Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jaisalmer-Of Camels and Sand Dunes

A Camel Safari

Sand and water have much in common.....One always associates the sea with the seaside, that is, the beaches. When we had been to Bordi, we were amazed to see only sand as far as eyes could see. It was low tide then, and the water was far far away.
Yet, one also associates sand to deserts. For there also, there is sand as far as eyes can see. Truly, Sand and the Sea have much in common. From where one stands, one can see only the same view, stretching, maybe to the end of the world.
As we stood on the sand dunes of Jaisalmer, surrounded by sand on all sides, we felt really small... It was so easy to get lost in the never-ending desert...if it wasn't for the guide with us..It was scary, but so beautiful...nature at her rawest... One admires the people who live there. It is probably only because they have been born there, and have it in their blood that they can survive there. It is so easy for an outsider to succumb to the vagaries of nature in that land....unbearable heat in the summer, and long, cold nights in the winter. It is the basic rule of survival of the fittest, which rules the place and one can not but help admire the people who have survived in such a place.

The Jaisalmer Fort ---Views of the fort, and the city as seen from the fort

It is such people who have made Jaisalmer what it is today. The Kings who ruled this land were proud and brave, and they built a beautiful fort, which, till today guards a city full of life, within its walls. According to our guide, it is the only fort in India, where people still live. In his words, it is "A Living Fort". And what a beautiful one! Like the other forts of Rajasthan, this one too is well maintained. But, unlike the other forts, here, one can catch a glimpse of what life was like, within the walls of a fort. Narrow streets take one around the fort, within which, everyone knows everyone else. There are people pursuing professions which their great grandfathers practiced, and enjoying it ! Since the fort is a heritage site, there haven't been many changes inside, and people live in the same houses their ancestors lived in, of course with slight modifications. This lends a genuine aura to the place, which makes it a hot tourist destination. And that brings me to an interesting fact. Tourism brings in the highest revenue here, and everyone wants to have a hand in the pie. So, as our guide told us "Children all over the world learn their mother tongue first, and then the local language of the area. However, in Jaisalmer, the first language a child learns is English, followed by French and Spanish. Many children know Italian and German too. Hindi is a secondary language for them. After all, how many tourists actually speak Hindi? As far as our mother tongue is concerned, it is a dying language. No one speaks it any more. One can earn in foreign currency by speaking in the language of the tourist. Hindi brings in little, but Marwadi, nothing at all!”A very logical reasoning, borne by the truth of his words. I could see so many children conversing in foreign languages, with an ease that comes only with regular conversation, not learning. I myself have learnt French, and actually considered myself to be good at speaking the language, but honestly, I didn't have the guts to try out my language skills on them... they were so much better at it !

Among the places we visited was the Gadi Sagar Lake. It was once the source of water supply to the city, for the lake was built in such a way that there is water throughout the year. A miracle by itself, to build a like in the middle of a desert, and also have water in it. The lake is filled with catfish, which are held to be sacred by the locals. No one would dare to try to fish in the lake! On the contrary, people come and feed the fish daily, as a sort of a vow! The fish have grown to enormous sizes, and the sight of them leaping to catch the crumbs thrown by the people is an impressive one.

The Gadi Sagar Lake and the catfish

An interesting story goes along with the lake. This is the place where the Gangaur festival takes place, attended by the royalty. It seems that at one time, there was a prostitute in the area, who was very rich. She wanted to build something that she would be remembered for, after her death. And, being a gutsy woman, she wanted to turn up her thumb in the royalty. So, she got a huge arch built at the entrance of the lake, through which the King would have to pass during the festival. The king, would, in effect be bowing before her structure. Needless to say, the royalty wasn't impressed, and plans were made to tear down the structure. This is when the resourceful woman showed her mettle, by constructing a small temple on the arch, overnight. No one in India will knowingly destroy a temple, and the arch stands there to this day. Checkmated by the prostitute, the King pretended to ignore the arch, and entered the premises from one side. To this day, the practice continues, with the kings not using the arch as an entrance.

