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Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 1

Finally, surpassed all the procrastination, laziness and mental blocks to write about our trek to Sar Pass (Did you note the word play?).

It was an exciting trip and plenty of stories to be told. But, From where do I start? Just like my last trek, this one is also with Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI). Being one of the most famous and sought after trek organized by YHAI, we had to plan well in advance, almost before 5 months. Like any other trip, few opted out, a few added in and finally left with Myself, Jayashree (Buddy), Nigilan and Lavanya. Yeah, the same friends from my last trek and many other trips before. It was quite unfortunate that Giri opted at the last moment, it was great fun with him the last trek.

Day 1 – 18th May 2017

As planned Buddy and Myself started from Chennai whereas Nigilan and Lavanya started from Bangalore. Here is something funny that happened at the airport. We were there well ahead of our flight schedule. With a poor consciousness of time, we lazed chit chatting and charging our mobile phones. It was a great shock when we were denied to check-in our luggage as we crossed the 50 minutes to departure check-in window. Phew, Thankfully, our kind apologetic words worked and the ground staff agreed to check-in with a strong warning to be on time. That’s a great lesson learned. We boarded our Indigo6E 26D, despite checking-in together we both were given different seats however the only consolation for that ultimate boredom was a seat by the window. Most time was spent listening to music and reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Yet to be completed). After a long haul at Hyderabad, we reached Chandigarh around 2 pm.

Nigilan & Lavanya were already waiting for us at the airport and we were joined by Giri’s friends Prasad, Sunil & Sunil’s sister Sharon. More the merrier, the gang count raised to 7. With our bus to Bhuntar scheduled at night, we decided to hire cabs and roam around the city in the mean time. As we were terribly hungry, we decided to finish off our lunch first before doing anything else. The cab driver recommended Pal Dhaba at Sector 28, one of the popular Dhabas in the town. Yes, the food at this place lived up to its reputation without burning hole in the pocket. I loved their Butter Chicken & Mint Chutney and finished the meal with delicious Kulfi sold outside the hotel. Our next stop was the beautiful Sukhna Lake. Despite being a hot summer day, it was quite breezy there. With my friends complimenting my superior photography skills the time moved pleasantly as we walked around the lake. I am in still love with the yellow blossoms there.

Our next stop was the most famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh. It was secretly built by Nek Chand, a government official out of waste and throw away items. Though it was illegally built in a protected forest area, public opinions were asked and the park was officially inaugurated in 1976 as public space. Isn’t it true when they say “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”? it was really amazing to see how day to day waste items has been transformed into beautiful sculptures. It’s awesome of Nek Chand to make us see and the feel the same beauty he saw in those disposable things. The place was magnificent, even got waterfalls and I really wish we had enough time to roam around.

Our next hop was Zakir Hussain Rose Garden or just Rose Garden as dearly called by the locals. Spanning across 30 acres, it’s the largest garden in Asia. It’s a home for 50,000+ rose bushes, as a result of being there at off season, all we could see is rose bloomed in very few bushes and that was quite disappointing. One big mistake we did was to extend the cab. The cab driver didn’t communicate us properly on the extra tariffs, as the result, we end up paying a lot more than we supposed to when we reached Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT). The Sad part is, even my buddy’s conversation with the cab company’s customer care in Hindi didn’t help us. After a light dinner at a restaurant in ISBT, we boarded our bus to Bhuntar and that’s how the first day of our trip came to an end.

Day 2 – 19th May 2017

With bumps and sharp turns, all of sudden I felt like being on a roller coaster. It took some time for me to get into my consciousness and realize that the bus was in the middle of mountains intensely tracing its curves. As everyone is asleep, the whole bus was quiet and I silently enjoyed the dawn slowly breaking over the mountains. Little perks of being an early riser. As soon our bus dropped us at Bunthar, I could feel the cold breeze caress me and my body struggling to adapt to the same. My friends easily vetoed my idea of reaching the base camp by bus, so we hired a cab. On the way, we halted a little for our morning tea. The taste of the tea was completely contrary to the driver’s claim of the best tea in this area. View of the Parvathi river and the Hindi songs on the way make the drive much memorable one.

After an hour journey, finally, we reached YHAI base camp at Kasol. It was nothing like our previous base camp at Darjeeling during Sandakphu trek. Once done with our registrations, we were allotted our tents. Yes, you heard it right, we would be staying in tents in base camp as well as all other higher camps to come. After having our breakfast and collecting our blankets, we spent the forenoon resting in our tents. One can’t expect much on a rest day. At any given point of time, this camp houses 4 batches, 1 x reporting batch, 2 x training batch and 1 x departing batch. That’s quite a lot of people. No wonder when they say it’s one of the most famous treks of YHAI. One of the best things Nigilan did during this trip was finding an awesome place for lunch. The Evergreen restaurant served some of the authentic Israelian cuisines in Kasol. I really loved their Chicken Schnitzel and Hummus. We were not allowed to be out of the camp post 6 PM and that’s very little time to finish our late lunch and shop some essentials. After roaming around the street of Kasol, we returned to the camp just on time. Then the dinner was served and a yet another awesome day came to an end with campfire event organized by our previous batch in the camp.

