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.

 

nath2

Way to our homestay.

 

nath5

 

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.

 

nath7

Welcoming smile of lady of the home

nath8

Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

nath01

 

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.

 

nath1

 

nath4

 

nath02

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

nath03

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.

 

joka_3

 

joka_21

 

 

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.

 

joka_16(1)

 

joka_23n

 

joka_25

 

 

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.

 

joka_27

 

joka_28

 

joka_29

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.

 

joka_30

 

joka_63n

 

 

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.

 

joka_50

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.

 

joka_36

 

joka_12nnw

 

joka_33

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.

 

joka_42

A quiet time with Changu lake

joka_45

yak riding, trekking on other side of the lake

joka_46

The temple

joka_47

 

joka_48

 

joka_49

Waiting for their turn

 

joka_64n.jpg

 

joka_14

 

joka_11

 

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.

 

 

joka web

 

joka webb

 

joka_8w

 

joka_22nncroppedw

 

joka_93W

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.

 

jokawebb2

The kid walking to his tuition class

 

padem-w5

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

 

padem-w4

Lessons on the road…spelling revision session.

 

padem-w3

 

padem-w1

Our hosts at Padamchen

 

padem-w9

 

padem-w10

 

padem-w11

Every face has it’s own story

 

padem-w8

 Corns hanging outside the hut of our hosts.

padem-w2

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.

 

jokaweb18

Temple at Mankhim view point.

jokaweb20

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.

jokaweb17

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.

 

jokaweb23

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.

jokaweb21

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

jokaweb22

 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.

jokaweb8

 

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

 

jokaweb14

A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

jokaweb12

 

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

 

jokaweb9

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.

 

jokaweb5

 

jokaweb6

 

jokaweb7

 

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—-

jokaweb15

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.

 

joka-ww

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.

IMG_20170405_094246

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.

IMG_20170405_093114

 

IMG_20170405_093108

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

 

 

poojas on ghats

 

 

These kids on Ghats of Varanasi, engrossed in offering jal [water] to Shivalinga, made me  think… what would have been their thoughts about God, worship or prayers. I felt they have imbibed it as a part of life, part of belief system from the elders in the family and the people around them. The unquestioning trust…. the purest form of devotion.

 

 

The lady here is performing ‘Tulsi Vivah’. Tulsi is the herbal medicinal plant Basil but it is considered to be a sacred plant by Hindus. The plant is worshiped like Goddess in Hindu households. Lighting a lamp near tulsi plant every evening is a ritual followed by almost every Hindu family. Tulsi Vivah celebration in the month of Kartik, specially on Ekadasi is considered to be very auspicious by Hindus all over India. On ghats of Varanasi during last five days of Kartik month this ceremony is conducted by many groups of women. There is a mythological story related to this ritual.

 

 

On several places on ghats we observed these squares made by flour. These were divided by twenty five smaller squares. These were kind of Chauk. On some places pulses, rice and other seasonal grains with colored cloth pieces were kept in each square while at other places flowers and sweets were kept. We could not ascertain the significance of this ritual but even then it filled the heart with a kind of reassurance. Unnamed, unknown it might be but faith can always be felt inside our souls.

 

 

The moments of silent communication with God — serene and peaceful. Prayers , the bridge of kinship with Lord.

 

 

From the depth of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairway of wakefulness,
I whisper
God, God, God!

When boisterous storms of trials shriek
And worries howl at me,
I drown their noises, loudly chanting
God, God, God!

by Paramhans Yoganand

All pics by Sunder Iyer.
Dev Deepawali …. 2016.

Rangoli, Alpana, Kolam,Muggulu, Puvidal, Mandana , Chauk….. you can call it by any name but different patterns adorned on ground on various auspicious occasions all over India speak one language and that is of celebration, welcome and devotion.

In South India drawing the geometrical patterns at the entrance and Pooja room is a daily ritual. Different states have specific design patterns for specific occasions and specific Gods too. In South India these patterns are drawn with dry powder or wet paste of rice powder while in North India it is made with dry wheat flour. With the passage of time various other mediums are also being used to draw Rangolis. Innovations and experiments with new design patterns are also seen but the spirit of these motifs still reverberate on the same tune.

