Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 6: Adventure in Badrinath-Govindghat road

This is a series of my two weeks of tryst with the Garhwal Himalayas:
Day 1&2 : Secunderabad to Delhi
Day 3: Delhi to Haridwar bus ride
Day 3: Meerut Road
Day 3: Har Ki pauri- Haridwar
Day 4: Impressions from Haridwar
Day 4: Through Rajaji national Park
Day 4: Devaprayag-Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Karnaprayag
Day 5: Pipalkoti-Joshimath-Badrinath
Day 6: Mana: The last Indian village

Before I move on to Govindghat, let me narrate you the adventures of the previous evening while on my way back from Mana village. I was looking for a conveyance to reach Govindghat from Badrinath. It was raining steadily and no vehicles were willing to oblige. And then I found a Sumo who agreed to carry passengers on a premium. After futile attempts to bargain, we gave up and got in. As suspected just 5 kms down Badrinath, roads were blocked because of landslide. I wanted to reach Govindghat badly before dusk since it would save me a day to trek up to the Valley of Flowers.

Where's the road? Landslide ahead....

The boys in the jeep decided to cross the landslide walking. I was aghast. Since, it was still raining, I could literally see the rocks tumbling down. The younger boys from my vehicle were hell bent to cross it. I was tentative, shaking in my boots. What if a big chunk of land mass washes down taking us along to the deep gorge below into the mighty Alaknanda.

My mind was doing somersaults. I saw the boys move ahead. The next instant I gave them a shout and joined them, my heart pounding nevertheless.

Look at the tension in the man's face. They were all running.

Warning: Never ever cross a landslide when its raining. Flirting with nature can be fatal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Interview: Arun Bhat, travel writer/photographer

Arun Bhat is one of the most popular freelance travel writer based in Bangalore,India. A software engineer by profession, he found his calling in travel and photography. He has many accolades to his name in his brief stint as a travel writer. His works have been published in Mumbai Mirror, Landscape Magazine and many others. He also is a regular contributor to OkTataByeBye and BrightHub.com. His pictures have featured in UNICEF calendar too.

I had the honor to interview him and here is the interview verbatim. These are not made up questions just for the sake of asking. There was a genuine urge to know a few things deep inside and thus the questions. To someone who skims through his background in life, it would appear very glamorous and adventurous, but I am sure its more
than what meets the eye. I just wanted to scrape a little what lies beneath a travel writer's life. I am thankful that he obliged to share his experience with me. So here we begin:

1 I just wanted to know, why and how did you leave your cushy software
job and decide to become a full time traveller

I am not very sure if i can call myself a full time traveller. Only, now I spend more time travelling and have given up my full time job. I do a lot other things than just travelling. Photography, either when travelling or when city, for instance. I also do some freelance work in software as and when the time permits. I quit my job, so that I have more free time in my hands to do things that I would like to do. Travel scores high in the list of things to do, but that's not all.

2. How long have you been a travel writer?

I don't think the time has come to call myself a travel writer. I am only trying to be one, and it's not the only thing that contributes to my income. But if I can take my first published story in print as a reference, it is roughly two years now, since that has happened.

3. How does a travel writer make his ends meet? What are the avenues for a travel writer to earn money?

Again, I don't manage to make ends meet with travel writing. And from what I hear from people, it is not easy. The way to go, as I hear from others, is to work hard, write often and be professional and well managed. What is working for me well is a good online presence, a few continuous revenue streams combined with some revenues from publishing articles and photographs.

4.What are the cons/dangers of a travel writer? How does one manage family, because a travel writer is always on the move ?

Another question I really do not have an answer for, since I can't call myself a travel writer. I do not have much of family commitments.

5. Can you narrate one Aha! moment in your travel stint, that is memorable and close to you?

There are many good moments, though, if I am asked to quickly say of one, I can't think of one. It is easy to have many memorable moments when you are travelling. Like the moment I saw, after a long and tiring journey, a small blue strip of Pangong Lake lurking through the arid mountains of Ladakh. Like standing atop sykes point in Dandeli and watching the sun's last rays lighting up the valley of Kali River. Chasing a Cutia with its brilliantly colored wings and nearly falling off a cliff in Arunachal. Walking along the rocky shoreline of Gokarna and suddenly stumbling into a thick mass of purple flowers. Watching small children slip into devotional ecstasy as the aarti lamps swayed on the bank of Ganga in Rishikesh. There are simply too many.

6.Who are our favourite travel writers?

Stephen Alter and Pico Iyer, to name just two out of many.

