Friday, July 29, 2011

Vikram and Betaal

One day while I was doing some important work and which rarely happens, I received a call from a friend. I put my work aside and took his call. Our earlier conversations used to be like 3-5 mins affair but that day it stretched past 30 mins. More shocking were the ingredients of our this little talk and I'd better not let them go public. It was at the end of the call when I realized the reason behind his call. It had a striking similarity with the old "Vikram and Betaal" stories. Those who like me were fond of 'Chandamama' at some stage in their life can certainly recollect the line  Safar bahut lamba hai Vikram, chalo mein tumhe ek kahani sunata hun where Betaal used to narrate stories to Vikram for killing time during their journey. My friend was on his way to office and the moment he reached his office call ended abruptly. 

Thanks to the telecom revolution we no longer need a Betaal and thus a  heavy payload to carry on our shoulders to pass time when traveling. Well I don't know the exact weight of Mr Betaal but taking into account the pictures of him in 'Chandamama', could round it to 80 Kgs. All you need today is a cellphone and a friend who can bear you for that period. A cellphone serves duel purpose. If you have plenty of balance you can always find a friend to talk to and when you are out of money FM is always at your service. Gone are the days when people used to have a discussion with fellow passengers in a train or bus. Today you step out of your house and can see 5 out of 7 youngsters either on a call or FM.

 If Vikram and Betaal were from this age, imagine the picture with Betaal on Vikram's shoulders.Vikram is having a latest iphone in his hand. Poor Betaal is not allowed to say a single word and his mouth is gagged. Of course a pug would be following them !!

- Ashish Pandey

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Love is No More

Though this post has got nothing in taste with our Blog, I decided to give it a life. I wrote these lines a few years back when I was on board a ship and had a tough day. Hope you'd like it....

--once upon a time there was a prince charming who wrote following lines

I was quite happy earlier,
when I did not cross this barrier.
No difference was between rose, cactus and marigold,
still curse the moment, I came at that threshold.
Don't want myself to be a part of history,
I need a calm and peace full life rather than a mystery.
Was a free bird roaming here and there,
sometimes with a reason, sometimes simply nowhere.
Think twice before climbing this tree,
its really dear but pain comes free.
With a reason to smile, also get a reason to worry,
take your time pal, life is too long, no need to hurry.
It hurts really bad when you're miles apart,
why, why, why, that's the sound of your lonely heart.
It fails and you end up doing a nasty thing,
greenery is all gone, that's the downfall of another spring.

By- Ashish Pandey

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leh Travelogue

Date: April 14th, 2011
It was 0330 Hrs and we were all set to leave Delhi. A taxi drove us to the IGI Airport terminal 1D. We didn’t sleep the whole night and still there were no signs of fatigue on our faces. Our flight’s STD was 0515. Flight departed on time and we landed at Leh around 0630 Hrs. We hired a cab from Airport to Oriental Guest House for Rs. 180. Cab driver was very friendly and he told us a few things about Leh, like the flash flood caused by the cloud burst and how destructive it was. Leh bus stand was totally washed away because of that flash flood. We could still see the ruins of buildings.
In about 15 minutes we reached our Guest House. Various plans were available for staying in Oriental Guest House. We chose to go ahead with plan B, room with no heating arrangement. It would cost us Rs 710 including breakfast. We had had our breakfast on arrival and decided to rest till afternoon.
Upon waking up we headed straight to the Leh market. The biggest mistake we did was by not asking anyone directions to market. We got lost and ultimately had to cover thrice the normal distance from guest house. Learning from our mistakes, we asked for directions (short cut)  to Leh Palace and after a real tough ascend, we managed to get there. Sid had to take 4-5 pit stops during this endeavor. Leh Palace has nothing to see much from inside but its outer architecture is worth appreciation. With flat walls and numerous balconies it looks wonderful. Inside there is a Buddhist temple which is said to be of 16th century. You have to pay a nominal entry fee of Rs 5 for entering into the palace.
After coming down we went to the market once again to have some food. We found a Punjabi restaurant which offered a great taste of Punjabi food at reasonable rates. Upon quenching our appetite we went looking for a ‘Bikes on Rental’ shop. Shop had good varieties of bikes available like Pulsar, Yamaha FZ and Enfield. We took FZ on rent for two days after some negotiation on Rs. 950. Then we headed straight away to our guest house and went to sleep not knowing that a series of severe headaches was about to come soon. After half an hour or so, we both had headaches, while I had minor Sid had more intense ones. So intense they were that they caused Sid to vomit out all the stuff he had in his stomach. It was 2000 hrs and finally we managed to get some sleep.

