The Title Of This Article Is, ‘I Saw The Indus River And How!!!!!’

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.

The dare devil all women crew

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.

A bridge across the Zanskar, climbing up the river to raft down rapids.

 

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.

All women daredevil crew

 

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.

World’s Highest Rafting Point at Zanskar

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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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It Is Worthwhile Wishing For Fins And A Mermaid Tail In Maldives.

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.

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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.

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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!

Sigiriya Built By A Dreamer – Stranger Than Fiction

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.

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The kingfisher heralding the beauty that will be unfolded.

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.

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The first view of Sigiriya mountain

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 inner moat at Sigiriya

The fortress is surrounded by two moats one of which still has water and its original inhabitants the crocodiles.

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The gateway to the fortress

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.

Explaning the history of this ancient kingdom.

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.

Frescos of Sigiriya women

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.

The Lions paws leading to the palace.
Stairs which used to be housed underneath the lions mouth and through the neck.

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.

Sigirya palace top view. Photo from a tourist information guide on Sigiriya.

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 on top on the mountain

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.

View from the top of Sigiriya rock

 

Things Some Tourists Say That Make Me Mad

This post is written in absolute angst. These are some things that I have actually heard and have had to process in my brain, such a waste of neural energy!

I have heard some ignorant remarks from certain tourists which have rubbed me in all sorts of wrong sides. I am presenting some of the select few here for your reading pleasure.

Sambhar in South India is not good. They should learn from North Indians

Like really! Sambhar is not good in South India? Makes me wonder about the ‘sambhar’ you have been having!

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We went to the animal sanctuary and did not see any animals, this sanctuary is a sham!

Well maybe this is THE encounter you deserve 🙂

 

Why would girls want to go to Thailand. People go there only for ‘one thing’.

Considering Indian men go to Thailand in throves I am now questioning your morality. Also folks in Thailand definitely don’t have ‘only one thing’ on their mind, it is mostly the folks who go there who need education on a knowing more than ‘one thing’.

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There is nothing to see at Niagara Falls except lots of water!

Well, I can’t even…..

 

This place should have a swimming pool! (Insert place with water shortage)

Well you traveled all the way to Rajasthan for a swimming pool? Makes me wonder about your priorities and what you learnt in geography!

 

There are no malls here, it is so boring!

I heard this comment in all places in GOA from a guy from a North Indian city, I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes so won’t mention where he was from!

Yeah…let’s leave the beaches, the coconut fronds, the amazing food and shacks and go searching for MALLS!

 

Will we get Indian food there in (insert foreign country)?

I can understand old folks or people with specific dietary restrictions. But when groups as a default, pride themselves in taking sometimes even a cook so that they do not have to take part in any bit of the other country’s culture.

To be kindly noted, I am a tourist too when I am traveling. I do not consider myself better than anyone or anything (or so I think).

Featured image credits Pixabay.