Snapshots from Nepal: Part One.

Since Nepal is known for being a 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna' destination, it seemed fitting to make this the opening shot for my posts on Nepal. This is the entire country in a single frame. The woman, however, is smoking a regular cigarette.

And the worries of her age go up in wisps of smoke. A local woman en route Kodari, from where the Chinese border is visible.

Nepal… Hmm, I’m really not sure where to begin. I can never separate the journey from the place on any of my travels. Nepal, however, broke the monotony. I am able to clearly distinguish between the journey through Nepal and the country itself – bizarre as it may sound. The reason’s quite simple – my 2000-plus kilometre ride delivered on the promise of adventure and adrenalin rush more than the place itself did.

Don’t get me wrong – the land of Gurkhas is stunningly picturesque in bits and pieces, but the first and most recurrent word on my holiday was not ‘stunning’, or ‘picturesque’, ‘beautiful’ or other similar adjectives. It was ‘impoverished’. It was the first thing I noticed on crossing the border at Kakarbhitta, and continued to notice throughout the ride – throngs of disabled people, an average quality of life, scarcity of water, power shortage, almost non-existent infrastructure… the works. If the country has any riches, I didn’t see any evidence of it. Not even in Kathmandu or Pokhara. I guess that’s the downside of riding through a country or visiting parts of it that do not have the ‘Tourist’ tag attached to them – you discover the reality behind the image portrayed to the world.

Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.

Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.

So that’s that about the place. Now about the ride… well, I have one word for it too: crazy. 80% of our journey was an off-road one, riding up steep hills, through parched river beds dotted with parched lands, surfaces covered with inches and inches of mud, slush and boulders. I am happy to say that my spine is fine and my butt isn’t in a rut. It was my first off-roading experience, but enough to last a lifetime – I have sworn off off-roading (for the time being at least). And this time, I didn’t fall off the bike even once or get chased by formidable roosters.

That’s about all I have to say about Nepal. I’ll let the pictures and videos work the rest of the magic. Since a lot of the riding was tricky, I shot a lot with my Moto G phone as well. You’ll know the difference. (Or not, because my phone camera is pretty good too.)

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Rest stop, on the way from Siliguri to Kakarbhitta.

 

At Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. in the evening. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.

And then there was light. Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. from the first floor of our resort. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.

 

A wandering minstrel, Chaubis. The instrument is a type of Sarangi, but what I find most fascinating is the way the sound box is shaped – like a shoe. Imagine this music playing to the thunder and lightning show that the weather at Chaubis put up for us that evening.

At the Janakpuri temple, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita's version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.

A lesson in mythology at the Janaki temple, Janakpuri, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita’s version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.

 

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Sita’s home – Janaki Temple, Janakpuri. The temple, like the town, gets its name from Sita – known in these parts as Janaki. Not surprisingly, a majority of the visitors are women, most of them hanging around the inner sanctum of the temple, chatting, gossiping and exchanging stories.

 

Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.

Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.

 

Smooth tarred roads, the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.

Serpentine roads, en route Kathmandu. Smooth tarred roads on the way to Kathmandu – the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.

 

How to lose weight while riding. En route Kathmandu. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Nepal doesn’t really have too many tarred roads.

 

A glimpse of the architecture at the Jal Narayan Temple. The Jal Narayan - a solid-gold god asleep as he rests on serpents in the middle of water - is a remarkable example of craftsmanship, but wasn't allowed to be photographed.

Repairing the time tear, Jal Narayan Temple, Kathmandu. Restrorations at the Jal Narayan temple. The Jal Narayan – a solid-marble god asleep on serpents in the middle of water – is a remarkable example of craftsmanship. Couldn’t photograph it, though.

 

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn't be photographed for two reasons - one, it's not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.

No entry. Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn’t be photographed for two reasons – one, it’s not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.

 

Prayer lamps on display at Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I'm in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.

Arranged prayers, Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I’m in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.

 

Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old an is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together.  This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.

