nature


While visiting Munsiyari we came to know about two kunds, Thamri and Mehsar kunds. We didn’t go to Mehsar however trekked to Thamri kund. Trek to Thamri kund starts at Betulidhar, a place about 8to 9 kilometer before Munsiyari. It is also near to the gate from where trek to Khalia top starts. It is said that Khalia top is the best place to enjoy sun set and sunrise. However it is said to be a long , steep trek and then to and fro on the same day is not possible. Mainly groups of bikers mark it as a must to be place in their itinerary to Munsiyari.

So finally we zeroed in on Thamari. The trek is about three to four Kms one way. We started from kumayon mandal guest house after breakfast. A small Hanuman temple is at the base of trek.

We visited Munsiyari in the month of September. Worst of rains had passed but days still tended to be cloudy sometime. That day too clouds were hovering in the horizon but it still was very pleasant.

For me, a walk among the tall trees on the narrow pebbly path on hills  is always a welcome retreat to my own being. While treading slowly, stopping in between to imbibe the gracious silence I feel the calm spreading within. This trek too started like that. The trek was neither too difficult nor too steep hence was enjoyable.

 

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Well, while walking on that path I remembered John Muir,

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. ”    

John Muir

 

We had company of one local person who on the way told us about importance of certain trees – one that is considered holy tree and its leaves are used to decorate devi- sthanam in homes during certain local festival, two trees that have entwined with each other to become one. He told me that most of the couples definitely get their pic clicked under the benevolent shadow of these trees as a good omen to their companionship. His local touches definitely made the journey more interesting though for most of the part I travelled in my own company.

 

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 The offbeat journeys are must sometimes, just to know where we belong.

 

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I love to lose myself to find my very own me….. Ah! I know I say it repeatedly but then, that’s how I feel.

 

On the way glimpses of snowclad peaks of Panchchuli, the undulating mountain ranges behind the forest looked enchanting. How unapproachable yet how arresting they looked. The cool authority of mountain ranges is always assuring.

 

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I know there is a path which leads to their heart but I love to maintain that distant relationship with them. It keeps the mystery alive and I can still feel them spreading within me.

It is an exhilarating experience to stand there on top after reaching the destination and watching the pond studded like a precious emerald in the green sparkling grass around it. I took my time to start descending up to the waters. A group of sheep had started return journey to their camps after quenching their thirst. It was a happy sight to watch the senior members of the group to trace their steps back to prod the younger and careless ones to move with the group when they stopped in the mid or tried to stray from their usual path.

 

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The kund is surrounded by Alpine and cedar jungles.  Silence there is almost echoing. Rustling of leaves, distant calls of birds- and the jungle hums to its own rhythm.

We went down and saw ruins of a building, a high gate type of structure laden with overgrown vegetation on one side of the kund. Ah! That fading page of history kindles the ambers of imagination.

There are remains of another structure on the bank of the kund. A platform type of structure on which a very small place of worship has been created by local people. We were told that local, religious fair takes place here annually and people visit here to pay their obeisance to Almighty.

 

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You can create me in any form, I am within you.

Yes, there are folklores attached to this kund. One of these is about two birds that flew down to it to guard it from being polluted . It is said that they keep the pond clean. Don’t know about the real reason but despite being surrounded by jungle, vegetations and being visited by cattle, animals and human beings the water of kund was sparkling clean. It has definitely been preserved beautifully.

 

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Though to and fro trek itself does not take much time but then the way to trek, the area around kund has lot to offer and one can spend as much time as one wants. It is a beautiful place to get yourself aligned with the sanctity of nature, the rhythm of silence.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Since childhood I have memories of many Banyan trees. Among these many are some which are really really big and are known as Akshya vat. Vat is Hindi of Banyan. It is commonly known as Bargad.

The first Banyan tree of importance in my memory is one in Company Bagh of Kanpur. Kanpur is the city of my growing up days and the Company bagh there on the Mall road at that time used to be very different than what it is now. It was very dense and we never used to venture inside it beyond that historic well, which was a memorial to large number of unknown freedom fighters. We used to watch this big Banyan tree from outside the boundary wall . If my memory serves me correctly, even in bright summer days we could see dark room kind of spaces between the pillared stems/ roots of the tree.

