Sunday, October 21, 2012

Time to Celebrate

Come October Festivities begin in India. This is when the torrid monsoon ends and fair, sunny weather is in plenty full. The series of Hindu festivals fetch lot of joy and inundate the ambiance with myriads of mind boggling colors. Ganesh Chaturthi in praise of Lord Ganesha lasts for 9 days, after some days it is followed by nine days of Navratri in praise of Maa Durga at times in personification as Goddess Kali. Ganesh Chathurthi is celebrated with greater pomp and gaiety in Maharashtra State of India.  

Nothing express better than empowerment of women except the Hindu Scriptures and Epics. At places women in India are exploited that is a different matter - simple lack of understanding and archaic beliefs.          

Navratri is immediately followed by Dusherra or VijiyaDashmi on the tenth day when idols of Durga are immersed in sacred waters. Dusherra marks the victory of good over evil. Large Idols of Ravana, the tyrant ruler of Lanka and his associates are burnt using crackers all over India.  This festival is celebrated with greater fervor in Bengal a State of India. 

This is then followed by 4/5 Day Diwali Festival of Lights. The lights dazzle throughout the night and crackers are aflame. The subtle clay lamps accord grace and serenity to the explosive atmosphere.  Diyas as they are called in Hindi are epitome of divine light of overpowering of darkness. The main festival Badi Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama, Sita & brother Laxman  from 14 years of exile back to his Kingdom Ayodhya. This after a thundering victory of evil Ravana  who kidnapped Sita wife of Ram.

Food and sweets galore, gratification of hunger is essential to all religious festivals the sweeter the better.        

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Indian Railway - Garib Rath Express

The cool confines of the vestibule looks inviting as I climb onto the rail with reservation status in RAC. Garib Rath which means Chariot of the poor is a long distance rail that begins from Jabalpur City Station in Madhya Pradesh. The destination station is Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. The train stops at many stations on its journey towards Mumbai at Arabian Sea. 

Garib Rath belongs to the express category that means fewer stoppage or is it? At the station there is as much chaos as it is inside. Passengers in Hurry as always..there is much time, I struggle to reach my seat, put my bag under it - in a constricted space and relax. The commotion continues, a journey that only offers comfort of  temperature control and nothing else. Five people to leave one passenger.   

The coaches are nice and clean and the toilets are hygienic. This by all means is a bounty. Indian rails contain the dirtiest toilets as at other public places. But there is a continuous effort from the department to maintain all things good. The problem lies in the sheer number of travelers.  

The windows are large enough and I love to watch my India. Beautiful India! The familiar landscape passes by, I travel often on this route. But soon darkness takes over and I am confined to the inner reality of the coach. The stark reality of inner chaos far apart for the magical scape outside. 

The rail offers cheaper fare than most of the temperature controlled accommodations. It offers a chance to those not lucky enough to travel in AC. The cool comfort makes them extra chirpy and restless the commotion goes on well past sleeping hours. This is a characteristic of many of the travelers in India minus the upper class. Noise, spicy food, large number of baggage, slippers, rugs, plastic bags, mineral water all get cramped in a minimalist compartment. The situation is worsened by continuous to and fro of vendors selling tea, snacks and, "Very Tasty Quality Food Sir! Garama Garm". The food, if you have no other source is all but palatable.         

In the cramped confinement, the World becomes oblivious and you feel like traveling in a spacecraft through the mysterious celestial space. But there is no vacuum here, it is literally a bazaar on the move. Perhaps we Indians are most carefree travelers. In this confinement, I experience India from close. The emergence of the clutter and chaos. Simply too many people! But within this extreme lies an amazing colorful tapestry, an admixture of diverse profiles that never cease to surprise me.

