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A Crore Spent, Just To Get Priyanka Chopra To Assam?

So, Priyanka Chopra finally managed to make time for Assam. She flew all the way from United States of America to Assam, shot for an ad campaign for two days – a video that has been shot elaborately at a cost that could make film producers roll their eyes. Should we be pleased? Yes, sure. We could have a more engaging tourism ad than what we had last year, which was well shot too but it did not quite do justice to the fact that Priyanka Chopra was signed for a huge sum of money.

We are pleased that she wore a beautiful Mekhela Chador, along with nice Assamese jewellery, mingled with people from the state. And hey, even trended on twitter on the day she landed in Assam. Wow! So cool. And then we got to know something more.

Video Capture of the Assam Tourism Ad.

 

Appears Ms. Chopra was flown into India along with her team all the way from US, at the expense of our dear old state government. A journey (to and fro) that cost nothing short of Rs 25 lakh. No, don’t roll your eyes yet. Wait till you hear this. Priyanka Chopra was flown from Mumbai to Jorhat in a chartered flight, because of she can’t fly regular. And the chartered plane was parked in Jorhat for two whole days, at the actress’s disposal. This allegedly cost another Rs 75 lakh. Yes, a neat sum of 1 crore only on her travel! Yes, now you may roll your eyes.

Good thing – in the two days she was in Assam, the department of tourism evidently made her slog. For every penny she was paid. She shot for the videos, travelled to Kaziranga, and even shot in Majuli! Plus do enough photo-ops.

All we hope is that the new ad, shot by a very well-known ad-filmmaker Lyod Baptista, does more justice to the state than what the last year’s video did. The Department of Tourism, Assam has drawn lots of flak due since the Awesome Assam campaign was launched. First, it was the logo design which looks amateurish then it was awkward tagline in the poorly edited video. So, when Priyanka Chopra was signed as brand ambassador till 31st December, 2018, lot of criticism followed as the signing amount did not justify the results.

Just a comparison:

Amitabh Bachchan had endorsed Gujarat tourism. And he did not charge any money for it. The government had put this on record. Likewise, Shah Rukh Khan promoted West Bengal tourism, and had not charged any fee for it.

How to experience the best of Manipur, Assam, and Meghalaya in 2 weeks and a bit (Part I)

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    MANIPUR  

    Manipur is not for the faint-hearted, we were told, before we flew to Imphal on March 20.

    Yes, we were aware of the economic blockade and we knew the state had been wracked by years of unrest, so we were pragmatic about what awaited us on the first leg of our Northeast trip.

    But, for some time, we had been following closely all the news from Manipur. Elections for a new state government had been held on March 4 and 8. The results were declared on March 11. Three days later, after much political drama, the BJP was invited to form the government, toppling the Congress, which had been in power for 15 years.

    With the BJP taking charge, the first thing to happen was the lifting of the economic blockade on March 19, one day before we arrived. How fortuitous was that?

    The blockade had crippled life in Manipur for more than four months. Now citizens who had been sorely affected by the shortage of essential items could begin thinking of normality again.

    We saw the new developments as a sign. With the god of vacations clearly having given us the thumbs-up, we boarded our Indigo flight in Bangalore in high spirits, confident we were going to have a fabulous holiday not only in Manipur, but also in Assam and Meghalaya. How right we were to be optimistic!

    FIRST STOP: IMPHAL

    IF IT’S MONDAY, IT MUST BE MANIPUR… AND MONIKA

    Commits alumna Monika Khangembam (Class of 2012) came to Imphal airport to pick us up and accompanied us to the Classic Grande hotel (above), our home for four nights. Monika, who runs an NGO in Imphal and who was still jet-lagged having just returned to Imphal after spending a week in New York, went out of her way to ensure we enjoyed our stay in Manipur and we are grateful to her.

    WOMEN RULE, OK!

    As soon as we were done checking into our hotel, off we went sightseeing with Monika. First, a short walk from Classic Grande brought us to a popular roadside cafe for a little replenishment, after which we headed off in a “share-auto” to Ema Keithel, or Mothers’ Market. Among the few hundred women manning (pardon the expression) the stalls was this lady who had a good laugh when she spotted tourists looking goggle-eyed at her wares.

    PINPOINT FOCUS

    At nightfall, mini-lamps are switched on at the Mothers’ Market and outside as the vendors put the spotlight on their goods in an effort to maximise sales before it is time to pack up.

     

    OUT FOR A RIDE…

    …with our friend, philosopher, and guide. (On our second day in Imphal, through a friend of Monika’s, we got ourselves a Toyota Innova and driver for Rs.3,500 a day. Yes, private transport, unlike the “share-autos”, is expensive, considering we were paying about Rs.2,500 per night for our room at Classic Grande, one of the top hotels in Imphal.)

    FLOATING ISLANDS OF LOKTAK LAKE

    Covering the distance from Imphal to the Northeast’s largest freshwater lake in Moirang, about 50 km away to the south, took us an hour-and-a-half. On the way we were joined by Ashok Sapamcha, Monika’s good friend (more about him below), who guided us to a spot rarely visited by tourists. From here, we got a panoramic view of Loktak and the phumdis, as the floating islands are known. What am I pointing to? That cluster of dwellings in the distance, also seen in the photograph at top right, is Karang, India’s first cashless island.

    MAKING MOIRANG MEMORABLE

    Ashok Sapamcha, who runs a tourism operation based out of Moirang, is a young man who cares deeply about his hometown of Moirang and his home state of Manipur. He seems to know every inch of the land intimately and he ensured that our trip on March 21 — from an amazing view of Loktak Lake from the top of a peak to an unforgettable experience of a visit to a phumdi hut for tea and smoked shrimp (pictures below) — was something that can only be described as out-of-this-world. I recommend his services highly. Thank you again, Ashok.

    HEY-HO! PHUMDI-PROSPECTING WE’LL GO!

    At Keibul Lamjao National Park, the only floating park in the world, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of Manipur’s state animal, the sangai. But we were not lucky enough. Never mind, a friendly member of the park’s staff consented to give us a canoe ride through a phumdi, pictures above and below. Watch a brief video clip here: NAVIGATING A PHUMDI.

    WILL IT BEAR MY WEIGHT?

    The “ground” felt a bit wobbly, but the phumdi here at Keibul Lamjao National Park was, if I may use the phrase, rock solid.

    AS THE DAY WORE ON, MORE EXCITEMENT

    Among the lifetime’s memories that were created… lunch at a local dhaba in Moirang followed by pan, above, followed by a boat-ride to a phumdi hut on Loktak Lake for tea and smoked shrimp, below. All arranged by Ashok Sapamcha.

     

    BACK AT THE HOTEL…

    An inner lobby of the Classic Grande gussies up for the night.

    A TRIBUTE TO THE FALLEN

    At the Imphal War Cemetery, gravestones mark the sacrifice of soldiers from India (see below), Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and even China who died in in 1944 during the battles against the invading Japanese army. The cemetery is located at a walkable distance from the Classic Grande.

    WHAT’S THE LATEST?

    The day would begin with reading the newspapers… naturally. Every morning the hotel staff would arrange all the English dailies neatly on coffee tables in the lobby.

    AT KANGLA FORT, HISTORY BECKONS

    A pair of mythical dragons, known as Kangla Sha, stand alert at the entrance to the “Uttra”, the coronation hall of the kings who used to rule Manipur. Kangla was the ancient capital of Manipur, and the fort is situated at the heart of Imphal city. BELOW: The Ibudhou Pakhangba temple, which was consecrated in February 2010. The seven flags on the roof, by the side of the pagoda, represent the seven Meitei clans and Ibudhou Pakhangba is one of the main deities of the Meiteis.

    LIVE IN CONCERT, IMPHAL TALKIES

    It was such a pleasure — and a privilege — to be able to watch Akhu Chingangbam, Manipur’s most famous folk singer, and his band, Imphal Talkies, perform at Ougri 2017, the tech and cultural fest organised by NIT Manipur. In the video above, recorded at the venue, Akhu sings one of his best-known English songs, Lullaby, written “for all the children around the world in conflict zones”.

    When I first met Akhu that evening, I had told him I was a fan of Lullaby. To my surprise, he remembered that and towards the middle of his set before he launched into the song, he dedicated it to “Professor Ramesh Prabhu, who has come here all the way from Bangalore”. To say I was touched would be an understatement. BELOW: The official music video, with lyrics, for Lullaby, published on YouTube in September 2013.

