Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This Day That Year - 29th July 2007

Day 15

The drive from Katra to Delhi is on...I wake up after some 10 hours to see we're going to stop over at Ambala for lunch - at one of Sid's contacts' place. They're extremely warm and hospitable...we chat for an hour and they stuff us with poori, chhole, aaloo and what not! After the delicious meal we are all packed back into our innovas and are zooming away to Delhi again. Delhi arrives faster than we want it to. We sort out our luggage, shift cars according to residences in Delhi and are on the way to our respective homes. So we part with heavy hearts - it's the end of a trip we'll remember for life. Atleast I will. Memories are indeed the biggest treasure. Mom, dad are thrilled to have me back. I'm still getting accustomed to being back from a very different world. It can actually be disorienting. No one who hasn't been to Ladakh can understand what one feels there. So my advice: do go there atleast once in this lifetime. Otherwise you truly have missed something in life.

Monday, July 28, 2008

This Day That Year - 28th July 2007

Day 14

So we're on our way up to Vaishno Devi Mata ka mandir. The walk is beautiful. It's misty and soon it's drizzling. D & I walk up all the way - chatting, looking at sights & he tells me stories of his previous visits here. We have no VIP passes and are wondering how many hours we'll have to wait in queue for the darshan. Ardhkunwari is the half way mark - the milestones seem to arrive really slow but I love the walk up into the clouds. At Himkoti we stop to eat dosas and garma garam rajma chawal. Kavitta catches up with us here and stomachs replenished, we continue to walk up! Soon we're at the mandir, we buy our prashad and are done with the darshan in a matter of 15-20 minutes. No long queues. We're thrilled and inspired to climb up further to Bhairon Mandir. The board says 1.5 kms and we think what the hell...why not? So we start walking. Sid & Runmee are way ahead on their mules! This particular stretch is really really steep and we're huffing and pufffing our way up. D & I stop to sit at various points. Sometimes we take the stairs but they're even more tiring! Many stops later, we're in the temple - darshan, parshad and out. Time to descend. We decide to take the stairs to save time even though we know we'll end up with wobbly knees! So we're rolling downhill - literally running along. A short stop at Cafe Coffee Day for a bite and back on the path. At the foot of the hill we indulge in threads, lockets etc. Then we pack ourselves into an auto back to Hotel New Ashok Palace. A hot water bath later, I'm knocked out on the bed for 4 hours. Then we're up and ready to drive back to Delhi. The biggest regret of the day: No camera on the climb :( We all thought we won't be permitted to take them inside the temple - discovered later that there were locker rooms! So anyways, soon we're dining at the 'Jewel', drinking chai by the roadside, clicking the very last snap of this trip @ Katra and are then on the road to Delhi. I am wishing we could extend the trip further. I am feeling sad about having to go back to the noise & chaos of the metropolis. I just want to freeze time here...in my most peaceful, dreamless 10 hour sleep on the drive back.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This Day That Year - 27th July 2007

Day 13

It's day 13...I feel like I'm living a dream...years later I know I am going to recall this trip, read these blog entries and relive these moments. Anyways, this day is for shopping at Pahalgam! The sweet little town has quaint looking shops - out of a different world - we look at Kashmiri suits, silver and junk jewellery! I end up buying Kashmiri suits for mom, nani etc...and D the master bargainer helps me get them at good prices! I also indulge in silver and junk jewellery - earrings, pendants, bracelets and keychains for friends! Soon, we're driving to Jammu...I sleep most of the way. The innova is like home by now. We stop on the way for a tea break and out of the blue we decide to stop at Katra and go to Vaishno Devi!! It will delay us by half a day only because we decide to skip sleep and start off on the trek at the time we were to halt at Jammu! We don't tell the bosses of our plans yet. They're expecting us back in Delhi ASAP as some award work is to be done! We eat at Vaishno Dhaba@Katra and hunt for a hotel to leave our luggage. Many seedy hotels later, we're checking into Hotel New Ashok Palace, dumping luggage and by 5:30 am we're on our way up for Mata ke darshan at Vaishno Devi!! This time I've decided to go on foot all the way. Only Sidhartha & Runmee take mules. After the Amarnath Yatra, this seems like cakewalk - there are no dangerous curves, no narrow mud tracks & it isn't that steep - in fact there's a proper cemented route and a choice to go by stairs all the way up!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This Day That Year - 26th July 2007