The Famous Arch on the Gadi Sagar Lake

The old Havelis are a major tourist attraction in Jaisalmer, and rightly so. They are huge, and palatial, and belong to the erstwhile landlords of the area. They seem to be next in the rung after the royalty, and were as conscious of their comforts. The beautiful carvings and the architecture of the houses are worth a closer look.

We visited Jaisalmer in June, when it was hot, but not as hot it would have been in peak summer. It was the off season, and there weren't many tourists around. What I mean is that there weren't many foreigners around. The only tourists were Indians like us, on their holidays just before schools reopened. The guides told us that during the peak season, all the hotels would be full, and tents put up all along the roads. Most people came to stay in the tents. That was when the local performers would be around, lending a genuine touch to the heritage sites. From one and all, we heard about the festival season, when Jodhpur and Jaisalmer could be seen at their best.

I beg to differ. Of course, the festivals and the festivities are what make India the unique country that she is, and that is what people come to see and be a part of, from all over the world. Undoubtedly, that would be a great experience. However, one must not forget that these are places where all the population lived in a very small area, within the fort for instance. Outside the fort were vast open spaces, which have remained so, because of nature being what she is, a bit difficult to manage. The feelings and thoughts that permeate the atmosphere in such seclusion are never possible when there is a crowd. Just for that reason, I would like to go back there, again during off season. I can not forget the wonderful feeling I had, of being on top of the world, when I looked down from the fort, or the feeling of oneness with nature, which I felt on the never-ending sand dunes, or simply the pleasure of sliding and rolling down the sand dunes with my son. It is a feeling that stays with me, and one that I would encourage others also to experience.

The Jawahar Mahal Palace Hotel, where we stayed & Fun on the Sand

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Jodhpur- A Journey into the Past

The first thing that strikes you when you come out of the railway station at Jodhpur, is the aura of bygone days the place still manges to have, Of course, the old havelis have given way to modern buildings, but the city eludes modernization. In fact, this seems to be quite common in Rajasthan, which has more heritage hotels and resorts than any other state in India. We ourselves were staying at the Ajit Bhavan Palace hotel at Jodhpur. The hotel is affiliated to RCI Holidays, of which we are members. It is a well maintained hotel, which makes you feel like royalty. It was an enjoyable and unique experience, which I shall never forget.

At the entrance - Samhith with the staff
Outside our room... regal isnt it?
Samhith cant be far from animals can he?

Imagine riding in one of these carriages!
The Ajit Bhavan Palace Hotel

The Ajit Bhavan is supposed to be one of the earliest heritage hotels in India, which has pioneered heritage tourism in the area. Today, Jodhpur, and indeed almost all of Rajasthan are filled with heritage hotels. Some of them are simple havelis, while some, like the Umaid Bhavan in Jodhpur, are magnificent palaces, which speak volumes of history.

The Umaid Bhavan palace is divided into 3 parts- one, where the erstwhile royal family still lives, one which has been converted into a hotel, and one which has been maintained as a museum. The Rajputs were brave and intelligent warriors at one time, known for their lavish living, their hospitality, and their loyalty. They have proved their intelligence, and a keen understanding of the ways of the world, by making the most of what they possess. It is an admirable quality indeed, something which is lacking in most other parts of India. Of course, there is another viewpoint. As a guide in the museum put it to me, "The royal families only wanted to keep themselves safe, and maintain their standard of living. It did not matter to them , to whom they owed their allegiance.Before the British rule, they fought among themselves, taking care not to destroy the forts and palaces, which could be used for their own comforts. When the British took over India, the kings found that it was easier to give in to them, and live with all their luxuries, rather than fight and risk losing everything they had. " That is probably why so many forts and palaces in these areas are practically intact,while most of those in places where the rulers opposed the British , stand today in ruins.