The second Big Banyan I saw is the famous Great Banyan Tree in Indian Botanical Garden, Howrah. The botanical garden is also commonly known as Botanical garden of Kolkata or Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Indian Botanical Garden. This botanical garden has many attractions but presently we will limit ourselves to the Banyan tree only. This Banyan tree is said to be more than 250 years old. Though no specific date can be successfully attributed to it’s origin but its reference can be found in writings of early nineteenth century. As the tree is in premises of one of the premier institute  where various kinds of botanical researches take place, all the factual information regarding it are available. The great Banyan tree has survived two major cyclones of 1864 and 67.

This single tree in itself is like a small forest. While walking on the wide road towards the tree, from a distance you find it hard to believe that there stands a single tree. It covers an area of about 1.6 hectares.We were told that the main trunk of the tree does not exist now. It was infected with some kind of fungus and to save the tree it was removed . However the giant tree still stand there supported by thousands of  aerial roots turning into subsidiary stems. Proper care is being taken care of  the aerial roots going down properly into the earth so that the huge, magnificent tree can be preserved for posterity.  A brick wall of small height was erected to mark the increasing area gradually being covered by the tree.

 

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The Big Banyan tree in the Botanical Garden At Kolkata– as we saw it from the road leading to it.

 

Few more shots of the trees . It really felt like walking through a forest.

 

And the third Banyan tree which I recently found out still stands in obscurity. Local people are aware of it but it is not being preserved and being taken care of properly by any concerned authority.The huge tree stands surrounded by many mango orchards from all sides. The mango orchards are owned by different individuals. If the tree is given freedom to grow it might cover areas of those orchards. Still local people rever and worship it. As the religious activities are gradually picking up around it, unplanned construction in between its area is increasing which definitely restrict it’s growing with abundance and mar it’s natural beauty too.  Various signs forbidding to put names on its branches have been put there but still almost every stem of the huge magnificent tree bleeds with engraved names.  despite these few saddening facts the Akshya Vat is a magnificent sight to behold.

This Akshay Vat is about 30 kilometers from the city of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India. The tree is in Manjhi village of Mall Block. The Pujari residing near the tree told us that the tree is said to be about 200 years old. Though there is no authenticated proof of that but believe me the vestibules between the prop roots turned into stems, far and wide stretched arms of the tree and the reigning silence take you to the times bygone.

In the center of the tree is a very thick cluster of many trunks. Many branches are sloping outward in all the directions and are in turn supported by entwined prop roots gradually thickening into new trunks. lovely passages and arched vestibules are formed by tapering branches and multitudes of trunks. Overhead stretches the thick canopy . It is a bright, sunny January day but this part talks in shadowed whispers. Big, thick trunked mango trees standing all around Akshay Vat in meticulously lines somehow reminded me of lines in prayer grounds. A villager  cycled away on the dusty road behind the tree, two boys sauntered in  the mango orchard, a bird called somewhere and the sentient atmosphere seeps deep down me.

The magnificent tree standing rapt in all around quiet, aerial roots hanging and once in a while few of them moving slightly with the wind felt like a wise old sage  with long beard lost in deep meditation. As I moved under it and looked upward , the green overhead canopy of leaves felt like showering blessings, keeping evils away.

 

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A panoramic view of Akshay vat of Manjhi village, Lucknow

 

All pictures@ Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our plan to catch hold of rising sun at Michigan lake was finalised during preceding evening. we four got up, freshened up and drove towards lake well before the announced time of sunrise on the day. I have always felt that the magic of watching a rising sun has it’s full impact if you start waiting for it in the darkness. The gaze fixed at east, slow descent of dawn, gradual spreading of light, changing of colours and the anticipation, all these combine together to make the experience sublime and uplifting.

Drive to North Avenue beach was pleasant. It was still dark . The road slipped smoothly under the wheels and the slight nip in the early morning air pepped up our eagerness to witness the majestic show  of sun stepping into the scene.

When we reached the beach, it was still translucent dark and the beach was almost deserted. one or two photographers carrying their kit, tripod walked on that concrete platform on which stood a small light house. This concrete strip runs midst waters. As there was hardly any human presence on the beach, ducks and other birds walked freely on the sand. It appeared they had been fun frolicking there for quite some time as the sand bed was full of their paw marks making it look like a painted carpet.

