Category Archives: Travel

Family trip to Coorg, Karnataka

My father didn’t get along with most in our extended family. So there were very few occasions that we had, as kids of spending time with our cousins. Those occasional opportunities, for that very reason, stay fresh in the mind.

When my own kids were growing up, the annual vacation in Kerala was looked forward to keenly because it meant a lot of fun with their cousins .

In Delhi,where we worked and lived, it would be the peak of Summer, with dry hot Loo winds blowing in from the Rajasthan deserts (do any of you remember learning about the local winds in your geography lessons? The names I remember are those of The Mistral, Chinook and Sirocco)

Dust-storms were a regular feature , with just an occasional shower which would temporarily settle down the dust.

In the initial years after I settled down in Delhi, the journey home used to be very long and tiring. The train traversed the entire length of the country from the North to the South. By the time it reached Andhra Pradesh on the second day , across which it would chug along the whole day, the temperatures would be really high and in the second class compartment, the passengers would be listless and less talkative. Many would carry along with them earthenware water- carriers , which would often topple over because of the movement of the crowd and then, to avoid the place getting all wet and dirty, newspapers would be hastily spread out on the floor.
Yes, even the reserved compartments would be crowded because the closing down of school for the Summer vacations meant that almost all of the homesick Keralites would be headed to their home state. There at this time of the year, the monsoons would have arrived and to be able to breathe in the wetness in the air and feast one’s eyes on the greenery was considered well worth the patient waiting in long queues even before the arrival of dawn, or sometimes the whole night, in front of the reservation counters, three months in advance, to get your tickets booked and the tiresome , long journey.

Later on , one became entitled to free Ac travel, courtesy my job in the Railways and to make it even more enjoyable , the route now went along the Konkan stretch along the Western coast of the Southern Peninsular region with the Western Ghats on one side. If the monsoons had already commenced, the whole topography would become mesmerisingly beautiful, with the hills of the Western Ghats in the distance, being covered in blue mists, paddy being sown , or already standing high in the fields, the rain splashing across the glass windows of the coach or pounding on the roof and rivulets of red muddy water springing up and flowing along , all through the landscape.

Funtimes that one month was, both for us adults and the kids, catching up with family and loads of good stuff to devour.
Now when my nieces and nephews have all grown up and between them have a nice bunch of kiddos, one didn’t have to think too long before deciding to join in on the vacation trip that they had planned . Coorg was the destination , which comes alive during the monsoons.Both Kannur , my hometown , where they had all gathered and the holiday destination , are not far from where I am now settled in Bangalore.

But then, the rains have been playing truant this year and the whole of June had gone by with just a few miserly showers. It was a long drive from Kannur to Coorg in two fully packed vehicles.

Fortunately, the weather decided to be at its benign best and it did rain and nicely at that.

The place they had booked was a home-stay near Madikkeri called Indraprastha-The Willows.

The owners, Prasad Kariappa and Meen Kariappa, were a very friendly couple. Their kids had grown up and settled in different places. The gentleman had started building this place thirty years ago. “He is still not done with it”, the wife complained.
“It is his passion and he goes on and on, adding this or that. But maintenance is such a problem. We don’t get workers nowadays to attend to even the plumbing problems”

Their home is beautiful inside, with the entire walls done with wood panelling. They didn’t have to buy a single piece of wood and every bit came from their holdings which spread over fourteen acres of land, in which the dwelling stands and another forty acres of plantation elsewhere in which coffee, pepper, arecanut and cardamom are being grown.

“My daughter says, we should plant at least a thousand trees to compensate for the ones that had been cut down for the house”, Meena told us with a half smile.

The homestay facility was upstairs. There was enough space for all of us to be accommodated. There were a few plumbing issues and no, it was not swanky in any sense. Maintenance did indeed seem to be a problem. The place reminded me of Meryl Streep’s place in “Mama Mia”

It was evening by the time we reached there .The crickets arranged for a really loud orchestra to welcome us. It was far away from the main road and there were no other sounds of the city encroaching on us at the getaway.

We had an early dinner , with plans to accompany Mr. Prasad on his morning tour through his plantation. Had lots of fun playing dumb charades before hitting the bed.

I slept like a log, but in the morning there were tales to be told by some of the others of a cat slinking in through the gap between the eaves and the roof and jumping on to the dining table and eating up quite a large chunk of the bread. As the door had been kept open at sunset time, mosquitoes had also found their way in keeping some awake with their buzzing and bits.

We went to Thalakavery the next morning, the plantation trip having been given up because the Boss wasn’t feeling too well. Then to the Abby Falls post lunch.

Before we came away , we spent some time chatting with the pleasant couple. Their drawing room was now a mini-museum of sorts. He had been collecting tools and other articles related to their early ways of life, mostly associated with farming and mostly made from bamboo and cane. There were contraptions to catch fish, to castrate bulls, to collect cow-dung from the behinds of the cattle that would stray in the fields , even before they hit upon the ripe grains that were waiting to be harvested, hulls for the oxen, caskets of cane , a bamboo hat that would cover the head and back, of those working in the fields , as they bent down to sow or add manure or harvest the crop, an old kerosene lamp, pouches and an old suitcase and lots of other stuff. He brought out a double barrelled gun too which had been with the family for a very long time and the dagger like weapon which was part of their traditional attire. The handle of the knife had been carved in ivory by Mr. Kariappa himself. Carving was his passion and there were many other items there , which he had carved out of wood.

They belonged to the Kodava group, who were the original inhabitants of Coorg. Later on, tribal populations from Wynad and Tamil Nadu had been brought in to work on their farms and these tribal settlers had then become part of the demography of Coorg , as had those who had come in to do and set up shops and other business ventures.
“Now we have become the minority and we have been given none of the concessions that have been made available to the others. We are now fighting for being included in the OBC list and also for autonomy. We’ll be going to Delhi In November to sit in protest at the Jantar Mantar” in the capital city,New Delhi.

Coorg or Kodagu , had in fact been declared as an independent state in 1950 . It was later on that it was made part of Karnataka, Meena told us. She did most of the talking . She had a very lively and friendly presence. Her husband was happy to fill in . No, he was not from the Army , he replied with a smile when we remarked upon his moustache. He and his four brothers had all along been working on their plantations.

Take note, the 14 acres plus 40 acres had been the share of this one brother alone.

So why would they need any concessions, then? We asked politely. We were indeed curious.

“People like us are the fortunate few. Most of the Kodava people are poor, many even below the poverty line. It is for them that we are fighting now. “, Meena explained.
One learnt from the material available on the Internet that land reforms had led to many of the erstwhile landowners , having had to give up much of their land, gradually leading them to penury.

It was a good break, all told and my grandson Zo had a whale of a time.

Nothing like travel to fill in the time taken off from the regular classes in school.


Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Travel


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Bhutan Diary-5 -Takstang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)

When one thinks of Bhutan, the Tiger’s nest Monastery perched  high up on a mountain cliff is the lasting image that one carries around. That we had to go there was a given. How difficult was it going to be, was a guess that we didn’t seek to answer, when we started out.

From our hotel in Paro, we set out quite early, between 5:45 and 6:00A.M to reach the flat rocky base from where we would start the ascent , by around 9:00AM. My grandson and I hitched ourselves to horse-backs . We were told  that they would take us more than half way up the climb. Wangchuk , our companion, driver and guide , gave us his card to call him up in case of any need. That was a reassuring start . Daughter was going to trek up the whole way. But old mother Hubbard had not set any challenges for herself and so that assurance was just what I needed for myself and the kiddo who was short of a few days to turn six.


The path up the incline is a mud track, with boulders along the way. At this time of the year, it wasn’t as difficult to progress as it would have been during the rainy season, when the trail would become all slippery. It wasn’t a very broad trail and our horses had to give way to the ones coming down and it was scary when it would choose to edge along where the land just dropped below . They were sure footed, of course and used to the climbs. But accidents do happen. But then, there’s a lot to say for optimism.



There were side tracks along which those on foot could choose to proceed. They would make the distance shorter but the incline was steeper. The weather was clear and hence warmer than we expected.IMG_9080


Somewhere at half-point, we were left to go forwards on foot. There was a cafeteria there. Daughter had caught up with us there, all read in the cheeks and perspiring. I bought myself a stick which would help me in negotiating the climb. Grandson and I took turns in depending upon it to get a hold on the tricky terrain.




We stopped often , both for myself and the kid. My knees were okay but at that altitude, the oxygen levels had reduces and that would make me short of breath quite often. Paro is around 7000 feet above sea level and the height up to the monastery from the base was another 3000 ft or so.


The track wound itself around the mountain through pine trees and the view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below was breath-taking. The little one was tired by the time we reached the point from where we could see the monastery perched straight across on top of another slope, to reach which we had to descend around 600 steps, not at once , but in different levels and then climb up another 180 steps or so.




The Takstang Monastery or the Tiger’s nest gets it name from the legend which says that Guru Padmasambhava , who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, had flown to the cave there  from Tiber , on the back of a tiger. The story further goes on to say that he had meditated there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days  and three hours.

The monastery was built around that cave in 1692. It was razed by a fire and rebuilt in 1998. While the first time, Taking up the building material to that height must have completely been done manually, in1998 they had used cable cars to transport the material.


Traditional building styles in Bhutan had never followed any drawn up plans and was just a skill that was passed down. Even at present , there are perhaps no architectural courses offered in the Bhutan Universities and most of the architects now in the country,whose numbers are still few, have qualified abroad. One of the first projects that the head of the Bhutanese Institute of Architects, Ms Dorji was involved with after returning from Australia as a junior architect, was the reconstruction of the Takstang Monastery after it was burnt down.

“She explained to me how they set up a camp at the base of the cliff with a temporary office, sleeping huts, material storage and construction area.  No measured drawings or similar documentation of the structure had been recorded so for the reconstruction efforts they had to go off old photos and diaries.  Apparently a call went out worldwide to people who had visited Taktshang appealing for photographs.  From these, a detailed scale model was built at the base camp rather than plans (as the Bhutanese craftsmen couldn’t read plans).  The materials were then winched up the cliff on a pulley system, and the full sized version constructed over the course of 5 years.”

The above excepts are from a blog which will tell you more about architectural traditions of Bhutan. Here is the link:


We visited only parts of the monastery as it was already past noon and we were concerned about our journey down . We wanted to take it slow and reach base before it became dark.



It was easier going down , of course, but it was still a 3-4 km trek back.  I had always wanted to be fit enough to accompany my grandson on a trek somewhere. I hadn’t been sure the opportunity would come as he was still little and I was past sixty two. But then the universe conspired and the little legs co-operated albeit reluctantly at many stretches. For him, this will be a tale he will probably boast about once he grows up or feel humbled by. We hope it is the latter.




A visit to Bhutan is incomplete without going to Tiger’s Nest. It is do-able if you are in fairly good health and your knees are still in good shape and your Bp levels are not high. I do have borderline BP, but did not find it beyond my limits.

You just have to choose your own pace.


Posted by on December 5, 2018 in Travel


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Bhutan Diary-4 -“Simply Bhutan”


“Simply Bhutan” in Thimphu, is a museum which seeks to showcase the traditional culture of the Bhutanese people.

We were welcomed with the drink “ara”, a fermented drink made from rice, in the small circular welcoming area, on the walls of which hung the photographs of the five kings. Those who had passed on to other realms had the white “kadar” draped below the photograph. Those still alive had it draped around the top of the photograph. This is a small white scarf which symbolises purity and is used during all ceremonies.47574777_10155809410677093_2616340591771910144_n
Our guide, a pleasant young girl, told us about each of the kings and the appellate given to them which represented the most significant achievement during their respective reigns.


The first one , who had established the kingdom, after unifying all the warring warring factions within the land was known as the King of Unity. The second who worked towards establishing Bhutan as a distinct cultural and political entity , removed from the rest of the world, was known as the King of Separation. The third was known as the King of Modernity. The fourth Jigme Singme Wangchuk who is known for factoring in the Happiness of the people into the country’s development goals is known as the King of Happiness and the present one, who ascended the throne after his father’s abdication and has been carrying forward his father’s intent of establishing an elected Government is known as the King of Democracy.


There was a range of caskets, big and small, weapons, water carriers made from yak leather and ropes made of yak hair , placed around the area.




All of it had been articles of everyday use in the old days. Bhutan had changed a lot since then, of course. But there is still an abiding simplicity in the living styles even now.
Their traditional dress , for example, is uniformly worn by everyone even now. May be there is some difference in the material, but to the outside observer, there appears to be  no scope for the Bhutanese population to flaunt their status through the range and texture or design  of the clothes they wore. Food similarly, is very basic. I did try out a couple of traditional dishes, Emu Dakchi , which had potato and Kewa Dakchi made from big green chillies, both cooked in a white cheesy sauce. My taste buds approved it.
Just inside the entrance are, there was a live demonstration of how mud walls used to be built, by ramming wet mud with poles, singing all the while to make their labour light.


The guide told us that the songs also included prayers asking forgiveness from all the bugs and insects that they were likely to be killing in the course of building those mud houses.

Those houses were very well suited for the climate of the land. One later learnt from the Internet that the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, headed by the well known Dr, Tashi Zangmo was doing much in reviving and promoting the old construction methods.

There was also a corner devoted to the “Fertility Saint”, with an array of phallic representations .


Women wear them as talismans around their neck or hang it on the eaves or at the entrance of the houses to usher in prosperity. He is also known as the “Crazy Saint” because of the unusual methods he employed for bringing enlightment to the people. There is monastery in Punakha dedicated to this saint.

