cities), the bride starts dressing hours in advance, and by this time is already too tired of the makeup and jewelry. Well, not in this one. This is exactly how the bride walked to her wedding. Isn’t that amazing!

 

And well, while the groom is in the mandap, and the bride is busy waiting for her turn to be called in, of course everyone else was busy hogging on the delicious homecooked dhaam / feast!
And well, while the groom is in the mandap, and the bride is busy waiting for her turn to be called in, of course everyone else was busy hogging on the delicious home-cooked dhaam / feast!

 

The bride was finally called to join the party, and it was a good thing her face was covered, because, guess what, she was crying all through the ceremony! The panditji actually had to keep up to be louder than her.
The bride was finally called to join the party, and it was a good thing her face was covered, because, guess what, she was crying all through the ceremony! The panditji actually had to keep up to be louder than her.

 

Bidaai…

Goodbye's are always the hardest, and this was no different! It was nice to see the entire village come together to say goodbye to Minni Di, but it was equally heartbreaking to know that she won't be around the next time I'm visiting.
Goodbye’s are always the hardest, and this was no different! It was nice to see the entire village come together to say goodbye to Minni Di, but it was equally heartbreaking to know that she won’t be around the next time I’m visiting.

 

This picture speaks for itself.
This picture speaks for itself.

 

By this time I was hoping this should be the last time I see this woman cry!
By this time I was hoping this should be the last time I see this woman cry!

 

And it actually came true! Minni Di's doli left the village 15 minutes before we did, and by the time we reached the caravan, she was surrounded by all her friends, smiling and looking so happy, for the first time in the last 3 days!!!!
And it actually came true! Minni Di’s doli left the village 15 minutes before we did, and by the time we reached the caravan, she was surrounded by all her friends, smiling and looking so happy, for the first time in the last 3 days!!!!

 

And so was everyone else!
And so was everyone else!

 

Over at the grooms’…

As is tradition, some members of the brides family accompany the procession back to the grooms and join the festivities there!
As is tradition, some members of the brides family accompany the procession back to the grooms and join the festivities there!

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Back at the grooms house, Minni Di was welcomed with another ceremony, another feast, lots and lots of dancing, and no more crying!
Back at the grooms house, Minni Di was welcomed with another ceremony, another feast, lots and lots of dancing, and no more crying!

 

 

Laada-Laadi! <3

Laada Laadi (Husband-Wife) - Never crying again! :)
To the happy couple, for a happily ever after 🙂

 

PS: I thought I should add that this is a love-marriage. So please don’t think that she’s crying because she was forced to marry someone she didn’t approve of!

Also, this post is nothing but my observation of a Gaddi wedding, as a total outsider, and someone who was witnessing the culture for the first time. So if I have made some errors, feel free to write to me and I’ll be happy to edit (and learn!)

 

Unforgettable memories from magical Kerala!

From peaceful getaways to adventurous haunts - Kerala has something for every kind of traveler! PC: Patricia Schussel Gomes
From peaceful getaways to adventurous haunts – Kerala has something for every kind of traveler! PC: Patricia Schussel Gomes

I am writing this article while combating severe flashback scenarios taking me back to my two weeks in Kerala, back in February 2016 – which were nothing short of a fairytale! When I signed up to participate in Kerala Blog Express 3, I only expected an all-sponsored trip to the state that I had seen only through Mani Ratnam’s eyes, but what I received in Kerala was so much more! I was the only Indian on the trip, and traveling in your own country with 29 international bloggers hailing from 24 nationalities, each curious and some absolutely clueless about your culture – is an experience words cannot describe!

So, flashback to 15th February 2016 – when 30 strangers from 25 countries set upon one epic road-trip, to a strange land in a strange continent, to the world’s biggest democracy, with nothing in common but an intense craving for adventure – and the rest, as they say, is history! Here are my top 10 unforgettable memories from this amazing adventure:

  • The traditional welcome we received at every resort
Dancing to the beats of the Theyyam artist welcoming us at Vythiri resort, alongside Betty and Patricia! PC: Jinson Abraham
Dancing to the beats of the Theyyam artist welcoming us at Vythiri resort, alongside Betty and Patricia! PC: Jinson Abraham

It all began at the official press-conference where we were swarmed by the paparazzi – it was a teaser of the two weeks to come. And sure enough, the Kerala Blog Express made each and every one of us feel so special at every step of the journey. Every resort we stepped into, would have a red carpet laid out just for us, with traditional aarti, live drums, traditional dance and welcome drinks (coconut water, obviously)! By the end of the trip we were so used to this royal treatment that when I returned to Mumbai, I was a tad disappointed at the sheer lack of recognition from the airport authorities! Let me show them my Instagram…

  • Our very own luxury floating house
Cruising over the famous Alleppey backwaters in Kerala. PC - Jinson Abraham
Cruising over the famous Alleppey backwaters in Kerala. PC – Jinson Abraham

I don’t know who (and why!) named those gorgeous waterbodies “backwaters” (it just sounds so wrong!) But I’ll stick to the common term. The famous Kerala backwaters – easily the crown jewel of the state! The one experience I was most curious AND skeptical about – because once any place is too famous, it usually ends up as a disappointment as it never matches up to the high expectations. But not true in this case. We stayed on a luxury houseboat owned by Spice Routes at the Alleppey Backwaters, and that one evening was easily the most peaceful sleep I had throughout the trip!

  • Village experience in Kumarakom
Learning traditional mat making as part of the Village Experience at Kumarakom, Kerala. PC: Jinson Abraham
Learning traditional mat making as part of the Village Experience at Kumarakom, Kerala. PC: Jinson Abraham

My blog, Untravel, is all about off-beat travel and learning a little from every place I visit. And so, our little village life experience in Kumarakom had me jumping around with joy like a little kid at the candy store! I volunteered to do every activity, including climbing a palm tree, and while I failed miserably at choir making (thrice!), I’m proud that Amma passed me in my mat-making tutorial! She didn’t speak much hindi, but she told the organizers in Malayalam – “She’s good. Let her stay here with me!” Mission accomplished, I’d say!