 

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The out lines of sky scrapers on city side gradually started emerging .  lights twinkled like gems while  the perfect moon with all it’s calm dignity as if stopped there behind the building to say it’s goodbye for the day.

on the other side we were waiting for the magical splendor of nature to unfold.

 

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The stage was getting ready for the  majestic appearance.Small blue waves lapped rhythmically.  It was mesmerizing to watch an unseen brush gradually paint the horizon  with soft silky hues– such lovely shades of pink, blue and yellow. While the light eased its way with gradual progression some feathery blue clouds floated as if in a blissful state. There were number of people on the beach but each one was wrapped in one’s own quietude. Watching the sky , I felt tranquil and serene within.  This always happens while waiting and watching the sun gracing the east sky.  Calm descends  slowly percolating down to the very core of soul.

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And then sun rose it’s head above the waters. It’s arrival coloured the sky pink and orange. The blues and yellows receded back. even the waves started blushing pink. as if all the elements around joined hands to be one with one another. How pacifying the thought was! we could see that lone, tiny boat on the other end of waters slowly inching towards the rising sun. None of us talked about it but all of us waited with batted breath to touch the boat the sun point before the sun rose high above the water rim. We all silently prayed to the boatman to be successful in his attempt. no prayers were not said loudly but the positive vibration of pious thoughts could be smelled in the air.

In the mean time a young couple had arrived and sat on the platform facing east, girl’s head softly anchored on boys shoulder while her traces flew slowly in the morning breeze. What a lovely picture they presented…. secure in each others company waiting for light to illuminate the world. I silently prayed for all their dreams to come true.

 

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And then came a group of youngsters riding on their bicycles. They parked their bicycles on the cemented strip and suddenly the air was filled with their lively chatters  and laughter. Sun too leapt to revel in their enthusiasm. Or was it blessing them to reach higher.

 

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as the cool sky of early morning was flushed with the magnificent hues of orange, crimson, rose and apple, we all there perhaps lived our most enchanting moments of the day  and got ready to walk in the agenda of the day with more calm and confidence.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That morning standing on the top of those ruins on Malyawant hill, when my glance fell on you for the first time, I was transfixed. You were standing there, many feet down in the compound of Raghurama temple but I felt as if you are gradually spreading inside me. Tall, stately, graceful, branches clad with green leaves and those bunches of white, delicate silky flowers, you looked divine. The mystique early morning blue swirled around you slowly very slowly rising upwards. you know what I felt…I felt as if a fairy, a devkanya,  had descended from heaven to enjoy the magical moonlight under your equally magical persona and now with first rays of sun filtering in, she is leaving to her abode, caressing and tickling you  with her Aanchal. Those soft, simmering  mellow golden spots on your leaves and flowers made you look radiating indulgent, affectionate smiles. Even from the height I was standing on, the white spread of  flowers under you was clearly visible. What I felt is beyond words. The peace, the pious feel, you filled in my heart…I felt blessed.

And when we came down and I stood there under you, it was like literally getting drenched in the showers of blessings. The delicate white flowers with long, slender greenish white pedicile and small white star shaped petals on the tip, dropped from above gradually, rhythmically. On the branches high above were thousands and thousands hanging in bunches like chandeliers. I felt enriched to the core of my being. That was a sacred moment.

I don’t know by what name are you called? But I felt if Kalptaru [ the mythical tree found in heaven abovem which is believed to fulfill all your wishes, if you deserve ] is there, it must look and feel like you only.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

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The Sunrise

We decided to have a date with rising sun on Matanga hill. Started climbing the steps to top at about 5 A.M. It was quite dark. Though steps are there but not well laid down. Diversions too are there in between hence it is advisable to be accompanied by some local person while venturing on hills in dark. If possible take a torch with you. We had our auto wallah with us. The climb is not too high. We reached the top in about twenty five to thirty minutes time. Four persons — two girls and a young couple were already there with their cameras all set and ready to capture the majestic entrance of sun. We too settled down on the side facing valley and hills beyond.