The Mehrangarh Fort

Of course, as tourists, we are not really interested in right and wrong, only thankful to those people who created and have maintained such beautiful places for us to see and relish. If it weren't for such places, one would never know what India was like before British rule, when kings ruled kingdoms that are now just small districts, or cities. All I know is that when one stands in the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, one can feel the magnificence that was India in the past. It is impossible, not to imagine what it would have been like , in the days of yore. The fort has, on display various interesting things, like weapons, armour, different types of Howdahs, saddles,palanquins and most interestingly, a special type of palanquin used when the queen went abroad for the very first time. As a woman, I found it interesting that there were so many types of palanquins used- some for moving within the walls of the fort, some for going into the city, some for special occasions, and as I mentioned , one for going abroad. The only thought that struck me was that if the women moved around in palanquins all the time, and never set a foot on the ground, and with the variety of food that was prepared in those days, how did they manage to maintain themselves as well as they did , as it was apparent from the photographs ? Of course, the answer was provided to me there itself -- they exercised ! and rather strenuously too, it seemed , for ,on display were different kinds of instruments -- weights, dumbbells,etc. for special use by the women! and they were all jewelled too !!!

There are many places of tourist interest in Jodhpur, apart form the fort, like the Jaswant Thada, which is the royal cenotaph, built in memory of the Raja Jaswant Singh II. An imposing edifice in marble, the place is filled with the reverence which the locals have for their king. It is also interesting, as it contains the cenotaphs of many others of the royal family, and is an interesting study for those interested in studying the royal lineage.

Mandore, the ancient capital of Marwar, is another interesting place where there are cenotaphs of the ancient kings, and most interestingly, sixteen gigantic figures, carved out of a single rock depicting various Hindu deities. Here, there are vast gardens, well laid out, and is a popular picnic spot. There are lots and lots of monkeys and peacocks, and for the amusement of the younger tourists, an amusement park. I just say that it is a brilliant idea, as my son, then 3 years old, was so bored with my pulling him from one fort or palace to other, that he enjoyed himself thoroughly, and refused to leave!!

Another place to keep small children occupied is the zoo , which is like any other zoo in India, There is nothing very special about it, but there are animals and birds, and children love them. Do make it a point to travel in the local autos and the horse drawn carts, as they lend a genuine feel and local colour to the heritage tourism.

Never ground anything before! One for the record!
Cows and calves are always on top of the list for Samhith and Shankar

Part of the heritage tour is a visit to the villages nearby. The most popular one is to a Bishnoi village. Bishnois are a tribe very close to nature, who have taken an oath to preserve nature. They very determined in their pledge, and in fact, they have become quite famous lately due to the case of poaching they have been fighting against prominent film stars who have been shooting deer in the area. Their love for nature is quite visible, and it is quite visible that deer and peacocks feel quite comfortable with them around. As one drives to the village, one sees lots of deer and peacocks, which run away the moment they hear the sound of the vehicle. For me and my son, it was our first experience in a village, and we were amazed at the local practices. My husband took up the offer of a hookah, which the village elder was smoking, much to my consternation, and the others' amusement.

Sharing a hookah!
A common sight!

We were to have lunch in another village, at a weaver's house. As one who loves to stitch knit and embroider, I was awed by the dexterity of the weavers. The beautiful patterns seemed to grow under their fingers as they worked ! We ended up buying a carpet, which today takes the place of pride on occasions .The simple local food they served us was delicious, ad we relished every morsel. Even my son, who, at that time, had to be fed by me, ate a whole Bhakri by himself !

See what they are weaving? We have a copy at home!
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We also visited other villages, that of a dyer, and a potter, and at both places found ourselves awed by the sheer talent of these simple villagers.

As a heritage holiday, Jodhpur certainly gets full marks from me. It makes me wonder what Jaipur, supposed to be the mecca for heritage tourists will be like. It makes me want to read more of history. In fact, I sort of wished I had paid more attention to history when I was in school!

