Ved Sindhwani is a writer and a poet who learnt his craft the hard way; as a young student in the 1960s, he started ghost writing for a pot boiler printer. His initial training as a story teller was mostly vicarious and from the street side narrators in Old Delhi. He is one of those few writers who never strove to publish his works. Here an attempt is made to chronicle and compile his writings. He matches an unusual candour with a canny twist, while retaining the old fashioned in his story telling. This one is a recent story of his based on his experiences during his visit to Pakistan.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ GOLD BRICKS How can you deny the last wish of anybody?More so when the wisher is a man who has seen 108 years of his life. That is what impelled us to seek visas for a visit to Pakistan.
Rahmat Ali of Shahar Sultan District Muzaffargarh (Pakistan) invited my friend, Nandu as he wishedand wanted to return to him some thing that Nandu’s father had left in his custody to be given back on demand. At the time of the formation of Pakistan, Nandu and his family had to leave Shahar Sultan in a huff as there were riots all around. Nandu’s guess was that it must be a few bricks of gold and some diamonds as they were extremely rich at that time. His father owned 200 acres of land in Shahar Sultan.
We were denied visas as the reciprocal policy of the two governments does not allow visas to friends to visit each others countries.We were disappointed, as Nandu was eager to have the gold bricks and I was keen to see my birth place. But visa is a prerogative of the country you wish to visit. Sometimes, they say, it is granted on the whims and fancies of the visa officer at the office of the High-Commissioner.
As luck would have it, Nandu sold his house at Shimla to a person who knew an officer at the Pakistan High Commission. One phone call from him enabled us to get visas for Lahore, Multan and Karachi. It is again a very strange thing that Pakistan and India are the only countries in the world those issue visas for cities only and not for the entire countries. This is again on reciprocal basis.
To feel the excitement of entering our country of birth, we decided to enter Pakistan by road. If you travel by air you land and not enter. The bus tickets were booked for 12th of August 2008. There were many reservations among my friends and family members for my visit to Pakistan. They tried their best to persuade me against it. Even my banker asked me with anguish and skepticism, “uncle! Why are you is going to Pakistan?’ I could understand the reservation of this extremely beautiful lady. She is a Kashmiri pundit and feels that Pakistan is instrumental in destroying peace in her home state.
Two persons were very enthusiastic about my visit. Ashok, the son of my cousin, is a wool importer and has very good connections at Multan and Karachi. He repeatedly telephoned his contacts there to ensure that we feel at home in Pakistan. Later on, he also kept track of our movements and comfort there. Pareek ji, my friend of forty years, wanted to accompany us but he was too busy with his professional obligation. He extended his full support. He got me a press-card, which I could use in case of need in Pakistan. He was very encouraging and even pacified my son’s anxieties and apprehensions.
The cost of the bus ticket to Lahore was Rs.1500 only. Morning tea, break-fast, lunch and evening tea were complimentary. The distance between Amritsar and Wagah is 25 kilometres and between Wagah and Lahore 37 kilometres.The total journey of 540 kilometres took us twelve hours as about two hours were consumed in custom clearance at respective ends.
No sooner do you enter Pakistan than you feel that you are in a different world which is strangely familiar and similar. Perplexed?Allow me to explain it for you. At Pakistan custom clearance office at Wagah, you hardly see any person wearing any other dress but shalwar-kameej, the national dress of Pakistan. So the first feel is that you are among a different people but as you move on for clearance, it dawns upon you that the people are exactly the same as on our side of border. They speak the same language, behave in the same way and expect bakshish or bribe as their counterparts on our side do.
Compared to the bumpy and narrow road from Amritsar to Wagah, the road to Lahore is wide and smooth. The scenery is very beautiful. The icing on the cake is that a lively canal runs with you into Lahore.
The bus terminates at Gulberg, a posh area of Lahore .When we got out of the bus, there were pools of water everywhere. We were told that Lahore had weathered the heaviest of rains in 28 years on that very day. In fact the rain was lashing our bus right through Jullunder to Lahore. Lunch was served to us at Kartarpur in a restaurant which was flooded with rain water. Although the bus-terminal at Lahore was waterlogged resembling a lake, the roads outside were clear of rain water.The taxi took us to Elite hotel on M. Alam road. The hotel is about a kilometre from the bus-terminal.
After relaxing for a few minutes, I telephoned Mr. Ejaj Ahmad. Ejaj is another acquaintance of Ashok. Ejaj told me that he was at the bus terminal to receive us but we missed each- other.He said, “I am still nearby. Give me fifteen minutes and I will be with you.” Ejaj is a good looking, well-built, 5 feet 10 inches man. After introduction and pleasantries, he asked us to accompany him. He drove us through Lahore. Acting like a guide he kept on mentioning with the names of the roads and the buildings. He proudly uttered, “This is our mall road, this is our boulevards, this is our museum……” Lahorites love their city and are very proud of it. And that is not without reason. Lahore is a very beautiful city. The roads are very wide with slip roads. It is a clean and green city. There is no encroachment. Ejaj told us that the master-plan of 1947 had been implemented and all encroachments had been removed a few years ago. A beautiful canal runs through the city giving it a romantic atmosphere. Lahore boasts of a dozen historical monuments. The city is situated on the bank of river Ravi. But it is the Lahorites who make it an interesting and lovely city. The people here are carefree, out-going and extremely hospitable. Ejaj took us for dinner to Salt & Pepper, a high-end restaurant in Liberty. The restaurant can host more than 400 diners at a time. It was full to capacity. Lahorites love to eat out and during our visit schools were closed for the summer vacations to give an excuse to the families to dine out and entertain their children. Lahore has a lot of eating establishments. Food-Bazaar in Gawal Mundi is a rare sight. Even if you are skeptical about street food or have a hygiene concern, a visit to Gawal Mundi is a must for its visual delight. 40 feet wide and a kilometre long road is covered with four rows of dining tables after six in the evening. People enjoy all kinds of food served by the stalls on both sides of the road. The atmosphere and aroma is tempting enough to overcome your hygienic concerns. All kinds of non-vegetarian dishes are served here. Mouth watering tandoori items and delicious tawa fried pieces of chicken, meat and beef are a specialty.
Ejaj took us to all these places and to his house in Falcon colony. It was past midnight when we landed at Elite hotel.
I am an old and fragile man and wanted to rest in Lahore before traveling any further but Nandu was bent upon reaching Shahar Sultan at the earliest. He was already dreaming of holding gold bricks in his hands. So we decided to take a bus next day at 11.00 A.M. to Multan. It was Wednesday the 13th of August. This is important because my life was on a roller- coaster for the next seven days and I lost all the count of time till I was back in Delhi. We took the bus from Daewoo bus terminal. Sámi Daewoo bus service is one of the better and brighter things in Pakistan. The seat can be booked on telephone. It is a time bound service and very fast safe and comfortable. There has been only one accident in the last nine years of its operations. Lahore to Karachi is 1350 kilometres and it takes only 17 hours. Multan to Karachi is just 12 hours away. This bus service is available on all highways and motorways. They serve you water, light snacks and soft drinks in the bus. They stop for lunch and dinner at convenient joints.The comfortable journey to Multan took 5 hours 15 minutes exactly the same time as announced by the petite bus-hostess before the bus moved from Lahore. There was only one stoppage in the mid of the journey of 350 K.M. The lunch stoppage was at Sahiwal (formerly known as Montgomery). Nandu slept throughout the journey. I virtually cannot sleep during the day or in a moving motor- vehicle, so I enjoyed the journey.The highways are very good and well maintained.No animal or buffalo cart can come on the highway.Four feet high concrete wall runs on the sides of the highways to ensure that.Foot- over bridges are provided to cross over from one side to the other near all abadi (populated) areas along the entire highways.There is greenery everywhere.You find orchards quite frequently coming in your view.A canal or river always runs by the road side. The Punjab of Pakistan boasts of the second best irrigation system in the world. ‘Punjab’ means five waters.And true to its name the Pakistan part of the Punjab enjoys water from all the five rivers.
