Fiji Diary: Small is Beautiful

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Situated at International Date Line Fiji, a nation of 300 islands and a population less than one million rekindles inside me my G.K. quiz memories of 90s when we used to ask tough questions amongst our group members. We looked at it as a nation too far and too small to be concerned beyond a point. However, I continued to update me though as a student of international relations. I can still recall the name of army General Sitevani Rambuka who did a coup in 90s. After it became peaceful, it went off my radar. I knew there was Fiji and there were many islands. I also had the idea that a lot many Indian origin persons were there. But notwithstanding the curiosity, the country remained more or less a lesser known entity to me. So when Tokyo based APO(Asia Productivity Organisation) offered to hold a seminar on green productivity in which I could participate, I decided to grab the offer with both hands.

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I landed at Nadi in March 2016, the bigger international airport of the country, located  190 km apart from capital city Suva. Nadi is a small airport and it had been affected badly by cyclone Winston in February. I reached my hotel Tanoa International which was located close to airport. I  was tired a lot, due to two continuous nights spent in a plane, first night between Delhi and Hong Kong and second between Hong Kong and Nadi. I was jet legged actually and had to take some good rest to overcome that to prepare for oncoming 9 to 5 hectic week of seminar.

We took part in the seminar focusing on Green Productivity tools over the next week and had good interactions with participants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and even Colombia. We learned a lot on the subject but what was really impressive about this country was its unadulterated beauty of green and pristine in its most natural form. I have been a traveler as a part of my job and personally too seen all sorts of islands in India and beyond but what I saw in this very small nation was beyond what I could foresee and visualize. My imagination was  found limited against the unparalleled and unimaginable beauty of Fiji. It was simply green and blue in all imaginable shades. One could be exhausted by the magnitude and span of its beauty. It was captivating and mind blowing. I was simply bowled out by outstandingly beautiful Fiji. The pictures below can bear some testimony to that.

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Shoot Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Foot Prints

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Pug Marks

You come across title-lines, written on stones, while moving around, inside the Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. These lines have deep lessons of History actually. The ban on tiger hunting in India was imposed only in 1970, after the population of tigers got reduced from approx. 40000 (out of 100000 in whole world) in 1901 to just 1827 in 1970. There were scores of massacres of tigers and other wild animals by the then elites to make that figure. Lord Linlithgo, then Viceroy ofIndia, in an hunting expedition killed 120 tigers in a single game spread over few weeks around Indo-Nepal Border in 1938-39. Usually this was done by sitting atop elephants and by using men and elephants to corner tigers in the Jungle. The pictures of posing hunters keeping their one foot mercilessly atop a dead tiger were a prized asset then. This 1926 picture shown below after a hunt organised by Raja Of Alwar, Rajasthan for his British guests, shows the magnitude and scale of madness of the times, to some extent.1aA_massive_tiger_hunt_organized_by_Maharajah_of_Alwar_in_1926_for_his_British_guests_a_dozen_elephants_and_aproximately_300_people_involved.6-300x244
There were even specially designed carriages including a Rolls Royce for this purpose in those times. TIGER HUNTING s2.reutersmedia.net - Copy

The project Tiger in India was launched on 1st April 1973 subsequent to advent of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It seems, if this had been postponed for few years more, I would not have seen the beauty of a tiger in wild ever.

I got to see this nature’s top-in-the-food chain beauty, last week and was truly mesmerized (I had seen the tigers earlier too at Corbett and Kanha, but those were fleeting moments). You have to see that, to feel the might and beauty of a tiger moving in a grassland in a Jungle. The way it moves, pauses, rests and then again rises to move around is so thrilling and captivating that you will be speechless and spellbound. its  like a musical symphony, every note and every move in perfect synchronisation. The tiger on a prowl, decides every move at his own pace and pleasure. No hurry and  no worries for the ‘King Of Jungle’.  I too heard this ‘Symphony of a Wild Tiger’s movement’. I therefore, feel lucky to have shot a tiger myself at the Jim Corbett Park, through a camera only. I wish, Lord Linlithgow and his cohorts had read those lines too!DSC_2356 DSC_2346 (3)

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.

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The Grass Stacks in Uttarakhand

 Traveling through Uttarakhand in winters just before the snow fall will showcase to any keen watcher, a unique local practice of storing the fodder for the cattles for the oncoming harsh winters. Since the grass withers away in winters and there is nothing else to offer ( green fodder, unlike plains is not there) for next three months following December, the village folks and especially ladies, take special efforts to feed one of the most valuable asset of village folks, the livestock. They do this by making the stacks of grass and tie them up spirally over a tree. This is done for two reasons. One, they don’t have enough space to store their fodder for three months in their smallish and low height houses and two, the tied up spiraling grass bundles facilitate the draining of rain water and snow without spoiling or rotting the fodder. You will find these tied up near field in whole of Uttarakhand as I did in my recent visit in December. They have different local names also. While it is called as ‘Pureda’ in Garhwals, in Kumaon region it is called as ‘Luta’.