Day 12

It's day 12 - we're off to sightsee Srinagar. First stop - Shankaracharya - no cameras allowed. Lots of stairs to climb - the Gods always like to sit on the top! Beautiful temple, more prasaad. I come back and see 8 missed calls on my phone. I call Indrajit & he tells me the magic has worked :) I'm thrilled! Next stop is Hazratbal mosque. We visit the mosque, not realising we're wearing huge orange teekas on our foreheads! We're feeling truly secular! The flight of the pigeons at Hazratbal is spectacular. Next we're lazing around in a shikara, doing cheesy photography at chaar chinaar. The weeds under water are mesmerizing! Lunch is Kashmiri food at Ahdoos - no words to describe it. You have to eat it to believe it! Alas, there's no time left for shopping! Then we're jet setting to Pahalgam. We love our innova by now - 4 of us huddling together on the backseat and Parul with her wisecracks on the front seat is a regular by now :) Pahalgam is a sweet, romantic little town - green and full of flowing water. Every inch of our luggage is scanned & x-rayed before we're allowed into the town - security check due to the Amarnath Yatra. There's a small scuffle with the BSF jawan and we're trying to control Sid & D and avoid a showdown! It's masala movie stuff :) Hotel Heevan (yes, the spellings are correct) is literally heaven - a cottage like thingie right by the flowing river. It's one of the most picturesque setups you could ask for. Soon we're ordering flasks and flasks of tea...and a sumptuous dinner follows. Tonight "sleeping" means lots of us huddling on a double bed! :)

Friday, July 25, 2008

This Day That Year - 25th July 2007

Day 11

It's a lazy morning. After yesterday's yatra, we're all half dead. Bhaiya lets us sleep and relax till late. He burns CDs of the snaps we've taken so far - Parul & I are thrilled we have double the space in our cameras now! Next destination - Srinagar. Bhaiya has made arrangements for us to stay there. The drive is once again breathtaking. On the way we stop at Mata Kheerbhawani mandir & are given VIP darshan once again. The temple has a pond of water that's said to turn different colours - turns red or black in bad times like the tsunami or during earthquakes. We eat bowls of kheer and head to Srinagar. Hitting Srinagar at night is a bad idea. Even though the place is beautiful and the feeling out of the world, there's an uneasiness. You don't feel like trusting anyone here. We're stopped by the police more than once - looked at suspiciously & questioned why we are there but the PRESS sticker always helps. After being lost for about half an hour, we finally reach Badami Bagh cantonment and are comfortably settled for the night in Dagger Huts - royal treatment! The rooms are cosy and we're content. Today's raw deal - my travel agent wants me to come back sooner than planned because I have an interview with the Belgian embassy. We're considering my flights back to Delhi :( I'm depressed about it. I don't want to go back alone. I want to see Pahalgam with the rest of them! Let's see if Indrajit's magic works...!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This Day That Year - 24th July 2007