     

     

    A VERY SPECIAL GROUP PICTURE…

    …followed a very special feast at Monika Khangembam’s home on our last night in Imphal. As award-winning filmmaker Oinam Doren(third from left) put it, “Awesome dinner after a long time. 11 Manipuri cuisines in one night. I know how much meticulous planning, effort and patience it takes to cook because I am also a cook. A bow to Monika’s mom.” The man I have got an affectionate arm around is singer Akhu Chingangbam, whose live concert we had attended earlier in the evening.

     

    NEXT STOP: GUWAHATI

    On March 24, after four standout days in Manipur, it was time to take the Jet Airways flight to Guwahati from Imphal airport. On the agenda: Kaziranga National Park, home of the one-horned rhino, and Majuli, the world’s biggest river island.

    POSTSCRIPT

    MANIPUR MEMORIES: Ashok Sapamcha introduced us to Mangka first when he showed us this video (see above) on his phone during our car ride to Loktak Lake.

    Monika Khangembam, who accompanied us on this trip and who had persuaded Ashok to join us, later introduced us to filmmaker Oinam Doren, who has produced and shot this video.

    On April 15 I learnt from Oinam’s Facebook post that Mangka was performing in Imphal that evening. We missed out!

    COMING UP: ASSAM

    First published on – Trip Meter (Blog)

    About the author – Ramesh Prabhu is a professor of journalism at Commits, one of India’s premier institutes for media studies. Before turning teacher, he worked with some well-known media organisations such as Mid Day, Mumbai, and Khaleej Times, Dubai. His blog, The Reading Room, is quite popular with media professionals across India.

    Varanasi- the beating heart of the Hindu universe

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      One of the most famous rituals, performed every evening in Varanasi is Ganga Aarti. During this the city gets ignited with lamps, accompanied with poignant chats... (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)
      By Tina Choudhury

      “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

      Varanasi -The place-where the most intimate rituals of life and death takes place in public. Situated amidst the Ganges valley in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is an epitome of spiritual majesty. The sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats can be overwhelming at times but the charm of Varanasi will always impress you. Varanasi, a perfect blend of myth, legend and religion has 84 Ghats along the river. Some of the known ghats which are used for cremation are Dashashwamedh, Manikarnika, and Panchganga.

      Ghat (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)
      Ghat (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      Varanasi offers a spiritually enriching experience that is absolutely breathtaking. Mystical aura, miraculous waters and ethnically sculpted temples define this sacred land. This place is always known at various times in history as Kashi and Benares. It is the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth. If you’re ready for it, this city of light may turn out to be your favourite terminus ever. Pilgrims comes to the ghats lining the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters.

      This old city is situated along the western bank of the Ganges and extends back from the riverbank ghats which are too narrow for traffic. Even though the narrow lanes are disorienting, the popular hotels and restaurants are usually signposted for easier access. One of the greatest things about this place is, however lost you become; you will sooner or later end up at a ghat. A walk all the way along the ghats and labyrinth of alleys will surely be a memorable plug-in in your travel dairy. It is not suggested to travel to Varanasi during immediate monsoon, as the river level remains too high.

      Here are the top five things you should absolutely not miss in Varanasi –

      Ganga Aarti

      One of the most famous rituals, performed every evening in Varanasi is Ganga Aarti. During this the city gets ignited with lamps, accompanied with poignant chats... (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      One of the most famous rituals, performed every evening in Varanasi is Ganga Aarti. During this the city gets ignited with lamps, accompanied with poignant chats… (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      One of the most famous rituals, performed every evening in Varanasi is Ganga Aarti. During this the city gets ignited with lamps, accompanied with poignant chats along with fragrance of incense filling the air. The sight of deeply worshipped Maa Ganga looks absolutely spectacular. It attracts millions of devotees who seek spiritual peace and deliverance from the inescapable bondages of the world.

      Campus of BHU

      Varanasi is not famous only for it divine repute but also esteemed for its rich contribution in the fields of music, art, dance and education. Beneras Hindu University mostly popularly called BHU is the famous icon of Varanasi. A visit to sprawling campus of BHU is must to witness the blend of culture and education.

      A boat ride watching sunset/ sunrise-An essential Varanasi experience is a dawn rowing boat ride along the Ganges. (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      An essential Varanasi experience is a dawn rowing boat ride along the Ganges. (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      An essential Varanasi experience is a dawn rowing boat ride along the Ganges. The river is sadly one of the heavily polluted rivers in the world but its surroundings leave a lot to expect. Perhaps you will still be amazed to see how the river draws you towards it. You may take a boat ride to take you from one ghat to another – each ghat is with its own history and myth.

      Graffiti on the walls

      The narrow crowded lanes are a fantastic experience and the culture and religion come alive in these picturesque alleys. The walls of Banaras will surely catch your eyes and glancing at them you will feel every wall is saying you a unique story. The numerous Graffiti on the walls of Varanasi Ghats are thought provoking. If you look closely, there are so many interesting graffiti ornamenting the walls. Few graffiti are out of place, yet gorgeous.  Few graffiti are mythology based; you will find Ganapati, Shiva in several avatars, in shocking colours yet captivating. Also you will find graffiti which are abstract ones, painted with random words and letters scribbled as a challenge for a passerby to understand.

      Random chat with the Sadhu & Sanyasi

      Sadhu & Sanyasi (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar-As the galis run towards or parallel to the ghats, you will see many Sadhus and Sanyasis who are in isolation from anything worldly)
      Sadhu & Sanyasi – As the galis run towards or parallel to the ghats, you will see many Sadhus and Sanyasis who are in isolation from anything worldly (Photo by Mukund Prabhakar)

      As the galis run towards or parallel to the ghats, you will see many Sadhus and Sanyasis who are in isolation from anything worldly. They are popular for the most extraordinary attires with colorful beads and ash spots on their forehead. In Varanasi sadhus and sanyasis are highly respected and valued and they will always have numerous stories to share from about the heavens, Shiva’s city, and other supernatural phenomenon. You can always catch up a chat with them as most of them are very friendly and will allow you to click pictures of them or with them.

      Varanasi is magical place, full of history, meanings, symbols, culture and religion. It is always known for various things including the MahaKumbh, held every 12 years is one the largest gathering of worshippers from round the globe. Associated with encouraging the culture of Sanskrit, Yoga and Hindi language, it is renowned for Banarasi Silk Sarees as well.  Reaching Varanasi is not a difficult task as the places is connected well. The distance from Delhi to Varanasi is approximately 800 kms. There are a number of good and cheap hotels in Varanasi catering to a very large tourist every year.

      People visit Varanasi for all different reasons. Personified with India’s enduring cultural traditions and spiritual values, a stay in Varanasi is a journey towards discovering eternal bliss of mind and soul.

      (The writer is a PR professional, currently working with Dentsu Aegis Network. Photographs are from clicked by Mukund Prabhakar, also a part of Dentsu Aegis Network)

      Mela Vaisakhi da 2016

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        The Mela Vaisakhi is Las Vegas’ annual Indian Food and Cultural Festival. This year, it will be held at the Clark County Amphitheater on April 30.
        2016 promises to be an even bigger event that last year, with a slew of contests and the entertainment has already been lined up. There will be a Bhangra competition, which is a type of popular music combining Punjabi folk traditions with Western pop music. There will also be a Raas Competition, which is the traditional folk dance form of Gujarat, India, and is the featured dance of Navratri evenings in Western India.

        A Bollywood Competition is also set to take place at the event, however details of what guests can expect haven’t been released yet. A fashion show featuring India’s latest trends for both kids and adults will also be shown at the event.
        As for food, guests can expect authentic Indian delicacies and dishes that will be cooked fresh on site. Chaat Papri, Gol Gappa, Pav Bhaji, Masala Dosa, and many other Indian food items can be purchased at the event. Chaat Papri, which is an Indian street food popular in Northern India that consists of fried wafers, potatoes, onions, peppers, yogurt, tamarind, and mint sauces, are very popular among guests, and ‘sell like hotcakes’ whenever a Mela Vaisakhi event is held.

