From the Journals: A Stranger to Travel.

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On the Hanuman Temple Hill, Hosur.

Many, many feet above sea level, the wind whipped my hair. Was it angry that I was cloistered in a closed space all this while, shutting out the world, face buried in a laptop? Or was it just a friendly whack to the back of my head that said it was glad I was finally out in the open? Questions, always so many questions. This need to find an answer to everything – to know for sure – when did it start taking over?

I shook my head and focused on the moment, the here and now. Massive rocks overlooking a sparsely populated landscape hundreds of feet below with patches of glittering green and brown fields… and I was standing on top of the highest one. I was high metaphorically as well – I had just climbed a mountain stacked with sharp, gigantic boulders just to prove to myself that I could. I breathed heavily, but it was a welcome sensation as the invisible chains around my soul came off. Travelling anchors me, but these days, I don’t travel as much. And I feel uncertain, unanchored. A piece of driftwood in a world that constantly pushes one to prove one’s abilities and work more, play more, live more. Live? Really?

The wind whirled around me again. While my cousins were busy taking selfies and swinging from trees, I took a moment to gather my senses. To see if I could reach out and find myself. “Get away from the edge! Don’t be a fool, sit back a little!”, my aunt said, looking at me. “I won’t fall”, I assured her, the wind still whipping my hair. I won’t fall. Into this rigmarole. This pattern of waking up, working, coming home, passing out, managing family expectations, social expectations, not finding time to reorient myself. Not finding the time to travel. To be me. About time I broke this pattern. I need to. I cannot live without hitting the road, driving past paddy fields and waterfalls and fishing boats and islands and processions and waving to strangers on the road guilelessly. I cannot live without driving through lonely forest roads in dark nights on the way to Goa or wondering how I’m going to trek to a monastery two mountains away from the starting point. Without feeling the sand tickle my toes and the water terrifying me. I cannot not travel.

So, I made up my mind and shut out my everyday existence. Took two days off – days that seemed like a lifetime – and went away with the family. I walked, ran, slipped and slid, climbed rocks, sang, bathed in moonlight, got kissed by the sun, lived in the fear of a close encounter with some wild animal, slept like a log, laughed hard, talked, sang, danced… I lived.

And in that moment, as I stood there on that magnificent rock, revelling in the pleasure of feeling anchored again, the wind changed course and made its way through my hair and into the curves of my ear. “Welcome back, stranger”, it whooshed.

I smiled in reply.

Ramadan Specials: A night in the Old City of Hyderabad.

Pink was the colour of the night.

Red was the colour of the night.

It was 3:30 a.m. on a Ramadan morning in Bangalore when my phone buzzed next to my ear, announcing the arrival of a message. Whatsapp, I assumed, knowing fully well that the cousins would be up talking youngster nonsense till Seher time – the appointed hour when Muslims around the world wake up to eat, pray and fall back into a sleepy stupor. I had forgotten to put my phone on Silent mode when I passed out for the night and reached out blindly to amend my mistake before more buzzing could stir me awake.

It was a message from my mother. Just got back after a night of shopping at Charminar, finished Seher at Shadab, it read. She was in Hyderabad, yes, but Charminar at 3:30 in the morning? Impossible. I thought she was pulling a fast one – I fall for her pranks all the time. When I spoke to her the next day, she couldn’t stop gushing about the night – and all the other nights that she went gallivanting around Old City at bizarre hours. Why would you do that? Is it safe?, I asked. The whole world is out shopping till Seher!, she countered. I didn’t believe her.

Now I do, because I ventured out to the Old City three days before Eid and witnessed the mayhem for myself.

Space was at a premium that night.

Space comes at a premium on Ramadan nights around Charminar – you can see it stand silently in the background.

Let’s just say that I’m a parasite in human form, feeding off of the collective energy of excited, supercharged crowds. The Old City – more specifically, the stretch from Madina building to Charminar and beyond – was a hive, with a sea of black engulfing it, buzzing about haphazardly from one roadside shop to another. Open vendor stalls screamed slogans of encouragement for people to buy from them – “Aaiye, aaiye!” – music blared from the other end of the road and the crowd came in waves and carried one along with it. That frenzy! That madness! That salesmanship! That food! That night! So. Much. Fun.

Not your ordinary stroll in the night, this. The shoppers are in a tearing hurry to get the best bargains out of everything.

