The Midnight Lucknow Station

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Waiting midnight at 3:00 am at Charbagh Railway station for my daughter coming back from her school trip to Jaipur and around, I was seeing a different sort of railway station altogether. It is not that I had not seen it for a long time or I had not been there at that unearthly time ever, but earlier I had not been at this odd time to receive somebody, and therefore had the time to see around. While usually you find a perennial stream of crowd jostling to rush in or rush out of this British period iconic station, at this wee hour of morning you would find more person sleeping at the platform than walking at it. The people who have to find a connecting train perhaps in the morning or who have nowhere to go right in the midnight and no connections to flaunt to get a cozy wait at AC or VIP lounges, have surrendered to the call of the sleep and were lying in all shapes and sizes. They have surrendered to the circumstances and have no compunction in prostrating themselves at the platform in whatever little spaces they could claim to and with whatever little they could their bed. Usually it is recycled poly sheets or any piece of cloth or any newspaper spread. It’s a surreal feeling of socialism at it’s best where the poorest and not so poorest were sleeping side by side, snore by snore. I used this forced opportunity to pause and look around, though I would not have minded to sleep beside them in that milling cloud. On my part sitting at one of the rare benches of the railway station to wait for her daughter who was coming back after a cherished trip, I was feeling like a responsible father. I smiled at the scene around me and just then the train carrying my daughter chugged in at the platform.

She was really happy to find me right in front of my bogey and as she alighted, hugged me. Both of us came out of sleeping labyrinthine negotiating like a skilled driver through the lanes of sleeping millions. We were happy to see that not many were disturbed in this whole process……

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1

 

Pacific Coffee and Indian Kachori at Hong Kong

If you have to wait for 7 hours and more for your connecting flight at any airport, you will be feeling jittery. I was part of this dreadful experience this Saturday. After missing my last night sleep over late night Delhi-Hong Kong sector, I was waiting for my next flight to Fiji at Hong Kong airport for 7 hours!. Yes 7 hours. Courtesy free wi-fi at airport, I spent first few hours looking at my mobile followed by googling, followed by whatsaping followed by news on the net followed by some more net surfing followed by ogling at some really beautiful women( no details please!). Then I went for some window shopping but continued to do my mathematical calculations in INR Vs Honk Kong Dolor and US Dolor and continued to feel deprived why my native currency in exchange does not bring wads of notes? I could buy little therefore. I followed this again by some more mobile minutes, but this regime can sap your energy soon and you need something to eat as well. I was feeling hungry by afternoon and went for looking some food. The food was basically all Chinese or western junk food. I kept on looking at food options at many quick bites shops, but was not feeling motivated enough to buy that food. One big reason behind not easily choosing anything that was on offer was that my doting wife had packed some really delicious dal-kachoris with mango chutney for my trip. I knew that even if I bought no food, I would not be dying hungry at Hong Kong, so kept on judging all the food options even more scrupulously. I could not but anything therefore.

Then a great Eureka idea struck me. I had kachoris with me and as in India needed just some hot piping tea to polish few of them without spending a fortune. I smiled at my luck and appreciated my wife’s love for me, expressed through packed kachoris! I dashed off to buy some good tea or coffee to accompany my kachoris. Now, even at airport tea was more expensive than a full Andhra meal for three at Andhra Bhawan Delhi. I was still comparing but surrendered to my hunger. Army after all marches on stomach! I bought one tea for 306 bucks!. I came back to my seat to unchain my bag to prize open, the bowl of kachoris lovingly packed by my wife a day before.

Looking around me with slanted eyes, I opened the box and smelled kachoris with relish. Hunger is the best appetizer!. I polished off soon, three full kachoris with as much mango chutney as I could. It was really a great relief and very proud moment for an Indian to eat Kachoris in the land of dragon right at airport. The Indian delicacy and western icons of civilization coming in a big paper cup saying hello to each other. So what if, I spilled some kachori fillings on the carpet. After all it’s never easy to finish Indian food without spills. Check any Indian rail coach after a family has finished  food with the family. I left without that much though.

What a combination Sir ji!

What a combination Sir ji!

