Kasauli trip 2017

The past couple of months passed in a blur. There was so much work to do, I had no time to unwind. My work pressure lessened towards the end of August. Towards the end of September, it was Durga pujo this year. Living outside Bengal has its disadvantages. I no longer get caught up in pre-pujo shopping, dressing up in my finest, going pandal hopping or binge eating.

As people say, you can take a Bengali out of Bengal, but you cannot take Bengal out of the Bengali. I pine for the festivities back home, but it has not always been possible to go back during the time. Even though I am far from home, my heart is joyous and brain goes on a holiday mode, preventing me from concentrating on the work at hand. So, these past few years I made it a point to travel to the Himalayas and spend a couple of days relaxing and rejuvenating in the quiet solitude.

This year was no different as I went to Kasauli, a small town in the district of Solan, in Himachal Pradesh (India). With an extended weekend at hand, I made the best I could of the time.

With a couple of friends, early one morning, we set off to refresh our otherwise stressful lives. The best part of living in the capital city of India is that the hill stations are so close. Extended weekends are perfect for getaways.

We reached Kalka by train, from where Kasauli is a 2-3-hour drive.

Five minutes into our journey, we caught the first glimpse of the hills in the distant horizon.

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Kalka station
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On the way to Kasauli

 

 

As we drove up the air turned considerably cooler and the weather pleasant. Soon the oppressive heat of the plains became a thing in the past.

We had booked a service apartment which was to be our home for the next couple of days. The apartment was very tastefully done and attention was given to even the minutest detail. The view from the balcony was breath-taking.

We reached around 3 in the afternoon and were famished. A quick lunch and the soft beds were on the itinerary for the day. In the evening, we sat on the balcony and sipped tea, looking out in the vast expanse of darkness.

On the second day, we visited Christ Church, the oldest church in Himachal Pradesh. Dedicated to St. Francis and St. Barnabas, the Anglican church was in 1853. There was an ancient sundial within the church premise. The atmosphere was calm and serene. Benches were set amidst pine trees for people to sit and enjoy the peace. We roamed aimlessly the in small mall of Kasauli and in the afternoon returned to our apartment. Later we enjoyed the sunset from the comfort of our home.

 

The next day, we did not plan anything and spent the day at home, cooking, chatting and making the most of the time in hand. In the afternoon, we walked to the local market. The day being Dusshera, there was a small fair and people from far-off places had come; all dressed in their best. It was a nice experience to see the local people celebrating a festival. There were a few shops selling sweetmeats and everyone was buying sweets that day. We, too, bought jalebis on the way back. Although there was not much to do in the evenings, we enjoyed because that was what we wanted; to be away from work, daily responsibilities and the stress of city life.

The following day was our last. A long walk in the morning marked the start of the day. A quick breakfast and an even quicker lunch later, we checked out and started our journey to Kalka. We boarded the train that took us back to the daily grind.

We reached home late at night, and we were tired but happy and refreshed, knowing that we could go back any time we wanted to.

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Life As We Know It

“Well, you ought to have thought through your decision before running away from home,” said Ira.

I sat on her bed contemplating my next move. “Nope, I’m never going back to that house again,” I said. “I have had enough. All I said was I wanted to go on a long drive at night. How is that a crime? I am old enough to take responsibilities for myself. Who does he think he is? My father?” I ranted. “If only I had not forgotten my wallet! I would have been away from all this mess by now. How dumb am I!”

“Pretty dumb, I must say,” laughed my best friend as she messed up my short brown black hair, “I think his decision to not let you out alone was right. After all your mother too agreed with him, didn’t she?”

“Should I call your father to come and pick you up?” asked Ira’s mother. She looked worried.

“No, I think I should be the one calling him to rescue me,” I said, not willing to worry her further and spoil everyone’s sleep.

“As always,” quipped Ira, an evil glint in her eye. I knew how badly she wanted to laugh, but controlled herself.

“Hello…umm, Baba. I am at Ira’s place, could you please come, get me?” I called my father.

“Sure, I’ll be there in an hour,” he replied, “just let your mother go to sleep.”

“Maa? Does she know I am not at home?” I asked apprehensively.

“No, she still thinks you are studying,” chuckled Baba, “and I intend to keep it that way.”

I felt a little relieved but was also surprised as how calm my father sounded when I called him at one in the morning from outside home. It’s like he knew all along what I had intended to do after the huge spat earlier that evening.

“Would you like some hot chocolate while you wait for him?” asked Ira’s mother. Suddenly I was full of gratitude for her. It felt so safe and warm in their house. No matter how late or how often I went over to her house, I never felt unwelcomed. She was always there, smiling, and getting us something to eat every now and then. Perks of being best friends, I guess.

Soon a car honked outside and I knew that was my cue. I said my goodbyes to my friend and her mother and walked towards the car.