Day 3 – 20th May 2017

Though the day started much earlier for me, for most of them at the camp the wakeup call was the long whistle from the camp leader. We all assembled for a quick count check and jogged to the exercise spot half a kilometer away. An hour was well spent doing stretching and strengthening exercises. The best part is, Sunil and myself would run back to the camp while others would walk exhausted, runners you see. A girl in the camp seemed familiar but couldn’t even recollect her name and was quite hesitant to talk to her. Later, she introduced herself and happened to be my fellow Yatri during Jagiti Yatra. It’s no mere coincidence that I keep meeting Yatri’s during my treks. It was a pleasure meeting you Amrita. The breakfast was followed by tent cleaning activity and the acclimatization walk. We had to carry a minimum of 10 kgs and walk a total of 8 km, almost near Manikaran and back. We took a small break on the banks of Parvathi river, had some juice and rejoiced the beauty of the mountains and the flowing water before returning back to the camp.  Post lunch we had our induction session, where the program director gave a brief talk on the trekking route, Do’s & Dont’s. The rain spoiled our sneaking out plan and we spent the rest of the day inside our tents. Like any other awesome day at the base camp, it came to an end with dinner followed by campfire event by our batch. Our guys did put a spectacular show on the stage. Did I tell you that Sharon is an awesome singer? We even some how convinced her to sing that day.

Day 4 – 21st May 2017

The morning routine is pretty much same at the base camp. Just like the last day we had the wakeup call, count check, exercise session, breakfast and tent cleaning. We were then taken to a pine forest for the rock climbing training. The trainers gave us clear instructions and even thought us how to tie a double bowline knot. We had to climb an almost flat vertical surface with a few cracks to hold on. Most of us tried and only a few of us succeeded. Even though we mocked Nigilan a lot, he is the only one in our gang to complete the climb successfully and did it like a piece of cake. While others were trying hard to climb, I relaxed eating cherries and playing cricket with the local kids. They were gracious enough to allow me to bowl an over. Ours was a 50 member batch and the time wasn’t enough for all of us to try, consequently, few of the brave souls like me returned back to the camp without even giving it a try. Post lunch we were supposed to go on Rappelling, but nature had other plans. It rained heavily and Rappelling got canceled. By evening, we packed our bags. Initially, my backpack weighed around 9 kgs. Lighter the better during the trek, eventually, I reduced it to around 6 kgs and deposited the rest with the base camp. When the rain subsided we had some time to go out and munch some cakes at the German Bakery and some hot Momos at the small shop opposite to it. It seemed to be a perfect climate to munch those deliciously hot Momos. By this time you must have known how a day ends at base camp. Unlike rest of the days, one feeling dominated that night, the sheer excitement of climbing mountains the next day.

To Be Continued…

Lost & Found

Initially, I was planning to write a series of blog posts on my recent trek to Sarpass once I returned back. But, something interesting happened during the trip made me veto over that decision and write about it first.

After done with our trek, we had a day to spend at Kullu before catching our flight back home from Chandigarh. So, we decided to do some shopping and then visit a not so nearby viewpoint. As planned we stopped by a nearby wholesale shop for some woolen clothes, where I bought a small woolen dress for my niece and a Kullu cap for myself. Then, we took a crowded bus to the view point. Almost an hour after reaching our destination, my stupid mind realized that I left one of my bags in the bus overhead bin that contained the stuff that I had bought for my niece. Damn, how stupid and careless of me to make such a blunder. As I didn’t have the heart to go back home without buying anything for my nice, I returned to the same shop again.

The saleswoman at the shop was patient enough to get me the same exact dress that I bought earlier that day from a huge pile of clothes. When I went to payment counter, the owner was quite shocked to see me again and buying the same things that I bought that morning. When he enquired, I told him my pathetic story. He felt sorry for me. Then, he asked me the details of the bus and took a note of my phone number too. He also assured me that he would try to find the bag. Without much hope, I told “It’s ok” and left the shop.

Later that evening when my friends went shopping around that shop, he informed them that he successfully tracked down the bag. After hearing the same from my friends, I rushed to see him. When I meet him again, he told that he tracked the bag via his friend who runs a transport company and also assured to transfer the money back to me once he gets the bag back.

Owning a busy wholesale shop, there is no necessity for him to put efforts to find lost goods of trivial value, that too the one that’s sold out. However, he did it out of his own goodwill. I have seen many vendors who cheat the customers who don’t belong to the place or know the language. Though we are from another state and doesn’t know Hindi, he went beyond his way to help us. I was really overwhelmed by his kind gesture. As assured he did transfer money to my PayTm wallet. That awesome person is Mr. Atul of Jain Atul Trading Co. at Akara Bazar, Kullu.

