Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Land of a Thousand Waterfalls -1

'You guys have to experience the Pooja celebrations in Bengal!!’
Our friends Dipan and Piyu had been telling us this for sometime now and last October, we decided that we should.

We’d gone to Leh in September and had taken the less trodden route back to Delhi…..via Kargil – Srinagar. From Delhi, we flew into Siliguri the same day that our friends were to come from Bangalore. After all the high altitude and mountains and out of this world experiences we had had, Siliguri seemed like a whole new world!!

Since we all were going to be in Siliguri for almost 2 whole weeks, our friends had planned little trips for us. We went to Darjeeling and Jorpokhri and had amazing times!! But the trip that took our breath away again was the one to Sikkim.

Three of us Sai, Dipan and me started early in the morning (ok….not that early…at around 6) for our long trip to Lachen. The route was stunning in the morning mist!! All of us were wide awake with Dipan giving us a running commentary about the area, the localites and anecdotes of all the times he’s been here. He had been to Gangtok before but this was his first trip to Gurudongmar and Yumthang.
We followed the mighty Teesta all the way. And she is formidable!! You could see that even in October… was not even the proper monsoons!! We had breakfast at a little dhaba overlooking the Teesta and soon after, entered Sikkim. We were not taking the usual route into Sikkim which would take one via Rangpo but the one via Singtam which would take us to Mangan.

We were told that the government of Sikkim does now allow vehicles from other states to bring tourists into Sikkim and so we had to change vehicles in Mangan. We met our guide and driver for the next 3 days here – Karma and Jung Bahadur. I have to say, if it weren’t for them, our trip wouldn’t have been the same!! Dipan had been dying to stock up on beer and breezers and rum and whisky since we entered Sikkim and at Mangan, he let himself loose!! Fully equipped and well stocked, we made our way to Lachen where we would halt for the night.

We’d reached Mangan a little before noon…..not yet time for lunch so we decided to push on and stop later. The three of us enjoyed our beer and breezers and soon fell fast asleep. We were woken up for lunch is the tiniest little eatery in the middle of nowhere!! It was amazing to me that such a place could actually even exist!! There was nothing around the hut other than the Teesta on one side and a very green precipice on the other with the road in between. But we had the bestest dal and rice there!!

Onward to Lachen……and with altitude, the hillocks become hills, the hills gave way to mountains. And the greenery!! I have no words!! Quaint little villages on the way with most of the village folk either playing or watching football, the chickens and goats running along the road, little kids playing and the green, green fields!! You have to experience it at least once!!

We reached Lachen an hour or so before the sun went down and decided to go for a short walk around the little village to warm ourselves!! After warm, humid Siliguri, chill Lachen was a little shock!! One of the things I had grown to love about the villages in Leh and now in Sikkim was the colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind……seeing them gives me an immense sense of calm. The colours make me feel free…..

Dipan had just gone to Goa and there he had gone to a new casino where he has apparently mastered blackjack!! And according to him, the dealor never lost. We’d picked up our deck of cards before leaving Siliguri itself and after a nice walk around Lachen, we got back to our hotel for a filling dinner and then a game of cards with Dipan, of course, as the dealor. He would have regretted that decision for the rest of his life cause as we discovered, the dealor doesn’t always win… fact, he almost never wins!! Sai and me had he ball of our lives!! We kept winning and winning and winning till we all finally decided to head to bed!!

We got ready early in the morning (this time actually early… 5!!) in near freezing temperatures to go for our day trip to Gurudongmar Lake. After a hot cup of tea, we were all awake enough to travel!! The drive to Gurudongmar was well worth waking up at that insane hour (esp cause it was so cold!!). We kept asking Jung Bahadur to stop so that we could take pictures all along the way!!

Sai and me were amazed at how different Sikkim was from Leh!! We had managed to do 2 totally different sides of the mighty Himalayas in the same trip and the contrast to us was outstanding!! Breathtakingly beautiful and barren Leh and awesome, green and stunning Sikkim!! That’s all we could talk about for months later!! J

We stopped for breakfast at Thanggu. The last village on our way to the lake. That trip, all the places that we had food were wonderful and different!! This time, we were in a nice little kitchen huddled around a warm chimney while food was being prepared right next to us!! The little kids of the house were playing with the onion and potato peels while we coaxed them to pose for us while our yummy maggi soup was beginning to make our mouths water!!

From there on, till we reached the army check post, it was a feast for the eyes!! A stream which would eventually become the Teesta was flowing on one side of the road and there were beautiful green mountains with their tips covered in snow!! We passed dozens and dozens of army trucks and herds of sheep and yak. Never realized how nimble footed these animals were till I saw them making their way foraging for food, up and down the mountains!!

