Most times, high expectations lead to an anticlimactic downfall. I can safely say that a visit to Petra is not one of those. Infact, it surpasses your expectations and quite literally takes your breath away. Whenever I saw pictures of the famous treasury, I assumed that Petra started and ended there. I did not realize that it is an actual city whose ruins are quite well preserved and akin to Hampi. It showcases the glorious civilization of Nabatheans and their mastery in carving out huge monoliths out of rockfaces.
Apart from feasting my eyes on beautiful haunting canyons and gorges, huge stark stone tombs, and the multi hued desert landscapes, it was there that I realized that I was an ignoramus in the history department and a snob about twenty first century state of the art life style.
The Nabateans seem to have enjoyed the same pleasures that we do as far back the First century BCE on a much grander scale! I can only imagine the sense of awe that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the Swiss explorer felt, when he first laid his sights on the magnificence of Petra.
Petra was founded in the first century BCE by an Arabian tribe called the Nabateans, who made Raqmu (an older name for today’s Petra) their capital.
The entrance to Petra is through a two kilometer long trek through a canyon. Apparently the canyon was formed by a geological fault, split by tectonic forces and then later on smoothed by water. The Nabatheans made canals through these formations for the flow of water into the city. They also built a dam!
The treasury or the ‘Al Khazneh’ is undoubtedly one of the best sites of Petra. At the end of the trek, when you are getting slightly tired of seeing endless bends in the canyon, you suddenly get a glimpse of the treasury. And it is massive. There are a lot of stories about why the treasury was built. Some say that it was used by the bandits to store looted treasure, some others believe that it was a mausoleum, a few feel it depict the calendar, some more believe that the Egyptian Pharaoh used it to store his treasure and the last one goes that it was built for its wow value. The Nabateans apparently wanted to stun anyone who entered Petra with their brilliance and grandeur. They sure did succeed on that one.
There are multiple trails through which one can explore the city, and we chose one which led to the monastery. For this we walked into the city which was home to more than 20000 people. The city starts with multiple tombs. Each family had a tomb where in the dead could be preserved. Like a home for the dead family members!
Beyond these are the royal tombs, which are more intricate and carved in detail.
Then on is the royal street with buildings and palaces on both sides (most of which were ruined during the earthquakes).
Then comes the climb to the monastery. Winding stone steps with canyons as far as the eye can see. Each boulder with a character of its own, tall, bent and moulded by natural forces for more than 2000 years. They appear to be silently witnessing our ordeal of huffing and puffing through the climb!
The monastery at the top is the highest point in Petra. A café, a chill breeze and an almost replica of the treasury welcome us to the top. It almost seemed like the ostentaniousness got replaced by piousness as the Nabateans trekked upwards!
After a cup of sweet mint tea, we trek back, taking with us the memories of what we saw, and wondering how we could possibly explain all that we saw to our family and do justice to its beauty.
I remembered reading a quote by Ibn Batuta which goes “Travelling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story teller”. Petra does that to you!
Thanks to a doctor’s strike in response to a very obnoxious law that the State Government is intent on passing, I finally get the oppurtunity to sit down in front of a computer without the chaos that I’m usually immersed in. Kids packed off to school, no patients waiting and my ward rounds done, I sit in my OPD and wonder how to start off. Its been so long off the blogosphere, that just the thought of writing something is giving me the heebi jeebies of a newcomer climbing on to the stage for the first time.
And then, there is a discrete knock on the door. My hired help comes in to enquire about medication for her daughter’s cold. I give her the name of a tablet and look back to my laptop screen. She hovers around and finally asks ” Ondu tonic kodbahuda? (Can I give her a tonic too?”.
And gives me my fodder for today’s blog.
Practising in a smaller city gives me an oppurtunity to deal with a potpourri of patients. Some of them young, google friendly and fit bit savvy and the others who still believe that spending a few lakhs of rupees on a puja is much better than spending a few hundred on a qualified person’s consultation. The rest oscillate between the two.
Every place and its population has its own etiquette and culture which make it unique. Apart from the cultural and religious norms that we follow, there are certain illness behaviours specific to people and their mindsets. Most of these dictims are age old and seem to have no logic attached to it, but are still followed diligently. These are a few things that seem to constitute a set of behaviours that I call “patient culture”.
Sample a few of them:
Post partum mummifying:
Just as a pregnant woman can be identified by her baby bulge, so can a post partum one (in any part of India), by her near mummified state. This special garb includes a head scarf which conceals cotton stuffed ears, a heavy sweater over a nightie which is covered by an even thicker shawl, socks, (occasionally gloves) and hawai chappals.
Never mind that it may be the middle of summer with average temperatures hovering between 30 to 40 degrees. Just looking at the woman makes me feel like taking the ice bucket challenge (which was an internet sensation) willingly!
On my ward rounds, innumerable number of times, I have admonished the relatives, made sure that the additional layers are removed and switched on the fan- only to find that the moment I leave, they sneakily get back into the same attire, tch tching about my state of ignorance about correct post partum fashion!
The lady in question accepts this with equanimity though she is sweating buckets!
2. The obsession with tonics and tonic injections(mind you, both are different and decided on by the patient, based on severity of his symptoms).
In my part of the world, patients believe that any consultation with a doctor which ends with only a prescription and some well meaning advice is a complete waste of hard earned money. Throw in a colorful looking injection and a bottle of vile smelling B complex syrup, you rise up in their eyes, as a doctor of worth.
So strong is this obsession, that occasionally, when they are strapped for cash to buy medicines, they buy the tonic and give up their antiepileptics!
I recently visited a renowned stroke center in the middle of a village in Uttara Kannada district. The center is famous for an injection which is supposed to cure stroke. Pushing through a patient line of close to 200, we met the administrator to find out what the miracle injection was. Turns out that it is Methylcobalamine (which is vitamin B12). The administrator rues the fact that patients cannot be convinced into taking physiotherapy and medication. The center does not even have a neurologist! A huge board which claims “We do not give injection for stroke” hangs desolately next to the serpentine line, with no takers for its claims!
3. The glucose panacea.
In furtherance to the obsession with injections, is the enormous level of faith that our masses have on “glucose” – which means any IV drip. Feel tired, feel woozy, not feeling like work, heart burn, heavy bleeding during your period, seizures, heart attack…. go to the nearest doctor for a glucose to solve all your problems. If the patient so much as skips one meal, the relative discretely asks me why I have’nt yet thought of the “Glucose”.
4. The concept of cold and hot foods.
Deriving directly from the concept of ayurveda is the concept that certain foods cause “heat” and “cold” in our body. When a patient innocently asks me how to cure his constipation, he gives me no clue that he knows the ins and outs of his body’s reactions to a million items on the food list. Consider this- bananas cause phelgm, milk and ragi cause cold, nothing from the fridge beacuse it causes his throat to itch, ginger and garlic give him piles and mouth ulcers, sesame and papaya are known to his give his wife increased mentrual bleeding, oily food causes cough, sour foods and peanuts give him gastritis, porridge cause flatulence, and so on. I am left grappling with a tiny list of acceptable edibles to prescibe. So much for balanced diet!
Once you accept these stoically without batting and eyelid and nodding understandingly, your are accepted as an experienced doc!
On a hot sweltering afternoon, at the end of our trip to Gokarn, my travel weary bones and a near empty growling stomach made me google the nearest food joint. The search coughed up a few names, among which a French sounding “Chez Christophe” showed up as the closest. We put on the GPS and followed the lady obediently only to end up in a small village with a handful of houses. We had lost our way!
Feeling hopeless, but hungry, we got down and walked up to a group of people asking for the restaurant. The “Krishnappanna hotla?, gottu, ille munde hogi, sigatte!” (Oh Krishnappa’s hotel? It’s right beyond here, just keep going) of the skinny man in a lungi made us feel all the more hopeless. Where was the French guy, we wondered. Or had he sold the hotel to an Indian counterpart? Unfortunately, there seemed to be no place around which could serve a near decent meal, so we decided on taking up the man’s offer to go in search of Krishnappa.
We got off the road, and started walking in through the lanes between the thatched roof houses, separated from each other by makeshift bramble walls. On the narrow foot roads where we had to walk single file, we were occasionally mauled by hens and growling dogs who were disturbed out of their afternoon siesta.
Often in the center of the hustle and the bustle of the cities, the silence of the village in the afternoon seemed eerie at first. But then we began to take in the sights. Of the villagers working their way through their chores, contentedly, house after house.
One backyard had a lady who had set up an outdoor makeshift stove which contained a pot full of bubbling fragrant curry, while she on the other side, was cutting up fresh fish to put into the pot. There were a few cats purring on the side, waiting for any stray morsel coming their way. She stopped, surprised to see us, then waved us on, when we asked her about the hotel.
Another house had a small porch lined up with parrots of a vibrant green, which were being fed by a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather was explaining something to the child, who was excitedly nodding his head.
A sudden spread of green burst forth, between the houses, where a lone farmer was quietly going about his work. Walking through a stretch of field which was ripe with the produce of sweet potatoes, cowpeas, beans and marigolds made for a great experience for the kids.
A blonde guy was lying peacefully on his hammock humming a small tune, in a hut with graffiti painted walls. But strangely, he did not seem out of place in the middle of a typically Indian village. He blended well with the peace it was emanating.
It was a trek to remember. The peace, the quiet and the sense of zen that prevailed, all but made us forget what we were there for. It felt as though we could go on and on. We felt the “ichigyo zammai” that afternoon. This basically means,(in Japanese) finding happiness in concentrating on the small pleasures of life, one at a time. Without distraction. Without the hurry that we might run out of time.
Our pace slowed, we breathed the air more deeply and even the kids quietly walked down the road. Just experiencing. And assimilating the awesome feeling into our beings. For once, I stopped clicking photographs like a woman on a mission, and just looked around.
At the end of the road was a beautiful beach, unspoiled and clean. And finally Krishnappa’s hotel (which was actually Christophe’s café by the way). And that, was an even more pleasurable experience.
The place is a shack which is probably frequented more at night, and hence was completely ours at that time. The floor is covered with mattresses and cushions, which serve as seating. You can sit and stare at the endless expanse of the sea and hear the rhythmic sound of the waves. A wooden swing sways for the breeze as you munch on yum French food.
We finally found the right, motorable road to reach the place. But decided to walk back the same way we came. For the pleasure of walking down the road, which taught us the happiness of just being. Sometimes, you have to lose your way to find it!
There are people whom we like and then there are those we do not. Knowing somebody up close and personal sometimes magnifies their faults and personality quirks. Now, when we handle such issues in our personal life, there is not much of a problem. There are thousands of quotes on the social media which advice us to stay away from negative influences, so that we can be sunny and positive always. Just stay away and your problems vanish. Clap, clap!
But when you are a doctor, and a psychiatrist at that, a lot of people coming to you are not only distressed but also not “nice”, to put it mildly. Within the first few visits, we know their personalities, their decision making skills and their life choices very closely. As a matter of rule, we need to be at our non judgmental best in our counseling. Allow the person to make his/her own life decisions. At best, we can steer them towards a choice, but that too, very unobtrusively.
Unfortunately, this seems utopian on paper, not reality. How can one remain unaffected when he/she hears of a man boasting of knowing how to keep his unruly wife in place by resorting to violent means? How do you react when a lady comes depressed because she is worried about her daughter in law being snubbed by her own daughters? Such a concerned woman, you think. The concern emerges from the fact that the girl’s father has paid a fat dowry and is asking uncomfortable questions about the same! How do you console a father when he cries, that we should convince his daughter to go back to her alcoholic husband’s home, because they have already depleted their life savings on the marriage? How do you convince an utterly melancholic woman (melancholic because, her parents had no male progeny, and hence died uncared for and now the daughter in law has produced two healthy bonny girl babies), who obviously will leave her uncared for too?
These are situations which arise frequently. On a particular level, I understand that these are people who have a different value system and a way of thinking alien to mine. They may have a genuinely good side to them and maybe just discussing their miseries. Atleast they are honestly bad! But these are also times which make me want to quit my “non judgmental” high horse and tick them off like a very strict school marm.
I keep squirming in my seat trying to calm the feminist in me. Most times, I am successful. Occasionally, my unobtrusive push becomes slightly more forceful. And rarely, I do scold. I do fervently hope, that this happens to anyone who handles human emotions as a part of their profession.
We do not understand the decisions that others make and their reasons for it. Over the years and with some maturity comes the discovery that we cannot change the world so easily. Change is for most part slow, a lot of hard work and painstaking. Once the abusive husband, after 6 months of counseling, finally stops abusing his wife physically (though a wee bit of verbal abuse remains), I should consider it my victory!
Unfortunately, this victory is not all sweet! There is an itch to do something more, push a little more and dream a little. And go back to listening all over again. Maybe, this is more like the bevu bella (an offering of neem and sugar eaten during ugadi, the traditional new year), which symbolically signifies that you should swallow the good and the bad with equanimity. Probably, I should start everyday with a small bite of the same:)
I have discovered something about writing. It has whims and fancies of its own. When you are in the practice of writing most days, the words flow easily, your thinking does not falter and sentences form fast,fluent and effortless. But when you have stopped for a while, for reasons beyond your control, it acts like a spoilt tantrum throwing brat. You have to really scratch your brain about that particular flash of inspiration which occurred yesterday, right in the middle of a busy opd, which evaporated miraculously like the whiff of an agarbatti smoke. It is as if your writing has gone into a huff, for not giving it enough time!
This is the state I found myself in last month. A month of busy, busy work days, the responsibilities that go with being an exam mother (by which I mean revising with your kid, subjects which you tried hard to avoid studying into adulthood), trying to teach my younger one to read by herself and the general business of keeping house – all of which allowed absolutely no vigour or brain space to open my laptop.
At the end of the day, the only energy I had was enough to flip the pages on my kindle, and so, that’s what I did. I read some amazing books- those that made me happy, sad, upset and in awe of things they spoke about.
The oneswhichhad adirect impact were Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto and the Book of Light.
On a day to day basis, I see a range of emotions (from anger to over protectiveness) shown by the relatives of my patients. Some are shocked to realize that their relatives are mentally ill, some refuse to acknowledge it and some firmly believe that their son or daughter is showing symptoms to cop out of some responsibility. When I am talking to the family about the actual nature of the illness which their closest of kin are suffering from, I usually discuss it with the adults, and the children are generally playing around in my consulting room. I surprisingly realized that I have never ever discussed the illness from the child’s point of view. A vibrant impressionable mind, which is in confusion about why their favorite adult is behaving somewhat differently and unpredictably from the rest.
Which is why I found Em and the Big Hoom a very interesting read. How would a child feel, when a parent is mentally ill? When the caretaking becomes a child’s responsibility instead of the other way round. When it is difficult to expect your parent to attend your school functions or pta meetings for the fear that he/she may do something embarrassing.
The story revolves around the author’s family whose the mother suffers from bipolar disorder. The book is written from a child’s point of view, and tries to address the concerns which are unique to such families. Have they inherited the illness? Will they become mentally ill like their parent? Or will it skip a generation and affect their children? Or are they, at the other end of the spectrum, accepting the adults as they are and ignoring the quirks?
Going through the book, gave me insight about a huge chunk of responsibility I was ignoring! As for many other mental health professionals, though time is tight, I promised myself that I would spend some time for these children henceforth.
Going on, I read another book, written on the same lines. The Book of Light, which is a collection of stories written by the relatives of the mentally ill about their experiences in life. There are very few books written about mental illness in the Indian context, and hence this book gives an idea as to how the people from different sections of society deal with the illness and the adjustments that go along with it.
If anything, I felt the need to do more, work harder. Not only to help those who are overtly ill, but also those who are silently suffering on the side.Or confused. Or slowly slipping into an illness themselves.
Only if there were more than twenty four hours in a day! (and no math exams!)
Our capital city,has always evoked in me a picture of the mughal grandeur. Of beautiful landscaped gardens, old bungalows, relics of the bygone era sprinkled between the buildings of today and a huge dollop of history to go with it.
That Delhi has got a Nirbhaya side to it, horrible summers, the famous, or rather infamous Delhi belly and reports about being one of the unsafe cities in India, dents the halo a bit. But in my opinion, it still manages to rise above this.
It is said that Delhi is a city which has been rebuilt eight times! Each time it got looted and destroyed, it rose again like a phoenix from the ashes. For someone who has gone through so much gore, the city looked calm and composed when we visited it in the winter.
Apart from the amazing monuments which I never get bored of seeing repeatedly, this time through, I had the oppurtunity of tasting some of the most mouthwatering food that I have had in recent times.
The famous Moolchand paranthas.
I have no idea whether the Moolchand metro station got named after the paranthewalla or vice versa, but any which way, it’s a good thing, as it is easy to find. Sometimes, when you keep your expectations high, the actual food can be a big let down. We had heard so much about this joint that somewhere in the corner of my mind, I had expected it to be a let down. Especially when I saw what the size of the joint. The only encouraging sign was the number of people queing up near the counter. By the time I reached the counter to place the order, the aroma of the paranthas and the heat of the tawa was making me really hungry.And what a meal it proved to be! Each parantha we tasted was amazing. The food is served on very simple plates with a satchet of amul butter and a side salad of onions and mint. But each morsel is a bite of heaven! The best among the lot being the paneer onion one, and the weirdest was badam parantha. Do try!
The daulat ka chaat.
Long long ago, in an old book called “Endless feasts”, which is a collection of food essays, I had read a bit by celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey about her childhood in Delhi. She reminiscied the taste of daulat ka chaat sold by an old lady in the cold Delhi winters.Years later, I read about it in another book called “Kheer, Korma and Kismet”.The author had traced the people who make this and explained the arduous process of its making.
This chaat is unique for two reasons. One it is sweet, and two, it is only available in the winters. Apparentely, it is made by whisking sweetened milk for long hours on full moon nights and allowing it to ferment on the roof of old houses in Chandni chowk for the dew to settle on it. It is then layered with saffron and silver warq and served with a topping of pistachhios,kurchan and powdered sugar.
Armed with loads of roadside shopping(chandni chowk is indeed irresistible, just like it always was for Shahjahan’s daughter, for whom it was built—though horribly crowded), and two kids, I ploughed on trying to find alleys where I could find this treasure.
Right in the center of a crowded intersection, I found it. The morsel was so light and so incredibly fluffy,that it would have given any masterchef a complex. It tastes sweet, light and crunchy at the same time.It is so light, that the afternoon heat is enough to collapse it! And delicious. No. Other. Word.can explain it. So, now you know which season to visit Delhi in!
Chur chur naan.
The name itself was so funny, that it caught my attention. The naan was anything but chur chur (which means “little” in kannada!).It consists of bread with various stuffings of vegetables, paneer and kheema, fresh out of the tandoor and crushed to serve. Usually, it is served with dal and a salad and dollops of butter on top. A cholesterol attack, no doubt, but worth every penny. You really wouldn’t mind having a heart attack after this!!:)
This ever green dish, which seems to be the staple of Delhi, I tasted , on our way to Agra. The kulche are fried and served with a curry of chickpeas. On a cold winter morning, when you are shivering under your warmest clothes, this is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Taj seems more beautiful on a tummy filled with this breakfast!
The flavoured matka lassis.
I always associated lassi with the Punjab. But Delhi has special matka lassis.Having cold lassi in cold weather has a charm of its own. Especially when the lassi come in multiple flavours. From plain sugared and strawberry to exotic ones like litchi, blueberry and kiwi, served in mud pots, and topped with a sprig of mint. Forgive me for the horrible pic. It is difficult to concentrate on a good angle when all you can think of is the taste!
On the road leading to Jamma masjid, there are many shops which sell chaat and actually make you scared of the Delhi belly.The surroundings are so filthy and crowded, that you are left wondering whether you made the right choice. Each and every shop selling chaat seemed to have a huge crowd around it. This bolstered our confidence to wade our way through the crowd and eat! As they say, victory goes to those who persevere. The dahi ballas, the alu tikki, fruit chaat, the ram laddoo and of course the gol gappa were mouth watering and thankfully safe on the tummy!
Many of these foods may have had their origin in one of the eight cities that Delhi was before. And been concieved and executed by the khansamas of the royal kitchen. And through the chaos and the destruction, they survived to make Delhi what it is today. Fascinating, steeped in history and amazingly delicious!
It’s been a long long time since I sat down to actually write something. The past few months have been a blur of activity and heartache, both of which do not bode well for my blogging neurons. If I had heard of the writer’s block earlier, now I knew how it felt. I would spend time sitting in front of my laptop,and no words would come out. No idea of what I wanted to say. And absolutely no thoughts generated, other than unwanted ones.
As they say, time heals. And soothes. And helps you cope. And finally the itch is back in my fingers. The urge to thump on the keys of my keyboard. The desire to browse other blogs and feel like writing again. The craving to check out if there is any bloggers meet, which I can attend. And so on.
So, I’m officially back.
Wishing all of you a very happy, though belated New Year. May all your dreams come true. this year.
This month I read some really awesome books. Books which I loved so much that I want everyone around to read and enjoy them. (And thank me profusely for recommending it to them:))).
I always wonder how it is, that in a bookstore which has thousands of books, we reach for ones which we really end up liking?
Unfortunately, my city does not have a bookstore, at least the kind that makes me drool and dream. Hence, whenever we go to Bangalore, I am armed with a list of books which I have picked up from goodreads, amazon, instagram and some blogs that I follow.
This time though, I decided to give this a miss. I entered with absolutely no idea of what I was about to lay my hands on and no expectations either. This led me to lesser known authors, authors from countries that I had never even heard of before and different genres than what I was used to reading.
And the pleasure of delving into these is unexplainable. Some of them were breezy feel good reads, some others more profound and deep.Reading them I feel, broadened my horizons, made me think, understand perspectives that I had not thought of before and made me more accepting and thankful of the life I have with the numerous uncounted blessings which I take for granted.
Now, I feel that the books somehow chose me and not the other way round. By divine providence! If I am sounding sort of mystical and philosophic, I think I need to blame it squarely on one of the books that I just finished reading called the “Forty rules of love” by a Turkish author called Elif Shafak. The books revolves around a forty year old housewife who has just embarked on her first assignment to write a report as a book editor.
Ella, the protagonist seems to have a secure, happy life on the surface. Somehow, a husband of twenty years, his secret affairs, and taking care of three children and their problems have made her disgruntled with life. As an escape, she takes to reading the manuscript which the agent has sent her.
The book contains two stories. One of Ella’s life, and the other, the story in the manuscript. This story occurs in the thirteenth century in Baghdad and Konya. The story is of the friendship between the great poet Rumi and a Sufi saint called The Shams of Tabriz.The book describes life in the thirteenth century and its social mileu beautifully.
It takes us through a journey of learning how we take certain diktats of our faith and religion a little too concretely for our own good. It shows how Rumi, who was first a preacher with no clue about poetry slowly evolves into one under the spell of his friend. It tells us about the forty rules of love that Shams applies to different times in his life. And how those same rules which were thought of, so many hundreds of years ago, apply to Ella’s life of now.
And this makes for a beautiful, mystical, unputdownable read.
After something this philosophical, I opened another called “The hundred year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by a Swedish author called Jonas Jonasson. The book is weirdly funny, if I can call it that. The events which occur in the book, (starting literally with a centenarian climbing out of the window of his old home on the day of his birthday) seem bizarre, but plausible. This book too, has two parallel stories running side by side. One of Alan’s ( The hundred year olds’ ) past and one of his present. Alan is so unassuming a person, that he accepts anything and everything in life with a calmness that bordered on autistic! It so happens that Allan’s life follows a series of events through the first and second world war, where he is involved in the most important of events,( like opining on the final make of the atom bomb), which script history! But without waiting for the accolades or understanding the contribution he has made, he moves on to the next adventure.
I learnt quite a bit of history from this book about the two wars, much more than I had in my school. Though the story becomes sort of queer at the end, it still made some bit of sense. (Now, I am sounding weird!). I have never read something so eccentric and unconventional, and loved it! If nothing, this book can be recommended reading for history in schools!
The other beautiful book I read was “Our moon has blood clots” by Rahul Pandit, which explains the exodus of the Kashmiri pandits. The author, who has suffered the horrors of the exodus writes about problems which he faced growing up, in such an uncertain scenario. It is so beautiful and hard hitting at the same time. I think I will save it for another post.
For this weekend, I have now picked on “The bookseller of Kabul”.
Visiting a rainforest has always been on my wish list. One of my childhood fantasies (fueled by Robin Cook’s Congo), was to discover something unique and useful, like some magic herb or a new species of animal, watching giant man eating plants in their gory splendor, living off fresh forest produce, finding beautiful waterfalls and living in handmade tree houses or old forgotten log cabins. Sort of Tarzan, Anaconda and Robinhood rolled into one. Of course as age and logic grew, (or so I would like to assume, atleast in the case of logic), the fantasies sobered down to real ones of camping in the wilds keeping as much distance as possible from the reptile species!
Most of these ideas used to float around in my brain when we would be travelling between destinations and all that was available to see out the car or bus window would be dark, unpenetrable forests for miles on end. Those were times when cars had rudimentary stereos, buses were basic and we did not have the luxury of earphones!
Travelling from Mangalore to Shimoga entailed crossing the Western ghats from Agumbe. This was one leg of the journey which was considered with a bit of apprehension. We would make sure to climb down the mountains when there was broad daylight, and kids would be asked to sit quiet for the fear of disturbing the driver. We would suddenly see some animals in the wild, darting across the road in a blink and you miss kind of way, probably as startled by us, as we were of them. Over years of deforestation, the stretch became infamous more for the Naxal movement rather than the wild animals crossing our paths.
As kids, the half hour journey down the ghats would seem twice as long and scary. This was probably why I failed to appreciate the wonder existing right before my eyes, all the while fantasizing about something way beyond.
Now the forests are threadbare, and there seem to be noisy people and plastic strewn around everywhere. But come monsoon, every year, the Western ghats become a sight of abundant lush green beauty. I now understand at least a bit of the anxiety with which the environmentalists rue the the loss the natural habitats. To lose such beauty to deforestation seems a crime deserving life imprisonment. And paradoxically, this makes Agumbe more beautiful for me. I feel that I should savor its beauty for as long as we allow it to be, and try in any possible way to help preserve a gem existing literally in our backyards before we lose it forever.
Agumbe is a small village nestled in the midst of the Western ghats in Shimoga district of Karnataka. Till recently, it owned the unique distinction of being called the “Chirapunji of the south”, because it received the highest rainfall in the whole of South India. A title it seems to be fast losing, due to declining rainfall in this region.
The forest is home to about 150 species of frogs and 85 of snakes (who knew there were so many types) and still counting. Apart from these, it is home to other animals like monkeys, langurs , hornbills, leopards and flying lizards.
The village has a rustic charm and seems to be stuck in a time warp, only broken by the addition of kurkure packets of varied colors hanging from most tiny shops! This charm made for its choice as the famous “Malgudi” in R.K.Narayan’s famous serial Malgudi days.
This time, when I got a chance to go to Mangalore, I was prepared. To enjoy the green and the charm that is Agumbe. And enjoy I did. I now wish for a log cabin in Agumbe, where I am doing some ecological conservation work. Me and my day dreams!
Three months after I took a trip to Ladakh, I had a serious case of nostalgia over the weekend. I have discovered that after any holiday, there are a few special things which stick around in my mind. The rest of the memories slowly, lazily, fade away leaving behind these interesting bits and pieces which turn into symbols of that holiday. Sort of, like watching the highlights of a cricket match and remembering only that exact ball and wicket that led to the win!
So also, in the case of our holiday to Ladakh, where well wishers fed us with stories about the difficult terrain and people dying because of the all too famous mountain sickness! When we actually reached, half scared half excited, it was an anticlimax. We found the place welcoming, beautiful, safe, chilly (which was welcome because it was blistering hot back home) and luckily, experienced very little ill health or wooziness!
Seven days disappeared before we knew it, and the land and its people embraced us so warmly that we felt a wee little bit Ladakhi at heart, by the time we returned. Though remote in a lot of ways and sans the most traditional (pun intended) forms of entertainment like malls, fast internet and cinemas, we happened to have most fun exploring Ladakh and learning her ways like….
The ladakhi are known to be a very friendly race and the friendship starts with a “Julley”, which is a blanket term for “Hi, Whats up?, How are you doing ?, How’s life ?” and anything else that falls into the category of a greeting. The meaning is circumstance based, rather than rigid. So simple, yet so beautiful. Importantly, easy for us toursists, who find it difficult to run our tongues around difficult, lispy tibetian words. Learn one word, and work miracles as a conversation starter! In a span of seven days, I said ‘Julley’ more times than I did ‘Namaste’ in the past year of my life! To the driver, our guide,the shopkeeper, the vendor on the road, my tour mates(till the novelty wore off) and to any stranger! No one found it strange and returned the greeting with grace and a warm smile!