Not your ordinary stroll in the night, this. The shoppers are in a tearing hurry to get the best bargains out of everything.

Everything was selling at dirt cheap prices. I bought myself a gorgeously embroidered Georgette saree (against my better judgement) for a measly sum of 1800 bucks. Had I chosen to buy it from a showroom, it would have cost me an arm and half a leg. “The demand for store stuff is a lot lesser now, because everybody buys online these days”, one shopkeeper told my Dad, “So we have to make the most of times like these.” Fair enough, I thought, as I looked around and couldn’t stop smiling at the sales pitches being screamed all around me: “Hello Aunty! Only 120!”, “Hyderabad ki shaan, Paidaan!” (Hyderabad’s pride, a doormat – it sounds much funnier in Hyderabadi, believe me), “Loot lo, chaat lo, ghar jaake baat lo!” (Loot it, savour it, go home and share it! Basically meaning that it’s a steal at the price, so you can buy lots and then distribute it amongst the family.) One man – I’ll call him the Harsha Bhogle of Shopping – even had a microphone and conveyed a running commentary of his shoppers’ activities to the entire market. “Yes, yes, that is an absolutely fantastic piece of cloth you have in your hand! Close your eyes and go for it! Look at that lady eyeing your shopping! Quick, pick it up before it’s too late! Oh no, too late!” It was a sensory overload, but the kind I thoroughly enjoy. My parents couldn’t keep up and left by around 12:30 a.m. The cousins and I continued enthusiastically, but exhaustion washed over us by 2:30 in the morning. It was time to replenish ourselves with some food and water.

Men standing around on elevated platforms, trying out Burqas and screaming, "100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100..." is a common sight. To the loudest salesman go the spoils.

Men standing around on elevated platforms, trying out Burqas and screaming, “100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100…” is a common sight. To the loudest salesman go the spoils.

Even the eateries were crowded. The stalls that we managed to locate were tucked away in a corner and surrounded – again – by droves of people. My camera bag came pretty handy in making some space for us, so we could belt Mysore Bajjis, Boti Shorba, Sheermal and Gosh ke kabab. Delicious and thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you ignored how the plates were washed or the food was made. (None of us fell sick, so not so bad after all.) As we feasted, an ominous voice blared authoritatively over the loud speakers: ‘Please close your stalls by 3 a.m. The area needs to be washed and cleaned for Friday prayers.” The announcement only served to put the crowd on Charlie Chaplin movie mode. That was our cue to exit.

Boti Shorba - a curry made out of spare parts of goats. And by that, I mean things like intestines and stomach and other disgusting things. Boti is considered to be a delicacy among most non-vegetarians.

Boti Shorba – a curry made out of spare parts of goats. And by that, I mean things like intestines and stomach and other disgusting things. Boti is considered to be a delicacy among most non-vegetarians.

Our next hurdle was finding an auto. There was barely space for people to move – autos didn’t stand an atom of a chance. We had to walk to Qilwath, the clock tower near Charminar. The route took us through Laad Bazaar, the infamous bangle shopping lane. Everywhere my eyes rested, they encountered shimmering surfaces and glazed reflections that were occasionally blocked by a bunch of moving, bargaining Burqas.

Who knew even combs could be made to look attractive?

Who knew even hair combs could be made to look attractive?

It wasn’t all glitter and happiness, though. A keychain maker by the roadside, who made etchings on two inch-long glass bottles and sold them at the base of Charminar, counted his night’s earnings as closing time approached. “So much hard work and only 60 rupees to show for it”, he sighed. There was despair and bone-deep exhaustion in his voice. Maybe he would drink it all up. Maybe he would fast and pray for more. There’s no way of knowing.

Waiting for customers to come along minutes before closing time.

Waiting for customers to come along and help him earn some more money minutes before closing time, just like the keychain maker.

What I did know was this, as an auto finally agreed to whisk us home: the sea of living, breathing eagerness and anticipation and excitement for new clothes and hairclips and shoes and bangles and Sherwanis and kurtas and Chadaavi jootas would eventually snap the keychain maker out of his reality. Tomorrow, he would come back. Tomorrow, he would work the same way and wish for more. Tomorrow, he would feel alive and live to celebrate another day of Ramadan in one of the oldest parts of Hyderabad. The crowd’s joy would be his. Their excitement about Eid would be his own – and hopefully, their money too.