  • Kayaking on the Kumarakom backwaters
Kayaking over the gorgeous Kerala backwaters in Kumarakom. PC: Jinson Abraham
Kayaking over the gorgeous Kerala backwaters in Kumarakom. PC: Jinson Abraham

While kayaking can be fun no matter where you choose to do it, I would highly recommend doing it at Kumarakom backwaters! Kerala is so breathtakingly beautiful in so many ways, kayaking in Kumarakom was another gentle reminder of the same. As we made our way through the picturesque water alleys, we were greeted by locals residing by the banks of these canals, just as the sun blazed an amazing red getting ready for sundown! The canals was choker-blocked with waterplants for most parts, and while that does make kayaking here a little difficult as you have to really use all your strength to wade through the heavy roots, it also makes it all the more memorable!

  • Planting a tree in Thekkady
My mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty TravelsMy mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty Travels
My mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty TravelsMy mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty Travels

How many places can claim of keeping a part of you even after you’ve said your goodbyes? Thekkady does now, because the lovely folks at Greenwoods Resort got us to plant a sapling, which they will name after us. This way, any time I return to Thekkady, I can go check how my lovely “mitti” tree is doing!

  • Seeing elephants in the wild!
No caption needed! PC: Jinson Abraham
No caption needed! PC: Jinson Abraham

Strangely, the day I entered into an argument with the organizers about using an elephant to welcome us at a resort, also turned out to be the day when I saw one happy family of elephants in the wild! OH YEAH! BEST THING EVER! I also saw a wild boar, deer, several exotic birds and a bison! All while we cruised in our boat over the manmade lake in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary!

  • Meditation and camping amidst the tea-gardens of Munnar
Our beautiful campsite in Munnar! PC: Jinson Abraham
Our beautiful campsite in Munnar! PC: Jinson Abraham

Being a mountain child at heart, I was delighted to be back in familiar territory when we reached our campsite in Munnar. Cozily tucked amidst lush green tea-gardens with a mesmerizing view of the western ghats, our campsite was a scene right out of a dream. I thoroughly enjoyed catching the sunset away from the crowd with two fellow-bloggers. It was so serene and calm, we just sat there admiring the beautiful landscape, opening our hearts to different sounds of nature.

  • Winning the lucky draw to Pranavam Homestay
All heart at Pranavam homestay! PC: Betty Travels
All heart at Pranavam homestay! PC: Betty Travels

Ah, yes, that had to happen! Anyone who has read my blog will know how I prefer homestays over any other accommodations, and as much as I was enjoying the unfathomable luxury of the many resorts we were staying at during this trip, I was way out of my comfort zone! And luckily for me, I won the lucky draw (yes, we picked chits) to win a stay at the only homestay that was a part of our itinerary – Pranavam Homestay in Pozhuthana, Wayanad! I had the greatest time in the company of our affable hosts – Mr. Ravichandran, Rema Amma and Anwer – as we discussed politics, our families, local stories, their royal connections, India’s partition and Ravi-ettan’s Gandhian principles! Homestays are meant to offer a home away from home, and that’s exactly what Pranavam will do for you!

  • Appreciation of traditional arts at Kerala Kalamandalam
Lost in the beauty of traditional South Indian dance forms! PC: Jinson Abraham
Lost in the beauty of traditional South Indian dance forms! PC: Jinson Abraham

You think of South India, you think of classical dance! And so, when we visited the Kerala Kalamandalam in Kochi, the only government authorized arts preservation/promotion university in the state, I was excited like a little kid in a candy store! I remember how famished I was because we had not had lunch, there was no water or fan / AC, but that didn’t stop me from running around with my camera! We saw demonstrations of some of the best Indian classical dance acts like the best of South Indian dance forms like Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Kudiyattom, Kuchipudi, Shiva Vandana, Bharat Natyam, among others!

  • The paparazzi and the celebrities
Don't we look like a gang? ;) We sure were difficult to avoid! PC: Jinson Abraham
Don’t we look like a gang? 😉 We sure were difficult to avoid! PC: Jinson Abraham

Last but not the least, in fact the most important of them all – THE EXPRESS! Like I said before, and I can’t emphasize enough, the experience of traveling with bloggers from across the globe is what truly made this trip one to be remembered for a lifetime! It’s amusing how we were the paparazzi as well as the celebrities on this trip. While we were the most excited about capturing every moment with our cameras; everyone else – from locals on the street to hotel staff to the media itself – seemed equally excited about getting us on camera! I’ll give all credit for this attention to our super-attractive bus that got all heads turning no matter where we went. We started this trip as 30 strangers and left as 30 friends. Rest assured, our love for travel will ensure we do cross paths very soon…after all, this world is a little too small for people with restless feet!

 

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Photographing nostalgia – The bylanes of Agra that were my childhood!

Ghar, galiyaan aur yaadein! (Behind the camera: Manan Kashyap)

I look on. Beyond the twisted lanes, cluttered brick houses and blocked pipelines. I look on to tales of my childhood that bloomed in this very place…Agra! An identity I always tried running away from, not realizing how much a part of me it is. As I look around today, it all looks so new, and yet, exactly the same! How can that be?

Is it possible that the universal reality of time is somehow not applicable to this part of the world, of my world? How can it be that nothing here has changed, as if I were playing in these lanes just yesterday, but no, it sure has been 15 odd years. Really, has it? HOW!

Some faces I can’t recognize, but they know me. They say I have played in their home as a kid, did I? Where is your home, can I go with you? I remember this room where I now sit scribbling my random musings, it belonged to my grandfather. I stopped visiting Agra after he left us, but seeing his room today makes him feel alive, like he’s still here. Funny how that works, I don’t remember the last time I remembered him so clearly!

Tring Tring! I’ve heard that sound before. OH WAIT! I run to the gate, Divya realizes it too. She runs after me. Is it what we think it is? We want candy!

Which reminds me, this is where I fell from a cycle once. It was Shaina’s older brother’s big cycle, I had a little crush on him even as a kid. A part of me used the cycling lessons as a reason to stick around, strange how I can’t even remember his face anymore. Shaina. She used to be my closest bestest friend, and I just never tried staying in touch. How silly is that? Why do we take our childhood friendships so lightly?

My grandmother is so excited, she stands by the gate, telling everyone who will listen “Yeh Renu ki chhoti beti aayi hai. Haan, badi ho gayi. Yeh events mein kaam karti hai” I don’t really work in events, but it doesn’t matter what I do. I smile, say a salaam, and let them tell me tales of my childhood.

