Category Archives: Travel

At-One-With-Nature – A Visit to The Jim Corbett National Park

As a part of our professional training, we are attached to various departments we work in tandem with, so as to understand different aspects of our job. One such attachment is with the ‘Wildlife Institute of India’ for which we come to Dehradun for a period of two weeks. While the entire program is quite engaging, the most exciting parts of this module, in my opinion, are – the nature’s trail, a visit to the forensics lab and field visit to the Jim Corbett National Park, and it is this last leg of the program, the field visit, that motivated me to write today.

There were ~90 of us, who started from Dehradun in four buses on the 67th Republic Day of India, towards Corbett. The seven hour long arduous journey was tiring but the very first view of the ‘River View Retreat’ resort refreshed us literally and figuratively, with a glass of fruit punch as a welcome drink and beautiful and cosy rooms to retire to for the time being. The event began at 8 PM the same day with director’s address informing us about the place and telling us what to expect for the next three days.

The next day started fairly early, with all of us up and about at 6 AM. We were divided into two main groups to visit two of the four areas of the national park, Bijrani and Dhikala. I was to go to Bijrani first. We were made into subgroups of 5-6 people per jeep for further in the day. Armed with hoodies, mufflers, sweatshirts, jackets, gloves and boots and cameras, braving the chilling winter of northern India, with a driver and a guide, five of us started, full of excitement, for the jungle safari. After taking the requisite permits and renting a binocular, we headed to the forest area.

Bijrani is said to have a good record for sighting the big cats and we were hoping to sight a tiger. Our guide was informative and told us about the park, its history, the flora and fauna and answered various queries that we had. There were Elephant Safari’s available as well and it was quite exciting to start our journey with a view of an elephant mount and a little boy in a howdah on an elephant moving towards the jungle. We sited a number of spotted Deers and Langoors. A little ahead we saw pug marks of a big cat on the ground. All excited, we ventured further to listen to the call of the birds indicating the presence of a big cat nearby. However, we were unable to spot one there. Our guide asked us to be as still and silent as possible so as not to scare away the wild animals. A fellow tourist jeep driver mentioned that a Tigress with her cubs had been spotted in the same area the day before. We waited for some time at that spot but bound by the limitation of time, we moved ahead. Th jeep manoeuvred itself well on the rough terrain but when we passed through shallow water on our way, the scene was worth looking at and locking in in our memories. We could also see a number of birds, a Sambhar Deer and hear the call of a barking Deer meanwhile. Then we moved to a watch tower and looked at the vast expanse of forest from the top. On our way, we met more people, some of whom said they had spotted a tiger today. Even after a long while when we were still being deceived by the wilderness, disappointment started to creep in. We had started our return journey since there is a limit on the number of vehicles allowed inside the park and the duration for which they can remain there. It was then, that we saw some disturbance on our right. We changed course and straight ahead, saw a couple of jeeps halted at a place about 100m ahead of us, everyone looking in a particular direction. Our guide broke the news we had been waiting to get since the morning, there was a tiger there in the woods! It took some patience to locate the tiger there but once done, boy, what a sight it was! The huge face of the animal was visible first, he (it was a male) was yawning. Binoculars focused, I could see it straight ahead and up close. Oh, what a beauty! After a few minutes, he moved and walked up. What a royal walk! What grace! Oh, I will never forget this instance. We had achieved it. We had seen a tiger! Happy to the core, we started to move back once the tiger retreated back in the woods. This time, the mood in the jeep was very different, electric with happiness and excitement, We took a few photographs on our way back and then came out, right on time!

Dhikala was the next stop in our day visit plan. Eighteen of us, in a canter, started off to this area 55 Kms away from our base. This time, satisfied at having seen a tiger before, we were relatively quieter. Here we spotted barking deer, spotted dear (a number of them!), hog dear, sambhar (one was lazily standing in water, so still as if posing for the camera), wild boars( a couple at first, they looked ferocious and crossed the road running right in front of our vehicle, and then seven to eight of them), crocodile (very well camouflaged, basking in the sun), antlers of a deer shed naturally on a tree, pheasants, jungle fowl, peacock, and a number of other beautiful birds I was unable to identify. The landscape at Dhikala was beautiful, spellbinding to say the least. The water so pristine, the grass so green, the grazing deers, roaming around, as though unseen! It was a sight to behold. And then we headed back to our resort.

The next day, on 28th Jan, we decided to spend the morning lazing around, enjoying the beautiful resort we were staying in. Sitting by the river side with a book in hand and basking in the sun was absolutely wonderful. In the afternoon, we took the safari to the third area of the national park, Jhirna. In my opinion, it had the most beautiful landscape of the three. While we could not spot any big wild animals here, the variety of birds, deers and the grasslands were absolutely delightful to look at.

