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Musings of a Musafir

…..where journeys are more interesting than destinations.

Get Lost…….. A Trek to Meeshapulimala

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Yes you read it right. If you want to lose yourself in the mist and walk leisurely through the nature’s lap as fog, rain and sunshine play hide and seek with you, then head to Meeshapulimala in Munnar, the second highest peak in South India with its summit at 8274ft and the highest peak that you are allowed to trek. The trek through the veneer of mist, along pine trees, gazing at the amity of nature, was a healer. There was a constant music in the air as winds cajoled the trees. The air was pure, every whiff of it, divine. A walk through the forest, fog blanketing us and guiding into a world of its own. It felt surreal, as if a dream, away from the harshness of reality. This is what i exactly wanted, i wanted to get lost. Lost amongst nature. Lost within me.

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Thanks to Kalypso Adventures and Sam sir, all we had to do was to walk. Everything else had been tied up already. Raghu, our guide from Kalypso met us at Munnar and took us to the KFDC ecotourism office. After the official formalities, we boarded a jeep and headed towards the base camp. It started raining as soon as our ride started and we were a bit disappointed with the turn of events. However, the bumpy jeep ride through the tea plantations of Gudarale estate of Kannan Devan hills was interesting since the conversation was all about various animal sightings and other experiences of Raghu.

Morning Sun
Morning Sun

We passed through the small settlements of plantation workers and small yet colourful temples and churches stood out from the line of dull grey labour houses. We left the tea plantations behind and entered the forest. The roads gave way to stone paved jeep track and that too disappeared in no time. It was acacia and eucalyptus trees that greeted us first but were soon replaced with thicker and taller trees. Rain had stopped and thick white fog was hiding behind the trees. Manikandan, the guide from KFDC joined us at the base camp and our trek started from there. We left the jeep track and entered the forest. Slowly, as we ascended, the fog came out and embraced us. The forest was fresh from the rain and we inhaled that crisp earthy smell of the jungle. Rain drops were hanging from leaves, reflecting the evening light and small gusts of chilly wind refreshed us by spraying these water drops on our faces. In addition to few bird calls announcing our visit to other members of the forest, we could hear the faint gurgle of a forest stream flowing under the thick vegetation. Gravel grey rainclouds were still hanging around, threatening us of another rain and few thunderbolts broke the serenity of the forest sounds. Manikandan, irreverent of all these, led us from front and kept answering the volley of questions we shot at him. For us, everything in that jungle was a novelty and we were behaving like inquisitive children on a school tour.

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All that excitement got a direction once the leech attack commenced. The route was infested with leeches and I assume human blood is a delicacy for them since they generally get to feast only on animal blood. The news of our arrival would have spread fast for they were waiting all along the route. Initially we joked about it that we are getting a leech therapy for free but once we saw the ganon of leeches closing in on us, we realised that this therapy is going to be slightly expensive.

Leech
Leech

Though we were ill-prepared to counter their attack we fought with all we had. But we soon learnt that in a forest, animals have the right of way. To cut it short, we were looted, pillaged and plundered of our RBCs and WBCs. We kept moving since the art of war is simple. Find out where your enemy is, get at him as soon as you can, strike him as hard as you can and keep moving on. Here unfortunately all we could do was to move on. The silence of the forest was broken only the occasional thunders somewhere over the western ghats. As we walked through the pine trees, I noticed that every pine needle had adorned itself with a water drop and a million such water drops shined in the soft evening light, as if jewels hanging from the sky. Then a chilly wind would come and create a flutter and a million jewels would fall from the sky. Who would notice the leeches then?

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The trek through the pine trees and patches of tall elephant grass meadows along with wild streams ended at the Rhodovalley guesthouse. After taking stock of the damage caused by the leeches and clicking photographs of the same for future reference, we quickly headed towards the cook house for a cup of hot tea and pineapple pakodas.

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It had started raining again by now. It seemed as if the rain had paused only for us to complete the trek for the day. As we gorged on the pakodas listening to the drumming of the rain on the asbestos roof, the rain stopped and the sky cleared again. A rainbow peeked from behind the clouds and started growing on the eastern horizon. It was to click the rainbow that the camera was fetched but thats when we saw how the western sky was illuminated by the setting sun and how it looked like an artists canvas. It was a picture perfect sunset, one of the best that i have ever seen.

Sunset @Rhodovalley
Sunset @Rhodovalley
Sun goes down @ Rhodovalley
Sun goes down @ Rhodovalley

By then the rainbow at the eastern horizon had grown into a full semi circle. We were so super excited at the spectacle that we didn’t know which side to look and what exactly to photograph. The rainbow was so huge that i had to photograph it in two parts and merge it later.

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After a delicious and sumptuous dinner cooked by ‘Shine ettan’ and lots of conversations about the jungle and wildlife we sneaked into our sleeping bags and silently listened to the tranquility of the jungle before sleep overpowered us.

The next morning started early and after a heavy breakfast we started our trek. This time we were better prepared for the leeches and we seemed to understand the jungle better. We left the Rhodovalley behind and climbed the first peak of the seven hills before meeshapulimala. We were atop this peak within around 30 minutes. From here we got the first look of Meeshapulimala and the complete trail that we had to trek.

The tallest hill near the horizon is Meeshapulimala
The tallest hill near the horizon is Meeshapulimala
That line that you see in the middle is the trekking path
That line that you see in the middle is the trekking path

We could also see Munnar and Suryanelli town from there. Ahead, against the silhouette of the hills, pure white sheets of fog floated against a pale blue sky.

View from the first hill
View from the first hill

Raghu told us that in 2018, when the ‘Neelakurinji’ flower will bloom, the complete valley would be covered with purple blue colour. ‘Neelakurinji’ blooms once in twelve years. But we were lucky to sight one or two flowers that had bloomed out of turn.

Neelakurinji
Neelakurinji

We crossed a small stream after descending the hill and started ascending the second hill. From here we saw the Anayironkal lake which has been named so due to the frequent visits by elephants to drink water. As we progressed we were lucky to sight the Nilgiri Tahrs, wild gaurs, Giant Indian squirrels and even a wild elephant. Within three hours of vigorous walking, we were atop the second highest peak in south india, Meeshapulimala.

View from Meeshapulimala
View from Meeshapulimala

We were slightly ahead of our timeline and hence we used the time to sit and observe the panorama from the hilltop. Few rhododendron bushes had bloomed but Raghu kept telling us that it looks like a flower bouquet when it blooms completely.

Rhododendron flower
Rhododendron flower

We clicked pictures of the vista and of ourselves. It was serenely peaceful up there with the company of mist and the moist breeze that one would be forced to sit and listen to the thumping of our own heart. After spending a good amount of time there, we commenced our descent. The descent was steeper and the slushy ground after the rains made it even more difficult. We took a right after descending the hill and entered the shola forests. Inside the forest, we saw the hoofmarks of the wild gaurs that we sighted earlier during the day.

Wild Gaur
Wild Gaur
Nilgiri Tahr
Nilgiri Tahr

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At every turn we expected a wild gaur to charge at us and at every turn we were happy to be disappointed. A bunch of nilgiri langurs evaded us successfully and all we observed was the movement of the tree branches and shrieks of the monkeys communicating to the rest about the foreign presence. We were sure that the leeches have taken note and were constantly on a look out for the next attack. But as i mentioned earlier, in the jungle the animals have the right of way. So they came, they saw and they drank their hearts out.

