Mountains have always given me a high. I realized this early on when I stood on top of a mountain after completing a trek as a young girl and wind blew chills around me. I… More
This article has been running on my mind since we came back from Rajasthan last December. It has been a year since but the earthy smell, the golden mustard fields can’t be done justice to if just written in superlatives. I am still scared if my words can do justice to the feeling, the taste, the conversation or the history that enveloped us in Siana.
We reached Siana Adventure Camp towards the end of our Rajasthan road trip. We had started from Jaisalmer through the desert roads, took a break at Balmer and had the yummiest food ever with a simple dish of sev and tomato and bhakri. Another couple of hours on the road took us through rural Rajasthan to arrive at these huge gates in a village. The gates led up to a haveli and behind the haveli, there were stone cottages. We were welcomed by the owners of Siana Adventure camp who are the erstwhile Thakur’s of the village and trace their ancestry to the royal family.
After an action-packed and on the go sort of a trip across Rajasthan it was welcoming to relax with good home food and stories that spanned eras. I believe their hospitality made all the difference to our trip because we didn’t go on the night safari or camping or horse riding that they offer. We chose to relax and walk through the yellow mustard fields and photograph parrots and peacocks as they perched on trees and troubled the horses in the stable.
In the evening we sat around a bonfire in the garden with their Great Dane for company and had some amazing starters and conversations that spanned from Rajasthani history, women who have broken barriers, sports, tourism and everything else that a group of strangers who have just met can converse about. We later sat around looking at the starlit night as we got a good view of the stars with such little light pollution in the village.
Next day morning we ate breakfast in the garden and I am quite embarrased considering how much food I wolfed down as the food was made with fresh ingredients straight from the farm with a flavour that you can find only in an Indian village. We later went on a tour of Siana and the jungle and the mountains nearby with the owner himself. Wherever the jeep went it was interesting to note how the villagers offered salutations, it gave a very surreal feeling even though I knew that the reverence is for the Thakur and not really for us but well borrowed moments. We also gave lifts to a few school children on their way to school and I could observe the ease of local interactions and a very old school way of life.
Siana was a much needed break towards the end of our Rajasthan sojourn before we embarked towards Ahmedabad. If you are planning a trip to Gujrat or Rajasthan and old world charm and Indian villages and way of life interest you then I would recommend checking Siana out.
Guys, let me first complete my exclamation and elation over having seen the Indus Valley River with my own two peepers!!! Like really what can even come close to having seen this bountiful river which was the cradle of India and the biggest reason that we have Indians and such a diverse culture. The river which provided for an amazing and advanced civilization named after the river itself. The civilization that had granaries and paved roads which lets us feel superior to what Europe was up to around then, which is pretty much nothing!
The Indus river today flows in from China from the Himalayan ranges through Jammu & Kashmir to flow out into the plains of Pakistan. Ever since I studied about the Harappan civilization in my history textbooks I have been itching to follow the Indus river to the sites it spurned. After visiting Lothal a few years back being on this cold blue river was an amazing experience for me. Manda in Jammu Kashmir is said to be northernmost excavated site from the Indus Valley Civilization. But I am hopeful that in my lifetime we will discover the rosetta stone for the Indus Valley Civilization which would help us unearth this golden age of traders, mathematicians, artists, and travelers.
Well, not only did I see the river flowing across the Ladakh desert cutting ravines as old as time, I river rafted on it. Well, technically the rafting was done on Zanskar which is a major tributary of the Indus river. But the rafting expedition ended at the confluence of Indus river. Zanskar is a glacial river which freezes over in the winter and makes the world’s highest rafting spot when the river is flowing. The rafting was done over 14 kms of this cold, adventurous river as it cut across jagged rocks and ravines of various hues.
This trip was an all women’s trip to Ladakh by F5Escapes. Usually, I detest group tours but having traveled with F5Escapes before I knew that what they would offer will be different from the usual tourist traps. At Leh I met these extraordinary 8 women who were going to experience mountain sickness, absolute beauty, adventure and pure abandon along with me for 10 days, but more on this later. Our ages ranged from 30 to 60 but most everyone felt not a day older than 21 possibly.
We reached the adventure camp that September as the season in Ladakh was winding up as snow arrived in the mountains, in the van that we had called home for the entire trip. We were given wetsuits and the promise of good lunch at the end of the expedition. We wore the wetsuits with slight trepidation in our heart and boarded the van once again. Our rafts and gear were loaded onto another truck which we were to follow. The truck started climbing up the mountain road until the river came into view in the deep ravine below. We crossed bridges and the truck continued its ascent through pink, blue and grey mountains of pure rock and gravel. One thing was sure that if we fell into the cold water at least we would do so while enjoying an amazing view.
The rafting instructor aka the guy who we had entrusted our lives to, gave us a short class on rafting, what to do if you fall in the water, how to hold the kayak, how to hold the lifeline and some other pointers. So with life jackets and oars, we boarded the raft to be greeted by rapids, still water, extravagant rock formations and a history that flowed from a glacier 20 km away. We had some adventures along the way such as two girls falling into the water from another raft which had started with us, we were the Carpathia to their Titanic. We also had an impromptu performance of Madhuri Dixit’s sexiest dance while on board the raft.
When we arrived at the confluence and marveled at what we had just achieved we had folks asking us if we were from the Navy, duh! Some folks I overheard from afar mused that we must we Ladakhi. Well, we were neither, we were regular Jane’s who did not listen to dictats of what women should do or shouldn’t do!
I finished the beginners PADI course in Maldives, the experience of scuba diving especially is such pristine and rich waters was priceless. Before my scuba experience, I have gone snorkeling in Thailand, Peurto Rico and Maldives too and in terms of the underwater flora and fauna my vote goes for Maldives whether on the surface or below the surface. And I saw some amazing looking people.