After alighting from the bus at Multan, while we were looking for a taxi, a man approached us and introduced himself as the driver of Mian Sharief. Mian Mohammad Sharief is one of the many wool suppliers of Ashok.He took us to a nearby hotel. Nandu did not like the hotel. In fact, he was very eager to meet Rahmat Ali of Shahar Sultan. Nandu telephonically contacted Rahmat Ali, who told him that his son was waiting for us at hotel Silver Sand. The driver took us to hotel Silver Sand. It was in no way a better hotel than the earlier one. But Nandu was very happy to meet Rahmat Ali’s son and decided to check in.
After pleasantries Nandu told the boy that he wanted to meet his father at the earliest and asked him to come early next morning to accompany us to Shahar Sultan.The boy left after promising to come the next day.
I telephoned Mian Sharief to thank him for his gesture of sending the car for us at the bus terminal. He asked us to come to his factory with the driver. We relaxed for about half an hour and then left for his factory.
Mian Mohammad Sharief is a very rich business man. The factory was in a sprawling area with even bigger area of 10 acres of godown space a kilometer away. He dropped us at the hotel but not before promising to take us to our respective birth places the next morning.
But that was not to be. At about 9 PM we walked to the Qaide Azam Road to take our dinner at Shangri-La. Chinese food at this restaurant is considered to be the best in the city of Multan. We ordered chicken-Manchurian and chicken chowmein. The food was not to my liking as it was too sweet to relish.I just filled my belly.A few minutes after we reached our room, a call from the reception asked us to come to the reception.Two Inspectors from the Special Squad were waiting there.They interrogated me for one hour.Nandu did not come out and pretended to be sleeping.They took photocopies of our passports and left.Later on, when we were sleeping we heard a knock on the door. It was one hour past mid-night. There were two policemen with guns.They talked with us for about one hour assuring us that they would be there to protect us.They were friendly and cordial but somehow they took my sleep away from me.
In the morning, when I went outside to have fresh air, I found the gunman and one of the Inspectors from the Special Squad there.The Inspector told me that we would be provided police protection to our respective birth places.
Later on when we were ready to leave for Mian Sharief’s residence, the Inspector told us that we could not go to our birthplaces as both the places were outside the Multan district and our visas were for Multan only.In the meantime, another acquaintance of Ashok, Mr. Ghazi Khan arrived there.He argued with the Inspector about our case but the Inspector became rude and told us that we would be followed wherever we went and they would not allow us to go out of Multan.We left for Mian Sharief’s residence and two policemen on bike followed us.
At Sharief’s residence I suggested that we should meet higher authorities but nobody, including Nandu, supported the idea.But while I made it clear that I would not do anything unlawful, Nandu was adamant on going to Shahar Sultan.Probably he did not want to miss the opportunity, being so near to his goal.
We had lunch there and decided to leave for hotel. Ghazi’s family was out of town so he offered us dinner out in the evening.We had nothing to do so we accepted his offer and left for hotel.There was no trace of any policeman thereafter.
In the evening we received a phone call from Alamgir Chavan.Alamgir is a land-lord. He is the son of a friend of my freedom fighter cousin Comrade Ramditta.Alamgir lives in Kukkar Hatta. Kukkar Hatta is very near KUNDAN DI KASSI, my birthplace. He told me that he was on his way to meet me. He reached the hotel in an hour at about 5 P.M.He was accompanied by his friend Rao Ayub Mehndi, an elected Nazim (representative) of the village.They insisted that they would escort us at their responsibility.But I refused to go without police permission.We decided to approach the Special Squad office but since it was 14th of August, Pakistan’s foundation day, everything was closed.So they left after exchange of pleasantries and promised to come the next day when necessary action would be taken.
Ghazi Khan came in the evening with Main Sharief and took us for dinner to Shangri-LaGardens, an open air restaurant on Bahawalpur Road.The food was delicious.We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner.
The next day we walked to the Railway Station which was about a kilometre from our hotel.We booked tickets for Karachi for 20th of August and returned and rested in the hotel till mid-day.Mr. Alamgir arrived with his friend.They took us to the office of the Special Squad and asked for the permission to facilitate our visit to Shahar Sultan and Kundan Kassi.On the personal guarantee of Mr. Ayub, we were allowed to go out of Multan for 8 days.Nandu was very excited and suddenly there was a shine in his eyes.He immediately wanted to go to Shahar Sultan but it was too late as Shahar Sultan is more than 150 km from Multan.So we decided to leave for Makhdoompur, Ayub’s village in district Khanewal at Tehsil Kabirwala.We rested there in the night, were well received by all the relatives, friends and neighbours of Mr. Ayub.They all showered love and friendship on us. We were feeling more than at home with them.I talked with some young boys and was told that mostly there were arranged marriages and the boys married at the age of 25 to 35.The concept of love marriage was alien to villages but love marriages did take place in cities.A desi cock (chicken fed on organic diet) was sacrificed for our breakfast.
During the day, we went around Makhdoompur. My father’s sister used to live there.I could not exactly locate the house but presumed a house to be the one. It was a reconstructed house. It was easier to locate their shop, which was still intact with original doors.There was lot of activity in Makhdoompur.The bazaar was about a kilometre long.There was also a hospital in the town.I could meet a person of 70 years of age who narrated to me the horror stories of violence in the town at the time of partition.I have heard such stories from my elders many a time.
The visit to Kundan Di Kassi was very nostalgic.I could locate my house, which has been reconstructed.In fact, my house has been divided into many small ones.The mosque near my house looked great.Even the beautiful narrow stream of water flowing some 100 yards from my house is still there.I had a vivid memory that when I was three, I could not jump that stream while my goat could easily do so.The banyan tree has gone and a house has been constructed there.A very big trunk of the banyan tree was still lying there.The visit to my village evoked happy as well as sad feelings.Happy I was because my wish of a life -time was fulfilled and sad because it was still in the same state as we might have left it.You could still see some Kachcha houses there.There was no expansion and no facilities, not even the basic ones.The only development was anot- so -wide pucca road passing close to the villageleading to a much prosperous town called Sarai Sidhu which is about 20 km from our village. There were tears in my eyes. I do not know why.Your guess may be as good as mine.
We returned to Alamgir’s house.It would be better if we call it a garden house.Alamgir has 6 brothers and 5 step brothers. All of them live in that garden of 50 acres.They grow mangoes, keenu, anjeer (figs) and pomegranates.There are three blocks of building; one is Alamgir’s and his brother’s house, another is the house of the sons from his father’s other wife.And the third building is for visitors which is called Dera.Due to the veil system, the guests are put up at the Dera and are not allowed to enter their houses. However, as a mark of respect, he took us to his house.We enjoyed the home- made food in the evening and morning.Early in the morning Nandu left for his other obsession.He wished to carry 20 kg of dates to India in addition to the gold bricks and diamonds. While he was in the market to get the dates, I visited the graveyard in the area.It is a private one and after death the bodies of the members of the family are buried there.I paid homage at the graves of Alamgir’s father and mother.