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The giant Indian squirrel was resting on a high branch after a sumptuous meal and did not pay heed to the monkey warnings. So I shot him with my camera and it is only after i got a good picture that he managed to get away.

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The dense forest had started thinning down and the acacia and eucalyptus trees reappeared and our trail grew in size to a muddy jeep track. We left the forest behind an entered the tea plantations.

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Mani and Raghu told us gory stories of the animal attacks in these plantations that lie so close to the jungle. Our trek came to an end at the outskirts of the tea plantation from where we were transported back to Munnar by jeep.

It was two days and one night of absolute bliss. I so desperately wanted to do this. In two days I have experienced a lot more than what i could bring out here. These are subtle joys from simple experiences that am unable to express through words. Or maybe they are not to be expressed but just enjoyed. Be it the thrumming of the rain, the smell of the damp earth, the kiss of the chilly wind, the dance of the angel-white layers of mist, the songs of birds, the shrillness of wild animal calls, a surreal sunset or the blessing of a rainbow, I was just lucky to be there and experience it. Thank God.

Wild Flower
Wild Flower
Raghu and Mani
Raghu and Mani

Special thanks to Vishal and team from Kalypso adventures who made this happen and of course to Sam sir. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and i believe that these baby steps would one day grow into huge leaps. As Ernest Hemingway rightly said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

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Kumily – A journey into the mist filled meadows

Journeys teach us a lot of things, makes us meet new friends and give us experiences and lessons for a lifetime. My journey to Kumily and a day that i spent there was one such. It was an unplanned visit. So unplanned that it was only at 2300h on a Saturday that i decided to catch the first bus at 0330h the next day to Kumily.  All i had was basic information from some blogs and a phone number of a tour operator that i got from the internet.

I took the second bus from Kottayam to Kumily at 0330h. The bus had commenced the ascend to the high range even as the first rays of the day kissed the earth. The valley was draped in mist and fog. It was a sight to see the golden light of the early morning sun breaking through the veil of mist. Ahead the winding roads kept disappearing in to the haze. I saw the low clouds floating below the summits of various small hills giving a heavenly stroke to the vista. As i looked out of the window with dreamy eyes, there was a prayer on my lips for a divine intervention to give me an opportunity to capture the beauty on my camera by stopping the bus. Instead we kept moving up to the empyrean above. The entire road was  embellished with winding roads, rivulets and small waterfalls. The bus reached Kumily Bus stand by 0830h. In one look, Kumily is a metrical composition of layers of mist, thick fog, tall green trees, blooming flowers and of course the buzz of the wind. I had the luxury of spending only a day at Kumily and since I had no prior plans nor preparation for this journey, i decided to let my tour operator do the job for me. Here was the divine intervention that i prayed for earlier happened and I met Mr. Anwar, the proprietor of Gateway Thekkady.

The valley bathed in mist
The valley bathed in mist

After a hearty breakfast outside Kumily bus stand, the journey started. Our first destination was Chellarkovil waterfalls. Kumily is a border town between Kerala and Tamilnadu and the beauty of this waterfall is that it originates in Kerala and terminates in Tamilnadu. Located 15km north of Kumily, this beautiful sleepy village is a nature’s bounty. We first went to the place from where the waterfall originated and later to a viewpoint from where the entire waterfall was visual. All along the road, tall trees lined up with their huge green umbrellas to guard me. The Chellarkovil waterfall originates from a small stream and the place did not seem like any other waterfall that I have been to. If not for Anwar, I wouldn’t have guessed that there is a cliff ahead. The thick fog made my ability to judge worse. There was slight drizzle and the air was saturated with moisture due to the high humidity. The movement of mist along with a small drizzle was a pleasurable experience. The nature was a beauty and I couldn’t stop clicking. Hence, I would let the pictures speak the rest.

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At the origin of Chellarkovil waterfall. Through the mist you can see green fields of Tamilnadu down below
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See the water ‘fall’.
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View of the falls from the view point
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Another view of the falls
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Nature’s bouquet
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The colours are everywhere. You can see the water droplets on the flowers

The next destination was Ramakkalmedu. This again is situated along the boundary of Kerala and Tamilnadu. This beauty can literally blow you away. The average wind speed here is about 25 km/hour and is recorded as the maximum in Asia. This ideally should be a great place for paragliding but i couldn’t see any sign of any adventure activity here. May be the winds are a bit too high for safe gliding.

The meadows bowing to the wind
The meadows bowing to the wind

The name comes from a mythological belief that during thretha yuga, lord ‘Sree Rama’ a Hindu God along with his brother ‘Lakshmana’ had set his foot on this rock when he was searching for his wife ‘Sita Devi’ who was abducted by Ravana the king of Lanka.  Hence the name Rama-Kal-Medu (meaning the meadows that hold the Rama’s foot imprints).

From ramakkalmedu you can see the kuravan and kurathi statue. The statue is placed on the top of the Ramakkalmedu hills. Mr. C B Jinan is the architect of this beautiful statue, which was erected in 2005.The gigantic Idukki arch dam has been constructed over a gorge (periyar flows through it) formed between the two high massive rocks called “Kuravan hill” and “Kurathi hill”. As per history, in 1922 Shri Kolumban, the head of ‘Oorali’ race showed the way to the spot of present Arch Dam.

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A view of the Ramakkal rock from the Kuravan Kurathi statue.
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Ramakkalmedu
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Kuravan and Kurathi statue

Ramakkal is the tallest rock in the meadow. Once you climb up to the topmost rock, you can see a red marking which i assume is where the lord placed his foot. It isnt a easy climb but its worth every effort. The beautiful scenery from atop the rock and the strong winds take all the weariness off. The final climb is a real challenge since the rock at the summit is over 8 feet tall. I clicked the panorama sitting above the  rock (mind you, braving the strong winds that had the strength to push me off easily). Seeing my acrobatics, a group of youngsters who were standing below the rocks till then joined in. There is just a small iron rod, which i assume is a remnant of a lightning conductor, that you can hold on to against the winds. Sitting atop the rock, you can have a bird’s eye view of the villages and towns of Tamil Nadu. Here you can hear the winds literally roar. Been there, done that i can only say that the climb is totally worth it but one needs to be really careful since the winds are not steady and can easily gust to over 35 km/hour.

The panorama of the view from Rammakkal
The panorama of the view from Rammakkal
View from the Ramakkal rock of the fields below. An experience worth experiencing
View from the Ramakkal rock of the fields below. An experience worth experiencing

Thereafter we crossed the border and entered Tamilnadu. The drive to reach Cumbam (kambam) has 18 hairpin bends . It was interesting to learn that every hairpin bend has been named after a flower (in tamil). After having a stomachful of South Indian lunch at Cumbam town, we headed towards one of the various grape gardens that lie along the Kollam-Theni highway. Visit to a grape garden (vineyard) was exciting and gave an insight to the various innovative farming methods adopted by the farmers to cultivate grapes even when the weather is unfavourable. Moreover, it gave me a good opportunity to tweak my photography skills.