This was my first trip to Agra as a traveler. This was also the first time I fell in love with Agra for everything it is and is not! Traveling has changed me at so many levels – the places, the people, the locations I always dismissed and disregarded – today I can’t be more grateful for their presence in my life, even while I have been absent in theirs. These are the people who loved me when I was no one, these are the people who will love me when I will be no one, and this is the first time I am learning to appreciate the value of people in my life – both family and extended. I am being invited to chai and dinners. Let’s go visit Khushbu’s house? Why don’t you wait for Aarif bhai. Nazmeen baaji will be happy to see you, why don’t you wait?! Shaina-Sheeba are at home, why don’t you go meet them? Until today, I didn’t even remember any of these folks, and look at them now, trying to make me happy. And what for? What do they get out of it?

That’s the point, not everything should be done with a selfish motive – and this is one lesson I will take back with me from here!

Come, take a walk, quite literally down the memory lane, where my childhood blossomed, and is somewhere still alive! A lot might have changed as the photos are captured now, but the stories  and memories they inspire and rekindle, shall, inshallah, remain!

Nanaji ka kamra! My happy place, from where I remember seeing the world before me!
Nanaji ka kamra! My happy place, from where I remember seeing the world before me! (Behind the camera – Devanjali Sarkar)

 

If you haven't tried the sugar candy in North India, you haven't done it all! I remember getting all kinds of fancy designs made for myself as a kid, sometimes roaming around with 4-5 sugar candies made on my arms and wrists.
If you haven’t tried the sugar candy in North India, you haven’t done it all! I remember getting all kinds of fancy designs made for myself as a kid, sometimes roaming around with 4-5 sugar candies made on my arms and wrists.

 

Bachpan! What a beatiful time :)
Bachpan! What a beatiful time 🙂

 

Growing up, I would always be annoyed with my mother's habit of NEVER shutting the door. This time in Agra, I understood why. People here never close their doors. Chaukhat talks are a thing, and to be honest, they are beautiful! The way my naani speaks to every passer-by just from the door, I never realized how much my Mom should miss that - noone has time for chaukhat talks in Mumbai.
Growing up, I would always be annoyed with my mother’s habit of NEVER shutting the door. This time in Agra, I understood why. People here never close their doors. Chaukhat talks are a thing, and to be honest, they are beautiful! The way my naani speaks to every passer-by just from the door, I never realized how much my Mom should miss that – noone has time for chaukhat talks in Mumbai.

 

This was my second home. I would spend hours here with Khimiya naani, helping her make papadom's, which she would later sell in the market. Khimiya naani is no more, and so is her house.
This was my second home. I would spend hours here with Khimiya naani, helping her make papadom’s, which she would later sell in the market. Khimiya naani is no more, and so is her house.

 

My childhood bestie, now married with 2 kids. How far we both have come, become!
My childhood bestie, now married with 2 kids. How far we both have come, become!

 

Little joys of living in small towns - when all things you love reach you at your doorstep! So fascinated was I by this profession, I remember once spending all my saved money on buying chips, and setting shop outside my naana's room. Boy, was I yelled at later for doing that!
Little joys of living in small towns – when all things you love reach you at your doorstep! So fascinated was I by this profession, I remember once spending all my saved money on buying chips, and setting shop outside my naana’s room. Boy, was I yelled at later for doing that!

 

Shumaila ka ghar! Though she was only a tenant, if there is a face from my childhood I very very clearly remember, it will be hers. She doesn't live here anymore, and naani didn't know her whereabouts, but I'm sure she's well wherever she is! :)
Shumaila ka ghar! Though she was only a tenant, if there is a face from my childhood I very very clearly remember, it will be hers. She doesn’t live here anymore, and naani didn’t know her whereabouts, but I’m sure she’s well wherever she is! 🙂

 

And I finally put an end to my endless love-hate rant about the TAJ! When you ave to visit the same monument, twice every year, it no longer is a world heritage for you. I have grown up telling people who overrated the Taj Mahal is, but a part of me always wanted to return, and that's another bucketlist check!
And I finally put an end to my endless love-hate rant about the TAJ! When you ave to visit the same monument, twice every year, it no longer is a world heritage for you. I have grown up telling people who overrated the Taj Mahal is, but a part of me always wanted to return, and that’s another bucketlist check!

 

Happiness is going through your childhood moments with good friends by your side! In this picture, Manan and Divya remind me of Saifeena from Kurbaan! :)
Happiness is going through your childhood moments with good friends by your side! In this picture, Manan and Divya remind me of Saifeena from Kurbaan! 🙂

My Kerala bucketlist, via Bollywood!

"Bannke titli dil uda" - State of mind right now!
“Bannke titli dil uda” – State of mind right now!

 

It’s almost here. Just a week to go. Well yeah, for Valentine’s Day too, but more importantly – MY FIRST TRIP TO KERALA BECAUSE I WON THE KERALA BLOG EXPRESS 2016!!!

Q. What’s better than winning a 2 week, all-sponsored trip, to a state you’ve always admired, by the State Tourism Board?

A. Being the only blogger from India, among 27 travel bloggers from across the globe! Isn’t that super exciting?

So, being the only Indian on this trip, I felt it is my moral duty to give my fellow-participants a small sneak-peak of Kerala (Hey NaMo, see I’m trying!), by showing them a glimpse of Kerala from our movies!

You’re probably wondering what level of crazy does one have to be to build a travel bucketlist from Bollywood references. Well, you’re talking to a girl who left Mumbai to live in the mountains after watching Highway! So yeah, call me crazy, but trust me I’ve done worse.

So here it is, my Kerala wishlist / bucketlist, as compiled through any / every Bollywood movie I have ever seen with the tiniest Kerala connection!

PS: I’m sorry I included GUPT, Karma will come get me one day! On the bright side, I didn’t include Nishabd.

PPS: Crazy “north-Indian girl sees South India” stereo-types coming your way. Filter kaapi, anna. Pardon me, Kerala’ites.

 

Location: Alleppey Backwaters
Movie: Dil Se

EVERYONE has to agree – Preity Zinta dancing on that Alleppey houseboat raised the bar of hotness in Bollywood, matched only by Malaika Arora Khan dancing on the train, in the same movie! This is also my first memory of Kerala on celluloid (Even though Bombay released before Dil Se, I watched this first!)