Date: April 15th, 2011
We had some intermittent but well deserved sleep and we woke up at 0930 Hrs. We took our time to freshen up and then went for breakfast. Here we met a bunch of guys from Mumbai. They had also arrived on 14th and like us they had no itinerary to follow. They had also hired bikes, coincidently from the same shop ‘Discover Himalayas’. In order to visit Broader Leh, one needs to get a tourist permit. So we went to the concerned office (Office of Deputy Commissioner) and applied for the permit. It cost Rs 350 for 5 of us, 300 for Wildlife Fund and 50 for International Red-Cross. Once the application was submitted to the office, we requested our guest house owner to collect the permit as we had further plans for the day. Once everything regarding permit got settled, it was time to explore some of Ladakh on motorbikes we hired. Our first destination was Hall of Fame, a military museum. On pan paying a nominal entry fee, we were allowed to enter into the museum. Just at the entrance a panoramic map of Ladakh region was displayed. A wall of the room had framed photographs of war heroes who lost their lives while fighting for the nation and were honored posthumously. A special mention is necessary for the letter, a Captain wrote to his father, saying the final good bye. Upstairs was the wonderful possession of Pakistani rifles and other war ancillaries. Some major rifles were also on the display e.g. AK-56, AK-47, 7.6 mm sniper rifle and 40 mm rocket propelled gun. One LMG was also displayed and the most amazing part of it was that we were allowed to try our hands on these priceless possessions. Various proofs of Pakistani involvement in Kargill insurgency were also on display. These proofs were in the form of diaries, Identity cards, Pay books, note books and religious books. In one another room details about life and climate in Siachin were on the show. A room was dedicated to Indian Air Force in which displayed were numerous operations and activities of IAF in Ladakh region. Traditional Ladakhi dresses and some features of Ladakhi tradition and heritage were highlighted in the adjacent room. In the courtyard was the memoir of all the martyrs who had lost their lives while serving in the region for the nation.
Our destination number two for the day was Pathar sahib, a Gurudwara with an ancient story. It is believed that a rock with backside impression of Guru Nanak ji is lying here. The impression was formed when Guru Nanak ji was attacked by a giant beast that was living uphill and had a tendency to trouble local people. The Gurudwara is managed and controlled by the Indian Army and one can see a lot of tiles and stones depicting faith of army personnel towards Waheguru. 
We offered our prayers and after that we went for our next destination, the Magnetic Hill. The road that leads to the Hill is amazing. Kudos to BRO (Border Road Organization) for building and maintaining such roads. With amazing sceneries and surroundings, riding the bike on this road was wonderful. As we were lost in enjoying the beauty of nature time and distance both went at a great pace and we reached Magnetic Hill. This is a Hill which makes vehicles defy Gravity. Some boxes are drawn on the road and when one parks his vehicle in the box he can feel the vehicle being attracted to the Hill.
Sangam, the confluence of Rivers Zanskar and mighty Indus was next on our list. Again the lovely surroundings followed us wherever we went. Roads are carved out of the Hills with such brilliance that you can’t keep away from appreciating the work done by BRO. At the Sangam you can see the different colored water of both the rivers mixing, like in a mock tail. You can follow the two colors for some time but after that its only one that is left to admire and we knew that we could not enjoy the thrill of white river rafting in any of them!
With the images and sounds of the turbulent waters of these rivers in our minds, we turned around to go back to our Hotel and the nearby Shanti Stupa. In between we stopped for well deserved Maggi !! Shanti Stupa is made by Japenese. From Shanti Stupa you can see whole Leh and the surroundings. While we took the road to reach the front side of Stupa, one can take the stairs from the Changspa Road for Stupa. We surrendered our vehicle at the Bike Shop with one day left, to make the most on Monday.
This day was exhilarating as well as tiresome for all of us. After having dinner we went to sleep as the day awaiting us was going to be more invigorated and challenging. We are going to Pangong Lake tomorrow.

Date: April 16th, 2011
After a long-long time our good morning started at 4’O clock. We had to get ready by 5 AM for the most awaited drive to Pangog Lake which lately got famous courtesy 3 Idiots. An Innova was all set to take us through the tough and rough terrains and the world’s second Highest Motorable road to Pangong Lake. After a 3 hour drive we reached Chang La. It is at the height of 17586 feet (5360 meters) from the sea level. Some advisories were written on a sign board like refrain from smoking and not to stay for more than 20 minutes at the point. As a token of respect to the advisory, theoretically and about to die/faint situation, practically, we decided to leave the place in 5 minutes with promising ourselves to buy more time in return journey. A couple of hours later we were standing on the Pangong Lake. ‘On’ because the lake was frozen like stone or rather tougher than a stone. We tossed a stone high in the air and it came crashing down to the lake only to be shattered into the pieces. After a few double checks like striking Lake Surface hard with stones, the results of which supported the toughness of ice, we decided to step into the lake. It was a never before experience for all of us. None of us had ever before experienced ice walking. Initial cautious steps were followed by blatant running for posing in front of self timed cameras. 
One fourth of the lake is in Indian Territory and rest three fourth in the Chinese. The lake is surrounded by plains on the two sides and mountain on the third side in Indian Territory. White ice at the bottom, brown and white mountains in front and blue sky above – If I am told to imagine heaven, this would be my description. Nobody wanted to return but everyone had to. This is the beauty of heaven.
A promise was waiting to be fulfilled at Chang La and we proudly didn’t let that down. We stayed at Chang La for more than 15 minutes. Some enthusiasts bought souvenirs of Chang La. A few dared to light a fag and were quite happy after accomplishing it successfully and some were busy in clicking photographs. A broad winning smile was visible on everyone’s face like if they had conquered Mount Everest. Yes, for most of us it was the same feeling.
So our Pangong expedition ended in a positive note and we were more than happy to celebrate it by sleeping for more than 17 hours continuously!!

