Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Adios 2014!

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I usually do not write year-ending posts. They would have made sense had I been a regular writer. But then, lot of things would have happened if I were a regular writer. Like commercial writing assignments, book-launches and may be a Booker prize. Anyway, not digressing..

This year went by flying. Like absolutely. It began on a royal note in Dubai, exploring the marvel that the Arabs have made out of pure plain desert. The goodness continued, with I coming back and accepting a job offer, after rejecting it twice before :P. 

On personal level, so many things happened, that shaped and keep shaping me. 
We completed three years of marriage. I mean, 3! The 'just married' mode is long gone, and we feel stable and totally comfortable in the marital bond now. 

We made an awesome awesome trip to Ladakh. That trip moved me so much, that I almost wrote 8 posts on this blog! It is a magical land, and I have definitely left a piece of my heart over there. The experiences and thoughts induced by Ladakh are quite unusual, and it remains one of the main highlights of 2014 hands down.

I thought that I have enough of friends now, and do not need anymore. But then that is not how it works. I keep on making new friends, I just do. So I did get some friends totally out of randomness, and then I wondered why were we not friends until now?! 
Well, that also brought out interesting observations. 
Like, your style of making friends differs at different stages of your life.
Or, the people with whom you are friends since forever, slowly grow into different individuals than you or than what you expected, and that is OK.
Or, you can have great friendships with your cousins, and in fact it is better that way.
And, your age does make a difference. Maturity, some may call it.

Talking of friends, I unfortunately also lost a dear friend of mine to a bloody heart attack. I still can not believe that he is gone, and I keep looking at his number in my phone-book and often keep reading our last Whatsapp conversation. It sort of brought me very close to the idea of death.
I then consoled my mind with an apt quote that says: "There is no Death. It is just a change of worlds."
I wished him to be happy in whatever world he is, and am now trying to heal that wound.

I continued long distance running this year as well, ran three races this year, and definitely improved my performance in them. Husband also ran with me in the last one! Running was gratifying, encouraging and extremely liberating. I have taken a momentary break from running as of now, and practicing some Yoga though.

However, the biggest change happened on the professional level. I started working with Sakal at the beginning of this year, and continued till almost its end. That stint went on quite well, and I left that work on a really good note, and with a focused intention.

After working full-time for five years, I have decided to work as an independent professional. I wish to work on the projects that I like, and can learn something from them. Work which puts my faculties to best use, and develops me personally and professionally.

Working independently is going to be hard, very hard. But I hope to manage and sustain at that. It is a major decision of my professional life, and I aim to give it my best shot. Hope things work out! :) 

SO it was a year of change. I am in process of changing  some crucial aspects of my life, my identity, my 'self'. Goodbye 2014, you had been really good.
I am looking at the approaching year with a lot of hope and excitement. 
Hope it is as fulfilling as this one. The change will continue.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Beauty has an address- Day 7-8

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After our ride full of thrills, we realized that we have lost the entire day, and just have one evening left for all shopping, seeing around, experiencing the town, and packing. Soo, we sent the cars away, decided to walk down and marched towards the main bazaar. 

As I said already, Leh is a small town, a typical touristy hub at that. You would find bistros and street side Cafes serving all sorts of food, from Ladakhi to continental to Israeli, fleet of white-skinned tourists clad in exotic hippyish attire and internet cafes, tour operator offices, bike rental facilities and woollen shops mushroomed everywhere. It is possible to get lost in this web, but we did not. All of us wanted something different to take along, and hence we roamed around pretty independently.

I and Hrushi had already roamed around the market even a day before, after our return from Nubra. We had a nice walk in the pleasing weather. We sat in a modish cafe, and had cappuccino and Cafe latte. I spotted a heap of fresh apricots (not the dried ones, the fresh fruits, they look like lichies) and bought handful of them, got some souvenir knick knacks like fridge magnets and Tshirts.

Today, we sat in a nice open-to-sky cafe at a corner, had something else than Dal-rice (Sagar and Shruti went adventurous with mint juice and humus-Pita!) , engaged in just some small talks, and it just struck us that our trip had come to an end. All the planning for last 4 months, all looking fwd to, all passionate discussions and debates, all was over. The atmosphere outside was boisterous, market well-lit, we were tired yet satisfied and I remember this small patch of evening in a very pleasant way. 

We went some shop-hopping, bought other exquisite knick knacks like Sea-buckthorn juice, prayer flags, apricot jam, and a cotton tote bag saying 'Julley', and returned to green villa to some excellent Ladakhi food, personally cooked by dear Angmo. Momos were quite amazing, and Thukpa was not really a favourite dish of many, but I did not mind, considering eating local is always good. 
Eat local, think global. :)

We looked at the oh-so-beautiful sky for the last time, saw the outline of now sleepy Leh, looked at the glowing Shanti-Stupa from our terrace, and went off to sleep. Next morning was pretty uneventful, with a car dropping us off at the Leh airport (quite a mini-airport), we boarding a flight to Delhi and then onwards to Mumbai, we landing in Mumbai- a direct journey from 11500 to 0 ft! 
It was humid as usual, the traffic and the dust and the sweat greeted us and mobile networks got a range, people got hooked on to their cellphones on our way back. We halted at the food-mall and hogged on the usual comfort food like Pav bhaji, reaching Pune around 6pm, ending our voyage.

As I write this today, I see the images of flooded Srinagar on TV, and I feel sad, thinking of the good time we had at that place. 
I saw the images of PM's visit to Kargil war memorial and I could immediately relate to it. 

I remember the star-studded sky very clearly, and it comes to me every time I close my eyes.
I keep on looking at the 3000-odd photos every now and then, and one of the photos at Nubra has gone on a wall, framed. 
The prayer flags adorn walls and work-desks, the apricot jam is eaten.
I wrote multiple blogs, trying to explain the feelings Ladakh gave me. 
I finally wrote the account of our travel, and yet I feel that something is missing. 

I also decided that next year I am again going to Ladakh, as I have left something there. And I know what that is.