It was such an awesome experience meeting such a nice person and it’s indeed an incident where I lost things and found good humans. If you are reading this, thank you, sir.

Trip To Remember – Kochi – Muziris Biennale

After weeks and weeks of procrastination, I finally pulled myself up to write about one of the exciting trips of my life. Who said short trips aren’t exciting enough? This one easily defined that assumption.

One fine day, my dear blogging friend Deepanarayana a.k.a Prince Deepu called me to check if I was interested in a 2 day trip to Cochin. As I haven’t visited the place yet, I gave my nod without a second thought. Later, he also informed me that there’s Kochi Muziris Biennale, a contemporary art festival going on in Cochin at the same time. For me, it felt like killing two birds with one stone. In other words “Kanna Rendu Laddu Thinna Aasaiya” feeling :D. Like any other trip, a few opted out and finally ended up with Bragadesh Prasanna a.k.a Brags Anna, Karthik Pasupathi a.k.a KP, Deepanarayana a.k.a Deepu and Yours Truly.

That Friday (10.02.2017), left my office early so that I could pack up my things and catch the train on time. Luckily, like my last trip to Hyderabad, there wasn’t any eleventh-hour adventure. Though our train was scheduled for 22:50 it was around 23:15 when we took off. After bits of chit chats, my sleepy head wasn’t able to hold anymore. So, I wished the rest a very good night and dozed off.

It was around 12 in the noon when we reached the Ernakulam Junction the next day (11.02.2017). We were hungry as we had a very little for the breakfast on the train. So, indulged on traditional Kerala Parotas and Biryanis in a restaurant near the station. From there, we took an Auto to Fort Kochi and it was already 2 while we checked-in into our homestay. Then, we freshened ourselves before heading out to roam around by 2.30. Renting the bike from the homestay helped us.

Our first stop was “Cabral Yard”, where we saw an array of awesome audiovisuals projected on unusual surfaces inside a mud hut. Then we moved to the greatest attraction of the fest, “THE ASPINWALL HOUSE”. It’s one of the famous heritage property in Fort Kochi. Established in 1867, the former business premises of Aspinwall & Company Ltd was well converted into a well-organized art exhibition. After picking up our entrance passes which will be valid for the whole Biennale for Rs 100 each, we took a free guided tour, sincerely considering our expertise in the field of contemporary art. The following are the artworks that completely blew me away.

The first on the list is “Sea Of Pain”. Many times I have heard Poems, but for the first time, I experienced one. It’s the conceptualization of the below poem by Raul Zurita on Syrian refugee. The heaviness and gravity caused while walking in the dark, dense sea water in the room are beyond expression by words, one has to feel it being there.

Don’t you look? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you hear me? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you see me? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you feel me? In the sea of pain.
Won’t you come back? Never again? In the sea of pain.
Never? Never? Never? In the sea of pain.”

The next on the list is “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets”. It’s a Pyramid with a very faintly lit path inside, it’s almost dark in there. Along the path, you hear the voices of poets who were exiled from their country. Again, it’s tough to express these experiences by words, at least for me.

Ghost Keeping“, a depiction of a textile factory run by ghosts, “Room for Lies“, a room filled with lots of photographs and paintings, “Dance of Death”, an art installation made of electric bulbs and “12 Stories”, a live mural painting project using only natural colors depicting a mythological story are the other artworks that got inscribed deep in my thoughts. It was great to see a pop-up post office got set up in the venue, what an opportunity to write postcards to a few friends.

I liked the view of Kochi port from there. It was amazing to see huge ships moving in and out of the port. Wish we could stay there for more, but we had to leave the place as every Biennale venue get closed by 6 pm. Then we headed straight to the beach, I have no idea why I love beaches a lot, I just love them. One of my long time dreams came true, it’s to watch those massive Chinese nets in action. The breeze, the sand, the waves and the tiny shells. OMG, the beach bought an unexplainable joy and I was singing aloud “Andha Arabic Kadaloram” song as the tiny tides wet my legs. Again, we went back to the homestay, got freshened up and started scouting for a better place to have dinner. Unfortunately, our search got ended up in an overpriced Italian Restaurant. Our purse got emptied, but our stomach wasn’t even half full. So, we headed up to a local fast food joint nearby the beach to fill up the rest. After roaming all the day, we were all dead tired when we returned back to the room. So, I dozed of quick and that’s how an awesome day came to an end.

The next day (12.02.2017), as planned we all woke up early and headed straight to the beach. Yes, it’s the beach again. We were so early that the beach was deserted and oddly any people there. But, the environment was serene to enjoy. Slowly the dawn broke and the sun came out, so the people. One thing that caught our eyes was “Fish Cemetery”, an art installation that was created to bring awareness on marine pollution created by disposal of plastic into the ocean. Here comes the best part of the day, the breakfast. Isn’t it a sin, being in Kerala and not having Aapam or Appam. Lucky a Thattukada (Road Side Shop) near the beach saved us from committing that sin. We had Appam with a super spicy egg curry and finished it with a KattanChaya (Black Tea). OMG, that morning is so vivid in my memory. With soo much salt and sand on our body, we returned back to homestay to freshen up and get ready for the rest of the day.