You can read more about this crazy /wise saint in this link :


Inside the quaint cafeteria, four girls swayed to lilting music while we sipped at a sample of “Suja” or butter tea, which is very popular in Bhutan. It is brewed with tea leaves, yak butter,a dash of salt. They had sprinkled a smattering of roasted rice grains on top of the brew.

After the guide took around . explaining all about the traditional living of Bhutan, we reached a stall where a real surprise awaited us. Here sat Pema Tshering , who had been inflicted with cerebral palsy when he was a child. Abandoned by his parents, he grew up in the village under the care of his grandparents. The queen mother happened to visit that village and came across the young boy. Moved by his plight, she sponsored his education in an art school where he learnt painting and carving. Pema now earns a living out of this craft. He has received recognition worldwide now. The work is exacting , he admits, but he is happy that he is able to eke out a living. He is even planning to build a house for his parents who are now old. Compassion and forgiveness constitute a major gene in the emotional wiring of the Bhutanese people, it seemed.

This is a place any traveller to Bhutan must visit. For some reason it was not included in our itinerary arranged by the Travel Agents. Thanks to the suggestion rendered by Wangchuk, who drove us and accompanied us to the various places, we were fortunate to have not given it a go by. They charge Rs.200 per person for entry, but it was well worth it.



Posted by on December 3, 2018 in Travel


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Bhutan Diary-3 -Dochula Pass

We were fortunate that we were travelling through Bhutan in October, when the weather was clear and bright. Dochula Pass, about an hour’s drive from Thimphu , on the way to Punakha, is best visited at this time. Then, you are able to see the majestic Himalayan ranges all around, the snow capped peaks adding to the allure .


Here, on a green hillock, 108 stupas have been erected in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who had fought against the Assamese rebels who had built a base there to direct their insurgency against India. Queen Ashi Dorji had commissioned it.





I should have stood in one place and wielded the camera , instead of trying to capture the scene while walking .Even so, I guess you may be able to get an idea of the ambience of this beautiful spot in the following two videos




There is also a beautiful temple called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Temple at the Dochula Pass , which has been built in honour of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (head of Bhutan), Jigme Singme  Wangchuk.



In December, the annual Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival is held in the open environs of this place and they say that if travelling to Bhutan  during that time , this event should not be missed , for it would envelop the art and culture of Bhutan during those days for the benefit of those who participate.



Later, we  sat in the nice cosy cafeteria, after going around and slouching on the sun-bathed grass of the hillock, drinking tea and eating fresh cream rolls, while soaking in yet again the panoramic view of the mountains and the cypress trees on the slopes, through the glass windows. Flags were festooned all over , fluttering in the breeze. They were blue (sky),white(clouds), red(fire) green(Water) and yellow(earth)in colour depicting the elements.



Flags were festooned all over , fluttering in the breeze. They were blue (sky),white(clouds), red(fire) green(Water) and yellow(earth)in colour depicting the elements. Buddhist mantras were inscribed on them and they are believed to bring in good fortune.


And here’s a video clip of our drive back from the Dochula Pass.


More in my next blog.:-)





Posted by on November 30, 2018 in Travel


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Bhutan Diary-2 -Driving through

“Khozazampo”  Hello (Greeting)

“Kathi joomo”? (Where are you going?)

“Na thathu Thimphu jui. Na nava Paro jui” (We are going now to Thimphu. We will go to Paro tomorrow.)

“Bhutan Leshimdu” (We like Bhutan)

“Bhutan , nima tatumdu…chyure chomme” (In Bhutan it is hot during the day . In the night it is cold)

Smatterings of Bhutanese picked up from Wangchuk , who drove us to Thimphu from Phuentsholing and through it the next day and thence to Punakha and Paro and back to Phuentsholing.

map of Bhutan

As you can see, our itinerary covered only the South-West part of Bhutan.. I hadn’t really taken a look at the map before we had started out. If I had, I would have realised that most of the forest cover extended beyond this area , covering a major part of this country. It would also have left me better prepared for the comparitivly lesser green territory that we passed through. Lesser green as compared to the images one had installed in the mind whenever one read about how ecologically conservative  the development policy of the land has been.

The road trip was magical even then. Wangchuk had a collection of Bhutanese melodies on his pen drive and it gave an additional ambience to the experience. The roads were almost empty, once we left the city precincts , with an occasional vehicle overtaking us or approaching us from the opposite direction. Autorikshaws, an identifying feature of the roads in India, were altogether absent.

At this time of the year, at the beginning of Winter, during the day, sunlight poured down through the clear blue skies,creating patches of dazzling brightness interspersed with shadows at different turns of the road that wound its way round the mountain slopes.

Bhutanese labourers engaged in the building of roads and other construction activities earned around Rs.700 if they were men and around Rs.500 if they were females. Workers came from outside too, mainly India and Bangladesh.

Did corruption exist?, I asked Wangchuk.

The occurence was rare, he replied. Government officials caught taking bribes would be straightaway sacked, without even a pension.

There were no hoardings anywhere in sight. The people we passed by, were all wearing traditional clothes, the knee-length gho for men and the wrap-around skirts called kira for women. Even school uniforms were in the same traditional style.

We stopped for lunch and tea here and there at quaint eating places. Every building that we entered, even the monasteries , had the photos of the royal family decorating the walls. Clearly the loyalty was indisputable.

“The king is like God to us “, Wangchuk explained.

Did they have something akin to blasphemy laws? Did they have the freedom to utter anything against their king?, I was cuirous.

“Who would want to?” Wangchuk replied. “He gives us everything that we need ”

I recalled an article written by Professor Thurman in the local newspaper I found at the hotel reception that very morning. He was singing praises of the constitutional monarchy of Bhutan that was built on the bedrock of the principles of transcendental individualism, non-violence, learning, voluntary altruism and constitutional democracy.

After returning from Bhutan, I tried googling for that write-up and was pleasantly surprised that it turned up in a jiffy. Here is the link:

Turning to monarchy fortuitous for Bhutan, says Prof  Thurman

It was true…there was no evidence of any aggressiveness anywhere. There were lots of smiling faces. Their voices had a gentle timbre. The whole atmosphere was unhurried and non-competitive. Nothing exemplified that better than the pace at which Wangchuk ferried us across , with his frequent reminders that we could ask him to stop anywhere we wanted to take in the view or capture the scenes in our camera.

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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Bhutan Diary-Part 1

A  country where developmental goals and achievements are measured in terms of Gross National Happiness, where utmost concern is directed towards environmental sustainability, where the philosophy of dharma is invoked in governance, where loyalty and love and faith in the monarch is invested to a degree that is only next to Buddha and the Rimpoches , where the air is fresh and largely unpolluted, where mountains and valleys and rivers make up most of the undulating terrain, where people live unhurried , honest lives……Bhutan had to be an inviting destination.