 

Location: Athirapally Falls, Thrissur
Movie: Guru

All my personal hatred towards Aishwarya Rai aside, this is possibly the most beautiful picturisation of Athirapally waterfalls, which also turns out to be the most common / famous shoot site in Kerala. (The village scenes are not from Kerala)

 

Location: Malayatoor Reserve Forest, Idukki
Movie: Raavan

Guess I should just rename the article to “My Kerala bucketlist via Mani Ratnam“. Here’s another masterpiece!

Remember Abhishek Bachchan’s secret hideout in the middle of a forest, a river passing by, with that huge Vishnu (or was it Buddha?) idol in the middle? I would kill to camp there for a night, or ten. Shot in the Silent Valley Forest Reserve in Kerala, that one place gave me Kerala wanderlust goals for life. I doubt we will be allowed to visit though (It’s supposed to be a restricted forest zone).

PS: I couldn’t find a video of the said hideout, but here’s a song from the movie shot at the Athirapally Waterfalls. How gorgeous is this place 😀

 

Location: Munnar Tea Plantations, Munnar
Movie: Chennai Express

Dream Sequence: THAT drive along the winding road, surrounded by the beautiful Munnar Tea Estate on one side and spectacular backdrop of the Western ghats on the other! Now Darjeeling sure is my second favorite place in India, so hey Munnar, you really have big shoes to fill!

 

Location: Periyar National Park, Kumily
Movie: Gupt

Warning: The dance in the below mentioned video is performed by thorough unprofessionals. Please DO NOT judge us Indians by the dance moves in the video below. But do judge us from the beauty of that national park. It’s something about those tree stumps in the middle of the lake, and the simple boat floating over the quiet waters, that got my attention!

 

Location: Bekal Fort, Kasargod
Movie: Bombay

Hands down THE BEST song of the century! This song has been my favorite since childhood, even before I had watched, or heard, about the movie. And guess what? It’s shot at the largest fort in Kerala – Bekal Fort in Kasargod. C-a-n-n-o-t-W-a-i-t!

 

Location: Meesapulimala, Idukki
Movie: Chennai Express

Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. I have recommended two Rohit Shetty songs in one article.

But I couldn’t stop myself. This song might have very few shots from Kerala, but you see, it has colors, culture, sarees, filter coffee (I did warn about the stereo-typing), traditional dance, a glimpse of South India’s spectacular temples, in short – it’s everything I’m looking forward to on this trip!

 

This could be the first (and possibly the last) time I’m saying this: I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day! 😀

 

 

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Recollections 2015 – Travel Photo Essay

It all began with a dream to touch the skies, to live closer to nature, to be a mountain child. It all began in 2014, but 2015 is where it came true. 2015's biggest gift to me was shifting to Dharamsala, and for that, I will be forever grateful!
It all began with a dream to touch the skies, to live closer to nature, to be a mountain child. It all began in 2014, but 2015 is where it came true. 2015’s biggest gift to me was shifting to Dharamsala, and I’m grateful to the universe for making that happen!

New Years Eve! That time of the year when we’re all getting ready (some reluctantly) to turn over a new leaf, start a new chapter, initiate a new cycle. Of the much-awaited countdown, the name-sake resolutions, the promises and the hopes, and the most-elusive midnight kiss. But amidst all this excitement, a word of caution – the past is not something to be left behind like a forgotten friend; stepping into anything new without accumulating all our experiences and learnings from the past just doesn’t feel right. So here I am, looking back at the year that was, how it changed my life, and how I can look forward to a brighter 2016 filled with many more adventures!

PS: I haven’t edited the pics below because I want to remember them without any filter (#TooMuchEmo)! But I do hope y’all like it that way too 🙂

The year began with an impromptu trip to Jaipur, primarily for the (over-hyped) Jaipur Lit Fest - something I've been trying to attend since 4 years. With the fest being a total bummer, encountering a rather disturbing eve-teasing incident, and gate-crashing a lavish Indian wedding - Jaipur was a sweet and sour experience, marking the perfect path for the year to come.
The year began with an impromptu trip to Jaipur, primarily for the (over-hyped) Jaipur Lit Fest – something I’ve been trying to attend since 4 years. With the fest being a total bummer, encountering a rather disturbing eve-teasing incident, and gate-crashing a lavish Indian wedding – Jaipur was a sweet and sour experience, marking the perfect path for the year to come.

 

Being someone who feels uncomfortable in a room filled with more than 5 unknown people, attending the Hampi Rath Yatra was a learning experience for me. I had to push myself to not run away from the crowd, to enjoy the furor, be a part of it even. Traveling alone does make you push your personal boundaries, this was one of those for me.
Being someone who feels uncomfortable in a room filled with more than 5 unknown people, attending the Hampi Rath Yatra was a learning experience for me. I had to push myself to not run away from the crowd, to enjoy the furor, be a part of it even. Traveling alone does make you push your personal boundaries, this was one of those for me.

 

Men perform a ceremonial dance at a local temple in Hampi. I was shy at first, being the only non-local around, a girl at that, dressed in weird hippie clothes, but then the pujari of the temple walked up to me, put tikka on my forehead, and invited me in for the ceremony.
Men performing a ceremonial dance at a local temple in Hampi. I was shy at first, being the only non-local around, a girl at that, dressed in weird hippie clothes, but then the pujari of the temple walked up to me, put tikka on my forehead, and invited me in for the ceremony. Mischief managed!

 

Spiti Valley - Check!
Travel to Spiti Valley – CHECK!

 

Spiti topped my travel bucket-list since 2014, and 2015 finally made the dream come true. As mesmerized as I was with the gorgeous landscape, the one memory of Spiti I hold close to my heart is is the warmth, compassion and love I received from the Spitians. I met some truly beautiful souls here, who make Spiti stay on top of my bucket-list, still :)
Spiti topped my travel bucket-list since 2014, and 2015 finally made the dream come true. As mesmerized as I was with the gorgeous landscape, the one memory of Spiti I hold close to my heart is the warmth, compassion and love I received from the Spitians. I met some truly beautiful souls here, who make Spiti stay on top of my bucket-list, still 🙂

 

We've grown up listening to tales of the grandeur of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai and Durga Puja in Kolkata. Having seen the former every year since childhood, checking off Durga Puja in Kolkata from my bucketlist sure was a plus! I loved how vibrant, festive and embracing the city was, didn't feel like a tourist for a bit.
We grow up listening to tales of the grandeur of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai and Durga Puja in Kolkata. Having seen the former every year since childhood, checking off Durga Puja in Kolkata from my bucketlist sure was a plus! I loved how vibrant, festive and embracing the city was, didn’t feel like a tourist for a bit.