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Ready to pluck grapes @ Grape gardens
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A view from above the parapet @ grape garden
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Sun kissed grapes
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Grape gardens

On the way back, at the lower camp of Theni district, we paid a quick visit to the memorial for Col John Pennycuick, the architect of the controversial Mullaperiyar dam.

Memorial of Col John Pencuick
Memorial of Col John Pennycuick

Now it was time to head back  to Kumily since i had to catch the evening bus to Bangalore. On the way back we saw the huge hydel pipe lines that carry water to the Periyar power station at lower Periyar in Tamilnadu.

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Hydel pipelines to Periyar power station
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You can see the river below. The flowers in full bloom are the teak flowers

This is obviously not a guide on what to watch out for in Kumily since I haven’t seen even a slice of it. But from what i saw i can confidently say that this is the place to visit not just if you love trekking, nature and photography but even for a break, some mental peace and tranquility. But do not just arrive (the way I did). Do plan your trip and make early reservations. Only then can you extract the most of what this place can deliver. I haven’t been to the Periyar tiger reserve, the Elephant camp, Gavi, Parunthanpara, Vandanmedu, Cauvery point and a lot many other places. So I need not mention that I intend to return, then with a plan in mind and one on paper, with a better camera and even better gear. For now, i just got a taste of what lies ahead, what to lookout for and most importantly i got the most of what a day can offer.

I cannot thank Anwar enough since he was with me throughout the day and not once did i feel that i have met this man for the first time in life. He was there like a long time friend guiding me exploring the area, assisting in composing my photographs, giving suggestions and even answering every stupid doubt i threw at him. Once back at the Kumily bus stand, I picked up my bags, walked ten spaces and entered Tamilnadu. Yes, it was that simple since Kumily bus stand is exactly at the border. Once my bus started moving, Anwar was there waving me a goodbye as if he was seeing off a family member. As i waved back, i realised that I was not only leaving behind a beautiful landscape embroidered with nature’s gems but also a good human being who did his job in such a fine way that it didn’t seem like work at all.  Journeys do teach us a lot.

A weekend amidst nature. A trip to Lammasingi through Araku Valley

IMG_7245 It was an arduous yet eventful month, full of commitments and deadlines, exhausting yet satisfying. The festival of Holi came exactly on a Friday to give me a long weekend as if a reward to the toil. On Friday morning, i looked no less an alien, after the extreme combinations of colours that were smeared on my face and body. Soon, i was running behind others to take revenge. Holi was celebrated with all cheer and josh and once the excitement came down, i took a good bath (washed off whatever colour would come off) and had a heavy lunch. After a sumptuous lunch, the ideal option would have been a siesta and i should have hit the bed hard. Instead, i hit the road. (body was tired from all the running around and celebrations, but kya karoon…. dil maange more….) Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.44.19 pm copy As i worked my way through the city traffic, i made a rough plan of action (POA) in my mind. My broad plan was to venture into the forests northwest of Visakhapatnam and drive through those lonely roads enjoying the beauty of pure untouched nature. I was fascinated by ‘Lammasingi’ ever since i read an article describing it as the ‘Kashmir of AP’. It was written that the area experiences zero degree temperatures and would even witness rare snowfalls during winter. The idea of setting off on a drive to the region had been in my mind for a long time. But i had no clue that i would decide to do so on a lazy afternoon. Since i had some time in hand, I decided to include some more waypoints (read destinations) before i head towards Lammasingi. I decided to take off towards Vizianagaram through Sringavarapu Kota (in short S. Kota) and spend the night at Vizianagaram. Next day morning after exploring Vizianagaram i would head to Araku valley and spend the night there. Thereafter, i would head towards Lammasingi through Paderu and head back to Visakhapatnam through Anakkapalle. Armed with a camera and a self authorised ‘shoot at sight’ order in hand, i left the hustle bustle of the city far behind and wroomed into the sleepy villages on the Visakhapatnam-Araku road in the outskirts of the city.

IMG_7199 As i left the city, green trees and paddy fields replaced the concrete jungle on either side of the road. The sky was overcast and weather pleasant. I rolled down the window screens and the cool wind brought in the pure scent of mother earth. As the white parting lines on the tarmac rolled past me, the weariness of the body slowly withered away. I did not, for a moment feel alone, thanks to my car stereo. As Pink Floyd to Akon to AR Rahman to Yesudas to Jagjit singh sang, i sang along to my heart’s content (i cannot afford such luxury when in company of others since my singing can bring the dead to life). Travelling, even if its just a small simple ride, has therapeutic qualities. For me, it breaks the monotony of life and eases the mind of all the stress it accumulates (in short makes me happy). I generally choose ‘the road less taken’ for then, every moment is filled with hope and suspense and (touchwood) god has a way of surprising me every time i venture out this way. The uninitiated may brush that claim aside, but been there and done that, i can vouch for it. I experience the same joy in company of friends or family. I have even experienced a peace or soothingness while with like minded people, though complete strangers and hence when you travel with your friends, its like a chocolate-vanilla double sundae. But this time, unfortunately, i was on my own.

IMG_7210 On reaching S.Kota, I took a right turn to enter the Kothavasala-Jami-Vizianagaram road and within thirty odd minutes, i found myself in front of a huge gate with a board, “Sainik School, Korukunda”. There are 18 Sainik Schools all over India and I was fortunate enough to do my schooling from Sainik School Kazhakootam at Kerala. That made this school my sister school and i drove inside as if its my own. The Principal was kind enough to allow me to interact with the cadets and even gave me a guest room to spend the night. The building where the school is located was built by Maharaja Vijayaram Ganapathi Raju as his farm house and was called Alak Appala Kondayamba Vijayaram Palace. The guest room that was allotted to me was in the main palace building. The huge fort walls, colonial stone arches, giant windows with coloured glasses, stunning glass chandeliers, intricate wall paintings and impressive wooden artefacts spoke of the opulence of a bygone era. It is said that the palace and the grounds nearby had hosted many sports tournaments and has played host to many a dignitary. I perceived a smell of affluence even in the air inside the palace. The staff at the school too treated me with such love and care that I felt like a prince staying in his palace. I spend the evening playing basketball with the cadets and interacting with them. The josh, energy and the positive vibrations from them made my day. After a light dinner and a small walk within the campus, i called it a day. Next day, I woke up early in the morning and went for a small run. It had rained the night before and the campus was looking bright with green capped trees amongst brown sports fields. The fresh air that filled my lungs gave me a new spurt of energy. When i returned, a hot cup of tea was waiting at my table. Sipping the tea, i took a walk to explore the palace. I noticed that the old palace had lots of empty rooms and long desolate corridors. The sun was still coming up and birds, mainly pigeons and parrots were gliding in and out of the palace uninhibitedly. With my camera in hand, I managed to snuggle upto a quiet corner from where i could manage to click the feathered friends without disturbing their peace. I managed to get some beautiful snaps and my ambush was so effective that  a parrot landed right in front and stayed just enough for me to fill her in my frame. I also   managed to capture some beautiful snaps of the palace along with sunrise.

IMG_7158 IMG_7141 IMG_7147 After a light breakfast, i thanked the school authorities for all the luxury i enjoyed and headed towards Vizianagaram. Vizianagaram is another city like Visakhapatnam with its hectic traffic and cramped roads. So after a quick visit to the Maharaja’s Government College of Music and Dance and Ramanarayanam temple, i proceeded towards Araku valley through Gantyada-Bowdara road by noon. In between i took a short break near Thattipudi dam.