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Jaisalmer - Of Camels and Sand Dunes

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Akkalkot-A spiritual quest with surprises in store

Akkalkot is a small town about 45 kms from Sholapur, known mainly as the place where the renowned saint Swami Samarth attained Samadhi. We took the overnight train to Sholapur and then hired a jeep to Akkalkot, though we later realized that there are a huge number of buses of the MSRTC plying between various places in Mumbai and Akkalkot regularly. In fact, we were quite surprised by the frequency of buses in that region, and thereafter, we used only ST buses for traveling to and from Sholapur.
All the buses and jeeps drop you at the Bhakta Niwas, built by the Devasthan for the convenience of pilgrims. It has basic lodging facilities, with small and big rooms, but only common bathrooms for the whole floor. The premises and the toilets are surprisingly clean, considering that the charge for a whole family (up to 10 people) is around Rs.150.There is also another Bhakta Niwas, recently built, for people who like to be comfortable, even during a pilgrimage. Here, the rooms all have attached bathrooms, and there are also large rooms for groups. The charges here start from Rs.250. Both the complexes have a vegetarian restaurant on the premises. The food is both cheap as well as tasty.
The Swami Samarth Samadhi Devasthan, the temple housing the Samadhi is a small and neat place, calm and tranquil, transporting one back to the days of yore when the swami was alive. If one reaches the temple before 11:30 AM, one can perform Abhishek and puja of the Padukas of the Swami for as little as Rs.25 per person. It is worth it, as one is allowed into the sanctum sanctorum, and can see the Samadhi and the Padukas up close. After 11:30, the Padukas are decorated and kept for viewing only.
In and around Akkalkot, there are other minor places of interest like the ashrams and samadhis of various disciples of Swami Samarth. These places are not as popular as the main temple, but are worth a visit simply because the places have been maintained quite well, and are exactly as they used to be, and one can still feel the atmosphere that comes from years of meditation and penance. The best way to visit all these places is to hire a local auto driver as a guide. The chaps are only too happy to take one around the village for 50 Rupees.

Around 2 Km from Akkalkot is another place worth a visit for a traveler on a spiritual quest. The Shivpuri Ashram is a legacy of one of Swami Samarth’s disciples, Shree Gajanan Maharaj (not the Gajanan maharaj of Shegaon), and his father, Shree Yogindra Maharaj. They were responsible for the revival of the ancient system of Agnihotra, or the maintenance of the sacred fire. The ashram is a serene place, with the Samadhi of the swamiji and his descendants and disciples. It is amazing how they have managed to phas opularize the age old concept of Agnihotra. The only drawback, if I may take the liberty to call it so, is that the main aim of the ashram being the revival of Agnihotra, the inmates keep trying to get one to take it up. The ashram also has provision for accommodation, and they also cater to foreign tourists by offering massages, treatments etc. In any case, the place is worth a visit, even if one isn’t really interested in following their way of life.
The Arms museum
Now for something a little different. If one is accompanied by kids, as we were, they usually get bored visiting temples and ashrams all the time. Akkalkot offers something for them too! The Akkalkot Palace has been converted to a museum by the royal family, who reside at Pune. The museum houses their personal collection of weapons, ranging from small daggers and knives to the early firearms. As collections go, it is an impressive one. The current king has also displayed his extensive collection of car models and also models of various kinds of dogs (it looks as if a childhood collection of toys grown into that of a professional collector). My 4 year old son who is obsessed with toy guns and bows and arrows loved the place, though the one thing that struck me was how humans have always loved to kill, and find newer and more gruesome methods of killing.
All in all, Akkalkot is worth a visit, whether or not one is spiritually inclined.

SaptaShrungi Devi Temple, Vani

The Saptashrungi Devi temple is located at Vani near Nashik in Maharashtra. This temple is one among the 51 Shakti peethas located on the Indian subcontinent. The Devi is said be swayambhu (self-manifested) on a rock on the sheer face of a mountain. She is surrounded by seven (sapta-in Sanskrit) peaks (shrunga-in Sanskrit), hence the name- Sapta Shrungi Mata (mother of the seven peaks). The image of the Devi is huge-about 10 feet tall with 18 hands, holding various weapons. The idol is always coated with Sindoor, which is considered auspicious in this region.