I was smiling afterward at this unique combination of Indian Kachoris coming to rescue of yours truly.

Bharat Mata Ki Jai!

Anasakti Ashram Kausani

Views of Himalaya from Anasakti Ashram, Kausani

Views of Himalaya from Anasakti Ashram, Kausani

Being a student of History and Polity, I thought, I knew a lot about Gandhi ji. But on a recent trip to Kausani dubbed as ‘Switzerland of India’ by Gandhi ji himself, I came across one more hitherto unknown-to-me facet of Gandhi ji, that he was a great admirer and lover of nature. On an invitation of his tea garden owner friend, he had come to Kausani in June 1929. He had come for few days only to write about chapter on Anasakti Yog, as a part of his commentary on Bhagwadgeeta. He stayed at the guest house in Kausani, owned by his friend. The location of this guest house was just opposite to snow laden Nanda Devi and other important peaks of Himalaya. Being a great lover of nature, he was so mesmerized and bowled over by the beauty and the views of Himalaya, that he decided to overstay there for more than two weeks ( this was the time of very important political upheavals). He wrote letters to his secretary and friend Mahadev Desai and others, eulogizing beauty of Himalaya in great literary style, some of which are reproduced (as shown below) on the outer walls of the outhouse, now known as Anasakti Ashram.Anasakti

This outhouse he lived in, was later transferred to Gandhi Smarak Trust by Sucheta Kriplani, the then chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has been since preserved as a tribute to  life and teachings of Gandhi Ji. His teachings as well as some rare photographs are portrayed inside the ashram.

The part of Ashram is also used as a guest house for tourists. It was interesting to note that this facility is accessed through an ordinary letter addressed to the the trust at  Kausani and for just 450 Rs. You can call the smarak office and they will book a room without any advances etc. I noticed many Bengali speaking men and women visiting and staying at this place following this method.

The scenery around the place is so serene and beautiful that once you are there, you would easily understand that why did Gadhi Ji overstayed at this place and why did he call Kausani,  ‘The Switzerland Of India’. Gandhi Ji’s description of pure white snow laden mountains in then Hindi, will simply bowl you over as much as the beauty of Himalayas itself. I think, I was extremely lucky to be there as a visitor, 86 years after Gandhi ji, visited this gem of nature.

.DSC_2048

DSC_2031

Morning Mist at Corbett

DSC_2221

The gate at Dhikala, inside Jim Corbett park opens for tourists at 6:30 in the morning, in winters. The Sun in the last week of December rises after 7 AM. I was also in the queue of jeeps to rush out for shooting (taking pictures only !) an always elusive tiger. The gate opened and we rushed out like bullets, but behold. There was so much of mist (unlike fog of north Indian plains) outside that we could not see any pug marks to help us trail a tiger. We decided therefore to wait for the mist to end. While waiting for that, I started noticing the beauty of nature which is sometimes ignored in the mad rush of sighting a tiger. The tiny droplets of water clinging to the tips of the grass blades and hanging like a ripe fruit presented a scene beyond par.
The results as shown in these pictures are a tribute to the glory of mother nature. Just watch these pics and forget about pug marks for some time.

DSC_2186 DSC_2196 DSC_2183 DSC_2193DSC_2223DSC_2198

Jaspur’s Singhare( Water Chestnut) Ki Kachari

Coming back from Jim Corbett National Park, on my way to Dhampur, I was feeling a bit hungry as I had skipped my lunch. I was looking for some quick snack and that too non-oily and non junk. On a trisection  of the town Jaspur located on Jaspur-Dhampur highway(NH-74), I noticed a small road side eatery( thela) selling Kachari, made of Singhara or water Chestnut. I had heard that in winters, Jaspur boasts of selling best Singhare Ki Kachari and by some strange coincidence, I was not only hungry but at the right place at the right time. I went around the thela to see what was on offer actually.

I noticed that the boiled and mashed Singhara was kept covered in a cloth and on orders of customers, it was being garnished with onion, tomatoes, Cummin seeds, ginger and few more spices (India was raided perhaps more for spices in history than for gold!) and then heated with some butter. It was really something very appealing to senses and appetising to palate and suddenly I was feeling even more hungry. I ordered one serving for me to try that.

