Taking Flight…

I Will Never Forget … Moments from 2012

SubscribeFiled Under: Export, India, We Share,by Neeraj

In January itself, I had been hoping to finish writing about my “Moments from 2012”. I know it is March already, but its better late than never!

2012 was quite an eventful year for both, Bhakti and I. The beginning of the year was fairly quiet with my professional project winding down by the end of May. The action started in June when we temporarily moved to India.

License plates from each of the states we visited in India as well as from Bhutan. NL=Nagaland; WB=West Bengal; MZ=Mizoram; AS=Assam; MN=Manipur; SK=Sikkim; ML=Meghalaya; MH=Maharashtra; AR=Arunachal Pradesh; OR=Orissa (Odhisa); TR=Tripura and BP/BT=Bhutan.

License plates from each of the states we visited in India as well as from Bhutan. Can you guess which states we visited? Click on photo or mouse-over for the answer.

Some of the moments described here were really events, but 2012 was such a year!

Here they are in chronological order…

Wet, Wet, Wet! in Thane (June)

It was early June and it hadn’t even been a week since I had landed in India. I used to wake up early as I was still jet-lagged. Monsoon hadn’t set in yet and the days used to be hot and humid. On a fine Sunday morning I decided to go for a walk before it became too hot. As I was walking it suddenly started to rain and in no time it was raining heavily. From the moment it started raining I had decided not to take shelter. The roads were deserted and I was the only crazy person walking in the rain with a smile on a face and without a care in the world. By the time I returned I had gotten totally drenched and had enjoyed every second of it! The smell of the earth after a spell of pre-monsoon rains is a pleasure to enjoy and cherish.

This is what I wrote to my friend in Canada after that experience:

“I went for a walk today and got totally drenched in the rains – man it’s awesome to do that.”

Rajmachi Trek (June)

After a friend of mine called and invited me for a trek to Rajmachi, how could I say no? I ate wild karonda berries (करवंद) on the mountain for the first time and had jambul fruits fresh from the tree after over 15 years! I also made a couple of new friends and had a blast playing the exciting card game of “mendhi-coat” while sipping on fresh tea.

I still remember the fast moving clouds on the fort and the thrill of walking in the rain in extremely windy conditions. On the 16-km return walk I experienced the heaviest rains to date, which were the first rains of the monsoon season. I was soaked to the bone but I still remember seeing “upside down” waterfalls that were flowing against gravity due to the strong gusting winds.

It was my first trek in the Sahyadris since July 2010 and incidentally, Rajmachi was my first ever trek in the Sahyadri Mountains back in July 2006.

Return to Anandwan (“Forest of Joy”), July

Returning to Anandwan – a Maharogi Sewa Samiti project for the leprosy-affected people – was pure joy for me and it is a place everyone must visit at least once – and I guarantee you will keep going back.

Kids just wanna have a good time! These are students of Anandwan's school for the deaf and mute.

Kids just wanna have a good time! These are students of Anandwan’s school for the deaf and mute.

I have many fond memories from my second visit to Anandwan but my favourite is the pre-dawn walk that I went on with Dr. Vikas Amte. Dr. Amte is a visionary and a scientist and his passion for Anandwan, which he calls his “experimental playground”, is electrifying. It is not every day that one gets to talk one-on-one with a down-to-earth scientist.

You have to see it to believe it.

Tiger Spotting in Somnath (July)

Sharing a border with Tadoba Tiger Reserve is Maharogi Sewa Samiti’s farming project of Somnath where tigers and leopards are still spotted. The project features a low-on-cost-high-on-quality check dam and employs simple yet innovative technology to distribute water and minimize loss.

A night tiger safari on a jeep was the most exciting part of visiting Somnath – don’t miss this awesome place.

On the Naxalite Trail (July)

We were in a local bus en route to Maharogi Sewa Samiti’s Hemalkasa project. The densely-forested area is primarily controlled by the anti-government Naxalite (Maoist) militants. As our bus halted at Tadgaon near Allapalli we saw several dozen men in military fatigue running with guns in their hand. At first we ducked thinking they were Naxalites. As it turned out they were CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel on a training exercise!

Chance Meeting with Sushila Bhagat (July)

After waiting nearly 3 hours for a bus that never came, we took a shared-taxi from Maharogi Sewa Samiti’s Hemalkasa project to Allapalli. The taxi was a hellish ride but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we met a social worker named Sushila Bhagat who had come to meet Dr. Prakash Amte. Sushila Bhagat was the recipient of the prestigious Savitribai Phule award for social service. Upon reaching Allapalli she insisted that we come to her place to freshen up and for refreshments.