Our first real drama began soon after we reached the army check post before Gurudongmar. All visitors require to have permits and ours were supposed to have been taken care of by our tour operators. We assumed it was and went about taking photos left right and center, reading all about the Gurudongmar Lake twice (one part of the lake never freezes…even in the coldest of winters. That is where Guru Nanak had once touched the lake.), having snacks at the little tea stall, buying souvenirs from the army run center but refusing to get our photos clicked by an annoying officer who was officially giving everyone their poloroids whilst standing next to a picture of the lake!! Everyone who had come after us had already moved on…..and the 3 of us had clicked all the photos we could and done everything we could. Karma and Jung Bahadur were by now running to and from the car and looking pale!! We decided to find out what the problem was and when we did, we wanted to throw Karma into the icy waters of the stream running alongside!! He had forgotten to get our permits along and worse, was using an old permit with different names to try and get us through!! The army guys were furious, we were furious, Jung Bahadur was furious and Karma was on the verge of tears!! Worse, apparently some Chinese spies had crossed the border just a few days before and the army was on the lookout for them…..Karmas antics didn’t please them in the least…..neither did his very Chinese looks!! Thankfully, he had only misplaced the documents and found them after turning the car upside down at least 10 times!! He had the most satisfied smile ever when we were finally allowed to go and in the car boasted about how brave he was in the front of the officers!! That was it!! All of us, including the till then quiet Jungie (Dipan had christened him that by then!!), started off on him and for the next 3 days, that’s all he heard from us!!

One good thing out of that incident was that it got us close to both Karma and Jungie. We learned that this was poor Karmas first ever job as a guide and that we knew more about all the places we were going to than him!! Poor fellow was the butt of all our jokes!!

By the time we got to Gurudongmar, Sai (who had gone through quite a few beers by then), was happily high!! He wanted to swim across the lake, wanted to balance on all the stones on the bank and was rolling on the grass along the banks when he was not trying to impersonate Sanjay Dutt for us!! But we should so have listened to him!! We, in our eagerness to show off our soberness, decided to go for a walk all round the lake…..from where we were standing, it didn’t look really long and Karma told us that it was a perfectly good idea. Little did we realize what we were getting into and we dragged Sai along too even though all he wanted to do was sleep there on the grass!!

We walked and walked and walked and finally when we were somewhere halfway did we realize that we couldn’t see the entire circumference of the Lake from where we had started!! And at an altitude of 17100ft with very thin air, our half drunk (and Sais fully drunk) bodies just couldn’t take it!! But having no options, we trudged along……and along for the next one hour till we finally got to the other side. While we were excited about going round the lake, we ran into a herd of deer on our paths (we should have realized something was amiss when we saw then looking at us they way they did!!). One of them was so brave as to come close and investigate as to what we were before expertly running off after the rest of the herd. And at one point, we passed a lot of rocks…..we could very clearly hear the sound of running water but could not see it……finally realized (our brains were extremely slow due to alcohol and the thin air!!) that there was water running under the rocks!! Sai cribbed all the way, Dipan and I made sure that Karma didn’t faint and fall and by the time we got to the end, we found the Indian Army waiting for us!! It seems they make sure that all visitors are away from the lake premises by noon and us going on the long walk didn’t please them at all!! Thankfully, we were in such bad states with humongous headaches that they didn’t dwell on us much…..told us to get into the car and leave as soon as we could and we did!!
We took off for our next stop. Lachung would be where we would stay to go to Yumthang Valley the next day…..after downing Saridons and Dipans hostel snack of crushed 2 min noodles mixed with masala, we tried our best to sleep…..Thank God Jungie had not come for the walk with us!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Maximillian in Kumarakom!!

The only thing we regret about when travelling is leaving our Max for the duration......Max, of course, is our 1 year 1 month old boxer. Its a little worse now with the new addition to our family, Cocoa (our 1.5 year old lab whom we adopted from CUPA 2 months back). So when the opportunity came to take Max along, we pounced on it!!

My parents stay in Saudi Arabia where my father works and they come down for vacations every year. Last December when they were down and we were going to Trivandrum from Bangalore to meet them, we decided to make a small holiday out of it for Max and thinking back, i am really really glad we did cause Max had a wonderful time!! New people (he loves meeting people!), new places (he'll jump into the car for a drive any day!) , new smells ( hes a major sniffer my little boxer!), new doggy buddies (he loves meeting other doggies also!), a stay in a nice resort, a boat ride.....which doggy wouldn't want all of this!!