7.Any plans to publish a book?

Yes and No. I do have a few book idea that I have in mind. But its a long process and a long journey. Non Fiction writing is an intensive activity and only way to go about it is to find a publisher first, manage to get an advance, spend time on research and eventually build a manuscript. It's a long journey before I can get on to do all that. I am not on a hunt to look for a publisher today, but if I find someone willing this moment, I don't see why I would not jump in.

8. What advice would you give to a budding travel writer?

Again, it would only be a rookie advising another rookie. I have nothing to say.

9. What next? Your future plans? Projects?

It is going to be a year or two more while I continue freelancing in the area of travel writing, hoping to establish myself in the industry. In the meanwhile, I hope to build a few more book ideas than what I already have, zero in on the best possible project and try to find ways to work on one.

Thanks Arun :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 6: Mana, the last Indian village

This is a series of my two weeks of tryst with the Garhwal Himalayas:
Day 1&2 : Secunderabad to Delhi
Day 3: Delhi to Haridwar bus ride
Day 3: Meerut Road
Day 3: Har Ki pauri- Haridwar
Day 4: Impressions from Haridwar
Day 4: Through Rajaji national Park
Day 4: Devaprayag-Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Karnaprayag
Day 5: Pipalkoti-Joshimath-Badrinath

First let me state this very clearly. I travelled the whole of Garhwal, saw many snow peaks, travelled Valley of Flowers. But nothing was like Mana. Words fail to describe it. As I write this post, my heart is pining for it. To travel again to Mana and stay there to my heart's content.

Mana is the last village in the Indian territory beyond which lies Tibet.

Road to Mana from Badrinath

The view of the valley on the stretch between Badrinath and Mana is spell binding. Vast open space surrounded by iced cap mountains. Its a stretch of 3 kms. I decided to walk the stretch. I walked around half a km when I spotted a BRO truck. I waved and it stopped. The open truck had some workers in the back. I gleefully handed them my backpack and hopped onto the back of the truck. The feeling of travelling on an open truck amidst the mountains is second to none.

This pic is taken on the BRO ruck. You can see the winding road leading to Mana

Mana Village

Mana village holds a lot of mythological relevance and you can actually see traces of Mahabharata scattered across this tiny village. Here are some of them:

  • Veda Vyas Gufa: This is where Veda Vyas resided and composed the whole of Mahabharat to Ganesha.
  • Ganesha Gufa: This is where Lord Ganesha wrote the Mahabharata as dictated by Ved Vyas
  • Bhim Pul: This is a massive rock that forms a bridge near the fountain of Saraswati river. Legend has it that when Pandavas were crossing the river, Draupadi found it difficult to follow. Bhim lifted a huge rock and placed it over to form a natural bridge.

    Entrance to Mana Village: Isnt it lovely?

    The inhabitants of Mana are the last generations of Mongol tribes and look very cute, esp the kids. They stay for a period of six months at Mana and then in winters move down to Joshimath.

    A Mana kid. He was too shy for a pose. Came out so good

A sadhu near Bhim Pul

Bhim Pul: As I mentioned the rock is suspended and clearly looks as if it has been fixed deliberately.

Ganesh Gufa

Veda Vyas cave: As it is wriiten, it is 5111 years old cave

There is a Vasundhara waterfalls around 11 kms from Mana towards the mountains. I trekked along with a couple of other boys to the falls. You should attempt it if you want to witness some breathtaking scenery. Legend has it that the Pandavas took the same path while on their way to heavens. You would meet many sadhus taking the same path.

I met a group of Naga sadhus on the way. They did not allow me to take pictures, but I managed to talk to them. When I asked them how they survived such extreme cold clothless, they said they smeared 'Bhasmi', which has godly powers. The icy peaks do not provide wood or food. They survive by taking flour mixed with water and crushed raw potatoes. According to them, the idea of food is only to survive. Anything in excess is considered sin. They believed in frugal existence. I was amazed to see a small boy(around 7 yrs) among them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chausath Yogini Temple: Hirapur

Frontal view of the temple

I redeemed myself off from the ignominy of having been an unworthy ignorant Odiya all these years. Being born and bred in a diverse and culturally vibrant state, I possessed little knowledge of what my state had to offer. I meandered all through my growing up years blankly. But today, after all these years, the subdued spirit has ignited and wants to learn more about its rich homestate Orissa. And thus started my journey . Because its never too late. And I started with 64 Yogini Temple, Hirapur.
The archedway displaying the 64 yogini statuettes

The 64 yogini temple at Hirapur, which is just 15 kms from Bhubaneswar, hides within itself deep mysteries and untold legends. Its uniqueness can be gauged by the fact that it is only second of its kind in Orissa and one of four such temples in the world. The temple is hypaethral, that means it is roofless. And the circular archway dons 64 statuettes of yoginis.
One such Yogini statuette
Legend has it that a demon king Raktabija had a boon that for each drop of his blood spilled on the ground, he would multiply his form. When his existence became intolerable, Goddess Durga waged a war against him. Durga took the help of the yoginis and directed them to drink all the drops of blood before it could touch the ground. Thus the demon was killed.