The trip had been planned months ago as a fairly decent package deal. We were to  be picked up at Bagdogra airport and the whole itinerary thereafter would be taken care of, only minus lunch and dinner.

The drive from Bagdogra to the Bhutan border at Phuentsholing,  was tedious, with interminable traffic moving without any lane sense  causing jams at several places. Long lines of trucks went past , carrying cement and boulders . Phuentsholing was the industrial area of Bhutan and construction material constituted a major chunk of exports to India and Bangladesh. At stretches where the roads were clear, our vehicle was zipping past . Seated in front, I noticed the needle touching  120 several times.


We checked in to the hotel assigned  in the free zone area of Phuentsholing, tired after after the long day and full of anticipation for what was ahead.


Wangchuk greeted us at the reception  the next morning ,wearing the  traditional knee-length robe, “gho” and a very pleasant countenance. He would be our driver and escort for the rest of the trip. He facilitated the necessary clearances from the Immigration office and then we were off to Thimphu.

The new road, which wound lower down the mountain slopes , had been inaugurated  less than a year ago. It would have taken us longer to reach our destination had we gone along the older route which was in the higher reaches.  The day was clear and the sun bright and very warm.  All along the way, flags of many hues fluttered in the wind. They were considered auspicious  and an ubiquitous feature throughout the land.  Structures that looked like bus shelters, dotted the roadside at regular intervals and women sat selling vegetables and long clusters of something white that looked like erasers. It was  dried yak  cheese , rubbery and tasteless, we found, when we tried it out on the return trip. Chewing on it was “time-pass”, Wangchuk told us .

Here and there , the colours of Autumn were still hanging on the trees, giving visual relief to the bare mountains and rocky ledges that hung over the road. We were slightly disappointed that the route was not as verdant as we expected. But then, many of the distant mountains seemed to have ample tree cover.

Wangchuk drove the vehicle at a slow pace, the needle on the speedometer rarely going beyoind 40.  We stopped for lunch on the way. Food was very basic , rice, chappattis , dal and vegetables and this was to be so throughout our stay .  We were told to avoid the non-vegetarian dishes on the menu , as animal slaughter was more or less banned in Bhutan and what was available was the stuff that came from India , with the likelihood of having been stored in the freezers for a considerable amount of time.


Smoking in Bhutan is banned too and smuggling cigarettes treated as a serious offence. There was no ban on alchohol though, the logic being that the former was not just injurious to the person who consumed it, but also to the others around . I guess the same logic applies to  a similar custom among the followers of the Sikh religion.


All farming in Bhutan stays free of chemicals . Wangchuk deplored the fact that everything that was grown and sent to the markets in India was completely organic , but when during the lean season they had to buy stuff from the markets in India for use in Bhutan, they got vegetables and fruits that was steeped in pesticides.


After checking in at the hotel in Thimphu by evening, we took a slow stroll in the neighbourhood. The architectural style of all the buildings, we noticed, was predominantly similar. It had to be so, as per the guidelines of the government . Residential houses in the rural areas rarely went beyond two storeys and in the cities the prescribed limit was six storeys. There were no high rises at all.


Even being the capital city, the place was not crowded. The total population of Bhutan is just about 8 lakhs and so the lack of hustle and bustle was not surprising. Moreover , the government was doing everything they could to discourage migration from the rural areas to the cities. There were schools and hospitals everywhere in the rural areas. Education and medical facilities were completely free. There was a land ceiling act in place which allowed individual ownership up to 25 acres only. Of course families owning more land generally assigned ownership to individual members  to retain the whole of the property between themselves. Those without any land to their name were allotted up to four acres by the Government. Those orphaned and elderly and without any means of sustenance were given free rations and also housing .


The livelihood of more than  60% of the Bhutanese population depends on agriculture. Irrigation where necessary, is provided at very subsidised rates . Holdings are marginal, by and large and so mechanised farming is slow to take hold, although the Government does provide use of tractors free of cost, Wangchuk told us. Rice and maize and potatoes are the major crops grown for domestic consumption , apples, oranges and cardamom being the cash crops.


By five thirty , it had started to become dark and we walked back to the hotel as the temperatures suddenly started dropping . Dinner washed down with lemon tea later, we snuggled inside the warmth of our quilts , winding up our first day in Thimphu.

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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in Travel


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European diaries -1

We were an excited, my daughter and grandson.
When my kids were small,I had taken them around to several places in India, which has such a rich and varied tapestry of topography,culture, language , diet , dress and history that every trip just whet the appetite for more travel. I would like to believe that those jaunts helped to widen their perspectives about how different we are in many ways and yet so much the same under it all.

The fact that I was then working for the Indian Railways and was able to avail free travel facilities by train anywhere in the country as also stay in comfortable guest houses built by the organisation at all important places throughout the land, at highly subsidised rates did help the budgetary limitations.

Well the kids have grown up . Daughter decided that it was now her turn to take me around. She needed a break herself and the little one is a cool traveller, without too much of crankiness and quite adaptable to new scenes and scenarios.

It was one of those package tours arranged by the travel agency, “Make my trip”. It would take us through six countries in Europe. Everything would be arranged for. Breakfast would be at the hotel we were staying and dinner would be arranged every night at one of the Indian restaurants in the city we were in .

So I applied for a passport and before we knew it we were ready to take off from the airport at Bangalore. From there to Mumbai and another connecting flight to Dubai and then the final lap which took us to Paris. Those of us who were from Bangalore were joined by the others in the group at Dubai and as we gathered together outside the Paris airport, we looked at each other and smiled.

It was evening by the time we checked in at the hotel. The view outside was beautiful. Autumn was just setting in and the leaves on the trees had begun to change colour.

A couple of hours later, we were on the bus that took us to the heart of Paris . Our first stop was at the Eiffel Tower.

Imposing it was, a towering structure of wrought iron , which was visible against the skyline much before we actually arrived near it. I guess it has something to say for engineering skills and so on. For me, awe has to find its way to my heart and this edifice didn’t do that for me. Not a right thing to say perhaps 🙂

But the view from the top was beautiful.The city twinkled in the darkness .

Later the bus took us around to have a glimpse of the main attractions of the city by night , the Lovre, Dome of Les Invalides, Arc de Triomphe , Champs de Elysees and so on. we alighted from the bus at certain places for photoshoots. Some places were out of bounds that night because of some traffic restrictions.

We just had the next day to go around. We could either set out on our own or be on the bus that would take us to Disneyland for which trip we would have of pay separately. Disneyland itself had two sections, onw with all the major rides and the other which were more aligned for children with a lot of shows . We chose the latter keeping in mind that it would be quite a highlight for the little kid. So we had to give the “city by day” a miss.

No regrets. Disneyland was thoroughly enjoyable both for the kid and for us adults.  Posting some photos here.


Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Travel


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Silent valley

     These are memories from seven years ago, of a trip to Silent Valley in Kerala. Hope to visit the place once more. 

  ” I  suffer from wanderlust and there are ever so many places on my list that I really want to visit before I die. Some of them have just not happened even after almost finalizing the itinerary. Some trips just happened out of the blue without any prior notice or planning.

Finally, this last December , I was able to fulfill one of those dreams. I visited the Silent Valley with two of my other friends.


Madhavi and I travelled to Kannur  from Delhi and from there proceeded to Palghat by an overnight bus, where Vijaya was supposed to join us. Ravi, another young friend working in Hyderabad,  couldn’t make it at the last moment as an unexpected hartal over the Telengana issue made it impossible for him to reach the station to catch his rain. The poor chap was so very disappointed.



Anyways, we reached the Palaghat station at about three in the  morning. Vijaya’s train was scheduled to arrive at 5.30, but it was running late. We sat on the steel chairs near the counter , just inside the entrance of the station. They weren’t comfortable as we kept slipping off and our eyelids were heavy with sleep. There weren’t too many people around at that hour. So Madhavi and I decided to sit more comfortably on the ground, leaning against the pillar. We dozed off. It was quite embarassing to wake up and  find a long line of people who had queued up beside us in the meanwhile.

Vijaya’s train  finally arrived . It was more than four hours late. As we didn’t want to waste any more time we hired a taxi and reached Mukkali in about two and a half  hours’ time.  Mukkali is the base camp of the National Park. We had done prior telephonic  booking, followed up by e-mail, for our stay there. The Inspection Bungalow does not have too many rooms, but they are nice and clean and spacious. All three of us got accommodated in one room. The rent was quite reasonable.

4426951647_fb7c6f1e55_bThe Britishers had come looking for these trees for building sleepers on Railway tracks.


There are no  other hotels around  . We had lunch at a small dhaba like place near  where we were staying. An old couple served us hot rice , sambar, curds and pappad. It was a simple meal but very satisfying.



That evening we trekked a bit  in the buffer zone area. The National Park has a core area of 89.5 sq.kms and is one of the best representative evergreen forests existing in the world.



There has been very little human interference in its history and hence is splendourously glorious in its rich biodiversity. I’m speaking of the core jungle area, of course. Visitors just get to see the fringes.




The place gets its name from the total absence of cicadas which otherwise  inhabit the tropical evergreen forests .



While walking along the rough path through the forests that evening, we spied huge elephant droppings. They were dry, so the pachyderms must have walked that way many days ago. We did see a mother and its baby from a distance on the mountain slope across. It is a very strange , inexpressible feeling to come across an animal in its natural habitat. One feels so much the intruder.



The next morning we went on a jeep safari through through the forests, stopping at intervals when our guide spotted some animal amongst the trees or on top of it. The lion-tailed macaque is an endangered species that is seen in these forests and we were lucky to spot a couple of them on our way. These monkeys survive on the fruits leaves and buds of a particular tree. Without those trees they would be destroyed. There are a large variety of such relationships thriving in these virgin forests.


No wonder then that when the Kerala Electricity Board initiated a hydro-electric project to be built across the River Kunti , Silent valley became the focus of  a huge environmental movement that continued for many years. Eventually in 1984, it was Smt. Indira Gandhi who stalled the project. Unforunately she was killed  the same year and it was during the time of Rajiv Gandhi that Silent Valley was declared as a National Park . The Silent valley Movement was perhaps the first story of success in the history of environmental protection in our country and our visit happened to coincide with the silver jubilee year of it being declared as a protected forest.



It is difficult to describe the richness of such a forest . After winding through the roads, which had been built by the Kerala Electricity Board when the hydro project was just mooted, we reached a watch tower. From atop the tower , as far as the eyes could see, there were mountains and ridges thick with trees.


The canopy was beginning to change colour here and there; red and greenish yellow and pink.



One kept wishing for those compound eyes which insects had , which could look in many directions at the same time. In a couple of months time, the entire forests would be a blaze of red, we were told.


After getting out from the jeep, we trekked about one and half kms into the core area.



That was as far  inside as visitors are allowed to go which was a huge disappointment , although one should have expected that. So unless you are a forest ranger or a guard or a photographer or researcher with a special permit, all those beautiful orchids and flora and fauna which thrive in all their glory in the deep jungle become accessible to you only in the books and photographs  and postcards one can buy at the office at the base camp. Still, we considered ourselves lucky that we could make the trip.


We had a late lunch after getting back. Rested and refreshed we strolled down along the road in the evening , stopping by to chat with a family and requesting them for a few luscious looking deep pink “Chambakka” fruits which stared at us invitingly from a tree in their small courtyard. There are a few families living in the buffer are, most of them from the tribal community. They help the forest department to preserve the forests, preventing forest fires and poaching.


At dusk , dark rainclouds gathered and soon there was a steady downpour. We sat near the entrance of the Inspection Bungalow , watching the rain and chatting with the Wildlife Warden who came by after a while. A very amiable person he was and quite in love with the forests, although he admitted that when he joined the forest service , it was just a matter of having some job. But the forests begin to grow on you after a while, he said. He regretted the fact that there was far too, little manpower  and too little budget allocated for protection of the forests in comparison to what was being spent on policing , say a city like Trivandrum.



Just behind the Inspection Bungalow, the Bhavani River flows by. This is an Eastward flowing River which joins the River Cauvery, whereas the River Kunti flows Westward to join the Bharatapuzha. We climbed down the steps in the early morning, the next day.




The rains of the previous evening had increased the flow and the waters flowed gushing by.



Sitting there listening to the sound of running water was so soothing and soporific. We could have continued sitting there for hours. But we had to get back.


The bus ride from Mukkali to Mannarkad  had us swerving from one angle to another as we had to travel standing   and the roads kept winding around the slope. From Mannarkad to Palaghat it was comparatively much more comfortable. We broke up at Palghat station. This time Madhavi went on to Ernakulam to visit her relatives and Vijaya and I returned to Kannur.


I’m going to Silent Valley again, if possible during the monsoons. That is a promise I’ve made to myself. Let’s see. Meanwhile, do have a look at some of the photos I clicked.. Believe me, they cannot capture what its really like . The images of the green, green forests stored in my mind are going to haunt me , particularly in the coming months, when here in North India , the Loo winds will bring the dust and heat. To twist and old song “ Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something bad” to be deserving to live in this cement jungle. But then again, I must have done something good to deserve going back to the rains and greenery of my home state , don’t you think so?




Posted by on March 13, 2016 in Travel


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Kashmir kaleidoscope

Autumn leaves changing  colours to fiery red , sunset orange and various shades of dappled yellow before they fell off their perches on the branches to pile up in heaps on the ground below, turn brown and disintegrate in a process of slow demise. In India, this could be witnessed only in Kashmir, they all said. There were hundreds of “Chinar” trees there , most of them much over hundred years old. So there it was that I longed to go to see Nature’s brush at work on the foliage.