Majestic no more. Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old and is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together. This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature, what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.

 

Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Pokhara.

Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Kathmandu.

We spent a couple of days in Kathmandu and rode on to the highest point in Nepal, the Chinese border and a hotel at the end of the universe. I had a duck for company (what is it with me and birds??) and two snow-capped days in the lap of the Annapurna range. That, however, is for another post. This should whet your appetite enough for you to look forward to Part Two!

Down the Rabbit Hole: 10 Italian villages for the perfect summer getaway.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. Picture via Huffington Post/Minube.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. Picture via Huffington Post/Minube.

Think of Italy, and you think of Quixotic men, flowing wine, sumptuous food, candlelit dinners at quaint roadside cafes and a city that is a living, breathing part of history.

We know the country for its romance and architectural beauty, but it turns out that there are remote, undiscovered places in Italy that are way more charming than the touristy attractions usually associated with it. So here’s a list of the 10 Italian villages that one must visit when holidaying in Italy.

I think I’ll just settle for one of these over the cities – or maybe stay in all of them, because as the Italians say, la varietà è il sale della vita – variety is the spice of life.

Via Huffington Post. Read the full article here: http://huff.to/1h3Xrc1

Picture via Huffington Post, who curated it with help from Minube.

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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, starting this month, 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.

What do you get when you cross a helmet with a love of travel?

Helmet Girl in Nepal v1

I could say that I was going through an I-hate-the-Internet phase, was wallowing in self-pity after being dumped by an actor whose name I cannot reveal, was working so hard over the last month that I couldn’t recognize my own face in the mirror, or was cryogenically frozen in an experiment to immortalize the city’s most creative people; but only one of them would be true. I’ll leave it to you guys to guess which one, while I give you the news that this post is about – after months of waiting, I’m off on another epic biking trip to Nepal tomorrow. And while I’m there, I’ll be posting live feeds on Instagram under a series I am creating exclusively for the trip. It will be called (*drum roll*)…

… Helmet Girl in Nepal!

There will be tons of pictures and videos under #HelmetGirlinNepal. If you’re on Instagram and not following me, please do, so that Helmet Girl can head-butt her way into your Insta-feed. If you’re not on Instagram, you can click on the feed link on the right of this blog and be a part of everything I see. The only drawback? You won’t be able to like or comment on any of the posts.

There is another alternative too – you could wait for three weeks to catch the post on Nepal on this blog. (I know which option I’d choose, if I were you. Just saying!)

So wish me luck, and let’s pray together that I don’t fall off the bike or get chased by roosters. I’ll see you in two weeks’ time. Bidā’ī Bidā’ī!

Why you must trek in Kemmanagundi (even if you’re not the trekking types).

Our first view of Kemmanagundi.

Our first view of Kemmanagundi.

Remember my posts on Bhutan, in which I lamented my decision to trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery? Despite my earnest desire to go trekking more often since, my loathing for any activity that combines walking with breathlessness and increased heart rate overcame the enthusiasm.

View from near the Rose Garden.

View from near the Rose Garden.

And like all other times when life has made me eat my own words – especially when they involve ‘hate’, ‘don’t’ or ‘exercise’ – this time too, I had to down my loathing with a generous helping of humble sauce. Kemmanagundi is to be blamed for it. This popular-with-government-officials hill station of sorts in Chikkamangalur district cast its spell on a non-trekker like me as well. And my, what a spell it was – lush green hills as far as the eye can see, grassy pathways formed naturally over the hills, flowers in brilliant reds, pinks and blues, and a freshwater spring or two.

The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.

The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.

The trek isn’t for very long – at least, not if you take your vehicle up to the most accessible point. One can finish it in a couple of hours both ways. I ventured halfway out, and then decided against going any further because the path involved scaling down slippery patches of mountain and I had a big camera bag with me. (Let this be a lesson to everyone.) I am told, though, that the sun setting over the Arabian Sea makes for a magnificent sight.

Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.

Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.