 

Visiting the ancient pottery town of Kolkata - Komurtulli, has hands down been the most picturesque experience for me. Even the glorious valley of Spiti did not excite me as much as this little village did. Every nook and corner of Komurtulli is a photographers delight, and if you care to sit with the potters and hear their stories - that'll be the icing on the cake!
Visiting the ancient pottery town of Kolkata – Komurtulli, has hands down been the most picturesque experience for me. Even the glorious valley of Spiti did not excite me as much as this little village did. Every nook and corner of Komurtulli is a photographers delight. The place also inspired me to fulfill my age-old dream of being a journalist, as I traveled across the city to find a particular potter and interviewed him for my blog (which I still have to transcribe – good thing I never became a journalist!)

 

The best part about India is that everyone is always ready for a photograph. Just a smile and a please (for the tough ones!) does the trick.
The best part about India is that everyone is always ready for a photograph. Just a smile and a please (for the tough ones!) does the trick.

 

Many call Kolkata as a city with a soul - I think it's because of how intimately attached the city is to its culture. Exploring Kolkata with Kathleen was a blessing!
Many call Kolkata a city with a soul – I think it’s because of how intimately attached the city is to its culture. Exploring Kolkata with Kathleen was a blessing!

 

Be grateful, always. Choose happiness, always! A slum kid playing football barefoot on the street, using slippers to mark the goal-post.
Be grateful, always. Choose happiness, always! A slum kid playing football barefeet on the street, using slippers to mark the goal-post.

 

Sunderbans Chalo - check! A fisherman wades through the low tide at moon-rise with his fishing net
Sunderbans Chalo – check! A fisherman wades through the low tide at moon-rise with his fishing net

 

Watching a special folk dance performance at our humble Sunderban homestay
Watching a special folk dance performance at our humble Sunderban homestay

 

Wish you all a very happy and dazzling 2016 filled with lots of travel and adventures!
Wish you all a very happy and dazzling 2016 filled with lots of travel and adventures!

 

 

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Stories from Spiti – Chai at Key Monastery! – Travel Photo Essay

View from our lodging facility at Key Monastery.
View from our room at Key Monastery. Which, by the way, is also the best place for star-gazing!

The one place that single-handedly kept Spiti on the very top of my travel bucketlist! This will probably sound silly, but then most of the things I end up doing are silly so what the hell. Remember Highway, the scene where Alia is sitting and staring at the mountains on the other side. “Aisa lag raha hai ki woh mujhe bula raha hai, kaash hum waha jaa paate”, and Randeep Hooda very lovingly agrees to take her across. I’m not talking about those mountains, but the monastery in the background – that’s Key Monastery.

"Tumhe pahad pasand hia ya samundar?" Alia Bhatt and Randeep Huda at Key Monastery in the movie Highway.
“Tumhe pahad pasand hia ya samundar?” Alia Bhatt and Randeep Huda at Key Monastery in the movie Highway.

I have been lusting over that sight ever since I saw the movie, and I had never imagined that the actual place could be thousand times more spectacular!

The majestic Key Monastery in Spiti Valley that reminds me of a white balloon afloat a high mountain.
The majestic Key Monastery in Spiti Valley that reminds me of a white balloon afloat a high mountain.

Key Gonpa!!! The crown jewel of my entire trip to Spiti. I ended up staying here more than at any other village, and given a choice I wouldn’t have ever left! Technically, all the monasteries in Spiti have lodging facilities for travelers, but none come even close to the experience you’ll have at Key. For one thing, at Key you’re not put up in a guest house, you live in the existing Lama quarters, at Rs. 200 per night, including meals that will be cooked by and for the resident monks. The kitchen at Key Monastery beats every café, anywhere in the world, because here’s where conversations flow over endless cups of butter tea. When I visited, the Lama incharge of the cooking duties was Kunga ji, and he is the most adorable Lama I have ever met. Always smiling, always up for a chat (over a cup of chai, mind you!).

Time: 5:30 AM Place: Kitchen - Key Monastery. Pic: Lama Kunga preparing chai for us, always the first to be up and going!
Time: 5:30 AM
Place: Kitchen – Key Monastery.
Pic: Lama Kunga preparing chai for us, always the first to be up and going!

The evening I reached the monastery, I entered the kitchen to try and meet someone who could tell me what are the lodging facilities, and I met Kunga ji running around, serving all the monks. It was only 7 pm, but that’s regular dinner time at the monastery, and the tiny kitchen was bustling with more monks than it could accommodate, and one tiny traveler who looked utterly lost. Kunga ji noticed this and immediately came over with a plate of piping hot rajma and tingmu (Tibetan bread), “baitho baitho, pehle khana khao (sit sit, eat first!)”, and immediately 2 monks got up from the only bench in the kitchen to offer me a seat. I resisted,  but I was overpowered by 5-6 monks “aap humare guest hai, aap baitho! (You are our guest, you should have a seat!”).

And I knew in that moment that this place would steal a piece of my heart forever.

The bus to Key Monastery leaves from Kaza everyday at 5 PM, and returns the next morning at 9 AM.
The bus to Key Monastery leaves from Kaza everyday at 5 PM, and returns the next morning at 9 AM.

 

School-time for the young monks at Key Gonpa!
School-time for the young monks at Key Gonpa!

 

A Buddhist native who walks up to the temple every morning despite his old age, and is a regular face at the monastery.
A Buddhist native who walks up to the temple every morning despite his old age, and is a regular face at the monastery.

 

I was lucky to be at the monastery on one of their most important days. It was the annual ceremony of Yenne Gaaye (Khetol), – a tradition of the Gelugpa religion of Buddhism, wherein all the 300 monks from Key Monastery visited each and every house in the village to conduct prayers and offer blessings. I was lucky to accompany them through this pilgrimage, visiting houses, indulging in the lovely hospitality of the locals, and chai – lots and lots of chai.