A piece of my heart.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Beauty has an address- Day 6-7

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Today's excursion was originally supposed to be only a day-long trip to Pangong lake. We converted it into a day-and half trip and booked us on a tent facility right on Pangong. and it proved to be the best decision we took in our entire trip. We could lazily leave from Angmo's place in Leh, look around for bikes to carry (our hope had not yet died) and actually found one to carry with us to Pangong! An old, worn out Royal Enfield, with no mirrors. We were so bullet-hungry though that we got the bike, got the can of extra-petrol filled and set on our way, with Soham on the bike in between two Innovas.

It was not a ride as smooth as Nubra through Khardungla, and at certain places, no road even existed. We practically stepped into aggressive streams full of slippery stones, and it was a good thing that we took turns of riding the bike as the road would have probably rendered lower back of a single driver useless. We crossed the mighty Chang-la en route ( the third highest motorable road in the world after Khardung-la and Tanglang-la), but proceeded ahead on the strenuous road without halting, as the supposed beauty of Pangong lake was calling us towards her!

Despite the road condition, I would rate road to Pangong as more scenic, due to presence of colours, these gushy streams mid-way, placid water bodies, and the Changthang Eco-Zone. It is wildlife protected zone, exhibiting typical high-altitude flora and fauna. A strikingly beautiful, yet strikingly desolate place.

Large part of our journey went through Changthang, right until we reached the glorious, pristine, magical, serene Pangong-Tso. The first sight of the lake was enough to make us forget all our words, seriously.

The lake, situated at almost 14000 feet, actually lies on the international border. In fact, one third of this lake lies in India while two-thirds goes to Tibet(Now China). The ride on the banks of the lake practically had us spell-bound. I could not move my eyes away from that mass of blue. I have never seen this particular shade of blue in any water body in my entire life. You know, at such moments you realize, that there are treasures hidden away by nature in remotest of places. Nature reigns supreme, and you are in fact just a small negligible unit in this entire set up.

What all did we not see that day by the lake?  Barren, brown mountains, (which exactly look as if they are oil painting btw)  surrounding the lake. One-odd Sea-gull. Sound of small waves in that water. Stark-white sand. A full-ring rainbow. A super-clear sky. A giant national flag up in the sky on the excellent backdrop of this lake. And magnificent blueness of this water. Almost divine.  

We had booked the tents right on the bank of this lake, and we couldn't have made a better decision. We stayed that night in the tent, kept looking at that lake till almost we lost the track of time, saw the star-filled sky once again and were almost about to cry at all this beauty. Heaven.


We started from Pangong almost by 9 am, (again sat looking at the changed colours of water for some time) fully satisfied with the day before, fully convinced that this was the highlight of our trip, and headed back to Leh.

Remember, I had written that you can never be sure that travel through Ladakh will be smooth. By our collective fortunes till now, we had escaped every possible delay that could await us. However, today was not the day when luck was smiling at us, and we encountered every single issue which we had missed till today! So, to begin with..

No sooner were we on the way that we saw the bike slip in front of our eyes due to sand on the road. Fortunately, Soham-Shraddha fell down on the sand, and did not sustain too many scratches. deciding safety was a priority, Soham continued to ride alone for some time, till we stopped for some food at a shop which served only Maggi and tea, as a rule. There were practically NO human settlements on the way, and we had to be OK with whatever food we could get. So, we hogged on Maggi and stuffed ourselves with a bowl-and -half along with steaming tea. VERY, very wise decision.

After stuffing ourselves, Jatan got on the bike, and we began the arduous climb of Changla-once again. Unfortunately for us, the road was packed with Army trucks today, making it almost a bumper-to-bumper traffic and reducing the speed thereby. Amidst all this, on one fine turn, the old bike stopped. The ignition would not fire. Nothing.stopped. broke down.

NOW! We halted, and took stock of the situation. It was a heavy Enfield, which is even otherwise difficult to manouver. It was not a straight road, we were climbing up the Changla, somewhere around 15000 Ft, in low-oxygen levels. We did not have even the remotest sign of human settlement, let alone a mechanic/workshop. Two members from our car were suffering from a bit of breathlessness. None of us knew how to repair an Enfield, and to top it all, there was no signal to any of our mobile networks.

Next one hour involved all sorts of acrobatics we could do with the bike, including tying it with a rope to the back of an Innova and taking it fwd. This foiled, as it was impossible to control the handle and the direction the bike takes. (It took Jatan almost falling off the bike in a valley to understand this). Our drivers physically pushing the bike fwd, which was a disastrous thing to do in low-oxygen levels. Once, one of our drivers took to the rider's seat with Jatan driving our Innova through the gushy streams!
Meanwhile, we also tried halting bikers and asking them for help, halting army trucks and asking them to take our bike with them, to no effect. Finally, it was decided that we leave the bike with two boys where it was and reach Changla-top for help. On approaching army post on Chang-la, w were asked if it was a life-or-death situation. Upon hearing our peculiar problem, Army expressed inability to help (which was right, in a way).

However, our driver Feroze seeked help from couple of Faujis there, took them down the road for help, got the bike repaired and came back victorious with a smiling Jatan riding the bike to Changla top. It was an episode which lasted two-and-half hours, and we were grateful that it was over without major trouble. I suppose luck was still laughing at us.

Next, we were stalled for some work involving speed-brakers. Again almost an hour lost in all of this, making us hungrier and grumpier. Chiwda, Barfi, Khakra and all that stuff had been finished. Once the roads were open, we went ahead, and almost as we got close to Leh, one of our tyres went flat. Again Feroze to the rescue, changing the tyre. marching fwd. We reached Leh, and just before we entered the town, the bike tank went empty. By this time we had almost lost our capacity to be irritated. We calmly refuelled it, reached Angmo's villa and decided to call it a day as far as vehicle went.

What a day! And no regret of missing the originally planned white water rafting- the thrill we experienced kind of made up for it!

Beauty has an address- Day 4-5

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The day four of our tour was a highly anticipated one- we were leaving the town of Leh and beginning of journey into the interiors of Ladakh. We were going to climb up to the highest motorable road of the world- the Khardung-la and then enter the famous Nubra (NuFra as the locals say) valley.