IMG_7097 The drive through the Araku valley was heavenly. The picturesque valley with lush greenery and the curvaceous roads gave a hint of whats coming. The sky was overcast and the clouds added a sense of mystery to the aura. The cool wet air and lack of incoming traffic made the drive all the more enjoyable. Hills dotted the horizon and the enchanting beauty of the valley against the overcast sky forced me often to stop and capture them on my camera. Cattle and sheep were grazing leisurely in the meadows. I halted briefly for a tea break at Haritha resort at Ananthagiri. Sitting at the balcony of the restaurant, i sipped a hot tea, looking out at the valley. I could feel the hills swathing me in layers of mist. I had been to Araku a couple of times before, but never alone. I have beautiful memories of this valley, spun by the golden misty yarns. The sky was still a mushy blue, darkening with time. I felt it would rain any time now. It could have been a dejavu since i had imagined myself in the same way not so long ago. I had jotted down these lines then.

Somewhere deep within the forest.

I heard as if a twig cracked under my foot,

a muffled shout followed by a slow roar

I saw the trees tremble, birds fled in flocks,                  

a scent rose, from the wounds of the forest,                    

trees bled darkness and turned sky murky,                        

it was the sobs first, then a whimper.

Then she wailed her heart out
And i stood watching
Rain drenching me......

Neither did it rain, nor did i get drenched. Sometimes life goes out of track, against the huge dreams we weave for ourselves. What is important is to do the right things and keep walking. I moved on from Ananthagiri and the milestone i passed indicated the distance to my destination. I managed to reach Araku town just in time to witness a gorgeous sunset, one of the best that i ever captured on camera.

IMG_7280 The road trip from Araku back to Visakhapatnam through Paderu and Lammasingi was the most exciting part of my trip. The road (if you can call it so) passes through the dense forest that is scarcely inhabited by tribals. I was forewarned by my friends and well-wishers that the area is a hub of naxal activity and the journey through the forest is not advisable. But i decided to follow my heart. Naxals, are after all human beings and as you can see, i live to tell this tale. But i did have an interesting encounter which i would explain later. Personally, I wouldn’t advice anyone to skip the road but to be on the safer side, avoid travelling at night. This too, am not saying you should fear naxals, but only because the roads are bad, there are no street lights and the vegetation is dense. Rest is your call. It was a cold misty morning and after three alarms and lot of self-coaxing, I managed to sit up on my bed just in time. I had planned to start early from Araku so as to drive as much distance as i can, through the fog and the early morning light (small joys, photographs in morning light diffused through the mist would come out extraordinarily beautiful). After a quick bath in the ice cold water (the geyser packed up, thanks to Mr. Murphy), i drove down to the nearest hotel to sip a hot tea before i started the journey (the cook in the hotel i stayed in, was a late riser). As i got out of my car, Mr. Murphy struck again and my car got locked up with the key still inside. All my efforts to open the lock using the classic ‘scale and rod method’ went down the drain (am an expert in this, locking up the car with keys inside isnt a new thing for me). Hyundai seems to take the security of their cars pretty seriously since the poor old Maruti cars never troubled me so much, so much for liberalisation of markets. The hotel staff quickly came to my rescue and soon a horde of onlookers were fiercely commenting on various methods to open the car lock. Somebody even suggested breaking the window glass open. Playing moderator to the debate was extremely exasperating but i somehow managed the complex task of convincing the crowd to call a mechanic. The weary looking mechanic who arrived after fifteen minutes became my messiah. He took the task of dispersing the crowd to himself and gave a fresh cheer to my blood drained face (the crowd control part was pretty tough since i couldn’t speak Telugu and they were all sincerely trying to help). The mechanic managed to open the lock and even spotted a punctured rear tyre in the process which had missed my scrutiny. Repairing the tyre took another hour and all my hopes of driving through the misty morning light were trashed. However, I quickly thrusted a light breakfast down my throat and drove out. I exited Araku, way behind my timeline and there was no way i could have accelerated on those roads. So i decided to take it slow and steady. After all, i did not have a destination but the journey in my plan. Ten minutes in to the drive, at the outskirts of Araku, I saw a hand signalling me to stop. It was a well dressed old man and his not so well dressed aide. I was already behind schedule and had nothing much to lose and hence i decided to stop and give them a lift.  There is an unwritten rule amongst travellers that one must not entertain a stranger in your car, that too when you are alone. But here i was, travelling through the jungle, with two unknown men in company, along an unknown territory and not a soul was in sight. I was following an inner voice and as i mentioned earlier, god has a strange way of surprising me in such ventures. The old man who slipped into the front seat effortlessly, identified himself as a retired government employee. He was conversant in English and immediately initiated a chat with me. His aide, a rough looking native with ruffled hair and tobacco stains on his teeth had made himself comfortable on the backseat. I kept a vigil watch through the rear view mirror since I had my luggage in the backseat and this resulted in some cold blank stares from his aide. As the conversation started, i realised that the old man has had his quota of local toddy early in the morning since the stench was slightly intolerable. But the facts he revealed ensured that i drove them to their destination without much ado. The man has three houses and some land, his savings from his service to the nation. In addition to the income from his houses on rent, he gives loans to people on interest. This particular journey to this remote jungle village was to “coax” a particular customer into repaying his dues. His aide who was sitting behind, flexing his muscles was a local goonda who would assist him in this noble task. I now looked at the man sitting behind with much more reverence. Thereafter the journey was particularly peaceful since i frantically agreed to every view the old man had about the world. On reaching the village they got down and repeatedly thanked me for the favour. I made sure to convey to them that the pleasure was entirely mine. IMG_7306 Sun was high up by now and it was getting slightly hotter. Most of the area from Araku to Lammasingi is covered with thick pristine forests. However, small tribal colonies have settled at dispersed locations along the road and jeeps ply at not so regular intervals for transport. Main occupation is agriculture and terrace farming is being followed due to the topography. Small villages with clusters of tiny mud houses roofed with palm leaves and cattle sheds appeared as i drove through. Electricity and other facilities are still a distant dream.

IMG_7227 At Gangaraju Madugula, a village on the road to Lammasingi, a group of plainclothes policemen stopped me and enquired regarding my presence in the area. This was the first sign i got of naxal trouble in the area. They wanted to know why i wanted to go through the forest and how long would I stay. My answers would have satisfied them for they gave me a green signal within no time. My speed of advance (SOA) reduced further due to innumerable potholes or lack of road itself at some places. At a particular curve, a small stream had taken over the road itself. I gave a lift to two more people, this time youngsters, who were walking all the way to the next village to attend a festival at the local temple. I initiated the conversation this time but all I could manage to find out was the name of one lad whilst the other just smiled at every question. On reaching the temple, they vigorously invited me for the function and offered me a glass of local toddy as the welcome drink. I politely declined the offer as well as the toddy and continued on my way. Not so far away from there, i stopped again on sighting a beautiful tree with multicoloured leaves. From far, it looked like a lone tree with duple colours. But going closer, I realised that it was actually two trees growing so close to each other that the branches were intertwined. I stopped the car and went closer to click a photograph and was surprised to see a mare grazing nearby. I attempted to click her on the backdrop of the tree. Unfortunately, the mare was frightened by my presence and I wasn’t too happy with the snap I took.