She is believed to be Mahishasur Mardini, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur, who took the form of a buffalo. Hence, at the foot of the hill, from where one starts climbing the steps, there is the head of a buffalo, made is stone, and believed to be that of the demon. It is believed that the Devi Mahatmya, a sacred book which extols the greatness of Devi and her exploits was composed at this place by the sage Markandeya, who performed rigorous penance on a hill opposite the one on which the Devi resides, which is now named after him.

The temple, which sort of sticks to the cliff, is 1230 meters above sea level. There is an old path with steps cut out of the mountain, which starts right at the foothills, at Vani and goes all the way to the mountain. However, now, a motorable road has been built, which goes up to an altitude of 1150 meters. From this place one has to climb around 500 steps to reach the shrine, which only takes about forty five minutes. For those who cannot climb even this, there are “dolis” (chairs carried by 4 people) available at Rs.200/- for the two-way trip.

Update: 24th August, 2012: I recently visited the temple once again, and there have been a few changes. There is now a separate set of stairs for climbing up and coming down, and this has considerably made things easier and less confusing. Also, many readers had asked me about the proposed ropeway. Yes, there is a ropeway, but it is only meant for goods, not for people. There are still dolis available, though the rate is now higher - Rs. 400 to 500, depending on how well you can bargain. There is also a Bhakta Niwas, and also some other hotels and lodges, but I was unable to get any more information due to time constraints. You can read my new post to read a more detailed account of my experience. 

