Sunday, October 22, 2017

Moving by blog

hello readers, I am moving by blog to . Hope you will follow me there

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My first back packing trip & pilgrimage to Chandrashila Peak!

Not that I started the journey thinking it would be a pilgrimage, but it turned into one. Yes, I am named Chandrashila! Though not a very common name, even in my very Bengali city, over the years one of the best conversation starters to many a stranger!! 

About a decade back, on a Google search I came to know of "Chandrashila" peak in Garhwal Himalayas and, as any traveler can guess, I had to meet my namesake…

My love for the Himalayas started with Ladakh, doubled with Spiti... and this year I finally managed to say hello to Chandrashila peak!

Before you go any further, here's a spoiler alert! This journey was one of my most thought provoking ones, and the read here will be more on my experience, learnings and thoughts and not a day to day travel itinerary... so make a quick choice now and hope you do carry on reading!

Good choice! :)

My solo travel turned into not so solo travel, when Pankaj, from Kolkata Couch surfing group, decided to join me on the trip with the suggestion that we backpack.  I was more than ready to embark upon my first back packing trip. 
We started our journey only with an onward ticket from Kolkata to Haridwar and a return ticket from Delhi to Kolkata. The rest of the plan was to figure it out once we reach Haridwar and kind of go where the weather takes us.  It was July, peak monsoon season, so we left it to Mother Nature to decide if we could finally make the trip to Chandrashila. We had faith!

Each of us had our own wish list, on what we wanted to achieve from the trip, mine being a break from work, getting back some sanity in life, keeping my promise to the mighty Himalayas to return this year (that's another story from my Spiti Travel), peace and quiet. Pankaj's was to travel without his bike and experience backpacking and public transport... yes; I had to listen to kilometer readings throughout the trip :) which was good info in a way! Couple of days into our travels we were joined by another traveler in Rishikesh. Mau is from Belgium speaks French and a smattering of English. More about her later ... here it would suffice to say her wish list was to travel on her own to become stronger - yes that can also be a reason to travel! Things you get to know when you backpack... :)  Now that you have the cast and the backgrounds of characters,  lets move on to the story, shall we?

Why I was scared in Haridwar…

We reached Haridwar at the peak of Sawan Mela, which in short is a religious festival, where pilgrims come to take water from the holy Ganges and then visit Shiv temples to pour the water on shiv-lings. 

No amount of reading Lonely Planet and Google search prepared us for what we had landed in.  Thousands of people in orange attire, carrying religious flags and India's flag, chanting "Jai Shiv Bhagwan Ki " and "Jai Bharat Mata Ki". I am not sure if this is how it has always been or if this is something new. May be for the first time I was scared to see my own country's flag. All roads to Har-ki-pauri, which is the ghat to the Ganges meeting the land from the mountains, were blocked. The next few days, I mused over whether I should be angry, scared or more tolerant of what I witnessed. Hundreds of men, on motorbikes (without silencer) causing unbearable noise pollution, carrying the orange and tricolor on their way to NeelKanth Mahadev - shiv temple in Rishikesh. The entire place had come to a standstill. 
We however did manage to walk to Har-ki-pauri with our back packs along with the pilgrims and explore Haridwar a bit. 
Har-KiPauri Ghat during Sawan Mela

Flower offerings for Ganga Aarti

Tshirts on sale for the pilgrims

Pretty soon, I started feeling claustrophobic and we decided to pack up and move forward to Rishikesh - 25 Kms away and we had thought it would be a cake walk. The plan was to go to the bus depot, catch a bus to Rishikesh and voila we will be out of this mela frenzy... but it was not meant to be. As an empty bus depot greeted us, we learnt that the entire bus depot was shifted some 30 kms away for the Mela(Carnival) and .. 3 auto rides later (we were cheated by the first 2) we reached Chamunda devi bus depot (I think that is what they were referring to it as). It was more of a make shift bus depot , with caravans and tents put up and in the scorching heat we went around in circles looking for a bus to Rishikesh. After an hour , we realized that all buses to Rishikesh have stopped for the mela ... and all I could think of was , "I don't want to spend another day in Haridwar ".., we finally managed to get a shared sumo for 200 bucks each for half way ride. Who said back packing was cheap :P ! Followed by another stretch of walk, then auto and multiple rides and trails later we were at Rishikesh. I almost had a heat stroke; the only thing that saved me was a kind man's backyard water pipe with which I had doused my head in water to keep down the temperature.
Beware - Lonely planet will not warn you about Sawan Mela and transport situation during this time but what the heck its one of a kind experience, though too loud for my city girl - corp job- east India  sentimentality :) 