Compared to other places, it was quite a long ride to Mattancherry Palace. It’s a Portuguese palace popularly known as the Dutch Palace. Now this palace acts as a museum where the artifacts of the royal family are been preserved. It was unfortunate that they didn’t allow photography inside the palace. Experts would have advised visiting popular venues like “Pepper House” or “David Hall”, but we decided otherwise to visit Student Biennale instead. Our next stop was a small Student Biennale near the palace itself. Then, we made a detour towards the Jewish Synagogue. On the way, we stopped by a collateral project which showcased some beautiful Pichvai or Pichwai form of paintings. The place also features a long Snake Boat decorated with bowls filled with color powder.  Just before the Synagogue, there was Mandalay hall which showcased some of the Pepper House projects, we didn’t want to miss it either. Finally the Jewish Synagogue. It’s my first time to a Synagogue and it’s well decorated with Chandeliers, Hanukkah Menorah (Jewish Candle Holder) and artistic blue tiles. It was definitely a unique experience out there. It was lunch time and the alarm went off in our stomach. Luckily we found the snooze button not far away. We had a typical Kerala Meals for our lunch. As we had few more hours to spare, we decided to explore a few more venues.

On the way, we came across one awesome Student Biennale at “Mohamed Ali Warehouse”. It featured many interesting artworks which include a comic type art installations, tools of goldsmith and animals portrayed as soldiers. Just a few meters from there, there was an “Artists In Residence (A.I.R) Kochi” exhibition which featured awesome works, especially by women artists. Then, we stepped into “Routes”, yet another collateral exhibition which showcased colorful and vivid art installations by Indian artists. Further down the road, we found yet another awesome Student Biennale which featured works of students from Government College of Fine Arts of Chennai and Kumbakonam. Their works were all inspired by the life of normal working people. The sweat drops collected in bottles, tools of the blacksmith and the portraits of weavers made of silk are few of the highlights.

By that time, my brain has reached its saturation point. Whenever I see an art piece it threw an “Art Overflow” exception.  Usually, it’s a symptom of creativity overdose, probably caused due to continuous exposure to awesome artworks. I pleaded to go back, but we decided to visit one last venue before packing up. The last one was “TKM Warehouse” and this place featured a traditional Uru Boat along with a few other artworks.

Finally, we were back to our homestay packed our bags, said our farewell to the owner and headed straight to the Jetty to catch a ferry back to Ernakulam. There here was a huge queue standing for the tickets and we weren’t sure of the ferry timings too. Hard luck, so we took a cab to Ernakulam and boarded our train in the very last minute. Next day (13.02.2017) morning around 7.30 we were back to Chennai and an awesome trip came to an end. Wish we had more time to explore the whole Biennale. But not to complain, we made max use of the time we got, enjoying every moment of it. What makes a trip exciting is not just the place alone, but also the company. With no doubt, it’s definitely a trip to remember.

For The First Time – A Pantomime In Tamizh

Apart from R.S.Manohar’s drama at my school, Crazy Mohan and Kathadi Ramamoorthy drama at Raja Annamalai Mandram and Short & Sweet last year, I haven’t watched much of stage plays in my life. So, I was really excited when I was invited to watch “KoKo – A Pantomime in Tamil” a Tamizh play this weekend (12.03.2017). One of the perks of being a part of an awesome group like The Chennai Bloggers Club is that you get invited to such interesting events. Initially, I was quite confused about the term “Pantomime“. So, a little bit of Googling helped.

“Pantomime (informally panto), is a type of musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is still performed throughout the United Kingdom, generally during the Christmas and New Year season”

koko

The play opened with a spectacular shadow show aided with computer animation projected on the screen. The story starts with Chicki (Vikas), a Hen running for life from a Butcher (Hemanth) and struggling hard to save her egg in spite of multiple mishaps. Her struggle reminded me of the “Oodinal Oodinal, Vazhkaiyin Oorathirkey Oodinal” dialogue from the movie Parasakthi. Later she meets 3 circus artists Joe (Sidarth), Joko (Naresh) and Raga (Sujay) who gives her shelter and protects the egg at the time of a natural calamity.

As the time pass by, Chicki becomes an integral part of their lives while the embryo starts growing inside the shell. One thing that awestruck me was the projection of stages of embryo growth on the egg shell. Bravo, bravo guys. One fine day the egg hatches into a chick and they name her “KoKo”. She becomes the pivotal character of the story and rest revolves around her life, interests, friendship and her struggle to keep up with the expectations of her mom Chicki.