This visit was beautiful in many ways. Not just because we could see so many animals in the wilderness, but also because it made all of us feel so naive and small amidst nature.

So, next time when you want to get away from the city and be at one with nature, do visit the National Park. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

PS Pictures coming soon

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A Visit to Puri

Last month I visited Puri in Orissa with a group of friends. It was an impromptu trip decided over a casual conversation one evening. As it turns out, such trips are the best. There were seven of us, including two kids and an aunt. The motivation to visit were many – the famous Jagannath Puri temple, the Sun temple of Konark and the beaches of Puri. We had taken a train from Ranchi to Puri which took about 16 hours for the journey. With two kids and a hyperactive me, the journey was a lot of fun and the numerous people selling a variety of things added to it. We even made our own ‘Litchi’ tree which when clicked through the train window formed a beautiful sight.

Out Litchi Tree
Out Litchi Tree

On reaching Puri, we were received by one of our friends’ parents, belonging to Orissa, who had very kindly agreed to take us around. We stayed at a beautiful guest house – ‘Gundicha Bhakta Niwas’ named after Lord Jagannath’s masi (maternal aunt). It was a beautiful and comfortable place with air conditioned rooms and all basic amenities.

The Guest House
The Guest House

We rested for a while, freshened up and then decided to go to the beach. Even though it was a May afternoon, the experience was unbelievable. The sea was a bit rough and waves were high. We enjoyed a lot in getting crushed by the sea waves and then standing up to them again and again. We spent time rolling in the sand, eating ice creams and well just lazing around in the water. There were camel and horse rides available on the beach and we took turns in doing those too.

Puri Beach
Puri Beach
Camel Ride
Camel Ride

After a lot of time, when we had had our full of the sea waves and salt and sand, we decided to come back to the guest house. After relaxing for a while we got ready to visit the Jagannath Temple. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed there and hence I have no pictures but the place was definitely worth visiting. There were many tiny temples inside the complex. There was a huge crowd of devotees. Once done with the darshan, we came out to have prasad. There were a variety of things to be had – sweet khichdi, salted khichdi, daal (Pulses), achaar (pickle), buttermilk sort of a drink, kheer and some more. Having had our full, we got some prasad for our respective houses. Then we did a bit of shopping on the way, and tired, retired to our beds.

Ready for the Temple
Ready for the Temple

The next day we had plans of visiting the Konark temple. The beauty, architecture, scale and location of the place left us spell bound. It was magnificent and tranquil in a way. We spent time admiring the place and clicking photographs.

Konark - The Sun temple
Konark – The Sun temple
Everyone else at the Konark temple
Everyone else at the Konark temple

When we came out of the place, we spent a fair amount of time looking at the beautiful shops outside. they were selling all sorts off stuff ranging from bags to goggles to cashews to decorative items.

Beautiful stalls outside the Sun Temple in Konark
Beautiful stalls outside the Sun Temple in Konark
Some more stuff pleasing to the eye
Some more stuff pleasing to the eye

Then we visited the Chandrabhaga beach. It was cleaner and less crowded than the Puri beach but we were advised not to go in the water as it was dangerous owing to under currents. Nevertheless we enjoyed the scenic beauty for sometime before we headed for lunch.

Chandrabhaga Beach
Chandrabhaga Beach
Admiring the waves at Chandrabhaga
Admiring the waves at Chandrabhaga

After lunch we came back to the guest house. We were tired by now but some of us still wanted to go the beach one more time before catching our train back to Ranchi at eight in the night. So after resting for a while, we geared ourselves to be midst the raging waves once again. This time we also floated on the tyres at the beach, The whole experience was amazing.

At the beach on the second day
At the beach on the second day

And post that we came, packed and said goodbye to the wonderful place which had lived up to the hype and provided us two wonderful days of fun! This trip was a mixture of religious, adventurous and holidaying spirit – all at the same time 🙂

Land Of The Thunder Dragon – Bhutan

This post is long overdue and I know there are no excuses for procrastination except the good old – ‘I have been busy’. But better late than never. And thus, here I am, writing about a totally unexpected and wonderful trip to the land of thunder dragon – The royal kingdom of Bhutan.