Our attempts of getting a bike with us were foiled, as practically every single bullet in Leh was pre-booked, owing to the peak season. Kind of sad, as our chance of experiencing the thrill in riding upto Khardung-la was Kaputt, but good in a way as that gave a chance to really sit back and enjoy the roads, which is essentially what you do in Ladakh.

The journey began from Leh and we started climbing up. These roads built by BRO have been given names. The road from Srinagar to Leh is called the project Vijayak, while the roads from Leh to Nubra valley and Leh to Pangong-tso are named as Project Himank.  Appropriate with Vijayak reminding of the operation Vijay in Kargil,and  Himank representing the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges.  

Our climb up on Himank was as smooth as it could get, ignoring a couple of uneven patches in between. A very important thing to be mentioned while traversing through  Ladakh is the unpredictability of Journey. The roads are constantly being worked upon, so a bulldozer or a JCB can suddenly pop up and make you halt for an hour. Or the traffic can be manually controlled with only one side operating at a time, or at least a land-slide can occur if nothing else. We had heard of these things beforehand, but were lucky enough to escape it until now. (we did not know that it did await us within next couple of days!)

You know, Leh is somewhere around 11500 feet, and still you can see mountain peaks, high up in the sky from Leh city. As we started climbing up, gradually the level difference between us and the peaks started reducing. The joy of seeing the overbearing peaks at your eye level is unforgettable. I will never forget a particular point, where our car took a turn and a whole valley came into our sight, with the tall peak overbearing it and we being at the level of that peak. A line called ‘Abhalachi Chhaya tuzi samindarachi maya’ was playing in the background, and at that moment, the meaning of ‘abhalachi chhaya’ struck me like never before. I could see the infinite vastness that is meant in these lines, and could not help but shedding a couple of tears.  

Reaching Khardung-la was a moment of gratification, of experiencing the thrill of being at 18650 ft, as high as a vehicle can get you. We of course shot the customary pictures, had steaming black tea in the army canteen, AND went up to the army men posted here for a quick chat. We had brought some Pune-specials like Amba Barfi and Bakarwadi for them, as a small token of appreciation, which they were happy to receive!

Descend from K-top into the Nubra was spectacular, with the changing terrain. I can not believe that surrounding mountains can change their colours, patterns and surfaces so rapidly.At certain points I would rate this descend into valley even higher than the grand Canyon, exhibiting deep-cut gorges, sudden flow of river and infinite shades of earth.

Our foray into the valley and the time we spent has two highlights- the otherwise non-specific little village of Diskit, with a hill-top monastery and a statue of giant, golden Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya is also on a hillock, more than 100 feet in height, adorned with colourful engraved ornaments and peace in his being. He overlooks the giant valley, a 360 degree panorama of peaks, gorges, sand, sudden belt of greenery and river Shyok- a subsidiary of Indus. It is a location out of this world, I am unable to describe it in words. 

A little away from the village Diskit are the famous sand dunes of Hunder. They are your regular dunes, with white sand and ups-downs, just like in Rann of Kutchh. To top it all, they also have camels! That too double-humped. These camels are native of this place, and can be found only here.Now understand the uniqueness of this place- a single place with mountains, barren land, river, green bushes, desert and camels, at 10000 feet!!

These dunes offer you camel-rides as usual, but we preferred not taking it and encountering the dunes in different way. We actually perched ourselves atop a sand dune, and just let us roll on that slope. Yes, a childish act, and sand is so fine that its stuck at all places possible, but what a liberating exercise and what a way to feel those dunes! :)

Sunset saw us driving around the valley to our camp site- Mystique Meadows- and stopping at N number of places for wonderful pictures. We were put up in a pretty little set up, in comfortable tents, and spent a quiet night there. One of the highlights of this trip happened there though- we sat outside the tent on mini-lawn, and just sat looking at the sky- so full of stars- so brilliantly lit up- so serenely beautiful and mystifying! 

Next day was mostly spent rather uneventfully, with our travel back, checking in at Angmo's Green Villa, and exploring Leh Market. And except the excellent home- cooked, authentic Ladakhi food that Angmo served us, not much to say about it :) 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Beauty has an address- Day 3

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After yesterday’s long long journey, it was time to take things a bit slowly today. However, that was not to be. I woke up at stark 630 and found that it was already sunny outside. This is one good thing about Himalayas, you peak outside, and they are just there. At least in Ladakh, they constantly are. So I was staring at a lovely morning, birds chirping, and three ranges of mountains. Brilliant.

Following a sumptuous breakfast (one of the best ones we had in our entire trip btw) we were greeted by a new pair of innovas and drivers. Today’s plan of action was in and around Leh, (basically doing the standard checking the boxes of sightseeing) and we started with the Hemis monastery, sitting pretty and high in the mountains, exhibiting the royal, age old prayer halls, line of prayer wheels and Buddhist frescos. But it also houses a museum, which exhibits the artifacts dating back multiple centuries,  an interesting place to check out.

This was followed by a low-quality lunch, a monastery view from far off, a visit to an old palace named Shey and the much –famed ‘Rancho’s school’ – the Druk Padma Karpo School. It is absolutely as they have shown in the movie, and thanks to a contact I sourced, we got an inside view of the school and classrooms, with amazingly cute kids and well-designed, well-equipped building. It is a school established by the head lama of this ‘druk’ sect and howsoever they do not like it, it is true that the school has shot to fame due to movie 3 idiots which probably aids in getting donations or help.

The next stop was the confluence of the flowy, muddy Zanskar with the wide, mighty Indus. The one which has given us our name, India. It is an amazing place to just sit and reflect on life. It is one of the many more places which make you do that in Ladakh, something that we were going to explore soon.

Leaving the Confluence, we hurriedly reached the hall of fame in Leh, which is dedicated to the martyrs of all wars which happened in that region over the years. In fact, this hall of fame houses a lot of things in detail. From the geography and history and flora-fauna of the Ladakh region, to the old stories of soldiers, to the photographs and anecdotes of air operations, to the very touchy artefacts like a letter sent by a soldier some days before he died, and the answer his father wrote back. However, time was not sufficient to read each and everything fully, the museum took the shutters down at sharp 7 pm and we were forced to leave, a bit emotional.

