Kek Lok Si temple stands on a hilltop at Air Itam. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Penang or may be in Malayasia too. It is not just a temple but an entire temple complex comprising of monasteries, many gardens, prayer halls, souvenir , food and drink stalls, many idols, statues, ponds, pagoda, kings pavilions all laid beautifully at different heights and levels of hill. The construction is still going on and the construction is largely financed by the donations of the devotees and believers.

I think I will let the pictures talk more as I really find it very difficult to describe the entire magnificent lay out in words.

 

 

From afar we could see the ten thousand Buddha pagoda on the top of hill. Ofcourse we came to know that it was called so after reaching there only but the structure going high in the sky proclaimed the existence of the temple from very far and it draws one to it with an irresistible pull. After reaching the base of the hill we meandered our way through food and souvenir stalls and reached here—–

 

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This tower reminded me of the Deep Stambhs  found in Hindu temples, specially that of Maharashtra. From here one can gather a little bit idea of the magnitude of the entire temple structure.

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This hall with many Pink Buddhas on inside and  outside walls too is really very beautiful. This was my next stop . It was a peaceful experience to be in their company. Their hands posture appear to denote that in this world you receive from one hand and be ready to give out from the other. that is how the life should be. The cycle of gratitude is completed that way. Swastika on chest , at the place of heart perhaps symbolises that our thoughts, feelings should be of good for all.

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

says Buddha.

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The fresh air, the serenity, the quietness and these disciples with Buddha on the seat. I felt like closing my eyes and sit there in august company, forgetting myself.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” 

Says Buddha. one needs to pave one’s path in one’s own way. We have to experience before believing.

 

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“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

that’s what it conveyed to me.

 

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This idol with sixteen arms appear to be of some female deity. I don’t know about the name and other details but to me it appeared that she surrounds herself with peace from all directions. Yes, the outside world is there. We need to accept it’s existence and respond to it too as that is a part of our duty as mortal beings but then need to create our own space of peace within. I would certainly like to know more about it. She appears to hold different weapons in her hands. Is she a representation of Shakti, the destroyer of evils?

“If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.

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”Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone except your self.” Buddha

Inward , that is the direction every prayer hall with serene Buddha takes you to.

 

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Like these two there were perhaps nine images in this hall. To me it appeared that these represent different emotions, Not sure about their significance, though.

 

 

Incense sticks, lighted lamps, wishing ribbons and tiles, folded hands, closed eyes….. the bliss of surrendering, the strength of believing.

”Prayers don’t just change the things, they change us.”

 

 

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We climbed this inclined path in a lift, kind of a small funicular. It takes us to the topmost floor where 30 meter high statue of Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin is located.

 

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This pavilion of Goddess is gargantuan and shelters a very high idol of Goddess of mercy of Mahayana Bddhism. The pavilion from it’s base to tip is said to be about 83 meters high. the roof is supported by 16 pillars.

It’s not just the size of pavilion and statue but the divine grace emitted by the goddess, the fresh air, the spiritual aura that make being there an experience worth cherishing.

 

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And that is seven storey pagoda containing ten thousand images of Buddha, another landmark feature of Kek loksi temple. This pagoda ia a unique symbol of unity too as it assimilates different cultures in it’s design. The octagonal base is Chinese, the middle portion is Thai and the spiral top is Burmese. It is said that the foundation stone of this pagoda was laid down by the then  king of Siam, that is present day Thailand, King Rama VI.

While climbing those steps leading to pagoda I looked up to sky and the light filtering through fluffy white clouds showered it’s grace. I closed my eyes and mumbled a prayer….We mortal ones go on creating darkness but O! the supreme one , you go on showing us the path . Be with us.

 

All the pics by Sunder Iyer.