Travelers chomp all around..bananas, bhajiyas, samosa, chips Haldiram, the kids are very noisy and restless. As dinner time arrives people settle down for the big chomp. Family and friends gather around oblivious of the terribly constricted space. The passage is completely blocked by the time boxes open and pungent aroma of spices fill the whole vestibule. The aroma lingers for hours in the AC compartment. The chomp is noisy and a fine example of gluttony...a train ride creates insatiable hunger, discomfort or not. By the time the chomp is over it is time to sleep or is it? The kids continue with their antics energized by the loads of food...they become more troublesome. The women have truck load of chatting to do. They are apologetic, this is a precious instance of complete freedom for them. I smile and mean to say carry on. The bed rolls begin to roll out as time proceeds, the event is as noisy with frantic discussion of who will sleep where?

The Ticket Checker has not yet arrived, sitting with my lap top I try to ignore the milieu. I frequently check my Current Pnr status in hope of getting a birth to sleep. I am lucky now, and I have a confirmed birth in the next coach. My neighbors are upper class English speaking Indians. Tight lipped, high society snobs by fate dipped into Garib Rath. The ambiance is dull, silent and devoid of life...the silence is the only welcoming note.   

I take out my dinner, carefully wrapped in a foil, it is...spicy...pungent...aromatic..Blah! blah!. It is mind bogglingly tasty, I have made it myself. Heavy aroma lingers in the air as I sit crossed legged chomping freshly made aloo ke sabji, oily partha, achar, and papad. Lots of nasty eyebrows are raised but I am at work, who cares. Aren't we all Indians. Live Life King Size!                                 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Himalayas: A journey through the land of abyss

Road to Maansarovar
Himalayan Spring

 Photographic odyssey by Neeraj Vegad photographer based in Jabalpur. His work here reflects his thoughts and deep understanding of amazing topography of the Himalayas in India. Through his work and brief account we travel to the wide expanse of the mountain ranges at Mount Kailash and Maansarovar Lake.     

The roads were excellent throughout the journey the author remarks and the drive was enjoyable. 
Tibetan Plateau
Tibetan Prayer Flags
(Above) The barren cold desert on the way was a unique experience. The Tibetan Plateaus arrived all over the on the way to Maansarovar surprising us with their nakedness and wide expanse.

A unique way of worship the Tibetan Prayer Flags are a small rectangular piece of colored cloth. These are found strung all over the region strung on Himalayan Ridges

Kedarnath
.     
The terrace sculpted out of Mountains in Uttrakhand by step farming. The ledges, forests, rivers and roads form a magnificent panoramic grandeur all over the lower reaches of Himalayas.










The Himalayan Range contains some of the highest mountains in the World. The snow capped peaks and the deep ridges form a breath taking panorama in a rarefied atmosphere.    


Mount Kailash







Mount Kailash: The abode of Lord Shiva lies in Trans Himalayas in Tibetan Region. Most sacred to the Hindus the it is embedded deep in the intrigue. The mystic mountain is considered as a place of eternal bliss.       
Maansarovar Lake









Mansarovar Lake: The backdrop is created by Mount Kailash in the North. This personification of beauty is also considered as the purest and a sip will land oneself in the Abode of Shiva.  



Man Sarovar is one of the highest freshwater lakes at the height of 4590 meters. For Hindus this is the most cherished pilgrimage destination. Many devotees arrive here  from India on organized package tour or Yatra. 

Pilgrims bathing






The religious fervor and a deep seated belief makes the pilgrims take a holy dip in the icy cold waters of Man Sarovar in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wildlife Tourism in India

India is a vast country with interesting zoo geography. This has resulted from diverse climatic conditions, varying altitude and local situations. Diverse life forms existing in the country. The wildlife of India is unique, interesting and worth experiencing. 

There are more than 300 species of mammals among which the tiger and lion are tertiary carnivores and prime predator. The lion is restricted to Gir National Park in the state of Gujarat, but the tiger inhabits many regions.    

Tiger is main interest of tourists in India and Internationally. In recent times interest in Lion safari has become popular. The Asiatic lion is the sole representative of its race in the World. The Asiatic lion survives only at Gir National Park in India. In Gujarat Asiatic Wild Ass in Little Rann of Kutch and Black Buck at Velavadar are also of tourist interest.