Proof that the Old City was a parallel universe - the roads just outside of the radius of Charminar were deserted while the chaos was all around it.

Proof that the Old City was a parallel universe – the roads just outside of the radius of Charminar were deserted while the chaos was all around it.

Getting there: Old City is easily accessible by road up to Madina Building. Be prepared for a massive traffic jam if you’re going during Ramadan.

Go if: You love crowds, bling, bargains, street food and don’t mind staying up all night to see a phenomenon that comes around once a year.

P.S: Another sporadic break of more than three months in blogging – but all for good reason, I assure you. A fair amount of travelling has happened, so be prepared for a string of posts on the blog. Until then, thank you for sticking around and waiting for Potli Baba’s next adventure.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Utah’s barren-land blooms.

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Badland Blooms, Utah. Image via BoredPanda.

Blistering heat, parched throats, Fata Morganas – the cliches of a desert are quite familiar to everyone. Utah’s desert life, however, shatters the stereotype one short-lived colourful bloom at a time.

During Spring, the arid, magnificent landscape bursts into a blanket of colour as sprigs break out of the dry soil to drink in the moisture, come to life, breed through a quickie and wilt away.

The whole process is pretty short-lived, apparently, and a lot like lasting love – the conditions have to be just right for the phenomena to happen, and everyone may not have the good fortune of experiencing it in a lifetime. The lucky few (thank goodness they were photographers) have captured it for the vicarious pleasures of us less-fortunate – if we can’t see it, we can at least live it through the images.

Via Bored Panda. Read the full article here.

Picture via Bored Panda, who curated it with help from LostatEMinor.

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What is Down the Rabbit Hole?

Remember Alice? And how she went slip-sliding down an innocent-looking burrow? And how she emerged into this fantastic, unbelievable world on the other side – one she never thought existed? Well, Potli Baba will go down a special rabbit hole from time to time and stumble upon strange, fascinating worlds that have been recorded for posterity by those brave enough to venture into them. Simply put, Potli Baba is going to curate interesting and marvellous articles, stories and photo essays from the Internet and bring them to you as a series (complete with gift-wrap and ribbon) on the blog. Just for your reading pleasure.

From the Journals: For the first time.

*‘From the Journals’ is a new series of posts on Adventures of Potli Baba that features the experiences, observations and gamut of emotions that stay with me long after my journey is complete.*

***

It was 11 p.m. An icy wind came roaring from the snow-capped Himalayas and knocked against the windows of my room. I didn’t pay much attention; my mind was on next day’s drive to Khardung-La, the world’s highest motorable road. In six hours, I would be 18,400 feet above sea level and living a childhood dream.

***

The road to Khardung-La is quite treacherous – melted snow forms a sheath of slush on the narrow mud roads, giving them the appearance of chocolate gelato gone wrong. With jagged mountains on one side and a sheer drop on the other, our 4X4 struggles to stay on the slippery roads. I’m torn between praying for life, keeping my eyes peeled on the road and catching a glimpse of the magnificent Leh valley below us – a palette of blues, greens and browns dotted with compact, boxy homes.

As we inch our way upwards, the landscape gradually changes from plain rock to snow-streaked sections with icicles hanging over the road’s edge. I grow impatient, wanting to leap out and touch the snow. Minutes later, the 4X4 comes to a halt at the top of Khardung-La and my wish is granted. “You guys are lucky”, our driver says, “It snowed just a few hours ago.”

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My pink down jacket is the only spot of colour in a blanket of white. (Well, that and cars full of tourists, but my sensory overdrive blocks out everything except the snow.) I quell my excitement and slowly, almost nonchalantly, walk towards the nearest pile – it would be easy to blame my high-pitched bursts of excitement on the lack of oxygen at that level, but years of conditioning have taught me to behave lady-like amidst strangers. My fast-freezing fingers pick up a handful and I blink my eyes rapidly in an attempt to stop my brain from reacting to the icy cold of the snow, but the sensation of holding thousands of shimmering diamonds stays. It’s the first time I have ever seen or touched snow; the experience is unreal.