I feel we can never appreciate the charisma of sunrise to it’s full extent if we have not waited for it in the darkness. The tranquility all around, the soft silky wisps of air, the mystique translucency of darkness and that expectant gaze fixed on horizon for the glimpse of the first hint of emergence of sun….every thing for the time being as if stood still. Slowly the sky behind the hills started changing colours. Just a hint, little bit of diffused light. Chains of hills, the boulders in the valley stirred slowly into existence.  The illuminated clouds were suffused with ethereal glow.Hearts set on prayer tune with batted breath we waited and then we felt it…. the red orb behind the clouds. Slowly the curtain parted and there was the smiling , big red sun on grayish blue sky. To hold an eye to eye communication with the celestial being was a divine experience. Slowly I let go my breath. The realization dawned upon me then only that I was holding it . With this descended a feeling of being burden free, a quiet strength to face to face what lies ahead.

 

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I stood up to look around. Down there in the valley the entire  Achyut Rai temple complex lay spread. We have been to this temple day before but this aerial view presented entirely different perspective. The gopuram stood high. The temple enclosures spread wide but the entire complex mingled homogeneously with the surrounding rocky terrain. Not only this temple complex, ribbon like serpentine Tungbhadra, the roads meandering through the green trees, big rocks jutting out into the valley,each and every boulder scattered all around, the big tall trees, the tiny blades of grass… all looked like an essential part of a bigger scheme of thing. The scene before eyes filled the heart with all embracing emotions. The elevated perspectives do widen and deepen our thoughts.

 

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View of Achyutrai temple from Matanga hill …. If one wants one can come down from hill and directly go to visit this temple.

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Every boulder there has a story etched in it’s heart.

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The Tungabhadra….

By this time the silky golden sun rays had descended on the earth. The delicate tufts of slender grass blades on hill top glistened with fresh beauty. Gentle morning zypher tickled the grass blades and they danced with mirth. I turned around and for the first time noticed a modest white colored top of temple on the rock.

 

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Veerbhadra temple

This is Veerbhadra temple. In fact while coming up we passed through the courtyard of this temple and then ascended steps to reach the hill top. But due to darkness we couldn’t notice the arch of entrance, the courtyard .Most of the part of the temple is in ruined condition yet a long covered varandah with view to valley was kept clean by the Sadhu, who frequents this temple. In the niche of the verandah in a dark corner we found two idols too . The main shrine is of Veerbhadra. It is a cult of Shiva followers and it appears that during it’s prime time significant number of Humpi population followed this cult. Veerbhadra is one of the raudra form Shiva.

 

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Gopuram of Veerbhadra temple.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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A view from covered verandah of Veerbhadra temple. Many such mandpam are found on hills ,on way to temple.

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veerbhadra Swami…. The main deity of temple.

The sadhu in the temple informed us that still an annual fair takes place there and many pilgrims belonging to a particular community and cult gather here in large number.

 

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The Sadhu we met in the temple. He was making these trinkets with thread tatting and displayed them for sale.

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view of Virupaksha temple from Matanga Hills.

Mythological references

As per our mythological stories Matanga Rishi is one of the very first crusader against untouchability. By birth he belonged to  lower caste. Caste system at that time used to be very rigid. Once unknowingly he crossed the path of princess of the kingdom and was beaten for this so called offense. He protested against this injustice outside king’s palace and  later on attained a place and respect of a Rishi by his severe penance, knowledge and divine powers.

We find another reference of Matanga Rishi  in Aranyakand of Ramayana. Near Hampi on another side of Tungabhadra it’s Kishkindha Kshetra. The kingdom of strong,powerful monkey king Bali. The story goes like this.

Once a mighty bull named DunDubhi arrived at Bali’s kingdom and challenged him to fight. Bali could never ignore a challenge hence he fought with him. After a long and ferocious fight Bali killed Dundubhi. He caught the corpse of mighty bull with two horns, raised it high in air and threw it far. The corpse landed on Yagnavedi of Matanga Rishi at Rishyamuk parvat. Matanga Rishi cursed that who so ever has polluted his Yagna would be blown into pieces if he ever stepped on this hill. Indra informed Bali about this curse in presence of Sugreev and Hanuman and this curse of Matanga Rishi proved to be a boon to Sugreev.  When due to certain misunderstanding Bali was after Sugreev’s life, Sugreev along with Hanuman ran to this hill only as Bali could not dare to step on this due to Matanga Rishi’s curse.

