Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Here and The Hair

Now, here is a thing I would like to understand. Not having shared this predicament with my ilk so far, all insights are welcome.

There being a mirror on the wall in front of which I pass after I get up each morning to reach the exit door, I am treated to different horrors everyday. I don’t believe I have the ability, so far, to change avatars, but my hair definitely does. I am compelled to attribute the shocking mirror reflections to my unruly locks. (D has a simple solution to this……just don’t look in the mirror!! I wish it was as easy, sigh.)

I am sure that when I close my eyes every night, my hairs have a group discussion about the nature of their avatar the next day. Sometimes, I get the better of them by smothering them with hair oil. This prevents them from rising to the occasion of the said discussion. Ah! But they seek sweet revenge the very next day.

The state of my tresses ranges from the wispy look (all hair scattered in different directions with a deep groove. Probably no consensus on the avatar?), the chicken feet look (deep grooves all over. Looks like groups pulling in direction of different avatars), the all-at-attention look (had a lot of coffee over the discussion?), the juxtaposed look (not a hair out of place in one half, riots in the other), the makeover look (they just decided that enough is enough) the halt-all-efforts look ( midway in the change, they just decided to sleep on the job), the family look (Mr. and Mrs. Hair with several little Hairs out for a picnic) and many, many, more.

(If you are laughing by now, may pigeons collectively poop on your heads!)

Of all the time I spend grooming my self everyday, the least amount of time is spent on addressing hair related issues. No, no, no..the problem does not lie here.

Firstly, I think the Hairs have rented space on the top of my head. How else do you think they got the right to act as they like? All night discussions, conspiracy..jeeez..what will they think of next? It’s my head, damn it…I’ll show them who’s the boss. And if I don’t feel like I am succeeding at that, why..tell me why should I give them more than a couple of minutes each day?

The thought of evicting them altogether did cross my mind, but I must confess that I’m not quite there yet. What if they leave never to return? (Shudder)

And that is how it has been. My daily struggle with this Catch 22 situation continues.

Insights anyone?

Monday, December 04, 2006


Pentax just celebrated 60 years in the image capture business and how! Like this! Speaking of cameras, they are such wonderful things. I mean like wow with three exclamation marks.

Without those around would just leave so much to imagination. Not that it’s a bad thing, but imagine this: Tom weds Katie, no pictures; the Twin Towers reduced to rubble, no pictures; Pamela A caught topless on beach, sorry, no pictures; Mr. Politician caught accepting bribe, oops, no pictures; Shahid-Kareena exchange more than a liplock, grrrr no pictures; yours truly seen adorned in a sari, DAMN!!!! DAMN!!!!, NO PICTURES???? Don't you wish you had something..something handy that'd just snap the moment for you??

No, I was not born with a passion for cameras and stills. Nor did my parents *discover* my skills on ‘gharguti’ type subjects/events for them to gift me a gadget and say, “Here, go forth and shoot”. I just happened to pick my Grandpa’s old (and I mean really old) ‘Baby Brownie’ camera and ‘explore’ it. And there I was hooked, line and sinker. :P

Then came the Agfa, complete with dire warnings about untoward exploration. This snug and well crafted piece is (I still have it) not even an SLR. When I peer through the viewfinder, I have no idea what the lens view looks like. This camera gave me the chance to play around with a lot of aperture, exposure and timing related setting. If not the other way, I explored its capabilities this way. I believe you learn much better and faster on a rudimentary model than on hi-tech equipment. Makes you appreciate the value adds in the hi-tech model than taking them for granted. Worked for me.

I am the proud owner of a Nikon F55; it’s a film SLR. Over the years I’ve acquired a Nikkor zoom lens, some cam-care equipment and I am more than satisfied with the results. I have always preferred film and always NIKON, always. Of late though, this has begun to burn a hole in my pocket (the film, not the cam) and my next acquisition would be a DSLR.

Still photos are such great levelers. They need not be professionally shot, or even shot in a planned environment. Taken with care, awareness and involvement, a desirable attribute of each ‘subject’ they capture stands out in all its glory. The characteristic hits you as soon as you see the photo. And it has to be indisputably desirable because that is what levels the playing field and because everyone does have such a trait they are born with, maybe hidden beneath layers of idiosyncratic dust or overshadowed by circumstantial disguises.