 

Don't have count of how many chocolates I ended up having in lieu of the Yenne Gaaye celebrations.
Don’t have count of how many chocolates I ended up having in lieu of the Yenne Gaaye celebrations.

 

Monks from the temple, walking towards the Key Village to begin the annual ceremony of Yenne Gaaye.
Monks from the temple, walking towards the Key Village to begin the annual ceremony of Yenne Gaaye.

 

Young monks share a light moment.
Young monks share a light moment.

 

Prayers offered in the fields of Key Village.
Prayers offered in the fields of Key Village.

 

Followed by chai of course! There's always time for chai.
Followed by chai of course! There’s always time for chai.

 

Families welcoming the monks into their home for the traditional prayer ceremony.
Families welcoming the monks into their home for the traditional prayer ceremony.

 

Giving the entourage of 300 monks and us 4 travelers some company, this couples joined us throughout, playing some lovely music.
Giving the entourage of 300 monks and us 4 travelers some company, this couple joined us throughout, playing some lovely music.

 

Lunch scenes on the terrace, under sun so bright & cruel, I kept awkwardly jumping while eating and pulling at my clothes. I'm sure the kids had a great laugh later.
Lunch scenes on the terrace, under sun so bright & cruel, I kept awkwardly jumping while eating and pulling at my clothes. I’m sure the kids had a great laugh later.

 

Lunch prepared for us by the villagers. By far the yummiest and most fulfilling meal I've had on my travels.
Lunch prepared for us by the villagers. By far the yummiest and most fulfilling meal I’ve had on my travels.

 

 

After almost 3 hours of walking around with the monks, I legs gave up on me and I decided to stay back at the village, where the villagers didn't let me be without a second helping of lunch.
After almost 3 hours of walking around with the monks, my legs gave up on me and I decided to stay back at the village, where the villagers didn’t let me be without a second helping of lunch.

 

I couldn't have left without learning to make butter-tea from Kunga ji. This is me preparing butter tea for the early morning prayer.
I couldn’t leave without learning to make butter-tea from Kunga ji. This is me preparing butter tea for the early morning prayer.

 

Didn't feel like leaving the monastery. Farewell pictures taken with Lama Kunga, Lama Gompo and the rest of us.
Didn’t feel like leaving the monastery. Farewell pictures taken with Lama Kunga, Lama Gompo and the rest of us.

How traveling made me an entrepreneur!

Flashback – May 2014: I visited McLeod Ganj immensely intoxicated by a supreme Highway and Queen overdose. It was my first solo trip as a traveler- my affair with the Himalayas! 2 months of living in McLeod Ganj, and backpacking around Himachal, the only thing I prayed for, every single day, was for one more day. Little did I know this in-between-jobs’ visit to the mountains will change my career graph forever!

I returned to Mumbai only in July, when I got an interview call from a company I had always dreamt of working for. I was to meet one of the owners of the company for the position of a celebrity manager. Having worked in entertainment and lifestyle PR for 3 years, and television production for 1, this job sounded like just the thing I should be doing next! Cracking the interview was not so difficult, but that’s when the tricky part began – the mountains had spoilt me, I wanted to return – I couldn’t chain myself to a 9-5 job again, no matter if it was with my dream company!

So despite numerous warnings from friends, family and my own mind – I turned it down, knowing very well that I was being a fool. It’s easy to fantasize about travel, the difficult part is making it work. I couldn’t travel if I didn’t have a job, but I couldn’t travel the way I wanted if I took up a job either. At the same time, I didn’t want to do something I didn’t love just for the sake of making money. Exactly a year ago, today, after weeks of planning, innumerable meetings and multiple rejections, I started my own PR and communications agency – The Owl Post. In just one year, we’ve grown from a one-person-venture to a 6 member team. I no longer live in Mumbai – I shifted to the very place that inspired the birth of this company, to McLeod Ganj. We have some great clients on-board, some of them congratulated me when I decided to shift to Dharamsala and said they were proud of me (Dream clients, right?). And above all, we have a team that has grown so much in the last year, which is one thing I will always be proud of! The journey hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies, but I’m not complaining. As I reflect upon the year gone by, I can only thank that first solo trip to McLeod Ganj for changing my life, for making me an entrepreneur, for making me independent not only in terms of career and location, but also in spirit! Had it not been for the will to travel, I don’t think I would have ever mustered the courage to start up on my own. I would have taken up that job, and would probably be running around trying to make some overpaid celebrity’s career work while getting underpaid by some other entrepreneur. Being able to do what you love, and being able to do it your own way, is the best feeling ever. Today, my dream to travel and that of a perfect work life are working so much in harmony, each trying to not come in the way of the other, each complimenting and completing the quest for the other, just like Yin and Yang, opposites but incomplete without the latter.

Today, when people ask me how I manage to live such a life, telling me “it’s not possible”, I tell them this story and ask them to sit back and think what they can do. Not everyone can be a travel writer, not everyone can be a travel photographer, not everyone can get a job as a tour guide, not everyone can start a backpacking company. So what do the rest of us who want to travel do? I have been in your place, and now I am here – I have seen and touched the grass on both the sides, and the only thing I can say is there are no rules and nothing is impossible. If you want to travel, find a way to make it happen, and not by following what I did, or what your favorite travel blogger chose to do. Do what you think you’re best at! A person who saves for months to travel once in 6 months is as legit a traveler as the one who makes money on the road. Give yourself some time, jot down your strengths, look into our skill sets, figure what you can do, and then go do it! If I could do it, I believe anyone can. The only trick is to never let your love for travel die, that flame will guide you through the tough times and lead you to your destination. Keep traveling, keep dreaming, keep living!

PS: Happy birthday to my baby venture – www.theowlpost.in ! 🙂

Never stop dreaming!
Never stop dreaming!

Why I prefer slow travel, and why you should try it too!

I’d like to know you better, let’s take it slow?

National Geographic Traveler India recently conducted a travel meet about slow travel, of which my friend Natasha was a panelist. She asked me if I’ll be in Mumbai for the session, but that was the week I moved to Dharamsala. She said she would love to use my example in her talk, and that – for the first time – made me realize how much I enjoy slow traveling!