KoKo

Have never before reviewed a movie or a play and hope I will not in future. I am more of a common spectator than a critic, I neither know the standards of the art forms nor its nuances. In my view, it’s a mind-blowing play. I enjoyed every bit of it. Most of the time, I found myself laughing and clapping out of control. Kudos to Sravanth, the director for giving us an amazing play. Acting isn’t an easy job, that too acting in front of live audience. What can I say about these Incredible actors who acted this play? They could not only act, emote and bring the characters to life but also could dance, sing, juggle, do hula hoop, aerial silk and what not. It’s not just the acting, the dialogues and the music rocked too. The song “KoKo Kannama, Pogathey Chellamma” still resonates in my ears, wish I could listen to it again.

All these time I was ranting that we lost talent and creativity referring to the terribly boring TV soaps and movies. After watching the play, I realized that we aren’t deficient of creativity but the shortage of opportunity for the one who deserves. I really wish that the talented ones like MacTrics (the KoKo crew) gets more opportunity. I appreciate Shraddha Theatres and the producers who bought this play on the stage.

I highly recommend each and every parent to watch this play along with their kids. Though it’s highly entertaining, I assure you, there will be a lot to take back home and discuss. I wouldn’t mind watching this play again and give a standing applause at the end. All the very best team, Wish you more plays to come.

P.S: Joko, If you are reading this, You made me laugh the most. I became your fan.

P.P.S: Joe, you kinda look like Cricketer Ishant Sharma. 😀

P.P.P.S: Raga, Such a calm and wise appearance you have got.

P.P.P.P.S: Chicki, Next time when I see a Hen, I am gonna remember you only.

P.P.P.P.P.S: KoKo, You are adorable.

Trip To Remember – Hyderabad – Sindhu’s Wedding

Celebrity blogger, One of our Chennai Bloggers Club’s (CBC) admin and my good friend TD A.K.A Sindhu was so kind to invite me to her wedding. What made me more excited than the wedding itself is the fact that it’s gonna be in Hyderabad. For most of the world, Hyderabad is IT Hub, Land of Nizams, The Pearl City and so on. But, for the rest of the divine souls like me, it’s the Biryani Paradise, Haleem Heaven and a living Monument of Mogul Food. Now you might have got the sole reason why I was super excited.

Before going deep into the whereabouts of the trip, it’s time for some history lesson on how the city got its name, courtesy Google, Wikipedia and all of the web.

Hyderabad means “Haydar’s city” or “lion city”, from haydar (lion) and ābād (city). It was named to honour the Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who was also known as Haydar because of his lion-like valour in battles. The city was originally called Baghnagar (city of gardens). One popular theory suggests that Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the city, named it “Bhagyanagar” or “Bhāgnagar” after Bhagmati, a local nautch (dancing) girl with whom he had fallen in love. She converted to Islam and adopted the title Hyder Mahal. The city was renamed Hyderabad in her honour.

Initially, we 6 of us planned to go together for the trip. But, just like any other trip two dropped out due to unforeseen circumstances. So, finally, its 4 of us who made it to the trip, it’s me, DeepaNarayanan a.k.a Deepu, Bragadeesh Prasanna a.k.a Brags Anna and Jothi Vel Moorthi a.k.a Jo Anna.

The Timely Benefit

Our train from Chennai Central to Hyderabad Charminar Express was scheduled to depart at 6.10 pm on 2nd Dec. Unfortunately, it’s 4.15 and was still struck at my home as it was pouring heavily. I started in spite of the heavy rains as it was a now or never moment. With clocks ticking, my wait for the bus to Tambaram station went in vain. Luckily after a few minutes came a share auto all empty. The driver noticed the clear anxiety on my face and asked me what’s wrong. I told him that I am running late to catch the train. After hearing this, he didn’t stop the auto at any subsequent stops though there were a few passengers waiting. “Bro, now you will catch the train on time”, he said while dropping me at the station earlier that expected. To my surprise, he didn’t demand any extra money. It’s not the first time someone had helped me to reach on time. From Tambaram Station  I took a local to Park Station and from there I joined the rest to board the train at the Chennai Central on time. Many thanks to the share auto driver.

காலத்தி னாற்செய்த நன்றி சிறிதெனினும்
ஞாலத்தின் மாணப் பெரிது.

A timely benefit, -though thing of little worth,
The gift itself, -in excellence transcends the earth.

The Alpha Hotel

We boarded our train, had our dinner and dozed off. The next day (3rd Dec) morning by 7.30 we reached the Secunderabad Junction. Thanks to my friend at work Sashidhar who recommended the Alpha Hotel and we found it right opposite to the railway station. As Sashi suggested we ordered the specialty of the place “Keema Roti” and Omelet. As Deepu is a vegetarian, he ordered Lukmi and Sabzi. To my surprise, the Roti was so big that I wasn’t able to have more than one and the Keema (minced meat curry) was spicy, rusting and utterly delicious. The food was not only divine and soul filling but was also very much affordable. It cost only 360 for the 4 of us. Isn’t it a sin to complete the breakfast without an Irani Chai while you are in Hyderabad. As we didn’t intend to commit one, we had our cup of joy there itself. The Alpha Hotel has been around for more than 50 years and serves good food at an affordable price. So, sincere thanks to The Alpha Hotel for brightening up our morning. From there we took a cab to the hotel where our rooms were booked.