Yours truly with social worker, Sushila Bhagat

Yours truly with social worker, Sushila Bhagat

I will never forget her hospitality.

Monsoon Magic at Mulshi Backwaters (July)

A good friend of mine and I met while I was in Pune and we drove in his new car to hang out by Mulshi backwaters. The cool monsoons winds and drizzle combined to make a magical effect at this most wonderful place near Pune.

Mulshi backwaters near Pune

Mulshi backwaters near Pune

Muddy Lost on Kenjalgad (July)

Taking advantage of the fact that both, my friend’s and my wife were staying with their relatives, we decided to go on a trek to Kenjalgad. The trek is quite straightforward with little chance of getting lost. However, we still managed to get lost! Towards the top, there were two trails going up and, of course, we took the wrong one! I still remember trying hard to maintain my balance on the slippery muddy slopes with nothing to hold on to.

Bhakti was desperately trying to reach me and I remember telling her that “everything is fine and dandy” while I was hanging on to dear life!

Washed Out in Bhubaneswar (August)

Bhakti and I had stepped out to get some information when I spotted a fast food joint. I had the best vegetarian roll of my life. While I was enjoying my roll, it had started to rain a little bit and then it was raining heavily. As first we thought the heavy rain would taper off in 10-15 minutes and then we could walk back to our hotel.

However, after waiting nearly 30 minutes, the streets had become fast flowing rivers and it was still raining heavily! The situation was rapidly deteriorating and we thought the longer we wait the more dangerous it will become to walk back to our hotel. At that moment, an empty six-seater rickshaw drove by and Bhakti instinctively called for it. Our hotel was less than a 10 minute walk and I was sure the rickshawala would rip us off for going such a short distance in such a desperate situation (a situation that most rickshawalas don’t think twice about taking advantage of). Amazingly, he charged us the actual rate and I was simply shocked.

There are still good rickshawalas out there!

Raghurajpur Artisan Village (August)

I had never seen an artisan village before and I must admit I was overwhelmed by its beauty and raw talent that lives here. All houses in the village have beautiful paintings on their exterior walls and the artwork (pattachitra, tassar paintings etc.) created by the artisans left me speechless. Every household in the village are artists and it broke my heart when I saw them pleading for my business.

Pattachitra painting (contact us if you would like to purchase)

Pattachitra painting (contact us if you would like to purchase)

The Dirty Picture in Puri (August)

I had a wish to watch a movie in one of India’s old single-screen theatres. In the big cities especially, many of these are rapidly being replaced by modern multiplexes. So when I saw an old theatre in the religious town of Puri, I jumped on the opportunity and caught a late night show featuring a 80s Hollywood sleazy movie dubbed in Hindi.

The "Dirty Picture" showing at 9:30 PM

The “Dirty Picture” showing at 9:30 PM

It was quite an experience watching the “dirty picture” in a dilapidated movie theatre of yesteryear.

Dangerous Konark Beach (August)

Sun and sand are what come to mind when we normally think about beaches. However, the beach at Konark that I visited during monsoon shattered that image – it was deadly! The beach was very steep, waves were mighty large and the cloud cover gave the illusion that the sky was falling.

Konark's deadly beach

Konark’s deadly beach

It was unforgettable!

Kolkata’s Tagore Museum (August)

I’m not a museum kind of guy, but there was one museum that I saw in Kolkata that I really liked – Tagore House. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral home has been converted into a museum and it was interesting to explore the huge property and seeing how a rich family of olden times lived.

Tagore House is the first museum that I really liked.

Lingdum Monastery near Gangtok (August)

This was one of the most peaceful monasteries I visited in Sikkim. With the soothing sounds of Buddhist monks chanting and spectacular scenery all around, it is impossible not to fall in love with this monastery!

Lingdum Monastery - one of my favourite monasteries

Lingdum Monastery – one of my favourite monasteries

Tea stop en route to Namchi (August)

I love tea and there is nothing I love more than sipping on a hot cup of cutting chai from a local tea vendor. The fact that it was locally grown Himalayan tea and I was surrounded by spectacular scenery were just icing on the cake. While on way to Namchi from Gangtok, our shared-taxi made a brief stop at a local shop and I had the greatest cup of local tea.

It’s the little things that matter.