A Still does a better job than a mirror. Not for nothing they say that a picture speaks a thousand words. :)

Friday, November 24, 2006


Recently, I had a chance to watch “Shall we dance Mr. Clark?” It was quite a while after the image of Mr. Gere, in a sleek and well fitting tuxedo, a solitary long stemmed red rose in hand and eyes that said it all, disappeared from my mind that I could breathe again. As the got blood flowing into my neurons again, my brain began unscrambling the messages that I was sending. I realized I was thinking, actually. (Like Pooh bear on a blustery day)

Mr. Clark’s life had become routine: a simple but disoriented and empty life as a faithful husband and father, a brilliant and overworked lawyer, a man without any wish or passion. During a poignant moment in the movie, Mr. Clark tells the missus that dancing makes him happy and that this derived happiness has filled the space occupied earlier by something monotonous. It has nothing to do with Mrs. Clark really, he insists and the fact that he loves her truly is displayed through their slow dance in the shop.

Just as anyone can chose to join in at a dance or stand by the wall simply to watch, the decision to seek a life of meaning, passion, and emotion is also a choice. I had no idea how well I could identify with this feeling or make this choice for myself in a small way.

After 7 years of hard core gymming, I recently included aerobics in my routine. And guess what, I began liking it as much as pumping iron. My tryst started with apprehension about the instructor’s capabilities and ended with awe at how they conjure up the kind of heart stopping routines they make us do. over time, I realized that every instructor has her (Yes, its always her. Ever know if a ‘him’ aerobic instructor?)own style in which she conducts the classes, includes warm up exercises, intense CV workouts and the floor reps. So it happened, we got a new instructor for the class. What makes M different is this amazing method she uses to help us cool down.

The music is switched, slow beats and soulful words fill the air. She executes a dance step and indicates that we follow. I watch keenly…..the head falls to one side, the hands sway in rhythm with the torso, very chiffonesque and it’s the eyes..the eyes that betray a passion. I could watch all day..but a sharp glance from her makes me skip a little. After all, I am not to this manner born, so a few pathetic attempts to sway, follow. Amused, she tells me that my dancing feats will be her best kept secrets. What happens in class stays there. J Rhythm is never the problem for that I can execute with perfection. It is that swan like grace and the need to dance without inhibitions that I fall short on.

As classes progress, I see less and watch more. Her passion is catching. I find myself trying to mimic her movements. (Yeah, it’s a big thing with me to be able to do THAT. My friends say doing a deck of 500 pushups would be easier for me than this. Well, each to his own.) It no longer bothers me if I am doing alright or I’m still a hopelessly lost cause.

All I want to do is dance and feel the rhythm divine. And it makes me happy with a capital H. Amen!

PS: Title borrowed from a friend’s blog of the same name. Thought it is very apt here!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Parting Shot


Parting Shot


Pretty Flowers

Pangong ~ III

Pangong ~ II


Pangong: First view

Scene en route

Road to Chang La

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Leh Logs: Days Six & Seven

My gaze followed the ripples as they widened on the deep blue waters of the Pangong lake. They had a long way to travel before they succumbed to surface pressure. The water in this world’s highest salt water lake recognizes no boundaries, boundaries that my mind is forced to acknowledge. Of the 70 km length, the better part (40 km) lies in china and the rest in India. The lake is the closest we can come to a pristine water body within human access.

A grueling 5 hour ride, passing through Chang-La found us on the banks of this lake, a wondrous creation of nature. The Chang-la is the world’s third highest motorable pass.

The road rough was perpetually rough, the snow and frequent landslides ruining every effort the BRO takes to keep it smooth. We took a tea break at Chang-La. This area is not frequented by ‘regular’ tourists. It’s those in search of the unusual who brave the distance to venture to the Pangong. We hardly met any cars either ways. The military trucks though, were plentiful.

The landscape was as proud as ever, almost Ozymandias-like. The message was simple, take it or leave it! For those who choose to take it, hidden treasures revealed themselves in all their glory. Glimpses of the multi-coloured mountains, the coarse deserts, the magnificent but brittle rock, the sudden patches of green, enchantingly blue water bodies, the mighty peaks and the silently grazing cattle……vision-scapes of Ladakh, its real treasures.

On the way to Pangong, we had stopped at a military post to hand over the mandatory permit. A couple of locals, a sister and brother, requested us to give them a lift further up from the camp. It was harvest season and they were heading home to help their folks with the efforts. Leave us as soon as you reach the mountain pass before Pangong they said. Since public transport is notoriously infrequent, we obliged. There was no sign of habitation for miles, we were not sure where in the wilderness they were heading. Close or remote, home is after all Home. As we said adieu, we wished them all the best with their lives.

Such is the nature of the Ladakhis that during times of adversity, they will take life by its horns. And otherwise, they’ll loll on the grass and watch it go by. They are a very refined and honest people…respecting, almost worshipping the land they dwell on.

