the rain affair!

In a country where the sun shines almost 11 months a year, please excuse me if I don’t appreciate it as much. I loathe it, on the other hand, I love the clouds! Damp, gray, dull weather for me any day over the sunny days. Unfortunately we barely have that sort of weather at best for 1-2 months a year. So it is very important for me to make the most of it when that weather lasts!

Since three years now, I have been driving to the Himalayas from my hometown in Gujarat, this honestly is the best time to take a road trip in India! Entire India is beautiful during this time of the year, all those dusty towns in Haryana, those dry deserted rocks in Rajasthan, the dry north Gujarat, everything springs to life, suddenly there are more lakes, the greenery seems to have taken over, there is a vibrant coat that all trees are wearing, this dusty country suddenly has a green sheen to it and it looks amazingly pretty. Especially when the clouds descend in various shades of gray, innumerable small waterfalls begin trickling down slopes thanks to the clouds drooling drops of rain on the earth and mist floating around, the whole image is impossible to capture in a photograph, but you all surely have seen it haven’t you?

Trust me, if you haven’t you are wasting your life, go out and see the Indian countryside in the rains, its simply as good as any place on earth during this time.

Since I am a more greedy person than normal, I can’t make do with just the normal pretty Indian countryside, I prefer to travel to the Himalaya’s! Three consecutive years, end of July I am going to the Himalayas and take it from me, it is a super time to go there. The weather is not unbelievably cold, infact its quite friendly unless you are opting for a very high altitude, secondly, there are no crowds, thirdly the mountains are hibernating, the trees have been washed, the leaves are sprouting, the valleys are full of flowers, at times at certain places I remember it was difficult to walk without trampling flowers! Can you imagine that? On some trails at certain times, it is a problem, you cannot walk unless you put your feet on flowers! Coz the floor is that full with flowers! There isn’t just one valley of flowers, yes that is a famous one, thankfully, it keeps people from going everywhere! There are quite a few valleys that bloom and they are a sight!

Please do not let people deter you by saying landslides happen and all that crap, enough accidents happen on roads in cities. If we are sensible and prudent, accidents mostly like will be avoided, yes you might get stuck in a place for a day or two longer, but that’s about the worst it can get. Come to think of it, getting stuck on a holiday is the best thing that can happen to you! You can always tell your boss, sorry but road closed, I couldn’t come back and enjoy!

The monsoon in the Himalaya’s is quite spectacular, the water usually at most places is quite pristine and clean and clear, no brown falls here (largely) secondly, the breeding season of birds, so lots will be about with worms in their bills feeding, without worrying how close you are getting to them, thirdly, apple, peach, plum, pear season, pluck them and eat them! The freshness and the juiciness will blow away your mind! You might even not eat fruits any longer once back thinking, this is no way the same fruit that grows on trees! Take my word on this one too! The mountains near to you are lush green, the ones further away from you seem a lighter shade of green and eventually become blue, the clouds flirt with not just the mountain peaks, but they come down, settle down in the valleys, they flirt with the trees and even you! Yes, go walk in the clouds, you can also sing “aaj main upar” for many times the clouds will actually be in the valley below you!

The places are empty, the popular tourist sites, which are pretty, but usually made places to ignore because of the crowds are empty, the hotels are empty, you get loads of discounts, if you stay there they treat you like royalty, there are many local village deity festivals, if you can befriend locals you can have a ball visiting these villages during festival days, the people are generally in a good mood and relaxing.

Talking of festivals, I remember one afternoon we stumbled into a stranger called Rajinder in Buhad village in Parvati Valley, when he learnt we were from Gujarat and that we had come to see their local customs, he invited us home for tea, we tried to ignore but he insisted, we eventually went for tea to his home, in the middle of an apple orchard at around 5pm. That tea was followed by Bhatture Chhole, Fruits, Salad, Kingfisher Beer, Bholebaba Prasad, Chicken, Naan and by the time we left his place at 11.30 in the night, we were happy high, belly filled and stoned! Today that stranger Rajinder is a friend, we also meet for treks and I hope someday he will visit Bharuch and maybe I can reciprocate his kindness in some way!

Encounters like this do not happen in summer season or diwali season, the locals are also busy at that time! Its during rains that everything takes a back seat in the Himalaya’s. The atmosphere tells you not to work, to sit back, relax, gaze, sigh, soak in fresh air into those lungs of yours!

This year we headed for Kumaon, opting for the small corners in Naintal hills and Almora hills, we visited Nathuakhan, Sattal and Dhamas. We stayed in two places that are sort of hotels where we were the only guests, the cooks would ask us what we’d like to eat and cook, it was good to have their undivided attention and having everything cooked as per our whims and flavours and at times we wanted to! In Dhamas, we took up a house in the middle of nowhere, to get milk we had to drive about 10 mins after walking to the car for another 5 mins and to get proper vegetables or butter or bread, we had to drive 13 kms one way! The place though, had only three kinds of sounds, birds, cicada’s and crickets and rains pattering on our roof! The villa was secluded, very well equipped, with a view so good, for two days we plonked our asses on the bean bags in its balcony and read books, drank cups of tea, drank the other drinks, did the things and everytime we looked up from the books the view was to die for. We didn’t feel like moving, we didn’t feel like coming back, it was the ideal sort of house that I’d love to have some day in the hills. I’ll leave you with a few pictures and I hope it inspires you to take a monsoon road trip to some place if not the Himalayas!

The view from our balcony in Dhamas after the rains when the clouds descended seemed like this place was out of a fantasy!

Neither the sun, nor the stars were visible, but the hues the skies changed at dawn and dusk were so amazingly spectacular that I cannot describe or capture, this is the best I could do!

The empty roads are a pleasure to drive on!