The design galore on ghats of Varanasi on Dev Deepawali day was spectacular.The magnificent display of patterns, designs, colors and lights was mesmerizing.Ghats after ghats one could see old ladies to young girls busy in drawing designs, filling those with colors, decorating with diyas.  Witnessing  three generations involved enthusiastically to fill the world with beauty and sacredness gave a deep reassuring feel. Air was filled with Shlokas, Bhajans.Innumerable lighted earthen lamps in flower bowls floated slowly, rhythmically, steadily on quiet Ganges. These tiny dots of light on wide  waters of holy river bathed in inky darkness filled the heart with gratitude and peace. Big round moon in the sky smiled benevolently  as if granting boon.

deep_65

 

deep_66

 

deep_67

 

deep_68

 

deep_69

 

deep_75

 

deep_74

 

deep_73

 

deep_72

 

deep_71

 

deep_70

 

deep_76

 

deep_77

 

deep_78

 

deep_79

 

deep_80

 

deep_81

All pics by Sunder Iyer.

Long, lean bamboo poles with bamboo baskets dangling on the upper tips stood in clusters on Madhis (the platforms on both sides of the steps leading to Ganges.) on various ghats of Ganges at Varanasi. This is a common site on ghats in the Hindu month of Kartik. Every evening Diyas [earthen lamps] are lighted and placed in these baskets in the memories of ancestors, the symbolic significance being that these lamps light the path of the departed soul upto heaven. These are known as Aakash deep or Aakash kandeel. The tradition is said to run from as long as people can remember.

As twilight descends, the ripples on Ganges water hitherto bathed in golden sunlight, dancing merrily get sombre.Sky overhead dons it’s inky blue night gown and Ganges flows placidly absorbing the calm greys of atmosphere. Groups of men and women with their pooja baskets start gathering near these bamboo poles.

This was the Kartik month of 2016 and we were on Nepali ghat at that evening. Preparations for lighting diyas were on. The hanging  baskets were lowered with the help of thin ropes attached to pulleys and baskets. Diyas taken out, filled with oil and fresh cotton wicks,  the lighted diyas placed inside basket and the basket once again pulled up on the poles.  The dangling baskets facing the sky and the flickering lights of Diyas paying homage to departed souls, women making rangolis near poles, chanting shlokas, praying with folded hands, lighting few more diyas on ground near each pole in the name of Gods and Goddess…. the entire scene filled the heart with peace and content. It was like a bridge of bonds and emotions has been erected from earth to heaven.The lighted baskets overhead moved slowly, rhythmically on the tune of winds. It felt as if the souls of ancestors are expressing their happiness, bestowing their blessings. What a beautiful concept of remembrance, gratitude and duty.

It is said that corresponding to the Diya in Aakash deep one more Diya is lighted on the ground near the respective pole. As if denoting that the lineage is alive and continuing. This one Diya is essentially lighted while rest are optional. one can light as many as one wants in the names of kul devtas, devis and other Gods.

On one of the ghats these Aakash deeps were lighted in memory of martyrs, who lost their lives defending our country  during various terrorists attacks.

We also witnessed lighting of Aakash deeps at Ganga Mahal Ghat on the terrace of Krishna temple. on ghats the poles were erected on Madhis (मढ़ी) near the steps of Ghats and the reflection of lighted Diyas could be seen in the Ganges water. View of Aakash deeps on terrace of temple from the ghats looked like a group of fireflies.

Aakashdeep are like lighted verse of prayers reaching zenith.

This month long event culminates on the day of Kartik Poornima.,when the glorious moon steps out in it’s most magnificent form, smiling and assuring the lamps that the journey of light will go on for ever.

 

deep_39nw

 

deep_59w

 

deep_60wdeep_57w

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Few days ago I got to spend few hours with this ninety two year old gentleman with varied experiences of life. He takes care of this ages old temple but does not hold a good opinion of so called Sadhus and babas. He prefers to communicate with we grahasth [family] persons, who according to him happen to be more enriched spiritually.
He lived with Sri Govind Ballabh Pant, the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, when he practiced as an advocate and Our country was under British rule.He started his first government job with salary of Rs forty per month, did his char dham yatra on foot from Haridwar.He shared lots of memories of the days when entry of Indians was banned in Hazaratganj after four P.M. as that was the time British offiicials and their families used to come there for enjoying their evenings.He also shared how there was scarcity of educated people and posts in government offices, seats in higher educational courses lay vacant for want of candidates.
This temple where he now resides is ages old. He told us that no body knows who built it originally. years ago it lay surrounded by dense forest on the bank of river. Dacoits, bandits and freedom fighters too took shelter here.When he arrived here then also it was surrounded by dense forest and forty to forty five snake couple resided in the vicinity…and why not after all it is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva.It is said that plastering of the temple structure has been done by the mixture of Urad dal [ black lentil] pulp of Ber [ indian plum / jujubi] and chasani [syrup of Gur[jaggery]

Talking to him was like turning pages of a old history book nay more interesting and enthralling. He created wonderful imagery while narrating his travel experiences of mountains and the underlying spiritual essence provided hope and strength.