I feel most of us know about Shabri. The lady who tasted every Jujuberry fruit in her basket before offering it to Rama, when during his fourteen year exile period he once happened to meet her. Shabri was disciple of Matanga Rishi.

And that was glorious start of the day for us…..divine sunrise, enriching emotions, panoramic nature specters, people we met, faith and belief. Matnga hills. I wrote this morning with sunrise colours, dipped in early morning scent and kept it deep in my heart.

 

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“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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Sitting on the edge of that rock which plunged miles below in the vast valley strewn with boulders, dotted with greens of bushes and trees I was all set and ready to merge myself with the sunset sky. My gaze fixed on the stretch of the sky above the layers of hill range at the other end of valley, I absorbed the stillness of the moment. There were other groups of tourists scattered over the rocky terrain and murmur of voices could be felt but a kind of hushed expectant silence spread over the area. Every heart there was as if filled with deep reverence towards the most majestic, grand show of the day end. Sunset is there since humans are there on earth. So much has been said, written about it. We all must have witnessed more sunsets than we could count yet it’s charisma never fades. Every time we see the twilight slowly descending on earth, the lights gradually fading in oblivion, the majestic sun gliding on the sky, in and out of clouds and the blaze of colours…the golden yellows, the vibrant oranges, the silky blue turning into deep purple, the dashes of pink, our heart is filled with awe.
This sun there, must have seen the rise and fall of India’s one of the most prosperous empire. The setting sun must have kissed the Gopurams of the temples scattered all over Hampi with same equanimity whether they dazzled in their glory or lay buried in dust and mud. The thought gave me a feeling of timelessness. The whispering leaves of the lone tree near the small shrine on rocks fell into a silence. Wind too sang in hushed notes. All around us a sweet tranquility prevailed. Occasionally the sound of bells from Virupaksha temple groups reached us. It was a wonderful moment. A reassuring one when, suddenly that trust, that belief takes deep root within you that….everything is alright, everything happens for good.
After the curtain fell over the majestic show of the sunset, I lay there on the rock watching the tiny pale stars slowly walking in….life felt just so perfect.

 

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sipping the light….drop by drop I inhale and glow…..Hanuman temple

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Slowly Sun wraps up it’s golden orange extravaganza and starts fading into oblivion leaving stage to softer, subtler colours….. yes, the stage has to be shared to make the display more beautiful deep and complete.. Every one deserves a chance and each has it’s special attributes.

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The distant echoes of sunset sky are silently absorbed by the puddle . During the long, dark night every colour comes alive to whisper soothing lullabies to still waters.

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Reaching out to departing sun…. May all your yearnings be satisfied.

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Before the curtain is finally pulled…. tender caresses of wind makes me feel light and feathery, the silky blue spreads in eyes and pearly pink nestles inside….. I am ready to surrender.

 

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Nathang falls on old silk route circuit in East Sikkim. This valley is very close by Nathula pass leading to Indo China border.

That day as we got out of our vehicle at Nathang , the little village at about 13500 ft altitude looked at us with it’s drowsy eyes. It was cold and cloudy . Almost no body was out on streets. little wooden houses sat huddled together as if in an attempt to counter the biting chill in the air.

Gautam had to go about in the area for few minutes to ascertain our homestay and then we entered the narrow lane between two houses, walking on the frozen layers of snow . Heaps and mounds of snow were all around homes.

 

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Way to our homestay.

 

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Entering the doors of homestay we were engulfed in the warmth of welcoming smiles of hosts and the cozy, comfortable indoors. Neat, clean rooms, bright colored comforting beds. linens and spotless western style toilets …… homestay in that little village on high altitude . surrounded by rough terrain was a very pleasant surprise.

Except night, I spent most of my indoor time in the kitchen of the home talking to the lady of the home and basking in the warmth of the indigenous room cum food warmer. It was a long, knee length high rectangle table with tin surface.  On the lower surface of the table ,almost in the middle an iron furnace was fixed. logs were burning in it. On the upper surface there was hole at the mouth of furnace but it was covered with an iron lid. A long cylindrical pipe arose from the table and went out of the roof, a chimney to carry out the smoke.Warmth around the table was very comforting. Moreover I got to share lots of family, community , life in general kind of things with the lady.  How easily can we open ourselves to the strangers… perhaps  the comfort of anonymity makes it easier to share. But you know the amazing part is that while conversing you never feel that you are stranger to each other. It’s easy to strike the chord, when you open your heart wide. And then I believe that one who is  closer  to nature is  simpler . Luxuries and material comforts do contaminate human thought process.