The trek’s not the only attraction at Kemmanagundi – there are view points, water bodies, temples and more around the place. The most pleasurable bit, though, is the greenery and serenity that comes with it – winding mountain roads with an overarching canopy of giant trees swaying in the wind.

Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.

Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.

The local farmer's market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.

The local farmer’s market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.

And that sums up everything I have to say about the place – there wasn’t enough time to explore it more extensively, considering it was weekend trip with more time spent biking than exploring. I do say this, though – if a quiet getaway to connect with nature is your thing, Kemmanagundi is definitely a destination to consider.

The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.

The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.

Getting there: Drive down or bike it – it takes about 6 hours, with stops. The road closer to Kemmanagundi is quite bad, so that takes a chunk of time to get through. There are also overnight buses available. The nearest train station is Chikkamangalur and there are several trains that run every day.

Go if: You enjoy trekking, need some quiet time and want to feel one with nature.

P.S: There are plenty more pictures on my Instagram feed. Check them out to get a bigger picture of what the place is like.

Meet the traveller: Sumitra Senapaty

*Meet the Traveller is a series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Two years ago, I discovered a new way to travel – one that doesn’t involve depending on friends, family or acquaintances to find the time to holiday with you. This modern marvel of mankind was called Women on Wanderlust (WOW) – an organisation that put together trips exclusively for women. My first trip with WOW was to Leh/Ladakh – a week with 15 women who I had never before met in my life. It was as scary as it was exciting, but the apprehension was unnecessary – the trip was flawless in every way. I’ve travelled with them again since, and it’s been as good.

Women on Wanderlust is Sumitra Senapaty’s brainchild, started almost 10 years ago. She went on a drive across New Zealand on her own and met a bunch of women from the UK, which is when she was introduced to the concept of groups of women who’ve never met each other before travelling together. Today, WOW does at least 30 trips across India and the world every year.

I had the good fortune of connecting with Sumitra recently, and had an extremely enjoyable conversation with her. She radiates warmth and kindness, and is a joy to talk to because she has so many stories from all her travels across the globe. Here she is in conversation with Potli Baba.

Sumitra at Mt. Sinai, Egypt

Picture courtesy: Sumitra Senapaty. Her photograph definitely captured the spirit of travel way better than mine did!

Describe yourself in one word. Wanderer.

Where do you live? Sometimes in Delhi, more often in Bangalore; that is, when I am not wandering to destinations the world over.

Where have you travelled to till date? USA, UK, Turkey, Morocco, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Croatia, Poland, Austria, Oman, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Hong Kong, Borneo, Singapore, Seychelles, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Bhutan, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, China, Japan, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Ladakh, Gujarat, Kerala, Rajasthan and many other parts of India.

Travel to you is: My passion, my life. I am obsessed with travel.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Shades, camera, headlamp, set of clothes and cell phone. 

Wanderer or tourist? Clearly a wanderer and a traveller, not a tourist.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? A bit of all I think; I am greedy! 

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? I like to plan it myself.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? Wandering through the Galapagos is my all-time favourite. The close encounters with the birds and animals are unbelievably touching.  

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? The continent of Africa, because of its diversity of life and awesome flora and fauna. 

How has travel inspired you? Travel has inspired me to take life as it comes, with the highs and the lows, to adjust to circumstances, to make the best of the times, to appreciate and care for Earth. 

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would be a gypsy.

Down the Rabbit Hole: How Europe’s mountain communities celebrate Winter solstice.

Image shot by Charles Freger for his book Wilder Mann. Picture courtesy: Wired Magazine.

Image shot by Charles Fréger for his book Wilder Mann. Picture courtesy: Wired Magazine.

Every year, as winter breaks its stronghold and retreats to make way for Spring, the mountain communities of Europe gear up to celebrate the occasion by shedding their human form and dressing up as animals/birds.

French photographer Charles Fréger travelled across 19 European countries and over 50 villages to document this fascinating culture and compiled it in his book titled Wilder Mann. Just reading the article makes me want to go to the places and be a part of the celebrations – imagine the centuries-old stories that one could find among these people!