In Eastern India in Assam, Indian Rhino safari attracts thousands of tourists to Kaziranga National Park. The one horned rhino is now found only in Assam, Uttar Pradesh and some regions of Nepal. The Indian wild elephant and Asiatic wild buffalo also make Kaziranga their home. Manas tiger reserve is also a habitat for tigers and rhino in Assam besides the Golden Langur. Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh is home to the red panda, hoolock gibbon and the clouded leopards besides many endemic species.   

The best place to see the tiger are Kanha, Pench & Bandhavgarh National Park in Central India. They are the finest habitat of the Bengal tigers in the country.  A large number of tourists come here for tiger safaris, birding and wildlife watching. Other places to see tigers in India are Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttranchal and Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan. The tigers inhabit many reserves in India but are not easily sighted.     

Many tiger reserves in South are also popular tourism destinations because of diversity in flora and fauna they harbor. There live many endemic mammals and birds in Southern India which are found no where else.

The best mode of travel to India is on package tours. The top rated Indian wildlife tour operators offer packages for wildlife safaris in India. These are professional companies and make your safaris very successful. Organized tours do away with hassles of frequent travel bookings and transport arrangements etc. Hence this form of travel is preferred all over the World.      

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Up in the Mountains

The road rises steeply as you climb up from Nainital, it curves and bends viciously as you move further up. This is the road to Pangot a hill resort chiefly visited by birders. On the way up the frightening climb one comes across the spectacular view of  the Himalayan Ranges and the Nainital District in Uttarakhand.

Many tourist from Nainital below climb halfway up to see this panoramic splendor of  the Himalayas - if not engulfed by the fog. Layers of mountain ranges precede the magnificent range adding to the beauty of the landscape.

It snows in Pangot just any time as late as April making the drive a difficult proposition. A snowstorm can completely block the road to Pangot and tourists have to be evicted on foot - a long arduous walk. Make sure of the weather, the destination can be very gloomy and depressing whence engulfed by clouds and fog.   

The Pangot village is a sleepy place with few resorts that offer accommodation for the birders. All around, the high rise mountains surround the village situated on a plateau. When the snow falls, the mountain tops reflect  strands of stark sunlight on the ground below that further enliven the scape. The slopes are covered by dense forest of pine, birch and oak and the ice stands out in contrast to lively green, the spectacle can best be described as mesmerizing. 

On a sunny day the drive to the highest point Vinayak can be rewarding. This is where you get the best view of the Himalayas, the large span of the range stretches your eyes as you gaze at the unfolding panorama.  On the way you come across barren mountains near the Gughu Khan a small sleepy hamlet with few chai shops that offer succor from the bitter cold. The cheer pheasant point allures birders to get a glimpse of the enigmatic cheer pheasant on the grassy slopes of the mountains. This bird is a rare sight and along with the Koklass Pheasant forms the birders catch.    

The Himalayan Griffons and Lammergeier soar amidst the empty spaces of mountains over the steep  valleys. They rise on the thermals and dip down into the valley searching for food displaying their amazing flying skills and rapacious strike power. Lammergeier are known to pick up prey as big as lamb hence the name.  At night one can get a glimpse of the leopard and rare mountain wildlife. 

The landscape is dotted with small hamlets, a mix of forested and grassy slopes. In the deep valleys rivulets crisscross through the maze of slaty stones in complete silence. The ethereal silence is a golden rule here and all  elements seem to be standstill, frozen in time and space.  

The glaring sun creates a vivid pattern of light and shade on the slopes. The early morning light barely reaches the glens the effect is a ghostly contrast to lively sky above.  

All around in Pangot birds call at their best and the vivid colors that traverse through the canopies are delight not only for birders but even for the nonchalant holiday makers. From my resort Birding Lodge I can see streamlined mountains and a long pitched valley at the other end of which is the Corbett Tiger Reserve. 

It is best to visit Pangot in winters for bird watching. The destination offers peace and tranquility to holiday makers and honeymooners. Long walks at Kilbury or a drive to Bagger can be a pleasing experience. Pangot at height of 2300 MSL is at a distance of 14 km  from Nainital Township.