Back at the lake, I could not take in enough of that tranquil blueness…I became painfully aware that this would be my last chance to let Ladakh wash over me.
A quaint little tea shop completed the scenic picture at the Pangong. We had some tea and I also had noodles. We were about 10 people there, excluding the tea stall folks. This was a welcome change from the throngs that you meet at other places. No bawling kids, no snap happy couples and no pushing or jostling. Ahh! Umm! Yummm! (My involuntary exclamations after the tea and snack.)

It was time to leave this paradise behind. I was very difficult to look the other way. L Even the exhausting journey back seemed inviting if it meant staying with the landscape.

We had to pack and be ready for our 9 am flight the next morning. It seemed unreal that I was on the banks of the Pangong at that time, pulling my parka close to keep the chill out and 12 hours later I was sweating it out in the New Delhi airport. Unreal! Unreal!

Our last glimpses came from the plane as it flew high above the peaks and glaciers. We could see the roads we had traveled on go places in this Wonderland and other equally beautiful spaces where no man had ever set foot.

Here ends this tale of this enthralling voyage. It had been my mother’s wish for some years now to see this magical land. The WWW played a decisive part in making this trip possible without any untoward incident. We finalized our travel plans, the hotel, the various locations and even our itinerary, courtesy the web.

It’s easier to get into Leh – Ladakh than getting them out of you. And I don’t think I am ever going to try to.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

# 16

....solar flares of old
like fireflies flicker
spirits roused
the phoenix was seen...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Alley Cat

I’d just parked my byk after coming home from gym, when I heard a faint meowing. I tried to locate the owner of this sound. A lot of cars were parked around on the road, so it took me a while to look under each one. The meowing continued, infrequent and faint. I was not sure where to look. Suddenly a small body appeared in between two cars.

The cat was a badly mangled fellow, just about managing to stand on his feet. They were bent at awkward places, and fur sparsely covered the tiny body. There was a sign of an old wound on his torso. He could barely get any sound out and seemed to be one his last legs.

Poor sod, I thought, if the dogs don’t get him, the crows will. Yet, the fellow definitely had lots of dignity for he was moving his tongue over the non existent whiskers and grooming himself like cats usually do. He’d let out a whimper in between licking himself allover. The tail swayed in rhythm. The grooming over, he finally sat down. The act of sitting itself was an achievement for he seemed to be in great pain. After he had settled down, there was a content look on the scrappy face.

I watched him, thoroughly admiring his attention to detail. Even when others had given up on him, this small cat refused to give up on himself.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Paradigm Shift

Imagine you're in London's Heathrow Airport. While you're waiting for your flight, you notice a kiosk selling cookies. You buy a box, put them in your traveling bag and then you patiently search for an available seat so you can sit down and enjoy your cookies. Finally you find a seat next to a gentleman. You reach down into your traveling bag and pull out your box of cookies. As you do so, you notice that the gentleman starts watching you intensely. He stares as you open the box and his eyes follow your hand as you pick up the cookie and bring it to your mouth. Just then he reaches over and takes one of your cookies from the box, and eats it! You're more than a little surprised at this. Actually, you're at a loss for words.

Not only does he take one cookie, but also alternates with you. For every one cookie you take, he takes one. Now, what's your immediate impression of this guy? Crazy? Greedy? He's got some nerve! Can you imagine the words you might use to describe this man to your associates back at the office? Meanwhile, you both continue eating the cookies until there's just one left. To your surprise, the man reaches over and takes it. But then he does something unexpected. He breaks it in half, and gives half to you. After he's finished with his half he gets up, and without a word, he leaves.

You think to yourself, "Do this really happen?" You're left sitting there dumbfounded and still hungry. So you go back to the kiosk and buy another box of cookies. You then return to your seat and begin opening your new box of cookies when you glance down into your traveling bag. Sitting there in your bag is your original box of cookies -- still unopened. Only then do you realize that when you reached down earlier, you had reached into the other man's bag, and grabbed his box of cookies by mistake.

Now what do you think of the man? Generous? Tolerant? You've just experienced a profound 
paradigm shift. You're seeing things from a new point of view.

Is it time to change your point of view? Now, think of this story as it relates to your life. Things may not be what they seem.

P.S. This piece is not an XiC original. A friend sent this to me and I thought it'd be great to share. Thanks M!

Two to Tango

It takes two to tango…we’ve formed a pattern, this friend, T, and I. Once every month, we search, find and research the ‘bestest’ restaurants in town. After zeroing upon the one that suits our fancy, we go stuff ourselves to our respective hearts content. Boozing is moderate since we have to drive home.