When we reached Chew Jetty , it was the time to wait for sunset. Infact it was the perfect time to be there. We were a bit tired from our day long excursion and sitting there on wood planks platform quietly seemed to be the best way to sum up the day. Water extended to the limit of my vision. Ships were anchored far away. Boats from shore were making rounds to and from like bridges on move, from shore to waters. Other tourists were there. some resting with their legs hanging from the plank seats, others lying down on their backs with eyes on the sky above. Of course few were busy clicking selfies while others focused their  cameras to capture the landscape around. Yes, activities were there yet it was not getting on the nerves and it was calming, that kind of special moment when you feel assured with the presence of the fellow beings around you, yet you let yourself loose to wander beyond, beyond those waters, beyond the sky, somewhere in distant horizon where waters and sky appeared to embrace each other.

Jetties in Penang are small wooden villages built on stilt by pioneer Chinese immigrants. These are known as clan jetties, each jetty representing a particular clan. we came to know that there were about seven jetties initially, however we visited only two of these. Tan jetty and Chew Jetty. These water villages were set up almost a century ago by the chinese immigrants , who were compelled to leave their motherland for various reasons like famine, poverty and other politically unsettling events. Now with the passage of time they are well settled  over here. They work as ferry operators transporting people and goods from shore to ships anchored in waters. Some of them have even joined in the main stream jobs on land while others have started their own small businesses.

Tan jetty had a kind of abandoned look on the time we visited. the houses were only on one side of the wooden way and doors were closed. We could not find any one outside. But at the end of this some what curved path was one colourful hut where some youngsters were having fun and view from that point was awesome.

Path of Tan Jetty that leads to that colourful hut at the end.

 

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And the hut itself.

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On the other hand Chew jetty was bustling with inhabitants, tourists and activities. It bore an alive, festive look. At the very entrance of Chew jetty is this bright colourful temple.

 

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I don’t know whether this one is a permanent feature or not but when we visited Chew jetty this colourful stage was set up in front of the temple. May be some show was about to begin.

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Almost every house in chew jetty has opened up it’s own business. There are small food stalls , shops selling souvenirs, books, even beauty products.

 

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This colourful boat kept in open space on jetty added brightness to surrounding. The inhabitants of jetty have done their bit to make jetty more attractive to tourists and then preserving cultural symbols always give feeling of remaining attached to roots.

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colours add power to soul, the belief that rainbow blossoms when both rain and sun meet.

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This one is a house on another jetty, clicked from Chew jetty. Man not only survives in all kind of circumstances, he is capable of creating his own little heavenly spaces.

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And the great mesmerizing expanse. How so ever high and mighty steps might man take, he still is a pygmy when faced with The Master himself.

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This was the moment I talked about in the beginning of the post………….the horizons slowly spreading within…..

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By the time we walked back through the wooden pathway, the temples lights were lit. The noises of bustling day activities were slowly drowning. Heart was full of gratitude and calmness slowly settled down.

 

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These flags fluttered slowly under the evening sky. I don’t know what exactly the significance of these flags is but to me at that moment these felt like the verses sung in praise of the one and  the only …………… sky showered it’s grace.

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The ethnic migrant communities of Penang add to it’s charm, be it Indians at Mariamman temples or the Chinese at the jetties. Displacement is an integral part of human history but then they can grow their roots wherever they find suitable climate and embracing earth. Ultimately we all belong to only one clan—– the human.

All pics by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landoll’s Mohican castle in Loudonville, Ohio, at first glance looks like a picture out of fairy tales book. Standing in deep salubrious woods the wooden castle with it’s many spires, balconies and stairs is enchanting.

 

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starry pinks and purples gives welcome smiles when heights entice with arms outstretched

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and far off horizons descend in my eyes

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As I climbed the winding stairs which were getting narrowed with rise of every storey my expectation of the view from the top was rising and the view, the feel, was worth every step. The tall, stately trees came closer. Leaves started whispering to share the secrets. The stillness of the moment percolated deep down in heart.

 

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While climbing the stairs never look back. The vision has to be followed by venture.

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And then the vision turns into reality. on the topmost balcony……

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Another view from the top…

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Artistically laid down path around the castle…..