IMG_7318 I walked back to the car and was surprised to find a man standing near my car with a 7.62mm SLR. He did not look like a ghabbar singh or samba nor was he in any military  or police outfit. The first thought that flashed my mind was that am going to get kidnapped by naxals. I was still walking towards him and my mind was frantically thinking on how to handle this. I did not see anybody with him but i couldn’t have assumed that he is alone. He could be a naxal or could be a forest ranger or even a plainclothes policeman, I was in a jungle about which he would know better than me, i had neither weapons nor friends on my side. The best way to solve a problem is to face it and i decided to take it head on. As i approached him, i gave him my best smile and made sure he saw both my hands and my camera. The man did not smile back but he stared right into my eye. I kept my smile on and offered him some water to drink which he declined. He asked me something in Telugu which i assumed as what was my business in stopping my car here. Though there was an ocean of emotions mounting within me (fear and anxiety towered over others), i ensured my face reflected nothing of it. I spoke in a mixture of Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi (that should add up to Telugu right?) to explain to him how beautiful the mare looked in the backdrop of the twin tree (how foolish can that be) and turned the camera display towards him. He came closer to see the snap (the SLR was still right between us). I showed him the other snaps i took at the valley and enroute. Finally his stern face twitched in a particular way which i would positively claim as a smile. His twitch of a smile broadened my smile and I assumed that the huge iceberg in between us had melted (SLR was still there, the man was a soldier for sure). I gave a sigh of relief when he finally walked away waving me a good bye. I felt like taking a picture of him walking away, but then better sense prevailed and I abstained myself from doing so. Within no time i was inside the car and my foot was involuntarily pressing the accelerator hard. For the first time in my life, i learnt that not just an SLR but a DSLR too can save your life and i drove off with a foolish grin from ear to ear on my face. I did not stop anywhere thereafter till Lammasingi. IMG_7344 The drive from Lammasingi to Narsipatnam has almost thirteen hairpin bends and all along the route one would find troupe of monkeys lounging around. Very friendly company, i should say since almost all of them grinned at me and i promptly grinned back every time (i cant really remember now whether it was me who initiated the grinning cycle since i was in the best spirits after the naxal encounter).

IMG_7347 At Narsipatnam, what stuck me  was the sudden eruption of traffic and people since it was after hours of uninhabited wilderness that i was meeting so many people and traffic. I had a quick yet heavy Hyderabadi biriyani at Narsipatnam and in no time i was on NH5 heading towards Visakhapatnam and my speedometer never went below 100 kmph thereafter. I promptly reached Visakhapatnam in the evening. A weekend escape to Araku and Lammasingi is highly recommended for those who derive joy from being amidst nature, for those whom the journey is more important than the destination and for those who are in no hurry. If you are planning to drive from Araku to Lammasingi, it is better to tank up on fuel and other supplies at Araku since petrol pumps, tyre repair shops, garages and eateries are non-existent till one reaches Narsipatnam. IMG_7358 One more weekend is over, but this one would stay in my memory locker for a long time to come. I had met total strangers who offered me genuine affection, generosity and timely help in a time honoured Indian tradition of ‘athithi devo bhava’ that i’ll remember and imbibe in my life. May be my decisions to give lift to random strangers and to stop amidst dense jungles springs out of such incidents that has made me the person that I am. I remember somebody telling me that life is actually a journey, but we don’t see it that way. Remember, it is never too late to start a journey and it is not over if you have lost your way. It could be a bumpy ride ahead but it will be well worth the effort. Keep moving.…..

Welcome to Hampi, A surreal poetry in stone…..

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Close your eyes, take a deep breath, sharpen your ears and listen carefully……. Do you hear the blaring shringa (an indian trumpet), the rolling of drums, the booming voice announcing the arrival of King’s procession, the tinkling of the burly silver anklets of the elephants decked with small umbrella shaped bells? Huge elephants covered with gulaal (red powder) and painted with traditional Indian designs are walking ahead. The gold caparisons on their trunks and gold embroidered silk rugs on their backs shine in the soft morning light. Mahouts dressed in their decorated red jackets and bright coloured turbans hold tinselled silk parasols embroidered with designs in gold, swaying white tufts and peacock feather fans to the rhythm of the drums. Then, amidst musicians playing various wind instruments, comes the palanquins from which the ladies of the royal family peek through the translucent veils at the ostentatious decorations all along the path. Behind them, on a golden chariot, the king stands tall, flaunting a graceful smile on his face. Can you see the king’s emerald ear studs and diamond necklaces twinkle as they lie on his bare brawny chest. Can you hear the clonking of the hoofs on the stones as the procession passes you by? Can you hear the roar from the crowd waiting to see him as he waves?

Open your eyes now. Do you see the irreversibly vandalised remnants of a kingdom that was once at the zenith of its glory. All around, one can perceive a melancholy, of ruins that speak eloquently of their past splendour. Portuguese travellers who visited the kingdom during the heydays have been awed by what they saw. It has been chronicled that when the armies of the muslim sultanates defeated the kingdom, plundered, burnt and vandalised the abandoned city mercilessly, they did it for six months continuously. To comprehend that, what we see today is whats left of that brutal plunder and pillaging is heartbreaking. The sight of the undulating desolate terrain hits you hard, chokes your throat and leaves you spell bound. Even in these ruins, Hampi is a beauty, her charm untouched. I think the grandeur and glory that she saw in the past is beyond my imagination, forget attempting to describe them in words. If I would have been a poet, the sight would have brought forth an elegy to describe my lament.

On a chilly morning after a cold water bath that would have dared any ice bucket challenge, i  headed towards Basaveshwara bus stand at Bangalore for the first bus that leaves for Hospet. As the first and the only passenger, i had the luxury of choosing my seat and sat just beside the driver for the ‘behind the wheel’ feel. After stopping for a cup of tea and a midway meal, the bus reached Hospet by 1400. I took another bus to Hampi and after another thirty minutes, my foot kissed the soil of Hampi. Hampi was blessed :-).

IMG_5528I had done a little homework before embarking the trip by talking to friends, reading innumerable travel blogs and referring to travel tips from various websites. Various bloggers and some friends had recommended staying at home stays across the lake, for the view and serenity the place offered.

I checked myself into Shanti guest house after crossing the river and hired a moped at the jetty. After a quick bath, i kickstarted the moped as well as my journey and headed towards Anjaneya Hill. Named after Lord Hanuman, the monkey god who was an ardent devotee of King Rama, the hill is considered as his birth place.

Though its an arduous task to undertake the steep climb of about 600 steps, the spectacular view of coconut tree plantations, chartreuse green paddy fields and the innumerable boulders stretching into the horizon takes the fatigue off. As i looked around, I noticed a stone that resembled a human face.

Rock resembling a human face.
Rock resembling a human face.