I hope we recognize these local practices and give respect to those who do it in a most environment friendly and organic way…Lots to learn from these local practices for all of us….img_6998

Morning Mist at Corbett

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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.

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Gandhi Park: The Harsingar Walk

IMG_3041During course of my journeys to different cities of India and even abroad, I have been going around for morning walks, both for enriching my health as well as for getting a feel of place(city) at the best time of the day. No other time of the day perhaps showcases the city in real shades as the city wakes up to the morning bliss with the men and women, boys and girls, old and young queuing up for morning-walks along roads and jogger parks etc. On a recent trip to Dehradun, I went for a walk to the famous Gandhi park inaugurated in 1948 and situated very close to iconic Ghanta Ghar(Clock Tower). I had gone for a routine health-enhancing walk but was soon bowled over by the the ethereal morning mist of Doon Valley. It was really sublime and rejuvenating for body and soul.  To add beauty to this great environment inside the park there was a neat layer of fresh fragrant white flowers of harsingar or night jasmine, carpeted around the harsingar trees. The flowers had fallen off from the trees over the night and had not only created the most beautiful scene around them(trees), but also scented the entire Gandhi Park with their intoxicating fragrance. The layer of small white flowers with their orange smallish twigs were encircling the base of the trees and the visual impression thus generated was no less than magical and mesmerizing. The entire park was smelling sweetly as if somebody had poured in liters of night jasmine oil right there. IMG_3051

Pepped up this unique visual and sensory treat, I went in for seven or eight full circle walks of the jogging pathway, littered with harsingar. At the end of my one hour brisk walk, instead of feeling tired, I was full of energy for obvious reasons. I can still feel that fragrance while writing this blog. Perhaps, one has to be there really to understand the impact on visual and smelling senses. I was truly bowled over by this unique experience. I left the park after sometime, but not before appreciating and thanking enough the vision of the designers of this park.

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Hemkund Sahab

The Shrine

The Shrine

Perched high in Himalayas at an altitude of 15,197 feet above sea level, Gurudwara Hemkund Sahab is devoted to the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Govind Singh Ji and is one of the most pious shrines for the Sikhs around the world. This Gurudwara is also unique for being one of the most inaccessible one too. The very high altitude leads to closure of the stoned pathway leading to shrine from October to April every year. Also, it can be accessed only after a long trek to the shrine starting from Govindghat, situated at about 13 km from the shrine.

On the Way

On the Way

I too got a chance to see the shrine in second week of August this year. After trekking down from Valley of  Flowers, I opted for a mule ride from Ghangaria to the shrine. The ride on the back of the mule is never too comfortable for those who seldom use that. It’s always a tough task maintaining your balance while the mules tries to scale up and gets even more difficult when it is coming down. All the mules have this peculiar sort of suicidal habit of walking on the sides of road towards the valley. One can easily get paranoiac by its faltering steps. The journey on the mule back is surely not for faint hearts. I decided however to overcome my fear as otherwise I could have had to break my back literally to scale the steep heights of Hemkund sahab.

My Companion

My Companion

The path to the shrine cuts across the ice-glaciers at many points. You have to also negotiate through small and big ice-water  streams coming from the glaciers above. There are only makeshift iron sheets and wood bridges to pass them through. To add to strain, there is paucity of oxygen also at this height. You have to have faith in almighty really, if you want to enjoy the trip to the shrine up above in the hills.

Ice on the way

Ice on the way

If you could overcome your fear, you could be witnessing one of the finest scenery, you would ever see in your life. The water falls coming down the slopes from all sides present such a beautiful picture that you can not but be mesmerized. The vegetation too is also unique. At this height and at this time of the year, you see Blue Poppy flowers blooming, which happens to be the national flower of Japan. Other flowers too are found on the way including the Brahma-Kamals, found rarely now and only at these heights.

Brahmakamal

Brahmakamal

Our group reached the shrine just after the afternoon Ardaas. It was really a serene experience at this height. We dipped our bare foot in the ice cold water at the Hem-Kund and then tied a cloth or pataka to cover our head in Sikh tradition. We entered the shrine afterwards. There was no crowd at this time of the year. I bowed before Guru Granth Sahab and said my prayers before accepting my Kada Prasad. Eating the prasad, I sat in the hall and tried to absorb the serenity Himalayan environment. It was really soothing and full of pleasure as after years of discussing about the place, I was finally there.

The Hemkund besides Shrine

The Hemkund besides Shrine

At Hemkund Sahab

At Hemkund Sahab

I came out after sometime and went in to Guru Ka Langar. They were offering Khichadi and tea to all devotees here. I sat down with my brother and relished the hot recipe in otherwise quite cold atmosphere. It was really satisfying. Our journey back to Ghangharia was to start quite soon again as weather in the afternoon can get bad any time. I looked back the shrine once again and bowed my head before setting out for journey back to base camp at Ghangharia.

The Valley Of Flowers

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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.

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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

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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.