 

img_3887

 

img_3856

 

img_3834

 

img_3831

 

new3

 

new

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

It was 3rd of March 2015 . We reached Chakauri as the day was wrapping up. We had witnessed an amazing sunset from the rooftop of a road side house at Berinag. Kind of sunset that leaves us awestruck with huge, orange-red circle of sun majestically gliding on vast horizon, filling every object with an ethereal beauty.

Our train from Lucknow had reached Kathgodam at about 11.30 A.M. Our taxi was waiting for us outside the station and we immediately hit the road. We reached Chaukori at about 7 P.M. After dinner we retired to bed early with dreams of early morning dialogue with snow-clad majestic peaks of Himalaya.

Chaukori is a tiny Hill station in Pithoragarh District of Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand. This was our second visit to Chaukori. Once almost about 17 years back we had visited Chaukori with our two sons. As is the story of every tourist place, Chaukori too has changed a lot with passage of time but it still has those quiet pockets where woods sit by you silently whispering untold stories, chirping of birds gels into virgin melody of folk songs riding from villages down in the valley. Splendid view of majestic Himalayan peaks Nanda devi, Nandadevi east, Nandakot, Panchchuli, trishul and Annapurna transport you to an entirely new world. Bathed in moonlight when snow-capped peaks resplendently stand out in inky blackness of night, you are compelled to believe that there far off is a land of fairies and angels.

chakauri3(1)

chakauri14

chakauri1_101nww

chakauri2

chak01

4th of march, cool, tender twilight moments, salubrious mountain air though nipping was ahh so refreshing. We were on the watch tower at Kumaon Mandal guest house premises waiting for the sun. Here we met Mr. Sunil Arora, the lone traveller. His enthusiasm for wanderings is simply amazing. And then slowly the rosy tint started appearing on the sky far away behind snowy peaks and then suddenly one of the peaks was bathed in silky orangish pink light….the simmering, flickering fingers of the sun were caressing the pearly white head of the peak with soft tender touches….I could hear the music in my soul….the divine tinkling of temple bells….the atmosphere was as if filled with unsung prayers and hymns……

The valley on other side was filled with an ocean of clouds. Chaukori at one time must have been a quaint little tiny land mass surrounded by valleys on all the sides, encircled by mountains, peaks and hills. In those early morning hours it must have looked like a floating island in the clouds. The magic still can be felt and witnessed.

chak11

After a cup of tea in open in the company of charismatic Himalayan peaks we set off for unhurried wanderings. Eariler when we were here in Kumaon Mandal guest house, there were no buildings in the vicinity except that big old palatial house. Now a number of houses, resorts, hotels have come up. Earlier there was no paved path and we roamed around between bushes, trees. This time we had to go out on the road from the main gate of guest house and we walked on a laid down path. We walked up to the tip from where hills sloped down to valleys.

There was this little temple under a big tree on that hill. Steeped with silence and surrounded by tall trees this small portion of hill was a perfect place to sit down and catch up with oneself. The lone Buransh tree between dense greenery smiled all bright and red. Snow clad mountains seemed nearer. After spending some time we returned to guest house. On way back in a grove enjoyed chirping and twittering of different species of birds.

chak10

Back in the guest house most of the fellow travellers were out in the open — the middle aged couple from Varanasi with their young daughter, the group of Bengali boys heading for Munsiyari with a trekking plan booked, this Bengali documentary maker with his mother and mausi and Sunil ji. All of them left after breakfast. We too had a plan to go to Munsiari but as the road on the way was blocked due to heavy snowfall and anybody going towards Munsiyari needed one extra day, we had to cancel our programme of visiting it. If we went ahead, it would not have been not possible to get back to Kathgodam in time to catch our train. We even thought of cancelling our reservation if we could get the seats reserved for a day later but that could not happen hence we stayed there in Chaukori for the day.