The day was drawing to end, and we proceeded towards hotel. The dinner was as usual at the hotel, and it was followed by a customary chat session in the room. We had kept the day relatively less packed as we needed to stabilize, get adjusted to the altitude and next day onwards things were going to be hectic. The slight breathlessness was still experienced (and it continued till the last day), but none of us was too sick. We were eager for next day, aiming to traverse through world's highest motorable road- Khardung-la!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Beauty has an address- 1 and 2

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I do not exactly remember when did this whole idea of going to Ladakh pop up. We had been discussing about it for quite a while now, and had been postponing, owing to reasons like weddings, relocations, new businesses, new houses, business trips and so on. Realizing that we may never get to Ladakh by this rate unless we initiate the planning, we finally booked ourselves on the Srinagar-bound flight, way ahead in March. 

The next three months are kinda blurred in my memory, as they were spent in heavy duty planning, discussing, re discussing and then discussing some more :). 

And finally after all this, we were on the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai on a wet morning of 19th of July, 2014.

Landing upon Srinagar airport, we were picked up by the pre-booked innovas, and our journey to Leh started. Of course, not without some customary stop-overs. Lunch at Srinagar proved to be quite disastrous, (with the stale Rogan Josh haunting us for the entire trip!) and we were only happy to be on our way to asap. Mission Sonamarg!

Luckily, majority of our group had never set foot in Kashmir and had never seen Himalayas before this in their life. I say luckily, because I have been to Himalayas thrice before this, one of them being Kashmir itself. This most definitely leads you to sort of expect what to see, and you are never overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of landscape. Hence it is always good to have a first-timer with you, unexposed to this before, and you can see the beauty all over again with their eyes. So, customary stopovers for clicking the flowy river, the lush green meadows, the mountains and the breathtaking views were all taken, along with one for having a delicious Kashmiri Kahwa by the riverside.

Dusk was already falling by the time we reached Sonamarg, and it had started getting chilled. The little cosy resort of JKTDC was modest but well-equipped. It provided us with necessary amenities, including super thick blankets ,24-hour hot water, and basic fresh food. Sagar and Jatan were taken by their stomachs by this time, and looking at the need of early morning start the next day, all of us were inside our beds by 11pm. The next day was going to be a bit strenuous (and amazing as it turned out to be).


Having a light sleep is sometimes a boon, but mostly an annoying thing. I have sleep issues since a long time, and they continued for some time here as well. I was up at sharp 3am, thanks to the azaan outside(it was the month of Ramazan) and inspite of  my efforts, was still up at 3-55. Deciding not to be the lone sufferer, I promptly woke everybody up at 4am, under the pretext of early start, much to their reluctance and cursing. Not paying any heed to it, we were finally successful in leaving Sonamarg cottage by 540 am, braving the road to come. Specifically Zojila.

You know, we had heard of zojila in such outright exaggerating terms, that we had crossed the stage of being scared and in fact were eager to see what the hell this Zojila was. Yes, it was scary, (not helping was our drivers' decision of taking the car as close as possible to the edge) evident by the lack of sufficient photos. But thankfully, no jams, no army convoys, and no knowledge that we were passing through Zojila, till it was half-done! Satisfying the minute religious streak, if any, we could also see the Amarnath pilgrims, the helicopter rides, and the way to Amarnath.

As we cross Zojila, the landscape begins to change. from the lush green and blue landscape, we progress towards rather vast valleys, muddy mountains and in general, a lunar, brown landscape. It is wonderful to see that progression, and it completely amazes you that such a stark difference can exist within a span of 50 kms. Breakfast halt was at Drass, the second coldest inhabited place on earth(temperature in winters in minus 60), and followed by an immediate sight-seeing stop at Kargil war memorial.

It is a fuss-free, minimalistic and yet a very touchy place. An amar jawan flame, a national flag of Olympian measures and a golden plaque behind it, displaying the names of all those, who laid their lives here during operation Vijay. One also listens to a soldier narrating the whole story of operation Vijay, and the details absolutely bring goosebumps to you. The names you have only listened only on national television, be it kargil, drass, batalik, tiger hill, tololing hill, are right in front of you, reminding you of a very brave chapter in India's war history and making you deeply aware, that it takes an infinite amount of courage and conviction to fight for your country, in such a and die serving it. We are, only because they were.

Leaving this emotional moment behind, we started our journey ahead, and had an extended journey, crossing ranges after ranges of mountains, passing the bumpy patches and smooth roads built by BRO, with almost no sign of habitation, witnessing the vast and giant lunar landscape all this while. The road is unbelievable, and it is an experience worth taking.

The lunch halt was at a little village called Lamayuru, known for the oldest monastery in that region. This monastery visit would always be remembered coz of a young Lama we met, who was sitting in monastery at peace, and reading harry potter and the order of the phoenix!!
More monasteries were yet to come in the remaining trip, and hence we immediately proceeded ahead.  

Roads all this while, were exemplary, as smooth as a slab of butter, built by the mighty BRO. I fell in love with their motto: impossible may take time, difficult will be done immediately. 
In fact, we also thought of smuggling some BRO guys back with us and assigning them a contract of building the roads in Pune!

As we got close to Leh, Dusk had started falling. We were on road for good 14 hours by now, and were eager to reach the hotel at earliest. Finally, the Innovas found their way through the crowded Bazar, we checked in at oriental hotel, freshened up, had the buffet in Hotel and were off to sleep!
A landmark was reached after a journey of two days. Journey of thousands of kilometers from Home, a journey passing through several different regions, geographies, weathers, and altitude. The wonder that is Ladakh was going to unfold from tomorrow, and we were excited!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

अपने होनेपे मुझको यकीन आ गया..