Gastronomic delights are hard to come by for her, since she cooks her own food (if she reads this, it’ll be my last post ever :P). As for me, I have her enchanting company and a gastronomic adventure to look forward to. Also, it fortifies amy appreciation of home food all the more (Thanks Ma! :) ). Our choice of places leans heavily towards the casual types. And since we go directly from office, we are ready to bark at the slightest hint of formality.

As we wait for the valet to hand over the counter coupon, we are eager with anticipation. There is so much to catch up on and the smells have already enticed our noses.

A couple minutes later, we are seated. Our tongues start the warm up dance. What are we going to drink? Will it be wine today?..Oh Ok, so the restaurant has a beer fest on. As much as you can drink for 200 bucks!! No thank yew, we’d rather hold on to our pints. The individual who designed the pint size must have done that out of guilt for consuming a whole sized bottle. Pints are so easy to toss in; you don’t notice you’ve knocked down a few until you are on your fourth. Besides, they fit snugly in the hand (and in the beer coolers).

Our eyes pretend not to notice the soups, salads or vegetarian fare. Meaty starters and main course it is..always. Choosing the dish is my prerogative and ordering it is hers. We spend considerable time on the main course after we quickly order the drinks. Cheers! Here is to jobs that pay the bills. :) We are all set for a good time.

Tongues roll. Inside news, outside news, news you can use and news you can’t. The conversation takes myriad directions, we like it that way. The food arrives, as if on cue, during thoughtful silences. The constellations of our minds are twinkling with diverse subjects to lead the conversation onwards. We know not where we started and know not where we will end for the night is young and we have miles to go. (This might sound like I’m three pints down, but it’ll seem that way to 4 out of every 3 people.)

It is time for dessert. Nah! We’ll skip it this time. Here, it seems they don’t hurry with the check. So we get in few more sound bytes.

As we head our respective ways, the delicious taste of our wonderful time together lingers.

New month, new place.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

# 15

......curves of a smile
on a radiant face
will the lily remember
to bloom again.......

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

RIP: My Gym Sneakers

I retired my gym sneakers, finally.

At gym they bore the weights,
My steadfast sole – mates,
Had the last workout today,
Before they fade away

They are Reeboks,
Look ma, I wear no socks.
“I am what I am” they say,
I see it no other way

These Spikes of Fire,
Raised the bar higher
They danced and jumped,
As my heart pumped

Been out in all weather,
One rests below the other
Weary and worn,
Of their glory shorn

It’s a touching farewell,
From this poem you can tell
Retired from the race,
Old pals have found their resting place.


The last shot

# 14

....winds of hate
ravish tender faces
score deep scars
where do they begin?
where do they end?...

The last shot

A Room with a view

The Furry one

Sand Dunes at Hunder

The mighty Shyok

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Shadow Play

View from Khardung La

# 13

....I dreamt a dream
the stars shone brighter than the Sun
blinding light
my eyes choked on a tear...........

Shadow Play

View from Khardung La

Road to Khardung La

Leh Logs: Days Four & Five

We had left Leh behind us now. The road traversed towards the Khardung-La. We were proceeding to the Nubra valley which is about 100 kms away from the Siachen glacier. This trip necessitated a night’s stay at Nubra. One reason for this is that it’s a long drive away from Leh and second, cars which cross the Khardung-La cannot return to the pass on the same day. The ongoing road work demands that traffic moves one way in the first half of the day and the other way in the second half.

The beacon like presence of the Shanti Stupa was the only way we could tell where Leh was. This radiant white Stupa disappeared from view only after we reached the Pass. Someone with a lot of imagination has painted a green yellow frog on a huge rock of frog-like proportions. Tourist riding to the Pass can see it on the road side.

It took us a good 2 hours to reach the height of 18,000 ft. The road snaked from one mountain to another, but we never lost sight of the ice laden peak we wanted to reach. But for these signs though, it is easy enough to forget the human sweat that goes into the domestication of this overpowering landscape. And suddenly we were there!

At Khardung-La, the highest motorable road in the world, where travelers dare not linger because of the lack of oxygen and the cold that gets to your heart, we saw small brown men, their snub-noses barely peeping out from their parkas. They were laborers working on maintaining the pass. The majority of them, I think, are brought here by contractors on year-long stints.