Swiss Bhandari Cottage and German Bakery
My reading and musing spot
We reached Rishikesh and found out the most cost effective back packers hotel on the bypass from Lonely Planet. We called up the reception and asked for room availability & requested our auto guy to take us there... He charged us 400 bucks thanks to sawan mela road blocks. We took a terrace room and the view was to die for. And finally I smiled! 
This is where we will spend a lot of time planning , reading , playing cards , making friends , drinking tea and banana milk. 
As I sat there on the terrace , still being hounded by the sound of the silencer less bikes on the bypass road, I wondered if this is how people visiting Kolkata during Dura Puja feel , minus the India flags , the crowd was equally overwhelming...

Scooty ride in Rishikesh !

By now we had met Mau and I was more than happy to leave them both to their discussions in French -(Pankaj is also fluent in French), while I switched off from the surroundings and happily continued with my thoughts on religion , politics and people. My French language lessons go back to my college time and i was regretting bunking all the classes, though over the next few days with Mau , I would learn some more of it.. 

Photo by Maureen
While the easiest way around Rishikesh was 10 Rs shared autos, we didn't come across any and all autos were asking for 300-400 bucks to go anywhere due to road blocks. We decided to hire a scooty and brave the crowds ourselves. Thanks to Pankaj being our biker, this plan seemed to work out, though he had a tough time maneuvering the scooty... We went through Ramjhula /LakhmanJhula/ Swarg Ashram/Beatles Ashram among throngs of walking pilgrims... Where honking doesn't work and one has to keep shouting "Bhole - Bhole" (Lord Shiva's another name) to clear the path. By the end of these rides around Rishikesh we were for a "douche" as Mau would say in French.. This means a shower :). 

Nataraja pose of Shiva, which looked more like selfie pose:P

Benches in Swarg Ashram area
swarg ashram area
Couldnt resist a B&W  - Cafe near beatles ashram with viewof the ganges

Himachal Vs Uttarakhand

One of the reasons I love going to the mountains are its people. In my earlier experiences in Himachal, Ladakh and Spiti, I have always felt safe, trusting and experienced oodles of smiles ans positivity. In Uttarakhand, I didn't feel at home. By now we have lost out on few days and our plan to do both Himachal and Chandrashila trek didn't seem likely. We had to choose between moving onto Manali /Dharamshala/Kasol or stay here and travel through Pauri, Rudraprayag, Devprayag, Ukhimath, Chopta and further onto Chandrashila. 
We went to the bus depo to get tickets for Dehradun and Manali , however with the influence of the taxi association guys, claiming Chopta to be the most beautiful place in Uttarakhand we were convinced enough to book a taxi to Chopta for 5100 Rs - we were really desperate to take break from all the uncertainties and indulge ourselves a bit and reach our destination at the earliest.

Dark Memories from the 2013 flood !

No one seemed to have forgotten the Kedarnath flood from 4 years back in 2013 when everything in this area was washed away. As we followed river Mandakini , we could feel the fear & pain of losing everything and all loved ones. As the locals often said - "The flood took everything, cows, animals, houses , temples , people... Didn’t distinguish between anything or anyone ". We could now look at the river and only wander how disastrous it would have been. 
Something else we came across on our return journey- in our shared jeep taxi, a woman co passenger started crying violently, While we all thought it was a reaction to the river Madakini , we found out soon that we were mistaken. Her nephew who was in the Indian army was killed in Kashmir and his dead body had been brought to Rudraprayag , to where we were dropping her off... from my seat sharing lady i found out , every household in Uttarakhand has at least one member joining the army. 

These stories on my travel has made the place so real for me , like no new paper or social media could ever do .. I have come to know my country a little bit more..

And may be their faith in religion helped this region overcome such a tragedy and slowly lurch back to life, which we can only empathize with but never fully grasp it...