I got into the car silently and waited for him to scold me.

“So, what happened to your long drive?” asked Baba, completely unflustered. “Did you run out of gas and forget your wallet as well?”

I looked at him and, even though he was serious, his eyes were laughing. Not in a mocking way, but the way how fathers look at you when they know you are silly and headstrong, and will surely do what you are told not to; but love you anyways. I felt so ashamed of myself as the events of the hour, when I was so angry with him, came flooding back. He loved me, worried for me, and wanted the best for me like all fathers.

“I’ll tell you what, let’s go on that long drive now, shall we?” asked Baba, interrupting my thoughts. “But you have to promise me your mother will never know of this. This will be our little secret, okay?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I literally screamed with joy and hugged him tight. As he hugged me back, I felt my eyes well up. He never let me feel like we were not related, my stepfather.

And the Clouds Lifted

Looking up at the dark clouds in the sky, Diya asked her mother, “Do you think it is going to rain?” Her mother replied, “It might,” looking worried. There was still so much left to be done before they moved to the new city, to begin afresh. She did not know if it was the right thing to do, it might or might not be the wisest decision; who could tell, but time.

Diya’s grandmother was furiously against the idea. “Go if you must, Diti, but Diya should be here with me till you settle down; and I am not giving you a choice,“ she said. “Mother, you cannot always tell me what to do,“ argued an exasperated Diti, “You have never trusted me enough to believe that I could live alone and raise a child on my own. I can, and I will,” she said before storming out.

“I may not have been the best mother to her,” rued Diya’s grandmother. “After all she was only 10 when her father abandoned us. She chose to adopt Diya when she was only 25 and has been fiercely protective of her. I may have been wrong to doubt her potential. After all she is my daughter, and she is as brave as I was at her age, if not more.” The dark clouds that loomed over her heart cleared as this realization dawned.

Outside it had started raining heavily. She looked out of the window and saw Diti chasing Diya playfully in the rain. As their laughter filled the garden, Diti’s mother smiled to herself. Confident her little daughter could take care of herself and her daughter, no matter where they lived.

Haridwar trip (June 2017)

After months of planning, we finally decided to take our mothers on a holiday. My roommate and I chose a place close to Delhi so that it would not be too hectic for our mothers. It was a short four-day trip at the end of which we got back to the daily grind. 

Day 1: We took an early morning train and reached Haridwar around 12.30 pm. The main ghat at Haridwar was 1.5 miles from the railway station. Our hotel was mid-way. We had booked via Booking.com and our stay at the hotel was a good one. We checked in and freshened up. Then we had lunch and decided to rest before going out in the evening to see the Ganga aarti. Around 6 in the evening, we walked down towards the ghat. Haridwar is a small town with narrow alleys and shops on either side. Since it was an extended weekend, the place was teeming. We braved the crowds and reached the ghat. The ghat, Har ki Pauri, is a major attraction in Haridwar. By the time we reached it was full of people. Almost a hundred thousand were already there before us to witness the aarti. 

Har ki Pauri Ghat

As the sun set in horizon, the temple priests began to chant mantras and waved the tall oil lamps over the river.  

Ganga aarti at Har ki Pauri ghat

The fire reflected on the moving water and created a spectacular scene. One does not have to be a devout person to be present there. The sheer joy of witnessing something as beautiful as this. 

At the end of the ritual, we returned to the hotel. Being tired after the early morning journey, we retired early. The next day we planned to visit Rishikesh (Laxman jhula and Ram jhula). 

Day 2: Note to self- never travel during extended weekends and peak holiday season. So the next day started a little late. Around 11 am, we booked a cab and started our journey. The distance between Haridwar and Rishikesh is around 12 miles (20km). The journey took around two hours, mainly because there was a lot of traffic and also we stopped at several places  for sightseeing (mainly temples). At Rishikesh, accompanied by a guide, we crossed the Laxman jhula, an iron suspension bridge, hanging over the Ganga. Rishikesh is a popular destination for rafting and we saw several signboards on the way willing to take you on such an experience. According to legends, Laxman, brother of Ram, crossed over the river at this point using jute ropes. This place also boasts of a temple dedicated to Laxman, the only one of its kind in the whole of India. 

Laxman Jhula

Once we crossed over, we took a shared cab to Ram jhula, a short distance away. This bridge is similar to Laxman jhula only bigger, 1.2 miles (2km) upstream. 

Ram Jhula
Even though both the bridges were crowded with tourists, cows, dogs and bikes crossing, the beauty and serenity of the surrounding hills took away all the stress and strain of our hectic work schedules. Next we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and returned to Haridwar by evening. We spent the rest of the evening strolling along the streets and browsing through the shops on either side. 