The army has a small canteen serving piping hot beverages and biscuits. Of late, they have also started a souvenir shop which sells the usual mugs, pens and tees. Till some time ago, such a venture was unthinkable, but I am glad the set up shop when they did. Yet trust the government machinery to leave its mark. They don’t sell the souvenir mugs singly, you HAVE to buy half a dozen mugs, or none at all. Now what, I wondered, and began making a list of people I could pass some mugs to. As I pondered a possible way out, I saw that an east European couple was stuck in the same predicament. We hit upon an idea and decided to buy 3 mugs each. Just goes to prove that when there is intent language is no barrier. :P

And so it went. One hour overlapping the next, one mile extending into another. The better part of the journey lay in front of us now. It would lead us through Khalsar and Diskit villages to Hunder. The road sloped steadily towards the valley that opened up before us. A number of small blue ponds appeared on the landscape and we could make out tiny black & white dots high up the mountains. Those would be yaks and pashmina sheep grazing in the vale.

At Khalsar, we stopped for lunch while Mohammed went to fill up the car’s tank. As we were settling at the table, a gaggle of girls came in. They were from the USA, as was apparent by their accent. They spent a long time studying the menu, and ended up ordering flavored sodas for themselves.

Soon the gorge gave way to a flat stretch of road with another enormous valley unraveling itself like a plot from a Hitchcock novel. Perched high above on the ridge it was a mesmerizing view of the Shyok River beneath. We followed the turbulent and muddy Shyok as we climbed down into the valley. As it grew wider, so did the valley. We soon came to a bifurcation - the right fork leading to the villages of Sumur, Tegar and Panamic and onwards to the Siachen glacier; the left fork going to Diskit and Hunder.

We took the left fork. A really straight road leads to the ghat which goes on to Diskit. Saser glaciers, Turtuk and the mighty Siachen were now hidden behind the mountains to the north. We moved in deeper towards the end of the pasture, past farms hidden from sight by tall thorny shrubs. We crossed all mountains there were to cross. Suddenly, the path opened and an amazing sight unfolded! Dunes of white sands greeted our eyes.

Further up the road as we drove towards the Hunder, we encountered a rolling meadow with a stream running through it! Horses and cows grazed peacefully. Here nature danced to the tune of chirping birds, trees swayed in the breeze echoing a haunting whisper across the meadow. Rocks whispered magic words that made the stream gurgle with laughter. We turned to other mortal necessities like finding a hotel for the night.

We found a guest house away from the sand dunes at Hunder. It was a very pretty place and we had a room with a view. By about 4.00 in the noon we were all settled and ready to leave for the sand dunes. This area is famous for the double humped Bactrian camels. These ships of the desert served in caravans taking the Silk Route to Tibet. Since the Route is no longer operational they have been tamed. It has not been easy, and to prove that we saw a sole wild camel rushing about in the wild growth. Sometimes he followed us and other times resisted any attempts to get near him. Oh but they are such furry creatures! I always wanted a puppy, but I’ll settle for a baby Bactrian camel, I think.

Father, on the other had, furiously killed all attempts to get him to ride a camel. For Mother, it was one of her must dos in life. So while Father captured us in print, we braved a camel ride. I had a shaky start with my camel unhappy at being hitched, did a little jig with me on its back. I briefly got the distinct feeling of being hung and left to bob up and down an elastic rope.

My furry ship had loads of attitude. He pushed Ma’s camel away every time the fellow came any nearer. This was a complicated task considering they had been tied together at the saddle. The camel-wallah had cunningly abandoned us to fetch a third camel from the starting point. So our little circus sauntered along, Ma trying to save her feet from the furry mêlée and at the same time shouting for the camel guy to catch up fast and discipline my camel. I was in splits and tried to tell her to simply kick my camel you-know-where, so that they would stay apart. But you just don’t do such things with Ma and get away with it. I got a tirade on how-my-camel-ride–is turning-into-a nightmare. Meanwhile, the camel guy caught up and separated our camels for good. Now the lone wild one put in an appearance and the camel guy was away in flash chasing him. Another outburst from Ma followed. Father, composed as ever, was calmly walking behind us taking snaps. “Well, I consoled her, he did not run away or anything with you on it. And you are still in one piece.”

The eventful ride later we hung around the dunes. I sat and watched the sun setting gradually over the distant peaks, casting long shadows in the valley while removing some from my mind. I managed to capture a beautiful frame of huge mountains looming in the background of a cows returning home for the day.
Back the guest house, the manager-cum-waiter-cum server-cum cook made us nice hot tea which we enjoyed under the twilight.

For dinner we had ordered some Chinese fare and I wolfed it down. I tasted so good. By 9.00 I was all ready to sleep. We would start our journey back to Leh the next morning along the same route and cross the Khardung La for the last time.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Funnies

Before I start with Day 6, sample these roadside warnings about speeding on various highways in Ladakh, all courtesy the BRO. Some are funny, while some are plain howlarious!!
I admire the humour and the attempt at rhyming to get the message across. :)

“Darling I want you but not so fast”

“The journey of life is long and the path unknown.”