I also committed a gunaah (sin) unwittingly for which their Allah and my Ram may forgive me.Early in the morning I needed to go to the bath room to ooze out.And then I just went outside the house to have fresh air.Two very beautiful women were praying in the open.On seeing me, they immediately rushed towards their house.I felt very guilty as they did not give me a chance even to apologize.May God bless them and grant their prayer.In the evening, I happened to sit with Shahid, one of the younger brothers of Alamgir.He is a nice innocent guy of 35 years of age.He narrated to me his love story which moved me and again affirmed my belief that we have no control over our destiny.He had gone for higher studies to Russia, then USSR.In Moscow, he fell in love with a Russian girl named Yelena Brisanvana.He told me that Russians have great love for Indians.So initially he told her that he was an Indian and later one when the relationship had blossomed he told her every thing about him and his family.Both were so deeply in love with each other that despite cultural, social and economical differences they cemented the relations and married each other.He informed his family back in Pakistan.About a month later, he received a telegram and a phone call that his mother was critically ill and he must come to see her one last time.No sooner did he reach his home in Pakistan, it dawned upon him that the telegram was a ploy to call him back.His father Mian Mohammad Nawaz was a communist and had a very lenient view of his wish to continuing with Yelena.But his mother made a great hue and cry and one evening she got hold of his passport and other travel documents and threw them in the fire.He was forcibly married to a girl in relation.A Muslim can keep four wives but he felt guilty and was so crest fallen that he sent divorce papers to Yelena.Yelena waited for him to return for five years and then married ……….He is still in touch with her and her husband.
In the morning, while having breakfast, I got emotional and told Alamgir that I desired to take a fruit plant from my birth place to my home in Delhi. He was over-joyed by my proposal and immediately asked his servants to do the job.A keenu plant was removed from the earth of my birthplace in Pakistan and I hoped that I would be able to take it safely to Delhi.After exchanging pleasantries, we left for Mulapur which was once my Nana’s home own.Shahid and Alamgir accompanied us.Mulapur is a bigger and better town than Kundan di Kassi and Makhdoompur. It has wide and straight streets and most houses are pucca ones.As usual two persons of 75 years of age were traced.I told them that my grandfather (Nana) was a Halwai (Sweet maker) and his name was Lala Ghansham Dass.One of the old men immediately uttered that there was only one Halwai in Mulapur in those days and his name was Ghania.I could realize that in those days people were known by their short or pet names.They showed me his shop but could not tell me about his residence.We were treated very well in my Nani’s erstwhile town.Ayub joined us in Khanewal.He was sitting with his commission agent.Another car was to be arranged for as there was no room in the one for the fifth person.The culprit was our luggage which got bulkier with the addition of 24 kg of dates.Finally, Shahid was to ride a motor cycle to Multan.It was very hot in Multan. We visited the ruins of Multan Fort and some dargahs.We also saw there a Hindu temple which was destroyed by some fanatics to avenge the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu fanatics in Ayodhaya.How similar we are.The Multan fort is situated at a great height and there is a beautiful park known as QuaideAzamPark and also a cricket stadium.Not long ago, test cricket was played there before a world class one was built a few kilometres out of Multan.Multan also boasts of the biggest hospital in Asia namely the NishtarHospital.
By 3 PM we were able to leave for Shahar Sultan.Nandu was visibly very happy and extremely excited.He even drove the car till he almost hit a horse cart (tonga).
We enjoyed our lunch at a roadside eating joint. The Nawab Hotel is a very spacious 24 hour eatery.There is arrangement for almost 200 people to take food at any given time. Food was very delicious and exotic.Ayub ordered an Irani dish ‘Roast’ (A big bone piece of mutton in a big bowl of shorba (soup)) and bater (a quail-type bird) curry.The food in Punjab is not spicy and is very easy on stomach.The Nawab Hotel caters mainly to truck drivers. . There were about 25 trucks parked there in that afternoon.The number must be much larger in the evening.
In three hours, we were in Shahar Sultan. Rahmat Ali’s son was waiting for us at a tea stall.He immediately escorted us to Nandu’s house through a deserted lane.It was a very big three storey house but was now in ruins. -- Khandhar bata rahe the ki imarat kabhi buland thi – Nandu’s father was the richest man not only in the village but in the entire Mujjafargarh district. Rahmat Ali was lying on a charpoy in the court- yard. His son introduced him to Nandu. Nandu embraced him and sat beside him on the small charpoy. Nandu said to Rahmat Ali, “Please arrange for the delivery of the things my father left with you”.“. We hope that you will be able to locate it”, replied the old man. Nandu was sure to find a hidden treasure some where in the house. He was aware of the two secret places where valuables were kept when they inhabited that house. Five labourers were waiting there.Nandu gave them instructions to dig at a spot in the north corner of a room.After a labour of 30 minutes, an iron trunk was found.It was taken out, and the lock was broken. But to great disappointment of all it was empty.
Then Nandu moved to the front room called “Sufa”. He pointed to a corner in a wall on the western side about six feet above the ground. It was a very tedious job.The labourers were put on the job while we made ourselves comfortable on charpoys.Surprisingly, unlike Pakistanis, no refreshment or tea was offered to us.Water was served on request.Presumably, all were too excited at the prospect of getting richer in a few minutes.
After the labour of three hours, an iron box was recovered.The labourers were asked to leave.The lock was broken under great excitement and expectations.Every one was holding his breath.Eyes widened, forehead narrowed and Nandu’s hair straightened.
The box was opened.A small black cobra was lying there.I had read somewhere that cobras always guard treasures.It was soon realized that the cobra was dead. It was removed with a stick.Alas! Staring at us, there were only five silver coins which had turned black due to oxidation. Nandu’s face turned pale, disappointment was writ large on it – disappointment was anticipated. Actually he was shattered.Everyone was mum for a few minutes when Nandu’s voice broke the silence.It appeared as if the voice was coming out of a well.“Let us go back to Delhi.”
When we were leaving Shahar Sultan, a man stopped our car. He gave Nandu 2 boxes of sweets.Nandu took them and handed over to me.I gave the sweets to Ayub and Alamgir.But Nandu took them back saying that he would take them to Delhi. I was stunned but there was no point in objecting to his action.Probably Nandu was still dreaming of gold bricks and wishfully imagining that those sweet boxes might contain gold bricks.
On way back to Multan, Nandu’s attitude was completely changed.He was mostly speechless but murmuring in between “What is Pakistan?It is a backward country… India is 60 years ahead of Pakistan….I am surprised how they defeat us in cricket and hockey matches”. It was past midnight when we reached Multan.Nandu refused to eat anything and also refused to stay in Multan.We drove to Daewoo Bus Stand.Luckily, we got 2 seats for Lahore.Shahid managed to arrange two metallic boxes of famous Sohan halwa of Multan, He presented those to us and jokingly said to Nandu, “Treat these boxes full of gold and rejoice.” Everyone laughed except Nandu who did not even try to force a smile.By sunrise, we were in Lahore and checked in the hotel.
Nandu took unilateral and impromptu decision to return to Delhi and without waking me up went to bus station to book tickets for Delhi but he could not get tickets for earlier than 20th. He did not have wings so he could not fly out of Lahore and unwillingly had to stay in Lahore for two more days.He was very nervous as President Musharaf was to resign on 18th and Nandu was expecting some sorts of disturbances and was glued to the TV.However, nothing at all happened when he announced his resignation.An era ended without any flutter.This is the power of democracy.