Wearing the wetsuit for the first time was a surreal experience, the first time I saw a wetsuit was, on a surfer at La Jolla at San Diego as he rushed head-on into the cold and freezing Pacific Ocean. I shook my head and said gee people are mad! Now I find myself headed towards a similar madness. Once I had changed into the wetsuit and hung up my chiffon cover-up bought at the resort for an obscene amount of money which would have cost me a mere 100Rs just a few km across the seas in India.
The wetsuit was the least of the problems when it came to attire, it was soon followed by an oxygen tank, glasses, fins, some heebeejeebees and a belt which I think had stones because I am not yet fat enough to just sink to the bottom presumably yet. My instructor was a lady who lead me into the aquamarine paradise. She started her training on how to breathe, how to clear my mask, how to adjust pressure, how to untangle the tubes and how to signal under water.
We went deeper into the ocean to find the treasures that are hidden beneath the blue. In Maldives case, the treasures are not completely hidden as the aquamarine waters give away a lot to anyone who is jobless and sitting near the beach with their eyes preened into the ocean as we usually were at the time. I could see multi-hued corals and schools of different fishes. She pointed out jack fish, swordfishes tiger finned sharks, clown fishes, and others. The clownfish peeped out of the sea anemone to see whose finger was disturbing his afternoon siesta and went back into his anemone to hide, it was an absolutely adorable sight. That’s when I saw the highlight of my scuba sojourn, yes I saw sharks but these sharks would come visiting us on the beach as well as sting rays so I was quite used to them by now.
The highlight was an octopus who had turned himself white and was resting on a white coral when he saw us two dark shadows approach. He quickly gathered his skirts and scooted off but as he scooted off he tried his hand at camouflaging on a rock, another coral in the hopes that he could merge into the background and back to safety. But I guess he held himself to high camouflaging standards as he was not happy with the results and swam away into the dark ocean beyond.
Video from YouTube which is similar to what I witnessed in Maldives. Credits to the original creators Raymond Howe and Tracy Mok.
He changed from white to blue to red to black and stripped as he tried on different dresses. He changed colors and shapes to match corals, rocks and the reef. He was absolutely brilliant. Schools of bright blue fishes swiped around in swift motions and changed direction as if of one mind. Big jack fishes came swimming by and did not have any qualms with us sharing their sacred space.
These were the same waters where we saw wild dolphins jumping up to say their farewell to the setting sun. We swam and sunbathed and turned our brown skin into an unwed Indian girl’s mother’s nightmare. We danced on the beach and learned to love the ocean and the sands. We parted with a lot of cash too, acting out our bohemian fantasy in Maldives where tourists / travelers do not see Maldivian rufiyaa as much as they handle US dollars. But was it worth it ? Hell yeah!
One of our first places to visit during our recent trip to Sri Lanka was Sigiriya, we were staying at a home stay near the Lion’s Rock. To be honest, I was totally unaware about Sigiriya, it’s history and the magnificence that was about to unfold the next day. The first day we took a safari to Minneriya National Park, which is a story for later.
The next day we looked up at what was told to us is a view point of lion rock. It looked like any mountain with a rock face but man was I in for a mind blowing glimpse into history. We turned the corner and the mountain was still quite innocuous, we hired a guide as we didn’t want to miss out on any interesting aspects and it was the right decision. The guide pointed out water gardens lined with kilned bricks. A kingfisher sat with its brilliant plume against the red brick backdrop.
The water gardens were lined by water fountains made of stone which was still functioning. To put that in perspective these structures and fountains were made in 477 – 495 CE. The road to the lion rock made by King Kassapa is beautiful and brings the entire rock fortress into view but a person visiting for the first time is still not completely acquainted with the brilliance of architecture and vision that Sigiriya is.
At the base of the mountain is a gate that once used to have sculptures, walls, guards rooms and other grandeur that a palace gate should have. The rocky stone steps start and seeing our preschooler with us, we got a couple of ‘freelancers’ pitch to us that they will help carry my kid as it was some million steps to the top of the mountain.
The fortress is surrounded by two moats one of which still has water and its original inhabitants the crocodiles.
The fort has three gates, the welcome gate, cobra gate and the elephant gate. The welcome gate is two rocks that look like two hands joined together in the traditional welcome symbol.
Sigirya was pre and post King Kassapa belonged to Buddhist monks who inhabited the caves. King Kassapa in his bid to secure his kingdom after killing his father and his elder brother in exile took extravagance and imagination to the complete opposite of the serenity of a Buddhist cave. The fort had gardens, fountains, murals of hundreds of women adorned the stairway to the top of the fortress and a mirror wall along the sides. The number of stairs made me wonder about the luxury loving King and his concubines treading up and down the mountain path. Later we realized the Kings used lifts made of bamboo and fueled by man power to reach his mountain abode.
Today very few of these paintings have survived the onslaught of nature and probably a moral policing campaign too at one point. The women portrayed in these paintings hail from Sri Lanka, Mongolia, India and even Africa and were said to be the King’s concubines.
Once you brave the gusts of wind on the rock surface and follow the steps to reach the lion paws, everything you have seen till now pales in comparison. The entrance to the palace used to be a crouching lion and the steps to the fortress led up from inside the lion’s mouth. The lions head today has been destroyed by nature or probably by South Indian Kings or invaders as the Sri Lankan’s referred to them.
The ruins of the palace remain till date and one can only imagine what was and the splendor that this kingdom enjoyed once upon a time.
The palace ruins show the throne room, dancing halls, pools, pagodas and other marvels of a bygone era. The palace, the incredible vision and a completely different view point from the echelons of history will remain etched in my memory as a time when my aching feet and broken back helped my mind see imagination as never before.