I feel its coolness against my palm seconds before it starts to turn to liquid. My mouth savours the feather-like kisses of the fresher flakes before they melt on my tongue. They taste of Bollywood song sequences and snow angels and ice skating in faraway places that I have only been to in my head. More than anything, they taste of a 10-year old girl’s dream to see snow someday.

A smile of pure delight bursts from somewhere deep inside me, and I become that 10-year old again.

***

I sat sipping a cup of steaming Ginger-Lemon tea from the army canteen at Khardung-La and drank in the sight of snow. My eyes moved rapidly over every bit of the white landscape, etching an image in my mind for posterity. I couldn’t stop smiling and thought, this moment can’t get any more perfect.

It did, though.

It started snowing again.

May this year be absolutely magical for you.

According to the Zen Master Dōgen Zenji, there are 6,400,099,980 moments in a day. My wish for you is that you feel alive in every one of those moments, every day. May you breathe deeply, laugh, love, discover more within and around you. May you take risks, go with the flow, be rewarded for your leaps of faith. My wish for you is that you live with abundance and create an unforgettable journey that spans 365 glorious, magical days.

Happy Fresh Starts to you, my friend.

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A day at Chowmahalla Palace and Qutub Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

Grumpy duck, Chowmahalla Palace.

Grumpy duck seeking cover under a fountain, Chowmahalla Palace.

No matter how much I love the city or how hard I try to capture its flavours in one single post, Hyderabad is flat-out refusing to be captured by my words. So, here it is, another itty-bitty snippet on the home of the Nizams.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

Chowmahalla Palace – middle name, Grandeur
An unexpected delight and an architectural jewel of the history of Hyderabad, Chowmahalla Palace is tucked away in the most unassuming corner of the back roads leading away (or to, depending on how you see it) from Charminar. Despite having spent every summer of my growing-up years holidaying in Hyderabad, I heard of Chowmahalla Palace for the first time a couple of months ago. And of course, because I hadn’t heard of it before, I was itching to go.

The ceiling of the main durbar area.

The elaborate ceiling of the main Durbar area.

The place didn’t disappoint. Chowmahalla Palace is like the Inception of palaces – four palaces within a palace. Each more beautifully crafted than the other, with intricate ceilings heavy with spectacular chandeliers stretching towards the ground. And like that isn’t breathtaking enough, every palace is a museum bursting with relics of the Nizam’s reign – photographs that have been framed with great care, an opulent grandfather clock from a neighbouring king, cutlery and chinaware, furniture, clothes, weapons and the most well-maintained vintage cars I have seen in a while.

The Durbar - made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The Durbar – made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The best part about visiting the Chowmahalla is that even on the busiest days, it isn’t bustling with hordes of people. It’s like a well-kept secret among locals, a slice of the past that the tourists haven’t been able to get their hands on, making the pleasure of experiencing the palace more than a tick mark on a checklist of must-see places in a city.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Another place, of course, is the Qutub Shahi tombs. Less popular with the tourists and a better-known retreat for the locals, it hasn’t changed one bit since my teenage years spent exploring the tombs and climbing stairways that were blocked by lush bramble.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the enamel work in the facade near the dome. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the colourful Enamel work on the facade. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

Qutub Shahi tombs – where there’s beauty in death
The only thing that doesn’t make the approach to the Qutub Shahi tombs nondescript is the tourist shuttles standing outside the gates of the tomb park. Once you walk through the gates, though, it’s an entirely different story. Tombs of varying shapes and sizes dominate the area, reflecting the Persian, Pashtun and Hindu forms of architecture that they are based on. The kings of the Qutub Shah dynasty – including next-of-kin and important commanders – are buried here. The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah offers a pretty decent view of the Golconda Fort, located about a kilometre or so away from the tombs.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways. So is my set of photographs! There's something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and having someone walk through it.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways, and so is my set of photographs! There’s something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and capturing someone walk through it.

Every tomb has a story behind it, not just about the person/people buried under it, but also the architecture itself. The bigger the king, the grander the structure and the inscriptions on the walls. Excavation of the Badi Bowli – the Big Well – was underway when I went there. From what I could see behind the sealed-off area, it resembled the step wells of Gujarat. It should be open to visitors soon enough.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

As with all places of death, Qutub Shahi tombs is quiet, serene and somehow, more beautiful. There are the occasional light and sound shows that are held on premise, but otherwise the place shuts down after dusk – and for good reason too. Imagine moving around the place in darkness, with at least two dozen dead bodies that are at least four centuries old for company!