I had some vision problem in the morning.I talked to my eye-surgeon in Delhi.He advised me to consult and get examined by some specialist in Lahore before travelling.I went to a nursing home nearby but was told that most of the doctors work in hospital in the forenoon and do private practice in nursing homes in the afternoon.I telephoned my friend Ijaj Ahmed. He was away in Faisalabad and was very surprised to know that we were back in Lahore.I explained to him that due to Nandu’s apprehension we cancelled our visit to Karachi.He advised me to go to LaserHospital in ModelTown.We hired a taxi to the place.The receptionist was very cooperative and asked us to wait. She told us that Dr. Salim, with whom I had talked before coming to the hospital, was busy in operation room.After about 30 minutes, I was ushered into a room where Dr. Salim was waiting for me.Before examining me he said that the President had resigned.He was visibly happy and relieved.I could guess that he was watching TV and was not busy doing any operation.This shows that people in the sub-continent are very optimistic whenever the governing powers change.But often, the things come back to square one.
We had our lunch at Village, an ethnic restaurant. A very wide range of delicacies were spread out for buffet lunch buffet.There must have been more than 100 food and chaat items. Achari Paratha, achari bengan and aravi meat I tasted for the first time.LahoreChhole was like Pindi Chhole with a little bit more gravy.Everything was very well cooked and ethnically displayed.The ambience was extraordinary.Live music by the artist was on.I am sure it must be very romantic to have dinner at such a place.But we overfilled our stomach not to have any hunger for dinner.
In the evening we went to see the place where my friend Prof.Dhawan’s family used to live before partition. Their house was in Shalmi Gate, Mohalla Telian.The area is converted into a wholesale commercial hub for ready-made garments.It is very congested and has narrow lanes reminding me of our own old Delhi.Anarkali, the old famous bazaar of Lahore, too resembles old Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar. The next morning, we hired a tourist taxi to visit historical monuments.The guide-cum-car-driver was a young man in his thirties.He was very soft spoken and co-operative.He first of all took us to the Badshahi Masjid.It is a very big and beautiful red stone structure.He told us that Lahore had been an education hub earlier. The masjid was used as a hostel for students who came from far off places.
Opposite the Masjid there is the Lahore Fort which is a replica of the Delhi Red fort.The only difference is that the Lahore fort is a bit smaller and made of lime and bricks.The Badshahi Masjid and the Lahore Fort are similar to Jama Masjid and Red Fort in Delhi but the ones in Lahore are much closer to each other than the Delhi ones. In between the two, there is a Gurudwara built by a Sikh king Ranjit Singh. The LahoreMuseum is very interesting; it displays many memorabilia of the Buddha and the Hindu gods.I realized why security is essential at Museums because these memorabilia are priceless and can be destroyed by some fanatics. The Jahangir’s Tomb is across the RaviRiver near Shahadra.You must be aware that there is one Shahadra in Delhi’s Trans Yamuna area.In fact Shahadra means the King’s way.
The Jahangir Tomb has very big gardens all around it. It is very beautiful. Jahangir’s son Shahjahan built all the old monuments in Lahore.I fell in love with Lahore.It is a beautiful city.But more and more and again and again I fell in love with Lahorites. I will never forget Ijaj and Tahir, not only because they took us for shopping in the evening and then took us to roof top Glen restaurant where we enjoyed boneless chicken and mutton to our belly’s contentment. They are very lovely men full of lively humour.Early next morning we took the bus from Lahore for Amritsar from where we took the 5 O’clock Shatabadi Express for Delhi but not before we paid our obeisance, at Harimandir Sahib. We reached our homes around mid-night.
The next day when I was going for my morning walk, I saw two boxes of sweets lying outside Nandu’s bungalow. A very foul smell was emitting from of them. Two dogs were trying to tear the boxes apart to dig out a treasure.
The girls in Multan are reserved and hesitant to talk to men.Even girls at railway stations and bus stops do not believe in smiling. But the girls in Lahore are nice and forthright to talk to.Two business women of Karachi, whom I met in the Lahore-Amritsar bus, were very well informed, nice in manners and very articulate.
Indians and Pakistanis are identical in more than many ways. Fate and politicians joined hands to separate them in 1947.We should be allowed to mingle with each other, friendship clubs should be formed and interaction between the families from both sides and visits on reciprocal basis should be encouraged by the Governments of these wonderful countries. These steps will definitely remove apprehensions and misconceptions about one another among the people of both the countries and create lovely and peaceful environment in the sub continents. Trust, Tourism and Trade are the three vital “T’s” to Trigger True and Timeless relations between the people of the two countries. Amen!
* * * * *
It was destined to happen like that......
I was thinking about Tsering and dreaming about the time, we were going to spend together for the next fortnight or so when my telephone gave a tinkle. It was Gopi. "Your Bhabi is landing from the states after three days. Would you accompany me to the airport?" Gopi said. He has a problem in driving in the night and most international fights land in Delhi after sunset. "No, Gopi! I am going to Dharamshala this evening," I told him. "Why to Dharamshala in winter?" He said. I had three reasons for going to Dharamshala.One: Tsering was shooting a Tibetan film there and he was insisting that I should spend some time with him. Two: I wanted to explore my writing talent. And finally I had to consult a Tibetan doctor for my arthritis problem. I told him all this and he hung up.
After about fifteen minutes he called again and said that he would love to accompany me. I was happy to get a company. We decided to meet at Majnu-Ka-Tila from where we were to take a bus for McLeod Ganj at 7.30 P.M
I am unable to sleep in a moving vehicle. So we talked about his son, Parul, who is settled in U.S.A., and about his grandson, who was born 3 months ago. I asked if his wife would not miss him when she did not find him at home on her return. He told me that he was not sure about her but he would definitely not miss her as she had stopped sleeping with him. "Since when?" I asked. "It is now more than three years. I miss sex a lot. I feel hollow and always crave for sex," He confessed. "Why don't you try outside? It is not a difficult thing," I said. He is one of the finest legal brains in Delhi. "Firstly my upbringing is orthodox and secondly I can not risk my flawless reputation", Gopi explained. . We remained engrossed in conversation through the night. We reached Kangra at day break. The bus had stopped at a small dhaba for a while. The sun was trying to/conquer) the peak of a distant hill. We both got down and had a cup of tea each. We reached McLeod Ganj at 8.30 in the morning. Tsering was already there to receive us. We exchanged greetings. "Have you earlier met my friend Gopi?" I said looking towards Gopi. "No, but I have heard a lot about him from you and Bunny.” Bunny is my son and. Tsering and Bunny are school friends. Tsering told me that the hotel in which he and his crew were putting up was fully booked and he had booked a room for us in a nearby hotel. On way to our hotel he showed us the hotel he was staying in. After leaving us in the hotel he asked us to join him at his hotel for breakfast at 10 and left. We joined him at the pre-fixed time. We had Tibetan-bread, butter, tsampa and tea for breakfast. When we were about to finish, a stunningly beautiful girl joined us. She had pink complexion, doe like eyes and walnut hair struggling to kiss her buttocks. But there was a sense of arrogance in her movements. She was Tenzin, heroine of Tsering's film. I looked towards Gopi. He was staring her with lusty looks. I felt awkward. I put my hand on his to divert his attention and asked Tenzin, "How many films you have already done?" I have only a few ad-films and documentaries to my credit," she replied in her musical voice. "That is why you are looking so refreshingly beautiful," I remarked. "Thanks for the compliment," she said with a million dollar smile. I glanced towards Gopi. He was still ogling at Tenzin. I felt very awkward and got up extending my hand towards Tenzin and saying," See you later". She shook hand with me and we left.