Date: April 17th, 2011
Immediately after brunch, we embarked into the waiting Xylo. The weather was getting rough with news of flights getting cancelled, though latter had nothing to do with the next item of our itinerary. We were going to experience the highest motorable road of the World at Khardong La. When we left the Guest House, it was bright sunny weather. As we started gaining altitude, the weather started turning to its darker side. A few miles shorter of Khardong La, our driver had to fit chains on the rear wheels to avoid skidding as it was snowing heavily and the road was fully covered with snow. Yesterday if it was a debut Ice Walk, today it was the first snow fall for some of us. White was the color. Strong wind was blowing and visibility was very poor. Through the originally transparent but now translucent window of Xylo, a milestone hanging to a pole was visible. It was again something first of its kind to me and got added to my favorites list. We reached Khardong La and to our guesses, road was closed beyond it. However we were elated to be proudly standing at the altitude of 18380 feet, although some preferred to proudly sit in the car!
Upon descending we again hired the bike from the Leh market but this time no FZ was there and we had to go with Pulsar 180. We performed necessary checks and inspections like brakes, acceleration and tyre condition. Pulsar was directly taken to the filling station and then to Guest House. Once again it was decided to take ample of rest as a hectic day was waiting ahead and it was going to be the toughest of all, for sure.

Date: April 18th, 2011
1032 was ticking in my wrist watch when I pushed the Electric Starter of my motorbike. Shey Monastery was next on our places to visit list. A fresh day on fresh bike made everyone refreshing. We reached Shey Monastery in about 30 minutes. It is around 16 KMs from Leh on the Leh-Manali Highway. Earlier shey used to be summer Capital of Ladakh. In this Monastery the main attraction is 39 feet tall statue of Shakya Muni. It is whopping 3 storeys tall. There is a room nearby where oil lamps are lit. Upon talking to the caretaker lady we came to now that these lamps are lit round the clock. On reaching the top of the Monastery an awesome view welcomes you. From here one can see the vast fields following the Highway.
Thiksey Monastery is about 5 mins ride from Shey. Here a religious school is run by Monastery Administration. When we reached Thiksey, young monks were having their lunch. The Major attraction of this Monastery is the statue of Maitreya or Future Buddha. It is two storey tall and is one of the tallest of its kind. In Thiksey we got an opportunity to attend a post lunch prayer session. It was a very long prayer and went on and on.  Young Lamas served traditional Butter tea to senior monks while they were busy in chanting Mantras. We were also offered the butter tea and it tasted fabulous. It was a first of its kind experience for us. We were left stunned by the grand hospitality of monks. When we came out of the prayer Hall it already had been 1430 on the clock and that meant we were running short of time as Hemis Monastery too had to be covered. We had a quick Maggi session and then we left Thiksey for Hemis.
From Karu you have to take a right turn and then have to cross the Mighty Indus in order to reach Hemis. There is lack of direction markings on the road especially after crossing the Indus. Luckily all our predictions about the direction went right and we reached Hemis in time. I believe it is the highest, coldest and oldest of all the monasteries in the region. It has a wonderful museum with precious Buddhist items on display. The museum extends up to 6-7 large halls. A lot of statues of various deities and famous monks are stored here. It also has a great collection of paintings and other collectibles of past era. The main temple has statues of deities and Buddha Shakya Muni. It has a large assembly hall where monks assemble for prayer. Hemis monastery is said to control over 1000 monasteries under its umbrella. As another 49 KMs drive back to Leh was awaiting for us we had to leave the premises.
Only a night was left to rewind and store all the memories of Ladakh in our short tour of 5 days. Still a lot is left to visit Leh again sometime in future but with the kind of experience we got in Leh, I can assure you that it’s going to come soon, very soon.

Date: April 19th, 2011
We are about to leave for the airport and this is Ashish Pandey with Sidharth Mehta, signing off from Leh.

PS: As Leh is a hyper sensitive airport, there are more security checks beyond your imagination. Try not to carry any hand Baggage and even if you do, keep all the batteries separate from your cameras and laptops. A sincere advice is to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the scheduled departure of your Flight.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

First Post

The first post goes to the famous poet Gerald Gould for his 'Wander Thirst'

Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye, 
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are, 
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there?s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard, 
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why, 
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun, 
And the white road and the sky.

By Gerald Gould