Day 10

Wake up at 6 am...time to get ready for the Amarnath Yatra, the walking shoes are on. The bosses will leave for Delhi in a few hours. By 7:00 am the whole jingbang is set to move - on foot, but with mules for backup. My horse is Soni and her owner - a cute, blue eyed Kashmiri boy - Riyaz. The trek begins...with stopovers at Army checkposts - we're greeted with warm water, tea & breakfast...then with warm water, tea & pakodas a few hours later and the saga continues till we reach the Amarnath caves. Army hospitality is just fabulous. The trek is tough & dangerous & it's drizzling as well. Sitting atop a horse you look down into the valley and can imagine lying there in a heap! D & Manmohan are the only ones who don't take mules even for a second. The rest of us just don't have the stamina. The distance is 13 kms one way. Soon we've reached the caves and we're given VIP darshan thanks to the Indian Army once more. We see the much talked about pair of pigeons - they say not everyone is fortunate enough to see them. We get our prasaad and soon are heading downhill. I walk back much of the way with D, Sid & Krrishh - that's what D calls Vidya - an Army jawaan because he saved D's life more than once. We're almost running downhill, it's raining now and we're looking out for landslides and flying stones. Deep bhaiya had warned us about them. About 10 people had died during the yatras because of stone hits. 12 hours, fatigue and a tub full of slush later, we're back at the base camp in Sonamarg. A hot water bath awaits me. Never felt better! Next we're off to eat bhandara food - tonight it's makki di roti te sarson da saag. Tonnes of shudh ghee and calories but who cares? And then it's back to bunk beds and I have the most blissful, dreamless sleep! :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This Day That Year - 23rd July 2007

Day 9

Wake upppp bellows the boss and the troops are marching to the Army mess for a sumptuous, high calorie breakfast of chana bhatura. We flout all defence norms by walking in wearing jeans/tracks/t-shirts and being a noisy bunch. Stomachs full, we're led to the viewpoint accompanied by Capt Munish who shows us Tiger Hill (of operation vijay fame) and tells us a bit about the Kargil war...comes across as a sweet but a slightly shy person. Soon we're on our way to Sonamarg, driving through Zojilla pass. Shortly before hitting Sonamarg, we're received by Col Deep Bhagat's men who escort us to the 5 JAK RIF camp at Sonamarg. Col Deep Bhagat - Nidhi's brother - is the Commanding Officer, more than a perfect host he's an absolutely remarkable person. He makes us feel at home instantly. After yummy food we're escorted to our tents - little do we know that we shall be staying here for more than the one night that we have planned! Col Bhagat is now convincing us to extend the trip and we are looking like little expectant children at Shashi...he's perhaps the kindest boss in the world because he encourages us to stay on. But one car will go back to Delhi tomorrow - with Shashi, Rohit, Saif, Ritwik and Divya and we get to stay on and visit more places! Needless to say we're elated! So basically all the bosses are off tomorrow! A little while later, we're off to do some river rafting...rain adds to the fun and chill! River rafting in Kashmir is an experience in itself...despite the chattering teeth, the soaked clothes you're left asking for more. Soon after, we're having cups of tea at the Army mess - flouting the rules of wearing formals yet again! This night we dine at the 'bhandaras' set up for the Amarnath yatris. The food is absolutely delicious and served punjabi style - with loads of ghee and warmth! And we have now decided to do the Amarnath Yatra tomorrow - all except Parul...she has asthma. She wants to go, says she'll go muleback, argues, is scolded and eventually agrees but is obviously upset. Time to sleep in those Army bunk beds! It's cold...brrrr...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Day That Year - 22nd July 2007

Day 8

Time to leave Leh...the drive to Drass begins - via Kargil. We stop over at a Buddha Temple. And don't stop at the famous Lamayuru monastery. Instead we click away from the car. Mountains look like kneaded clay now. Unfortunately, Kargil comes and goes in the darkness. Time for another punctured tyre and hence a not so needed break. Parul is down with asthma again and today it's worse. We finally reach Drass at 11:00 pm and there's Army hospitality waiting at the Vikram Batra Transit Camp. They're obviously not happy at our extremely late arrival but they play the perfect hosts. We're put up for the night. It's freezing cold!