Monkeys rule the hill (after all, it’s their temple) and do expect them at every bend, though they mean no harm. Some even posed for me happily as i practiced my rusty photography skills. But a friend, whom I met as i climbed the steep steps told me that the alpha males in the troop may take offence if you look at them in the eye. On the summit is a small temple and a lone wish tree. Locals climb the hill to tie a thread (or a cloth) around this tree to materialise their wishes and once your wish comes true, you must travel back here to release the knot (remember not to tie it too tight). It is one of the highest points in Hampi and therefore an excellent place to see the sunset and enjoy the vista. After spending some time on top of the hill enjoying the breeze and clicking innumerable photographs, i returned back. As i drove back through the green paddy fields, the setting sun was kissing the green fields with his orange lips. I couldn’t help but watch.

Sunset across the paddy fields, Hampi
Sunset across the paddy fields, Hampi

Though its true regarding the riverscape and tranquility, I do not recommend staying across the lake since it severely cripples one’s options. Majority of places to visit at Hampi are on the opposite side and there is only a small ferry, severely restricted by its carrying capacity, for transportation across the river. Unlike what’s mentioned in certain blogs, it cannot transport vehicles and does not operate after sunset. Moreover, as luck could have it, after observing the sudden rise of water in the river, they decided to cancel the ferry without any prior warning. I barely managed to catch the last ferry towards Hampi market after checking out from the home stay i had booked myself in and returning the moped i had hired once i got to know this. The turn of events forced me to ditch the internet knowledge and follow my instincts. Hampi market has numerous home stays and hotels to choose from but it is advisable to book the rooms in advance during peak seasons. I checked into one and booked myself an auto rikshaw (tuk tuk) for next day through the same agency. I chalked out a plan for the next day with the rickshaw driver cum guide so as to optimally utilise the only day left with me. After a quick bath, I paid a visit to the Virupaksha temple. The Lord Shiva temple beside Hampi market with its eastern tower standing tall is still used for worship. Unlike other temples, all its structures are still intact. I headed back to Hampi market and after an early dinner, i decided to hit the bed.         IMG_5552

My day started late. The bus journey, trek to Anjaneya hill and the scorching heat of Hampi had taken a toll on me. After a small yet delicious south indian breakfast at a nearby Brahmin hotel, I started my Hampi odyssey on a rickshaw. The rulers of the Vijaynagaram kingdom were patrons of art and architecture and the city was a liberal blend of people with a wide variety of linguistic, cultural and religious background. The fact that inscriptions about Krishnadevaraya were found in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit prove, that he promoted artists beyond borders. It was not just arts, but even science and technology flourished under their leadership. The beauty and magnitude of the remains of erstwhile Vijayanagaram Kingdom lie scattered in nearly 25 sq km. Hampi was ruled by three dynasties from 1336-1672. However 1491-1570 is considered the golden period in Hampi’s history. With the mighty Tungabhadra river on one side and mammoth boulders and towering hills on the other, Hampi would have been a natural choice of any military strategist. A trip to Hampi had been on my bucket list for a long time and i was finally living that dream.

IMG_5612My first halt was at Hemakuta hill adjacent to Virupaksha temple. The history behind the hill is that a local damsel called Pampa fell in love with Lord Shiva and meditated here to please the god. IMG_5589But since Shiva was preoccupied in his own spiritual world, ‘Kaamdev’ the deity of love, moved by Pampa’s struggle, decided to disturb his eternal meditation and shot an arrow right in the middle of his eyes. An enraged Shiva burned Kaamdev to ashes. However, after learning of her love, Shiva betrothed Pampa and gave life back to Kaamdev. To felicitate this occasion, the gods in heaven poured baskets full of gold. That is how this hill came to be called as Hemakuta hill, ‘Hema’ meaning ‘of Gold’ and “Kuta’ meaning lofty or a hill. The hill, infested with monkeys, houses a monolithic Ganesha statue, several buildings and temples (without deities). It is a great place for photographers especially during sunsets and sunrises.

IMG_5645Next destination was Balakrishna temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple, with sculptures and inscriptions depicting various stages of Krishna’s life, especially the dashavatarams, the ten incarnations of Krishna, is in a dilapidated condition. Just outside the temple are the remnants of an old bazaar that had once been a busy hub of trade. It is believed that diamonds and other jewels were openly sold here and transactions were in gold and silver. Adjacent to the bazaar is a Pushkarni or a sacred pond. IMG_5657Climb down the hill and towards your right are the Lakshmi Narasimha and Badavilanga temples with monolithic statues of ‘Narasimha’ and ‘Shiva Linga’. The shivlinga here is the largest monolithic Linga in Hampi with the three eyes of Shiva carved on it. The sanctum in which the Linga is installed was designed to be filled with water with a water channel made to flow through it.

I headed to the underground Shiva temple next. This temple is not underground as the name suggests but is below water level and hence gets submerged during rains. The sanctum and the most parts of the temple were covered in knee deep water. IMG_5694Though I didn’t enter the temple, I got some beautiful reflections of the sculptures in the still water inside the temple. Next in the list was the Zanana enclosure. Constructed in an indo-islamic architecture,the enclosure encompasses the Lotus mahal, Treasury, the Queens residence and Jal mahal. The enclosure has a beautiful garden with grass meadows and colourful flowering plants. The structures are mostly intact. Adjacent to the enclosure is the elephant’s stable. Built in the 15th century, it has eleven large domed chambers built in indo-islamic architecture. I then headed to the Hazarnama temple dedicated to Lord Rama. The temple is known for its sculpted friezes depicting the Ramayana, in three tiers, running in all around the main shrine and the narrative sculptures of the Lav-Kush story on the adjacent shrine and hence the name Hazarnama temple.

The royal enclosure was next in my roll. This was the nucleus of the capital city of Vijayanagaram and had housed as many as forty three buildings. There were remnants of an underground secret council chamber, separate residences of King and Queen, audience hall, several water tanks, sacred area for worship, residence of people working at the palace, a step well tank for public bath, a common well and another T shaped tank. Water was brought to this enclosure from an external source through an aqueduct running in the middle of the enclosure feeding twenty three small and big tanks in the enclosure. There was a well preserved beautiful garden within the enclosure. The old rustic charm of the ruins were being highlighted by the fresh grass meadows making the photographs all the more beautiful. After a quick visit to the Queen’s bath, which is nothing but an swimming pool for the queen, I had a quick bite and headed towards Vitthala temple.

The area around Vitthala temple is still under excavation and hence motor vehicles are not allowed till around a kilometre from the temple. However, golf carts ply between the temple and the parking space. But on seeing the long queue for the same, i decided to walk the distance. With my cap and goggles as my armour against the scorching sun, my long legs stepped out on the muddy path towards the temple complex. I should admit that i never regretted that decision. IMG_5784The road was flanked by towering hills with huge precariously positioned boulders that threatened to tumble down with a slight push. The ground was marshy with pools of water from which some horses were drinking. There were wild flower plants all along the muddy path with butterflies and dragon flies buzzing around them. It was so beautiful that i didn’t notice the heat at all. IMG_5790The temple complex had towards east, a bazar with paved broad road flanked by pillared mandapa on either side and there is a rectangular tank towards the eastern end known as ‘Lokapavani’ with a string of pillared pavilions around, resembling the pushkarni at the main bazar. The Vitthala temple represents the highest achievement of the Vijayanagara style of art and architecture. The main temple, facing east, dedicated to Vitthala, a form of Vishnu, consists of two halls. First is the main hall or ‘mahamandapa’ where the sanctum or the shrine is located. IMG_5807Second is the marriage hall or ‘kalyanamandapa’ with an elevated moulded dias located at the centre of the mandapa to perform the marriage ceremony of the god and goddess. The facades of the main hall are lined with forty pillars, each over 10 feet in height. These are called as the musical pillars since every pillar generates a different sound when struck. The architectural marvel was so beyond belief to the invaders that they broke open some pillars, to see if there were some musical instrument hidden inside the pillars. There was also a stone chariot in front of the main hall, with a brick superstructure. It’s wheels, each shaped in the form of a lotus, are capable of revolving. It represents the sparkling creativity of the artistes of the fifteenth century. It encompasses a shrine of Garuda. Beside the temple, mighty Tungabhadra flows, as a silent witness.