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Besides suits in castle there are separate cottages too. Set in green spread surrounded by trees and adorned with baskets of colourful flowers the entire area is a beautiful place to unwind and relax.

 

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The Copper Mug Bar and Grille in the vicinity of castle provides awesome dining facility. Both indoor and outdoor facility is available.

 

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outside dining space of restraunt

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every flower is a miracle and watching that miracle unfolding make you bloom inside.

All the pics@Sunder Iyer

 

It was a cool January morning when we started from Jaipur to Bhangarh. The ride of about 52 Km. was full of beautiful pastoral scenes – small villages, green fields. Just before entering the limits of Bhangarh we passed through this village of idol, statues makers. the narrow muddy lane was lined by scores of statues of all sizes. Some were almost ready and stood tall in full glory while others lay scattered in semi finished states waiting for their turn to get shaped. There were Gods, Goddesses. dancers, angels, animals, flowers all carved out of white marble. outside every house of the village we could see these images.
On the way we stopped at two places to confirm the direction of Bhangarh. In front of a humble small house a middle aged man was working, we stopped the vehicle and enquired about the distance and direction. After guiding us suitably spontaneously he invited us to have some water, a gesture to welcome the guests. It really felt very good. The warm hearted traditions of our culture are still being followed/ preserved at least in some corners of our country. We had the same experience at other place too. Soul of soil still breaths.

Ruins of Bhangarh are known as the most haunted place of India or perhaps Asia too. Nobody is allowed to stay there after sunset. Prohibitory orders by archeological department to this effect are displayed on a board at the site. There are many versions of the story about Bhangarh ruins, the fate of the place. But today here I am not going to talk about the haunting quotient of the place as we didn’t go there to explore that. We visited Bhangarh as a tourist place and the ruins communicated with me in a very different language.

After entering the first gate we walked on a neat, smooth cobbled path lined from both the sides by rows of roofless one rooms structures.It clearly gave an impression of being a market place.The walls were of boulders and in certain structures few stairs were seen, may be once they led to roof top or there was a first floor. Behind the rows of shops [ i will call them shops only] on one side at a distance spire of a temple could be seen amidst swaying green tops of trees. The area in between was strewn with piles of rocks, boulders while green stamped it’s presence emphatically in all kinds of forms, from tiny grass blades to shady, thick canopy of huge trees. On other side behind the rows of shops various structures of ruins stood every where and behind these overlooking the entire scene was a continuous chain of hills, laden with greenery.
There were other groups of tourists too in the premises . Murmurs of voices could be heard in distance but overall, the serenity and quiet reigned.
At the end of the market there is another high , imposing gate. Crossing that the first structure we visited was Gopinath temple. The temple stands on a high platform. After ascending five-six steps we reached the open platform and sat there for some time imbibing the all around scenes. On one side of temple was open ground covered with green grass beyond which certain structures were visible and farther loomed the Aravali hills. Behind the temple at some distance stood the ruins of palace elegant in their deprivation closer to the heart of hills.As far as the eyes reached the roofless labyrinth of ruins as if whispered every thing on this earth comes with a definite span, everything comes to an end. But the message was conveyed in such a soothing serene way that it didn’t make me afraid rather a sense of calm acceptance pervaded the being.
In the temple is a sanctum sanctorum and in front of sanctum is a circular space with ornately carved ceiling and beautifully paneled pillars. The inverted bowl shaped canopy and pillars have intricately carved images of dancers and musicians. This kind of music enclosures in front of sanctum was perhaps quite prevalent in ancient times. I have found so in many other old temples in different parts of our country. There is one in Lepakshi at Andhra Pradesh, one such circular one I saw in a temple at Pithoragarh. I am sure there are many examples of it places like Hampi etc. Singing, dancing, chanting have always been a part of our worshiping rituals. There is no idol inside sanctum. The only functional temple in the premises is Somesvara temple, the one devoted to Lord Shiva. Besides these two there are Hanuman temple. Kesav Rai temple and Mangla Devi temple .
On the extreme right of the palace there was this broken wall. I climbed on it and sat there for quite some time. Many feet down on the other side of the wall was dense growth of Kevra plants.A thin curved ribbon like kachcha path passed near it and then lost itself in the dense darkness of the forest ahead. Sitting there I could feel the green of earth touching the blue over head at a very very far point. A curtain of mist hung there as if trying to cover the sacred, the mystique from harsh, peering doubtful souls or may be signifying that what lies beyond, the sacred, the unknown is not perceivable through eyes. That was my moment of ultimate midst the ruins of Bhangarh. I did not feel fear of unknown, paranormal. I did not experience that overt enthusiasm of exploring, trekking. Rather I lived the serenity, breathed the calm.