Mandakini river .
Alokananda meets Mandakini to form the Rudraprayag confluence

Dev Prayag (confluence) - where Alokananda river 
meets Bhagirathi river to finally become Ganges
Breakfast at Devprayag- Photo by Maureen-
The curd and Aloo paratha was to die f or
You can look up on Panch Prayag to know more about the 5 holy confluences of Ganga. All are in Uttarakhand. Even more interesting are the mythological stories at each of the confluences and a trip to Uttarakhand is incomplete without connecting each place with a story. It will take another blog probably to note down all the stories we came across! :)

The chupki(silence) of Chopta said it all ...

Trip highlight for me! Known as the mini Switzerland of India with rolling green meadows and also the base point for the Tunganath- Chandrashila trek, this pretty little place really stole my heart. With bare houses or structures  and large number of horses, donkeys and mules with bells around their necks, you are always greeted with the tung tung sound anywhere you go.

Chopta is located at an elevation of 2,680 metres (8,790 ft) above sea level.The clouds would curl up around us without any warning.. And the visibility level changed every 5 mins. During winter one has a gorgeous view of all the peaks from here. We were lucky to get a view of Chaukhamba peak when the clouds had moved away. The clouds were everywhere.. it would float in and soak up the beds - our sleeping bags came to our  rescue. Yes, we slept in sleeping bags on the bed.

Chopta is where our unending card games started - there is nothing else you can do in the evenings. Pankaj taught us Cambio (cabo) and we were hooked. We played it all the time - waiting for our meals, after our meals anywhere we went- transcending all languages... a backpacker’s game. One of the positives of back packing, is you can take your journey at your own pace. And we were taking it slow... 


To reach Chandrashila we had to first trek to Tunganath. Located at an altitude of 3,680 m (12,073 ft), and just below the peak of Chandrashila, Tungnath temple is the highest Shiva temple in the world. The temple is believed to be 1000 years old and is the third kedar(Tritiya Kedar) of the 5 kedars ...( our mythology seems to have something for Panch - number five). 

It was a 4 Km trek up to Tunganath temple and took me almost 4 hrs climbing up. The locals I am told can do it in 2 hrs. Geared with a rain suit and the walking stick, and no free hands I could hardly capture the beauty of this place on my camera, as much I would have liked to. Dotted with number of wild flowers - they come in all colors -yellow, red ,blue ,white ... It was an unfamiliar yet beautiful experience- where your body hurts - lungs give up and yet you keep moving ahead inspired by the sheer beauty of the place.  At times it would start raining and as difficult as it may sound, there was something hypnotic about the walk, small steps, zig zagging walk, pitter-patter of the rain on the rain suit , 2 arms length visibility and yet i found myself moving up this cobbled path. At times I would stop and stare at the strange trees and the little flowers, listen for the caw cawing of the local bird -as if it’s calling out to me and guiding me. 
Mid way somewhere I met up with Pankaj & Mau at a chai shop and played few rounds of Cambio - had some tea and dried fruits , a quick dose of coca 30 for high altitude sickness,  before doing the last stretch of the trek and reach Tunganath. 
on the way to Tunganath

Tunganath Temple

wild flowers- my favorites
After hot fried maggi and the temple visit - where we got to hear some more stories on the panch kedar and of course Chandrashila, we took accommodation in the temple guest house for 500 rs and spent rest of the day light walking around and staring out at the cloud covered mountains before the clouds moved in and we had zero visibility.

Meeting Chandrashila...

While we had planned to wake up at 3 am and climb Chandrashila, the rain continued till early morning. Lucky for us the all night long rain had cleared up the sky and the sun was out. After a quick tea we headed out for Chandrashila. The 1.5 km during the monsoon can be tricky but  if I could do it, anyone can. Small measured steps are all you need. Carpets of wild flowers and fresh air ... what more can one ask for. Chandrashila is summit of the Tungnath . It literally means "Moon Rock". It is located at a height of about 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea level.

As the story goes, after killing Ravan - who was a brahmin, Ram had to do penance for Brahmmanhatya (killing a Brahmin). Hence Ram had done a puja to Vishnu on Chandrashila peak. I would have never known this story had I not been there... there is a small temple on Chandrashila peak. Tibetan style rock prayers were strewn all across the peak. Quite interesting when you think... how a Tibetan practice has been socialized in a Hindu worship place. 

The climb was quite steep however after couple of breaks I was able to reach and say hello to my namesake. It was an overwhelming experience for me, having dreamt of this moment for so long. I sat there envying my name sake, standing there in pin drop silence above the clouds. Nothing moved except for the clouds and breeze. 