“Whether you’re African or American, we’re all human.”

“Life is precious, avoid speed.”

“Make today an accident free day.”

“Peep, peep, don’t sleep.”

“If you’re married, divorce speed.”

“Accidents are prohibited on this road.”

“Do your dozing in bed.”

“AAAA = Always Alert Avoid Accidents.”

“Please drive slowly, someone is waiting for you.”

“Take heed, don’t speed.”

“No race, no rally, enjoy the beauty of the valley.”

“Don’t be a gamma (Indian wrestler) in the land of the lama.”

“Drive on muscle power, not rum power.”

“After whiskey, driving’s risky.”

“If you drink bourbon, you’ll lose your turban.”

“Mountains are pleasure if you drive with leisure.”

"Drinking scotch, you’ll hit the rocks.”

“Be gentle on my curves.”

“Arrive in peace, not pieces.”

“Be a Mr. Late, not a Late Mr.”

“Be a careless overtaker and you’ll meet the undertaker.”

“Drive like hell and you’ll be there.”

“Enjoy the beauty even when on duty.”

“Impatient in road, patient in hospital.”

“Danger creeps when safety sleeps.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

# 12

....blue skies mirrored
in the still lake,
confined together
occasional whirlpools..liberate.....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Leh Logs: Day Three

We started day three hovering over Leh in a helicopter. Father had made this arrangement so that we would have the best sights. We traversed the Indus through the sky and I got some great shots at extreme angles. The pilot indulged all my requests to hover the craft at different angles so that I could get my shots. The chopper’s sides almost kissed a few pinnacles in that process. We got so carried away during these stunts that we almost reached the Kargil army camp further up the Indus. Since that area is a no-fly zone, they actually though we were an intruding aircraft and trained guns on us. Things started going crazy just then. Before the pilot could even establish our identity, one of the missiles zoomed towards the chopper blades ……..

Do I have your attention? (Tee hee hee!!..I know.. that’s a mean trick to play…and yes, maybe I should be a full time writer. Just my 2 cents of fantasy.)

Ok..now to the real travelogue.

August 22nd was going to be a long day. We were going to travel 125 km west of Leh towards Lamayuru Gompa. This road further goes on to Kargil and other areas along the LoC. In addition to the long route, we had other spots to cover on the way too.

Mohammed Ghaus was already at the hotel with his sturdy Toyota Qualis. Another lavish (he! he!) breakfast later, we left the hotel at 7.00 am. It took us about 5 minutes to leave the city precincts and hit the highway. The road was narrow and a lonely one too. For an hour we had passed only a couple of vehicles. The Indus was our constant companion. As we headed towards the mountains the water gathered force. Convoys of army vehicles passed us now and then. The smaller vehicles and jeeps had to make way for the convoys or reverse back to a suitable point on the highway which was wide enough to permit both vehicles to pass each other. It was amazing to see the coordination with which the drivers did this without speaking a word.
We alternated between spectacular wine-red gorges and crater-ridden mud coloured mountains and plains. Sometimes we could see further up where the road lead to, others, we weren’t even sure if a road existed beyond that point. There were purple mountains and green ones, some were covered in dusty soil and others had fragile rocks fragments to show. Due to the tectonic origins of the Himalayas, the whole range is very brittle. High above the road we could see overhangs of rock which looked ready to give way at the sound of the horn. The soil nearest to the river was yellow and brown. The topography there showed signs of constant erosion.

We frequently passed herds furry goats that yield the famous Pashmina wool. Those hardly animals can climb impossible heights in search of fodder which is hard to come by in Ladakh. We had yet to see any yaks though.

Suddenly, Mohammed stopped the SUV. He put it in neutral gear and turned off the engine. “Look behind us” he said, “Do you see the decline on the part of the road we just passed?” We nodded. Then unexpectedly, he let go of the brakes and we were rolling up the slope…..wait a minute……up a slope????? He answered our puzzled looks by pointing to a board on the side of the road. It said “Magnetic Hill”. It is believed that the hill located right behind that board has magnetic properties that can pull vehicles up the gradient. We decided to try if the vehicle would experience a pull if we had it facing the other way. We attempted this successfully on our way back. I guess that makes us magnetic personalities now.

Further down the road we passed the Patthar Sahib. It’s a Gurudwara built to commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit to Leh. The Army manages and controls this holy site and we got some really tasty sheera as prasad there.