I had planned a trip to the “Sunderbans” in February end when my hubby’s MBA was getting over. The plan was to have a quick two day vacation in the land of the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’ and then head back home. I reached Kolkata all excited about the trip when my husband let it pass that all his friends were going for a trip to Bhutan and he was not, because we had made our plans for Sunderbans. Those were (hopefully) the last days of his college life and he hadn’t been on a trip with his friends. I asked him to go but he was unwilling to leave me there all by myself. And thus we reached a solution – planning to go to Bhutan, a different country altogether, instead of Sunderbans; a mere eights hours before we were to board the train.

The awesome crazy company
The awesome crazy company

The journey started with nine of us in the train compartment adjusting seats so that we could all play ‘Mafia’ on the way. We reached New Jalpaiguri (NJP) the next morning at about 10 AM, had our breakfast and then booked a tour to Bhutan through the travel agents there. A five hour journey took us from NJP to Jaigaon, the border town with Phuentsholing on the other side. The road trip was wonderful thanks to the amazing roads leading to a smooth drive, beautiful Teesta river flowing alongside and tea gardens on either sides. The company of friends, drinks, music and snacks made it even better 🙂

Happy on the road
Happy on the road

We stayed the night at Jaigaon and arranged our papers for obtaining a permit to visit Bhutan the next morning. we were required to have a Govt. provided ID proof (Passport/ Voter ID Card/ Aadhaar Card) and photographs to apply for the permit. Apparently the Driving License could be used as well but the Indian Embassy was off on Saturday (the day we were to get out permits). We walked over to Bhutan to get our permits at about 11 AM and then started our trip to Paro, the place we had decided to visit in Bhutan. It was to be a six hour drive. We stopped on the way for food. Two of the company enjoyed Pork and Chicken and God knows what else, while the rest of us gorged on cup noodles, chips, cold drinks and the like 🙂

Scenery on the road
Scenery on the road

The scenery was beautiful with lovely hills and mountains on either sides. There were frequent stops on the way to throw up (:D) thanks to the winding roads but it gave us opportunity to click photographs. We stopped at a small restaurant for tea/ coffee and admired the beautiful countryside.

For tea (=posing) on the way
For tea (=posing) on the way

We reached Paro at about 7 PM. The resort booked for us was beautiful. The rooms were compact, colorful and creatively done. The floors were wooden and the ceilings low. We were famished when we reached. A nice lady came to our room to ask for our dinner plan and take order for the same. Why she took the order so soon became apparent to us when we went to eat. They took their own sweet time to prepare the food. The same people were the cook, attendant and at the reception. But the wait was worth it as we had some good snacks and coffee to keep us warm and nice. The food was deliciously homely and wholesome. We talked to the guy at the bar and discovered that he had lived in India (Bangalore) for a while. He spoke decent Hindi as well. Tired of all the travel we went to sleep in the lovely rooms made comforting by the room heaters.

Resort View
Resort View

The next morning was beautiful. I could see snow clad peaks from the window of my room. Refreshed after a bath, I went to the restaurant for breakfast.

Piggy-back before the breakfast :P
Piggy-back before the breakfast 😛

We asked for the breakfast to be served outside with the sun shining bright and a chill still in the air. Hot parathas, omelette, coffee and butter toast were a delight to be had then.

The sightseeing began with the Paro airport viewpoint. Imagine a nice clean runaway. Now imagine high peaks on one side of it. Then stretch your eyes to the other side of the runway where a river runs clean and bright. And there you have the Paro airport view. It was magnificent. We waited to capture a take off in our cameras.

The beautiful airport of Paro
The beautiful airport of Paro
Replicating the 'Rang De Basanti' Style
Replicating the ‘Rang De Basanti’ Style

Happy with the start of the day, we moved to our next stop, Rinpung Dzong, a large Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist monastery and fortress. It was huge and pristine. There were so many rooms, such a big hall and a grand doorway.

From Top, anticlockwise: 1. On the way to the monastery 2. Walking towards the monastery 3. The huge doorway
From Top, anticlockwise: 1. On the way 2. Walking towards it 3. The huge doorway
You can guess the scale of teh door by looking at this close up picture
You can guess the scale of the door by looking at this close up picture

On the door I was told to stay back though. Apparently one cannot enter the monastery wearing capris/ shorts. I requested the guard to let me in but to no avail. All my friends had gone in by then and I was being jealous when it occurred to me that I could buy/ borrow clothes. I pestered the guard some more and seeing my determination he smiled and told me to check if I could find something in the canteen nearby. The Bhutanese people turned out to be very helpful. I borrowed a pair of trousers and went in. The inside of the place was even more majestic. We clicked countless pictures, climbed at the top of the structure through scary, steep staircase, looked around and posed with monks and stepped in the worship place. It was a beautiful and calming place which offered a meditating atmosphere to a jumping jack like me, even if for a few minutes.