लदाख हे एक वेगळंच प्रकरण  आहे. केवळ आधी पाहिलेल्या ठिकाणांपेक्षा वेगळं , अतिउंचावरचं ठिकाण म्हणून नव्हे, तर लदाखला घेतलेले अनुभव हे माझ्या नेहमीच्या जगण्यात मला न मिळणारे अनुभव आहेत. तसं म्हटलं तर आम्ही काही फार तीर मारले नाहीत- कुठल्यातरी भलत्याच दुर्गम जागी गेलोय, असं झालं नाही, किंवा ट्रेक केलाय असं झालं नाही. आम्ही आपले चार पर्यटकांसारखे सर्वात पॉप्युलर ठिकाणी गेलो, एखादा दिवस सोडता सोयीस्कर ठिकाणी राहिलो आणि चांगले गाडीतून फिरलो. तरीही हे वेगळे अनुभव कुठून मिळाले?
त्याचं कारण म्हणजे या सर्व प्रवासात स्वतःच्या अस्तित्वाची सतत होणारी जाणीव आणि त्यामुळे छेडल्या जाणारया डोक्यातल्या तारा.

काही काही गाण्यांच्या ओळी आपल्याला उगाच आवडतात. त्याच्या मागचा अभिप्रेत अर्थ आपल्याला दर वेळी कळतोच असं नाही.. पण त्यांचा नाद आवडतो. त्या ओळींचा अर्थ आपण वेळ प्रसंगी आपल्याला शक्य असा लावतो. तशा "उरले उरात काही आवाज चांदण्यांचे, आकाश तारकांचे, उचलून रात गेली.." या माझ्या आवडत्या ओळी आहेत. त्या ओळी इतके वर्ष ऐकल्यानंतर त्या प्रत्यक्ष मला दिसल्या लदाख मध्ये.
लडाखच्या उजाड, वैराण, निर्मनुष्य  परिसराचा एक फायदा म्हणजे तिथून दिसणारं आकाश. अवकाशनिरीक्षकांना पर्वणी म्हणावं लागेल असं आकाश तिथे रोज दिसतं. रात्री घराबाहेर येऊन आकाशात नजर टाकली की नजरबंदी होईल असं दृश्य असतं. इतके तारे, एकत्र, एका ठिकाणी, मी आयुष्यात कधीही पाहिलेले नाहीत. मला तारे वगैरे मधलं फार काही कळत नाही, पण आपले नेहमीचे लोक- ध्रुव, व्याधाचा बाण, सप्तर्षी वगैरे चटकन ओळखू येतात. लडाखच्या आकाशात मला एकही दिवस ते पटकन दिसले नाहीत- कारण आकाशातला ताऱ्यांचा खच. लाखो, करोडो तारे कोणीतरी आकाशात सांडून गेलं आहे, असं चित्र होतं.
असं आकाश माणसाला प्रचंड भावुक करतं. किंवा मंत्रमुग्ध म्हणू. असं आकाश आपल्याभोवती किती अद्भुत गोष्टी आहेत याची जाणीव करून देतं. हे तारे आपल्यापासून इतके दूर आहेत, तरीही दिसतात. पण खरं तर ते काही लाख प्रकाशवर्षे दूर आहेत, म्हणजे ते तिथे होते, आत्ता असतीलच असं नाही. आम्हाला आकाशगंगा दिसली, नुसत्या डोळ्यांनी, कोणतीही दुर्बीण न लावता. अशा किती आकाशगंगा आहेत?  पृथ्वीवर आपली सृष्टी आहे, बाकी कुठे असेल का?  हा पसारा नक्की किती मोठा आहे? आणि आपण कोण आहोत? या सगळ्या पसार्यात आपण कदाचित नगण्य बिंदू इतके देखील नसू, पण आपण आहोत.  या अफाट पसाऱ्यात हरवून जाण्याची शक्यता असताना देखील आपण आहोत. आपल्याला संवेदना आहेत, विचार आहेत, एक मन आहे, एक अस्तित्व आहे.

नुब्रा मधल्या शायोक नदीवरचं आकाश आणि pangong लेकच्या काठच्या तंबूबाहेरून पाहिलेलं आकाश, ही दोन्ही माझ्या मनात तशीच्या तशी आहेत, आणि त्यानुसार आलेले विचार देखील. त्यानंतर अनेक रात्री गेल्या, पुण्याला परत आल्यावर ते आकाश दिसणं बंद झालं, तरीही ते तारे तसेच आहेत. उरातले ते चांदण्यांचे आवाज मला ऐकू येतात, आणि त्या अनुषंगाने आलेले मूलभूत अस्तित्वाचे विचार देखील.