When we told friends and family that we were driving with Max all the way to Trivandrum ( a 15 hour journey from Bangalore), everyone felt that Max would get cranky and we would really regret it. Max truly turned out to be our son!! He was the best behaved pup ever during the whole long journey.....switch the AC on for him and he sleeps like a baby!! We couldn't keep the windows rolled down cause he was so excited with the new smells and sights that he wanted to jump right out! Of course, towards the end of our journey, he didn't want to sit alone at the back and sat on our laps in front (which is quite difficult considering his size!) but we were ok with that and the 3 of us reached Trivandrum happily for dinner.

At home, my folks have a 4 year old lab, sherry and my brother has a 1 old German Shepard, Tiny (she definitely is not!!). Max, who adores all other dogs was in doggy heaven!! 2 new playmates!! You just had to take a look at the excitement on his face to know that it was definitely the best decision ever to take him along!!

Sherry totally intimidated little (in my eyes!!) Max but Tiny and he got along like a forest on fire!!

They ran and ran and ran and then ran some more all around the house for 2 whole days!! I never knew Max had so much energy!! Even when Tiny was tired, he would keep jumping all around and over her till she decided to play again. It was wonderful watching the 2 of them!!

On the 3rd day, we all decided to go to Kumarakom. Our big problem was locating a resort which wouldn't mind having Max staying over too. Most hotels and even resorts dont still allow pets which is one of the biggest hurdles we have when travelling with Max. The resort we found was wonderful since they were totally enthusiastic about having Max over!! I so wish more and more of them are so open hearted!!

When all reached the resort with 6 month old Max in tow, the staff there almost had a small stroke! I keep referring to both Max as my little puppy without a thought about his size when in reality, Max is now over 2' tall now!! When I'd told them about puppy, they thought he was a small little stuffed toy sized pup!! But thankfully there as no problem at all.

That evening was spent lounging about watching the sun set over the Vembanad Lake......Max of course was with us......playing about in the lawn. He was the center of attraction for all the other guests there and he totally enjoyed that.

At home, the only furniture hes not allowed on is the master bed, but i guess even he knew that this was a special holiday and he made full use of that!! In the middle of the night, both of us woke up complaining about the other hogging the blanket when we realised that it was not us, but Max!! He was sleeping in between us with his head nicely on the pillow like a baby would!! The only difference was that Max snores and wanted the blanket all for himself!!
I don't know how many dogs would've done this or would ever get to do this, but Max went on a boat ride the next morning. He was as comfortable on a boat as he was on land, jumped in nicely without any assistance. He sat on our laps and watched all the birds and people and boats. What was interesting is that whenever we travel, we love watching and photographing the locals and in this case, it was just the opposite!! Everyone, tourists, locals, boat operators, guests in all the resorts, were grabbing their cameras to take pictures of Max on top of the boat!! And for his part, Max posed for everyone of them!! That's when we realised what a vain little puppy we have!! :)

That was his experience in Kumarakom.....The journey back is another story in itself, which will be part of another blog......till then......


Thursday, July 16, 2009


We never expected that our travels would not just take us to some of the most amazing places in the world but get us acquainted with some of the most amazing people. Last year, almost everywhere we went, we met someone who inspired us to be come better people.
I'll mention a few here who blew us away with their hospitality and warmth.

First was Ayesha and Arshad in Delhi and of course their whole family. Sai has known Arshad for eons but they hardly kept in touch, but when we were going to Delhi and Sai called him, he wouldn't hear of us staying anywhere other than with him!! The wonderful time we had in Delhi would definitely have not been possible without them. We had their car and driver at our disposal, them to pore over books and the net telling is where all to go, mouth watering food at his house and both Ayesha and Arshad taking time off from their busy schedules to take us to all the wonderful restaurants!! We can never thank them enough!!

In Thekkady, we had sweet, tireless Narayan as our guide during our trek through the forest. Though he initially scared us about elephants and bears and even tigers, all we got to see was elephant dung, bear poop and no sign of any tiger but he kept us so enthralled with his stories that we didn't mind one bit!! All the leeches that were there ( and they seemed esp attracted to me!!) were also not dampening his enthusiasm in any way!! Cheers to Narayan!!

Leh has way too many instances of people being unbelievably sweet!! First were all the army officers and soldiers at the mess we stayed in!! We didn't get to see the night life in Leh but the officers made sure that we had the best of time!! I never knew that the army was one with such jovial individuals working in the middle of snow and ice to keep all of us safe!! I salute you all!!