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It was May 1990. I had just written my10th Std exams, and my mother had promised me a trip somewhere interesting as a treat for all the hours I had put in all year for studying. The place we were to go remained uncertain, until my grandfather suddenly announced that a group from his temple was going to Badrinath and Kedarnath, and he had booked us for the trip. Badri and Kedar were interesting, no doubt, but a 15 year old girl with a whole busload of 60 plus people! I was aghast! “There goes all the fun from my vacation”, I thought. I couldn’t excuse myself out of the trip without hurting my grandfather, so I resigned myself to my fate and busied myself getting everything I needed for the journey. When the D-day dawned, I was happy to see that there were 4 teenage boys in the group-some change from all the others, who, as I had expected were 65 plus.
The first few days were not really exciting….Hardwar and Rishikesh, I had seen earlier, and the boys treated me like a kid. I was bored. Then we reached Dev Prayag. That was when things really got interesting. This was the first “sangam” or confluence of rivers that I had seen, and the first sight of the furious Alakananda and the clear Bhagirathi merging to form the beautiful river Ganga was really inspiring. Some of my enthusiasm must have touched the others, for, after that, we became friends. We sat together, and enjoyed the scenic mountainside while we cracked jokes and teased everybody else. The elders left us to ourselves, saying “they are children. Let them enjoy themselves”. While the others looked at the Himalayas for spiritual attainment, for us, it was simply the sheer beauty of nature that we admired. Every stream, every rock, every tree seemed beautiful to us.
The Rudra prayag, where the Alakananda meets the Mandakini and the subterranean Saraswati, the river was so furious that we were not allowed to even climb down the steps to have a closer view. That nature could be so tumultuous, and yet so beautiful, was itself a revelation to us.
I don’t remember much of the journey from Rudra Prayag to Gauri Kund, where there are hot springs, but the journey from Gauri Kund to Kedarnath and back remains my most indelible memory till date.
One has to climb a distance of 14 Kms from Gauri Kund to reach Kedarnath. Since most of the people from our group were elderly, they elected to go on horseback, or on a ‘doli’, a sort of chair/palanquin carried by 2/4 people. The only people who decided to walk were the young teenage boys in our group, my grandfather, mother, myself, and a friend who was about the same age as my mom. The boys, of course, were the fastest of the lot, and they soon were far ahead of us. The four of us plodded on, at our own pace, enjoying the scenery.
I, as a student of physics, had studied about how only the uppermost layer of a lake froze over in winter, leaving water flowing as usual underneath, though I had never seen anything like it. Now, for the very first time in my life, I saw water flowing under, what I thought to be solid ice. The whole place was frozen. Only the path which had been made on the mountain was ice free, and that too only because of the thousands of feet and hooves treading it, all day long, for about 6 months in the year. 7 kms passed without any particular incident, but it was obviously getting late, as the locals we passed kept telling us. Then we reached the mid point of the climb, called Rampada, where a local vendor sold puris and potato bhaji. After a strenuous climb, it was the most delicious food I had ever had in my life. After the snack, on the advice of the locals, we decided to take a horse for the remaining journey, as it was getting quite late. However, we soon ran into problems, as there was only one horse available there. So, as is expected of any Indian family, it was decided that as the youngest, I was the one to take the privilege of riding the horse to the temple. I protested in vain, and then under compulsion, got on to the horse, praying that the others would manage to reach safe.
Riding horseback was something I had never done before, and never want to do again. I feel much surer on my own two feet, rather than on the 4 (stronger) feet of an animal. The horse and his trainer obviously knew the route very well, and in a short while, we managed to reach the temple where the rest of the group was waiting for us. I can’t describe much of my hose back journey, as I was concentrating only on staying in the saddle, not on the beautiful scenes around me.
If I thought that reaching the temple would be a relief, I was wrong. The rest of my group was shocked to see me alone, and they managed to scare me even more that I already was, regarding what would happen to my family, now that it was getting dark. I don’t know what I would have done, if it hadn’t been for those 4 boys in our group. They distracted me and took me to the temple where I prayed for the safe return of my family, and then we started doing ‘pradakshinas’ (circumambulations) of the temple. All along the way, the boys kept talking to me, teasing me, showing me interesting things, and in general keeping me busy. An hour passed and then two, but there was no sign of my family. It was quite dark by then, and someone said that in some time, the bridge connecting the temple to the walking path would get covered by snow. My socks were wet because of the snow, and I was freezing, but I didn’t want to go inside the room where all the others were waiting. I stood outside the lodge and my four friends stood by me. Finally, when I had almost given up hope, we small 3 small figures trudging towards us across the bridge. It was them!
When we were all safe and warm inside our room, they told us how they hadn’t managed to get a horse and had continued to walk slowly, losing hope of ever reaching the temple with every step they took, when a stranger, a local, had joined them and taken them along a short cut, helping each of them walk over the frozen surface, offering a helping hand and words of hope, until they reached the bridge, and then pointing to our waiting group, told them that they had reached their destination, turned and walked away. We don’t know who he was, but whoever he was, he was a godsend, maybe, really sent by God!
After a little sleep, more like a nap, we were ready for darshan the next day. It was impossible to have a bath under those freezing conditions, and so was brushing one’s teeth, but we decided to rinse our mouth and wash our face before we started. Little did I know of the problems that I was going to face soon!
We had an excellent nirmalya darshan of Lord Kedarnath, which satisfied my family and the other elders immensely. They had, after all, come all the way, just for this darshan. For us youngsters however, the deep satisfaction we felt was outside the temple, in being so close to, and feeling so much in awe of nature, and her beauty. The atmosphere there, we felt was so spiritual, one felt so close to God, one did not need any temples to emphasize it. This is a feeling that remains with me till this day. I feel much closer to God, when I am in the midst of nature, than I do in a big and beautiful temple.
Anyway, after the darshan, we all started climbing down the mountain. This time, there were many people with us, since climbing down was easier than climbing up. Feeling secure with so many people, this time around, we youngsters raced down the snow covered hills, and reached the halfway point really fast. Of course, euphoria is always followed by depression, and so was I, with a toothache. We later realized that my gums had been weak, and rinsing them with ice cold water had made them even more so, and there was some kind of infection. Since I had to make do with some homemade remedies till I reached back home, the dentist, when I finally went to him, told me that I had to get a tooth removed. But that didn’t really solve the problem. I carry a reminder of it till today, so that, whenever I brush in very cold water, my gums swell up. In any case, with the elders suggesting some short term remedies, and my friends succeeding in making me forget the pain, we reached Gauri Kund again, thus completing a memorable journey.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of the road yet. We then continued towards Badrinath, halting for a while at the temple of Triyugi Narayan, where Lord Vishnu is supposed to have officiated at the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. We also visited the temple and the Mutt at Joshimath, established by Adi Shankaracharya. Here, the sight of the crystal Shivling installed by the Shankaracharya is an awesome sight!
Finally we reached Badrinath, the road to which is well maintained because it is near the China border and forms part of the army base. This was one place where we saw snow moving and snow blowing machines which we had only heard of and read about. Badrinath is almost like a normal town on the foothills, compared to Kedarnath, which is, at most a small village, sparsely populated. Badrinath, being more easily accessible, is more populated, and hence looks and feels like a typical temple town anywhere in India. This, in my opinion, spoils the atmosphere of the temple, which has much to say for itself. Among the most interesting things about the temple is that the temple priests are Namboodris, hailing from Kerala, deep down south. That this has been maintained since the days of the Shankaracharya is indeed amazing!
Again, outside the temple, the beauty of nature was there, for all to see. We had been told that the twin peaks, called Nar and Narayan, shine like gold and silver when the first rays of the sun fall on them. So, there we were, early in the morning, wrapped in shawls and sweaters, waiting in the freezing cold, for the sun. Lo and Behold! There were the first rays, and, what a surprise! Not just the twin peaks, but every single snow capped peak seemed to shine like gold and silver, as every ray of sunshine falls on them! When one stands amidst those high mountains, which one knows are covered with snow and must, therefore be white, but which shine with hues of white, gold and silver, which one didn’t know existed, that is when one realizes how small one really is, how much one doesn’t know, and that there is really someone up there who knows what he is doing, and who makes us do all that we do.
I don’t think my experiences are in any way unique, for many people have written about even more moving experiences, but to every person, their experiences are special, especially those which are turning points in their lives, and for me this was a kind of spiritual awakening

