Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy-go-lucky Ooty; Nilgiri Omnibus Part 8


Ooty/Udhagamandalam/Ootacamund/Udhagai are the names of the same one place Ooty.

Around Ooty
Today when I checked that nobody has made any detailed post on Ooty town on Ghumakkar so I am writing one.
Finally Omnibus has arrived at Ooty.
I say finally because for the time being this is my last post on Nilgiris. In future I may find another intoxicating road in the Blue Mountains and then you would again be invited for another ride in the Omnibus.
However let’s arrive in Ooty on the famous scenic Nilgiri Railway train. After train chugs off Lovedale station, Ooty area begins and you can feel that a town is about to come. At the left side a road goes along the tracks visits villages. Just before Ooty station arrives, suddenly vista opens up at both sides; you can see the famous Ooty lake at you left side and almost whole Ooty spread up on the mountains at our right side. Ooty is a small town. First time I visited here in 1983, in 29 years town grew just a bit; thanks to the controlled and prohibited new construction in Nilgiris and this is amazing in India where rules and regulations are seldom followed and illegal colonies spring up everywhere and later to be regularized by politicians for votes.
Ooty is a happy-go-lucky place. Everybody falls in love with Ooty. Unfortunately people come here and mind their fixed point tour. After they take a conducted tour on a sightseeing bus, they return back next day.

Towards Coonnor
Well whatever… we get down at the Ooty Station and come out. Instantly one is captivated by the views of this place. Nobody ever walks out of station at once, first everybody gazes at the surrounding mountains and the whole town from the valley we are in. Highest peak of Nilgiri’s is Doddabetta and that too (Observatory on the top) is visible from railway station.
Lodging and boarding in Ooty is quite affordable unless you arrive here at weekends then it could be a struggle to find a room in your budget. Of-course still you can find a room but you must know where.
Finally We come out of station and walk along the racecourse. If you don’t mind fish smell then you can take a first left side street otherwise keep walking and take 3rd or 4th Side Street and then at the bazaar road make a right. First two streets have some scattered fish shops. Now we are in Jewelry bazaar. Most jewelers are Jain people so there are several Jain Temples here. A newly constructed grand temple will come in our way at right side, you cannot miss it. There are more Jain temples behind Hotel Manik, and a Jain Bhojanalaya is here serving Jain food at very low prices. On this road is a Rajasthan Tea house, you can have a cup of Gujarat Style masala tea and also you can buy Hindi Newspaper Rajasthan Patrika here. Only this segment of Ooty is a Hindi speaking enclave.

Near Doddabetta
This colorful bazaar comes to the end but busy area of Ooty begins. Here are many restaurants serving non-vegetarian food or Biryani Restaurants. Also there are a couple of South Indian Vegetarian restaurants. At our right is Ooty’s famous Sri Mari Amman temple. It is a grand temple and inside it is equally great. I visited Ooty many times and never entered in this temple but last time when I visited Ooty, I was married. My wife makes it her business to visit any and all temples that she see. So she went in and reported that this was some temple. I believed her because in 4 weeks she visited more than 400 temples so if this must be some temple so I too entered and then I only regretted for not visiting this temple before.

Road towards Kotagiri
It is fun to walk in Ooty bazaars. Just in front of the temple is the large walled bazaar where locals do their shopping. This is Ooty Municipal Market.

Ooty Municipal Market
This crowded and colorful bazaars is arranged in section, different section for flower market, and then different section for provisions stores, and different section for vegetables and then meat etc. etc. I do my shopping here in this bazaar and I mostly purchase Nilgiri’s famous aromatic oils (eucalyptus, lemon-grass and wintergreen oil etc.) Prices are about 20% lower here. After you come out of this Municipal Market you enter in a bit fashionable and touristic area of Ooty till Charring Cross square. Book stores, brand named shoe and garment stores are found in this bazaar. Distances are not great here because it is a quite small town.

Ooty Suburbs
Affordable and quality hotels can be found in between Market Road and Hospital Road or area in the back of Liberty Theater. Most people end up searching for the hotels between Charring Cross and Rose Garden. Bargains can be found in that area too but not in the weekends and holidays.
A couple of Rajasthani bhojnalayas are here in Ooty market and prices for unlimited meals are near 100 rupee per person. I feel that pricey and there are many other decent restaurants. People must note that alcohol and liquor is most expensive in Tamilnadu.

Way to Doddabetta
Best place in Ooty is Botanical Garden. It is built on the 250 meter high slopes of a mountain. The Gardens have around a thousand species, both exotic and indigenous, of plants, shrubs, ferns,trees, herbal and bonsai plants. In the centre of the Gardens lie a fossilized tree trunk estimated to be 20 million years old.

Train entering in Ooty
The Gardens consist of several lawns with flowering plants, ponds with lilies, beds of flowers and ferns laid out in an Italian style, several plots of flowering plants, a variety of medicinal plants. I love to be here and it is the first place I visit when I am in Ooty. Sometimes I come here everyday. Entrance fee is 15 rupee and it valid for the whole day.

Near Lovedale
The highest peak of Nilgiris is Doddabetta. It is 9 kilometers from Charring Cross square. I used to walk there but now road has become too crowed due to heavy tourist influx. Many years ago it used to be a serene place but now it is a bazaar full of filth and horse poop. Views are great from the peak; you can see whole Ooty including trains and buses in Ooty.
If you want the best views and feelings of Nilgiris then you can get to Doddabetta junction on the way towards Kotagiri. From there you can walk for 3-4 kilometers towards Kotagiri and you will have a complete and total taste of Nilgiris. In the first segment in this walk you will see the views of Ooty, and then you will see the views of Kotagiri side.
Near your third Kilometer, when you pass the ridge, you will see views of Connoor and also endless mountain ranges of South India including Kodaikanal etc. You would be simple flabbergasted to see the views; I suggest you to pack up your lunch to have this walk because you would love to spend a lot of time here. After 3 kilometers comes a village; there you can have tea and snacks. You pay a little money for tea and snacks but views from the road at this village are free. You can catch the returning bus to Ooty.
However I bet my life that you will love to walk further so after three kilometers if you walk further towards Kotagiri, road makes a several kilometers descent in the forested mountain to the valley. Views are superb. Especially on this stretch of road you may see foreigners walking and taking pictures. From the village where you had tea and snacks, you need to walk just half kilometers to watch the lush green valleys and several villages there.
When you walk to Botonical Garden from Charring Cross, there is a Tibetan Market selling woolens just before the gate. There people sell the bouquets of Helichrysum (straw flowers – paper daisies) these are yellow flowers and feel like made of stiff papers.
These last a long times or rather several months in the bouquet. These grow all over in Nilgiris, if you go out in country side you can take as many you wish.
Most people bother only visiting the crowded points in the Ooty vicinity. They entirely miss the taste of Nilgiris. Some people spend another night and take the train to Coonnor and then back because Ooty visit is incomplete without the train ride unless you arrived here on the train. I have already written a post about that train ride and also a walk along the train tracks from Lovedale to Ketti stations. This segment is the most beautiful and it passes over the famously scenic Ketti Valley.
Lovedale to Ketty walk

Ooty
Restaurants and Hotels in Charring Cross area are overly priced but in the main market area everything is at par with the economy. Since my vacations are long and I spend several days at one place so I am always inclined towards quality budget accommodation and restaurants. I always stay in Seethalakshmi Lodge in Greenfields Ooty.
Greenfields is just a five minutes walk from Charring Cross and from main market. It is a basic lodge with rooms opening in the balcony and ultra clean. Hot water is available on demand. Manager switches on the water heater from his office on demand. Greenfields is a small street accessible from Market as well from Rose Garden Area.

Near Doddabetta
Ooty has a very pretty lake but it is not much popular. It is behind the railway station and one can enjoy boat rides. It is a huge lake stretched to about 5-6 kilometers. Farthest end of the lake is at Thalaikundah. Thalaikundah is the place where I begin my walk to Masinagudi. I have some posts about that walk.
Ooty has a great Rose garden. Ooty has a unique tropical mountain climate, hence the garden has the ideal climatic conditions for growing of roses. Temperature variation is less and the rainfall distribution is uniform in the locale, which results in a long flowering season.
Initially, when the gardens were developed, 1,919 varieties of roses with 17,256 rose plants were planted. Today this garden has more than 20,000 varieties of roses. It is one of the largest collection of roses in India.
Some time ago at Jayalalitha’s previous regime, this rose garden was named “Jayalalitha Rose Garden” now it is again called as Government Rose Garden. In that era Ooty Botanical garden as well Madhumalai Wildlife century were also renamed as Jayalalitha Botanical Garden and Jayalalitha Wildlife century.

Ooty’s Mariamman temple
On my each visit to Ooty, I always watched at-least one movie in Assembly Room Talkies on the way to Botanical Gardens. There is always some recent English movie running here.
Ooty indeed is a happy-go-lucky place.
Happy it is and go-lucky it is – because it is still maintaining its ancient charms. It is still pollution free.

Temple procession

Mulli to Manjoor; a parade of scenes – Nilgiri Omnibus Part 7


A few words about the mist in Nilgiri Mountains. Mist is the suspended water droplets in the air. When hot and cool air mix, hot air faces temperature drops and water carried into it separates and suspends in the air. Nilgiri Mountains are surrounded by hot planes at all four sides. In the east are Western Ghats and Kerala region.
Parade of Scenes
Manjoor in the mist
Especially air in this direction is full of moisture and when it collides with the cold air of mountains then mist is born. Mist forms and disappears with the air movements. Almost all visitors in Nilgiris witness this game of mist and sunlight. Mist has a unique character that it carries the aroma.

Mukkali to Mulli; a parade of scenes – Nilgiri Omnibus Part 6


We are in Silent Valley National Park in Kerala.
In the morning we pack up to go to Nilgiri Mountains. I ask local people about reaching Ooty from here. They suggest me an alternate way that goes to a Nilgiri town of Manjoor that is 31 kilometers from Ooty. This alternate way is a bit complicated, because public transportation is available in 4 segments so I write it down.
Parade of Scenes
After Silent Valley, on the road.
All buses that pass through here go to Agali so we take that bus to Agali. The scenic roadway keeps one captivated all through. I feel I am not in India but in the Andes Mountains of Columbia or Peru. Roadside is laced by lush green banana plantain, coffee, black pepper, paddy and huge banyan trees. One may find many open air temple and all villages are serene. Time and again some pretty brook cross our road. Near Agali road descends.