Dzong, Dzong, Dzong, Dzong! (August)

Bhutan’s Trashichhodzong in Thimphu is a thing of beauty. It’s huge and is architecturally pleasing and it’s everything I expected Bhutan to be!

Trek to Taktsang “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery (August)

The Taktsang monastery near Paro pretty much defines Bhutan. This is the reason why most people come here and it was the reason why I had come to Bhutan. Once I saw it I could not take my eyes off it. It’s one of the most beautiful man-made things I’ve ever seen – a perfect integration of man-made and nature.

Tiger's Nest Monastery - the #1 reason to visit Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest Monastery – the #1 reason to visit Bhutan

Seeing this was a dream-come-true for me.

Temple of … what?! (September)

Chimi Lhakhang – Temple of Fertility – is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, also known as the “Divine Madman”. The houses along the way have large phallus painting and one gets the impression that we are about to visit the “Temple of Phallus”, which is what most tourists know this temple as. Many couples trying to start a family come here to seek blessings of the Divine Madman.

I loved the walk through the verdant rice fields

I loved the walk through the verdant rice fields

The real highlight of visiting this temple is the 30-minute trail to this temple, which is through lush green fields that will make you fall in love again. It was a great pleasure walking through tiny hamlets and florescent green rice paddies surrounded by verdant hills. It made me forget about everything.

It was all about living in the moment.

An Evening by Brahmaputra (September)

It was not by choice that we came to Tezpur (Assam) and only by chance that we ended up spending a very peaceful evening by the mighty Brahmaputra river a midst all the communal rioting going on in the rest of the state.

An evening by the mighty Brahmaputra river

An evening by the mighty Brahmaputra river

Madhuri Lake in Arunachal Pradesh (September)

The journey to Sengetser Lake, more popularly known as “Madhuri Lake” after the 1997 Bollywood movie starring Madhuri Dixit was filmed there, is a long and arduous one from Tawang (not to mention expensive). The lake has an interesting history; it was formed after an earthquake in 1970s that destroyed a village.

Yak grazing by Sengetser Lake in Arunachal (Tawang district)

Yak grazing by Sengetser Lake in Arunachal (Tawang district)

Its violent history notwithstanding, the high-altitude lake surrounded by big mountains and with yaks grazing nearby, is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen!

Peek-A-Boo Falls Near Cherrapunji (September)

Falling from a height of 1,100 feet, Nohkalikai Falls in Sohra (Cherrapunji, Meghalaya) is the highest plunge waterfall in India. However, we were very disappointed when went to “see it” as it was completely shrouded in mist. We could hear the might roar of the falls and imagined what it must look like.

The beautiful Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji (Sohra)

The beautiful Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji (Sohra)

Fortunately, our disappointment did not last very long. We realized that the clouds were moving continuously and in-between were clear periods that lasted long enough to give us a glimpse of the falls. We could see the break in the clouds moving towards the falls and we got ready to see it. It was as if the falls was playing hide ‘n seek with us!

Breathless in Meghalaya (September)

Although I had seen photos of Meghalaya’s living-root bridges, I was still not prepared to see it in person. The living-root tree bridge near Mawlynnong and the double-decker living-root tree bridge near Sohra (Cherrapunji) were something that left me speechless and breathless.

Living Root Tree Bridge - A Natural Wonder of the World

Living Root Tree Bridge – A Natural Wonder of the World

Call of Mt. Saramati (October)

We got more than what we bargained for when we decided to climb the highest peak of Nagaland, Mt. Saramati. There is a dirt road that connects Kiphire town to the village from where the trek to Mt. Saramati starts. We hired a jeep to drive us to that village. However, due to a recent landslide, our jeep could not reach the village and we had to take a “short-cut” to the village, which I can now say was a short-cut through hell! The short-cut involved descending a densely forested valley, crossing a river on an old rickety bridge and then finally climbing up to the village – we did all this in total darkness and encountered two poisonous snakes on the way.

Rickety bridge en route to Thanamir village

Rickety bridge en route to Thanamir village

It was an adventure of a lifetime!

Yamshe Harvest Festival in Nagaland (October)

We were yearning to see a local religious festival throughout our trip and we finally got the chance thanks to a new friend we made in Nagaland. Our friend took us to his home town of Meluri where we experienced the two-day harvest festival of Yamshe.

Naga ladies performing during the Yamche harvest festival in Meluri, Nagaland

Naga ladies performing during the Yamche harvest festival in Meluri, Nagaland

This is what we see on Discovery Channel.