The man who was preparing it, was a proficient man and with clockwork precision, mixed all ingredients too soon and after heating it with butter prepared  the Kachari in no time. Before handing it to me, he garnished it with fresh lime juice. Without wasting any time I put a slice of this thick preparation of Kachari with the help of a wooden spoon. I closed my eyes for few seconds and commanded all my senses to help me taste that instant delicacy. It was really something to relish. The Singhara boiled  and mashed with all Indian spices was tasty beyond description. I polished off my portion too soon and ordered one more. I was just wondering why I had not eaten it earlier and why the hell, we Indians don’t encourage these outstanding Indian delicacies vis a vis junk foods and instant noodles and what not? As Indian we are too lucky to have a lot of these recipes actually and that too at a decent price of 20 Rs for a serving. I finished my second serving too in no time and thanked the man selling it. I also got to know by googling that Water Chestnut is a very nutritious fruit and fulfills the requirements of many vital minerals in the body. I hope more people do realize this and help preserve the great culinary tradition of India which is more healthy as well.

Thanks Jaspur….

Indo South Africa at Indo Tibet Borders

Mountains at Indo-Tibet Border

Mountains at Indo-Tibet Border

A one day international cricket match was hosted on 11th Oct 2015 at Green Park in the erstwhile Manchester of East- Kanpur, a city very close to my native place Lucknow (80 odd Km only). Any international match was being hosted at Kanpur after a long time as the ownership and management issue of Green Park remained unresolved for decades. Seeing the proximity of the venue, I had planned to go there with one of my friends, but due to some other engagements I ended on that day at borders of India and China in the state of Uttarakhand. Although my love for cricket is nowhere close to what it used to be in the days of eye candy, early morning broadcasts of 1985-86 Benson and Hedges series in Australia (Shastri as man of series won a 5 ring Audi in that famous series), the curiosity of knowing the scores whenever India is playing, persists still.

However on that day I was in non-inhabited areas much further from last Indian village, Niti (famous Niti Pass is named after this last Indian village) areas where mobiles don’t work and you don’t find a TV set. I was little resigned to the fate of not knowing the score or result therefore over next 2 days. I was therefore focusing on the beauty in surroundings at this height of 14000 feet above mean sea level. The scenery around was breathtaking. The snow covered hill tops were at a stone’s  throw away and the chill effect was getting increasingly difficult to handle. I took few clicks and was thinking of returning to our base camp for night at village Malari, situated approximately 60 km further up from Joshimath.

DSC_9334

Last Indian Village, Niti

However, when we reached at the last border post of India, we noticed an ITBP post and decided to talk to jawans manning the post in that extreme weather. The JCO there, invited us to his specially designed igloo shaped iron-fiber hut, made to withstand the extreme temperatures and weather at that heights. As I stepped in, I was not only relieved of vagaries of weather but was ushered into a room having a TV set. To my utter surprise, TV screen inside this Igloo was having the live Indo-South Africa match. I was really amazed at the turn of events and felt extremely lucky. JCO told me that in that non-inhabited and inhospitable cold and rugged terrain, cable TV through smaller dish antennas was the only source of entertainment. I thanked the technology and the God and ensconced myself on a chair to watch the match. India was in a good position chasing the score done by South Africa with only 2 wickets down and only 100 odd runs were left to chase. To keep us warm and good, we were offered piping hot tea. It was one of the best teas of my life. Holding the small steel glasses between the palms, we had it warm with other jawans. I really enjoyed watching the match for some time with strong willed jawans and talked to them about their life. Jawans were connected to their families by satellite phones and looked motivated to defend the frontiers.