It has been almost 18 years since I returned from that memorable trip. Many of the elderly people who accompanied me are no more. My grandfather and mother are still very much with me, which I consider God’s gift to me, and I have lost touch with those 4 boys who stood by me and helped me. I don’t even remember their names today, but I hope someday they read this article and remember me.
Today I am married and have a 5 year old child, and I hope someday to take him to the same places and open his mind to what I consider true spirituality. I just hope that people who believe in commercialization of all places leave us some places untouched so that I can take my child there some 10 years later, and show him how beautiful nature is, and how beautifully God has made everything.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I have always enjoyed travelling. When I was young, we always had to travel on a tight budget , so we always took the trains and buses, and stayed at simple lodgings where ever we went. In fact, we always tried to look for a relative or friend at whose house we could put up. it never seemed like an inconvenience to anyone, as that was what almost everyone did! As a result, my mother has a huge list of friends/relatives/acquaintances at various places, all of whom she actually knows quite well!
we usually went to temples, or my uncles' or aunts' places, but as there were so many of them, we went out for every single school vacation, and spent quite some time at each place.
today things are a lot different. with affluence has come more travel, that too with more comforts. Since my marriage i have been travelling almost 4 to 5 months in a year. many of my journeys are still spiritual, as we usually travel along with my in-laws, but once a year, my husband takes time out for a more tourist-like destination. we don't hesitate to take a vehicle where ever we go, but now time has become a major factor. where earlier we had all the time in the world, now we are running after our schedules everywhere. trips to any place, be it places or worship, or historical places, the urge is to see as many places as possible, so one usually compromises on the time we spend in one place.


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