Silent Valley Park – Nilgiri Omnibus Part 5


Today Omnibus is going to Silent Valley Park.
All aboard!

River in the Park

Kodanadu View Point, Kotagiri (Ooty) Nilgiri Omnibus Part 4


So we are in Kodanadu area of Kotagiri in Nilgiris Mountains.
We had super-duper-green-tea-with-lemon-grass. Sun is about to set in the mountains and it is crimson all over and also wind is getting cold. It is 5.30PM so we walk to the center of the village amidst the cluster of these purple flowers Salvia Leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage).

Wildflowers in Nilgiris. Courtesy Gita AM

Kodanadu View Point, Kotagiri (Ooty) Nilgiri Omnibus Part 3


Although bus terminates at Kodanadu View Point and then starts from here but we will rather walk to the shack cum restaurant where we had dosas.
Some ladies were picking up the tea and they try to speak with my wife Vimla but due to language difference talk did not go very well. Only thing that I make out of the failed conversation is that they were telling to my wife that she looks like a certain South Indian Film Heroine.
It was barely 1 kilometer from View Point to here but it takes us more than an hour.
Why?
Because of these captivating views.
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Kodanad Estate area, just after Keradamuttam


Kodanadu View Point, Kotagiri (Ooty) Nilgiri Omnibus Part 2


So we were sitting on the road parapet after the Kodanadu Estate Bunglow and gotten yourself lost in the vast expanse of untouched nature. Finally we move from here because now due to clouds we feel cold. We move and here comes a very pretty and colorful, little temple and then begins another scenic village Gandhi Nagar. Village is situated at our left side and at the right side are tea gardens on the downhill slope.
We enjoy the views of faraway Tamilnadu and Karnataka.
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Salvia Leucantha. Mexican Bush Sage.


There are some tea shops in the village. After passing the village comes a small shack of the restaurant run by a lady. It is lunch time and we order dosas; lady asks us, how many dosas.
Plains dosas are 7 rupee a piece and we say just 2. So she makes us 2 dosas.

Kodanadu View Point, Kotagiri (Ooty) Nilgiri Omnibus Part 1


This bus is going to Nilgiri Mountains.
Get on this bus.
I visited Ooty many-many times because I just love Nilgiri Mountains. These mountains are a unique biosphere and must be nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, just like Western Ghats. So much diverse flora grows here that there is no single book or publication that describes it all. Each and every book misses something of a lot.
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Nilgiri Mountains
So let’s visit Koadanadu view point today.

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part VIII


Travel story ended in Part VII
Did I tell it all?
It is not over till it is over …….
Everything must be told.
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View from Vikram’s home
When we were about to leave Uttarkashi city ghat at night, many things happened. The pehalwan from Kumud (Halwai’s son) who honored us in his village, visited us on that ghat. To find us in Uttarkashi didn’t require some serious detective work. Being with OUR Pehalwan, was a sort of wearing a neon sign upon us. This gentleman first went to our hotel and from there he was directed to the ghat where I usually hang around. So he appeared on the ghat. Our Pehalwan, (his hero) lost badly but still he touched his feet and to our embarrassment he touched our feet too. Our Pehalwan, tearfully gave him a grand hug.

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part VII


I, Harish and Pehalwan arrived in Uttarkashi from Budha Kedar.
Once I was trekking in Uttarkashi area towards Yamunotry. On the way was the last village named Kavva. It was the last village before the pass that separates Yamuna and Ganges Valleys. There I met a learned Pundit Ji.
He told me that Uttarkashi has two meaning both are equally significant.
First: It is the Kashi of North (Uttar)
Second: It is the kashi where you get answer (uttar) to all of your wishes.
Uttarkashi View

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part VI


We arrived in Dhanturi at 3PM. Way from Kumud to Dhanturi was very beautiful. This valley as well Budha Kedar Valleys were still green, clean and unmolested unlike other main roads valleys. Distance was just 10 kilometer and there was no public transportation available so at various places people were looking for transportation. Although we paid for the whole jeep but we asked driver to take any passenger that is seeking a transportation without any cost to them. Many people were waiting for transportation for hours. When we arrived at Dhanturi, our jeep carried at least 20 people and their goods. Driver was complaining so we let him charge money from some of the travelers with most luggage.
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A view from the way