We also got acquainted with the charming owner of a wonderful restaurant in Leh - La Pizzaria. He went out of his way to drop us back to the army mess in his car when we couldn't get taxis or any other form of transport to get back. This after having met us all of twice!! We of course went back there again and again!! :)

In Srinagar, we were taken around by the owners of Gulfam - a quaint little houseboat in Dal Lake. Forgetting their names but not just did their dad make the most amazing amazing food ever (my mouth water just thinking about it!!) but they were our guides in Srinagar. Will always go back there and will recommend anyone going to Srinagar to stay with them!!

We went to Siliguri for the Pooja our friends parents house and I've not known such hospitality anywhere else!! Datta uncle and auntie were so so nice to us!!

We went to Calcutta from Siliguri by train and since it was the last day or pooja, we had to get to the station really early.....waiting in the crowded station for more than 5 hours, a long train journey and 25 days of continuous travel had totally tired us out.......till we met Dan Inamoto. He was travelling to Calcutta too and in the morning, we got talking!! Dan is of Japanese descent but living and working in New York. He is a total travel person and comes to India at least once a year. We realised that hes been to way more places in India than we have!! The only thing we had which made him envious was our trip to Jammy and Kashmir ( oh and how we told him what he'd missed!!). Both of were fully recharged after meeting him and ready to journey on and on!!

Sai is a member of the jeep thrills community ( he loves his jeep and the group is for enthusiasts to go on off roaders and trips together and to talk endlessly about their beloveds!! ) and he has been talking about Mr Uday Bhan Singh this and Mr Singh that for some time now. When he suggested that we visit him, i was uncomfortable at first. We had had a loong train journey and had gotten out at Calcutta only to have spent half the morning 'sight - seeing' and to go to anyones home in that state was unthinkable for me......but after pestering me about it for sometime and seeing that we'd already gone through most of Calcutta in our last visit, i complied. I am really really glad i did because i met some of the warmest, sweetest people ever that day!! Uday sir, showed us all his jeeps (he has 43 of them) and told us so much about them that i was totally hooked by the end of it!! We had our lunch with him and his wonderful family and i will forever not forget how welcome they made us feel!! (that could not have been easy since we most definitely must have looked like hell!! ).

There were many many more people who I've not talked about but all of them gave us such rich lessons in life.....made us such better people!! I cant thank them all enough!!


I'd been on a altogether different high the last week....campaining for votes, talking to and chatting with friends after ages, reading, writing....didnt know that a almost a week had passed till i saw the date today!!
Last thursday evening is when we evening it'll be exactly a week. Time has absolutely flown!! We log onto our computers as soon as we're up at 7 and keep going till 11 at night......and we never know when the day started and ended!!
In those 16 odd hours everyday, we've gotten more close to a lot of our friends, made loads of new friends, have had the unlikeliest of well wishers and been touched by some of the sweetest testimonials and efforts :-).
Those are what is keeping me afloat today......the slowest day of our campaign so far. The day started all wrong actually......decided to try changing our profile pictures in the morning not knowing that the application would then go into moderation and that would take time.........precious time which would have cost us a lot of votes. That put us both in a really bad mood and to top that off, the votes are not at all coming in today and we've been slipping and slipping in position!!
Guess it'll pick up in a while......waiting for that.......

Nostalgia... travel and jaisalmer....

waking up in the pleasant chill of the early desert morning, seeing the sun rise over the yellow sandstone fort, we had slept on the terrace in the night because it was too hot inside.. time to take the mattresses down get ready for school , have a hurried breafast and wait outside for the schoolbus to pick us up l ... the bus is actually an army shaktimaan truck with bench seats and a ladder welded at the back...scramble for the best seats .. and then the long drive to school crossing the camel carts and the bajaj scooters....
seems like it was just yesterday but that was 2 decades back, how time seems to have flown...
want to go back and see if the school with its sand filled playground and long corriders has changed or if any of the teachers who helped a shy introverted 13 yr old break out of his cocoon are still there...
the journey we want to undertake for the great driving challenge is going to be as much in time as in distance for me, I so hope we manage to qualify for it..


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Challenges and Changes

The last few days have been some of the most interesting days of my life!! You know how when people taking part in all the contest and reality shows on TV go on about how the show has changed them and you think they are just being fake? I was so wrong!!