        (image credit: plannify.com)

        In recent years, Las Vegas has been increasing its non-gambling offerings in order to attract more visitors to the city. It had to diversify its attractions in order to offset losses from the now-preferred online gaming methods that consumers have been opting to play, since they came into fruition in the late 90s. With online casinos, people can literally place their bets against a live dealer, all while enjoying deposit perks and the convenience of playing wherever and whenever they want unlike in Las Vegas casinos. With more people opting to simply stay at home and save hundreds of dollars from traveling to Sin City, Las Vegas had no choice but to provide other means of entertainment, and one of these has been to host annual food and cultural events like Mela Vaisakhi.
        For more details about the Mela Vaisakhi event, or if you want to learn how to be vendor, you can visit the event’s official website.

        The Mysterious Mayong

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          About forty five kilometres from Guwahati there exists a place that has always been recognized as the land where ‘black magic’ is performed by each and every human being living there. Yes, I am talking about Mayong, the land of Black Magic and Witchcraft.Etymologically, the name Mayong comes from the word Maya which means illusion or magic. Another source claims that Mayong refers to “part of goddess Shakti or Ma Kamakhya”: it is a combination of two words, Maa for mother Shakti and Ongo for part.  While one looks through the history of Mayong, it was a small kingdom established towards the end of 15th century. The kingdom was founded by Sunyata Singha who claims to be from Royal Koch Dynasty

          On the 29th day of January this year, I, accompanied by my friend Ashish, decided to venture into one of the most dreaded places of our country. Boarding a tracker from Narengi it took us almost one and a half hour to reach the bridge from where we hired a tempo and travelled for another forty five minutes to finally arrive at the land of ‘black magic’. The tempo dropped us at the Mayong bazar and we had to walk about three kilometres to reach our hotel, the Maibong Resort. By the time we reached Maibong, it was already dark and from whatever we had heard about the place from various sources, the darkness combined with the solitariness did give us a creepy feeling.

          It was during our check-in at Maibong when I came across this wonderful personality, Nipen Nath, and all my speculations about the people of Mayong being acutely grim and inimical were proved completely wrong. Mr. Nath is the owner-cum-manager of the Maibong Resort and he was of immense help to me in my endeavor to unravel the mystery behind the fear that people seem to entertain of this place. He says that he has not seen anybody performing ‘black’ magic with his own eyes although tales of ‘humans transformed into tigers’ have passed on from generation to generation. Moreover, from what he has observed in his forty years of living in Mayong, ‘magic’, if it really exists, is used for the good of people for just a few months back, he saw a lady suffering from paralysis recovering remarkably after undergoing treatment with one of the self-proclaimed practitioners of ‘magic’.Mr. Nath, however, also mentioned the names of a few personswho are believed to practice ‘black magic’ even now, the most conferred of them being Sachindra Nath, Tilak Hazarika and Loguna Nath.

          The next day started with a visit to the Mayong Museum where we got au fait with the caretaker cum guide Karuna Nath.  Mr. Nath is about fifty years of age and has a small shop just outside the museum. He was the one who led us into the museum and explained to us the significance of all that were inside it. He briefed us on ‘Jopa’, ‘Gazi mara bonduk’ (the gun that requires a push to fire), ‘Jathi’ (the long sharp hunting equipment of the primitives) and various other ancient artifacts that speak of the glorious history of Mayong. However, our most important sighting was of the ‘Xasi pat’ texts that have inscribed on it innumerous ‘mantras’ believed to be used during performance of black magic rituals. When asked about the authenticity of those texts, Karuna Nath said that the mantras were unbelievably powerful and went on to describe some of them:

          [Photos Courtesy: Ashish Sarmah Baruah]

           

          • Thumuri ban: if an arrow, festooned with dust from your feet, is shot at a tree, it can kill you immediately regardless of where you are at that moment.
          • Luki ban: it is the mantra to gain invisibility
          • Uroniya mantra: the utterance of this magical spell enables you to fly.

          However, Karuna Nath, too, has never seen the performance of any ‘black’ magic in his lifetime. He believes that the people who practice such incantations are often bereft of the rational human emotions of ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ and considering the current scenario in Mayong, he labels the title “Land of ‘Black’ Magic’’acutely unwarranted.

          It is said that if any visitor comes to Mayong and refuses to believe in black magic, the residents will first welcome him and serve him food and drink. But when the time comes for the visitor to take leave, he will be stuck to the chair. Until and unless he doesn’t seek forgiveness he won’t be able to get it off him.

          Due to constraint of time, I couldn’t prolong my stay in Mayong but the thirty-six hours that I spent in that place is worth cherishing for a lifetime. More importantly, most of my pre-conceived notions about the place (Mayong being a very dangerous place; its inhabitants practicing precarious magical tricks, etc.) were repudiated. I can today proudly assert that Mayong is indeed one of the most exotic places in India and every Indian should visit the place at least once in his/her lifetime.

          The Thing with Djinns

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            The women of Old Delhi are repositories of dark tales. If you are (un)lucky enough to be invited to one of their sessions (like I was), be prepared to spend the next few nights quaking under your sweat soaked sheets, begging your bladder to be quiet, remorseful that you acted all modern and refused the amulet that one of the ladies had urgently pressed into your palm.

            Anyway, here’s a story.

            There was once a lovely girl called Ruhana. Her skin was of peaches and cream, her eyes were iridescent pools, her lips were forever swollen with blood. But her hair. Oh! Her hair. Her hair was as black as a moonless night. And as long as a lover’s sigh. It covered her like a silken chador. But she was a disobedient one. A touch of the Majnoon in that one, her grandmother complained. She refused to wrap herself up like a good Muslim girl. And that’s when the trouble started.

            djinn4
            Photo credit: http://fearn.deviantart.com/art/Hair-Today-71035803

            One fateful day, she caught a djinni’s eye. Her hair did, actually. Now Djinns have a great weakness for black, lustrous hair, the longer the better. So this particular Djinni fell in love with Ruhana, made a home of her heart. He absorbed her beloved essence and she grew thinner, weaker..her skin grew so translucent, you could see her withering insides. Her nails grew purple and peeled off, one by one. A whiff of  breeze and she could crumble to dust. She grew transparent and one day, simply faded away. But her hair stayed resplendent, never losing its sheen, as thick and as long as ever. ‘This is what Djinns can do to you’, said one of the women. For once, I was deeply grateful for the tangled mess that was my hair.

            The topic of Djinns was a favourite with the ladies. They told tales of encounters and possessions, each more gruesome than the last. A part of me was troubled. I grew up watching Aladdin’s blue ‘genie’, adorable, wisecracking and utterly harmless. But he was a happy aberration, as was the lovely Barbara Eden in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. From the stories I’d just heard, Djinns seemed to be vicious and whimsical shapeshifters who’d fulfil your three wishes, but in such a way that you’d either be dead or deranged by the time they were done playing with you. This dichotomy made me curious.

            djinn1

            William Dalrymple called Delhi ‘The City of Djinns’ which I’d always thought of as a romanticized appellation. But now that my curiosity was piqued, I asked around about whether there was any truth in it and found that there actually were pockets in the city where Djinns could be seen, heard and spoken to. The Tomb of Jamali Kamali and Ferozshah Kotla fort were two known places. Against better sense, I geared up for some Djinn chasing, hoping, at the end of it all, that I’d atleast have a tale to tell.
            But first I needed some intel. Stories and hearsay are alright but what did Islamic literature (which has dealt considerably with the topic) have to say?  In the language of the Qur’an, Djinns are creatures born of smokeless fire and are generally invisible to humans. The word ‘Djinn’ itself means ‘to hide’ or ‘to be hidden’ Like humans, they have gender, they have families, a hierarchy of command, moods and most of all, the ability to differentiate between good and evil. Although Djinns can live pretty much anywhere, even in your bathroom, they prefer places like ruins and tunnels. Bazaars seem to be another favourite haunt which is why folk wisdom warns against being the first to enter or leave a bazaar alone. Also, Djinns have a predisposition for trickery. Their intentions may be harmless, but they love messing around with humans just for kicks!