Posing!
Posing!
Inside the Monastery - Posing!
Inside the Monastery – Posing!

We then went to see the oldest monastery, Kyichu Lhakhang, I believe. And we were shown another beautiful monastery from a distance, Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest), to reach where we would have had to trek for 3.5-4 hours.

The beautiful Taktshang we couldn't go to :(
The beautiful Taktshang we couldn’t go to 😦

Pressed for time, we let it go. Then we followed the lovely river (I can’t believe I didn’t ask anyone what it was called!). There were archers on the banks at some places and beautiful scenery all around. I could just sit there looking at the water, mountains and the sky forever.

The River, The Mountains and Us - The Bliss
The River, The Mountains and Us – The Bliss

Later we went to the market for lunch and just look around. This was the part of trip that enchanted me the most (and no, it wasn’t because I was in the market to shop 😛 ) There were hardly any people around. And for a citizen of the second most populated country in the world, it is a unique sight. I mean, I haven’t seen such tranquil market anywhere, even in the leanest populated parts of the country. There was a calmness and serenity associated with that experience. Adding to the effect was the fact that Bhutan is a ‘smoke less’ country. Smoking is banned and there is hardly any pollution. It was evident from the night skies full of bright stars that I hardly get to gaze at elsewhere, the pristine ‘sky’ blue color of the sky, the crystal clear lakes/ rivers, clean roads and most of all the, the absence of noise. I loved the place.

After lunch we headed back to our resort, enjoyed and geared ourselves for the return journey down the winding roads of the ‘The land of the thunder dragon’.

P.S. The trip helped me cross one of my bucket list items, yay!

ACBE1 Nilgiri Knights

It was 22nd of Jan 2010, around 3 PM. I was sneaking out of office to attend a friend’s wedding that night. Must have been about 6 PM by the time I got the gift, 7:30 by the time I reached her place, 9 by the time I got ready and reached the venue and midnight by the time we were done with greetings and dinner. Reached my place at around 1:30 AM and took as much time in getting ready for the bed as I did to get ready for the function courtesy the dress I was wearing for the second time in my life – a sari. Wondering why I am mentioning time all the time? Well that’s because this is how my nonstop, hilarious, amusing, wonderful, memorable journey as the one of the Nilgiri knights began!

I was headed to a 10 day camp to the beautiful Nilgiris. I was supposed to catch an 8:30 AM flight the next morning for which I started off from my place at 6:00 AM. I was frantically praying to God to help me reach the airport in time. But alas, God had different plans. My flight to Coimbatore was coming from Delhi in the month of January, which I conveniently forgot. The flight was delayed by one, two, three, four, five hours!! Waiting time five times longer than the actual travelling time after having been deprived of sleep and rest was adding to my irritation borne out of hunger as I had obviously skipped my breakfast. Just as I was about to bug the airport personnel for the tenth time in the last ten minutes, they stared serving McD burgers to satiate our anger more than our hunger. I happily picked up one and lo! There it was, my most liked, adored and admired part of food – an onion slice! I ran to the rest room to vomit gracefully and Spice Jet chose that very moment to land. I ran to the check in counter and was finally welcomed aboard! The travel time was spent sleeping and I woke up only when we reached Coimbatore.

In spite of this lovely start, the moment my feet touched the campus ground, I felt an insurge of energy and enthusiasm in me. There they were – forty odd smiling faces from ten different nationalities huddled together waiting for the next presentation. What happened in that presentation was – well never mind! My purpose today is to entertain you and not bore you to sleep. But I must say, presentations without Microsoft power point are the best. In there you can at least get away by saying that you had your eyes closed to concentrate better, but here you had to have your eyes peeled open for power point slides. However, what did keep you awake were the residents of our base camp, each one a unique personality.

  1. Neeraj from Nepal, who made sure everyone woke up at 5 because of his loud tooth brushing
  2. Mohammed from Libya, who could be seen drying his camera with a hair dryer after he accidentally dropped it in the loo.
  3. Shariar was from Bangladesh, but his telephone services were international, connecting people from UK, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Libya and where not!
  4. Keren from Sri Lanka would be seen capturing everything from her reflection in someone’s sunglasses to the anthills in the ground in the most artistic fashion in her awesome, huge, enviable camera.
  5. Larrissa from Germany was soon the most sought after girl courtesy her beauty and innocence.
  6. Zhao from China was a dear who would teach us saying Nihaal and other musical Chinese words. Once we had a camping lunch and unfortunately the spoons were missing. This guy would take rice in his hand and drop it from at least 6 inches above to his mouth. Obviously, more food was on the floor than in his mouth. Pitying him, our own Jagjeet singh Gautam, was about to teach him the mallu way of eating when we thought of a different plan. We told him to use his fingers as chopsticks and have rice grain by grain. Well you can imagine the lunch scenario 🙂
  7. Dina from Norway was a social science student and asked me the population of Coimbatore on our way back to the resort where we were staying when I realized it is advisable to be prepared for the camps you attend.
  8. Angshuman (popularly Angu) made sure everyone shed some pounds jumping up and down as required in Bihu Dance