As I have said earlier, this was a thought provoking trip, thanks to backpacking and being on the road without detailed plans. First of its kind experience for me, where I had the opportunity to study human behavior, ponder over all the "whys" and add to my bag of stories and life experiences. It wouldn't have been the same without Pankaj and Mau. So, heartfelt gratitude to my friends... for teaching me the tiniest of tricks - how to tie a shoe lace while trekking, playing cambio, travelling with lonely planet and weirdest of things like rolling tobacco. 
By the end of the trip I reaslised, I am not a nomad, I am not a vagabond , I love to be home., so I go about trying to make a place home for a few days .. :), here's a perfect quote to end this journey... 

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Sadness , when it comes
Sudden and unannounced.
Hold on a bit I say,
Trying old tricks to keep you at bay.

Park that thought,
While I quickly wrap up this act.
Distracting as ever before
Sweet nursing of open sores.

Hold on a bit I say,
Trying old tricks to keep you at bay.

I shall find you some time
But not today
Time is so short
And you are here to stay.

Hold on a bit I say,
Trying old tricks to keep you at bay.

Hiding beneath
That brilliant smile
No one knows,
What brings you alive

Hold on a bit I say,
Trying old tricks to keep you at bay.

On the stormy, rainy day
Or the silent Sunday.
The whispering of the leaves
Or the wordless balmy breeze .

Hold on a bit I say,
Trying old tricks to keep you at bay.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I wait ..

I wait
For what , I do not know
With a heavy heart
And misty eyes
There isn't any answer
Waiting at the end of the night
There isn't any more reasoning to do
There isn't any warm smile
To melt the setting ice
There isn't any arm reaching out
To hold the me tight
There isn't any hug
To ward off the chill
No more words to set it right
It's hard to pretend
When reality  descend
It's comes crashing
Breaking bones
Crushing wind
Spilling blood
Ripping skin
Plucking eyes
Painful violent
It bites . It hurts. It kills
It stills .

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Singular musing..

Just met too many people over last few days who made my mind start on this line of thought. To be more specific all of them were men though this has nothing to do with gender. To be more precise the first thought came over the news of a dear colleagues mother being due for a heart surgery. I happen to know that he is very close to his mother which is not really a surprise..most people are close to their mothers. Anyway, moving on with my story, he is also single and 40 plus years of age. the thought that distressed me was what will he do if his mother doesn't survive it?
Next I came know of a father who is 67 and wants to remarry .his wife is no more though he has full grown kids with their own set of kids. He has just mentioned it to his son, who is not talking it well.
And I spoke to a man who is retiring in another 2 yrs having worked at the same place for over 40 yrs . He too is single . Living alone. I asked him,what are his plans post retirement , he didn't share anything much and I got the feeling that I am asking a wrong question. He tried to tell me in few words without intruding that marriage is important and age makes one rigid.
And then there is someone who will turn 40 this year. single. Has resigned to the fact that it's too late to have kids as it will be irresponsible to do so, someone with his life style will not have a chance to provide good parenting for any child and the child will not get a childhood really, having to take care of his parent probably.
Hmm. That's too much for 2 days I say.
Though it's not all so gloomy. I met an award winning sculptor last month. He is77 and still pursuing his passion for at and traveling to workshops. My inspiration.
One would say at 32 I need not think so much. But I can't help but wonder what s in store for me. Art.Music and love I hope.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Un titled

In the silent sigh
In the focusless stare
The skipped beat
With the one odd  ring
The long ride at the end
The familiar shadows
The light shining on the skin
They seem unknown
The sudden whiff
A Piece of music
A fleeting thought
The unspilt drop
Waiting at the brim
Unending climb
Whisperless sleep
What a nightmare of a dream !

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sailing on .

And I keep sailing on
With my wares and goods
Looking for land, where upon
I can throw my anchor in.
Weary and tired
The journey has been so long.
I wait
Looking upon the twinkling lights
Of the evening land
Life breathing and radiating
Calls me ashore.
Promises of love and all that in store.
Light breaks
Shining through the clouds
Excited to see a new ship
Waiting at the sea.
The day passes by
Discovering mysteries
Experiencing fantasies
Singing love songs
Breathing in the storms.
As the sun rolls on
To light up another land
And as I wonder
Do I drop my anchor on the sand
They tell me
What a good time we had
But like fantasies can't be realities
There's hardly space for niceties.
And I keep sailing on.