There is a legend associated with this gurudwara about which you can read

The Indus, which had disappeared for a while among the many mountains, reappeared as we made our way to the Sangam – The confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus rivers. It was suddenly upon us as we rounded a bend in the roads. Another vehicle had stopped there as well and the tourists looked really impressed. The view was awe inspiring. The grey Zanskar joins the muddy Indus and together they flow downstream as the Indus. As the rivers snake through the terrain they form interesting patterns and contours in the landscape. It’s a marvel to look at.
The Rivers are popular venues for adventure sports and ice trekking. In the winter when they freeze over, hikers can walk over the snow/ice up to the origin of the Zanskar River. Kayaking is popular on the Indus, but the grade of the
rapids is not as high as those found in rivers of the Char Dham region or in Nepal.

Ladakh is a trekker’s paradise. They have such a choice of mountain ranges to trek on. There is the Ladakh range with medium difficulty level. Then there is the Zanskar and the Karakoram ranges with medium to very high difficulty levels. Some peaks in the Karakoram Range specially, can be really challenging, and the lack of oxygen makes it even more so.

As we passed small villages and big ones, we found one feature common to all these places. They all have well equipped schools! We were thrilled to see kids in smart uniforms walk along the route to reach there. This is a very reassuring sight.

Further up, we stopped to let a military convoy pass. On the other side of the valley, I saw a precariously perched structure on a cliff side. Mohammed told us that it’s was a dilapidated citadel called Bazgo. I managed to get some fantastic shots of Bazgo. It’s a wonder even that it still exists today. I think I quite managed to capture this vulnerability in print. There is a Gompa near Bazgo but we did not visit it.

Our route for that day would end at the Lamayuru Monastery, from where we’d start on the drive back. From where we were, the monastery was about 2 hour away. Nothing in the world would have prepared us for what we were about to see on the route. Such are nature’s wonders that we came upon this beautiful patch of yellow brittle rock in the midst of nowhere. This is the only recorded existence of such a formation and it virtually looks like a scene out of “Mackennas Gold”. They call it the Moonland at Lamayuru. Whether it is phosphorous deposits or any other mineral, we were not sure, but the collective effect was amazing.

Eventually, we reached the Lamayuru monastery. This sits at the top of a hill, riddled with caves where monks meditate. I found it to be the most delightful of all the monasteries. It is a place to linger, to regain one’s soul, to lie back in spiritual induced bliss. As we stepped in the daily prayer was in progress. Mystic chants were alternated with the loud beating of drums and blowing of high pitched trumpets while the Buddha looked on.

The most interesting feature of this monastery is the very proportionate statue of the Buddha installed in an alcove within the inner sanctum. Lama Norbu traveled to Lamayuru in 1610 and sat in meditation in this alcove, which was then a cave. The Monastery was built on top and as a result the cave was absorbed within the structure. In most of the Gompas, there is no light in the sanctum except for the sacred oil lamps that burn within. As a result the very interesting frescos, or Thankas, are hardly visible. Yet Lamayuru’s Thankas are painted at location where everyone can admire them in all their glory.

One of the oldest, is the low-lying Alchi Monastery, with a cluster of chortens, and five small whitewashed temples with wooden doors. The frescoes here—multiple images of the Buddha—have preserved their rich blues and reds. But again it’s too dark to appreciate them enough. From within the monastery garden, the aroma of fermenting apricots wafts up. Although guesthouses surround the place and there is no village visible nearby.

By the time we reached Alchi from Lamayuru on our way back, it was almost 3.00 pm. We stopped at a roadside dhaba for a late lunch. These quaint dhabas dot the landscape and serve gastronomic delights of all kinds. YUM!

We passed all those now familiar sight again on our way back; the Sangam, the Magnetic Hill, colourful mountains, the herds….we were so much at home with all of that.

Back at the hotel, Guru as usual tried to tempt me to sample the dessert. Whether it was due to constant travel or the altitude, I am not sure which; I managed to lose my appetite. “Now that’s a first!” Mother exclaimed tongue firmly in cheek when she saw me, ME… refuse food.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

13 years and six months......still counting.

Sorry to interrupt the travelogue but this post cannot wait.

The right honourable P. D. Kode pronounced the court's verdict on 4 of the 123 accused who faced trial in the 1993 Mumbai Serial blasts case.

  • 257 Dead
  • 700 Injured
  • 13 years and 6 months of trial
  • 123 Accused
  • 4 Convicted so far
  • 4 Acquitted so far
  • 686 Witnesses
  • 13,000 pages of evidence
  • 1 Court
  • 1 Act (TADA)

Statistics pregnant with a lot of possibilities.