The Salar Jung Museum

After resting a bit and freshening up, we decided to roam out. We took a cab by 11 am and reached our 1st stop “The Salar Jung Museum” by 12.15 pm. This massive museum is one of the three national museums of India. After collecting out tickets, we had to deposit our bags as no bags are allowed inside the museum. You need all day to patiently look around all the galleries here, but unfortunately, we didn’t have that luxury of time. So, all we could do was skim through the galleries. One of the famous attractions here is a marble statue named “The Veiled Rebekah”, as they say, it’s definitely a melody in marble. Yet another famous attraction here is “The English Bracket Musical Clock”. It’s manufactured in England and got assembled in Kolkata in the late 19th century. A lot of visitors, including me, patiently waited for the striking of the gong. There are 2 toys in this clock. One is a blacksmith which keeps on beating the hammer for every second. Second is what every one of us is waiting for, a bearded man who comes out 3 minutes before every hour and strikes the gong no of times the hour (12 times for 12’O clock) exactly when the hour strikes and goes back in. Out of everything I saw there, one thing really caught my eyes. It’s a small ivory statue of a beautiful woman in their ivory gallery. I named her Ivory Nandhini after one of the famous charters in Kalki’s book Ponniyin Selvan.

The Bawarchi Biriyani

It’s already 2 pm and Going around the museum made us really hungry. Though the next stop we planned to visit for was just 2 km away, neither our mind, nor our stomach paved way to go for it. We had few eateries nearby, but I was very firm in having authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani for lunch. So, after a couple of calls with Sashi (Yeah the same friend who recommended us Alpha Hotel), we decided upon one of the most famous Biriyani places in Hyderabad. After traveling another 18 km by cab we reached the “Bawarchi Biriyani”. Even by 3 pm, the place was well crowded. As the AC restaurant was fully occupied, we were redirected to the rooftop one. Once we went up and got our seats, the divine smell of the Biryani served around took over me and made me impatient. This is one place where demonetization has hit us very badly. They don’t accept cards and demanded cash upfront on the order, just like a takeaway. With the limited cash we had, all we could order was Chicken Biryani for Me, Brags Na and Jo Na, and the veg one for Deepu. The moment of truth, Finally, the waiter brought big portions of Biryani to our table. The Briyani was yummy, spicy and rustic. The chicken piece was juicy and well marinated too. The portion was sumptuous that it was hard, even for a biryani boy like me to complete one. With a content soul and stomach

The Charminar

As we approach our destination, I could see Telugu being replaced by Urdu in the sign boards and the environment turn old and rustic. Finally, we were there, in front of the most iconic landmark of the city, “The Charminar”. One of my early memories is my paternal grandfather smoking a cigarette brand named Charminar. So, was familiar with the word “Charminar”, even before I know that a place named Hyderabad exists. Brags Na volunteered to take care of our bags as they didn’t allow us to take our backpacks inside and as he has been here umpteen no of times and. We collected our tickets from the counter and “QR Code” on the ticket was scanned using a smartphone just before letting us in. Surrounded by crowded market streets and a big mosque, the view from the top was worth climbing the spiral, narrow and high staircase. What could be a better souvenir than Pearls from the “City Of Pearls”? so after Charminar, we stopped by the nearby pearl market to get some. From there, Brags Na and Jo Na decided to go back to the room and rest. Deepu and I had separate plans to meet up with our friends, so we merged both the plans and decided on a common place on the other side of the city as it would be easy for us to commute together. We had a tough time explaining the pickup location to the cab driver and Mr. Venkateshvaralu a traffic cop helped us with the same. That’s yet another timely help.

The Meetup

It was around 7 pm when we reached Shilparamam night bazaar, an arts and crafts place. Later we were joined by my Jagriti Yatra (JY) friend Kishori, her friend Tushar, Deepu’s friends Harika and Vinay. We roamed around the bazaar talking and doing window shopping. It was great catching up with Kishori after a couple of years after JY. Herself and Tushar got me handmade and hand painted wooden RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) Elephants, that’s so lovely of them. In the meanwhile, Deepu managed to find an awesome gift for the couple getting married the next day. As usual roaming and talking made us hungry and there were a few restaurants just across the road for the rescue. The dinner was at Chutneys, to justify the name they served like 6 varieties of Chutneys. That awesome eventful day came to an end when the cab dropped us back at our hotel and I dozed of exhausted.

The Marriage

It’s yet another Sunday for us, but for our friend Sindhu, it’s her D-day (4th Dec). Surprisingly both Raji and her brother Ram came to the marriage hall quite early in the morning. So, I spent a while chatting with them and the rest of the morning was wisely spent on gift wrapping. I am not even exaggerating, It was a fun activity considering the size of the gift :D. It was a typical Telugu style wedding and totally enjoyed witnessing the proceedings. Once the knot is tied we are supposed to go and wish the couple rather we headed straight to the dining hall. We relaxingly had the awesome wedding lunch, man their yummy desserts. Then we came back, wished the lovely couples and took pictures with them. Even though she is the bride, Sindhu will always be our selfie stick. I am so happy for you both Sindhu and Kiran. Wish you both an awesome life ahead.