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

Since the better part of the day was spent roaming the Chowmahalla Palace, I couldn’t spend as much time at the tombs as I wanted to. I did leave with an imprint of a gorgeous sunset on my mind – and my camera – though.

Maybe the next post I write about the elusive city of Hyderabad, I’ll be able to add more to my exploration of it and of the other places that are waiting to be rediscovered.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

Getting there: Hyderabad is easily accessible by road, air and train. I would strongly recommend driving down because the route is picturesque and the roads, beautiful.

Go if: You love food, history, architecture, attention to detail and a little bling.

P.S: Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that Potli Baba was off the radar for a good two months (or more). We are back now, though, and hopefully will be more regular in posting here! Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who hung around, waited patiently for posts to appear and even reminded me to get back. Sending much love and gratefulness your way.

Snapshots from Nepal: Part Two.

The story so far: Nepal welcomed us with open arms but bad roads, and we made it through Kakarbhitta – Chaubis – Janakpuri – Kathmandu without much incident. It was quite an adventure, hanging on to life as we scaled 45-degree mountain inclines and rode down just as bad descents, with scenic views for company. This post covers the rest of the ride, and the crazy situations I found myself in. To read part one of the Nepal trip, click here.

The road to Kathmandu was a preview of the routes we were yet to cover across Nepal. My tail bone refused to cooperate with my urge to sit down on a soft surface after the ride to the China border; a duck kept me company as I walked in the rain to stretch my legs before getting on the bike again – it waddled alongside making cutesy noises and pecking at unsuspecting people; in Pokhara, we were so bushed with all our previous days that none of us managed to indulge in adventure sports – not even hang gliding; Tatopani was the dream destination with a nightmarish ride to reach it; and Lumbini was sort of alright. When I wasn’t hanging onto dear life or bending over to stretch my back, I was shooting pictures such as these:

Dawn at Dhulikhel, the highest region in Nepal. Couldn't catch a glimpse of the Annapurna range, but we did have the clouds brush past us at our home stay.

Dawn at Dhulikhel, the highest region in Nepal. Couldn’t catch a glimpse of the Annapurna range, but we did have the clouds brush past us at our home stay.

 

Bikers watching as the home stay owners of our halt at Dhulikhel took the bikes down a treacherous road.

Bikers watching as the home stay owners of our halt at Dhulikhel took the bikes down a treacherous road.

 

One of the bumpiest - and most painful - rides I have ever had was to the Chinese border from Dhulikhel, but the payoff was worth it. China looms on the other side of the gate, with planned infrastructure even on the hills!

One of the bumpiest – and most painful – rides I have ever had was to the Chinese border from Dhulikhel, but the payoff was worth it. China looms on the other side of the gate, with planned infrastructure even on themountains!

 

The Waddling Duck. Some day, when the duck dies and goes to Domestic Bird Heaven and meets the rooster that chased me in the Trongsa Dzong, they’re going to have such a good laugh about the woman who was a total sucker.

 

Pine-scented roadways, Nagarkot. The place is very similar to Kodaikanal in its beauty. The nights are especially stunning, with 360-views of a star-lit sky.

Pine-scented roadways, Nagarkot. The place is very similar to Kodaikanal in its beauty. The nights are especially stunning, with 360-views of a star-lit sky.

 

Hotel at the End of the Universe. Inspired by Douglas Adams, methinks. And certainly comes close to Douglas's imagination.

Hotel at the End of the Universe, Nagarkot. Inspired by Douglas Adams, methinks. And certainly comes close to Douglas’s imagination.

 

Two boys and a commentary. At the main square of Bhaktapur Darbar square, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Two boys and a conspiracy. At the main square of Bhaktapur Darbar square, a UNESCO world heritage site. Bhaktapur appears larger than Patan Darbar Square, and is more architecturally versatile. As you go deeper into the square, it appears as if time has frozen – the locals still create pottery, embroidered murals and singing bowls, pretty ancient arts.

 

Stone carvings at one of the many temples found in Bhaktapur Darbar Square.

Stone carvings at one of the many temples found in Bhaktapur Darbar Square.

 

Wheat growing in fields on the way to Pokhara.