            Armed with this information, I zeroed in on Jamali Kamali for my first stakeout. The Tomb of Jamali Kamali sits in a quiet corner of the Mehrauli Archaeological park.  Jamali, one of the tomb residents, was a pretty well known Sufi saint from the time of the Lodis but nobody really knows who Kamali was. People speculate (as people are wont to) that Kamali was a pretty young boy the saint had lost his heart to, and while nobody knows if it was a , ‘Saath ji nahi saken, mar toh sakte hain’ situation, it is true that they lie entombed rather uncomfortably close to each other now. It appears Djinns like a bit of a scandal because not only have unwary visitors reported sudden flashes of white, whispers after dark and getting slapped out of nowhere in the vicinity  of the tomb but there are accounts of Fakirs calling upon and conversing quite casually with Djinns late at night.

            djinn3

            We reached the Tomb an hour before dusk. The compound was strangely silent, no visitors at all. A lone guard from the ASI, a slightly oldish man, seemed very happy to see us. I got down to business right away and asked him if he’d ever had a ‘djinn experience’. He smiled wryly and said ‘One cannot stay here for long, unless one is allowed. They have made their peace with me, as I have with them.’ Wow! Talk about being cryptic! We lingered there for a while; the place had a great stillness about it. The leaves of the solitary tree in the compound hung frozen. The only thing that moved was a large black dog. It came towards us, sniffed our outstretched hands and settled down a little away, its eyes following us as we got up to leave.

            The word ‘ Djinn,’  I read later, is a catchall term for an impressive variety of ‘fire beings’. Effrits, for instance, are a class of djinns that are known for their strength and cunning. It was an Effrit that brought the throne of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon ‘in the twinkling of an eye.’ And then there are the blue Maarid, the most powerful of Djinns and also the most magic savvy. They’re the original wish-granters. Aladdin’s blue genie, if he were to be classified, would be a Maarid.  The Si’lat are expert shape shifters and the smartest of djinns and in folklore are mostly portrayed as luscious women. But all Djinns can shape shift; their most preferred form? Dogs! So was the visit to Jamali Kamali a success, djinn-wise?  Hmm..

            djinn2
            Photo credit: Wallpapersas.com

            [To be continued..]

            The reinterpretation of dreams!

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              By Sayantan Ghosh

               

              Last December when I was called inside my manager’s chamber and told that I have exactly two weeks to empty my office desk, it had taken me by surprise. It wasn’t particularly shocking because our generation is well-seasoned with many such drastic horror stories of unemployment within the first few months of their careers. When we realized that the entire department was getting dissolved due to a ‘structural shift’, some of us got together, ate, drank and found comfort in each other’s resemblance of fate.

              Three months later. Most of us had found jobs elsewhere and had adjusted to the changes that followed. But during those days of crisis, the one phrase that we all periodically got to hear was ‘Chase your dreams!’ Whether it was from friends, family members, or people we had worked with who still had their jobs and posted selfies from the office lunchroom tagging some of us.

              grand_canyon_sightseeing-674x1024
              Following one’s dreams…

               

              I won’t deny that there was some kind of mystical thrill in those three words. The first thing that came to my mind was that now I could tweet about the managing director’s desperate attempts to look like Indira Gandhi’s body double and get away with it. But as the weeks passed and the consolatory messages stopped coming, my ideas about having a dream and then chasing it began to change.

              I had always wanted to write and so I did. First I was happy writing plays for the annual school function, then penning rebellious communist articles during college and the occasional short stories to impress girls. People who know me a little are aware of this even if they don’t know which city I come from or the name of the girl I am seeing. So this unexpected torrent of suggestions about maybe this was a sign to give my dream a chance, caught me plumb in front of the wickets.

              Like most Indian children who are fortunate to receive a formal education, I too have grown up hearing success stories about ambitious people. Those who made it big despite starting from a room with a tin roof on it or sleeping on the park benches of Bombay city. According to a running joke in my family when my father was still in college, my grandfather used to give him examples of Alexander the Great, comparing them like they were first cousins and harping on my father’s failure in matching up to the emperor’s achievements at a similar age. In reply my father always compared him with Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, and congratulated him for keeping up to his reputation.

              Among people I know, there are both the kinds who have regular jobs and families as well as those who despite topping their classes and landing up cushy placements have quit and are now pursuing music and even yoga. I am sure they all have their moments of contentment and rejections. Therefore this standardized notion of harboring and hunting a dream being a definite method of being happy is somewhere flawed.

              It is also a representation of our country’s position in the global economy which manipulates us to make phrases as these a part of our pop culture referendum. A few years ago when I met one of my neighborhood boys who had moved to the United States after his plus two, he narrated me stories about how he went to college in the morning, worked at a canteen in the afternoon and at night dreamt of building a computer which can cook food for us after automatically assessing our bowel movements for the day. I thought he was crazy but the fact that he didn’t make a mountain of it proved that he really thought it was possible.

              Our academic structure has historically been such that we have seldom been able to determine or choose what we want to learn. As a relatively tolerant nation we have allowed administrative and political organizations to define the education that is important for us. While a certain structure is essential, it also has often removed the young people of our country from organic learning. As a remainder of this unsolved mathematical problem is the social conviction that dreams are meant to be chased while careers keep you floating.

              Doesn’t chasing something also mean triggering it away from us? As a child we are always taught to not run in front of dogs to avoid being chased by them. Why do our dreams need to be cautioned of our existence then? Instead of chasing them, why can’t they become long term companions one can have alongside.

              When being told that I do not want to join our family-owned business, my father had quizzed me about my life choices ahead. As frankly as I could, I had told him that I was mostly unaware. I remember him staying temperately calm till I informed him that I wanted to write. He couldn’t understand for a minute why a hobby was so important to me that I didn’t want to take his company forward.

              He hails from a past where only after overwhelming struggles he has managed to earn a fairly affluent lifestyle for us. Pursuing literature, despite not having a degree in it, is an alien concept for him and many others of his cohort. In a recent online interview of a famed international author who is booting a writer’s programme for aspiring authors, he said that the candidates will be paid while learning and working for the programme; to send a message to writers around the world that writing cannot come for free.

              While it makes for great news, it’s also alarming how not just writing, but almost every other non-corporatized medium of art has been deemed as a “passion” and not a paid profession in several countries like ours.

              There are thousands of articles online which tell us how reading is going out of fashion and how books don’t sell anymore. Consider this. If all the writers in the world decide to go on a strike for a day, what results will Google throw up when someone types in that date? It’ll be nothing more than an empty slate. Without comic book artists where will the summer superhero blockbusters go?

              Exclusivity of ambition is something we all want to attain. But the idea of a dream can be as simple as visiting the village in Bangladesh where your grandparents were born. When we are young dreams enthrall us even during our waking hours. I remember I could see the seven-legged monster even inside the school library. As we grow older we lose relevance of dreams in our lives. We still wake up sweating, get chased by masked murderers and often hang out with Benedict Cumberbatch. But our phony sense of maturity forces all such thoughts out of our system so we can feel like grown-ups. In trying to keep with time, we forget to keep with the wonders of the mind.

              It was summer I think, many years ago. Raining possibly. My mother and I were sitting at the window when she asked me what I wanted to become when I grew up. Like every mother asks. I looked up at the sky and told her I wanted to become an astronaut.

              Half the boys in our class wanted to become an astronaut I remember. It was the coolest word we knew—astronaut! The boy who sat next to me in class even told his father so. In turn, his father blamed his mother for allowing him to watch too much television. I had expected a similar reaction from my mother too. That’s what parents are supposed to do, I thought. Tell us what’s possible for us and what’s impossible.

              But the next morning she gifted me a small action figure of a space traveler. It was a neatly designed figurine, and was strangely yellow in color. “This is you,” she had said. I was so thrilled with my new present that I immediately ran out of the house to show it to my friends who lived in the colony. Later when I returned, she was folding my clothes and keeping them inside the cupboard.

              When I asked her again if she really thought it was me, she nodded. Then she said, “But this is all I can do for you. The rest of the journey is yours. I will keep reminding you that it is you. Whether you become an astronaut who travels to the moon, to faraway planets, to other galaxies or remain in this house and yet imagine more wonderful worlds than even those galaxies, is for you to decide.”

              I definitely didn’t become an astronaut. In fact my palms still start sweating every time I fly even on a passenger airplane. But it is because of that one summer afternoon at my ancestral home in Calcutta, that I never feared trying new things in my life again. Or at least speaking my mind. Nothing seemed easier of course, but nothing seemed improbable either. Sometimes, it seems, the unfulfilment of one dream keeps the others alive.