When I made the decision of moving to McLeod Ganj, some of my friends and everyone in my family instantly reacted – “AGAIN?” I don’t blame them. I first visited this place exactly a year ago. What started as a volunteering trip for a month, ended up being a two month stay during which I hardly worked. For the sight-seeing and travel I did in those 2 months, I could’ve easily completed the trip in 15 days. But I didn’t, I couldn’t, and given a choice I’d still go back and do the same thing again. I came back to the same place again within 3 months to stay for a fortnight. And 9 months later, when I made a conscious choice to live in the mountains, I didn’t have to think twice about the place I wanted to call home! I wonder why that is?

Some think it’s weird that I go back to the same place, meet the same people, spend days and weeks at stretch eating at the same café. Some would say this isn’t travel. But what really is travel, I ask? Very simply put, isn’t it just a way to relax, unwind, and experience life in a different way than you have? Isn’t it about meeting new people, gathering new experiences, learning about new cultures? Isn’t the main reason we travel, to step out of our comfort zone and live life the easier, healthier way? Isn’t it about the journey, and not about the destination? “Sight-seeing” as we popularly know it in today’s world, can’t possibly be the parameter for travel. If it were, I wouldn’t ever feel the need to leave the ever-changing city of Mumbai that offers unique sites and experiences on a daily basis! For the longest time I thought I enjoyed traveling alone as opposed to traveling with a group of friends. But then I have enjoyed the company of my friends when we backpacked around North-East India in a short span of 15 days, or a short weekend trip to Pondicherry with my Bangalorean colleagues. No, it’s not as simple as being alone or with a bunch of friends. It’s about the time you invest in really “knowing” your destination.

Back in the city, we are so time-bound, that every time we get a chance to step out and explore, we try cramming our itineraries with every possible “must-visit” site, not realizing that we’re involuntarily planning an even more hectic schedule than the one we’re trying to escape. We try putting everything on the map, 4 days in Cherrapunjee, visiting so and so site in a stop-over at Shillong, 3 days for north Sikkim, 2 days for West, 4 days for Darjeeling, a quickie with Kolkata on our way back. You end up coming back home with more pictures in your DSLR, than memories in your heart.

Haven’t you ever imagined what it would be like to not care about which day of the week it is? Monday morning blues, mid-week inspirations, TGIF, Saturday brunch, Sunday hangovers?

No morning alarm, no weekend plans, no agenda, no schedule, no “dressing up”, no formalities! Waking up at crack of dawn, to the sound of chirping birds, and the sun peeking through your window pane.

Staring at the same mountain ranges every morning and noticing how different they look by the passing hour.

Walking back home in a lane with no lights, with fireflies lighting up the way and the moon shining down the street.

Like-minded people you met here, that understand what you’re trying to find without you having to explain it to them!

Spending days at your favorite café, chatting and playing card games with the owner and his friends, not a single worry in the world!

The Café staff knowing exactly how much food you usually have, and packing it for you if you miss a meal.

Meeting new people from across the world every day and marveling over how incredibly unique each and every person is!

Lifting your bag any time and going away for the weekend with a random stranger.

Walking 2 kms to eat that perfect chocolate mousse at Kunga, and walking 4 for seeing the sunset at your favorite resort in Naddi.

Shared cabs, state buses, and asking bikers for a lift to the city!

Knowing most people by face and not by profession.

Bird-watching, star-gazing, finding faces in the clouds, walk in the forests, trekking in the mountains, photowalks.

Learning macramé, reading books, yoga in the morning, street jams at night, and maggi by the waterfall.

Soaking your feet in the river and listening to the Highway soundtrack.

Judging people on first appearances, then talking to them and realizing how fickle city life really makes you!

Above all, I love how I can do nothing all day and not feeling guilty about it!

Slow travel is all about discovering the discovered. About spending some quality time with a place you’ve given your heart to. It’s about marriage, and not about dating. It’s about a career, and not about a job. It’s about family, and not about relatives. It’s about soulmates, and not about infatuation. Slow travel is about companionship, and not about company.

 

Maybe it’s just me, but maybe you should try it too?

Sit back, relax, get to know your destination better! Picture credits – Abhinav Chandel

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City girl in the mountains!

If you’ve read my older posts you will know, I’m a girl from Mumbai who has always dreamed of living in the mountains, like every other city girl! After years of dreaming and feeling absolutely jealous of the people who made it happen, I finally took the great leap of faith and have moved to Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh!

I chose the wonderful city of McLeod Ganj as my soulmate because this is where it all started. Exactly this time, last year, I took my first ever solo trip to McLeod Ganj, and have ever since been so fascinated by the owerpowering grandeur of the Dhauladhar mountain ranges that I never really felt at home when I returned to Mumbai. Moving back here now feels like a completion of my karmic circle, and though the thought of living alone in a strange city seems daunting at times, I’m confident this move will lead me towards a harmonious union with myself, with my self mandala!

This morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to the sounds of chirping birds! I stepped into the balcony to this gorgeous view of the sun peeping out of the mountains. It took me back to the days of primary school, where our drawing class assignments would include “A Scenery”, and like most kids with not a single bone of creativity in their body, I always chose to draw the simple mountains, with half the sun peeping between the peaks colored yellowish orange, and straight rays like cat whiskers colored yellow, a tree on the right corner of the page, and a small slope-roofed hut on the left corner with a ugly looking stick figure standing next to his humble abode. I couldn’t have imagined it then, but today staring at this incredible sunrise, I realized how lucky I am to witness the sight of my childhood imagination in flesh!

Sunrise and the Dhauladhar ranges!
Sunrise and the Dhauladhar ranges!

 

Here’s to a new life in the mountains, I hope to take you through my journey through regular pics and blogposts! Stay with me 🙂

Gurudongmar Lake – The crown jewel of Sikkim! – Travel Photo Essay

Basking in the glorious enchantment of the gorgeous Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim!
Basking in the glorious enchantment of the gorgeous Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim! Picture credits: Nishit Gupta

Sleepy-eyed, tortured by the harsh temperatures, shivering to the bone despite four layers of clothing and 2 blankets – that would be me through the first half of the drive. But once I saw the sun rising in the mountains, leaving a shimmery gold trail all across the snow-capped peaks, and sprinkling peach pixie-dust over the clouds, sleeping was not an option anymore. You read it in the travel blogs and see it in a few movies, but it’s only when you see it yourself that you realize how magically overpowering a sunrise in the mountains really is!

The clouds waking up for the sunrise!
The clouds waking up for the sunrise!