I was running short of time by now and quickly headed towards the Malyavanta Raghunatha temple. This Hanuman temple is built around a huge boulder on Malyavanta hill. It is believed that Rama and Lakshmana spent the rainy season here while waiting for Hanuman to come back from Lanka with the news from Sita. The temple is used for worship and some brahmin families are staying there. Sanskrit verses from Ramayana were being recited as I entered the temple. The western edge of the summit of this hillock offers a grand view of the valley, overlooking the citadel. On leaving the main temple compound towards the west edge, there is another shrine for the goddess. Here I met a holy baba, who had travelled all the way from Uttar Pradesh. Once I initiated a small chat with him, he started arguing that the real birth place of Hanuman is Malyavanta hill and not Anjaneya hill as is being widely believed. He recited some  sanskrit verse from Ramayana to prove his point of which i understood not a word. But I vigorously nodded along with him and thoroughly pleased of my advertence, he posed for a snap and even unfurled a white flag he was carrying which he later explained as a symbol depicting role of brahmins in hinduism. After bidding goodbye to him, i went over to the hilltop to click some more snaps. Here i met some photography enthusiasts. After clicking some more snaps from the view point along with them, i headed back to Hampi market, officially winding up my Hampi hike. After a leisurely bath to wash off the weariness of the day, I packed my bags and checked out from the room.

Sitting cross-legged on the cushions placed on the hotel floor, sipping a cup of hot tea, my mind raced through the events of the day. As i told you before, the entrancing sight of Hampi hits you hard, all the more if you have learned its history. There is one more thing about Hampi that would hit you harder, the heat.  Get ready to get tanned. Do include a hat and a goggle as part of your wardrobe and carry lots of water bottles. There is one more advice for the budding photographers. Almost in all monuments across Hampi, they would allow you to carry your camera, how much ever advanced that may be. But they wouldn’t allow you to carry a tripod. I do not understand the logic behind that rule, but a rule is a rule is a rule. So better improve on your grip and hold to get real sharp images. Plan your visit before you head to Hampi and i can assure you from my visit that two days is not enough. You may manage to see the place, hopping from one place to another. But Hampi, unlike some other tourist destinations, is not a place that one should see. Its a place to be experienced, a place to be felt with your heart. This is a place that has a soul and every stone has a story of glory and downfall to tell you. If you don’t immerse yourself, you are not taking away anything from here. Sense it with your heart and be rest assured, this bewitching beauty will haunt you for a life time and you will keep coming back for her.

The sky had turned a bronzy red and an ember red sun was going down slowly. After seeing the beautiful picture god had painted on the sky, i altered my course. Instead of heading towards the bus stand, i climbed the Hemakuta hill again. The gold hill (hemakuta) had turned real gold reflecting the evening sky. The group of photographers i met at the Malyavanta hill were already there practicing long exposure photography in the shrinking light. I too joined the gang and tried my luck at clicking some good snaps. IMG_5942As darkness slowly engulfed the hill, monkeys on the hill started their climb on to the tall boulders which would be their home for the night. The day had ended and what a day it was. As the dream dust started glittering on the black sky, I climbed  down from the hill and walked towards the bus stand. A bus to Hospet was about to leave and I hopped in. As the bus left the stand, i looked behind to see one final glance of Hampi. It was pitch dark and I saw nothing but a halogen lamp illuminating the empty bus stand. I felt Hampi was hiding to protest my leaving in a haste. With a heartfelt promise in my mind to return, I waved her goodbye and I watched as she slowly disappeared behind a turn.

A few more images from Hampi.

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© kazakmustang

A tranquil gaze at nature and god

Evening walks have become a habit now. I have started loving this time that I reserve for myself. A slow lonely walk, observing the subtle nuances of nature, looking at flowers, listening to birds, observing people immersed in themselves. During these long walks, I interact with myself a lot, I feel a tranquil peace, my mind opens up and I sense a different kind of freedom.

Today, I took a different path. I climbed the hill through a shortcut and walked down to the main road. Like this I could make a complete circle, instead of returning through the same path. I walked through the main road all the way till the temple, along the flowing traffic. From the temple, I took a left to enter the barren fields and walked across the fields. I could see the road that I came through on the hill from the temple. There was no marked out path, but I continued to walk in a general direction. The ill effects of rapid urbanisation was evident all around me. To my right was a stone quarry, a half eaten grey hill. To my left was a small colony of migrant workers, another slum in its inception. There were huge sky scrapers under construction all along the main road across the hill and the migrant workers had set up their small shanties in the colony. I was walking through uncultivated farm lands in between all these, which would soon be converted into concrete jungles. Towards a corner of the farm land, the entire area had been converted in to a huge waste bin. I involuntarily covered my nose since the untreated waste that was strewn around was stinking execrably. The children from the colony were playing nearby unmindful of the state of affairs around them. Children have an inherent quality to quickly adapt and they also develop resilience to endure every obstacle thrown at them.

As the sun went down, the sky sported a reddish-yellow hue sprinkled with bouts of pink. Clouds reflected the orange rays of the setting sun. The evening light reflected on the glass windows of the sky scrapers as it blocked them. I slowly walked towards the row of shanties. The ladies and children were sitting outside their homes, some extending their courtyard into the road outside. Small children were playing all kinds of games, running merrily around their mothers. I noticed, that though the homes were small and in dismal state, they were maintained neatly and a general sense of cleanship was evident. The courtyards and the roads opposite to their homes were recently washed with water. The plants were freshly watered. The men and children were returning back from their respective places of duty. Women and children were mildly staring at me, may be because it was evident that i didn’t belong there, forcing me to increase my pace of walking. There was an air of happiness around and the people looked cheerful in spite of a hard day of toil. This was a pleasant surprise for me since i had expected a gloomy environment due to the poverty and lack of essential facilities. The positive energy in those lanes lifted my spirits up and with a  genuine smile on my face, I walked out of the colony and came on to the main road.