Monday, July 21, 2008

This Day That Year - 21st July 2007

Day 7

Leh Morning 3: Today we're headed to Pangong Lake - the lake that is in both India & China. It's an early morning again because the distance to be covered is long. One hour into the drive, we're stopped at the police checkpost. No permissions again. Tempers are now running high. Everyone is frantically trying their Army connections. Finally Mufti & Sid's call to the SP works & we have a green signal. We cross Chandla Baba Mandir on the way. Army hospitality once more. Tea & biscuits. Kavitta had spoken of breakfast but apparently it was supposed to be tea! But we're used to missing meals by now. I sleep some of the way. Divya tells us what she feels about each of us. She finds D self-obsessed, Sid a sweetheart, Parul intelligent yet temperamental, Runmee extremely sweet, Nidhi sweet & bubbly & me a genuine person who cares for her friends! I would agree about myself I think :) She tells us more personal stories. I'm intrigued! Then I sleep for a while, catching glimpses of the mountains in between. Finally open my eyes near Pangong. It's breathtakingly beautiful & blue. I am awed by the beauty. I can't stop staring. Rohit instructs Pathakji to take the car as close to the water as possible - a mistake because the cars get stuck in sand once more! But for the time being, we're running to the water like little, excited children. The water is brrrrr cold. We all dance for the handycam. Pictures are taken. Then we're rescuing the cars. Picking up stones, fitting them around the sand-stuck tyres, lifting & pushing the cars. Some people have joined us to help. Cars are out and we're in! Back on the road. We're hungry. Stop & buy imitations of Kurkure, Lays, nutcrackers & Marie biscuits. Slice tastes heavenly right now. Then we're rushing off again. Loo break at Chandla Baba. Soon we're back at Mansarovar. It's our last night here. Dinner is but of course at Monalisa. Dil & Vijay - who work at Monalisa are our friends by now. There's a bonfire at Monalisa. D & I disappear to collect our t-shirts. He ordered one for Joshu and I ordered two - for Abir & Arshita. Their t-shirts say: "My maasi (in Joshu's case Mamu) was in Ladakh & all I got was this bloody t-shirt" and the backs have their names. Despite telling them not to write "bloody" the word appears on Joshu's & Arshita's t-shirts. Singing happens around the bonfire. Parul is having asthma & is quiet. Dinner, the walk back & the prayer wheel ritual. Then sleep.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Day That Year - 20th July 2007

Day 6

Leh Morning 2: Wake up time: 5:00 am. Rush rush rush. A quick tea & departure to Nubra Valley - or so we think. First halt at South Pullu & discovery that we need the District Magistrate's permission to go any further. Decision to hold the offsite meeting - one on ones with the bosses here at South Pullu. Things said, meetings done, we now proceed to Khardung La. We don't have permission or the time to go to Nubra Valley anymore. Khardung La - 18,380 feet - the highest motorable road in the world. The drive up is full of dangerous curves. One hour, a talk with the Army soldiers, maggi, photos, playing with the snow and a horrendous headache later we are ready to head back. I sleep all the way back. People get off to lunch at Monalisa, I'm too sleepy. Hit the room, Parul & Runmee are already in bed. And we're off to zombie land. 3 hours later, we're summoned to the terrace to continue the group offsite meet. More talk, plans for the future followed by dinner at Monalisa - it's like our home kitchen by now. Nidhi & I go to make phonecalls. Hard luck. No calls getting through. Parents will wait another day. In the meantime, they've been calling at the hotel! Nidhi & I are heading back & D scares us from behind. We accompany him for shopping. We buy similar oxidised kadas & order t-shirts for kids in the family. A sumptuous dinner. The walk back & I go to the prayer wheel again today. It's become a ritual - just like Monalisa. Parul is unwell tonight. She skips UNO. We don't play either. Sid, Runmee, D & I just chat late into the night. Time again for the 3 hour nap!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This Day That Year - 19th July 2007