Bob’s place at Nathuakhan is very popular, but we got it all to ourselves! A childhood dream came true by visiting this wonderful place!

Garudtal lake all to us! No visitors, pristine colours, silence and well you get the idea right 😛

Kasol Diaries – 1

Every time I have visited the Himalaya’s I have been awed, apart from being awed at the sheer magnanimity and vastness what has always fascinated me are the small houses and settlements I would see on some pretty steep mountains, I would always wonder, why on earth was someone living up there and why not somewhere lower, perhaps they liked the view or perhaps they liked to stay away from the noise and dust of the lower altitude. Why on earth would someone live up so high where he/she would have such a task taking and bringing things down.

So this year instead of trekking to meadows or cliffs where there was no one, we were trekking to the many little hamlet’s in the lap of Parvati Valley. We were actually looking forward to getting a closer look at the lifestyle of the locals, see them whilst they carried out their daily life, the villages where you couldn’t drive to but had to undertake stiff climbs to reach.

What soon struck me when we stayed with a local in Lapaas was how simply calm they were. Oh yes they were courteous, knew about the world, internet and all that but the simple relaxed frame of mind they all seemed to be in. They never were seen rushing, they would carry on the work in their apple orchards or paddy fields or cutting grass for their cattle in the most easy manner. Whenever I would stop panting for air during my climb and if someone would be crossing us, there would be a “Namaskar” or a “Ram Ram” or an even more concerned “Thak gaye kya”greeting always around. They were always ready to have a chat till you had caught your breath and were ready to resume climbing again. Off they would go on their merry way. Wonder if we city folks would ever have time for others like this.

Coming back to our stay in Lapaas, apparently our friend Amar had told us that he has told one family that we would be coming to stay at their place. When we reached there, we delivered some of the biscuits we had brought for them from the shop at the road below and we were served with Hot Chai with even better biscuits that they already had! Resourceful! The family we stayed with was of 4 members, of which the daughter was not around as she had gone to Kullu, the remaning three Mother, Father and son greeted us with utmost humility and welcomed us. The house was a little away from the main settlement of Lapaas which pleased us a lot, also it had a location to die for, describing it is a little difficult as I lack the vocabulary to describe its serenity & grandness thats where my photography comes in handy. Here are a few pics of that place.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

Sigh, how I miss the place already. The family we stayed with served us with endless cups of tea, loads of talk about their life, the son was pursuing his 12th and was planning to do B.Tech after that. We wondered if he liked the city life (he studied in Kullu) and the  answer was a negative. He was actually fond of living here, he said he would like to do some proper study and see if he gets some career near by so that he doesn’t have to go to far from his home.

The one thing that struck us was, whilst we may wonder why are people living so high up, its like they have always been high up there. Thats home for them since many generations, its as natural as it can be, they never ever come to the question of climbing a slope for something or not. Yes, modernity has invaded their spaces too, they too have mobiles, internet and tv and whilst maybe say 50-60 years back they never needed anything from the town, now they do need a bit of supply from the town. Perhaps they are not as independent as earlier when they managed to get everything they needed without going to the town, yet, home it is for them.

We walked about the village of Lapaas in the evening visited their temple, which is again located in a superb place, apparently next day there was a mela to happen in Lapaas and the family kept insisting we must not go without seeing the mela. The gent in the family also told me it will make for wonderful photography opportunities.

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We had already committed to attend another mela in Buhad, a slightly bigger settlement which promised an even bigger gathering but we thought we could still stick about till noon and see and immerse in a bit of the festivities the next day.

 

As night fell we returned to our house and in the moonlight the snow peaks looked absolutely ethereal.

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Long shutter click of the night view from Lapaas

As chilly as it was our hearts were warmed by the sheer humility and the glee with which our hosts were talking with us. Chatters we all were till we all realised it was time for dinner. We were served an amazing meal of mutter paneer, aloo gobhi, rajma chawal and salad! Sitting and eating with them was a moment that will stay with me. Not only was the food delicious but the way the hosts went out of the way to make us comfortable and ensured that we all ate to the full was unbelievable.

The hospitality they were indulging in was beyond us city folks, complete strangers, invited to live in their house, sleep in their beds, eat in their vessel and all with genuine smiles and affection.

We slept with our tummies full in this traditional wooden house which was amazingly warm compared to how cold it was outside.

 

The diary continues….

 

Beloved Blue Mountains!

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I guess we have all read the mountains being described as blue somewhere or the other and frankly till a long time in my life I used to think its only poetic and that no such thing ever existed, that it was just a figment of imagination of some writers and they probably felt mountains being described as brown or green or black wouldn’t make them that exotic and wouldn’t bring that many people to the mountains and hence they used the adage “Blue Mountains”

Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a regular trip to the Himalaya’s and have been lucky enough to witness some vast mountain ranges, I have actually seen and realised that Blue Mountains exist! 🙂

There is something about these slopes on the surface of the earth, these high rising mountains lining up one after the other that just amazes me. Especially when you can find a spot to sit and actually gaze at the sheer enormity of the place they call The Himalaya’s you should consider yourself truly blessed to be able to absorb all this by your eyes. The above picture was taken when we were actually leaving the Himalayas and returning to the plains, I have always been enchanted by the mountains and will probably never ever be able to see the Himalaya’s enough in this life time and hence am always kind of sombre when leaving the mountains.

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Looking at the rear view or the side view mirror and realising and almost bemoaning the fact that I have to leave the mountains almost makes me sad, I sometimes get lost in the gazing and that it is almost fatal on a road trip! Thankfully the mountains have always been kind to me and always ensured and sent me back safely. I long already having come back just 10 days before to go back. I surely must have been somewhere there in the mountains in my last life, if there was any such thing!