We used to travel for hours in our two buses. PJs and self composed surangini song was the best time pass we could have ever evolved. Sashank first introduced the concept of PJ. Pointing to his left hand, he asked, why did Gandhiji never eat with this hand? His reply came, “Because it is my hand!” Whether you call it a phenomenal joke or a poor joke, it spread like wildfire around the camp. Bharadwaj and Archana had a whole library of PJs. Creative juices were flowing and people began composing their own PJs often reflecting the place we were in. At the elephant feeding centre in Mudumalai, Samhita came up with this little gem: “Q: How do elephants transfer data? A: They switch on their ivory tooth!” My favorite were Sardarji jokes. I started off with this PJ – Sardarji was sunbathing on the beach. Lifeguard asks him, “Are you relaxing?” He replied, “No I am Kuldeep Singh.” I remember Anu ma’am’s ant joke as it was super-duper cute. Three ants were walking in a straight line. The first one said that there were two ants behind it. The middle one said that there was one in front and one behind. The third one said that there are two in front and two behind. How come? Her punch line came, “The third ant was lying!” There were countless moments of fun between spotting bears, deer’s, elephants, peacocks and eagles on the treks, looking at the folded mountains with your own eyes with eagles reigning the sky, wandering in the virgin sholas of Nilgiris, treading the paths to Mukurthi, Ooty, Mudhumalai and what not. This experience was one I will never forget and will cherish throughout my life. I hope you get motivated with the same and plan an eco/ laugh trek soon!!

Random Musings on a Train Journey

Sitting on the window side of a sleeper berth, while going from Ranchi to Bokaro, in the skin parching and lip cracking heat , I wonder at a question, I read in the book that I am currently reading. what is India? Who is an Indian? How are we alike as citizens of a common country? 

An Indian Trains's Sleeper Coach

It is so difficult to relate to those women bathing in the pond by the railway station (Khalida, was it?). There is another woman sitting on the same berth as me, feet dirty, heels cracked, hair cut in the “boy style”, face as though unwashed since at least a few days, wearing a cream-colored sari with a dull brick reddish-orange border, flowers printed on it. She is wearing her blouse inside out. She has a bag, a polythene and a worn out sweater as her luggage and she is singing a song in a language which I do not understand. The TT hasn’t asked for her ticket. Does he think she is mad too? And then there are herds of cows and buffaloes in the pond, trying to defeat the heat somehow. How do I relate to these countless people selling tea, jhal-muri, cucumber, paan masala and so on in the train? Where do they board the train? Where do they get down? Where do they actually live? How much money do they make? Does it suffice? The woman I just talked about, said aloud, all the alphabets, A-Z, I don’t know to whom? I don’t know why? Its strange, the amount of questions a mere glance at the world around you can fill you with. There are plug points in this train, one each for approximately four seats, so that cell phones can be charged. And I am forced to think of the places where there is yet to be electricity. That can’t seem right to anyone. or does it? I have this sudden urge to get down somewhere near such a settlement. And talk to the people there. I want to know what do they think about. Is their life simple? Their thoughts untroubled? Do they sleep early? What do they do the whole day? The cattle. I am sure rearing the cattle must be a time-consuming and tedious task. Or is it just my notion? Do they enjoy their lives? Or do they envy ours? or maybe pity ours? The woman beside me is clapping her hands and smiling. It seems as though she is looking at someone or something, I can’t see what. But the fact that she can be so happy or oblivious to her surroundings or so carefree, makes me want to prod her. But I hold myself back. I don’t know why. Am I coward? Am I shy? Am I too proud? Maybe I will never know. I am waiting for my station, Bokaro. I will get down there to catch another train to Delhi. Even the train to Delhi would be different, forget the life. It is much more shiny, noisy, crowded, much more made up. And yet it is so much more inviting. Does that seem right? Or is it as perplexing to every one as it is to me. I should stop now. My station may come anytime. Rather, I will reach there anytime now. I should be ready to get down soon. I don’t know how long would the train stop there. And I want to look out of the window. Not intermittently like I have been doing so far while writing. But giving the hinterlands my full attention. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I might be a dot in this hinterland sometime. So long!