Day 5

Leh morning 1: Breakfast on the house. A hot water bath. Day's plan is set. Some confusion and irritating moments later, we're off biking. Sid & Runmee have smartly taken excuse & gone shopping. D & I are on a thunderbird, Rohit & Neeti on a scooter and others in the car. We drive on to Kargil road. The scenery is breathtaking. We stop for photo-ops. Lie on the road, do all sorts of things! Then drive on, see a mountain and decide to climb it. More pics - click click click! D is the only one to reach the top. My floaters are troubling me. I am tempted to climb up further but my feet are slipping in the floaters. I regret not wearing shoes & decide not to go up any further. Soon we're back on the road. Next target: reaching Nimmu (a place, not a person!) for lunch. One or two sandy patches and the bike skids. Somehow, I trust D's driving and am not jolted out of my wits like I usually would be. Food at Nimmu is better than Gesmo ke momos! And then we're back on the road. Now D & I excuse ourselves and decide to check out dirt tracks and narrow roads. So we ride down towards the lake. A man is getting an open, red, adventure car reversed while talking on the phone. D halts. Looks at him, says "I think I know you". The man looks at him, screams "Abbe tu....(some fond abuses that I choose to censor)". Himanshu - D's close friend, Assistant Director with Yashraj Films is here shooting for Tashan and tells us Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor & Saif Ali Khan are out there shooting - where we were headed. So D & Himanshu exchange hotel numbers, addresses & we proceed to the lake. Alas entry to the lake is banned because of the shoot. We wait a while, I listen to D's stories about Bollywood. He thinks I'm bored, I'm actually intrigued and thoughtful. Soon we're heading back and now we decide to take the little road leading to the Army camp. The view there is out of this world. D & I keep stopping for snaps & have a whole portfolio each. That was perhaps the best patch I saw in Ladakh. I'm so glad we went there. Biking in Ladakh is an exhilarating feeling - no drive in a car can make you feel like that. All thanks to D for that day. I can't put what I felt on the bike into words. In Ladakh, nature makes you feel small & insignificant. Sigh! Soon, we're heading back. Stopover at Indus viewpoint. Yet another photo-op! :) Back on the bike, enter Fort Road. We spot our innova and I shift places. Parul & I are off shopping. I buy a t-shirt and lots of silver jewellery - dirt cheap in our opinion! Parul indulges in silver as well. Then we're off to Monalisa for dinner. A yummy dinner & a walk back to Hotel Mansarovar. There's a prayer wheel on the way. I've always been fascinated by them. I love the concept. Seeing a Tibetan praying, ask him how many times I should rotate the wheel & he says any number of times. I do that. I pray. The night is beautiful. Millions of stars. I miss that in the Delhi sky. It reminds me of the nights in Shillong. We're back at the hotel. UNO again & 2 hours of sleep!

Friday, July 18, 2008

This Day That Year - 18th July 2007

Day 4

Sleep eludes me again at 4:30 am. Head throbs. I try to sleep. At 6:00 am boss bellows into the tent "Get up, we have to reach Leh. Who asked you to pop pills?". So their car is repaired and they've caught us at Pang. Loo is out in the open. We have to find our spots. So Parul, Nidhi & I go behind a mountain & scout around for our spots. Soon we're back on the road...eating chocolates and junk to keep hunger at bay. My headache is still on. Neeti rubs Chinese oil on my forehead. Soon we're driving through a desert-like patch and then we're stuck in sand! Car trouble never ends! My head is spinning & I am off to rest in the other car. Help arrives & the car is dug out. We're behind the wheel again. We stop at a stream, get wet, drink the fresh water and Sid, D & I lie on the grass, leaning on rocks. It's a beautiful day, a beautiful place and the headache is beginning to lift! The scenery is just to be captured in the memory. No camera can do justice. The drive to Leh is beautiful, the weather warm. We enter Leh. On to Fort Road. Hotel Mansarovar, here we come! Rohit arrived in the morning - with SIT's Ramnath Goenka Award. A hot water bath and fresh clothes. Calls home - we're alive & kicking! Then we're off to eat. It's been 27 hours since our last meal at Sarchu. We reach 'Gesmo'. Order Tibetan food....momos, soup et al and they take FOREVER to arrive. Evening snacks become dinner. Meanwhile we've told the hotel, we'll dine there. Parul, Runmee & I then start exploring the market & Sid & D are off to hire bikes! It's D's dream to come to Ladakh on a bike. He's about to fulfill it partially by biking in Ladakh. Tonight we only explore the market. Tomorrow we shall buy! Parul & I still end up buying red coral pedants that we are yet to discover are not real coral but imitation coral - nevertheless they look good!