Next day in the morning Tsering had breakfast with us and said that he was going out on shooting outdoor and would meet us in the evening only. We enquired about the points of tourist interest there and were told about Dalai Lama's and Bhakshunag's temples and a hundred fifty years old church about two kilometers towards Dharamshala. After visiting the temples we went to see the church. It is a very beautiful church, very old and in urgent need of repair. There I saw a tall girl in the western corner of the vast ground viewing in to the beautiful valley. There is a cemetery in the eastern side of the church. Cremation places and cemetery have a special attraction for me as they give me solace and peace of mind. I found that most of the graves were old. I could not see the girl from there because of the church in between. After about ten minutes I saw Gopi coming towards me. The girl was also with him. She was tall, athletic, having short hair, Indian features, very fair complexion and pleasant and intelligent expression on her face. "She is Nikita! She is an American and is of Indian origin". Gopi did the introduction with great enthusiasm. "Hello, Nikita! To which part of India did you belong?" I greeted and asked .her. "My great grand parents were from Gujarat. They moved to U.S.A. some fifty years ago," she replied in a total American accent. Gopi told me that Nikita was also staying in a hotel in McLeodganj and said to her, "Let us walk and talk to Mcleodganj". "It will be of immense pleasure to me," said Nikita. We walked and talked about each other. I told her that I was leading a retired life due to my heart ailment, and knee- problem. I also let her know that Gopi was one of the leading law consultants of our country. Nikita told us that she was technology consultant in Chicago, un-married and living independently as her parents were settled in California. She said that she did not like to be dominated and was very skeptical about marriage. I advised her to marry a person with whom she could fall in love again and again. Gopi got carried away and boasted of his income and status. In Mcleodganj we took tea together. Gopi asked Nikita for lunch and she agreed. They decided to meet at one, as I wanted to sleep for some time and in no mood to take lunch.
Gopi came to me at six. He was beaming and appeared very much charged. I had just completed a poem for children and wanted to recite it to him but he was in no mood to oblige me. He said, "Nikita is a wonderful girl. She is modish, has extremely liberal views and entirely different from the girls we know." I reminded him that she was an American and U.S.A. was altogether a different world. She was born and brought up there and ought to be different. Gopi said, "She is very exciting." "She is just twenty and you are sixty. Every girl of her age would be exciting for you"; I tried to reason out with him. But Gopi was all focused on Nikita. At 8.30 he asked me about the dinner. I told him that I would give hot water treatment to my inflamed knee and would not risk going out in the cold. He told me that he would like to have makki ki roti and sarson ka saag, for dinner. Our hotel served only Tibetan food. Before leaving he told me that he would like to hang around and I should not wait for him. Mcleodganj is a small place and there is not much scope to hang around. Also it was pretty cold outside. Obviously Gopi was trying to coin excuses to meet Nikita and spend some time with her. He was already missing her. Gopi remained out the whole night and returned at dawn. He looked exhausted. "Where were you," I asked. "I am in nostalgia of the most beautiful time I have ever, spent in my life. But right now I am tired like any thing and would like to steal some sleep," Gopi said and without changing slipped under the quilt.
I was preparing to go for a short walk, when there was a soft knock at the door. It was a boy about twelve years of age. He called my name. I nodded in affirmative. He signaled to me to come out and in a very low voice told me that Nikita had sent him for me for a very urgent business. I was astonished and told him that she must have sent for Gopi. But he told me that she had asked for me only and also requested not to tell Gopi about it. Gopi was fast asleep anyway. I was a bit confused but decided to go. I put on my over-coat and accompanied the boy.
Nikita was staying in one of the better hotels in McLeodganj. She was sitting on a sofa with her head between her knees. She looked up, I could see tears in her sleepy eyes she came to me, put her head on my left shoulder, and started sobbing. Making an effort to console her, I put my right hand on her head and said, "What's wrong with you Nikita?" She could not utter a word as the intensity of her sobbing had increased. I was also at a loss to find words. After a few moments she composed herself and got separated from me. She asked me to sit on the sofa and made herself seated on the bed. I was in for a shock of my life. What she told me was dreadful, disturbing and disgusting. Gopi had raped her very brutally. She showed me bruises on her face and neck. Also there was a blood spot on the white bed cover. I was aghast and kept mum. After a long pause I said, " I am sorry for you Nikita, and ashamed of my friendship with Gopi. I feel awfully low and have no words to express my sentiments and feelings." "What should I do now? Go to the police or contact the American embassy!" she said. I was in a fix. I knew that her action would put Gopi in soup. "First let me talk to Gopi", I suggested as I tried to steal some time. She said, "I have no time for talks and must take immediate action but I am a practical girl. I know Gopi will be charged under 376 IPC and would go behind the bars for ten years. If you want to save him, ask him to pay me Rs. 50 lacs". I was a bit confused and astonished, so kept mum. She continued, "What has happened has happened. Moreover I lost my virginity three years ago and I am in urgent need of money". I said, "I have to talk to Gopi". "You have precisely one hour; after that I will call the police," Nikita said in a firm tone. I assured her that I would revert back to her within the time and left.
I was still in a state of confusion, while walking towards my hotel. I decided to probe Gopi before disclosing my acquired information and Nikita's proposal and threat. Thankfully he was still sleeping. I shook him and asked him to get up. When he was wide awake, I asked him, "Gopi! What happened last night"? He stated, "After going from here I purchased some flowers from the market and went to Nikita. She received me very warmly. We enjoyed a few drinks of scotch followed by meals. All along we were talking about each other. It was getting pretty cold so she asked me to sit beside her under the quilt. I compiled though my heart started beating at supersonic speed." Gopi was re- living the moments. He continued, "She told me that she was quite a liberal girl and had enjoyed sex many times. While she was talking, her right hand was moving all over me. Suddenly it was on my member. She opened my fly and her hand moved inside. I could feel getting hard under her soft palm and fingers. Then she started undressing and after finishing with herself, she did the same to me. I was mesmerized. I did not realize when I was over and inside her. It was all over in a few minutes for me. My lay off of three years and my age let me down. Nikita was furious. To please her I tried with my finger and mouth but failed to satisfy her. From nowhere, she brought out a round object, called ‘Dildo’, and put that in my hand. I inserted it inside her and started moving that up and down. She urged me to do it faster and faster. Soon it was all over for her too. It was well past midnight .1 slept there and before dawn I was with you."
I told him Nikita's version of the episode and options she had given me. Gopi was bewildered. It was quite cold but I could see sweat dropping from his face. He turned pale. After some time he said in a hollow voice, "She is an NRI whore. I think I have been trapped with no escape route. The "Dildo may have caused some bruises inside her." "There was blood on the bed-sheet," I told him. Gopi was fast to comprehend that Nikita had planned it perfectly and he could not risk his everything. We negotiated with Nikita for thirty bucks. The money was paid the same day to an accomplice of Nikita in Delhi. I did not feel the necessity to ask Gopi how he had managed to arrange such a big amount. We were feeling so depressed that we immediately hired a taxi and said good-bye to McLeod Ganj when the sun was about to go down.
Was it so destined that that the best legal brain was to be outsmarted in this humiliating manner and had to bite the dust?