History of Bhangarh —
It is said that Bhangarh was established somewhere in 1573 by Bhagwant Das. Bhagwant Das got it established as the residence of his younger son Madho Singh. Madho Singh was younger brother of famous Man Singh, general of emperor Akbar. After Madho Singh his son Chhatr Singh ruled over Bhangarh but after his death in 1630, Bhangarh started declining slowly. Later on Jai Singh II took control of Bhangarh . The famine of 1783 came as a final blow to gradually diminishing population of Bhangarh. It is said since then it lay uninhabited.

Folklores related to Bhangarh —

Though historians attribute famine as reason of the abandonment and destruction of Bhangarh the folklore have their own tales to tell.

According to one legend Bhangarh perished due to curse of Guru Balunath. Guru Balunath was the person who permitted the establishment of Bhangarh at the place under one condition that shadow of the palace should never fall on his abode and the day it happened so, the town will be perished. To honour his words initially the palace of Bhangarh was erected upto three storeys.However later on when one of the rulers added a storey to the existing palace, it cast a shadow on Guru Balunath’s residence and the town came to it’s end as prophesied. It is said that Balunath lay buried in a small samadhi in Bhangarh.

There is another a more interesting legend related to Bhangarh, Ratnavati, the princess of Bhangarh was very beautiful. And there was a Tantrik named Singhia. He was master of many occult practices, He lived on a hill overlooking the palace, Once by chance he happened to have a glimpse of princess’s face and fell in love with her immediately. He knew that she can never be his so he planned to bring princess under the influence of his occult practices. He used his black magic on the oil to be used by princess. Singhia was sure once the princess used that oil she would come running to him and surrender, It is said that the princess too had some knowledge of black magic and she could decipher Singhia’s plan. She threw that oil on a big boulder which ran towards Singhia and crushed him to death but before breathing his last the Tantrik cursed that Bhangarh would perish soon. Soon after there was a war between Ajabgarh and Bhangarh in which the royal family, army and most of the population of Bhangarh was wiped off.

How to reach Bhangarh —
Bhangarh lies in Alwar district. nearest airport is of Jaipur and nearest railway station is Dausa. Distance of Jaipur is about 52 Km and Dausa is about 22 Km. Drive from Delhi is about of 300 Km. Route is Delhi, Gurgaon, Bhiwadi, Alwar, Thanagazhi, Ajabgarh ,Bhangarh. From Jaipur cabs can be hired . If you have only one day spare in hands then too can go to Bhangarh and even cover Abhaneri stepwell, one of the biggest and most beautiful stepwell. Sariska tiger reserve is about eighty Km from Bhangarh fort and the road is scenic and beautiful. However locals can guide you to many small yet beautiful places, temples in the vicinity.

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The way through the market. This must have been once the bustling, colourful place but then time always has it’s own story to write.

 

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Temples in the premises.

 

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Front view of the remains of palace. Graceful in it’s silence, wrapped in another time zone.

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She is Munni, I met her while we were exiting the palace. She comes there with a bucket full of drinking water for tourists. Her small source of earning.