The Karachi Biscuits

Unfortunately, all the must visit places were quite far away from our hotel. So, we decided to lay back and rest for a while to avoid the risk of missing the train. The only thing that was bothering me was that I wasn’t able to get some Karachi biscuits. There is a famous quote from the book The Alchemist,  “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream”. Seems I was lucky that day and the universe decided to conspire in my favor.  Mr. Ramesh, Jo Na’s friend who came to meet him there lent his helping hand. He drove me and Jo Na to the Karachi Bakery. Again demonetization hit us very badly. We almost ran out of cash and the bakery wasn’t accepting cards. With the limited cash we got, all we could get was one or two small boxes of fruit and cashew biscuits each. Mr. Ramesh was also kind to drop us at Hyderabad Deccan Nampally station.

The Journey Back Home

From Nampally station Me and Jo Na boarded the Charminar Express by 6.30 pm and the other two boarded the same train from the Secunderabad station. After munching some buns I dozed off. When I woke up in the morning, I had a few messages from my dad to stay safe as the CM was critically ill and there might be law and order problem in the city. Later, even a few co-passengers also enquired about me the same. Though I was bit concerned, things looked pretty normal when we reached Chennai Central around 8.00 am. Again, I took a local train back home.

Bye Bye Hyderabad

Bye Bye Hyderabad

It might have been a short trip, but an awesome one indeed. Definitely, it’s a trip to remember.

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 4 – Sillunu Oru Sandakphu

Recap from the last post: We were at Kala Pokhari

The title “Sillunu Oru Sandakphu” directly translates to “Sandakphu, the one which is cold”. On 28-04-2016 (Day 4) I woke up with the sound of the wind vibrating the metal panels of our room. With nothing much to do, I laid down for a while beneath those thick woolen blankets. I did what I like to do often, dream with my eyes open, for no reasons too many things rushed into my mind. You will know the tea is ready when you hear the whistle. I filled my cup and headed outside hoping for some fresh air. All it resulted in was my tea getting cold in minutes. Here, the Sun rises as early as me. Probably cos it’s summer and one common time zone across India. The morning looked too beautiful than yesterday eve, think the sunshine made the magic. I went around with my camera to capture some light along with Prem and Lavanya. Everything around appeared fresh and green. The sky was clear and the view of sun rays reflecting over the small dark lake was spectacular. As usual, had out breakfast, clicked the customary group pic. packed our bags and by 9.00 am we started to trek further.

The path was much steeper than ever. My fine stamina and some good company helped to cope up with the terrain. Initial 3.5 km wasn’t that demanding. On the way, Sowmya climbed somewhere and got a bunch of Rhododendron, a flower quite abundant in that area. We even tasted a bit of its nectar. Then, there was a huge staircase kinda structure which housed a small shrine on its top. We all sat on those steps and took a group pic. Our guide Avinash (Cute Avinash) took us through all those sharp shortcuts. They were too steep that at times I have to catch hold of those small bushes to climb. With occasional rests, I somehow managed to keep myself moving. Around 12.15 pm, myself and whistle Vihari reached Sandakphu (3636 mt) and we were the ones in out group to reach there first. Our camp leader Mr. Abhijit Roy was already there on the top to welcome us. While waiting for other friends in the group to return, we simply relaxed outside the lodge as the weather was clear and pleasant. Once everyone is in, rooms were allotted and was served a hot & spicy soup. Soups are always comforting, especially in the cold weather, aren’t they?. The Soup induced my appetite which was later neutralized by the lunch. As the water is much scarce here, we were advised to use it very wisely.

A few of us decided to take rest in the lodge while the rest (including me) were too certain about trekking further to the viewpoint along with our camp leader. We trekked another 500 mt uphill to reach there and it marks the highest point in West Bengal. “Yaay, Mission Accomplished” I shouted out of joy and that feeling is worth all the pain trekking all along. It felt like being on the top of the world. The place was awesome and the view was spectacular with the clouds pass by. I really pity the ones who missed it. As we were on the Indo-Nepal border, there was a pillar with “India” written on one side and “Nepal” on the other. So, all I did was, kept on jumping between two countries and try to be in both countries at the same time. Though it might sound crazy, it was total fun. In a fine weather, one could view both Mount Everest and Kangchenjunga from the viewpoint, but unfortunately, the weather was cloudy. We waited for the Sun to show some mercy and show up, but no luck. As they say, the weather was unpredictable on the mountains, suddenly it became freezing and windy. We started to descend back after having some hot tea and soupy Magi from a small hotel there. As much as you, I too wonder about the existence of hotel in such extreme places. The visibility went down below 30%, luckily our guide’s torch and Mr. Abhijit’s headlamp guided us back safely to the lodge. As usual, our MC took charge of the evening. This time, we played truth or dare and for a change, Mr. Biswas sang a song for us as his daughter and wife felt too shy to sing for us. We all decided to finish off our dinner quick and sleep early so that we could see the sunrise early the next morning.