Once the sun went down, hoards of winged flies started to rise. Like an inverted rain, they rose up, fluttering frantically. It has been raining continuously for last three nights. From the damp earth, they would come out in thousands, or should I say millions, scurry in all directions, spread their wings and fly towards the nearest light source. Mostly they would aim for the huge halogen lamps illuminating the road. In their frenzy, some would come under the tires of passing vehicles, some would fall prey to lizards and other insects, waiting by the halogen lamp, for the sumptuous home delivery. Those flies were nothing but winged termites, that are attracted to the light like moths. They were pretty harmless, but frightening when you see the swarms of them for the first time. I learnt later that the winged termites meet other termites of the same species, also swarming from their own colonies like this. After this, the fertilised termites would shed their wings and go in search of a spot to make a nest and begin a colony of their own. I saw lots of them losing their wings after a fair amount of exhaustive effort. As i waded through the fly rain, I had to watch my step for the frogs on the road too, since the frogs had come to feast on the termites that had shed its wings. I was witnessing a live struggle of the flies, its fight to a mere survival and I felt my own strives were insignificant in comparison. I could see the nature come alive in a beastly implacable way. In nature’s way of maintaining balance, everything looked fair.

I walked back contemplating the lessons learnt in the evening. Thank god for giving me the eyes to take notice of his alluring magic and also for the time to stand and observe the same. I pray he will guide me in the right path and teach me humility to view this world the way it is supposed to be perceived.

© kazakmustang

The walls within us

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The hospital ward has been suddenly deserted. There were a few ‘goodbye’ and ‘get well soon’ wishes, some weary smiles, cold handshakes and suddenly I was left all alone. The dead silence, empty rooms and the long corridor accentuated the loneliness. The incessant smell of various medicines remained and for once, I felt I have developed a liking for it. The silence inside the hospital was so conspicuous that I could hear all kinds of peripheral noises from outside that I had never cared to notice before. I kept staring at the empty corridor, as if expecting somebody to walk in and tear down the emptiness that was rapidly flooding my world, both inside as well as outside. Then it rained.

It rained heavily. As the burdened clouds relieved themselves of their mournful grey, the rain soaked the earth and me. Somewhere deep within myself, I could strongly relate to the rain, not just because it came in as my much awaited visitor, but also because it reflected my true state of mind. It spoke to me, sang to me, caressed my broken soul and cried by my side. As i lay on the bed, listening to the noise of the rain and waiting for sleep to conquer my senses, I could see the flashes of lightning from amongst black clouds that crowded the sky. The window glasses shuddered every time the thunder rolls crashed against it. All night through my window, i could see a fully drenched Copper pod tree cringe every time a thunder scolded her.

I was up early morning to give the first set of medicines to my father. I opened the window and looked out towards the Copper pod tree. She was looking gorgeous, stunningly beautiful. Yellow flowers had bloomed. Some flowers had fallen on the wet ground below, standing out against the fresh red mud. Green leaves fluttered in air, water droplets from the last night’s rain still clinging to them. It felt as if it was still raining under the tree. The sun was up, though concealed in the canopy of rain clouds. The diffused morning light, filtered through the clouds, reflected on the water drops, giving them a sheen, giving an image of white pearls hung from the green leaves of the tree. The bright yellow flowers made the tree all the more beautiful. I wondered how lucky is she, that one night’s rain has cleansed her fully.

Inside the hospital, the white corridor gave a deserted look. No groans, no cries, no laughter, no children running around, no white uniformed nurses, no doctors on rounds. Just a weary white void of space, lurking in the long corridor, all alone. There isn’t even a speck of colour anywhere, and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this before. Even the winds that were playing with the trees outside would fall silent when they come inside. Is it that the tall windows are standing guard. Or has the hospital walls disciplined the winds? It was as if the hospital is a mysterious old man and the silence is his language of solitude, his expression of wisdom and in that silence lies his shrouds of mystery. And outside, Nature is an exuberant child, spreading joy and love in his impish innocence.

I couldn’t believe that it is just a wall that is separating these two different worlds.

© kazakmustang

Chitrakoot falls. The Indian Niagara

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Nestled in the mountain ranges of Vindhya, the Chitrakoot falls constitute one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world where the cool waters of Indravati river plunge headlong into the frothy chasm below.

Chitrakoot Falls is around 50 km from Jagdalpur in the state of Chhattisgarh in India. This waterfall is considered the Niagara Falls of India and is the broadest waterfall in the nation. Chitrakoot is also a religious Hindu Pilgrimage centre. The tourism development corporation have resorts close to the waterfall. But I would advice you to book early. Have a great trip.

©kazakmustang

An evening walk at Bangalore

It was to attend to my father admitted in a hospital that I came to Bangalore. Like a typical hospital, this one too had long white washed corridors, never ending line of patients, hurrying nurses dressed in their white uniforms, housekeeping staff with their colourful buckets and long mops, doctors taking rounds, anxious relatives, chitchatting visitors and a general sense of anxiety and uncertainty in the air.  Shrieks of children and cries of patients in pain occasionally reverberated in the corridor. Almost every one had gloomy faces and looked silently into oblivion except some children who would break into a laughter every now and then, only to be hushed up by their parents.

The room allotted to my father had tall windows and hence plenty of light but it was never opened for the fear of mosquitoes. My father was in tremendous pain that was evident from his face but he would always attempt to hide it by a wink and a smile. He was living up to what he had taught me, that “tough times don’t last, tough men do” 

I took a walk in the corridor only to find that illness is a fair guy who does not differentiate between the rich and poor, old and young, educated or illiterate.  My mind was clouded with thoughts and my heart was asking me innumerable questions that had no clear answers. Occasional cries and groans of patients that echoed in the long dull whitewashed corridors of the hospital was squeezing the life out of me. It was to escape the gloom of the hospital that I decided to go for an evening walk.

Bangalore is known as the garden city of the country for it’s large parks and open spaces in addition to tree lined avenues in almost all parts of the city. But I feel in her run to become the silicon valley of India, she has sacrificed quite a lot of her green covered beauty. However, the hospital was located slightly on the outskirts of the city and had not come under the knife of the real estate moghals. Hence, as soon as I stepped out, I was greeted by a gulmohar tree standing in the centre of a flower bed just outside the hospital. Gulmohar, also known as the flame tree has ignited the imagination of quite a number of poets across the globe. The vivid red flowers against the green fern like leaves is a striking sight. Next to catch my sight was another flower bed, this time white. There was also a pleasant fragrance around, similar to that of blooming of jasmine. The flower too looked very similar to jasmine. The white flower had longer stock  and were in clusters. The tree was extraordinarily tall. I learned later that its a variant of jasmine locally called as ‘Akash Mallige’. In addition, there were hoards of Bougainville, pink, white and majenta peeping out of every compound wall. The shade of these trees all along the road added to the joy of walking. The street cart vendors selling everything under the sun, catering for factory employees working in near by factories added to the colour of the street. Coming from Visakhapatnam, the sight of trees with bloomed flowers giving shade to pedestrians was a healer. I had grown sick of watching casuarinas and acacia trees.

The evening hustle had started and the streets were slowly filling up with all kinds of people. I walked back to the hospital as the orange gleam in the evening sky slowly started growing bigger. Time to get back to my duty.

©kazakmustang

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Have you ever noticed how hot your first tear is?

It fumes even before it is formed, eyes get clouded. You feel a mask of vapour, blurring the vision. It burns as it rolls down the eye onto the cheeks. When it falls, it makes a hole in the heart, setting ablaze everything on its way.

But the ones that follow…….. they can heal. So only the flurry that follows can quell that fire. It can calm your heart, mend those strings that got burned.

I learned never to stop myself at one tear. I learned to let it flow till the heart is fully drenched, till the fire is fully extinguished.

I just don’t have it in me to take that fury of a single tear.

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