 

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view of Gopinath temple, Surreal, misty , calm inviting one to the world beyond

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My ‘it’ moment of intimacy with Bhangarh ruins….. soul to soul communication

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the ornate ceiling of Gopinath temple

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 Somesvara temple.

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Met him in the verandha of ruined palace. From that height today’s world looked far away. He has many a tales of beliefs from his childhood to this age. ….kind of suspended moment.

Fixing my gaze on scattered ruins, the high arc of the gate, the temple, the palace , the crumbling fortification I was transported into the stage of deep meditation. Silence and solitude penetrated and spread within. Something of that ancient world came fleeting and nestled inside reassuringly.

 

All 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

05.04.2017

From the balcony of first floor of our home stay it felt as if we have been transported to a land of clouds. On the other side of the narrow road, just outside of the doorstep of homestay nothing could be seen. The valley, the trees, the hills beyond, the tiny houses everything was enveloped in the dense grey layers of clouds . We stepped outside. Walking on the gradually rising road felt like literally entering the clouds world. However as we approached closer, trees in the valley became a bit clear. At least we were able to make out the shapes of tall, cylindrical stems and fluttering prayer flags. Last evening we had seen a board of a ‘Chorten of lopenla’, [ Chorten means a Buddist shrine, a saint’s tomb ] the arrow directing towards valley. We decided to step down and explore the vicinity. Walking on the narrow,  gravel paths, stepping on the steps of rocks, running through silent forest gave birth to indescribable emotions….it always does……whose were the steps who first treadled on this path….who were the people who walked on this before us…..felt a kind of connection to all those who passed on that track before me…they made it easier for us to walk…. a bond of gratitude was established. Somehow that feeling made me happier.
After descending for some time we could see an enclosure housing a Stupa like structure and a bright colored room nearby. Rows of white, red, blue, yellow, green colored flags with prayers written on them were tied in a cris-cross way from one tree to another. The prayer flags fluttering rhythmically in a slow pace over our heads were as if showering blessings. We walked on silently and reached at the gate of enclosure.
The enclosure had a small gate which was latched from inside but could be opened from outside. However we stood outside enclosure silently looking at the Stupa with each one engrossed in thoughts of own when we heard a voice from inside the room, ‘ you can enter the enclosure.’ We went inside and by that time the owner of the voice a Buddhist monk too had stepped outside his room. He struck the conversation by asking the usual questions like….from which part of country had we come…..and then invited us to his living quarter……well, that was definitely a new experience for us. We had visited many monasteries in different parts of country before this and had a little bit of interaction with the monks in the premises but had never been to their living rooms.
He is known as Guru ji midst locals there. We had long intimate informal chat. He told us about his life….originally to which place he belongs, how he reached at that particular place, his Guru ji who earlier long back did penance on the spot and after he left for his heavenly abode Guru ji stayed back carrying on the legacy. We talked about his daily routine, travels, thoughts, beliefs, human life, present social changes, even recent political scenario of country. He also told us about a pond up there in hills somewhere in which  red colored flowers  bloom every year at a particular time and earlier locals used to climb upto the pond to pick up those flowers. That period was celebrated as local festival as inhabitants used to gather around the pond, stayed there and celebrated the occasion with folk songs and dances. It was considered an auspicious period. Still few locals go there but now the cultural fair is organized near the lake down. Now the three day cultural event has taken a modernized look though folk dances and songs by participants too are performed on podium.
Guruji also offered us hot, delicious tea prepared by him and chips,  papads fried by him. We were lucky to get prasad which was brought to him from Himalayas by his some fellow brethren.
He chatted with us in a very normal way. Nothing like imposing any rules, thrusting any gyan or establishing any supremacy yet his compassionate smile, the pious aura and fragrance had a kind of cleansing effect on us. In his presence we felt unburdened.
Travels bring us unexpected experiences, learnings and encounters and these enrich us for life time. That morning with Guru ji at Aritar will keep glowing inside me for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pics copyright- 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.

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All pics by Sunder Iyer.