* * * * *
"Excess of every thing is bad", but I learnt it the hard way, I had experienced a little pain in my knees and to help myself out of that I started cycling for thirty minutes besides walking five kilometers a day. Walking had been a routine with me for years together. One fine morning, after cycling, I was going through my ritual of morning walk in the neighbourhood park. Suddenly, I felt severe pain in my left knee. I could reach for the nearest bench there with great difficulty. I was taken to an orthopedist. The doctor got the x-ray done and declared that I had triggered osteo-arthritis by putting excessive pressure on my knees. He advised rest, diathermy and physiotherapy. After a few weeks, 1 was able to walk but the pain never ceased. The trauma continued unabated for months.
One day my friend Manu visited me. I told him about my ordeal, and also that I had gone through ayurvedic and homeopath treatment without any relief. "Let us go to Baijnath", Manu suggested. He told me that. Baijnath was a small town near Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and that there was a 100 plus years old doctor in Baijnath who had cured many hopeless patients suffering from perennial diseases. He continued, "Moreover, it will be a refreshing outing." I decided to give it a try.
Our journey was to start after three days. Before leaving, I visited my mother for her formal permission. I have been emotionally very close to my mother. She asked me the purpose of my journey and showered her blessings. I was a weak child with very poor health and a mediocre student. I could not secure any Government job, and was forced into doing business, which was never a roaring success. My mother always thought that life had not been kind to me.
We hired a taxi and decided to cover the distance in two days with a stopover at Chandigarh to make it less hectic. It took us just four hours from Delhi to Chandigarh. We checked in a hotel. . Chandigarh is a green and well-planned modern city. After taking lunch, Manu decided to take a round of the city. He visited the Rose garden, the sector-17 market, the SukhnaLake and the Rock garden, which is a marvel and has been created by using waste material. The person responsible for this visual delight is Nekchand.
We started early next morning for our destination, Himachal is known as the land of gods. There are many places of pilgrimage on way to Palampur. . I rarely go to religious places. But Manu was very keen to visit and pray at all the temples on the way. So we prayed at the temples of Naina Devi, Chintpurni, Jawala ji and Chamunda Devi. The common belief is that by visiting these places one gets relieved of one's miseries and one's wishes are fulfilled. At Chintpurni I saw a healthy man rolling and crawling on his body to reach the temple. I wondered if torturing the body gifted by God could please Him. However, I was impressed by the fact that all these temples are great picnic spots and provide livelihood to a large number of people. The most scenic of these places is Chamunda Devi temple. It is situated near a cold-water stream. We reached Palampur when the sun was about to finish its duty for the day. Palampur is a small but extremely beautiful town. It is surrounded by tea gardens. Snow clad peaks look at you from a distance. The taxi was done away with as we retired for the night in a hotel. Next morning, we decided to go to Baijnath by the toy train; the train runs at a very slow speed. It crawled through beautiful tea gardens and after halting at a few stations on the way, reached Baijnath by noon though the distance was just 16 Km. Manu insisted that I should accompany him to visit the famous ancient Shiva temple there before going to the doctor. I complied.
Enquiries about the doctor revealed to our disappointment that he had died about a year back. We returned to Palampur at six in the evening. There is a tea factory near the railway station and a tea canteen at the gate of the factory. We enjoyed tea in the canteen. The walk to our hotel was very long. But I noticed, to my pleasant surprise, that the pain in my knees had disappeared. There was stiffness but absolutely no pain.
After dinner, I gave hot water treatment to my knees and preferred to rest in bed. Manu went out for a walk but returned in a few minutes. He was looking sad. He told me that my son had called on his mobile phone and told him that my mother had passed away 1 was dumbstruck. My mother was in perfect health, though about seventy years old .The news was a great shock to me. We decided to leave immediately and reached Delhi in the morning .The taxi we hired had two drivers and they drove through non-stop. Reaching home, I learnt that it was a sudden death; her heart had failed. The time of her death was 6.30 in the evening. It struck me that was exactly the same time Manu and I were having tea at the factory canteen at Palampur.
The rituals associated with death were observed. It was hectic and tiring but I had no pain in my joints. It had vanished completely.
My mother was gone and also had gone my joints pain. I have been wondering since whether it was due to my visits to the temples or that my mother had bargained for my health with her life. Or was it purely a coincidence?
* * * * *
Compromise and accommodation were the other names of Ratana. She was the eldest of two daughters and one son of Lala Ganga Ram. Ratana was never accorded the position and the privileges of the eldest child in the family. She was always scolded, ridiculed and looked down upon hy one and all. She was slow, untidy and always fumbled with words. To add to all this, she was not a beautiful child. She was probably the most un-wanted child in the world. Nobody bothered about her. But Ratana did not bother much about the treatment she got. She was extremely helpful and self- sacrificing without prejudice to one and all. She never said no to anybody and did without reservation whatever she was told to do. She never asked even for food and consumed whatever was thrown at her. She was indifferent to the colour shape, design, fitting and condition of her clothes. She was never sent to school. Her childhood was swept away without any enjoyment generally associated with this period of life. The excitement of youth also evaded her......
Ratana was married off by default She was a sacrificial item to accommodate her first cousin, Mohan, who was the only survivor other father's brother's family. Mohan was suffering from the first stage tuberculosis, a killer disease in those days, which had eaten up Mohan's parents and two of their three children. He was married to a healthy and beautiful young girl Amana, in exchange for Ratana, who was given to Ram, an uncle of Amana. Ram was a widower and only fifteen years older than thirteen years old Ratana. Even an age difference of twenty-five years would not have raised any eyebrows. The first wife of Ram, Rupa, an extremely beautiful woman, had died after giving birth to a son, who followed her after three months. Ram had a very big family. An eighty plus ailing father, a few years shy of fifty mother, wife of his deceased brother who happened to be the mother of Amana and two un-married daughters, a good-for-nothing younger brother Sham, married and having five daughters born of a head strong wife, Jana, a widowed sister Ganga with a son, Sohan, three years of age. All of them shared a common roof and Pam was the only bread- earner. Ram also had another married sister, Billow, who had an uncomfortable relation with her husband and frequented her parental house now and then.
Ratana got a lukewarm reception in her new home. Every one observed that Ratana was nowhere close to Rupa in beauty and etiquette and after that unanimous resolution, every now and then she was humiliated on one pretext or the other. A few clothes and five pieces of silver jewelry that she brought with her as semblance of dowry were taken away from her and given to Billow. She was not surprised as she was accustomed to this sort of treatment at her father's home too. As she was the new entrant in the family, everyone was boss for her and true to her nature she always obliged one and all without any grudge to the best of her capability and ability. Even then her stature in the family could not improve as the comparison with Rupa was inevitable and she stood nowhere close to her. Ram was always indifferent to her. Like one and all, he was also a prisoner his thoughts.
Ratana was given the prime duty of taking care of her ailing father-in-law, Surya. Ratana adored him simply because he was the only person who never said any hurting words against her and Ratana did her best to comply with the needs of the old man. Many a time Surya even praised her. He could not survive for long and died on a very cold December night. Ratana was alone by his side when he breathed his last, but not before he assured Ratana that he would remonstrate with God and ensure that she would be blessed with a son.