Then its a late night session of UNO in our room. Runmee, Parul, Sid, D & I. Divya & Nidhi join us briefly. We're creating a ruckus and our next door firang neighbours come to give us a piece of their minds! Time to catch 3 hrs of sleep!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Day That Year - 17th July 2007

Day 3

Sleep eludes me at 5:00 am. D & I chat for a while, wake up people. Hospitality at the circuit house - aaloo paranthas! The drive to Leh begins. We cross Jispa & the fuel tank leaks again. This time 2 cars move ahead - us included and 1 car goes back for repair. We carry on. Manoj - a driver who dozes off at the wheel bangs us into a rock, tyre bursts! Thanks to the rock, we're alive and not down the gorge. Manoj is barred from driving. Sid takes over. Drives us through carefully. Beauty here is at its best. First a hilly drive, blind curves and then vast plains...sometimes green, sometimes brown and desert-like. I am the navigator. Reaching Sarchu is the immediate mission. Stopover at Sarchu for lunch. Discover there are no phones for the next 200 kms - till Upshi - so parents will have to wait another day for news. Stomachs full, we set off once more. D is now the driver. I remain navigator. 16 kms later, D feels ill - mountain sickness has begun! Sid takes over as driver and Runmee as navigator. Shortly Parul feels the mountain sickness as well and I am the doctor for the sick children. Sid continues driving despite a headache and Runmee and I navigate. The trail is treacherous, its dark and danger lurks. A scrape with an Army jeep, scary curves, car in water, stopovers for puking and finally the safety of tents at Pang. I attend to all the sick children, rubbing balms on their heads and making them drink lemon and honey in warm water that the tent owners say will help. I am later addressed as Florence Nightingale :) Soon we're all back in sleeping bags, lying in the tent. It's a cold night, I shiver all the while and my head continues to spin even as I try to sleep!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This Day That Year - 16th July 2007

Day 2

Morning in Manali - wake up call at 7 am. Queue to the loo. Departure from Kanchani Koot back to Johnson's Cafe for breakfast. Shopping for woollens, then darts at Johnson's and reminsces of last year - August 2006. Finally departure to Keylong. Rohtang is en route and we're back again. Same rock, same picture, different faces! First of many car breakdowns - fuel tank leaks. 1 car goes ahead, we stay back. I chew gum and hand it to the driver. He chews gum as well. Works to seal the fuel tank for a while. Flag down a truck, get M-seal and the tank is sealed. Adventure begins - we trek down to the stream & then climb into the water pulley. Regrets: no camera! We want to go see the glacier but are prohibited for lack of time. Back to the car & drive to Keylong. Day 2 ends with a slight headache, a cup of tea, biscuits and eventually blissful sleep at the circuit house. Today it's 4 of us + D.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Day That Year - 14th July 2007 (turns into 15th July 2007)

Day 1

I reach home at 1 pm after spending about 30 hours at work. Crash. Sid calls at 3:30 pm & says its 5 pm & time to wake up & arrange stuff for the trip. I get up befuzzled, jump out of bed and after mild abuses to him for lying to me about the time, am on the job. My work is to arrange for medicines and emergency food kits...that done, I'm off to the market to buy some other essentials. Cousins are in town, they come along. Back by 9 pm, I get down to packing my favourite black haversack...all set and in control by 10:30 pm. 11:30 pm cab arrives with Pathakji - one of our 3 drivers and sources of frustration & entertainment. Soon we've all collected at the office...all but Saifu & an hour and a half and many fibs later, he lands up & off we go! Vroom! 3 innovas, 13 people...the holiday has begun! Our car has Runmee, Sid, Parul & me...aiming to reach Chandigarh for breakfast, we eventually just manage milkshakes / cold coffee somewhere along the way and then stop for lunch. Check out seedy joints (one Hotel Neelam), exorbitant room rents (just for freshening up) and shady people. Eventually manage to find Hotel Sagar View - clean loos and good food - luxury! Stomachs full, journey resumes...reach Manali at 9 pm - check into Hotel Kanchani Koot - decent hotel...dinner at our favourite Johnson's Cafe, yummy food - the same as last year and back at the hotel - inauguration of our sleeping bags! It's 4 of us together.