We were driving towards the sole motivation behind my entire trip to Sikkim – The Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! Situated in the northern-most part of the state, Gurudongmar is one of the highest lakes in the world, and the second highest lake in India. At an altitude of 17000 ft, this place is a MUST bucket-list site for all Indian travelers!

Our journey had started just a day earlier from Gangtok, where we had to acquire our permits to visit the lake (being extremely close to the Indo-Tibetan border, tourists can’t go here without permits and have to go via authorized tour operators). Our driver, Arun, was the most rocking chap you can ever come across. He rapped to Yo Yo Honey Singh songs and kept us entertained throughout with interesting stories about Sikkim and his experiences with various travelers. This was a huge blessing, considering the 8 hour odd drive from Gangtok to Lachen, though very scenic and beautiful, did take a toll on us!

We reached our guest house at Lachen right in time for dinner! Our guest house was a small little home-stay of sorts, with the most beautiful arrangement for meals. We devoured on the humble feast served to us, and ran to our rooms, getting ready to wake up at 3 am the next morning!

Loved the interiors of our guesthouse at Lachen, Sikkim
Loved the interiors of our guesthouse at Lachen, Sikkim

Now, while waking up at 3 AM on any regular day is a task in itself, when you’re sleeping cuddled under 2 blankets, waking up at 3 AM is next to impossible! Had it not been for the unavoidable lure of the lake, we would have never managed to drag ourselves out of the comfort of our beds. After putting on as many layers of clothing as we possibly could, and packing the blankets from our guest house – we were finally ready for our Gurudongmar adventure!

We made a quick stopover at a small food joint, run by a sweet and ever-smiling guy named Rikjung with his Mom and younger sister. These were the most hospitable and friendly chaps! They cooked for us, helped us to servings of a local mixture called tumba – made from rice and taken with a bamboo pipe – effective to fight the cold, and lit up a fire to relieve us from our misery. This place won’t be difficult to find, as it’s one of the only places you come across on the way, approximately 8 kms before Thangu, at Yatang.

The family that runs the food joint enroute Gurudongmar! Do make time for a chat!
The family that runs the food joint enroute Gurudongmar! Do make time for a chat! Picture credits: Saloni Saraf
After fighting all that cold, a humble cup of tea brought all our senses back alive!
After fighting all that cold, a humble cup of tea brought all our senses back alive! Picture credits: Saloni Saraf

What started as a sleepy to-do journey, turned into the most scenic road-trip of my life! Be prepared to crane your neck left, right, to the front and back, all within a seconds notice, because there’s just so much to see all around, that you can’t help but act like an over-excited 5 year old in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory! Even though you won’t come across any kind of vegetation or human settlements that are usually a regular sight up in the mountains, the barren and cold landscapes with occasional spotting of Yaks holds a different charm to itself. This wasn’t my first encounter with the mountains, having had my fair share of adventure in Himachal. But there’s something about the untouched magnanimity and beauty of the mountains in North-East India, which is so exotic and mesmerizing, that captures you in its inviting embrace instantly! Have tried to put together a visual journey for you below:

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
The road to Gurudongmar Lake, while barren and dusty, is the most beautiful drive you’ll encounter!
Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
Those black dots are actually Yaks. Loads of them! My camera could only zoom in so far!

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

After 4 odd hours of driving, including a stopover at an army camp, we finally reached our destination! One look at the snow-fed crystal blue water of the lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, dressed with Buddhist prayer flags across its breadth, the texture of the water perfectly matching the pristine blue  of the sky above – and you stop right in your tracks, losing all sense of time, place… and existence. There really isn’t much I can say that can justify how stunning this site is, I’ll let you decide for yourself:

Touchdown - Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!

Touchdown – Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!

The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!

 

PS: We made this trip in November first week, so the pictures above represent what the lake looks like in November. However this view may vary from month to month depending on the weather. My friend just visited the lake (only two days ago actually). So I thought I should share his pictures too, to give you an idea of how unreal the frozen lake looks in March.

A frozen Gurudongmar Lake in March- North Sikkim. Picture courtesy: Abhishek Gupta

 

Trivia about Gurudongmar Lake: Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, who is said to have visited this holy lake during the 8th century AD. Gurudongmar Lake is listed among the 108 saccred laked of Sikkim and is regarded as the northern door for entry into Demojong (Sikkim). This sacred lake is said to have divine powers to fulfill the wishes of devotees who visit the lake. It has been notified as one of the most sacred Buddhist places of worship in Sikkim.

Notes:

  • If you have an extra day, choose to stay at Lachung after your Gurudongmar trip, and opt for a drive to Yumthang valley and Zero Point the next morning! There is also a famous hot water spring enroute Yumthang that you can stop at.
  • Unfortunately for our overseas friends, the proximity of the lake to the Indo-Tibetan (Chinese) border renders this site out-of-bounds for all foreign travelers. Even Indian travelers can travel here only through packaged tours organized by local operators in Sikkim, and everyone needs an Inner Line Permit from Gangtok.
  • Under normal circumstances, I would share the number of the travel agent who fixed our tour, but we had a really bad experience with him and wouldn’t suggest him to anyone. For reference (and warning) sake, his name was Tashi Thendup – Anoop, he owns a hotel in Gangtok (which is too costly for the horrible service they provide) and he tricked us into staying there despite our repeated refusals.
  • Our driver was a superstar! You should call him whenever you’re going for this trip. He can organize the trip too, cheaper than others. Arun – +919475715570
  • Note for people with breathing issues: The drive to Gurudongmar from Lachen starts at over 8000 feet altitude, and you keep driving constantly till 17,000 feet. Breathing here gets difficult for even regular people. We were strictly advised by the army officials to not run / walk fast near the lake, and keep drinking water regularly. You also have to make sure you reach the lake early in the morning, and drive out before noon.
  • Make sure you keep your permit and photo id proofs handy on this trip, as you will be stopped and checked at the army check-posts. Also, for safety, carry dry fruits with you.
  • The water of the lake is considered sacred. We were advised by one and all to fill bottles from the lake to carry back to Mumbai. 
  • The lake also has a small temple which is revered by Hindus as well as Buddhists, and attracts many pilgrims and monks.
  • Important: Just trust me and stop for a coffee with our jawans at the army camp enroute!!!

 

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