              Under the Yuksom sky

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                I There’s a bit of serendipity in the way we decided upon Yuksom. We were travelling to Gangtok, Sikkim when Em, our resource person cum bodyguard, got a call from his ‘contact’ in Gangtok. The contact told him he was no longer in the city but had moved back to his home in Yuksom a year ago. I must tell you here that Em was supposed to have made arrangements with the contact, on whom we were banking for practically everything during our stay in Gangtok, atleast a week before. Em had messed up and hadn’t told us.

                 

                Us consisted of Fi, our firang friend and me, the wannabe globe-trotter who was travelling without her mommy and daddy for the first time in her life. Em, tried to look as collected as a guy being stared at by two livid women could and said, “Girls! Prasang has asked us to be guests at his house in Yuksom.” “Yuksom?” “Umm… yeah. It’s just 145 km from Gangtok.” After the initial ‘Hell hath no fury like two women misinformed!’ act, we decided to do the mature thing and be a little reckless. Without Prasang to show us its ‘hidden’ delights,  Gangtok didn’t sound that appealing anymore. Yuksom, on the other hand, especially as none of us had even heard of the name before, could turn out to be an actual adventure!

                 

                And so we proceeded on the long way up from Gangtok to Yuksom; tripping on adrenaline, feeling like virgin conquerors out on a quest to unravel the secrets of an ancient city. Yuksom was, after all, the birthplace of Sikkim, the old abandoned capital, as we found out from a tourist pamphlet at the Sumo Rental Station. The sumo we travelled in was crammed with people bound for the same destination. So, it wasn’t quite the Macchu Picchu we imagined it to be. Still, a little role-playing never hurts!

                 

                Eloquent travellers have written about how picturesque the scenery is when you’re snaking up a mountain road. They write about how bewitching are the scent of pine cones and the sight of moss laden trees and cascading waterfalls; how exhilarating is a rock studded river with sparkling water when you look down. Let me tell you instead about what literally took our breath away when we were halfway up. A landslide.

                 

                The previous night’s rain had brought down a whole wall of rocks that made any kind of vehicular thoroughfare impossible. We were quite high up so even though there wasn’t a long line of vehicles waiting to cross- just two to be exact- it would be ages before a shoveling truck arrived. There were two things we could do: wait or channel our inner acrobat and cross over the ledge to the vehicles waiting on the other side. This was no easy decision but we saw people from the car in front disembark and make their way across. They looked like veterans of life and death situations such as these and they probably were. Our driver said he’d carry our backpacks over one at a time and then he’d come back for us. When I think about it now, I recall that none of us actually consulted each other. We simply did what we had to do. Quite brave of us, really.

                 

                Anyway, I was the first to go. The technique was simple. Be careful that the rock you’re stepping on isn’t loose. Do not step in between two rocks. Lighten up your body like a ballerina, step firmly but without force. Do not shuffle. Do not stop for more than a few seconds. And of course, the cardinal rule. Do not, at any cost, look down. “If you can remember this, then you can make it”, said Fi. ‘Wait! How do you know this?’ I asked, incredulously. “I’ve done the El Caminito. Of course, if a rock rolls down at you from above, then…” Up went my finger and that shut her up. I survived, as you can see, to tell the tale, and so did Em and Fi. About the rest of the way up? Honestly, we have no recollection. The driver gave us a couple of sips of a homemade brew from his flask to calm our nerves and we slept like babies.

                 

                We reached Yuksom at night. A flurry of handshakes and backslaps later, Prasang, who met us at the stop, took us home and tucked us in for the night.

                 

                Next morning I woke up to benevolent skies …a mellow blue that made you feel safe, forgiven, at peace. As the six o clock sunshine streamed down the mountains yonder edging the parting clouds with gold and prayer flags swayed to the rhythm of chants, I felt on the verge of an epiphany. Except, I was jostled away for breakfast by the two philistines I was travelling with.

                 

                Prasang surprised us with a bit of information. The oldest monastery in Sikkim, the Dubdi, was in Yuksom. It was a steep trek, dangerous even, but it’d be worth it, he promised. “Besides, I am the son of a Sherpa. He died on Everest,” he said, brimming with pride. Hmm…he had our itinerary lovingly planned.

                Day 1: Dubdi monastery > Coronation ground > Holy Lake

                Day 2: Holy Lake > Pemayangtse monastery > Rabdentse ruins.

                “Two holy lakes?” I asked.

                “Yes. You make a wish at the Holy Lake, it comes true. Two lakes, double guarantee!” he winked.

                 

                Day 1

                 

                Dubdi monastery:

                Enroute to Dubdi Monastery
                Enroute to Dubdi Monastery

                It’s a 3km climb up to the monastery perched on a hill; an incredibly steep trek and slippery too because the path is stone paved. It was exhausting, and not just physically, because we had to be constantly careful about where we stepped. Some of the stones were loose. But every now and then we’d get to these springs that’d magically pop out of nowhere and we’d drink up and splash our faces, and we were good to go. The monastery, after the tough climb, felt a little disappointing at first sight. It was decrepit, miniature in size, with paint peeling off on the outside. We were ushered inside by a little lama, and once our eyes got accustomed to the candle-lit darkness,  we were awestruck. The interiors were ancient;faded thangkas, worn upholstery, the walls crumbling in places. However, there was nothing effete in the gaze of the statue of Padmasambhava  at the centre of the shrine. You simply felt his presence and it was a powerful one. It was a gaze that could hold you in thrall and if you held it for too long, you could fall into a trance right there. “Foreigners who come here to meditate sometimes forget to leave,” said the boy lama. We sort of got what he meant.

                 

                Norbugang Coronation ground:

                Norbugang Coronation Throne
                Norbugang Coronation Throne

                 

                Yuksom means ‘The place of meeting of the three learned monks’. Legend has it that this threesome crowned Phunshog Namgyal as the first ‘Chogyal’, the King of Sikkim. As part of the consecration ceremony, they built a Chorten or stupa with mud and water from all over Sikkim and a massive stone throne for the King. All of this is said to have happened at Norbugang. When we got there, we were shown the throne, the Chorten and the actual pine tree under which the coronation had taken place. Then Prasang, acting all mysterious, took us to a slightly fenced in area and asked us to lift a metal plate that lay innocuously on the ground. There it was! A 400 year old impression of the foot of the head lama. It was a pretty believable likeness. “What a big-foot!” Em said, looking around to see if we’d gotten the joke. He was an expert at duds.

                 

                Holy Lake 1 (Kuthok) :

                To get to the lake, we had to scramble over a wall. The compound gate was padlocked. We made our way to the slushy edge, muck squelching under our feet, sank our arms elbow deep in the water and made wishes. Prasang told us what he’d wished for; probably thinking we’d take him into confidence like he’d done. Which none of us did. “I wish my girlfriend, who is a police in Darjeeling, resigns and we marry in Yuksom and have twins. One boy, one girl.”  “Awwwww!!!” we went.

                 

                Day 2

                The places that Prasang had planned for us to visit on Day 2 were spaced out along the road from Yuksom to Pelling.

                 

                Khecheopalri Lake:

                Khecheopalri lake
                Khecheopalri lake

                 

                 

                The first stop was the other holy lake; ‘holier’ than the one we’d previously wished at, said Prasang. It was called Khecheopalri or,  Sho Dzo Sho which means “Oh Lady, Sit Here.” There’s a lot of folklore and mythology tied to the Khecheopalri lake. One legend calls it the footprint of the Goddess Jetsun Tara Dolma, another says it was here that Padmasambhava gave sacred wisdom to 64 yoginis . Even Lord Shiva is said to have meditated in the Dupukney Cave just overhead the lake, making it a sacred place for the Hindus as well, especially on Nag Panchami. The best one though is the tale of a Lepcha girl called Nenjo who was gifted an incredibly precious gem by the lake Goddess, which the girl promptly lost. They say the gem still lies in the lake bed and the shoals of catfish in the lake are actually guarding it. You’re allowed to feed these fish with crumbs and the like, and watching them converge on a tidbit helps you imagine what piranhas would look like shredding their prey! These fish are huge and scary and pretty much untouchable. There are strict laws against fishing. Nobody would anyway. They’re supposed to be the 64 yoginis, except with whiskers and fins.