 

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Welcoming smile of lady of the home

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Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

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This is the indigenous warmer I talked about above. That is the chimney pipe extending out from the table surface. dinner preparation are on.

 

 

From my room window I could see the far off mountains and snow but day light receded fast as hoards and hoards of grey, white clouds descended in the valley. Wrapped in the furry blankets of cloud as if valley too was getting ready to take rest.

Early. very early in the morning I parted the curtain of window and was excited to notice the signs of a bright morning.  Nudged others to get ready and after a piping hot cup of tea in the warm kitchen ventured out to walk in the valley.

The valley is guarded by mountains from all sides and have stretches of grasslands, Valley is totally devoid of any kind of tree. There are few streams crisscrossing the valley and there are cute wooden small bridges across the streams. We wandered around as if in a vast plain of nothingness. Except those few dogs no body was to be seen. Wind though chill was comforting. Those were the moments of uninterrupted interaction with mountains, with sky  stretched over.  a small shrine atop a ridge, beckoned,prayer flags fluttered in the air….. and… and you feel as if that noisy world full of chaos didn’t exist at all.

 

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under the blessed shadow of blue horizon above head, guarded by tough, mighty mountains and the prayers in the air.

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Sometimes to find yourself, you need to travel through wilderness, nothingness.

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer and Shubham sunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we started climbing upwards from Padamchen to Nathang scenery around us started changing. The greens receded back and brown, grey dominated the screen . It was not a bright day. Sky too was laden with grey clouds. However as we moved forward patches, heaps of white crystallized snow could be seen on the sides of road. May be it was a day old or so. The sparkling sheen had diminished a bit yet it added a delicacy to otherwise brown sternness of high, mighty mountains. somewhere snow clung to the wide powerful chests of mountains as if feeling secured in their solidity.

 

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Further up and we were engulfed in whiteness. Except the road we were traveling on, it was white everywhere and snow there was soft like cotton balls,,,,fresh cool, soft snow. In the background at a distance mountains created a chain of rising falling waves on grey waters. At some places solid sheet of pewter sky watched over us unblinking while on other occasions white, grey clouds floated in like rosette and on still another moment the sailing clouds formed a translucent curtain pushing everything under it’s fold, creating a mystical world, tempting us to plunge head-along in their depths to soar in that world beyond.

 

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Mountains don their snow robes with an unmatched sublimity. The grace with which they let snow clad them in different patterns add to their majestic grandeur and how they appear to smile with indulgence.

 

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On the way intermittently military establishments and few hutments lay under the shadow of the mountains where snow does not melt even in summers. From a distance candy coloured green, yellow, rust , sloping roofs of barracks and huts added a bit of brightness. How hard is life up there for the people due to whom we can nestle in the warmth of our homes and hearths. We can never show enough gratitude to these brave hearts.

 

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And then there were lakes — It is said that Sikkim has about 225 lakes and innumerable water falls. We on our trip came across three main lakes.

Manju lake … At the height of 136oo ft.  Manju lake lay nestled amidst high snow clad mountains. Nathula pass is about seven Km. from this lake. The serenity, the calm was overwhelming.

 

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Manju Lake

Kuppup lake or elephant lake … every tourist on old silk route visit this lake. We were on the spot in the first week of April. The lake was partially frozen and partially melted. We walked upto nearby ridge to have a complete view of lake, valley and snow laden mountains beyond the lake. On the other side of the road too white fluffy carpet of snow stretched over the hills, mountains . Cold gusty wind was blowing. Grey clouds rushed off and on displaying their antics. At a moment clouds went down embracing the lake and at another lifting their frilly gown they rushed back to the other side of mountain ranges. At yet another the clouds cautiously peeped down from the peaks watching their reflections in the crystal clear waters of the lake and then unable to restrain themselves they ran down hand in hand with the winds to bless us with their feathery nearness. It was chilling, it was freezing yet such mesmerizing was the beauty unfolded before us that we stood there rooted on the spot. Kuppup lake is called elephant lake as when frozen completely it resembles an elephant in shape, however we were able to trace down the trunk.