Kashmir has always been a long dreamed of destination even otherwise, but it had taken all these years for it to extend a concrete invitation to me. All places have secret strings , I feel, with which they pull us towards them. I’d always felt the tug and now it was strong enough to make me walk into its welcoming arms.


Well..not exactly walk. After the train journey from Delhi to Udhampur, it took us an excruciatingly slow stretch by road to get to Srinagar. At every turn there would be a flock of sheep , hundreds of them, with one or two shepherds trying to keep them on one side of the road. These were the Gujjars , we were told. With Winter approaching , they were now escorting their flock from the upper reaches which would become unbearably cold and devoid of pasture, to warmer places like Rajouri etc. They would return to the mountains in Summer , when the meadows would become green again with fresh grass after the blankets of snow disappeared with the rays of the sun getting warmer. With the road blocks caused by the bleating woollen groups, it took us well over twelve hours instead of the normal travel time of eight hours. There is no other route by road , except this one and any obstruction in passage, weighs heavily on time and business . The long lines of trucks inching themselves up and down the  slopes were epitomes of patience. Yet, it is only in the past couple of years that work on alternative routes has been taken up by the Government.

After a night’s rest we were ready to explore Kashmir.

There are lots of places you can visit , basing yourself at Srinagar apart from the  almost mandatory shikara ride in the Dal Lake.

The Lake is huge, but the stretch that tourists are generally ushered to  is dirty and overcrowded with the canoes and houseboats , jostling against each other  to give one any sense of its placidity or beauty.

There is even a floating bazaar with one or the other canoe laden with wares vying to lodge itself adjacent to the shikara you are in and tirelessly trying to get you to loosen your purse strings.  It’s annoying if you’re more inclined to just float uninterrupted.  Loads of money had been sanctioned for cleaning up the Lake, the boatman said  but nothing was really being done.  We heard the same from others too.  We later saw the dredging machines at various places in the waters,  standing still and inactive . They had all been imported from abroad , we were told. But the Lake is still dirty.



Nigin Lake , which we  visited on a subsequent day  was much cleaner and more peaceful in comparison.

Gulmarg, where we went to the next day, is about an hour and a half by road from Srinagar. The rolling meadows were still green, but would’ve been greener had we been there in July-August

Kashmir is certainly a place one should visit in different seasons. This same place, in Winter would be covered in snow and the temple in the middle of the meadows would then then be visible only by its tip.


The snow covered meadows then made for excellent skiing slopes , which had its own thrill ,as Vijaya,my friend vouchsafes. She’s been here  three or four times for skiing courses. The Indian Institute of Mountaineering conducts courses stretching over two weeks,  every winter at comparatively reasonable rates. It’s a whole package , which includes boarding  and lodging and the instruments. Earlier the participants used to be put up at one or more hotels there, Now the Institute has a nice big building of its own, overlooking the slopes.



This year  there had been a good inflow of tourists and we were happy to see the normalcy of  life , unhindered by the strife of the past 20-25 years. Majidbhai , in whose vehicle we did most of the travelling ,told us ruefully that the  period of  violence had put back the state by a hundred years. The general refrain was that the politicians were singularly responsible for the whole mess and that the militancy could have been contained and order restored if they really meant business. They spoke of a coalescence of corruption and a strong nexus  of vested interests  both amongst  politicians and some  from the security forces , that actually allowed  the flow of men and arms across the borders , perpetuating  a prolonged period of unrest . There was a lot of business too being carried out under the cover of the disturbances.  Large areas of forests had been cut down for the timber which left the state to line the pockets of those in the loop with easy cash, it was said. Funds released by the Central Government never reached the intended beneficiaries and were being regularly siphoned off and all the while the common man bore the brunt, caught in the crossfire between the militants and the security forces.

In Srinagar , we stayed with Mir Sir’s family. He had retired as the head of the Indian Mountaineering and Skiing Institute . Vijaya , who had done the course several times , was by now a close family friend and by vitue of being  her friends, we were extended the same warm welcome.


Qiyaan , Mirsaab’s little grandson was a real charmer and we were literally on our knees trying to woo him  from the word Go!.When we arrived at their house after our stay at Gulmarg, Mrs. Mir and her daughters Aneesa and Hadiqa hugged us with a warmth that radiated  so much of genuine affection. We got addicted to the ambience of that household, the delicious food and the kashmiri  kehwa that Mrs. Mir brewed for us from time to time.


We also visited  the Hazratbal shrine  one morning and the Nishat Bagh the same evening. The terraced gardens were a riot of colours  amidst the chinar trees. The evening sauntered slowly into the hours of dusk and the sunset in the waters of the Dal Lake was a like a visual treat  staged specially for us , to wind up the day.



To Yusmarg, almost the same distance fro Srinagar as Gulmarg , it was a delightful ride in Majidbhai’s vehicle. All along the way , in open fields, the harvested paddy was being threshed and the hay being piled up in neat stacks


. We passed  by apple and walnut orchards, stopping  to pick up a few  freshly fallen fruits from below the trees and to watch the walnuts being removed from its pulpy rind. Those at work had covered their hands with polythene because the skin had turned black after being soaked in water and would leave stains. The skin is used by many , adding it to Mehndi to make a natural dye.


Up in the slopy meadows of Yusmarg, where the ranges stood as sentinels all around, there were small huts where the shepherds lived. These were not the nomads, who were identified by the ownership of horses, which were used by them to carry their belongings and women and children  from one place to another. The huts belonged to those who had their permanent dwellings in the villages at lower altitudes, where they had cultivation of their own.




They came up to the mountains in Summer to allow their flocks to graze on the rich grass of the meadows.


At all these places, young and old men with ponies pestered us to let them take us to some viewpoint or another. Here at Yusmarg, Doodhsagar was supposed to be one such. I got persuaded, I must admit . Sitting aloft the pony, chatting to Firdaus the young boy and making our way through the narrow track on the slopes was fun. Firdaus had never gone to school. During the tourist season , he tried to make as much money as he could by way of the commission he got from the pony owners for escorting them on their sightseeing trips. He also helped with the cultivation on the little patch of land they owned. His parents were too old to do any work and he was the bread winner now. Less than eighteen, Firdaus was already a mature man.

Doodhsagar was a disappointment, being just a thin stream over the rocky bed . A dam built upstream was the reason, they said. But when the snows melted in Summer, the waters would be gushing and roaring making it difficult to cross at any point. While returning , there was a whole group of nomads on their migratory trail, about whom one had just read about here and there. Witnessing them first hand was a really interesting experience.