Wheat growing in fields on the way to Pokhara. The crop can be found growing across most of Nepal. When we went, most of the wheat in the fields was ripe and ready for harvest, so all we saw were fields of swaying Gold everywhere.

 

The road to Tatopani. When we returned from Nagarkot, we halted for the night at Pokhara, leaving behind more than half our luggage because we were going to return to the place and stay for two days. Our next adventure was Tatopani, and from there onwards to Muktinath. I loved Tatopani so much that I stayed back while the rest of the gang rode up to Muktinath. This was the second toughest route to navigate on the entire trip.

The road to Tatopani. When we returned from Nagarkot, we halted for the night at Pokhara, leaving behind more than half our luggage because we were going to return to the place and stay for two days. Our next adventure was Tatopani, and from there onwards to Muktinath. I loved Tatopani so much that I stayed back while the rest of the gang rode up to Muktinath. This was the second toughest route to navigate on the entire trip.

 

A glimpse of the snow-capped Annapurna range, Tatopani.

A glimpse of the snow-capped Annapurna range, Tatopani.

 

The view from our hotel at Tatopani. Off the screen to the right are the hot springs that give Tatopani its name. There are several such hot springs across Nepal. The water is rich in Sulphur and supposedly curative. When I drank a cupful, the taste was pretty metallic.

The view from our hotel at Tatopani. Off the screen to the right are the hot springs that give Tatopani its name. There are several such hot springs across Nepal. The water is rich in Sulphur and supposedly curative. When I drank a cupful, the taste was pretty metallic. P.S: Who can spot the blue truck?

 

The Thakali Thali. One of the highlights of the ride was the standard vegetarian thali one can find across Nepal. The daal is particularly delicious, with a special herb locally called Jimbu adding loads of unique flavour to it. The herb is pretty expensive and is usually imported from Tibet. The rest of the components of the thali are pickled radishes, local greens, a dry dish made with legumes, tomato chutney and potato-bean sabzi.

The Thakali Thali. One of the highlights of the ride was the standard vegetarian thali one can find across Nepal. The daal is particularly delicious, with a special herb locally called Jimbu adding loads of unique flavour to it. The herb is pretty expensive and is usually imported from Tibet. The rest of the components of the thali (from lower right) are tomato chutney, pickled radishes, a dry dish made with local pulses, local greens and potato-beans sabzi.

 

Visiting Devi's Fall at Pokhara.

Visiting Devi’s Fall at Pokhara. Pokhara has many interesting places to visit. The Gupteshwar Caves are stunning, but make for really bad photography. There’s also the Mountaineering Museum which I heard is fabulous, but didn’t manage to go to because we got stranded in the rain.

 

This wishing well is pretty rich - by Nepali standards at least. At Devi's Fall, Pokhara.

This wishing well at Devi’s Fall is pretty rich – by Nepali standards at least. 

 

A night out in Pokhara, listening to a local band doing covers of the oldies.

A night out in Pokhara, listening to a local band doing covers of the oldies.

 

Chitwan, our destination after three days in Pokhara. The Chitwan Wildlife Sanctuary is pretty famous for its wildlife, but the entry is also quite expensive. We could only afford to go to the Elephant Breeding Centre. This was the scenic approach to the rows and rows of open enclosures for the elephants and their babies.

Chitwan, our destination after three days in Pokhara. The Chitwan Wildlife Sanctuary is pretty famous for its wildlife, but the entry is also quite expensive. We could only afford to go to the Elephant Breeding Centre. This was the scenic approach to the rows and rows of open enclosures for the elephants and their babies.

 

Lumbini, the last stop in Nepal before we headed back into India via Basti, UP. The ruins of Lumbini Palace are cocooned within this monstrosity of a structure and totally killed my desire to walk in. Based on the reports from those who did venture in, I didn't miss much. It was exciting, though, to be at the birthplace of Buddha.

Lumbini, the last stop in Nepal before we headed back into India via Basti, UP. The ruins of Lumbini Palace are cocooned within this… this structure that totally killed my desire to walk in. Based on the reports from those who did venture in, I didn’t miss much. It was exciting, though, to be at the birthplace of Buddha.

 

QUICK NOTES

Currency:

1 Indian Rupee = 1.6 Nepali Rupee. Which means that you’ll feel richer in Nepal. Possibly also one of the reasons why a lot of Indian families holiday there. Unlike Bhutan, people here don’t go crazy behind the Indian rupee. Oh, and 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted in most places because of fraud.