हाय आल्टीट्युड हे देखील आधी न अनुभवलेलं प्रकरण. समुद्रसपाटीपासून इतक्या उंचीवर, विरळ हवेत, श्वास घ्यायला हलकासा त्रास होतोच. कितीही त्या हवेची सवय झाली तरी. जगातल्या सर्वात उंचीवरच्या रस्त्यावर- खारदुंगला- साडेअठरा हजार फूट- असताना मी एक दहा सेकंद धावले- म्हणजे पटकन गाडीत बसण्यासाठी. त्या दहा सेकंद धावण्याने पुढचं एक मिनिट माझी काय अवस्था झाली, याचं मी वर्णन करू शकेन. माझा श्वास हा ऑन- ऑफ स्वीच सारखा आता बंद होईल, असं मला वाटत होतं. आपल्या श्वासावर आपलं नियंत्रण आणणं हा किती व्यर्थ प्रयत्न आहे, हे मला जाणवत होतं. त्या एका मिनिटात माझ्या डोळ्यासमोरून अनेक दृश्य झरकन सरकून गेली. आयुष्याच्या re-cap सारखी. मी डोळे मिटले, आणि ते मिटण्याच्या आधी मला दिसलेलं शेवटचं पर्वत शिखर माझ्या डोळ्यासमोर आलं. आता जर एका मिनिटानंतर आपण अस्तित्वात नसू, तर काय होईल, आणि श्वास असा स्वीच सारखा ऑफ झाला, तर आपलं अस्तित्व संपेल म्हणजे काय संपेल? असे अनेक प्रश्न माझ्या डोक्यात आले. हे सगळं केवळ एका मिनिटात.
 प्रत्यक्ष एक मिनिटभरानंतरही मी जिवंत होते. मला धाप लागली होती, आणि मी दीर्घ श्वास घेत होते. गाडीतलं सुफी संगीत चालू होतं, माझ्या हृदयाचे ठोके ऐकू येत होते, आणि संवेदना जाणवत होत्या. आपण जिवंत असण्याची जाणीव मला त्या क्षणासारखी पूर्वी कधीही झालेली नाही. आपलं शरीर, त्यावरचं नियंत्रण, श्वासोच्छ्वासाची क्रिया, आपल्या जाणीवा, संवेदना जागृत असणं, हे सगळं त्या एका मिनिटानंतर फार प्रकर्षाने मला जाणवलं. आपल्या अस्तित्वाची खात्री पटली, असं म्हणायला हरकत नाही!   
आम्हाला श्रीनगर-लेह च्या वाटेत द्रास लागलं. द्रास पृथ्वीवरची अतिथंड जागा आहे. मानवी वस्ती असलेली दुसऱ्या क्रमांकाची सर्वात थंड जागा. हिवाळ्यात उणे ६० अंश सेल्सिअस तापमानात लोक राहतात. अशा ठिकाणी आपल्या भारतीय सैन्याचं पोस्टिंग असतं. सियाचीन सारख्या जगातल्या सर्वात अवघड युद्धभूमीवर ते लढतात. जिथे ऑक्सिजनच्या कमतरतेमुळे आम्हाला श्वास घ्यायला हलकासा त्रास होत होता, अशा ठिकाणी युद्ध करतात. हे कसं होतं? खारदुंग-ला सारख्या ठिकाणी १८६५० फुटांवर सैन्य पहारा कसं करतं किंवा विरळ हवेत बीआरओचे लोक बांधकाम कसे करतात? मानव हा जगातला सर्वात जास्त adapt करू शकणारा प्राणी आहे, असं म्हणतातत्याचा अनुभव आम्ही घेत होतो. जगातल्या कुठल्याही नैसर्गिक  उणिवेशी सामना करून आपलं अस्तित्व establish करण्याची मानवी प्रवृत्ती आम्हाला तिथे दिसत होती. आपलं अस्तित्व कायम ठेवणं हे आपल्या हातात असतं, आपल्या कष्टांवर अवलंबून असतं याची प्रचीती आम्हाला तिथे मिळत होती.
पंगोंग लेक ही आमच्या अक्ख्या प्रवासातली सर्वात अवर्णनीय जागा आहे. तो तलाव जादूई आहे, असं माझं ठाम मत आहे. त्याचे रंग हे सूर्याप्रमाणे बदलतात, आणि त्याचा तो एक विशेष निळा रंग हा कशामुळे येतो मला माहिती नाही. नील-कुहर असंच त्याचं वर्णन करावं लागेल. स्फटिकासारखे नितळ निळे पाणी, त्यातल्या हलक्या लाटा, आणि त्याला चारही बाजूने असणारं तपकिरी डोंगराचं कोंदण.
अक्षरशः रडू येईल इतकं नैसर्गिक सौंदर्य. असं सौंदर्य जेव्हा तुमच्या समोर येतं, तेव्हा तुम्ही आधी स्तंभित होता, आणि मग शांत. समुद्रसपाटीपासून १४५०० फुटांवर, कुठेतरी जगाच्या एका कोपऱ्यात असं सौंदर्य आहे, आणि ते तुम्ही तुमच्या डोळ्याने बघू शकता आहात. पाण्याच्या जवळ खूप आपलंसं वाटलं, डोंगरांच्यापेक्षाही जास्त. आपल्या सर्वांची उत्पत्ती पाण्यापासून झाली असं मी कुठेतरी ऐकलंय. अनेक डोंगर पालथे घालून शेवटी पाण्यापाशी आल्यामुळे तो कनेक्ट जाणवला असेलही. आपल्या मूळ स्थानाशी आल्यावर, किंवा घरी आल्यावर जसं वाटतं तसं. या ठिकाणी जर माझं काही बरंवाईट झालं असतं, तरी मला काही वाईट वाटलं नसतं, इतकी मी त्या पाण्याच्या दर्शनाने तृप्त होते. सिंधू आणि झंस्कार नद्यांचा संगम आणि खळाळत्या शायोक नदीच्या काठावर देखील मला असंच तृप्त वाटलं होतं. आपण मूलतः कसे उत्पन्न होतो , मानसिक किंवा आत्मिक दृष्ट्या कसे उन्नत evolve होतो, आणि आपलं काय होणार आहे, कल्पना नाही, पण आपलं अस्तित्व आहे, आणि निसर्गात अशा अनेक गोष्टी आहेत, ज्यांचाशी आपला खोलवर संबंध आहे हे नक्की.

हे चार प्रसंग सोडूनही अशा अनेक वेळा ह्या प्रवासात  होत्या, की जिथे मला आपलं स्वतःचं माणूस म्हणून अस्तित्व प्रकर्षाने जाणवलं. विचारांना मुक्त सोडता आलं, शांतता आणि शांती याचा अनुभव घेता आला. निसर्गापेक्षा आपण किती छोटे आहोत, आपण निसर्गासोबत जुळवून कसे घेवू शकतो, आणि तरीही निसर्ग ही आपल्यापेक्षा एक भव्य, उदात्त शक्ती कायमच राहणार आहे, हे मला लक्षात आलं..
जावेद अख्तर यांचे ऐकलेले शब्द पुरेपूर अनुभवले:
बस मै हू, मेरी सासें है और मेरी धडकने..
ऐसी गहराईया, ऐसी तनहाईया,
और मै, बस मै.

अपने होनेपे मुझको यकीन आ गया.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ladakh-a state of being

It is amazing, wonderful, surreal, out of this world and much more. In fact, it cant be defined in words. IT is something that you have to feel, to understand what exactly it means.

Ladakh is an emotion. or may be a state of being.