A Chance Meeting with a Local Film Personality (October)

We never expected to be sharing a cab with a well-known local personality – a down-to-earth film star at that – when we shared a cab with a lady in Aizawl, Mizoram. She had just received her Ph.D. in Hindi, taught Hindi language courses at a local university and acted in many Mizo language movies with several projects currently under production. Now that is called multi-tasking!

Ten Million (Less One) Rock Carvings of Unakoti (October)

I had wanted to visit Unakoti in Tripura ever since I saw photos of the ancient rock carvings in the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways in July 2010. Located in Northern Tripura, Unakoti, which means “one less than a crore” (1 crore = 10 million), has some of the most spectacular rock carvings in a natural setting.

Rock carvings at Unakoti

Rock carvings at Unakoti

We hired a rickshaw to reach the site and the journey was through a deserted stretch of road in a jungle. Having heard some reports of militant activities in the area in the past I almost regretted undertaking the journey but as they say, all’s well that ends well!

Durga Puja in Agartala (October)

During Durga Puja, an otherwise quiet and laid-back state capital, was alive with activity for the festive season. The beautifully decorated pandals are a sight to behold and the downtown core is buzzing with activity late into the night with families dressed in their best and new clothes visiting the pandals and feasting on the dozens of road-side food vendors.

Goddess Durga at a pandal in Agartala

Goddess Durga at a pandal in Agartala

After Kolkata, the Bengali-dominated Agartala is probably the next-best-place to experience the fervour of Durga Puja!

Swaranandwan: Anandwan’s Orchestra (November)

“Give them a chance, not charity.” – Baba Amte

I had heard a lot about Anandwan’s orchestra in which the performers are disabled in some way or are leprosy-affected. So when I got the news that the orchestra will be performing in Thane, I knew I had to see it.

The audience clapping with their hands above their head to show appreciation for performances by deaf children

The audience clapping with their hands above their head to show appreciation for performances by deaf children

It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a “charity show”. Not only was the show well-organized, it was also very entertaining. All the performers, including the charismatic emcee (MC), are highly professional and talented. The orchestra is a brain-child of Dr. Vikas Amte to give an outlet to the “untapped human potential” at Anandwan. The ticket sales help fund Anandwan’s activities.

मिले सूर मेरा तुम्हारा, तोः सुर बने हमारा.

Diwali on Irshalgad (November)

When I told my wife that I will be going on a trek to Irshalgad on the important Laxmi poojan day during Diwali instead of spending it with her and the family … needless to say, she was upset as was everyone else!

However, I hate to lose an opportunity to go on a trek and I somehow managed to convince everyone that I will return home by early evening. I met my friend after a short ride on the local train and we were to take his bike to the base village. It was awesome feeling the rush of wind against my face as I rode pillion on the motorcycle!

On the fort, we once again managed to get lost. We tried to scramble up the steep grassy slopes but it was too risky so we didn’t push our luck. In the end, we just had Diwali snacks sitting on a rock before we decided to head back.

I had forgotten to take my camera along and missed taking pictures of the beautiful scenery – but it will stay in my memory forever.

Dhakoba (November)

A trek to the hill-fort of Dhakoba was my last in my beloved Sahyadri Mountains before coming back to Canada. It included all the usual things I’ve come to love about trekking – local transportation, small villages, spending a night in the mountains, rugged scenery, and more importantly, good company. As a bonus, I was surprised to see sada on the mountain, which is sort of like a carpet of igneous rocks. It served as a reminder that the Sahyadris were volcanic mountains formed thousands of years ago.

An exposed rock patch while descending the fearsome Daarya Ghat (Photo Credit: Shailesh K)

An exposed rock patch while descending the fearsome Daarya Ghat (Photo Credit: Shailesh K)

While I was on the trek, Mumbai’s respected politico, Balasaheb Thakaray, had passed away and as a result life had pretty much come to a standstill in many parts of Maharashtra with no public transportation running. So, we had to change plans and descend via the fearsome Daarya Ghat, which was an unforgettable and thrilling experience!

How I miss the Sahyadris…

Shhhhh…. Silent Hills Resort (November)

This neat family resort near Mumbai was my first resort experience in India or anywhere else for that matter – and I loved it. The resort had a small water-park, which was undoubtedly the highlight.

Silent Hills Resort

Silent Hills Resort

We went there for a two-day retreat at the tail end of our trip and ended our six-month long trip Bharari with a bang!

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