After two years of marriage Ratana was blessed with a very handsome and fair complexioned son, the child had all the features of his father. With it a thirty-year drought of male entry in the , family had ended. Every one was exultant but surprised on two counts: Ram and Ratana both were dark-complexioned and contrary to it the newborn was fair just like his grandmother, and no one had ever seen Ram spending a night with Ratana. Ram was a very bad-tempered man but he spoke very little;. He was always busy at his shop and slept there in the night. The boy was named Suraj, in memory of his grandfather. Suraj brought good luck to Ratana. For the first time in her life, she was looked at with respect by one and all. Though Ram was still indifferent to her, he was not antagonistic at all. Probably the financial burden to feed a large family was weighing too heavy on him. Still Ratana had no complaints; life had never been more comfortable for her. She was fully occupied with bringing up her son. But her joy was short- lived. Two incidents, onevery common and the other extremely bizarre changed the life of Ratana and Suraj forever. One night while sleeping with his mother, Suraj rolled-over and fell down on the floor. His cries forced the entire family to come to the room. Ram was called from the shop but he hushed up the matter after ensuring that Suraj was completely unhurt. The second incident was taken very seriously. A snake was seen coming out of the quilt under which Suraj was sleeping. Every one, especially Billow, who happened to there that night, and Sham made a big hue and cry. From that day onwards Suraj was put under the care of his grand mother, Bai. Bai was a very affectionate and caring woman. She had all the freedom to move out of the house. This privilege was not available to Ratana. Suraj needed her mother only when he was hungry a; he was still on mother-feed. Even this need of Suraj was partly taken care of by Jingo, a Muslim woman living nearby. Jingo had a son, All, who was only a few days older than Suraj. Bai and Jingo's mother-in-law were old friends and mostly they were together. One day Jingo was feeding Alt in the presence of Suraj. Silently, Suraj moved towards Jingo and started taking feed from the other nipple. Jingo was first taken aback but then felt amused. From that day onwards she started feeding Alt and Suraj simultaneously. What a wonder of nature! That it is perfectly possible to breastfeed two children at a time. Time rather than the quantity of milk might be a problem. Such is the emotional power of motherhood.
Still Ratana had no complaints. She was content that Suraj was around. Then she became a victim of another incident. Mohan died of his perennial disease, leaving behind a one year old son and seven months pregnant Amana. There was nobody to take care of the expectant mother and the infant. Ram and her father prevailed upon Ratana to be by the side of Amana. Ratana could not come back for four months. When Suraj was three years of age, a cruel joke cracked on him by the family created a further distance between the mother and the son. Taking advantage of the looks of Suraj it was teasingly put in his innocent mind that he was the son of Rupa, the first wife of Ram and that Ratana was his stepmother. He believed it to be true and drifted away from Ratana to the extent that he hardly talked with her and stopped visiting his maternal grandfather's home. Ratana was never assertive so she did not care to change the perception of his son. It was too late when the truth dawned upon Suraj. The distance and the indifference between the two had become their way of life. It was increased further, as all other in the family pampered Suraj. This deprived them of the joys, emotions and commotions naturally associated with the love between the mother and the son. Suraj got some emotional support from Bai and Jingo. But Ratana did not have even the consolation to show her love for him. This made both of them a bit complex characters. Though they were emotional and sentimental at heart, they never showed any excitement on a happy occasion or anxiety in distress.
Contrary to early indications, Suraj graduated to be a nice, humble, accommodating, helpful and intelligent young man. With these exemplary qualities, Suraj became the darling of one and all. Ratana was benefited indirectly. First the outsiders and then the family members started approving of her cooperative nature. She was taken as a sober, cool and humble woman. AH this as they knew that after all she was Suraj's real mother. Her meekness was considered as modesty and her slowness and shabby dressing ways were appreciated as coolness and simplicity.
Suraj had the Midas touch; whatever he did came out as a success. He was instrumental in marrying off all the daughters in the family. He had a big departmental store and a new house to live in. The old shop was being run by his uncle Sham and his cousin Sohan. And his uncle, aunt, occupied the old house with Sohan and his mother. Amana's husband Mohan had also died, leaving behind two grown up sons, who were taking care of Amana's mother also. Ram had stopped working and was always busy playing cards but he still dominated the family and always had the final word in all the affairs.
Suraj was married to Reno, the daughter of a very rich benefactor of Ram. Reno was an ordinary girl and was only six years older than Ram. Suraj protested but was overruled by Ram, who was more than eager to please his benefactor. Ratana was a mute spectator to all this. Rano had all the traits of a girl brought up in a rich but uneducated family. She was rude, bad-tempered, ill-mannered and obstinate. Suraj and Rano had no compatibility but Suraj true to his nature tried his best to adjust but Reno was never cooperative and always had problems with not only Suraj but also every one in the family. In a few months, Suraj became indifferent towards Reno. He had nobody to share his feelings except his grandmother Bai, who was on bed for the last two years due to back and disc problems. Her eyesight was also failing her. The childhood syndrome that he was not the real son of Ratana never got erased from his mind. Rano took over the entire control of the family matters. Ratana was once again lowered to an insignificant position. Rano always highlighted her shortcomings.
Two things happened at a very short interval of each other. Suraj and Rano were blessed with a son and exactly after seventeen days, Jingo left for her heavenly abode as if she was only waiting to become a great-grandmother.
Rano always ensured a verge between her son and Ratana. Ratana on her part was never intelligent and smart to attract the fancy of his grandson she even could not narrate the common stories children generally listen to from their grandmothers. Thus, Ratana was deprived of the usual pleasure grandparents get in the company of their grandchildren.
Life went on like that for a few years. Many a time a thought disturbed Suraj that Ratana deserved a better treatment particular from him. But unfortunately nothing was done in this direction. Ratana never bothered about her health. Her faculties were getting weaker by the time. Suraj was unconcerned except that she was given what ever she asked for, which she rarely did. Ratana had nothing to do. She tried to move out of the house but unlike other women of her age she could not even gossip. Actually she never indulged herself in that. She was not a religious woman so she could not find any interest or solace in temples and prayers. Children did not find her interesting. Ram and Suraj were indifferent to her. Rano always treated her with contempt. She was abandoned.
Then suddenly Ratana started behaving in a manner exactly the opposite of her nature. She started finding faults with the food she was served. She was not satisfied with the cleaning of her room and forced the servants to do it again. She became irritating to intolerable extent.
One day the family guru from Haridawar visited them. He blessed every one and said that Ratana was struggling to set herself free of her traits and should be all right in a matter of time. Ratana did not succeed in getting out of her traits. Often she did not take her meals. Her struggle to get free of her traits ended one day when she quietly breathed her last. Like every one else, she was a prisoner other traits and only death could set her free. Suraj felt very depressed and started feeling guilty of not doing enough for his mother. He lost interest in his daily routine and was always lost in his depressing thoughts. His, health started deteriorating. It was diagnosed that he was suffering from an illness called Bulimia; a sickness that whispers in the patient's ears to deceive those closest to him and puts in his mind that he is worthless. Suraj never came out of that state and was found hanging dead in his study one morning exactly after one month after the death of Ratana. Suraj was cremated at the same place where Ratana was. Despite their burning desire they had not succeeded in shortening the distance between them when alive. Death had fulfilled their wish. Their ashes had inseparably merged with each other's.