This adventure comes via the Wired Magazine. Read the full article here: http://wrd.cm/1hkuy7O

***

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, starting this month, 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.

Down the Rabbit Hole: A new post series on Potli Baba.

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, starting this month, 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.

Come, journey down the rabbit hole and have a little Internet adventure with us.

Food adventures: The Avarekai Mela

Plates waiting to be filled.

Plates waiting to be filled.

I recently heard about food festivals in Bangalore that are centred around specific ingredients, and rather than being hosted in some expensive hotel for a couple of days, these festivals are held on the streets of Bangalore for at least a week. Nearly half a year ago, when the Kadalekai (Kannada for Peanut) Mela (Festival) was held, I heard about it only after it happened. In late December, when I heard that the Avarekai Mela was happening, I jumped at the opportunity to experience it.

Vendors selling the Lablab bean by kilos.

Vendors selling the Lablab bean by kilos.

Avarekai – Kannada for the Lablab bean (or the Indian bean, Egyptian bean, Hyacinth bean or Australian pea) – is popular with locals when in season: you’ll see its skin strewn in front of homes across Bangalore. Legend goes that if the skins are stepped on or trampled over on the roads, the food cooked using the bean gets more flavourful. (I don’t know about that part, but I do know that by the end of the season, I’m pretty sick of my mom using it in everything she makes.)

Everyone of these cooks was creating something different with the Avarekai. And this is just half of them.

Everyone of these cooks was creating something different with the Avarekai. And this is just half of them.

That the Lablab bean is an amazingly versatile ingredient is something I discovered after I went for the Avarekai Mela. Held on the street adjacent to Sajjan Rao Circle, by a very enterprising woman who runs a sweets and savouries store on the same road, the Avarekai Mela showcased the many ways in which the little green bean can be used – from Ragi Dosa to Kod Vadai to Payasam. Thousands of people walked up and down the street, trying out the many delicacies on display, getting straight off girdles and frying pans to environment-friendly disposable plates; buying coupons for the food took an awfully long time because the queue was insanely long.

I sampled everything, of course, and didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day. My four most favourite dishes were:

The Nippattu – a sort of fried flat bread-ish snack made with green gram flour, spices, peanuts and in this case, Avarekai. It was crispy through and through, with the Avarekai adding delicious crunch to the mix.

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Deep-fried goodness.

Avarekai Payasam – made with milk, jaggery, fresh ground coconut, cardamoms and Avarekai. It was the first time I tasted the Lablab in a sweet dish and, my goodness, I was amazed. The distinct flavour of cardamom with the slightly nutty Avarekai and earthy tones of the jaggery made for a new, novel, and very memorable taste.

The Avarekai Payasam. Tasted way better than it looked.

The Avarekai Payasam. Tasted way better than it looked.

Avarekai Masala Vada – Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, another classic dish at the mela.

Kod Vadai – Did you know that Lablab can be ground to a paste and mixed with curd and spices and then rolled into circles and deep fried? Well, now you do. If I ever meet the person who invented it, I will fall at their feet and hail them as the next best thing after the printing press.

Kod Vadai being fried as the lady in the background rolls the dough and shapes it into circles.

Kod Vadai being fried as the lady in the background rolls the dough and shapes it into circles.

Want to get a taste of similar melas yourself? Here’s how:

– Look out for listings/mentions in the local newspapers. Unfortunately, they’re not a big enough event to have a dedicated Facebook page, nor are they as fancy. So newspapers are the only way to know about them.

– When in doubt, Google.

Avarekai Dosa. One of this is lunch enough.

Avarekai Dosa. One of this is lunch enough.

Getting there: Grab an auto/taxi to Sajjan Rao Circle. I wouldn’t recommend driving there – parking is excruciatingly hard to find.

Go if: You like experimenting with food, love food, and are happiest trying out new flavours.