So have we learnt our lessons?

Mumbai Riots - 1993
Gujarat Riots - 2002
Ongoing blasts in J and K
Blasts in Varanasi - 2006
Mumbai train serial blasts - 2006
Malegoan serial blasts - 2006

And these are just the milestones....

Year 2056: Court to finally give verdict in the 2006 Mumbai trains serial blasts case.......

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ladakh landscape

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace

The City from the Leh Palace window

Stok Palace

Leh Logs: Day Two - Noon

A fulfilling meal later, we were back on the circuit. The Stok Palace was the first location we drove towards. It is a bit further from Leh and on the way we encountered a dilapidated bridge. Mr. Jolly Driver, in his inimitable style and heavy accent described how the original bridge was washed away in the floods this year. Leh experienced more than its normal share of rainfall and as a result the predominantly mud structures came crashing down. One of those was the bridge. The wonder that our Army is, they restored it in a day using girders and heavy forks. Behind the well maintained network of roads in that region is the Army’s need for reach and rapid communication. They need to move supplies, equipment and men at a moment’s notice.

The structure of the Stok Palace is not as attractive as the museum it houses. The Royal belongings are preserved there. The typical finery, articles of daily use like pouches, padlocks, paintings and other works of art are displayed in well lit rooms within the palace. The descendants of the dynasty currently live away from Leh.

Overlooking main entrance to the palace building was a quaint ‘U’ shaped gallery and a little bench stood at the farther end. This bench was my quiet little world for some time while Father was busy clicking nice pictures. The view was amazing to say the least. I’ve been to the mountains enough to know now that they have a nameless effect on me. In Leh specially, every sight that your eyes can take in at a time leaves its mark. The landscape talks to you. I hear it often in the wind that roars by, or in the streams that flow ….pre ordained, the sunlight that filters through the thick foliage…..as if reaching out…covering you in a surreal glow in that lush darkness…there is just you and them….and it is a complete circle.

Mother came over to let me know that it was time to move on to our next destination, the Leh Palace. This palace is situated on a summit overlooking the main bazaar. Due to the rains, restoration work was in progress when we went. Inside, it was a veritable labyrinth of rooms and passages leading to nowhere. The staircases had collapsed and makeshift ladders had been installed. Since the base of the palace is narrow, the floors are steeper. Due to this it appears as if the structure is seamlessly emerging right out of the mountain. The doors are typically low and I banged my head on one while trying to balance the camera and the lens. To recover, I sat hunch kneed in one of the window and was able to get a wonderful shot of the Leh city.

Ascending the swaying ladders to get to top seemed no problem. Now it was time to go back down. The enthusiastic fool that I am, I had forgotten the camera case and now had my hands full of equipment. How on earth was I to go down without holding the sides of the ladders? I believe there are angels watching over yours truly and one such came to my aid. This Italian knew no English, but understood my predicament through sign language. He first went down the ladder himself to hold it steady, then came up half way and relived me of all my fragile burdens. Finally free, I climbed down in all the style that I could conjure up in that situation. Thanking him in the only Italian word I knew, Grazie, I made my way down. Mother had seen enough shaky structures from within that day to enter the Leh palace. She stayed put in the car looking at her watch now and then, awaiting my return. Father came up to the main entrance and generally strolled around.

On the road again, we were now making our way to the Shanti Stupa. This would be our final destination for the day. It’s a great place to watch sunsets from. The Japanese have built this Stupa for peace and therefore the name, Shanti. This holy place is a huge white and regal construct with a giant courtyard opening up on three sides. It’s simple, neat and clean. The entire Ladakh range is visible from here as well as the Leh city in all its glory.

As we sat on the steps letting the scene wash over us, the cloud cover suddenly broke and the right before our eyes the city was lit up like the Golden Lanka. The distance gave us wide angle view of a bustling city, cupped in barren mountains which looked like they would collapse anytime. The distant snow capped peaks were brilliantly sunlit. This was the daddy of all moments. Other people who had come for a visit too sat silently in the courtyard. I managed to get a few panoramic pictures as we watched the sun go down.

We hardly spoke during the drive back. At the Hotel, the ever attentive Guru was waiting to ask after our day and quietly described to me the dinner menu. Just so that I knew! We were going to be served Italian fare. What timing, I thought. So under Mother’s watchful eyes I sampled the pasta soup, the spaghetti and sauce.
As my eyes closed for the last time that day, I wished I’d dream of all the things I had seen and relive those moments again and again….until the next day. For tomorrow was a new day and a new adventure.

Ladakh landscape

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace