Here Is How To Be Miserable During The Monsoon! Go For A Trek

So? You have a comfortable life and you are happy? But you can’t recognize that you lead a happy life? Might I suggest a monsoon trek to whichever place is experiencing the highest rainfall in the western ghats?

You can start by boarding a bus which has been stripped off every last bit of comfort imaginable for buses. Get your oversized backpack and put it in the front and your leaky bottle on your lap. Get the absolute last corner seat of the bus so that all the potholes and speed bumps on the way get acquainted with your tailbone and an occasional speed breaker sends you flying.

You reach your destination which is a forest outpost at 3:30 in the night and it’s raining outside. You possibly slept fitfully and cried in your sleep. You are asked to deboard and are handed a wet sleeping bag which someone assures is dry inside and you take their word for it.

You board a jeep which rattles the beejesus out of you and you hang on to dear life. You reach a home stay which is a fancy word for a room with a bathroom for nine girls and a similar one for boys. You stake claim to the area near the only piece of furnishing in the room which is a mirror so that when you sleep in your sleeping bag at night you will be surrounded by the fallen hair of your roommates.

You drink tea and change into trekking clothes. Wear a trekking pant, a jacket so you don’t feel cold, put on a poncho because it continues to rain and your trekking boots. You consider yourself smart and apply salt on your feet and put your pants inside the pair of socks to deter leeches. (HAHA, you fool!)

You carry power bars for the trek and someone hands you a packet of rice flavored with tamarind and asks you not to eat it yet as this is lunch. You reach the forest checkpoint and realize that plastic is banned hence your power bars have to be said bye to. You hand over your power bars and pray they let you carry your pack of peanuts because it’s in a ziplock bag and who throws a zip lock bag, surely they will know that. But they take it.

You are happy that you have contributed to the hills not being littered and your eco self feels proud. You then start walking up the mountain and realize your knees haven’t woken up yet after the bus ride. So you snatch the trekking pole from your husband because he claims to be the better trekker. Also, he bounds off in the general direction of up, if at certain points in the trek you catch up with him he switches on his turbo boots and blasts off least he misses being the first on the summit.

By now your knees have learned that they have to be in motion for the next 22 kms so they start cooperating. So you start your climb up in the rain which stops for a minute and then restarts in all fury. You cross the first river and some other trekkers remove shoes and socks. But you are wiser you know that after the fourth river crossing any enthusiasm for taking off shoes will be curbed so you don’t bother. But your laces come off so you think you will sit on a boulder and remove the swimming pool collected inside your trekking shoes and retie your laces.

That’s when you see the first leech that has been your buddy for some time now as he is nice and plump. You give a little squeal and do a song and dance, then find a stone and scrape it off. The leech is smarter than you of course, so he is sucking blood through the socks. Because you can run you can hide but you can’t escape my love.

Then it hits you, sitting on boulders is probably not that great an idea because if this leech could get up your socks; you sitting makes your torso fair game. You vow never to sit for the remainder of the trek and you won’t find place to sit as well as it continues to pour. The rain infact treats your jacket and poncho as a joke. You are after all wading through waist deep water during the river crossing and the rest of your body gets wet from the rain.

You have the second leech attached to you but now you are pro. Take stone scrape and leech goes off. You then feel something squishy on your stomach as you adjust your pants. You let it go as it is too many layers of clothing to navigate to look at your stomach.

You are now thirsty but your bottle is inside your bag inside your poncho and it is a pain balancing and stopping in the wet slopes and removing your poncho then your bag so you decide to drink from the stream. After a while you realize you are walking alone there is no one in front and no one behind. So you stop and shout hello anyone there as you are at a fork in the path. No one responds so you continue walking and reach yet another river and again there are three paths.

You hope you are taking the right one and wonder if anyone will send a search party for you also how long will the packet of rice last for. After about an hour you find some of the earlier party and the bounding husband. He bounds off again when he sees you have caught up with him. He is determined to make this a solo trekking experience for both of you.

Now that you are at a clearing and the rain has slowed down you investigate your stomach area because of the squishy feeling and see a leech which wants to be intimate with you. You wonder if you should let it stay on as he has definitely shown lot of initiative to get close to third base with you. But you are bewildered and wonder how to scrape your stomach with a dirty stone so you try plucking it with your hand it refuses to budge and continues sucking blood.

You look around and the trek guide who is a local villager is near you so you call out to him. He deftly plucks the leech off and also finds a few more who were on their trek up your trekking pants. You decide that you are eternally grateful to this trek guide. You have also realized that the purpose of your trek was to be lunch for the leeches. Maybe your blood is the chicken biriyani of all blood and that’s why the leeches go to great lengths to get to you.

The trek lead catches up with you and remarks that you are quite fast and it gives purpose to your miserable life and you beam from ear to ear as you pluck one more leech off your hand this time without breaking a sweat. You have become one with the mountain now, if you are not careful moss will start growing on you soon.

You start seeing the rolling green hills below. The forests you have crossed, the rivers and the boulders it meanders over. The bamboo groves you crouched under as the path went through it and the fallen tree and shurbs you wiggled under and which finally tore your rain poncho which you bought years ago from the Singapore zoo.

This time when you are thirsty you ask the new friend you made on the trek to remove the bottle for you and you do the same for her. You reach a really steep climb up with slushy rocks and slippery mud. You now know how to use your trekking pole effectively and climb up. You reach before others and find yourself in the mist with seemingly nothing in front of you and path that goes to nothing. You don’t want to walk ahead and hope that probably this is the summit. So you wait for the other trekkers to catch and they ask you to shuffle along so you do.

After another hour in the mist you reach the summit which is marked by a board that says Kudremukh Peak and lists the other peaks in the area. The rain here is relentless and the wind threatens to carry you off the peak and for a moment you are tempted to let go because then you will reach down faster maybe your torn poncho will become a para glider?

 

You have to eat now so you sit on a rock open your rice packet and reach in with your cold hands and start eating while the rain and the wind gush all around you. You have at this point forgotten the years of training your mother gave you on table manners. You need to eat fast because

a. It is raining and windy and

b. A leech might crawl on your bum if you sit long enough.

You manage to take a picture and return the favor for your friend. You now have to return down and the rain has just made the way more difficult. The rocks are more slippery and there is more slush around.

You are unsure how to use the trekking pole downhill so you contemplate throwing it down the mountain. But it belongs to the husband who has mountain goat genes in him so you can’t. The way down is now worse because the rain has made the entire way slippery and slushy also it is still raining with good force. Most of the streams you crossed have swelled up and the water hits you with full force.

You know just want to go back to a dry place so you increase your speed and also consider sliding down. Your trek guide keeps saying only 4 kms left every time you ask him and you know you haven’t even reached the halfway point where you took pictures on your way up.

Finally, you successfully finish the trek and reach the room which you are going to share with nine girls. You remove your pants, shoes and jacket at the door so that you don’t carry any leeches inside the room. You gulp down tea in the attempt to feel human again and thaw yourself.

Ofcourse now you have the distinction of proclaiming that you survived this and are super human. You have photos of rolling hills and untouched vistas that your mountain goat of a husband took which you can proudly post. There is now new meaning to the quote, ‘ Travel is glamorous in retrospect.’

This post should be read with the understanding that it is based on a real trek which I immensely enjoyed and there is bit of exaggeration thrown in to make it humorous. The trek was to Kudremukh Peak near Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

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Beyond Dal Batti Churma What Food To Eat In Rajasthan

Dal Bati Churma is almost synonymous with food in Rajasthan but my last trip to Rajasthan that spanned 2000 kms and 9 days was a gastronomic revelation. Rajasthani staple food I found to be quite simple and easy on the stomach and apt for the climate. We ate a lot of millets, gram flour, lentils, buttermilk and milk based products,meats and a few other vegetables that are indigenous to Rajasthan. Rajasthan being largely covered by the dessert has very few vegetable and green varieties and this reflects in the food.

 

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The winter crop of mustard in all its glory!

Breakfast in Rajasthan is mostly options like fafda, pyas kachori, methi pakodas which is fried gram flour balls with fenugreek leaves. In Jaisalmer we also saw Sindhi cuisine influences with dal pakwan and a few other interesting breakfast options. The dessert offered interesting snacks and breakfast options throughout the journey be it at a resort, a camp, a haveli or a street vendor. Biting into a methi pakoda and a fried chilly with chai on the old dessert morning was amazing.

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Yummy street food and snacks in Rajasthan
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Pyas Kachori which is quite famous in Rajasthan
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Dal Pakwan which is unique in Jaisalmer and shares its roots from across the border.

Rajasthan has quite a strong history with food, we glimpsed on this at a haveli inside the Jaisalmer fort. The kitchen and was right on top of the haveli, it looked like a constant in the palaces and havelis of Rajasthan where the kitchens were right on top of the 3-4 story buildings in some cases with the dining area adjoining it. This is a mere observation and I could be wrong.

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Dining area adjoining the kitchen in a haveli 

Note the large tiffin carriers kept in the corner which probably the men carried on long journey’s or to work. The seating was on the floor with the men and the elders being served first (which is not my jam )

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More on traditional dining

Some amazing restaurents we found on our journey across Rajasthan were Millets of Mewar in Udaipur which had a very relaxed atmosphere and had a very pleasing menu of authentic millet preparations from Mewar, Hari Ghar in Udaipur where we gorged on some amazing non vegetarian dishes, Good Hall restaurant in Barmer with mind blowing and truly yummy food. Since we are talking about amazing food one more place I can’t but mention is the home cooked meals we shared with our hosts in Siana Camps and Safari which found us in aristrocratic company in untouched rural Rajasthan.

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A vegetarian thali at Millets of Mewar (Udaipur)

Rajasthan also offers some very local delicacies such as pyas kachori, mirchi bada which is a delightful combination of mirchi, spicy potato mash which is batter fried. Another local delicacy from Jaisalmer which is not widely known is a sweet called Gotuwa which is a ladoo preparation made by one sweet shop in the inner fort area of Jaisalmer.

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Gotuwa a sweet popular in Jaisalmer
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A spicy breakfast of mirchi bada in Jodhpur

Food ofcourse is amazing in Rajasthan but the ambience, the hospitality and the settings from as different as jungle lodges to havelis, backpackers getaways to palaces to roadside pitstops, dessert camps to sparkling lakes makes one appreciate the nuances of the local cuisine and adds the magic.

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Breakfast at Kankarwa Haveli next to the Lake Palace Udaipur

Road Trip Along Coastal Karnataka

Driving along the Karnataka coast can give you three things, an appreciation for Konkan fish fry, a tan and the cognition that beaches of the Arabian sea can be aqua marine. We recently went on a road trip from Bekal which is a coastal town on the Kerala Karnataka border till Calangute in Goa.

This road trip essential took us along the coast in Karnataka aka the Konkan aka Kanara. The beauty of the Konkan coast first came to be recognized to the uninitiated when the first train of the Konkan railway chugged along the sea coast on one side and verdant valleys and hills on the other side.

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The road trip was to start at 3:30 am as we like to start early, we planned to leave our little one in his grand parents care as we planned to do the trip on a budget. Our little one soon got wind of our master plan and clung to me, we finally appeased him by bribing him with the prospect of us bringing back a gift for him which we absolutely honored.

The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim.

This was the first time I was travelling for close to 10 days without my little one and my constant companion, we hardly take a leak without accompanying each other.  After all our early morning excitement we left for the trip at around 7 am and promptly got stuck in Bangalore traffic (I know..).Our first stop was at Bekal, we drove to the Bekal beach park and called our hotel where we had our first reservation, turns out the reservation was cancelled without letting us know. Hence we were at Bekal beach park seemingly homeless, eating egg bhaji and coffee while trying to call up other hotels. Finally we got a reservation in a five star hotel (so much for our budget trip).

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The second day I fell ill and thankfully had very fluffy pillows to sleep in, the third day I got some of my energy back and we went to the iconic Bekal fort of Tu hi re fame. It turned out to be one of the few well maintained forts in India, though I wish a little more of the history was explained at the site. Our next stop was Udupi and enroute we feasted on a new  Arabic delicacy that has invaded north Kerala named Kuzhimandi biriyani. At Udupi we halted at the Krishna temple after the GPS decided to take us around a few other Krishna temples. Udupi ofcourse has amazing restaurants and equally amazing coffee.

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Our next pit stop was Malpe beach which I would recommend very enthusiastically to water sports and beach enthusiasts. We watched a jatra competition which was open to the public at the beach, saw some amazing display of kites and then decided to try our hand at the one minute para sailing sessions. The para sailing team and their turn around time was simply wow, they were pretty professional and valued the safety of their patrons. I just wish the people on the beach understood that safety is an important part of life and being alive.

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After spending the evening at Malpe beach we drove to Kundapur to a Confluence hotel and dug into some well deserved Mangalorean dinner. Kundapur was the half way point on our road trip to Calangute and back and it was here that we discovered that Shetty Lunch Home has the best akki roti, ghee roast chicken and the most succulent fish fry. At the hotel we looked up the things to do section and decided we would drive to Kodachadri, we had not done much research and made some discoveries along the way and an impromptu trek after a horrific drive up Kodachadri in a local jeep.

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After we left Kondapur with its many waterfalls, hills and historic temples and forest reserves, we drove down Maravanthe – the prettiest beach I have seen. The next town Murudeshwar  surprised us with its iconic Shiva statue and well developed tourist hot spot and water sports. We planned to reach Calangute, in Goa to ring in the New Year and bid adieu to the old man. The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim. Goa of course was a different story but coastal Karnataka is worth hyping about and deserves applause for the beautiful beaches preserved here.

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Pictures credited to co navigator and driver Razor Rasu.

The Vanishing Post Boxes of India

” You received a Speed Post Article for delivery. Thank You for Using India Post. Please track further status here. Download “Postinfo” India Post Android app at Google Playstore.” This is a message I received today morning and it brought me immense happiness because other than shopping deliveries and junk mail I rarely receive snail mail these days.

Growing up I used to religiously write letters to my friends who lived in other parts of India since I kept moving around and receiving a letter was one of those moments that defined a good day. It invariably started with ” How are you doing? I am doing fine” but for a 9 year old that is good prose. I have most of these letters kept safely tied with a red ribbon. In recent years I have progressively seen post boxes and post offices in India almost vanishing, hence I took it upon myself to start clicking them wherever I see them much to my husbands chagrin. Here are some of my best clicks so far.

Kolkata the city of Joy
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The post box inside Rabrindra Bari (Rabindranath Tagore’s house) in Kolkatta. This was a hot and humid day when my brother, my sis in law and me decided to explore Kolkatta without any itinerary. Most of the time hence was spent seeing locked museums, tram rides and following random strangers who asked us to follow them to the nearest metro station through the crowded and narrow lanes of old Kolkatta.

A Post Woman at a one room post office
Coorg

 

A Post office and the post woman which is next to an Anganwadi in Coorg, Karnataka. This was on a road trip to Coorg and driving through the hills and coffee plantations around Coorg. We had gone to buy spices at Gonicopal and crossed this small hamlet, when I got down to take a pic of this post office this lady came out and inquired where I was coming from and we exchanged some small talk as the children in the anganwadi next door chanted rhymes. She then posed for this pic for me the strange city dweller.

Post box on top of Nandi Hills on early misty morning

Post box on top of Nandi Hills one early misty morning. This was clicked on Republic day on Nandi Hills and apparently a quarter of Bangalore also had the same idea that morning. We saw the flag hoisted on top of this hill as the clouds swept over the hill. It was a lovely morning with friends after which we gorged on parathas from the Indian Paratha House which is en route.

A Post Office closed for the Navratri festival at Gokarna.
A Post Office closed for the Navratri festival at Gokarna.
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Cherrapunjee

A post office in the misty mountains of Cherrapunjee.

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The post office in Leh market at 14,000 Feet. Rarified air and rare letters from far a wide connecting this mountain abode with the rest of India.

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I took this pic inside the ISB campus on an official trip as a speaker at ISB. This is my first pic shot of a PO inside a campus.