 

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From elephant lake we proceeded to Changu lake, also called Tsomgo lake. The lake at an altitude of about 12400 ft. lay nestled in the arms of high snow clad mountains.This is one of the highly revered lake of Sikkim.  It is a sacred lake both for Buddhists and Hindus.

This was the tourist season so the lake has many visitors, every group enjoying as per their own taste and interest.There is a temple at the bank of lake and beyond that high snow covered mountains. In this season trekking on the mountains can be enjoyed. Gum boots, canes and all other accessories facilitating the trek could be hired in the nearby small, local market.Rows of decorated yaks stood there with their masters to give a ride to visitors.

But despite all the tourist humbug if you want to be alone with the lake, you can easily do that. Walk a few feet away and the blue waters start whispering the mystical chants flowing down from the lands of the high peaks of mountains. Somewhere up there, beyond our reach, lies a world  cradled and caressed by fluffy floating clouds. And I want it to be there only, far away from us, beckoning and reassuring. They say that the lake gets completely frozen in winters and then perhaps angels float down on glassy white surface of the lake to dance and enjoy under a clear star lit sky.

 

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A quiet time with Changu lake

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yak riding, trekking on other side of the lake

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The temple

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Waiting for their turn

 

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The snow, the mountains, the peaks, the valleys, the streams, the lakes, the winding paths, the sky, the clouds. mesmerizing, panoramic scenes all stirred kaleidoscopic emotions but my heart overflowed with feelings of gratitude and reverence for these quiet, dignified, brave sentinels, They represent the real spirit of mountains.

 

All the pics by — Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Padamchen is a small, beautiful village surrounded by lush. dense jungles. At the height of about 8000 ft, the village is perched on hilly slopes. I found it to be one of the most serene, quiet, soul stirring place on old silk route.

 

 

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In praise of these wonderful clouds, lines from P. B.Shelly —

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.”

 

 

Snuggled in the cozy warmth of blanket that night I slept in the lap of clouds and got up to a refreshingly fresh bright morning. It had rained in the night.

After a hot cup of tea we were out on the clean tar road to explore the neighbourhood. There was no one else except us on the road and in the silence chirping, tweeting of birds on the road side trees could be heard very clearly. Padamchen is reckoned as bird watcher’s, bird photographer’s paradise. Later on I met a lone cow herder on the road and he told me that a group of enthusiastic bird photographers was staying in a guest house for last two-three days. Different kinds of calls emerging from trees told us that there were many species of birds residing there but tracing them in the dense foliage was difficult. Though we could see few while they flew from one to another tree.

From the point at the end of straight road where it turned and climbed upwards we could get a magnificent view of valley and mountains beyond. Those few red, yellow. orange roof tops nestled midst the green wilderness looked inviting. A cloud floated by brushing them gently as if cooing in their ear that another new dawn is knocking on the threshold.

The lone little figure emerged from the greenery below, a school bag on the back. The boy was hardly six or seven years old. Standing there he called his friend but perhaps he from down told that he was not coming . Young fellow started on the road slowly. I asked him. ‘school? so early?’ ‘ no . tuition..and he is not coming.” I had my all sympathy with him. But later on saw a unique scene on that lone road of Padamchen. Saw  same child walking with a young lady, who had an open book in her hand. She was teaching boy some spellings etc . Behind them at a certain distance was another young man with two little girls and he too was teaching them while walking on the road. This certainly looked liked a good plan…fresh air, calm morning and a lesson on time management.

 

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The kid walking to his tuition class

 

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Raushni, the smiling beauty too was off to her school.

 

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Lessons on the road…spelling revision session.

 

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Our hosts at Padamchen

 

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Every face has it’s own story

 

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 Corns hanging outside the hut of our hosts.

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This kind of bowl emitting fragrant smoke  from morning till night is found outside almost every home. Every morning with fresh material it is lighted and hung at a corner at the entrance. I simply loved the idea. You can interpret it in any way you want — prayers for all, welcome gesture for every guest, thankfulness to God. It definitely added to the holy, pious aura of the place.