Food:

Sekuwa – smoked meat – is widely available and is apparently pretty delicious. It’s an acquired taste for some. Vegetarian food is widely available – the Thakali thali, especially, is available everywhere. Chicken and beef are most common. You’ll find a lot of Chinese and Indian cuisine everywhere, but places that serve authentic Nepali food are a little hard to find.

Accomodation:

Varies from basic to luxurious. Water and electricity are a problem, so carry a torch with you. Most rooms are well-maintained, with western bathrooms and water heaters, toilet rolls and towels.

Weather:

It was pretty hot when we rode into Nepal, but after that it was raining throughout. The weather is mostly pleasant, and bearably cold in the higher regions. I carried six pairs of jeans and plenty of tees. I used floaters for local sightseeing, but for treks and the ride itself, I wore hiking shoes. Carry rain covers for your luggage.

Vegetation:

Sparse. Most of it is cultivated land, with a decent amount of greenery on the mountains. The historical monuments are note-worthy, with quite a few world heritage sites in the country.

Wildlife:

Not sure, really, because I spotted nothing – no birds, no animals, and definitely no yetis.

The road travelled. Less or more is entirely up to you.

The road travelled. Less or more is entirely up to you.

Getting there: Delhi is the most conveniently connected metro to direct flights to Pokhara and Kathmandu. You can also fly to Bagdogra and ride from there.

Go if: You want to indulge in plenty of adventure sports.

Ramadan Specials: Iftaar at Charminar.

A view of Charminar from the gates of Osmania Hospital.

A view of Charminar from the gates of Nizamia Hospital.

Eid has come and gone already, and I know this post is way behind time – but it’s less than a week since Ramadan ended, so I can be forgiven. I think.

This year, I had the good fortune of being in Hyderabad during Ramadan. Eager to explore what the city of Nizams had to offer in terms of food and colour, I dragged a friend to Charminar for Iftaar – the opening of fast – one evening. And Boy Oh Boy, the joie de vivre there is entirely different from Bangalore.

Jumma Masjid near Charminar, moments before the siren went off.

Jumma Masjid near Charminar, moments before the siren went off.

For starters, the place is so packed that you can’t move an inch without elbowing someone or stamping the odd toe. The approach to Charminar comes with its usual bustle – people hawking hairbands and miscellaneous accessories, while Hyderabadi bikers and car drivers zig-zag across roads like drunk crabs out of water (there’s a popular saying among seasoned drivers, actually – if you can drive in Hyderabad, you can drive anywhere in the world). Once you get closer to Charminar, though, it’s a different story. The centuries-old structure stands guard to the crazy frenzy of mankind. It’s as if thousands of years ago, Time decided to stroll through the streets, came across Charminar and was so taken by its majesty that it completely forgot to move on.

Jumma Masjid after the dusk prayers.

Jumma Masjid after the dusk prayers.

There are tons of shops and stalls and carts with fruits everywhere, but there’s a certain order in the chaos. The roads were so full of burqa-clad women and men in white skull caps that it appeared as if the traffic was stuck in a black and white maze, trying to find a path that would lead to the finish.

Q: Why did the vendors wait patiently for customers? A: Because they knew that their patience would bear fruit. (Yeah, I know. Bad one.)

Q: Why did the vendors wait patiently for customers?
A: Because they knew that their patience would bear fruit. (Yeah, I know. Bad one.)

My friend and I reached at the right time – the siren went off just as we parked the car. Rather than stopping to open their fast, we saw people fly into an even greater frenzy. There were at least 60 fruit carts lined up on one side of Charminar – it gave me a serious complex as a Bangalorean. During Iftaar, us Bangaloreans leap for the nearest fried goodies we can lay our hands on and stuff it down our throats, followed by copious amounts of meat and rice and juices. In Hyderabad, everyone ran for the fruit carts. The carts outnumbered sellers of samosas and fried meats by 60:2 – I kid you not. (Yeah, we found just two non-fruit selling stalls. And they stuck out like sore thumbs.)

 

Dahi Vadas in all their splendour. Please do not miss the deep-fried chillies sticking upright as a garnish!

Dahi Vadas in all their splendour. Please do not miss the deep-fried chillies sticking upright as a garnish!