Day 3: Today we planned to visit the Mansa Devi temple. Having learnt our lesson the previous day, we started early even though the temple was close to our hotel. The temple is located on the top of a hill. The temple is dedicated to Manasa Devi, a form of Shakti. To reach the temple, devotees either have to trek or can take the rope way service. From the rope way, one can get a bird’s eye view of the entire town and the river. 


Soon we reached the temple and found several long queues and utter mayhem. All to offer prayers and receive blessings. We, too, got in the line amidst intense jostling. Everyone scrambled and pushed and nudged, trying to get a glimpse of the idol. After half an hour of fight, we emerged victorious. We managed to get a glimpse of the deity and did not lose our belongings. A second rope way ride brought us down to the town. Then we walked back to our hotel where we quickly changed and went to a small ghat behind the hotel to bathe in the Ganga. The water was cold and refreshing. A welcome respite from the summer heat. Day 3 also being our last day in Haridwar, we dedicated the evening to shopping. Buying little knickknacks to gift people back home.

Day 4: Early in the morning, we bid goodbye to the little town we came to like despite the crowd and heat. Hoping to be back again soon, we braced ourselves to plunge into the work that awaited us. 

New Life, Old Role

It’s been nine months since we got married. It’s been nine months since I last saw you, touched you, felt you. Had it not been for technology I would have gone crazy by now. You know it as well as I do.

It took us ten long years to get married (I am glad we did). I don’t know how much longer it will take for us to finally be together. Every time I feel ‘this is it, now is the time for us’, I am proved wrong and once again we are back in the long-distance relationship that we had been in for so long. Even after getting married life has not changed much for us. You live in one continent and I on another. We live in different time zones. When you wake up and begin your day, I am going to bed after a long and tiring day. We don’t do things together. We don’t get to go out on dates. We live alone, away from family for the sake of furthering our career, for our future. Life has not changed much for either of us.

I always said that I am not a long-distance person and you always said that you are not very comfortable communicating over technology. But look where we are today. I can handle a long-distance relationship and you do your best to keep us alive over technology, be it voice calls or video calls. We have both grown so much but never apart. So much effort to keep our love alive. It’s not like we don’t have the occasional tiffs and angry outbursts when we don’t talk for days. But in the end, we always make up and laugh together at our silliness. It’s totally worth it.

I still remember the first time I saw you. It is a story I love to tell everyone. We were both only eighteen. Just completed school. You came from an all-boys school while I from an all-girls school. Neither of us had much experience interacting with the opposite gender except for siblings and cousins (which doesn’t count). Friends, best friends, lovers, and now spouse. We have come a long way. I am glad our friendship still exists. You are the first and only person I turn to in times of sorrow and joy. You have always been my strength, my support, my light-in-the-dark, my knight-in-shining-armour.

I hope we stay like this forever (not long-distance though).

Our trip to McLeodganj

October 2014: It was time. I boarded the flight to New Delhi from where I would begin my journey to McLeodganj with new friends. I was very excited and had started packing weeks ago. Once, twice, thrice…I lost count of the number of times I packed and unpacked my luggage. Tried on my clothes several times and kept replacing one apparel for another. I could hardly make up my mind.

Once I landed in Delhi, I met up briefly with my brother and his fiancé (now wife) who were on their way to Kolkata. Though I was happy to see them, I could not wait to meet up with my friends. I took the metro to Chandi Chowk from where I walked to the Old Delhi Railway Station. My friends asked me to wait at the McDonalds outlet inside the station area. While I waited, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach struggling to get out. I was so excited that I began to feel dizzy. Who doesn’t, when you get to see your boyfriend after three months? I waited impatiently for them to arrive, calling him up every three minutes until he threatened to switch off his cell phone. They soon arrived and greetings were exchanged. I was introduced to a colleague of which who is more than family to us now. Initially we all did take some time to warm up to each other but later it was one crazy family.

We took an overnight train to Pathankot from where we took the toy train. Very soon we realized it was not what it seemed. The train was crowded and we could only manage to get into the guard’s coach. The guard soon asked us to get into a passenger coach. But it was impossible for us. The guard then suggested we get down at Nurpur and take a cab to McLeodganj. That was the best decision ever. We booked a cab, loaded all our luggage and finally began the ascent to McLeodganj. Soon we left the plains and were driving along the mountainous roads. The scenery changed. The houses became fewer and far in-between. With green mountains on either side and the river flowing through them, it was a relaxing sight for the eyes. The peace and quiet of my surroundings calmed my agitated soul and soothed my ears.

The drive to McLeodganj took around two hours. Once we reached the McLeodganj crossroads, the cacophony of the town brought me back to my senses. A precarious flight of stairs led us to our hotel. The hotel looked no different from other hotels in hill stations but the view from the balcony was breath-taking. As far as the eye could see, there were only clouds, green mountains and in the distance, mountains with snowy peaks. We quickly freshened up and ordered lunch. After a big lunch, I was in no position to move. We were all tired and decided to give our bodies some time to recover. The evening descended quickly and we realized there was no way we could go out then. I dreaded the thought of having to take the steep flight of stairs again. Even though, it was our sole mode that connected us to the outside world. The weather was pleasant and we were wearing light woollens to keep us warm. An early dinner and we retired quickly as we planned to start early the following day.