After every body left it became quieter as we two were the only occupants in entire premises besides the staff of guest house. Sometimes that is what you need…..let the time slip away while you sit wrapped in eloquent silence, trying to merge yourself with nature all around. We wandered all around leisurely discovering new paths, spotting different birds, inhaling the fragrance of unnamed flowers and chatting with the local kids, enjoying the gathering of women to celebrate Holi, The sudden charismatic appearance of two rainbows in the valley, suddenly finding myself face to face with an idol of Ma Kali, locked in a room of deserted and dilapidated hut..

chakauri (4 of 1)w

Night dawned and the entire hill station plunged into pitch black darkness as there was no electric supply that day but that too proved to be advantageous for us. A bonfire in the verandah and its warmth was too cosy and comforting. In front of us were the Himalayan peaks bathed in moonlight.

How they stand out! The combination of snow and moonlight…so mystique it looked. The entire range like illuminated Arc of Noah in the dark, raging water waves invited us to take the voyage of faith. It was so divine.

Yes , we missed the chance of being at Munsiyari, a chance to enjoy the majestic beauty of Himalayas from closer quarters but as is said everything happens with a purpose, our extended stay at somnolent hills of Chaukori too served a deep, fulfilling purpose. Such divine encounters not only rejuvenated my soul but brought myself closer to me.

chakauri6

pooja1_3 (2)pooja1_26w

all the pictures by Sunder Iyer

Waterfalls— I have seen and been to many waterfalls from Uttaranchal, Dhunadhar of Jabalpur, Kodaikanal, certain places in Maharashtra, Hogenakkal, Shivasamudram, many others and the recent ones in Coorg. Some of these are known and famous, others are obscure and unknown. Some are seasonal, others perennial. Some are gigantic, wide spread others comparatively smaller and when viewed from far off appears to be like a stream trickling down vertically . But each of these has it’s own symphony, own music , own beauty and own distinct personality too.
A river in it’s entire life journey flows through level surfaced planes, meanders through rocky terrains, skirts around big boulders trying to block it’s course and then sometimes feels restricted by it’s own disciplined, adept and accommodating  way of running it’s life. That’s when breaking it’s own chains it leaps down the hills, mountains, gurgles with free abundant spirit, thrashes along freely with glee, with arms outstretched dances pivoting from rock to rock and once the adventurous urge is satisfied it again starts flowing in it’s own previous disciplined way. Waterfalls to me appear to be the representation of that urge to break free for some time and indulge in reckless, adventurous enjoyment of sheer happiness.
During our visit to Coorg in oct. 2014, I got an opportunity to indulge in the exultant company of two waterfalls. We visited these waterfalls on different days and were fortunate enough to experience the excursions in two entirely different kind of weather conditions.
The day we were with Abbe falls was a sparklingly blue day. Abbe falls are  at about 8 to 10 Km distance from Medikeri town. Paid parking is available outside the gate from where about three hundred meters  down hill walk commences. This gravel path is shady and easy to walk. The way to waterfall runs through a private coffee plantation farm.
We started our walk down. On both the sides were bushes, tall erect trees with creepers entwined to them. Soft, diffused morning light filtering through shady green vegetation haloed the leaves in silken gold hues. Though the path was full of to and fro tourist traffic yet it was not at all chaotic. A graceful calmness spread all around. As I always say, company of nature brings out the best in us.
While our way down, we could here the birds chirping somewhere deep in denseness but could not locate and see them. Spiders and their webs were there in a large numbers. I had never seen such colorful spiders earlier . They were in various sizes too.

maam01_1

coorgg3_7
Long before we saw the fall we could hear it’s carefree, roaring laughter. Head along descent of Cauveri from a height of about 70 ft. mesmerized me.White foamy sheet of water spraying it’s pearly drops all around felt energizing.I stood there on the hanging bridge across the gorge facing the fall. Water hurtled down in gorge in ferocious urgency and surged forward with mighty force submerging the rocks and boulders on the way and then I turned 180 degree and faced the river on the other side of bridge. How quickly it’s mood has changed. In a comparatively composed mood the river flowed on in a playful way nudging the rocks in river bed, whispering to branches which bent to kiss it’s ripplets. That’s what is so magical about nature—- it surprises you at every other bend.