 

Sesame-crusted Fried Chicken. Superbly marinated in spices and lip-smackingly delicious.

Sesame-crusted Fried Chicken. Superbly marinated in spices and lip-smackingly delicious.

 

Pickle in their blood: Hyderabadis are crazy about pickles. The old city especially is known for its variety of pickles. The most remarkable is the Tarkari ka Achaar - pickled vegetables in a base of raw tamarind paste and spices.

Hyderabadis are crazy about pickles. The old city especially is known for its variety of pickles. The most remarkable is the Tarkari ka Achaar – pickled vegetables in a base of raw tamarind paste and spices.

Hyderabadis have a wicked sense of humour – at least the ones on the old city side. Most of them are charmingly incorrigible, I would say. The salesmen are especially glib, ready with retorts to any queries or conversations you may have with them. While I tried all sorts of weird squats to capture Charminar from different angles, the fruit vendors around me kept nudging each other and giggling, addressing me as aapa – elder sister. Completely unnecessary, considering 98% of them were ancient compared to me! “Kya aapa, konse newspaper ke vaaste hai ye? Arrey photo lere bhai, aake thairo yaan, thoda pose-an maaro!” (So, elder sister, which newspaper is this for? Hey, she’s taking photographs, come and stand here and give her some poses!”) By the end of the night, their glibness had resulted in clearly visible embarrassment on my cheeks that matched the colour of the pomegranates on sale.

Salesmen in Hyderabad don't have the least qualms in draping sarees and showing them off to customers. This young chap here beckoned me over to his shop and asked me to take a picture. "Maidum", said his companion sitting off-camera, "Don't take his face, you won't be able to see anything in print. Or just do some Photoshop on him, make him fairer." He grinned as I looked at him with bulging eyes, then at the saree-clad man. He just grinned too and posed some more for my camera.

Salesmen in Hyderabad don’t have the least qualms in draping sarees and showing them off to customers. This young chap here beckoned me over to his shop and asked me to take a picture. “Maidum”, said his companion sitting off-camera, “Don’t take his face, you won’t be able to see anything in print. Or just do some Photoshop on him, make him fairer.” He grinned as I looked at him with bulging eyes, then at the saree-clad man. He just grinned too and posed some more for my camera.

Once we were done sampling the food, my friend and I decided to move towards Laad Bazaar – another lane branching off from Charminar, home to endless shops selling bangles of all kinds. Walking into the lane is like stepping onto the red carpet – the hide and seek of sparkles from shiny, glittering bangles emulating a million flashbulbs going off. There’s glitter everywhere, making one feel like one’s entered some sort of fairyland. And the bangles? Oh. My. God. Lac bangles with engravings, traditional sona glass bangles worn by brides, the bridal joda, thick bangles studded with shiny stones – the variety is mind-numbing.

Laad Bazaar at Charminar.

Laad Bazaar at Charminar.

 

Shimmer, sparkle, glitter - the bangles of Laad Bazaar.

Shimmer, sparkle, glitter – the bangles of Laad Bazaar.

 

Traditional Sona - delicate glass bangles worn by women with thick stone-studded bangles. A bridal trousseau is incomplete without them.

Traditional Sona – delicate glass bangles worn by women with thick stone-studded bangles. A bridal trousseau is incomplete without them.

As I saw people walk around the food stalls and women walk into the stores and whip out dresses/sarees to match colours of the bangles to their Eid clothes, I was taken back to my summer holidays many moons ago. Every one of my vacations was spent in Hyderabad – fearlessly exploring the tombs, climbing up to Charminar, shopping for weddings of aunts and cousins at Laad Bazar,  and earnestly hoping that this part of Hyderabad would always stand still despite time and preserve all its magic. That there would always be that energy, that shimmer, that madness that can only be associated with this particular part of the world. Imagine my surprise and joy when I went back this time to the comforting knowledge that the pollution levels may have gone up, inflation may have taken a toll, people may have grown more impatient, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed still: the magic.

Gateway into present-day living from the old city.

Gateway into present-day living from the old city.

Getting there: Charminar isn’t hard to access, but it’s super-difficult to find parking space around here. I would recommend taking an auto or a cab here and going back home the same way.

Go if: You love experiencing moments of magic. And food. And life.