Early morning sun shone through our window and filled the room with light. I opened the door that led to the balcony and saw the sun rise over the Dhauladhar range. A heavy breakfast of Tibetan cuisine and we were ready to take on the world. We walked aimlessly along the roads of the small town. We visited the Namgyal Monastery which also houses the official residence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. We were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama as he left his residence. At the temple complex, lunch was being served to visitors and we decided to take the opportunity. Post lunch, we visited the Tibetan Museum locate within the temple complex. The museum has a collection of Tibetan art, pottery, handicrafts, and art. It also had the history of Tibet documented in the form of pictures.

The next day we set out early to visit the Bhagsu Falls. Located at 2 kms from McLeodganj amidst dreamy scenery and lush green mountains, the waterfall was breathtakingly beautiful. We also visited the Bhagsunath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple, built by King Bhagsu, is at a height of 1770 m above sea level.

After returning from the temple, we decided to visit the church of St John in the Wilderness. A beautiful quaint church in the forest. It was such a picturesque vision. The peace and quiet around the church transported me to another world. The moss-covered graves, tall pine trees, and the fog flowing in and out created an eerie atmosphere but it was not hostile at all. It was something where one could completely lose oneself, lose track of time and be lost in some 19th century countryside. The church left a deep impact on my mind and I want to go back there again and again.

Soon it was time to go back to the grind. As all good things must, so did our wonderful trip. come to an end. We met as strangers and left as family. Till we meet again, memories will keep us going.

You be my judge

As Rabindranath Tagore says,

Aamar bichar tumi karo tabo aapon kore (You judge me as your own)

Diner karmo aaninu tomar bicharghar-e (I bring to you my doings throughout the day)

Jodi puja kori miccha debota-r, shir-e dhori jodi mithya aachar (If I pray to false deities, or if I uphold false traditions)

Jodi paapmon-e kori abichar, kaharo pore, (If I falsely judge someone)

Amar bichar tumi karo, aapon kore (You be judge me as your own)

Lobhe jodi kaar-e diye thaki dukho, bhoye hoye thaki dharmo-bimukh (If greed makes me give pain to others, if fear makes me forget my religion)

Porer piraye peye thaki shukho, khanek tore (If I find pleasure in others pain, even if momentarily)

Tumi je jiban diyecho aamae, kalonko jodi diye thaki taye (This life that you have given me, if I have ever tainted it)

Aponi binash kori aponaye, mohe-r bhore (I be the cause of my destruction, blinded by

Amar bichar tumi karo, aapon kore (You judge me, as your own)

 

This song means a lot to me. As the days go by, I find Tagore’s words increasingly relevant to me, my life, and the world around me.

This song in particular holds deeper meaning for me. The line, bhoye hoye thaki dharmo-bimukh (if fear makes me forget my religion), makes me ask what religion is? It makes me think, is it only Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, or is it something beyond that? Is it something that is bound by scriptures or dialogues? Or is it something to be felt? Something that makes me compassionate to the pain and suffering of others. Something that makes me speak the truth and stand for the truth. Something that has not been painted by saints and prophets and controlled by priests. Truth, compassion and humanity should be my religion. Why would a religion force itself on others? Why can people not choose to follow what their heart says? Why do we have to fear repercussions of speaking the truth?

Diwali

Diwali, the festival of lights, is that time of the year that always gave me mixed feelings. Since my birth, I spent the initial years of my life in a small town in the suburbs with my grandparents. After that I moved to the big city with my parents. As I grew older, responsibilities increased and the frequency of visiting my ancestral home reduced. But Durga pujo was that time of the year when, come what may, I would always be with my grandparents. Durga pujo to Diwali had always been the best time of the year. Diwali always marked the end of festivities, getting back to my regular life, resuming studies and preparing for examinations. I never was a big fan of studying. I remember how excited we would be to buy crackers and how eagerly we would set them out in the sun. There was always a competition as to who had more crackers. The entire family and friends would gather on the terrace as the sun went down, and we would begin our festival of lights. Fairy lights brightening up the entire house, even if only for a day, always had a great impact on my mood.

The intense desire to light up the crackers waned as the years passed. These days I am more content watching people burst crackers from afar. I prefer lighting oil lamps, diyas, around the house.

My first Diwali away from home, I spent with friends who are more than family in an unknown city. We lit diyas and then went up on the terrace. It was beautiful and mesmerizing. The sky was full of stars with fireworks lighting it up every now and then. With my loved one by my side, it was the best Diwali ever.