maam01_7ok
view of Abbey falls as it came into view. People are far away from fall. From here a side view of falls can be enjoyed.

maam01_9

This is front view of falls taken from hanging bridge. Railings and people can be seen on left side.
Next day we were at Iruppu falls. We planned to visit Iruppu falls in the morning and then be there at Nagarhole national park for 3 P.M. safari.Two safaris are conducted every day one at about 6 A.M. and another at 3P.M. As suggested by our home stay host we confirmed from the office at national park that afternoon safari would take place as per schedule. Some times due to heavy rains the trip inside jungle is cancelled. When we started towards falls it was cloudy and on the way it rained heavily. Somewhere on the way the driver lost the way and instead of taking the turn to falls he drove us straight to Nagarhole. Falls are about 20 Km from national park. We thought that after booking our seat for safari we would head towards fall but in the office we were informed that due to heavy, incessant rains for last two hours the afternoon safari was cancelled. We were disappointed a bit but then nothing should mar the spirit when we are out to enjoy. Keeping that in heart we proceeded towards Iruppu falls and the day turned out to be simply thrilling.

coorgg3n

on way to Iruppu falls
From wide open parking space the far off hills beyond the curtain of rain allured us.For some time rain poured down continuously like sleet, then intermittently it drizzled and this changing pattern of rain provided us with an opportunity to enjoy myriad beautiful frames of lush green hills. A moment slender white columns of clouds arose from the hills and walked tantalizingly towards sky, on other hoard of clouds rushed to hills and hugged them so tightly that we could not even see them.

coorgg3_11
Purchasing our tickets we entered the gate .A gravel road run between airy grass fields with multi colored wild flowers. after some distance there was a building and this board was displayed there.

IMG_2602
On other side of the road stood a big Peepal tree with a Shivlinga under it’s shade.After some time the vegetation on either side started becoming denser and then steps leading to fall started. There must be not less than hundred steps to reach the fall. On one side of steps are hills laden with tall trees, creepers and bushes. A board there proclaimed that the area belonged to Brahmagiri wild sanctury. However entry without prior permission is not allowed here. What I gathered that participants to the organized treks are permitted to venture in the dense forest.On other side of steps run deep gorge but so dense is the vegetation that we could see only the wilderness. It was raining all the time yet the there was continuous flow of tourists. On the place from where we could have the first glimpse of fall, quite a spacious concrete platform was built and benches were laid down. We stayed there for some time taking in the untamed beauty of nature.
Iruppu falls cascades down the  Brahmagiri hills and jumps on a bowl between rocks to form a pool. Many groups of people were taking bath, standing in the pool, under the sprays and streams of fall. From there water flows down in number of streams separated by rocks in between. Those who were not taking bath sat on the rocks enjoying the natural beauty all around . There after all the streams collectively roaring and gushing take a steep jump  and later on meet the river Laxman Tirtha, a tributory  of Cauveri.
As per the legend when Lord Rama and Laxman were wandering in forests searching for Sita, who was kidnapped by Ravana, Rama felt thirsty. Inorder to quench thirst of elder brother Laxamana shot an arrow and brought the river Laxamn Tiratha into being.Hence the place is considered to be sacred. It is believed that water of Iruppu fall possesses magical power to absolve one of one’s sin. During Shivratri time many devotees, pilgrims throng here to take part in the ongoing fair and take bath in waters of Laxamana Tirath river and Iruppu falls.
Water drops from heaven above pattered on the rocks, leaves. mingled with  the gushing waters of fall, bouncing water gurgled happily and the forest came alive with harmonious symphony of nature elements.This was a truly spirit uplifting experience.

maam01_3final

maam01_1 (2)n

Iruppu falls

payal1_12

I have seen many strong, gigantic trees uprooted and destroyed by ferocious rush of waters but these humble grass blades danced and frolicked stating that many storms could be won by shedding vanity and embracing humility.

maam01_11nn
From one side of the Peepal tree near the gate concrete steps slope down to peaceful waters flowing slowly between rocks. This quiet secluded place invited us to it’s fold and we spent some time there too. May be those who are not able to cover the distance upto the fall can take bath here and be in commune with nature, pay homage to Lord Shiva.

coorgg3_5

”We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.”
                                                                                                                      John Muir

maam01_4 (2)

All pics by Sunder Iyer