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Views from Valley of Flowers

Unmatched Beauty of Valley of Flowers

 

Namami Gange!

The Morning Besides Ganges

The Morning Besides Ganges

To quench my hitherto unsatiated thirst to see the nature’s wonder of Valley of Flowers, I was on my way to Govindghat, the base camp for further track up to Ghangaria and then to Valley of Flowers. I stayed over night at Forest Rest House, Muni-Ki-Reti just outside Rishikesh. This rest house ensconced among the thick trees of Haldu overlooking the banks of river Ganges had great locational advantage. Over night, I could hear the sounds, both of gushing water of Ganges and of the continuous tip-tip of rain water falling over the wood and tin roof of this very old forest rest house.
In the morning as I stepped out, I was wonder struck by the beauty of Mother Nature right in front of me. The banks of river ganges were brimming with high energy water flowing towards Haridwar. It being the Monsoon, the river was in full spate. The churnings in water could be noticed due to obstructions caused by few big boulders in the river stream. The minute droplets of water created by the impact, had enveloped the water surface and were creating a scene as if clouds had descended to kiss the feet of mother Ganges. The scenery near water was no less impressive. As the water had spread beyond the normal limits of the banks, the otherwise distant trees and their branches were almost touching the feet of overflowing Ganges. It was a pure morning bliss. I too bowed down to say, Namami Gange.

Ganges Near Rishikesh

Ganges Near Rishikesh

To add majesty and piety to scene, the Kanwariyas travelling through the road besides the river, were hailing Lord Shiva through clarion calls of ‘ Bol Bumm-Bol Bumm’. They come from far off places to take water from Ganges and offer it to the Shiv-Linga in their respective temples. The entire environment was really charged up with freshness of morning and by the religious fervor of Kanwariyas. To me, it was the perfect start for the trip to valley.

Dil Chahata Hai….

The Calangute

Ever since we watched the movie, Dil Chahata Hai in 2001, we had been yearning to clinch a ‘Dil Chahata Hai Moment’ journey right there in Goa and around, with college time friends. In the movie three protagonists played by Aamir, Akshay and Saif go on a road trip to Goa from Mumbai and learn various lessons of their lives including some hard lessons including one literally by Saif after his hunt for ‘beauty’ lands him on an hard truck journey back to Mumbai.

Tomar

Tomar

The plan to see ‘Mumbai to Goa’ famed road through Sahyadris and Konkan had been brewing for long, but professional commitments and personal issues had not given us enough liberty to plan together and that too, solo. Any travel plan made by a married man going solo is judged with suspicion and amusement. And, if you have kids aged 10 or above, they too would not fail to remind you that it’s unethical if not anti-social to leave those innocent souls behind while you aim to go for a furlough in a far off land and that too as naughty as Goa.

Dabbu

Dabbu

Facing and in fact confronting all these dilemmas, innuendos and questions, we a group of four(Raja, Dabbu, Tomar and Myself) decided to steal few moments of ecstasy and camaraderie with each other over next 4 days in Maharashtra and Goa. This trip was being done in month of July, the month of Monsoon and lush green hills in Sahyadri hills. The mid of Monsoon in this area leads to greening of every single blade of grass and every single millimeter of area of otherwise rugged zone. I had been to Goa earlier and so were my friends too, but none was with friends alone. My earlier three trips were with family and kids. The feeling of being alone with friends leads to birth of a sparkle in your eyes and the possibilities of naughtiness just overwhelm you. You start planning all otherwise impossible things and the talks of the friends get loaded with smileys and winks. We were really happy to start with, even if the ‘youngest’ in the group was forty years old!

Raja

Raja

The fun of journey started right from Lucknow, as while boarding, Dabbu scampered ahead to take the window seat. He perhaps at age of 44 yearned to have a bird’s eye view of his own city. It’s always a  fun to watch your city from a height. The desire to see your own house and your own city, from the plane piercing the monsoon clouds, is a great moment really. You eyes look far and wide and before you could identify your own house, the plane flies well above the visibility heights. The process however is so sweet that you want to do it whenever you get a chance.

Jitendra

Jitendra

The flight to Bombay, sorry Mumbai, is of two hour only and before we could prolong our post breakfast naps, we were asked to fasten up our seat belts. We landed safely and were picked up by the vehicle sent for us by a relative. I was feeling a bit hungry but to reach our first destination near Lonavala, but had to sacrifice lunch. Two of us made even a bigger sacrifice, their otherwise at-regular-interval- smoke-puffs.

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Travelling through fast track Mumbai-Pune Expressway was a particular enchanting experience in the Monsoons as the hills on both sides as well as the fields near and far, were so lush green that you feel like having green eyes only. The small streams of water sprouting from many unlikely corners of smallish hills were giving the perfect picture-postcard look to the Sahyadri hills. Mother nature was really at its best. All of us were really pleased to start off our journey on such a high green note. I could not resist myself from taking few shots on the way.

The Green Galore

The Green Galore

To Be Continued……