As always, our Whistle Vihari was spot on in his duty. His whistle woke up all our tired souls. It was too cold outside. Only a few of us were there, patiently waiting for the sun to raise. After a few minutes, I saw the Sun slowly rise between two mountains, just like how I used to draw when I was a kid. I witnessed one of the beautiful sunrises in my life, as beautiful as that bright bindi between her eyebrows.  With my hands trembling out of cold, I managed to click a few pictures.

To Be Continued …

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 2 – Dear Darjeeling

Recap from the last post: We reached Kolkata by flight, roamed there for a couple of days. Then, we took a train from Sealdah to New Jalpaiguri.

Our late night train brought us to New Jalpaiguri around 10.00 am on 24-04-2016 (Day 0). The best way to reach Darjeeling (2,042 m) from there is by car or van. But, we had a tough time finding one for us. Most of the drivers weren’t ready just for the drop, they were looking for passengers who would take a package which is profitable for them. The other problem is the language which made the bargain hard. But, somehow our guys managed to get an SUV and a Car for a better price. Around 12 pm we had a pitstop for out brunch. I should call it lunch, as we haven’t had our breakfast, I would better go with brunch. That place served us yummy MoMos, Chowmein, and Fish curry. After the lunch/brunch, our cars continued to climb up the mountain. As usual, I enjoyed peeping out the window, observing the changing landscapes and feeling the temperature of breeze caressing my face drop. The enjoyment continued until our car’s tyre became flat, luckily it got a Stepney and we decided to take a walk around till it’s fixed. While walking we heard a voice “Neenga Tamil ah” (Are you Tamil?), probably it’s our looks. The voice turned out to be Harish’s, who’s from Pondicherry and got settled in Darjeeling. Though he made fun of us that none of us drink, he pointed us to his shop where his wife served us some good tea. In the meanwhile, the tire got fixed and we resumed our journey to our base station. For me this place, Darjeeling reminds me of only one thing, my uncle. Me being a naughty and talkative kid during my childhood, he always used to scare me that he would put me in a strict convent in Darjeeling if I am not behaving myself. He would also mention that it’s on top of the mountain and I can’t even escape. This thing flashed in my mind on the way and all I could do was laugh at myself.

We reached our base camp Youth Hostel Association of India – Hotel Kadambari around 3.00 pm. Then, we got our rooms allotted in no time after registering by submitting our admit card and medical certificate. After freshening up and resting for a while we assembled for tea followed by induction programme. Out of 40 registered 38 reported  and the programme started with an intro section, where we all gave a brief introduction about ourselves. Then, the programme coordinator instructed us about the schedule, route, safety and other DOs & DONTs. Then, he also distributed our ID cards which are must be worn through out the trek. We also selected the group leader, sub-leader, Master of Ceremonies and environment leader who are Shubam, Sowmya, SakthiyaGiri and Geethakala respectively. After some chit-chat, we wrapped up the day with dinner.

The next day, 25-04-2016 (Day 1)  started with a short run and some stretching. Post our breakfast few of us visited a nearby Buddhist Monastery, it really felt calm and good to interact with the monks there. Then, we had an acclimatisation walk to the Zoo and to Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). It was fun all the way, singing and enjoying the beautiful scenes around. HMI not only train mountaineers but also got one awesome museum where so many artifacts related to mountaineering, especially mount Everest. Even the original gears used by Mr.Tenzing Norgay and Mr.Edmund Hillary, the ones who successfully summited the Mount Everest is preserved. Unfortunately, it’s not allowed to click pictures inside the museum. But, outside the museum, there exists the final resting place of Padma Bhushan Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and a beautiful sculpture commemorating his Everest summit, which was unveiled by his companion and friend Sir Edmund Hillary himself. Mr. Norgay was also HMI’s first director of field training and HMI is one of his most favourite place on earth. Just thinking of this man would give me goosebumps, such an inspiration he is. The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park a.k.a Darjeeling Zoo is home and captive breeding center for endangered species which are adapted to alpine conditions like snow leopards, red pandas, gorals (mountain goat), Siberian tigers and a variety of endangered birds. After roaming around the Zoo for a while, we walked back to our base camp with singing, even more, louder all the way in spite of strange looks from the locals and others in the group. We never miss a chance to enjoy, you see. Taking a bath (as we won’t be able to bath for next 4 days), a bit of shopping and finally packing our bags for the trek consumed the rest of the day.

We woke up early on 26-04-2016 (Day 2), had breakfast early and prepared to leave. After the ceremonial flag off we boarded Vans that would take us till Dhotre which 2+ hours drive from our base camp.

To Be Continued…