This made me want to try harder to learn some more, and ended up with “Thuk che che”, which is thank you. Not much more! The people and the language make a nice contrast, as the language sounds harsh but the people look friendly!
The unpredictable weather.
There is a saying in ladakhi which goes “Never trust a vendor’s promise, a girl’s mind and the ladakhi weather- all three change colors fast”. Though the feminist in me wants to snip off the “girl” part, I can mostly agree on the other two! Especially the weather! You never know what to wear when you tour Ladakh. I browsed through books and websites telling me what to carry, before I packed. Half of my luggage was filled with sweaters and caps of various sizes and shapes- one for little cold, one for moderate and one for really cold! Armed with this arsenal, I felt pretty confident that I could conquer the weather and its whimsies! Little did I know that the weather would beat me to it! What started off as a warm day suddenly turned very windy, and vice versa. Heck, just walking out from direct sunlight into the shade would lower the temperature by significant degrees! Well, to make the long story short, I landed up wearing atleast three layers of clothing and repeatedly peeling them off or putting them on – and looking a minimum of three sizes too big in all the photographs! I learnt the hard way that “layering” only looks good in fashion magazines and is not meant for mere mortals like us!
The funky Tees
Well, one of the most important assignments on any trip is the shopping for the extended family that we have left behind in the pursuit of satisfying our travel lust! Aargh,the apparent selfishness of this act makes me want to buy some more, to appease them and beg forgiveness!
T shirts with “My mom/brother/uncle…went to so and so place and only got me this t shirt” which were cute about a century ago, never much appealed to me. But Leh has something unique to offer in this respect. The market place is strewn with shops which actually embroider funky stuff on to t shirts of different sizes! Their savvies lie in the fact that they take orders by the day and deliver them the next, with the embroidery that you want! No prizes for guessing what I got for my entire family!
Through the week, there was not one time that I saw people wearing anything made of gold. The traditional tibetian jewellery uses silver, wood, bronze and bark inlaid with semi precious stones, corals and beads. From roadside flea markets to shops which store the more valuable pieces, we saw some of the most exquisite craftmanship. Turquoise, which is found in the mountain ranges of Tibet- is one of the most common stone used- in the making of filigree ornaments, earrings, necklaces, and jewellery boxes with intricate inlay.
The experience of shopping in stores is also unique. Most traders are nostalgic Kashmiris, who have difficulty in adjusting their mindscape to the barrenness of Leh after growing up in the lush pastures of Kashmir. They work for six months of the tourist season and migrate back home for the winters.
Once the trader realizes that the buyer is serious, he offers hot kahwa and a chat, till the customer finishes deliberating. By the time you are through with the free kahwa, the hole in your pocket is threatening to grow to enormous proportions!
The whole brouhaha about altitude sickness.
Exactly opposite to Voldemort and in equal proportion, is the scare about Mountain sickness. For the uninitiated,’ Acute mountain sickness’ is a syndrome caused by the thinning oxygen levels in the atmosphere when at high altitudes. The symptoms range anything from shortness of breath to no breath at all! It takes some amount of acclimatizing to withstand it.
Now, before we set foot into Ladakh, the travel company gave us so many pointers to start diuretics (as a preventive measure) that we started to wonder if the pharmaceutical company was working hand in glove with the travel one, to promote their product. Each one of us had atleast three strips of the drug!
Then came the pro travelers with horror stories of people dying on the trip.
Followed by the Leh airport authorities- who play the symptoms and warning signs of mountain sickness on a loop,religiously, on loudspeakers , in between flight announcements.
We almost developed psychological breathlessness, because we thought that we had live up to their expectations!
Jokes apart, yes, mountain sickness did exist. We got exhausted faster and found ourselves gasping for breath after climbing a single flight of stairs,but that was about it. Over two days, we managed to conquer most of it.
The trick is to drink a lot of water, pop in the diuretic and take as many toilet breaks as you want into basic but functional pit toilets, with your breath held and eyes closed ! A feat which you will no doubt learn over time! After all, necessity is the mother of invention.
Ladakh in many ways, is not the ideal luxury destination for a break. It is harsh, barren and basic. But when the holiday includes fresh mountain air (though scantily), clear skies with a gazillion stars and the company of amazing friends, the whole holiday becomes priceless.
These are my memories from Ladakh. Have you learnt anything fun there?