                 

                Pemayangtse monastery:

                The first thing we noticed when we entered the compound of the Pemayangtse monastery was how utterly handsome all the monks were! There was a reason for this, we were told. The monastery was built to house only the purest Ta tshangs; monks of pure Tibetan lineage who were physically impeccable and (yet!) celibate. “Oh! The irony!” Fi sighed.

                 

                As beautiful and intricately decorated as its interiors are on the ground and first floors, what really captivated us in the monastery was a wooden structure on the top floor. Guru Rimpoche’s Heavenly Palace, as this seven tiered, exquisitely detailed structure is called, is a miniature representation of the Buddhist cosmogony, complete with tiny figures of Asuras at the very bottom, Apsaras at the top and the whole panoply of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas occupying their hierarchical places in the middle. Painted on the walls of the room is a continuous Buddhist mural which merits a great deal of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ by itself. I was curious about the golden curtains that had been strung for apparently no reason on parts of the walls. Were they concealing something or were they just decoration? I couldn’t help but lift one and look. Oh man! Each of these curtains had been strategically placed over highly graphic depictions of Tantric sex. We know your secret, Pemayangtse!

                 

                Rabdentse ruins:

                The ruins at Rabdentse
                The ruins at Rabdentse

                 

                The story of how the beautiful Rabdentse palace turned into the ruin that it is, is one of royal intrigue  and murders executed with Oriental finesse. A king  found dead in the blood tinged waters of a hot spring, the cause inexplicable (very effective blood-letting apparently), a murderous princess strangled with a silk scarf and of course, the indiscriminate use of poison… a lot of it!

                 

                A brief, winding trek will bring you to the ruins which are still beautiful. The chortens and the higher ramparts were shrouded in mist so that people at a distance were either completely concealed or moving blurs. It was slightly eerie. I wanted to explore the outer fringes on my own, the others were just happy lounging and taking photographs. But Prasang said I might easily lose my way if I entered the surrounding woods and would be leopard food in no time.

                 

                “Headlines on tomorrow’s newspapers!” Fi announced. “Assam girl lost in Sikkim jungles. Firangi desperate!”

                 

                Back in Yuksom in the evening, we were treated to a feast by Prasang’s family. Pork cooked in four different ways, fresh greens fried with cardamom, fragrant rice. We washed it all down with Chhang, a liquor made from fermented millet which you have to sip from a triple tiered wooden contraption. It was a heady concoction. Tasted good too!

                 

                Sufficiently tipsy and very sated, we walked to a clearing in the forest where there were logs we could sit on and a spring to dip our feet in. The stars were out and we all agreed that they looked close enough to touch. Em, as sloshed as he was, took it a tad literally and kept sprinting with his arm outstretched. “I’ll pluck a star and give it to Fi so she’ll marry me!” he kept saying. “I think we can make an informed conjecture here on what Em wished for at the lakes. “What did you wish for, Fi?” I probed. “I wished for a chance to come back to India again and soon and with my boyfriend. What about you?”  “Fat chance I’ll tell you!” I sniggered and was duly punched in the arm!

                 

                Now, when I’m finally writing about it, Yuksom seems to have taken on a shimmering quality, like something sprinkled with fairy dust. Yuksom is beautiful, mystical, serene… but it’s only when you’ve come away that you understand  how special the experience of it truly is. The Yuksom sky by day or by night glows softly, lending a measure of peace to all beneath it. If ever you find yourself in Yuksom, look up. There’s no sky quite like it.

                A trip to the pyramids of Egypt

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                  By Hriddhi Sunder Doley

                  An office trip to Egypt left me spellbound for more than one reason. This was my first visit to the mighty pyramids and they turned out to be bigger than what I believed. The azure sky and the golden sand couples of to make this part of the world astonishingly beautiful… something that photographers can only try to reproduce. But then, there is of course no alternative to being present there to soak it all in…

                  One tip – take enough money with you. This place can be expensive!

                  DSC_0227
                  There… I saw it!

                   

                   

                   

                  Pyramid
                  I could not resist it…

                   

                  Pyramid
                  A ride to remember…

                   

                  Pyramid
                  And I was not alone…

                   

                   

                  Horses
                  The parking lot…

                   

                  DSC_0255
                  Then I saw it…

                   

                   

                  DSC_0260
                  And I fell in love all over again!

                   

                   

                  DSC_0264
                  The mandatory ‘I was here’ pic!

                   

                   

                   

                   

                   

                   

                  The Shawl factory – Kausani !

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                    There is a story in each of us. A story lurks at every turn or corner of a road. Every house, be it grand or nondescript has a story of their own… This is something I believe fervently. And this is what I try to see and seek in each of my travels. The story maybe a story of a person or a place or an initiative that becomes the livelihood to many…anything that catches my fancy as in today’s case – the story of the lovely shawl or stole that you have draped around you so lovingly and that which is so becoming of you. Weird choice of a story , you think? Well , lets see.

                    While on a trip to Kausani , in Uttaranchal I was directed as a part of sight seeing and souvenir shopping to the Kausani Shawl factory. As the word factory suggests, I expected a huge building with smoke chimneys, though of course how a chimney fits a shawl factory I have no idea, still I could not escape the stereotyped train of thoughts. However what I saw was surprisingly a shop that had in its display some beautiful, shawls , stoles and other handloom products. But where was the factory ? The shop keeper then proceeded to take us on a tour of the small factory which was a means to fulfilling bigger dreams of the people there.

                    It is a bitter irony how life can be pretty harsh at a pretty place like in the mountains, Water is a major problem inspite of the gargling springs , transport and communications is another major problem. And without those two major support , the infrastructure takes a major beating. So we do have our pristine Himalayan village to admire and ogle at but of course at what cost! While we leave our polluted cities for a vacation to the lovely mountains, the locals have to migrate from their beautiful villages in search of livelihood to the cities. Which does sound quite unfair!

                    So desperate situations require an united approach , and one of those was the revival of the small scale industry at a more united level as cooperative societies.

                    Kausani Shawl factory was one such where the local artisans and weavers were provided a chance to earn an income as well as keep the traditional weaving art form alive by such an initiative.

                    So where did the beautiful shawl come from? How was it born? What was its story?
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                    The shop tender took us to the back of the shop , down a hilly path to the factory which was a small shed like room which housed six looms a spindle and other wares. He quickly added there was a bigger one at the village and they had a couple of power looms which ran on electricity.

                    My gaze fell upon a few bales which the worker confirmed as sheep wool. The sheep were sheared in the village and which was then spun into wool.

                    The basic principle was almost same as that of a cotton loom and spinning yarn except that here the raw material was the wool and the weave and the fine designed differentiated the categories of the products which was as a whole handwoven.

                    He told us that the handlooms could weave around three to four stoles per day while a proper full length shawl took a whole day. That particular unit employed around 25 persons in total including the sheep wool provider, and the other craftsmen. And there were more such units down at the village.

                    So as a whole the initiative provided employment to near about hundred persons and which did not require much elaborate arrangement nor space.

                    Initially the funding was from the government on a low interest loan, but now they were quite self sufficient and doing well with plans of expanding further in the interiors, which was a good news as that meant more employment.

                    Such shawls and stoles were quite a hit with the tourists for their quality, uniqueness and designs. Since they retailed at their own outlet , the middlemen system was completely by passed and maximum profits went to the wavers themselves. They had retail units in Ranikhet too and as I said more were coming forth in the future. They sold in a range from two hundred bucks to thousands depending upon the design and weave of the material.

                    It was inspiring to see how a little piece of cloth was actually a dream built upon the sweat of hundred others. So next time when you are buying a souvenir or something for yourself, please refrain yourself from haggling for a few rupees. We don’t raise an eyebrow when we are buying diesel or a Calvin Klein just because they are brands. Well then in these case you are endorsing a brand which is a long running tradition and dreams of yonder hamlet in the beautiful mountains. Can the designer brands compete with that? I don’t think so.

                    Top 4 critically endangered animals of the world(2014)

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                      – By Sukanya Bora.

                      This article is fully based on the critically endangered species of the world in the year 2014.
                      Following are the list of the top 4 critically endangered species of the world:-

                      1. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
                      the ivory Billed woodpecker
                      The population number of this bird were reduced by hunters and also by the massive cutting down of trees.
                      There are organizations which are devoted to the rediscovery of this beautiful bird but no sightings has been confirmed yet. It is quite possible that the last bird could die tomorrow and without any trace. This bird was last seen on 2004 at Arkansas. The 10th anniversary and the last sighting of this bird is on 25th April 2014 according to news update.
                      More information can be found on www.IBWP.org

                      2. Javan Rhinoceros.
                      Javan Rhinoceros

                      This rhino is also known as Sudna Rhino. It is the most prominent species of rhino in South East Asia. It was last seen in Java Island in Indonesia on 2014. It is numbered 50-60 in the wild. The reason for endangerment of this animal is mainly poaching, genetic degradation, natural disasters and unhecked human activity.
                      More information can be found at the WORLD WILDLIFE FUND website devoted to this animal.

                      3. The Northern Sportive Lemur
                      northern sportive Lemur

                      This animal resides on the northern tip of Madagascar. The main reason for this species to be endangered is poaching and deforestation. This animal was last seen on 2013 at Northern Madagascar. This animal is numbered 20+ in the wild.
                      More information on conservation of this animal can be found at the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership website.

                      4. The Northern Pacific Right Whale.
                      northern pacific right whale
                      This species of whale is the most endangered species of whale with only 50 members left. It was last seen on 2013 at Haida Gwaii. Poaching by hunters is the main reason for this whale to be critically endangered. It is numbered 50- in the wild.
                      When it comes to conservation then Japan is the leader in tracking down of these whales.

                      It is utterly sad to see such beautiful creatures getting endangered. We as humans should love the beautiful gifts of nature and conserve them.
                      “Life is life’s greatest gift. Guard the life of another creature as you would your own because it is your own. On life’s scale of values, the smallest is no less precious to the creature who owns it than the largest”- Lloyd Biggle Jr.

                      “We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity.”- Rachel Carson

                      It is sad to see how the nature’s wounds are deepening in front of our own eyes. I, an animal lover, really wish from the bottom of my heart for all these to be cured and the best way is to stop poaching of animals and deforestation and save the gifts of nature.

                      The Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
                      Picture credit: www.factzoo.com
                      Javan Rhinoceros.
                      Photo credit: www.greenglobaltravel.com
                      Northern Sportive Lemur.
                      Photo credit: www.theonion.com
                      Northern Pacific Right Whale.
                      Picture credit: www.geolution.nl

                      The Switch – Electronics & humans !

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                        – Maggie Deka

                        video gamesTrue Story – On one of the episodes of ‘Mobbed’ that I watched on Youtube- the best proposal, I responded on someone’s not-so-cheerful comment, that it is possible to find true love. For which, someone else responded, that he was both surprised and intrigued by me. The very next day I receive this friend request on Facebook and we get to chatting. Soon enough we make plans to meet, and he turns out to be this amazing guy. We are “just friends” so you know.
                        Unfortunately, sites like Facebook, YouTube and Google are banned in the country I am residing in. But thanks to VPN, I can access these sites with ease anytime I want to.
                        Now to get to the point, I am referring to ‘Technology’. I have watched and read several posts about how technology is taking over our lives, and we spend little or no time with our loved ones. True to a point, but come on guys, be real here. Aren’t we all using the latest technology anyway?
                        I remember my grandmother saying, how much she misses not having a television at home when she was younger, and all the kids would play all sorts of games to pass their time. Life was wonderful and peaceful then. Throughout this last decade or so, she would happily watch all the episodes of the ‘K’ series on TV and if she missed even one for some reason, she would frantically pick up her mobile phone and call a friend to get updates. And then they would discuss for hours at length like they knew the characters personally. ‘Mihir died for the 8th time, but he will be back’.
                        Technology is indubitably a necessity to improve pre-existing solutions to most of our problems. Even the technologies that have created unwanted by-products such as ‘pollution’, as humans we still strive to improve and work towards making things better. But I am aware, that few have disagreements over whether it is improving our lives or destroying it.
                        Now, how innovative can one get with technology? Let’s look at the oculus rift for example, the latest version for consumers isn’t out yet, but the buzz and excitement is all around. In a normal setting your eyes cannot see 3d, however, the oculus rift made that possible. The rift is a head mounted display giving you virtual reality in 3D imaging. A hoochie koo time for the gamers out there!! After almost a year of shipping the original development kit, the team announced DK2, the second development kit for the Oculus Rift which should be out for the consumer’s, end of this year. For those who purchased the DK1 don’t fret, I am sure you can sell your kit on ebay or OLX and I guarantee there will be thousands ready to pay good money for it. Bas a friend, once told me that in the next 5-10 years every house would probably have an AVR headset! Sounds totally cool doesn’t it?
                        I have never been an ardent fan of video games, and for those of you who think the gaming world is taking up a lot of time away from social life; you may be correct in some way. There were times we made up games with sticks, leaves and coconut shells; times we would long to talk to a friend who moved to another city/country without a forwarding address. What I believe, is that technology is not taking over, but we as humans are. We need to indulge in pithy of how technology can co-exist in our lives and emancipate ourselves.
                        Let us look at the latest self driving car for instance by Google. This is a two seat subcompact (mini) car, the prototypes of which should hit the roads in less than a year. There is no steering wheel and no pedals; so what you actually do is just enter your destination on the screen and press a button to start. Just like that of a GPS. However, there is an emergency break available between the two seats, to be used if necessary. The amazing part it that of the sensor placed on top of the car- which detects traffic, and slows down at turns. Though it sounds amazing, for someone like me, who has been driving on her own for years, I think I would still be pretty circumspect till I reach my destination. It is very convenient for the elderly, the physically challenged, the late night party goers and of-course people who have failed their driving tests a couple of times, and want to just give up the idea of obtaining their own licence!!
                        Technology is visible everywhere starting from virtual classrooms to video conferences to the everyday tools you use at home. But what intrigues me most is the ‘Solar Roadways’. Though many believe it would be expensive for worldwide acceptance, I personally still think, it’s a brilliant idea considering it is environment friendly. It started with Scott Brusaw and Julie Brusaw discussing global warming sitting in their garden one afternoon, when they came up with this idea. They made the prototype considering a solid structural engineered case to protect the fragility of the panel. They also realized that snow could ruin the panel and there was low visibility at night. So they added heated element to avoid snow accumulation, and LED’s fitted with microprocessor, to light up the road like a runway. Sensors were added so the microprocessor could read and warn drivers in advance of an animal/anyone crossing the road. To add to this innovative idea, they also considered taking out the electric poles and wires and putting them underground into the utility box; that way the area could be wire/pole free. The team of engineers, from three different universities in the U.S. are contributing to the development of the project, and would be using organic recycle materials getting rid of most of the trash. This technology can be used not only on roads, but also in parking lots, playgrounds etc.
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                        We get so much out of the advancement in our lives through technology. We learn, see, are able to give our opinions and inspire others miles away, get to see animals, places which otherwise would not have been possible without travelling. We become more benevolent and try and reach out to people we haven’t even met at times.
                        We are all used to technology in some way or another, and sometimes do silly things using it. For instance, the other day I was talking to my friend Jas over the phone, and after a while she seemed distracted. Then she said she couldn’t find her phone… Umm just as she said that, she realized she “was” on her phone talking to me, and we both had a great laugh. I am certain at some point in time; you have wanted to give a ‘miss call’ to you remote or your car keys when you couldn’t locate it. Don’t worry that’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives.
                        Bill Gates quoted ‘Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.’
                        So all in all, I think technology is amazing and we should embrace it. Considering how convenient life has become, I am absolutely thrilled by what is coming next. Having said that, it is important that we should also consider how, not everything should be dependent on technology and we should not lose touch of reality. Learn to co-exist and contribute to the environment and spend more time with your loved ones.

                        Picture source: http://www.commongunsense.com
                        Picture source: www.dailyplanetmedia.com

                        The rain riding lessons

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                          wb051348Rains have always been a source of joy. That’s what made the first rainfall this year so interesting for me. For the first time I was having less of fun and more of a learning troubled experience. Well, this was the first time I was riding my bike while the roads were yet to dry out.

                          This may come slightly late for riders in regions where monsoons are already in complete flow but for a country waiting earnestly for rains it might just be tad useful. So here’s listing some learning, fresh as rain!

                           

                          1)      First and the most important. Get your brake serviced and tyre checked. You do not want to die skid across the road after you just hit the brakes on a wet road.