It was Friday. From Dhanturi we caught a public bus going to Uttarkashi, it was brutally and dangerously packed with people and goods inside the bus as well on the top, I took the tickets till Chourangi Khal. Chourangi Khal is the highest and most scenic point on this route. From here a Nachiketa Tal, a scenic lake is just 4 km walk. Rabindra Nath Tagore spent many days at Nachiketa Tal, it is said that there he composed Gitanjali.
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Near Chourangi Khal
Route was a severe descent, road traversed 4000 feet in merely 15 kilometers and somehow bus successfully arrived at Chowrangi Khal which is a pass in the mountain. and we got off the bus. I never been here before, I found this place very pretty. There was a small market on the road and tea, food was available. We had rice with locally grown delicious rajmah. Pehalwan wanted to get to Uttariashi fast so he could walk to his sister’s home in the mountains, while there was still daylight. We wanted to reach there in our luxary. We wanted to walk on the road and suggested Pehalwan that he can take the next bus but he insisted that we all will go together. From here to Uttarkashi is all downhill. We started walking and Pehalwan Saab tugged behind us in displeasure.
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Chourangi Khal
After one kilometer of walk it was inferno. The Déjà vu. Mountains were burning around the valley of Ganges. Huge ancient trees were burning and turning into cindering charcoal. Sky was gray with smoke haze. It was heart breaking scene. Old trees even on the top of the mountains were either still burning or were burnt to charcoal. Burning leaves, twigs, branches and sparks were falling on the road from above. Miles and miles of forest were at fire. Fire as far as we could see. We kept walking in the smoke and fire. Mother Nature was on the path of destruction. Fires set by greed or ignorance of human. Fires were set either by people so it burns old grass and makes the way for new for their cattle. I have seen myself people setting those fires and then those fires go out of control or they just don’t much bother to control it. Or fires are set by corrupt forest department staffers in nexus with tree mafia. And also these same people intentionally don’t make any effort to control or prevent the fires because after fire they can sell the trees or claim the already sold trees as burnt and vanished.
We kept on walking in fires. Fire was raining on the road from above. Huge rocks were exploding and cracking with heat. There was not a single drop of water in the water crevices.
We wept.
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Nachiketa Tal
I still wanted to walk but a bus was coming and Pehalwan stopped it. Pehalwan assumed that I and Harish still wanted to walk, he lifted me and dumped in the bus on an empty seat, Harish had no choice but get board. This bus was almost empty. I bought tickets for the Kutati Devi temple. A place 6 kilometers before Uttarkashi and a very scenic shortcut trail goes to town from there.
Whole way was on fire and we were very sad. As far as we could see, all the mountains were on fire. After distance Ganga Valley became visible midst fires and smokes.
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Inderavati Valley
We left the bus at Kutati Devi temple. Pehalwan also didn’t put any resistance and we walked down to the temple and sat in the jungle there and watched the fires. Uttarkashi town and river Ganges was visible from here like a silvery snake in the gray smoke. People told us that it hasn’t been rained in Uttarkashi for many days whereas it used to rain almost at each day in the evenings so dry mountains are at fire. We walked down on the trail and had tea at hydroelectric colony tea canteen and watched the smoke filled sad scenes all around us from that height. I have many good memories of this place. From this tea shop scenes are breathtaking. I always drink tea hear and watch the scenes. From here you can hear the large bells of Vishwanath Temple in Uttarkashi.
Then we walked to the bottom of mountains, in the the Ganges valley and crossed the Bridge of Inderavati River. I never saw so little water in that river in my life. It was always a happy, laughing and bubbling river. All springs those fed that river were in the fire and dried out. Most of the town and bazaars are at the other side of Ganges and this side of town is very quite. All people were looking at us; a motley’s crew. We were with the hulk of 6.5 feet tall Pehalwan so we two appeared pygmies. Wrestling competition posters were everywhere and whosoever saw our Pehalwan, commented, “Here comes the winner.”
Now we were also proud of our Pehalwan. After Inderawathi, many kids and boys started walking with us to look more of the pehalwan. They were asking him questions about if he wrestled with Dara Singh or Great Khali or went abroad or wrestled with other pehalwans in America at WWF. Some boys claimed that they saw our Pehalwan on TV battling with other great names. Then after the Indravathi bridge and 2 more turns, our hotel appeared after a hair pin bend. We entered in our hotel and left the crowd outside. Our hotel is situated on the outskirts of Uttarkashi.
Hotel owner is a long time friend of me and he was happy to see us along with the Pehlalwan. We were given two best rooms there facing the river; there was a door in between both rooms. Whole valley was shaking with the thunder and noise of Ganges. The happiest place in the Uttarkashi is City Ghat. So we parked our load in the room, took our loincloths and walked in the bazaar of Joshiara and crossed the foot bridge to the ghat at the other side. Pehalwan was with us and everybody was looking at us, a comedy circus or an odd gang. A Motley’s cres. Many people know me in Uttarkashi and they all greeted as well smiled at us. We had another long bath in the icy waters of Ganges till. Now Sun was crimson and it was about to set behind a mountain.
Pehalwan said to me, “Master Ji, I am following you but now you must follow me. Upon the arrived in Uttarkashi first thing we must do it to visit Vishwanath temple.”
“Ok, Rustam-E-Azam. We must visit Vishwanath temple.”
It was a one kilometers of joyful walking in the colorful bazaars of Uttarkashi.
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Vishwanath Temple
Vishanath temple is a very serene temple under the tall pine trees. I love to sit here for hours. Just being here is a calming and soothing effect on the soul. Puzari gathered around Our Pehalwan and did a special pooja for him for free, wishing him to win the inami-dungal tomorrow. Then we sat in the open in the temple premises and all evening devotees were staring at our Pehalwan in amazement. Small kids were touching his body, biceps and elbows. Then we visited adjoining temple of Hanuman Ji. Every Pehalwan’s favorite god, there Pehalwan ordered us to pray for him so we did. Then we walked in the bazaars and got ourselves more famous there.
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View of Uttarkashi from Varun Mountain
To be continued.