All the pics — Sunder Iyer

Mankhim view point…….The temple at Mankhim view point is at the height of about 6500 ft and offers a wonderful scenic view of Aritar and hills around it.The temple belongs to Rai community of Nepali origin. The Nandi outside the temple and various tridents in the premises suggest that the temple is dedicated to lord Shiva however the Shivalinga inside temple is in different form than found in other parts of country. Lord here is called Paruhang. Rai, mainly a community of cultivators consider themselves children of Peruhung, who is supposed to reside in Himalayas. Rai people in Sikkim gather here every year to celebrate Sakewa, a festival celebrated for expressing gratitude towards Mother Earth. Sakewa is also known as Bhumi pooja or Chandi pooja. Prayers are offered  for peace and protection of all living  beings and for rich crops and cultivation.

 

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Temple at Mankhim view point.

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Peruhang….inside temple. As it was annual festival time in the valley, we found many youngsters visiting temple in groups and pairs. youngsters clad in western outfits, different colored streaks in hair and half shaved head kind of hairstyles…. taking off their sports shoes and bowing before God with that expression of surrender and reverence….. somehow the sight felt very reassuring.

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Nandi and Kalash in row outside temple.

Besides panoramic view of hills and mountains, from here we can also enjoy the beauty of Lampokhri lake and scenes around it.

 

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and when the blues descend to embrace greens, the dreamscape created is so surreal, so inviting that you close your eyes, stretch your arms and are almost ready to be lost in oblivion…. Niravana kind of feel.

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From up there, the view point, the terrace fields looked like wide spread poetry sheets, nurturing life in their womb.

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 A glimpse of  Lampokhri lake from Mankhim view point. Without the emerald spread all other colours would look so static.

 

Later on we went down to Lampakhori lake. Annual cultural function and fair was going on at the ground near lake so many parked vehicles and an ongoing stream of people filled the area. However the Green placid lake surrounded by hills and trees promised that on quiet days the place would be worth spending some time in one’s own company. It’s not like that I don’t like humans or I like them less but I like nature more, There midst pathless woods I find a different kind of joy, sitting on a roadside rock, looking at the mist covered street dissolving in oblivion ,as if leads me to altogether different vistas  and I love being there.

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Lampakhori lake and the small temple on it’s bank.

 

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A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

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A lady in her stall in fair with some handwoven stuff.

 

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And the light of world, little girls in fair, enjoying their day out. Golgappa, pani batasha, pani-puri, fuchkas…. you may call it by different names in different parts of country  but they definitely are high on ladies favourite list, whatever might the age be.

 

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This Gumpa was quite close to our homestay.

Solitude is the language of these small places on Old silk route and ever smiling, hospitable locals add charm to one’s visit there.

Meet some people who made our Aritar stay more enjoyable—-

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She is Pinchu. We met her on our way to Mankhim view point. To reach view point we need to climb a stretch of well laid stairs and on the way is Pinchu’s home, her shop. Her parents provide home stay facility too. While returning from view point we stopped at Pinchu’s shop for sizzling Wai- Wai and hot coffee. Pinchu made our stop over very enjoyable. Very smart girl she is and was handling the customers confidently, offcourse consulting her parents for cost of items etc. As her father was telling us about their homestay facilities and tourist agency at other places too, Pinchu took out his visiting card from the drawer in shop and handed over to us. Her perfect business woman kind of gesture made us laugh aloud. Nobody there even mentioned the visiting card there but she knew what should be done.

 

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And he is Aryum, our homestay owner’s son. Kid with his young companion, Nasima, a girl of eight years filled our hours with pure joy and laughter, which you can enjoy only in the company of innocent kids only. Aryum and Nasima shared a beautiful relationship. Nasima proudly told us that she was a student of class third.

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She is Aryum’s mom, owner of Shangey homestay. wonderfully efficient lady,. I saw her with amazement running on her toes from ground to second floor, attending all the guests with a charming smile, managing her staff, looking into problems of water, electricity supply and kitchen too.

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And the aesthetically decorated dining space of Shangey homestay. We stayed at four or five homestays during this trip but Shangey homestay at Aritar is our most favourite one.

Reliving my memories feels like that rose pressed between the pages of a book, even after ages I can inhale the fragrance and feel fresh.

 

©All the pictures by— sunder iyer

 

 

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