Well, I have been to Himalayas thrice before this, and I am fairly familiar with the flowing rivers, lush green meadows, cherubic people and omnipresent Himalaya ranges from wherever you see. And yet, Ladakh drove me crazy. There are very very few places in whatever world I have seen, which make me long for them. Which have a certain pull mechanism within. Where I would seriously feel like getting settled. Ladakh features most definitely on them.

Leh is best described as a little touristy town, and that is about it. Something like Pondicherry, or Goa, with Cafes and hawkers and white-skinned tourists at every nook and corner. Gladly, there are at least food options here, with restaurants serving everything from Ladakhi to Chinese to Israeli. Of course, the whole background of multiple Himalayan ranges and a stark contrast of blue-white-brown and green sets this place apart from a typical touristy hub. 

As you leave the town of Leh and take the interior route, the real journey begins. And boy, that one can not be compared to anything on this earth. The treasures that one discovers here, are priceless. 

A serpentine road, full of U-pin bends, leading to high passes. snow-caped mountains, standing there, vast and overbearing. Interesting patterns and textures of those mountains, making the photos pretty.


Flowing, bubbly water of the river shyok. The mighty Indus. 

The sudden patches of dark, bright green in the otherwise lunar landscape. 

Colourful Monasteries peaking from the mountains. 

Bright prayer flags, adding a visual contrast to that landscape of stark white. 

A Monk clad in his maroon toga, chanting away.

Border Roads Organization workers, doing a superb job, topping it with their more interesting road-signs.

Army posts standing proud on top of mighty Chang-la and Khardung-la. 

Himalayan fauna like Yak and wild horses.

The serene, divine and almost surreal blueness of Pangong lake. 

And stars, thousands, millions of them scattered in the sky. A sky so lit up and so beautiful that you want to cry. 

How can one let this all stay just a 'sight-seeing' and not become a part of one's soul? It is difficult. It is extra-ordinarily difficult to turn away from something so unprocessed, un-glitzy, unaffected, especially when its rare to find such unaffected beauty in our worlds.  And perhaps, therefore surreally beautiful. 

Almost divine, spiritual. 

And that is why Ladakh is a state of being. A heavenly state of being.

After all, it's often one of the most simple things in life, that lead you to heaven.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When life gives you lemons...

...Make lemonade is what they have been saying for ages. I really like the new age versions though, including squeezing them in people's eyes, spicing up food and also the below one.

 This tequila story is mine, and some may also say that it is not a 'real' pain or 'real' struggle or even real 'lemons', but I could not care less. Perhaps because first time in my life, I faced lemons, and exactly a year later, I am pretty happy that I grabbed that tequila and salt. In fact, I am proud of that shot!

A little more than a year ago, I shifted my base again to Pune, in a new home in the old city. In a new role in an old city. As I already wrote it in one of my posts before, it was no cakewalk, however easy we might have thought of it. You take your time in adjusting to the new you, and you should. It is not an overnight process.  And it CAN  create stress irrespective of having the world's best in-laws.

Moreover, I took up work, which I really thought would suit me as I had a nice image of this concerned media company. Mistake no. one= what you feel as a reader is not what you experience as a worker. Publishing good content does not mean that you enjoy the working atmosphere there. I am even laughing right now, while writing this, it is too obvious. But I did not realize it then, and went ahead and started the work. Couple of other offers also came my way after I started this, but I rejected them, feeling'determined', and began working.

What followed was three months of insanely hectic schedule, unsatisfactory pay, a bit of brainwashing into believing that all this duniyaadari was supposed to lead to something great, and a bit of more dangerous brainwashing into feeling responsible for company's success and failures. I would be unhappy all the time, without any exercise, constantly travelling, irritation levels high, taking it out on my family members, and making my own life miserable. And all this for some random 'cause', which I thought was my own responsibility. I would not even think of leaving this work, saying if I did not do it, who would? 

The whole story came to an abrupt end one fine afternoon. I was supposed to travel to Goa that night (for work of course). What prompted me to start complaining about my work I do not remember, but soon I was talking endlessly and crying endlessly, saying I do not want to go. I think I cried for good two and half hours non-stop, and my extremely worried husband finally took me to my parents, where I cried some more, saying I feel I am broken down. wasted. gone. worthless. good for nothing. 

Looking back, I shudder at this memory, thinking what exactly had that job done? Was I being brainwashed into something completely against my own ideas and preferences or was it black magic? I know people do not usually do black magic, but it affected me like one. I stayed home for 6 whole days, not meeting friends, not going to work, doing nothing. Thankfully, my husband and my parents forced me to resign from that job, something I was felling psychologically incapable of doing. I however sent an urgent resignation email. 
It was July 1st, and I was staring at this professional void. No job, no pay, moreover, nauseating at the thought of work and feeling utterly incapable, worthless, in-confident and good for nothing. Just a big dark void. 

The next six months is a period I like remembering for various reasons now. Not an easy period, mind you, as I did not have a full-time day long work. It can be tough. Not money wise, but mind wise. You know how they say that empty mind is a devil's workshop? It is, indeed. You get little extra free time, with nothing to do, it completely eats you up and starts a negative spiral of thoughts. I remember some of such dull evenings, crying afternoons and lost mornings, spent in figuring out where exactly was my life heading. Feeling worthless because of no work. Now,only solution is occupying your mind, and just for that, I started three things. First, I went back to studying. Studying is something I always liked to do, and I was always really good at. After doing my diploma in German in 2004, I registered for an advanced diploma after 9 whole years, and rekindled my love for German language. 

Additionally, I started studying for NET, the exam needed to be cracked in case one wants to do a PhD or get into teaching. I do want to get into teaching some time in future, and NET is a necessity for that. SO why not take a fully serious attempt now that I had time and see what happens? So began the studies for NET.

Interestingly, I realized that exercise is one thing that literally pulls you up from the downward negative spiral of thoughts. I used to gym, but I needed change. Hence, out of nowhere, I took up a target, to run in Pune Marathon in December.  I had never run long distances before, even in school, and to add to that I have a bit of allergic bronco-constriction, which sometimes makes an Cardio activity impossible, in case of dust or cold. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot, and started training. As much as I could.