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part V


We had some rest while walking down the steep trail on the ancient pilgrim’s route from Kedarnath to Gangotri.
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Views from the trail
We resumed our walk and passed several brooks and waterfalls. We were going down very fast due to the steep terrain. Now we were feeling hot and were wet with sweat. Finally we were almost at the bottom of the mountain and path crossed a very scenic brook that was crashing straight from the mountains. After the bridge of this brook an unpaved road begun and we saw our first vehicle, a tempo. It was a perfect place to take a river bath in a perfect river in the green valley full of deodar trees. Area and river was very clean that is somewhat unusual in India. We all unloaded our gear and entered in the cold waters.

There I mentioned to Pehalwan that his mustaches are unbalanced. He ran out of the river and went to the tempo and saw his face in the side mirror. He was very image conscious person and returned in tears.
“Master Ji! Why you didn’t tell me this before. That whole village must be laughing at me.”
“No Pehalwan Saab, nobody noticed your mustaches in the village. They only noticed your huge hulk and that is it.”
I offered Pehalwan to correct his moustaches and he agreed. We had a small mirror and scissors. I tried to balance his mustaches but now they were unbalanced in other direction. So again I tried to correct the problem in vain. Finally he looked like Charlie Chaplin and he suggested me to just kill his moustaches. So his prized moustaches were gone now. Pehalwan shaved his face and at the place of his moustaches there was a huge white patch now but he didn’t blame me. He looked very funny without mustaches. He offered to give us a massage on that river saying that he was a massage specialist. When he was single, he used to give massage to people on the ghats of Haridwar. I agreed, he had a mustard oil bottle and begin giving me massage. He was brutal, he caught me by my ear and twisted it till I heard a loud tick, it was not over and he twisted my ear in the other direction till it clicked. Then he twisted my other ear and then my nose, and then my jaw, and then my eyebrows, then my neck, my each arm, each finger’s each joint and ……. so on and on. I was begging him to let me go for God’s sake but he didn’t let me go. I was stuck in his vice like grip. Harish was watching it all in a horror. Finally that hell ended and massage was over. I walked away from him to access the damage and to count my broken bones but it took me a while to realize that I was in my best shape and felt lightened. I felt very good after that massage and suggested Harish to get one but he declined. We took more bath and I washed off that oil from my body by soap. When I saw Harish was in water, I grabbed his leg and yelled for Pehalwan who came running and grabbed Harish, dragged him out and begun giving him massage. Now it was Harish’s turn to scream. After Harish was done, Pehalwan asked us to give him a massage and we jumped upon the opportunity to take our revenge. We did our best to take it but he didn’t budge. We climbed over him, jumped over him and practically we beat him up but he was only smiling.
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Trail
Then we washed our clothes, it was such a pretty place that one looks for an excuse to just be there. Pehalwan was a mountain man and he claimed that he never enjoyed so much on a river in such a way. He claimed that we have changed his attitude towards enjoying the rivers. We spread our clothes on the bushes and they dried up in barely half hour. Pehalwan was busy doing his pushups. After we left the valley of Budha Kedar, we didn’t not find any Punarnava.
We sat by the river and enjoyed just being there. Kingfishers were diving in the river to catch the fish and other birds were also visiting the river for a bath. It was noon and suddenly we were not alone. A band party walked down a trail coming form the mountain opposite to the one we came from. They were all dressed up in their band uniform. Each was carrying his musical instrument. They were about ten people in the party, burdened with tremendous load and bathing in the sweat. They stopped at the river and looked at the Pehalwan in amazement.
“Rustam-E-Hind ki Jai” one shouted.
“Dara Singh Ki Jai”, other shouted.
“Jite ga bhai jite ga, yeh Pehalwan jite ga.”
They all shouted while undressing for their bath on the river. They knew that there were inami-dungal in the Uttarkashi at Sunday. When they entered in the river, at that time we were almost ready to leave.
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River where we took bath
Kumud was now 2 kilometers on this motorable road. We arrived at the first tea shop on the outskirts of the village and ordered tea.
Tea shop man said smilingly, “I have something else for you.”
“What.”
“A lock without a key. Tislam-tala”
We laughed, so that lock again came back to us.
Shopkeeper said that Vikram’s horse brought this lock and Vikram also called him on phone. It was easy to recognize you because you will be two men and a Pehalwan. I saw you from the far away and knew that it is you. The reason Vikram sent that lock to that very first road was that there was a bypass trail from here to the road to Uttarkashi. Vikram assumed we may bypass the village so he sent the lock to the very first shop before the path splits.
Near Kumud
Near Kumud
When the time came to pay for the tea and buns he refused to accept money. He said that the tea is on Vikram. We insisted in vain. As we resumed our walk, same tempo stopped near us, whole band party was on that tempo. Village was still one kilometer so they offered us the ride to the village and we hopped in the back along with the crew of “Sonu Master Band”. Matador crossed the bridge of a large river and village begun. In the village there were posters all over advertising Inami-Dungal in the Uttarkashi.
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Area near Budha Kedar
Matador stopped at the Sonu Master Band’s HQ, in the middle of the village market. First Band Party disembarked form the vehicle and as we jumped on the ground, they surrounded us and started playing their band. Mr. Sonu, head of the band party asked us walk in the market towards a Halwai shop and we obeyed. Whole village became alive with the band. Our procession walked about 200 meters to the Halwai’s shop there we stood surrounded by live band. Suddenly many kids appeared and they started dancing and crowd gathered in no time. Then two local pehalwans came, one was the son of Halwai and other was a durji (tailor). They first touched Pehalwan’s feet and then they touched my and Harish’s feet. We were very embarrassed and wanted this to end. Whole mountain village was watching us. People came on their roofs, and people above came out on the ledges to watch the circus.
Band eased but crowed began their slogans.
“Dara Singh ki jai.”
“Jite ga bhi jite ga. Dara Singh Jite ga.”
“Rustam-E-Hind ki jai.”
“Mahan-Khali ki jai.”
Finally band stopped and a tea party was arranged by both local pehalwans. Everybody including band party was served tea. After the tea, to our relief the band party left. Crowd was still gathered outside the shop. Both local pehalwans were honored by a great Pehalwan’s arrival in their remote unknown village. They were also going to Uttarkashi to watch the dungal but they were not great enough to take part in the tournament.
River by the village
River by the village
They both or rather whole village now believed that prospective winner is in their village. Rustam-E-Hind. We (I and Harsh) were assumed, his secretaries. After the tea, we were served poori and subzi. Both local pehalwans offered us to stay in their village for a night but we insisted to go to Uttarkashi. In the different circumstances, I loved to stay in that village but now we were celebrities here everybody was staring at us. Junior Halwai (the pehalwan) negotiated a jeep for us to Dhanturi from there regular public transportation was available to Uttarkashi.
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View of Uttarkashi from the mountains
To be continued

