Sunday, March 17, 2013

A trip to nature with Jan Peters

Jan visited his Delhi home after a year with one point agenda: holiday. 

Ronald (took nine months to travel all the way from Germany to India via land) accompanied him to a two-weeks trip to the North East India. They travelled nearly everyday to cover some 8,000 kilometres in two weeks and experience some incredible moments. It was a very hectic trip for Jan who was in a holiday mood. Ronald was tired of new experiences by the time he came back to Delhi.  
Despite, Jan and I head out the very next morning to our patronised destination: the Corbett National Park.

We halted for breakfast at my brother's place in Ghaziabad. Jan had a chat with my mother about something that I didn't follow. A sumptuous breakfast got us going. A continuous drive for next five hours took us to a small town called Garjiya, is 10 kilometres from Ramnagar on the Ranikhet highway. 
Our accommodation, a home stay, was a basic room with a veranda, where we would spend most of our time overlooking the mango orchard. 
We were by the river side within half an hour after checking in. Took a dip in the gushing cold water of Ram Ganga. It washed away all my fatigue of a long drive. We drove to Ramnagar and got some beer bottles. The evening was spend chatting, drinking followed by dinner. We were provided home cooked food and treated like lords. The menu for the evening was chicken and mixed vegetable. It was very well made despite the overdose of chilli. I slept like a log that night to wake up the next morning with swollen eyes. I pulled myself out of the bed, stretched my limbs to life, and went for a jog. 

Breakfast was filling. We ate without inhibitions. Then went to the river side again, walked for an hour and a half. Jan was birding. I was loitering, my mind relaxed and in sync with the twittering of birds and the sound of water cascading on the rocky river bed. We had an elaborate bath in the river. Jan exhibited his diving skills. I documented it in pictures.

The sun was hot, high in the sky. It was already 11 when  Jan proposed to walk up along a creek. It was a deep gorge with steep green hills on either side, the sunlight would filter in like laser beams. It was rocky and slippers at places but going was not tough. 

We were not talking, walking such that we were in each others visual escape. It is a tiger territory or rather interjection of many tiger territories. We saw many pug marks, at least that of three separate tigers and two leopards. At some point, I ask Jan what is going in his mind, for my mind was thoughtless. He says, after pause, "birds." 

I was stupefied. The same emotions that would usually vex me didn't seem to bother. I was untouched by my own idiosyncrasies. The sounds of water was music. It didn't disturb the stillness. The warmth of the sun. The gushing winds from the woods had earthly fragrance. The fishes swam with a restless easy in the small puddles to disturb the stillness of water. The falling leaves from the high branches floated in the air. The moist rocks were laced with green algae. The dry rocks shined like a pearl. The thick foliage would form a canopy and made the creek appear like a tunnel. The sombre green surroundings was embalming. Each of the spectacle was so distinct, sedate and yet overpowering. 

I told Jan that wheel is not the greatest invention of the humankind as for it to work you need to flatten the surface of earth. Legs are the best gift to humanity. He smiled. He made me see birds. He told me about his favourite colour: light green of the new leaves that harbinger arrival of spring. It was great to be in that space with him. He too seem to merge with the surroundings. 

We headed back after five hours of uphill walk. It took us just an hour to reach back at the mouth of the creek. We took another bath in the river and head to Girjia Devi temple where we had nice ginger chai. Our slow walked to the car took another half an hour, it was getting dark. We were tired in a nice way. We drove to Ramnager and got a rum bottle. An early dinner was welcome. I was reminded of what a trekker told me long ago here in the Corbett National Park: the food is not sweet, hunger is.

The drive back home was a rude reminder of what humanity is done to this planet. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Pilgrimage Of Sorts

Boat ride in Varanasi

Last month, I was on a five day trip to my home town Allahabad at the fag end of the Kumbh Mela and Varanasi- the oldest living city in the world- where all the Naga sadhus (sky-clad) had migrated from Allahabad.

My co-traveller is Paavo Yliluoma.

The first two days in Allahabad was relaxing. My sister-in-law, Ranjan Bhabhi, fed us so much with the most fabulous food that it seemed she is preparing two goats for the Eid sacrifice.
Kumbh Mela, Allahabad.

The trip to Kumbh Mela was overwhelming. I felt solitude amongst the millions of devotee. They followed rituals blindly to see the light to life. Something good was happening to them. Some thing good was happening to me.

Paavo, cow and an age old culture.
For Paavo it was a free ride to the wonderland of the Ganges. It was interesting to see what bemused him. Apart from the usual things, Paavo seemed enamoured by naked kids jumping in and out of a muddy pool, stray pigs and cows and roadside garbage that was piling up with no remorse and me, in that order, if his photo album is of any indication.

The trip to Varanasi was special. Ghats have stood for centuries by the Ganges give me strong sense of stability to the passage of time and equanimity to changing seasons. A static witness to the flowing water of Ganges.

Marnikarnika Ghat in the evening.
Witnessing the burning ghats of Marnikarnika was surreal. This place reminds me of the people I love and lost to the other world. I now know that life is a zero-sum game. There sitting gazing at the flames rising from the charred human body make me feel humble. The smoke fill the air like dark ominous clouds. All the struggle of this world, love and hate, seem trivia. The present is so precious. The future so uncertain. Self is of no consequence beyond self. 

The boat ride in the evening was pleasant. We witnessed Ganga Aarti from our boat. It was a spectacle grandeur of flickering lights rising to the dark sky.

Nagas, I felt, played their part well. They comfortably wore their nudity but not their self. They too harbour restlessness, though much less in measure than me. It was no big fun to sketch them as they were not challenged.  

the sky clad amongst the clothed.
A Naga with pot belly, in his late thirties, claimed that he is 70 years old. There is no respite from hassles and complexities (jhanjhat) of life. Nagas have different kind of jhanjhat, he told me, but it is there and resisting jhanjhat makes it grow stronger. Acceptance of jhanjhat is like cutting its supply line.

There was one other significant experience that I have promised to my co-traveller not to write about.