Next few months were amazing. The mood swings and the usual cribbing did not go away like a magic wand, but I started stabilizing. My occupied mind gave me little time to be dull. I ran and ran, without adequate strength training,leading to a nerve injury, but I survived. I altered training and bounced back. I enjoyed being in a student once more after a certain gap. Meanwhile, I also freelanced for some companies, and wrote some well-researched content. A lot of my heritage content is written during this period, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.  It gave me sense of achievement, slowly and surely.

Monsoon treks, family get-togethers, seasonal weddings, ceremonies, parties, shopping, cooking experiments, I did them all. I am an extrovert person, hence being with people always perks me up, no matter how sad I am. The activities, watching my slow but definite progress in them, and a very firm support from the family is what kept me sane, and kept me going.  

In winter, eventually I ran a 5k race in pinkatahon, and a 10k in Pune marathon. I could experience this runners' high at completion of both. Had another high, thinking I could do a  75 minutes run, when I would pant for breath after 7 minutes, just a few months ago. I appeared for the NET exam, and I am happy to tell that I cleared it in first attempt, along with the coveted Junior Research Fellowship. I enjoyed my German course, and did well in that as well. I had a wonderful trip to Dubai at the end of the year with family. Eventually, I started working again, and am currently enjoying it along with exercise. 

It has been a year exactly, since the day of my big breakdown, and boy, what a year has it been! I would not call it the journey to self-discovery as such, but I did learn a lot about myself. I met the unexplored sides of my personality. I tried inculcating certain things in me, like patience. I learned to feel blessed for the positivity in life. I am still learning the importance of right attitude towards life. I am still not very calm, but at least I stopped taking the burden of unnecessary things in life. I loved putting my life together, hoping to create a new 'me' some day. Importantly, I have gained back the original confidence, some new attitude, and have started believing in life in general.  

I have seen an injured self, and its recovery. It is worth seeing, worth experiencing at least one. And I am glad I did it with a zest. Hence, not just a lemonade, but a tequila shot. The shot has been awesome, and I am much more confident AND grateful about life in general, bring it on! 

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Will the real Pune please stand up?

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Any city is like a person. It has multiple identities, multiple faces. You keep getting amazed by them in spite of staying there for years together. 'coz the identity is influenced by so many things. Right from the roads in that city to the language to the cost of living to the social circle we make. I stayed in Mumbai, and I have multiple identities of Mumbai. I stayed in Chennai and I have gathered quite a few impressions.

Of course, one must understand that these identities are largely individual impressions first, and probably turn into identities, if either large number of people think so or that particular situation or condition prevails for a long time. Still, a city has multiple identities as it represents different things for different people.These impressions are to be perceived, a city has to be read. Read like a book, to really start fathoming its soul. I tried reading these at both Mumbai and Chennai, with varied levels of success.

However, the equation changes when you are talking about your own native place. A city that you grew up in, and also grew up with. There, the identities are not only shaped by your own experiences, but also by what you have heard from your parents about the past, by the traces of heritage you still see, by the emotions you feel about that place and by what you hear about it from immigrants. Media, literature and folklore add to it even more. There are times when you are like: "this is so NOT true about my city! you immigrants and your biases!" and there are times when you totally buy the new identity and wonder where was this facet of your city till now.

Pune currently poses that problem for me. Well, Pune never had dearth of adjectives and identities. But I am sure, people did not think that only their version of Pune is the right face of the city. Pune was undoubtedly a Brahmin dominated orthodox city, but Pune was the one which started India's first school for girls. Old Pune is dotted by countless temples and old Pune does also serve awesome non-veg cuisine. These contradictions stay peacefully near each other, and have been doing so for years together.No single side claims that only their Pune is 'real' or rather the 'only' identity of Pune. Well, as we said before, there is no single identity to any city, even Pune.

I increasingly come across people who defy this and try to establish a city's identity through tinted glasses of their own prejudices, expectations and opinions. Moreover, claim that only this is the right picture. I happen to meet newer people as a part of my work, many of them new migrants in Pune, and sadly, with no desire to get to know the city.
I have been told emphatically that there are no palaces in Pune worth boasting. I have been told with conviction that Dagdusheth is the 'top-ranked Ganpati'! People have looked at me with blank stares when I tell them that my school is in Shaniwar Peth in the old city, and I have, no, I am not joking, been actually asked, where is that place called Shaniwar or some wada?

Now, I do get flabbergasted by such questions and opinions. I understand that looking at the way Pune is expanding, it is really difficult to colour it in a single shade or even know all the places. It is all right not to know something, but please do not pass expert comments based on what you really do not know. Worst, do not form opinions about the entire city based on a single locality or place or neighbourhood. Some random place in Aundh might be really hep and crowded with youngsters all over to have a drink. But that does not mean that the entire youth in Pune hangs out only at a bar. There are more and more girls who wear shorts on the street, that does not mean every girl in Pune wears skimpy clothes and roams around at night. There are number of plush residential schemes coming up in the far corners, that does not mean Undri or Shirwal is the only place in Pune worth staying. Yes, people reading and writing Marathi is getting dangerously low day by day, but that does not mean that English IS the first language of this city.

On the other hand side, I also know people, who refuse to accept this expanding city for what it is, are angry about the migrant flow, are pretty puritans in everything they do, and are generally stuck in history, without a real significant thought. They also pass statements like "Real Punekars are always good. The moment these migrants landed here, they destroyed the city."

Given above were examples of inferences people draw. They all probably fail to understand, that no single aspect is a right mirror for an entire city. City always has many moods, many faces, many stories to tell, and many lives at the same time. Moreover, as time passes, social influences change, moulds of societies change, cities change. Infrastructure-wise and also soul-wise. It is fun to see them changing, and it is fun to learn the new facets of city. Yes, it is painful when you see the old beloved things gone, but the new things are also as important to a city's picture as the old one. But all this requires an open mind, and a desire to read a city like a book.
Contrary to my title, there is perhaps no 'real' Pune. If you believe, everything is real, if you do not, it is not. Keeping the mind open is the key perhaps to 'know' the city. I have been actively trying to do that for past several years, and I perceive the changes in my city. Do you?