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part IV


From Budha Kedar We trekked to the village where Mr. Bikram the horseman gave us a room.
It was very cold at that height and our feet were cold and wet so we entered in our beds. In these modern times, still no electrical power arrived in these villages. It was suppose to come soon hence all new homes had electrical wiring but village hadn’t seen any power yet. Some people had cell phones but signal was very week and they charged their phones from solar panels.
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A Village
Village folks visited us in our room, they all sat around us on our bed and we chatted. I asked them about their horses who were still wandering free in such a cold weather. Most of the village youths were gone to the large cities of India to work; they visited their villages once or twice in an year. Village folks told us the difference between horse, donkeys and mules. Horse is a very intelligent animal and very frail too. Horse is very happy in cold and horse loves to wander alone. When horse gets tired, that is it, it must be given rest. It cannot be forced to work. Whereas Donkey was reverse. Donkey loved hot weather and can work only if forced. Horse can be trained to do its job without any guidance. Many village folks had trained their horses to go to Budha Kedar or Kumud alone. They tucked the list of goods to be brought under their saddle and sent them on their way. Then horses returned alone with the goods. There was one risk; poor animal was helpless if something fell off from it or any mishap occurred and things on his saddle damaged or just unbalanced. Locals tried to correct this situation anytime they saw a horse with unbalanced goods.
Meadow behind Vikram’s home
Main problem was that horse gets intimidated with people whom it is not in acquaintance. On the trail we saw a couple of horses walking alone with the load on their backs but we assumed if the driver of the horse was near by. All construction materials like bricks, sand, cement etc.. horses brought it alone. Horse may graze the grass on its way or may get down to drink water if it is right on its way otherwise it never strays. Whereas donkeys and mules were different. Without supervision they will mess up everything.
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Views from the trail
Then there was a surprise at night. Vikram’s little sister and brother came and brought us our beloved numbered lock. They said that Budha Kedar people handed this strange lock to someone who was coming in this direction. Finally he traced us in that village so our lock came back to us. But another cycle began. Now these two kids wanted to open it, and all others too got very curious with this lock. It became a game or puzzle for them to resolve it. First I taught the little girl to open it, as she gained mastery to open it in five minutes and then little boy learned from her and then others. Finally lock want away because kids wanted to show it to their other siblings. At about 8PM, Vikram brought us food from his home. Rice, roti, toor daal and a curry of some local green herb, it was delicious. We were very hungry so ate everything that was brought to us. We didn’t leave our beds at night for a night walk because it was very cold and also it was dark and ground was dangerously slippery. People also advised us not to leave our room because when horses see strangers at night they get intimidated.
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Another village
We woke up at 7 in the morning, Pehalwan Ji was snoring loud and and also woke him up. It was very cold and frost was present on the ground outside. We packed our belongings and I and Harish went down to village. Vikram was in his shop and we had tea. Then we told him that we will be leaving. He offered us to stay in his home for some more days but we had to go. We asked him the amount we owe him for the boarding and lodging. He was surprised and refused to accept any money saying that we were his guests. We insisted and persisted but in vain. He gave us more tea and biscuits. He even didn’t accept any money for tea and biscuits at his shop. After tea we shook hands and said him good bye at his shop. We returned to our room, Pehalwan was also ready. I placed some money and my watch under the pillow (Vikram loved my watch and was looking at it for long time at night). We carried our backpack and begun walking towards the pass that we had to cross to get to Kumud. We had to climb 4 brutal kilometers to get to the mountain pass and after the pass it was 8 kilometers of steep descent in the jungle to the village of Kumud.