We thanked everybody before leaving the shelter for our onward journey. I have seen many matches in my life on TV and and on ground, but this would always remain a very special one (India lost the match though at last ball by 5 runs).DSC_9412

DSC_9413

Mysuru Dasahara(Nadabbha) 2015

Maa Chamundeshwari atop Jumbo

Maa Chamundeshwari atop Jumbo in a 750 Kg Gold Howda

Celebrated with traditional gaiety and fervor every year, the Mysuru Dussehra (called as Dasara in Mysuru) is a unique socio-religious cultural event of South India. Unlike at other places in India, the highlight of Mysore Dussehra is not the burning of Ravan, Meghnad or Kumbhkaran. It is actually the 10 days lighting of Mysore Palace with 100000 lakh bulbs during Navratri followed by an elaborate afternoon event following Vijaydashami, where the idols of Chamundeshwari Devi sitting atop the caparisoned elephant  is carried in a 750 kg gold hauda(thats true!) at the end of a 2 hour long pageant of local arts and dances inside the palace. Its a life time event to watch as whole of Mysore joins in the festivity at the palace.

Luckily, I happened to be there last week with my son and my brother and witnessed this grand event myself and also through my lens. The galaxy of invitees included the Chief Minister of Karnataka and every who is who of Karnataka. The current King of Mysore Raja Yaduveer Krishnadutta Chamraja Wodeyar too graced the occasion. The large participation of the general public of Mysore along with tourists from India and abroad charged the whole participation

The festivity as reflected in the pictures below speaks perhaps more than the words i have written above:)

DSC_9950 DSC_9926 DSC_9939 DSC_9943DSC_0205 DSC_0170 DSC_0134 DSC_0106 DSC_0012 DSC_0026DSC_0287 DSC_0015 DSC_0183DSC_9825DSC_0299

Restaurant Week India

427180-citibank-restaurant-week-india-2013

Organised twice a year in March and September by Desi Restaurant Week Events Pvt. Ltd., Restaurant Week India or RWI is a niche culinary event held in 5 major cities of India, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. I got introduced to the concept in 2013 while visiting Delhi with two of my closest friends. The concept was new to me then as the top hotels and restaurants were offering their best recipes at the fraction of a la carta prices. That was done by hotels of course as part of their brand building, but it suited to my palate and purse quite well. When else one can imagine to have a three course dinner at a top five star restaurants for 1000 bucks!. The dinner we had at Varq, Taj Palace in Delhi in 2013 was really memorable and we enjoyed the ambience and the dishes both while being pampered by the staff of the restaurant.

At Taj Palace Delhi, 2013

At Taj Palace Delhi, 2013

After a gap of two years, I joined the event once again this year on a social visit to Delhi. I booked a table for my brother and sister’s family at ITC Sheraton’s restaurant Dakshin, known for its authentic south Indian recipes. It was my first time there and the occasion was special for my younger brother. RWI offers you fixed price menu. We had to choose from an elaborate menu which had all possible options. We were helped by Avinash, the affable restaurant manager. Since we were a large group and all were vegetarian on the day(Ganesh Chaturthi), we had the opportunity to taste almost everything on the RWI menu of Dakshin.

The appetizers were served first. It included Cauliflower Melagu Peratti, Kuzhipaniyaram and Vadai of the day, washed down with ever dependable butter milk. The freshness and taste of them, sat the right tone for a great evening. There were lots of spice condiments to tingle the tongue including the curd marinated and fried red chilies, a southern delicacy. I placed most of them in a neat order on my banana leaf lined thali and kept on using them to spice up the food. The main course consisted of Ennai Kathrikai (eggplant), Tomato Pappu (Lentils), Ambat(Lentils with Spinach) and Urlai Varuval(Potato). These were relished with appams, parrotas and neru dosas.  While Appams were crisp, Neeru Dosas were soft and delicate. Although I had been avoiding rich diets recently, I threw all cautions to the wind and immersed myself literally in the food paradise that was laid out for us at Dakshin. Everybody ate to his or her heart contentment. The company of brothers and sisters and a pretty to-be-new member of my family was no less the reason for enjoying these gastronomical delights in a great spirit.IMG_5350