On the way back to Srinagar we visited the newly built Chirar-e-Shareif mosque. The old structure had been burnt down in the confrontation between the militants who had been holed up there and the security personnel. The militants had managed to escape, which was surprising Majidbhai said , as the area was not large and had been cordoned off. Far removed from the happenings in time and space, it was not for us to glean through the various versions, but yes, nothing was as straightforward as made out to be , it appeared.


Friendships nurtured by Vijaya from her skiing days at Gulmarg, made for another interesting visit, this time to Manasbal. It is considered to be one of the deepest  lakes in  Kashmir  (about 13 metres). Khursheid, lived in one of the villages bordering the lake.


He met us with his little cute daughter, Ikra , who thenceforth became absorbed with a lollipop and wouldn’t answer any of our questions. “Pestering females”, she must have been thinking. Khursheid was just around twenty four , but already a father of two. His wife wasn’t at home. It was only later that we learnt that the reason for her stay at her mother’s place was the arrival of the second kiddo. We met them both on our way back, as their place was not far away.



We made our way in a shikara  to Khursheid’s sixty year old house, escorted by him. On one side of the lake, lotus plants grew in plenty and there were quite a few men in small canoes, collecting the rhizomes  of the plants(Kamal kakkidi ) from under the water surface.


We were familiar with it in Delhi , as they were sold in the markets . But by the time they arrived there they would be brown and hard. Here, freshly collected, they were white and crunchily soft and a little sweet and we bit into the pieces offered to us. The fibrous stalks are said to be good for health, being a rich source of Vitamin C and minerals , besides adding a lot of fibre to the diet. It is said to reduce blood cholesterol, sugar, body weight and constipation.

We met Khursheid’s parents, His mother was a sweet old lady, dressed in the typical Kashmiri phiran, with a scarf covering her hair. She had her hair tied in two neat plaits which gave her a very endearing demeanor. She didn’t know any hindi , so our conversation was limited to smiles.


Khursheid’s father was a retired school master. He came across as someone full of integrity and courage. He told us of the times when militants roamed the area and of a night when they had barged in demanding food to be cooked. This was the story we heard from many others. Very few had the courage to refuse. Later the security personnel would be at their backs , accusing them of sheltering the insurgents. Khursheid’s father had dared to give them a piece of his  mind and one of them responded by sticking the gun to his chest. It was only the entreaties of his wife that saved him that day.  As was expected, he had to make several trips to the authorities before they absolved him from involvement with the jihadis.


Not just that, when one of the militant leaders operating in that area was later killed in an ambush, the word went around in their circles that he had been responsible for the attack as he had leaked information to the police. But he was apparently a man who had garnered a lot of respect in those areas and eventually he was let alone by both sides. He had strong words for both the leaders of the militant groups as well as for the Government in place. All interested in looking after  their selfish interests, he said. He seemed to be an interesting individual in more ways than one. Some time ago, he had been diagnosed with cancer and was to undergo surgery. Then on the night of Shabbe-baaraat, he had sat up the whole night praying . Next morning he declared that he was feeling perfectly fine. A subsequent check up revealed that there were no signs of any cancerous growth.  An erroneous initial diagnosis or a miracle of faith ? Who knows?

Pahalgam was the place we should have spent more time at, instead of just a day we had at our disposal to go around before returning to Udhampur to catch the train back to Delhi. There we  visited the Betaab valley, so called because some scenes from the hindi film “Betaab” was shot there.  It was absolutely beautiful


. The soft sun sending its warm rays from blue skies, the play of light and shadows amongst the trees that grew on the banks of the River Lidder, the green roofed cabins dotting the slopes, the blue and grey and brown of the mountain ranges, all combined to spread out vistas of  beauty before our eyes. Later in the day we went to the Aru valley also beautiful.


The landscape is the same..mountains, meadows, streams, winding roads,chinars and poplars , blue skies with white candy clouds , grazing sheep and so on. But each part of Kashmir presented new angles to this combination.

The return ride to Udhampur, thankfully didn’t take us as long as on our first day. We didn’t linger long to have lunch or make other stops except one, where we watched “kangris” being made from reeds gathered from the forest. These  stoked with small lumps of burning coal and held close to the body , below the loosely hanging overcoats(phirans) ,were used in Kashmir as personal heaters, We bought a couple of small ones as mementos of the trip.

We had taken a shared vehicle on the return trip. All through the trip we had heard voices that bemoaned the years of strife and blamed the fleeing of the Hindu Pandits from the valley on the authorities that were in power at that time. Now we listened to another voice, that which spoke of the disgruntlement of the muslim populace who were backward in education and thereby denied of opportunities in Government   jobs and other avenues for advancement. They spoke of instances when they were suppressed and insulted. This was what made many of the youngsters be swayed by the rhetoric of salvation fed to them by the Mujahideen and others. Here was a voice which still spoke of “Hindustan” as another entity , which had not bothered to quell the disgruntlement or improve the prospect of the muslim populace by way of developmental projects and education and jobs. This was a voice which still carried whiffs of animosity , although the whole dialogue was laced  with relief that things were changing for the better.

There would be many versions to the stories about Kashmir. We, a group of women, three of them young, were  impressed by the fact that there was no sign of dis-respect  or eve teasing or commenting  from the males on the streets. The girls seemed to go around with confidence and freedom.


They all wore head scarfs. Only a few wore the burqah and my word!…they were so beautiful. Their faces reflected the same serenity that one sees in the people living in other mountain landscapes elsewhere in North India and that one found very surprising considering the fact that they had gone through such disturbed times of fear and insecurity , threat and loss of loved ones .

I have a lot of stubbornness in me and it is not easily that I surrender my optimism .  I choose to believe that this wonderful place with its wonderful people have suffered long enough and that the rays of peace are falling soft and warm on the mountains and the valleys , just like the Autumn sun that blessed us on our way through it.

More photographs may be seen in these albums:






Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Travel


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Two leaves and a Bud

It didn’t actually work out as initially planned. There were to be six of usgoing on this trip. For many , many years we had been sharing lunch and exchanging gossip together in the same workplace. And we had travelled together too . Those of us who had kids had tagged them along as well, till they grew up and considered it beneath their newly acquired dignity to accompany their moms and aunts. But we had never, in all those years been able to travel some place, all together.One or two of us would always have to opt out because of one reason or another.

I had in the meanwhile taken voluntary retirement. Two of the others had wound up their work too and we had hoped that we could all make it together this time. Well, many a slip, as the saying goes.

So it was just me ,Mamta and Vaidehi who boarded the Rajdhani train to New Jalpaiguri and proceeded from there to Kursiong by road.

We checked in into the Railway Rest House at Kurseong, situated on a slight incline , just beyond a bend where the St.Paul’s church stood tall against the sky. We were going to be there only for a couple of days before we caught the train back to Delhi and we were planning just to laze around.

We had reached there by noon and was hungry. So we stepped into the West Bengal Tourist Lodge, which was just across the road. They provided reasonably good accommodation , we learnt and the food we ordered was okay. We didn’t see too many hotels or restaurants around during our two day sty or may be there were other parts of the town we hadn’t explored.