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A village on the trail
We were told that there were a couple of tea shops just before the pass. We were climbing and panting. Scenes were breathtaking. We were passing through high altitude jungle. There were mostly oak, fir or deodar trees. After 2 kilometers we saw first tea shop.
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Views from the mountains
They had tea, biscuits, buns, eggs and noodles. We had omelets with sweet buns there. From here it was snow everywhere. We resumed our brutal climb and near the pass there was another and last tea shop; we were drenched with sweat in that cold. We sat on a rock at the tea shop and had tea. Pehalwan was again black and blue; we rested there for half hour. Shop was right on the pass and views of both sides were visible from the ridge. We loved Budha Kedar valley so much that our heart was breaking to leave it. We kept gazing the last memories of our that Budha Kedar visit. Finally we said good bye to the miles of vista and hundreds of layers of mountains those were visible in the east.
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Layers of mountains
That mountain ridge was the border between Tehri district and Uttarkashi. We began our walk towards Kumud, in the Uttarkashi district. It was a steep decline in very dense and beautiful jungle. Snow ended after a kilometer. Then the path was very soft due to moss all over. Time and again we stopped to watch the beauty of the valley. Only Kumud valley was visible and not much vista but lush green area was itself very beautiful. When we were resting in a grass meadow, two horses walked past alone towards Kumud.
They had no burden and that was not unusual because most of the provisions to the village go from the road-head. Only some farm produce in the harvesting season goes down. On the way Pehalwan became very emotional and told us the story about this buffalo he wants to buy badly. He needed 35000 rupee to buy this buffalo from someone in his in-law’s village.
“A very good and obedient buffalo”, he said, “Very beautiful and smart”.
This guy committed him to sell this buffalo and luckily some days ago this buffalo gave birth to a female calf. This guy was committed to sell him both mother-daughter pair for 35000. Pehalwan can arrange only 23000 and top prize in that wrestling competition was 12k so he must win that competition to buy the buffalo, he fall in love with. Pehalwan was a small time peasant with little un-irrigated land dependent upon rain and on the side he did car driving for some taxi company in Tehri district. He had a wife and 2 daughters. He loved his family very much and he wanted to buy them this buffalo.
“This daughter of buffalo will also give birth and then will give milk in 3 years and if another female buffalo is born then I will start my own dairy farm.” He added, “Buffalo and her daughter will eat 3000 rupee a month and will give 6000 rupee milk, we will drink half of milk and sell half.”
I asked him, “Bhim Saab, since when you begin self induced vomiting?”
“Just this time Master Ji, because I must win my buffalo. Otherwise who wants to do self vomiting? Do you think I love it.”
I tried to convince again that it was a bad idea. I am not a doctor but studied lots of medicine, but he brushed aside all those concerns saying, “With due respects, Mr. Highly educated Master Ji, I am not convinced with your theory. I know more about buffaloes and milk than you.”
I was more concerned about his deteriorating health and I believed that the self vomiting was the cause.
I asked, “Pehalwan Saab, how you came to know about this self vomiting concept.”
“Some another Pehalwan in my area suggested me and it makes sense also.”
Well, I stopped arguing with him. Wrestling competition was at Sunday, and Today was Friday. As far as I knew that Uttarkashi was famous for its milk. There were plenty of diaries and good milk was available. Pehalwan was looking forward to it.
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A village near mountain pass
We resumed our trail in the beautiful and lush green terrain. This valley was blocked by the mountain in front. Road from Kumud to Uttarkashi was visible at the other side of a river in the valley down us.
To be continued