IMG_5346The main course was followed by some mind blowing sweet dishes pronounced as Basundi(Rice), Elaneer Payasam(Coconut Milk) and Adai Pradhaman(Rice and Jaggery). We tasted all of them in smaller quantities as our stomachs were rounded well by then. The helpful staff including the chief chef and waiter Babu were taking a good care of us. The beetle leaves were last to come and I did not miss them either. Just as we were about to leave, my brother in law smelled the aroma of fresh filter coffee being prepared for some other guests. The aroma was amazing and enticing and though we had paid the bills, we sat back to enjoy the final delicacy of the day, the filter coffee served in South Indian style in small steel glass and a steel saucer. It was one of the finest coffee I ever had in my life. What a great evening it turned out to be! I thanked God and my sister and brothers for a memorable evening. I think, I had the best of Restaurant Week India!rwi_banner

The Valley Of Flowers

DSC_8752

Valley of Flowers

After being there last month, I can say with some confidence that 7.5 billion people living on earth can be classified broadly into two categories, One, those have seen the valley of flowers and Others, those who have not. Actually, those who have seen it, and they are not too many due to relative inaccessibility, are the persons who can claim to have seen the abode of Gods and no less. One has to see it oneself to realize it’s pure and pristine beauty. No amount of explanation and no configuration of words can explain enough or convey the feelings of a visitor/witness to the valley of flowers.

I had been planning to visit the valley for quite some time. The best time to visit the valley is also the peak time of the Monsoon. There are frequent road blocks too due to incessant rains during monsoons. The effects of big 2013 disaster have still not subsided enough. Last year only 83 persons could visit the valley. So, when I got a call from my brother in law, that he was going to visit the valley and would like me to join him, I did not think twice before saying yes and in fact invited my younger brother too, to join the adventure..

We landed at Rishikesh soon and stayed overnight at FRH Muni Ki Reti. It being the month of Shravan, we woke early next morning amidst the devout’s chants of ‘Bam Bhole‘. There were Kaanwariyas all around in Rishikesh and were returning to their homes with Ganga Jal. We proceeded to Josimath by road. It is a distance of almost 275 Km and since those were hilly roads, it took more than 9 hours before we could reach by late evening. How ever scenery on the route was quite impressive due to low hanging clouds in the backdrop of rain soaked green hills.

DSC_8405

From Joshimath, we traveled to Govindghat and luckily found the helicopter services operational on the day. There are no motorable roads beyond Govindghat for trek to valley. One has to go on foot or ride the mules to visit the valley. By heli, it takes only five minutes to reach Ghangharia, while it takes almost 4 hours for a 10 Km trek.  Interestingly they weigh your body weight before allowing you to board the helicopter due to rarefied air. I was the heaviest in the group and everybody around me smiled and gave me a lot of advice subsequently to reduce my weight. We reached Ghangharia therefore in no time and decided to start for valley immediately. Valley ensconced in Western Himalaya is spread over 88 sq kms is part of ecologically very sensitive, Nanda Devi Biosphere Park and therefore from Ghangharia, one has to go on foot only to reach valley. Unlike for Hemkund from Ghangharia, mules are not allowed for the valley.

Up the Valley

The trek to valley is about four km, but its quite steep in almost half of it and one has to have really determination and big lungs to scale the trek. Notwithstanding my weighty limitations, I was determined to make it. The route to valley is almost unpaved and is restored every year after the snow gets melted. It was therefore slippery and rocky. Good shoes do help you, but you need lot of commitment to make it.

Mushrooms on the Way

At the same, the route up the hills is quite beautiful and picturesque and one can not but be mesmerized by the beauty of hills. As you go up, you navigate through clouds at many places. As clouds encircle you and the base of the hills without covering its peaks, you feel as if mountains are floating over the clouds. It’s unbelievable and unmatched beautiful scenery. In fact I was reminded about the floating hills in the movie ‘Avatar’. In the movie on planet Pandora, the hills float in the air. Here too, it was almost the same scene. To add more mystery there were water falls from all possible nooks and corners of the hills.DSC_8709

DSC_8764

As you scale up, you start noticing the beautiful flowers not seen anywhere else. There are lot many wonders of the nature to be seen including the ‘Bug-Leaves’ or  ‘Pissu Ghaas‘. It is used to get the bed bugs out of the bed due to its pungent smell for bed bugs. There were also big mushrooms and other flora around. Then there were the trees of Bhoj Patra whose bark has been used since ancient times for writing letters and literature. I was enjoying the every meter of this trek despite panting for breath due to steep trek in last two km of the trek. Holding my breath, I kept on clicking the pictures of all those precious moments to store them permanently in my memory.