Chamelias grew all over the place in Kurseong on shrubs that looked pretty much like the tea bushes, the flowers themselves looking like roses . And they came in all shades.

The Wikipedia tells us that the species is indeed related to the tea plants and in fact is called the “flowering tea” in China. Interestingly, the plant is called “chahua” in Chinese. Is that where the word “chai” , which is ubiquitously used all over India for tea ,comes from?

In the evening, we went up to the Makaibari Tea Factory.Shri Om, the Supervisor in charge, kindly took us around the unit. He showed us the trays where the tea leaves plucked that day were thinly spread out to be subjected to wafts of hot and cool air, before it would be fed to the rotating machines, on the floor below.The moisture content in the leaves, having been reduced considerably, the leaves would then be having the right texture for being rolled up by those machines. Then it would be fermented for a while and then dried again, thereafter being sent through the sorting machines. We could come and see all the processes the next morning if we turned up early enough, he offered.

He told us a little about the Makaibari Tea Plantations. It was the oldest in the Darjeeling area and the present owner Shri Rajah Banerjee belonged to a family who had held it for four generations. The processes of tea making was pretty much the same , but what gave each blend its distinct quality depended on the temperature , time etc. each process was allowed and most importantly on the position of the leaves plucked, on the plant. The best, of course , came from that prepared from the ” two leaves and a bud’, placed uppermost on the branches. Green tea comes from leaves that are not subjected to the fermentaion process, which differs in duration from 20 minutes to half an hour and so on, the time length making the taste totally different.

The quality also depended on the seasons. High on the list was what was named “First Flush” in the Makaibari menu. This came from the leaves picked soon after the plants woke up from the Winter’s slumber in a burst of new shoots and leaves. And then there was “Silver Tips” , which he said was picked when the plants were bathed in the silvery beams of the full moon. Really, One never knew there was so much romance involved in a cup of tea.:-) Before we left the place, Shri Om did treat us to cups of golden hued mellow brew of the “First Flush”.

The British left us their Tea Plantations, but they didn’t teach us how to drink it, commented Shri Om. While sipping that delicious brew I pondered over the way tea is brewed in some places in India, with loads of milk and heaps of sugar, while sipping that cup and knew that he right.

We requested Shri Om to wait for us at the Kurseong station , early next morning , so that we could walk along with him to the factory. The air was cool, the next day. It had rained the previous evening and night and it started drizzling again even as we were on our way. On the way, we passed women with baskets on their backs who were going to the tea plantations for their day’s work at picking the two leaves and bud.

There are many plantations in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal. Most of them sold the produce at auctions, which were then marketed under brand names such as Goodrich and others The Makaibari Estate was one of the few plantations, marketing the tea under their own name.

We had stepped into one of the wayside shops waiting for the rain to stop. It didn’t look it was in a hurry to. Shri Om finally managed to get us a lift from some acquiantances, who were also headed that way.

The Makaibari factory has been functioning in the same premises and building for many, many years. Some of the machines were quite old too, but still moved and rotated and dried and sorted the leaves, without any loss of efficiency. It was quite an education, going around and witnessing the various stages of tea processing, for ourselves.

The Makaibari Tea Plantations also takes pride in being organically farmed. The yield has reduced considerably, but there is definitely an increase in quality. Shri Om vouches for that saying that earlier on (he has been there for a long time now) , whenever he tasted the brew of the first flush for its flavor and quality, it used to make him slightly dizzy, which did not happen any more.

Also , he says, the locals have been able to spot an insect , which they believe came from the tea leaves themselves. They deem it to be a Goddess of the Tea Plantations. Those who spot it and bring it to Mr. Banerjee, the owner , are given a monetary reward. The myths aside, the reappearance of this insect which had vanished from the Tea Gardens, is supposed to be indicative of the increased health of the eco-system in the plantations ever since organic farming was taken up.

We had a look around in the office of Makaibari tea Plantaion, before we left. The walls were lined with all kinds of interesting information and framed paper cuttings, containing snippets of the Makaibari tale.

And there was this amusing quote kept framed there as well.

We had had dinner the night before and breakfast at the Rest House itself. On the way back, we bought stopped by a shop in the marketplace to pick up some spinach and greens for the salad for lunch and dinner that day.

The caretaker and the cook and the other staff were very friendly and the food that they gave us matched our moods perfectly. It was down to earth and wholesome.

Having rested for a while, we decided to take a trip on the cute little train plying on the metre gauge track , from Kurseong to Ghoom , from where we could watch the train manoeuvering its way through the Batasia Loop.

It was a crazy ride, the train chugging its way through the crowded market place at a slow leisurely place, unmindful of the people walking alongside and the cars overtaking it.

Some staions would be across the road and people would alight and dart across even before the train actually stopped.

The route was beautiful and the weather glorious.

In the distance one could see the clouds descending over the valleys and ahead of the train, as it went round a bend, the mountains would look dreamy through the mist.

Sometimes the track would actually cut across the road to proceed on the other side.

We met the Steam engine at Ghoom. It was getting ready for the stretch to Darjeeling.

The one in which we came was a diesel powered one. We had thought that the Batasia loop was just a little way ahead from the station at Ghoom, but it was a bit of a distance to be covered before the train overtook us on its way to darjeeling and as we paced across along the side of the road, it looked as if both the trains would go ahead. Fortunately for us, although the diesel train forged ahead , we reached in time to see the steam engine entering one stretch of the loop at an elevation and then curling around to enter the other arm before it went under the small bridge and then turn round again before the track straightened out.

The view from that vantage point was breathtaking. We could see Darjeeling in the distance enveloped in the mist.

And all of these engineering marvels of those long ago times were put in place to cater to a market for the potatoes grown in Darjeeling, one had read at the Kurseong station.

It was soon growing dark and there was just that small patch of tension in an otherwise perfect day, before we managed to find a way to get back. No taxis came by and the only one available was charging much too much. We started walking back to see if we could find some transport , closer to the station. A vehicle went past us and we desperately waved out. It didn’t stop then and there. But the driver did stop a little way ahead and he stood here waiting for us to catch up. Must have taken pity on us . may be we were looking a little forlorn. He asked us where we were going. He was on his way to pick up a group of girls who were going to Kurseong to give their Senior secondary exams. They would be staying there for a month So there would be some luggage. He would take us along for a per head fare if we could adjust in the available space. We didn’t need to think. We only too glad to get back, somehow.

We paid a visit to the St.Paul’s church the next morning. It was Easter Sunday and a mass was going on. Outside , lined up against the wall were potfuls of some of the most beautiful blooms I’ve seen.

And then it was time to bid good bye to the place. We told ourselves that we’d come again, whenever our hassled nerves cried out for some smoothening salve.


Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Travel


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