Ancient Pilgrims Trail in Himalayas Part III


We began our walk at 10 AM. Our numbered lock hasn’t come back to us so we let it go. First part of the journey was a continuous steep climb for 16 Kilometers and then it was brutal descant for 8 km. Local people can do it in a day. Pehalwan also claimed that he and we will do it in a day. We (I and Harish) had no intention to do it in a day. We were enjoying our vacation; we were not in the struggle to win some wrestling competition to buy some buffalo, but anyway doing it in a day even for Pehalwan was not possible now because we started our walk very late.
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Village women relaxing after a long day’s work
Three porters who were caring some dowry things for a marriage party also began the long walk with us. It was amazing to see how much load those fragile poor men carried on their backs. One was carrying a double bed tied together; other was lifting a new metal wardrobe, and third was carrying a couple of other furniture items. They were drenching with sweet but walking steady and slow. First village of the route was just 3 km and was visible from Budha Kedar and we walked there in one hour, there we had a tea at a tea stall at the end of village. After we left Budha Kedar, we didn’t see any punarnava herb. It grows only in the warm areas. After that village, next village was at 6 km, most of the way passed through dense deodar jungle. At noon we arrived at that village. Punarnave parothas made us very hungry but there was no food available in the village. There were 2 tea shops, one at the beginning of the village and other at the end. We ate everything except toffees, those shops were selling. We ate all the biscuits, all the buns, all the cream rolls and all the baked wafers. We cleaned the both shops.
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A view from the trail
Pehalwan Ji was panting badly. I guess his body was build for wrestling but not for mountain climbing although he himself was a mountain man. We were wet with our own sweat. A brook appeared near our path and we all went down and took a long bath in it. Pehalwan did his pushups there. Next or third village (that was last) on this route was now 4 kilometers, a very steep climb. It was not far away but it was high above us. There were all cultivated stepped farms and mostly all apple orchards. Village was above 9000 feet msl.
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A view from the trail
We arrived at that village at 4 PM. Air was now cold and crisp at this height. This was the largest and last village on this trail. There was a small market in the center. Porters also caught us up when we were taking our bath. This same village was their destination too. As we arrived in the market, a commotion occurred in the village and people were shouting to each others, doctors came – doctors came. Many people gathered around us saying us to check their horses first. This was the village of horse keepers and breeders. There was some sort of very contagious equine influenza spreading in the mountains and thousands of horses were turned back from Kedarnath. A team of doctors was scheduled to visit this village to check if any highly contiguous strain of flu is present here; so then to quarantine or cull the horses. Village folks thought we were those doctors and Pehalwan was our compounder. It took us great effort to convince the villagers that we were not doctors and they were very disappointed. They were still very suspicious that we were doctors but were on some secret mission. Culling their horses was also the rumor so doctors were either scared to visit these villages or the visited in secret. And then Mr. Pehalwan was a very large man. Villagers were very curious to see that hulk of a man. We were a motley’s crew. All together we looked like a comedy circus. I and my friend with backpacks and big hulk Pehalwan with his airbag (that looked so tiny on his huge shoulders). Moreover Pehalwan’s mustaches were quite unbalanced, right side markedly longer than left side. He messed his-own moustaches while shaving in the dark in that hotel in Budha Kedar, and we didn’t mention this to him.
Villagers thought that this team of doctors has a Pehalwan compounder so to grab the horses to facilitate its medical examination. That made sense.
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Rainbow appeared after short but heavy rain.
A Youngman, his name was Vikram and he was the pradhan of the horsemen union. He owned a small tea shop in the village and that same shop served as his office too. He offered us boarding and lodging in his newly built home, at the outskirts of the village. We gladly accepted his offer, Pehalwan Ji also decided to stick with us without any resistance. Vikram took us to his home, it was a never ending long path high above the village; we were already very tired. Finally we came to a level meadow where several horses were roaming, running and galloping free. After the meadow was his home but his family was still living in the village so this home was vacant. We parked our belongings in the very neat and tidy room, and Pehalwan Ji collapsed on his bed, he was all blue and red due to this stern high altitude walk.
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Stepped farms on the trail
Suddenly sky became black and thus begun a very heavy thunderstorm accompanied with very large sized hailstones. Initially it felt as this storm will last forever but as with other mountain storms, this storm was over in an hour and crimson evening sun again appeared in the west. I and Harish left our dwelling to see the village. Now we were well known in the village because of that misunderstanding that we were veterinary doctors and horse specialists.
One old man shouted at us from his window, “Kiskoo bewkoof bana rahe ho. Hame sub pata hai ki tum dungar dakter ho.”
I smiled and mischievously blinked him.
He replied back pointed at his head, “Dekha! Dekha! Banwari Lal nae dhoop mai baal nahi safed kare.”
Almost everyone was inviting us in their home. We kept walking in embarrassment. Village was traversed by two paths, one that we came and were to follow further the next day, and other crossed it in the center of small market. We took that path to far away to the village. After thunderstorm, sky was clear and a vista opened up. We could see far away mountains. I never saw a endless layers of mountains one behind the other. We chatted with a man, he told us that 4th mountain was Binak Khal, where we could see the faint lights of the village, about 8th or 9th layer was Ghuttu. Probably around 15th was Triyuginarayan and so on. Snowy peaks were not visible from this area they were in the north but a large Eastern corridor was visible to the amazement. In the west was the great wall of a mountain that we had to pass to get to Uttarkashi. Moon appeared in the east behind the endless mountains. We could see countless stars in the unpolluted sky. We returned to the village, we were extremely hungry and understood the state of poor pehalwan. Due to the misunderstanding in the village we were so embarrassed to eat from those shops because almost everybody wanted to discuss with us about the health of their horses.
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Water fall on the path
A huge rainbow now appeared in the mountains. Vikram’s home where we were staying; was near the water cistern. A brook passed thought the village but it was full of filth as it happens in all over India. Nobody trusted on the quality of that water so village folks brought drinking water from that virgin spring that was near this house. That’s why many women passed in front of our room carrying water on their heads. Village folks brought us homemade liquor and we enjoyed our evening. Pehalwan didn’t drink liquor but asked for milk, only mare’s milk was available and that too in little amount so he sipped horse milk with us.
To be continued.
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