Sai and me are now trying our best to get chosen for The Great Driving Challenge and I am now feeling exactly like the very participants that I used to think were fake!! Since we registered 6 days back, I've been like a bull let loose in a china shop!! I've been on an absolute greeting is not 'Hi' or 'Hiyee' anymore, its 'Vote for us' with a ':-)' for effect!! And I'm not sparing anyone who dares to come on chat in Facebook or much that I think all my friends must now be scared of seeing me online!!

Basically what I am trying to get at is that these contest do actually change people!! They start realizing things about themselves that they never knew. Evil things that lay dormant waiting to be awakened and nice things which were till then well hidden. And this I know from what I've been going through in the past few days!!

For one, I've become totally aggressive, pursuing all my friends relentlessly for votes ( so much that many of them are refusing to come online now and the ones who do,log off as soon as i start chatting with them!! ). To top that off, I'm absolutely shameless now!! I've started chatting with friends I haven't talked to or kept much in touch with for years now and I start all those chats also with 'Vote for us :-)'. I would never ever have believed I am capable of something like that if I didn't see me doing it myself!! Trust me its that bad!!

Its not all bad though.....I've discovered few useful things about me that I never knew was in me!! For one, boy am i persistent!! And so thoroughly single minded!! This so-far-well-hidden trait is something that Sai ( my boss at work ) sees a lot of potential in!! He's been thinking of ways to put this new me to use at work as soon as I'm done with this!! And I've discovered an alternate profession!! Planning trips!!! I sat a whole night ( me, who's really really fond of my sleep!! ) charting out routes and places and highways and reading up about everything I want to see and do. This is something that I've been doing for a year now but I never thought of actually doing this as a profession!! I mean why not....I've been planning trips for a lot of friends this year not to mention for ourselves so maybe I can try this as an addition to what I am already doing......hmmmm......

And its not just me, Sai has changed a lot too!! I'm the ever excitable one, the jumping jack of the family but has he overtaken me in this one!! I've never seen him so excited and so enthusiastic about anything before and I absolutely love it!! We seem to be feeding off each other now......anytime I am a little less on energy, he pulls me right back and vice versa!! We're a total power packed team!! Yipeeee!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Starting out

I've always wanted to blog....checked out many blogs and many sites a lot of times but never got around to starting one of my own.

Finally i have :)

And the reason for me starting is very interesting too....its because of a contest i so want to get chosen for!! Its the mitsubishi Great Driving Challenge and as part of the actual contest, we have to blog.....thought i would start early and check out how this will be....

One of the reasons i'd never started a blog was cuz i thought i would get too addicted to it and would not be able to stop.....cant imagine now why i thought that was a bad thing!! writing is excellent and it gives you such an amazing way to vent your feelings!!

Now that i've started writing, i'm pouring with ideas about what i should write!!

Sai and me travel a lot, and we should have started a blog long back to just to record all the fab experiences we've had and all the wonderful people we've met.

We're both architects and we meet really interesting people everyday of our lifes!! in fact, we've always had plans of writing a book when we retire (theres no way we are risking our practice by writing it now!!)

Theres our families (Sais a mangalorean bunt and i am a malayali) and its uncanny how similar and how different they are to each other!! both of us have the craziest families ever and some of our best times have been spent with them :)

Then theres of course out favorite topic....something both of us can go on and on and on about.....our 2 doggies...Maximillian (he doesnt know this....he responds to Max or Maxi) and Cocoa. there are the highlights of our lives and everything revolves around them.

I think i've decided, i'll write a little (i hope i can stop!) about them as my very first blog!!

I just looked to see where both of them are and my heart just melted (all over again....its making a habit out of melting these days!!). Both max and cocoa are sleeping together at my foot.....i love it when they do this!! they look absolutely adorable then......max using cocoa as a pillow (its usually this way cuz max is boney and cocoa is a total bolster!)....i have never seen any other pair of doggies who do this!! maybe its cuz they are mine and i think they are both brilliant and unique and the bestest ever that i feel that no other dogs do what they do but its true!! you shud meet them to believe it!!

i had always wanted to run sumplace far whenever people start talking about everything their kids do......the kid this - the kid that!! i'd promised myself that i wud never do something like that.....and now i tell myself that me talking away (i do only if someone asks me about them.....but once i start, i cant stop!) is totally fine cuz they are amazing little doggies!! the world has to know!!

just realised that i will have to cut this short now.....we've to go out today and its already quite late......thats us...latecomers to all parties.....and we're trying to improve that!! the last few times, we were one of the first few to all parties!!

ok, there i go off on a tangent again!!

i'll leave with a snap of my little ones sleeping.......

and ya, i can get addicted to this!! :)