The village Hirapur though being so close to the city has its rustic charm surrounded by open swathes of paddy fields and a small pond in front of the temple.
You have to cross this Kuakhai river bridge to reach Hirapur.

For more information on 64 yogini temple, read the, HINDU article which featured a story on this little known temple.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day 5: Pipal Koti- Joshimath- Badrinath

This is a series of my two weeks of tryst with the Garhwal Himalayas:

3 am: My eyes opened at 3 in the morning. I found myself coiled up inside the blanket shivering. It was chilling. I couldn't make out if it was cold or I had a fever. I confirmed and was glad to find was the former. For the next two hours, I lay in bed staring blankly contemplating the next course of action.

6 am: I check out of my room feeling fresh and ready for the day ahead. And what do I see outside? I am surrounded by green peaks around. I am amidst the mountains. There is no feeling more enthralling than this. I take tea from the dhaba and go for a morning stroll. I have no clue of the land slide is cleared on the road ahead. But its lovely. I can also hear the gushing sounds of river Alakananda far below.
I ask the conducter to pick me on the way once the blockade gets cleared. I leave the place and walk along the road.

I took a lot of pictures of the morning scenery.

I then reached the spot of land slide. The BRO official was busy maneuvering the roller to clear off the road. I saluted him for his duty that took more than 2 hours.

I kept walking ahead and met some local kids. The kids showed me around and posed for a lot of pictures.
I kept walking ahead. Each new turn on the road, presented a new panorama, a new landscape as beautiful as the other. I would have walked for an hour now, but wasn't feeling tired at all. nature's effect may be.
And then I took another turn...
My eyes met something. I shouted at the spot. I howled, I shrieked at the top of my voice till it ached. I saw the first snow cliffed mountain in my life.

I looked around to share my excitement. There was no one. Only the valley and me and the barren road. I kept shouting and jumping. Frantically tried my cell, but of no avail.
The view looked heavenly. Also a little scary. I do not know why. It was so high touching the sky and actually looked like God's abode. The morning walk was worth taking. I experienced a special moment of my life.
Meanwhile a volley of vehicle's crossed me. I think the road blockade was removed. I looked for my bus amongst them. Then it came. And it crossed by me without stopping. My backpack was in there. The driver couldn't recognize me. I gave a shout and waved frantically. A moment later it screeched to a halt. I had my heart in my mouth a moment before.

9:20: We reached Joshimath. The driver was in a hurry to cross the town early for some reason. Alas!, he couldnt. The checkpost in Joshimath was closed at 9:30 am. And would open only at 11:30.

Joshimath to Badrinath

Joshimath to Badrinath road remains open for 6 months (April to October) and closed the other 6 months. During active months, the traffic is managed with gate systems that allow traffic only one way in phases. The gates open at 6:30, 9:30, 11:30, 14:00 and 16:30.

Tip: If you are travelling through Joshimath, remember the gate timings.

We missed the gate by a whisker and were to be stranded for 2 hours. I was in no mood to wait doing nothing. I got down, had some aloo parathas and got to my business of walking. I walked and walked and walked for the next 2 hours amidst breathtaking views again.

Met a gorkha on the way who chatted and walked along with me for a while. Crossed an army cantonment. I walked around 10 kms in 2 hours. And then my bus came and picked me up.

The first 15 kms of the 50 kms stretch is uneventful and amidst peaceful valley. What comes after that will make you shudder. Words fail to describe the roads and the ghats that come next. Atleast I dont have the ability to describe. The roads are so narrow that a faintest lapse of concentration or a lack of sense of measure would land you into the Alakananda below.

The ghats stood in ominous pose on either side of the Alakananda. This was the first time in 2 days of travelling amidst mountains, I was petrified. The older travellers in the bus were chanting prayers to calm themselves down. With numerous blind curves that crossed many water streams, we kept gaining altitude. We reached Badrinath at 1 pm.