                           

                          2)      Just in case you do skid, ensure your head’s safe. Please get a good helmet that covers your entire face. This not only saves your head, but face too when a car splashes dirt off the road… you know what I am talking about if you are an Indian.

                           

                          3)      It is time you invested on a two-piece raincoat. Rains are unpredictable, especially so in cities like Mumbai. The raincoat not only save you from getting soaked in rain, but also saves your shirt and trouser from those nasty splashes as vehicles zip past you through poodles! You do not want to land up for your meeting or date all soaked in mud!

                           

                           

                          4)      In case you do end up with a gravel smeared face, a face wash is really handy!

                          Bike travel

                           

                           

                           

                           

                          5)      Do get too close to cars or trucks. Maintain a healthy distance. Even if unintentional, their tyres can make your nice and fresh face into a dirt board!
                          6)      Buy a pair of crocs. If you do not want to spend as much, just try getting a pair of shoes that do not stink. This of course is a general observation, true for anyone else.

                           

                           

                          7)      If you have always found a reason not to wash your bike, let this be the time to rid of the habit. You bike will need some washing.

                           

                           

                          8)      Last but pretty important: Give yourself some buffer time. Rains mean traffic jams.

                           

                          There you go. So enjoy the rains. Be careful, ride safe.

                          My Himalayan Travel Diary- Snapshots!

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                            “What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” 
                            ― Karl Lagerfeld

                            And that’s what a travel diary is for…

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                            A trip to Bhangarh

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                              Two days back I had gone to Siliserh Lake, Alwar with friends on a road trip… Nothing to gloat about, yes you are right!

                               

                              We also visited Sariska Tiger Reserve- again not a big deal, right you are!

                               

                              We saw no tigers there- do I hear a snigger? I admit it is well deserved.

                               

                              From there we went to Bhangarh Fort, India’s supposedly most haunted place… do I sense a pause?

                               

                              We went during the day time and encountered no paranormal activity… yes you can smirk now. So what do we write about now as we have nothing new to interest you?

                               

                              Many a times we are so focused on the obvious while sharing a story that we miss out other interesting facts or notes that might be of your interest or importance at some other time frame or frame of mind!

                               

                              When we say Bhangarh, anybody who is even minutely aware of it as one of India’s most haunted places, will sit up to read about it, lest he miss out something interesting. Paranormal has always been a matter of intrigue and interest. But in the search for the obvious we miss out… and that’s what my trip report is all about. Of course we will come to the paranormal part too but first let’s start from the beginning.

                               

                              Bhangarh was never on my agenda. Not that I am a scared cat or a similar object, but ancient ruins that have a paranormal tag have an air of decay and despondency around them which is emotionally injurious to my health and hence I had avoided it as much as I could even when I had the opportunity.

                               

                              This time we or rather I was in a gung ho mood, raring to go, with the adventurous streak overtaking the sane side of me.

                              After driving down to Alwar in Rajasthan from Delhi, we three ladies or rather two and a half ladies decided to explore a further more. Sariska obviously was our next pit stop but on a whim I decided to ask about Bhangarh fort and learn some more from the heritage hotel staff.

                               

                              To my surprise, they affirmed that there had indeed been reports of paranormal activities there and it is forbidden to be there after sunset and before sunrise. That is when we started pondering to visit the place. The 50 km distance from Sariska sealed the decision in favour of Bhangarh. After Sariska we decided to drive towards Bhangarh.

                               

                              Now a point that is missed out in the whole thing, often (as seen in blogs and the internet information)is that though 50 kms sounds a paltry sum, but that 50 km seemed the longest and toughest part of our 300 km journey to Bhangarh. The roads were bumpy, dusty, through the interiors sometimes without even a proper signboard through villages that resembled ghost towns. That 50 km took us three hours to cover and three females on a road trip through such a stretch is certainly not advisable. But the adventure quotient was high. The terrain was rough and we came across dilapidated havelis, ramparts and temples on the way promising bigger things to come further forward.

                               

                              The last stretch of ten kilometers was desolate uninhabited dry land which reminded me of the movie Hills have eyes. Coming back through that road to reach Delhi was certainly not something I was looking forward to as it was already 3.30 when we were about to reach Bhangarh. Add to it the strange way the weather was behaving. Inspite of being in Rajasthan, there were dark clouds looming in the horizon threatening a torrent of rain. Already the sun was playing hide and seek and a few drops had rained in between in bursts. Point two that is missed and which I found a frequent happening through personal reports was that there was something about that area, but weather shifts were common there. Squalls and sun alternately and sometimes thunder showers. If *haunted* was in our mind then the ambience was becoming just right for the theme. There was a small hamlet Attached to the vast barren Bhangarh area and driving in from the highway another kilometer we came upon the huge gates of the fort township. As soon as you reach the gates, you become slightly disappointed at the crowd you see which is huge to say the least. Why, but you may mistake it for just a Purana Killa or Qutub Minar any other day what with all the cars and tourists and hawkers. Entry was free and so were the strict instructions. No staying back after dark as it is dangerous, no grazing animals, no damaging or defacing the artifacts and also the trees – courtesy ASI.

                               

                              There was a Hanuman temple just at the entrance and… well, before that a little bit of the history of Bhangarh.

                               

                               

                              Factual history- Bhangarh fort was a township built in the sixteenth century by Bhagawant Singh for his son Madho Singh, who was the younger brother of the famous general Man Singh of Emperor Akbar’s court. It was a complete independent flourishing town with its own markets and places of entertainment and temples and a royal palace, with its usual fortifications, ramparts, tomb, mosque even and demarcations.

                               

                              Hearsay – Sometime later, after a few generations, the town had come into utter destruction. How? Remains a mystery. Some say it was a battle while a few say it was a tempest or some similar natural destructive force that did it in one single day. A curse is attributed to the destruction and there are two versions which go about it. One is about a Babaji or Saadhu Bala Nath who had warned while constructing the city that the day the palace grounds shadow touches his dwelling will be the day the city goes to ruins, and a descendent not paying heed to the warning had raised the palace grounds a little higher inviting his curse. While the second is about Rani Ratnagiri who had invited the ire of a tantric when she had spurned his advances in a tragic manner and he had cursed the city in his dying moments. The next year Rani Ratnagiri had perished in the battle against Ajabgarh.

                               

                              Now, coming back to the site, the sight that first met us was a complete surprise! We had expected to encounter a single fort in ruins which would seem eerie. But what lay in front of us lay a neat row of ruins. Yes neat was the word and the symmetry and planned manner of construction made it aesthetically attractive. The neat rows of the ruins of shops with its small rooms and houses truly transport you to another era and you wish to peep into those times and period.

                               

                              The path was brick laid and the destruction was uniform. Only the roof and top half was gone. What was that force that had destroyed so uniformly and neatly while the rest remained intact and sturdy standing up to the test of time? By the hill side with formidable rocks jutting out of it was the royal palace and in front of it was the Gopinath temple. The lawn inside the inner court of the royal palace was lush green which was a complete contrast to the dry arid brownish terrain and buildings. A huge banyan tree with interesting root formation stood at the gates like a sentinel probably a witness to what had transpired long back…

                               

                              We could not stay for long and explore the palace as the clouds were dark and it was beginning to drizzle.

                               

                              Yes, it was not frightening or scary, but it had an air of mystery which is not surprising, because anything we are in the dark about is always mysterious. If we keep the paranormal factor out of it, and go simply by the site, I would say it was beautiful in its astounding symmetry and uniformity and also the contrast of colours it provided. The palace and the ramparts and intact temples- the testimonies to times of splendor stood proud like an aging beauty – graceful and strong!

                               

                              I would highly recommend the place for a drive in, with its high adventure factor, the historical importance and the pure aesthetic beauty of the place. The locals we spoke to swore about it being haunted except for the Pujari at the Hanuman Mandir which added to the mystery quotient. Sometimes old wives tales make a better snack to go with your roadside cup of tea than mere biscuits and wafers, right?

                              A note – while going back to Delhi, I would recommend catching the Delhi Ajmer expressway at Manoharpur 50 kms away approx rather than driving back to Alwar. The road to Manoharpur is smooth and fast except for a small hiccup of around 500 metre or so at a point.

                               

                              Distance – approx 300 kms from Delhi.

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