Bhojpatra

Bhojpatra

Pissu-Leaves

Pissu-Leaves

We reached valley by afternoon and as we entered the valley, I saw a huge span of valley covered with flowers. All these were natural flowers and had sprung from grass after snow melted from June onward. The valley has its own patterns of blooming flowers and the groups of flowers bloom at regular intervals to provide an almost two month window for all flowers to showcase themselves. The uniqueness and beauty of flowers at this heights is too much to handle and you can be spellbound by the scenes of young and petite flowers. The absence of any noise except those of hill bees and rain drops leaves you speechless. I closed my eyes many times to feel the environment and felt like floating in heaven. You feel like there may be fairies in this paradise and you may encounter one emerging from behind the next stone. You can actually get lost in the beauty. I had an apple with me and as I pierced my teeth into it I felt as if I was eating out of hands of mother nature. It was so seductive, yet so pure. The pictures, all shot by me can perhaps show with their limitations, the beauty of the paradise on earth, known as valley of flowers.

DSC_8897

DSC_8623

DSC_8890

DSC_8871

DSC_8590

DSC_8534

DSC_8566

DSC_8565

Views from Valley of Flowers

Unmatched Beauty of Valley of Flowers

 

Four Friends in Goa

Water Storage Tank at Fort Aguada

Water Storage Tank at Fort Aguada

Goa was the next destination for our Monsoon inspired trip to western India. Goa an independent state now, was the last city or state to become part of India after Portugal was virtually forced to retreat in 1961. This smallish state of India is one of the most happening place and has one of the best beaches in India. This also is the hippiest place of India and one of top choice for foreigners coming to India. Goa is also the place where young and young at heart, both go. We too landed at Goa from Pune after crisscrossing through some of the most picturesque roads of India.

We reached late in evening and checked in a private apartment owned by one of our common friends from Lucknow. The evening was celebrated in the Goan spirit of chilled beers sitting at a restaurant besides the beach at Baga. The crowd there was of youngsters mostly and usually they were from Mumbai and around for a weekend break. The music was quite loud, but in tempo with the young crowds. Interestingly even here right besides the sea, I noticed many souls chatting on their mobile phones while their friends were sitting just across the table. Even those who were not chatting were checking their mobiles phones every 5 minutes or so and may be even sooner. The photos and selfies were being clicked at regular intervals.

We decided to stroll along the beach after some time. Since it was night, the lifeguards were warning anybody who was going closer to waves. We continued to stroll along for sometime and shared our long cherished memories. It was a pleasant evening. The pleasure of walking on sand with your best friends is too sweet literally. It resuscitates youth in you. If you can disassociate yourself from your normal worries, you feel light and young. I felt that for sure and so did my friends.

Next morning we were out on beach soon and went in for soaking ourselves in sea water. We were overtaken soon by splash of sea waves, a million dollar pleasure. The moments spent frolicking with waves and water with friends make you young at heart because you play with water as any other kid would play actually. All of us except Tomar enjoyed this water sojourn as he went out for a jog alone.

DSC_7959

At Goa Beach

Tomar Giving a Pose

Tomar Giving a Pose

The trip continued over many more chilled beers sold at dirt cheap prices compared to Lucknow. The memories continued to be shared. The beaches and places continued to be visited. We landed at Fort Aguada as part of our trip. Last time I visited this place was with Dabbu’s and my own family in 2007. Dabbu for his personal reasons perhaps would have travelled down the memory lane.

Dabbu and I

Dabbu and I

This place was used by Portuguese as light house and also for storage of fresh water, is just besides the sea and provides few good vantage points to click yourself. We took turns to get clicked and continued to enrich our memories.

At Fort Aguada

At Fort Aguada

Raja at Fort Aguada

Raja at Fort Aguada

At The Walls of the Fort Aguada

At The Walls of the Fort Aguada

Goa is the place really to be with friends……..