* * * * *
A WANDERER’S LUST
Romancing with the roads is a sin I have been committing since my childhood. My mother more frequently than often narrated to one and all that after learning my first steps, I used to walk the entire street of my village. After the division of Hindustan into Pakistan and Bharat orIndia, our family resettled in old Delhi. Once I walked from my house in Kassabpura to a destination never visited earlier by me. After hours of search, my father spotted me enjoying the famous “jalebies” of Dariba with a generous police officer in Kotwali (now a part of Gurdawara Sisganj)
After entering the teens, walking miles to ward off tensions was a sort of routine with me. Going 15 killometres from my home to BuddhaJayantiPark was a favourite Sunday pastime.I rode my first bicycle tothe QuatabMinar, Okhla and Agra in the very first month of acquisition. I drove my first scooter from Delhi toAmritsarto seek blessings of the Sikh gurus at the gurudawara Hari Mandir Sahib.
It was ordained that I should join my uncle’s ailing road transport business. I was rather unsuitable to be in such a profession. It requires a carefree facade but a very careful attitude and astute approach towards ever erupting problems. You face problems with every dawn and go back to your bed after negotiating a few. The next morning brings with it a new set to deal with. How I made a living out of it, is a different story for a different day. Here I must admit that I immensely enjoyed traveling long distances in the trucks.
In December 2000, I had a round trip of Rajasthan. We explored Bikaner, Jaisalmer, MountAbu, Ranthambore and Jaipur. With three of my friends, we travelled about 2100 kilometres. During the journey, one of them suggested to go up to Goa the next time. He even offered to lend hisMaruti 800 to facilitate the road trip. This was the most popular car running on Indian roads at that time; roadside service and repair were available everywhere for this car.
The programme was neither shelved nor did it take off. After a few years the Maruti 800 was sold out and the fate of the project was sealed.
In 2007, I was in Shimla with five friends. In the evening of a beautiful day, I declared that next year I would be going to Goa and further south in my car if I could find even a single person for company. Every one of my friends there agreed to join me but none brought it to pass after that.
Being 65 and having friends well past that, it appeared a far dream. Quite a few even thought it to be a sin. However I was determined to go through the trip because it was a seven-year itch for me. There were apprehensions that my physical faculties may desert me to undertake a long journey. It was earlier the better.
I persuaded and pacified my family to allow me to take this voyage with the assurance that a U turn would be taken at the first setback.
Jan 21, was fixed as the ‘D’ day. One by one, all but my childhood friend Darshi backed out. He also thought like me that it was now or never. At the last moment my long-time friend, Gopi also joined us. He was to accompany us only up toUdaipur: “Utna hi upkar samajh koi jitana sath nibha de”.
Finally, after a day’s delay, the long awaited romance began in the wee hours of January22, 2009.The D-day came earlier than anticipated and for me the journey started even a few hours earlier. Anxiety, apprehensions and excitement did not give me the luxury of a sound sleep on the preceding night but that did not prevent me from being behind the wheels exactly at the decided time of 6 a.m. My friend Prof. Dhawan, who lives in a house opposite the one I live in, was strolling in the street and waiting to wish me luck for my journey. My son and daughter-in-law too were there to see me off. I had to pick Darshi from his house in Ranibagh and Gopi was to meet us at a particular petrol pump at Dhaulakuan. Although Darshi and his wife Deepak were waiting outside their house, we could not hit the road before 7.13 am. Gopi was waiting at the petrol pump when we reached Dhaulakuan.
We were now on highway no. 8 and our car was embracing the smooth fascinating black beauty and was sliding over it. The trees and the green fields on both sides were running in opposite direction. Both of my friends have sons, who live in the USA and both unanimously agreed that this Indian highway was quite as good as what they had travelled on in the USA.
In-between interesting talk and gossip, we were heading towards our first destination, Ajmer. We decided to enjoy our packed homemade breakfast after two hours journey at a roadside Samrat Dhaba near Dharuhera, which served us hot tea. It also had clean toilets.
Gopi and Darshi knew each other through a common friend. They did not come across each other often and they were travelling together for the first time. It did not prevent them from getting intimate and soon they were talking warmly about their sons, their families and discussing all sorts of other topics. I was silent most of the time, concentrating on driving and negotiating the traffic.
I am not sure when their talk switched to sex and their sexual lives. Both have similar grievances about their sex-starved lives.
Between Jaipur and Dudu, Darshi asked to stop for lunch. He is very particular about the timing of his meals. I stopped at the first dhaba on our side of the road. After entering the dhaba, I found that a Muslim owned it. I revealed this fact to Gopi and Darshi. They said they had no objection and would not mind having food there itself. It was a surprise for me, as I know that Gopi is a Brahmin and has been very fond of making Hindu pilgrimages. It gave me immense pleasure to know that he is a secular person. He told me that he was not a religious man. Yet he had been going on Hindu pilgrimages. This he did only to give company to his wife. However, the Highway dhaba was reasonably neat and clean. The food was also delicious.
At 3.13, after a drive of 8 long hours, we checked in hotelOmniPalace on the Jaipur road in Ajmer. The room offered to us was small, but clean and tidy. The hotel has a beautiful hill in the backdrop giving it a scenic view. A non-functional small swimming pool was also there.
After enjoying tea and resting for an hour, we decided to explore the city.Autos, on sharing basis, are frequently available for different destinations in the city. We left our car at the hotel and opted for an auto to get the local feel. All types of people use this very convenient and efficient service.
The first stop was AnnaSagarLake. It is a large beautiful lake with scenic hills in the background. This gives a very soothing effect to the eyes. You can enjoy boating in the lake. There are two beautiful parks namely, Daulat Bagh and Subhash Bagh on the bank of the lake. There are also seven rain shelters. The architect Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built these engraved white marble structures in 1637 though the lake dates back to the 12th century. It is a great solace-giving place with natural beauty. The lake and the parks are just adjacent to the city. Large number of tourists and locals always frequent the place. An instinct took me to a good-looking girl standing under a shelter in a thoughtful stance. I approached her and asked her consolingly and showing concern why she was looking so sad. My blunt utterance took her aback. Her reply put me in a defensive state. She said, “I have been watching you for quite sometime and was wondering how handsome you must have been during your youth as you look so graceful and handsome even at this age.” I was stunned and was at a loss to find words to say anything. It was only after a few minutes that I could re-compose myself. I thanked her for her flattering comments and asked her about herself. She told me that her name was Alka Chaurasia. I stupidly asked her, “Aren’t Chaurasias paan-walas from Banaras?”She retorted back, “All Chaurasias are not paanwalas”. She proudly further told me that she was a fine arts student and had done her Masters in science. She also informed me that her mother was a senior lecturer in a college in Kota and her father was practicing medicine there. While we were talking, Darshi and Gopi were busy taking photographs of each other. Suddenly they rushed towards us and asked me about the girl. I told them that she is a new friend and requested Darshi to take my photograph with Alka. Darshi obliged. We all started talking with Alka. She told us about all the tourist spots in the city. While Darshi and Gopi were involved in conversation with Alka, I just walked away towards the lake. Soon I could feel that the pitch of their voices rose and Alka was hitting the roof (ceiling). I walked towards them. Gopi and Darshi were also coming towards me leaving Alka under the shelter. I asked them what the matter was. Darshi told me that they were asking Alka to join them for the evening and she did not like the idea. I felt ashamed at their stupid act and could not dare to look in the direction where that tall, beautiful, wide-eyed girl with magnificent personality was standing. Their overenthusiasm had spoiled the mood. I just walked out of the park in a huff and the two followed me.
It was Thursday and there was a great rush on the road to the Dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-Din-Chishti. All the Dargahs observe Thursday as a “pir” day. There were more women than men at that hour and there was beauty spread everywhere. The eyes of my friends brightened and their faces lit up with happiness and hope. I distanced myself from them and started moving towards Dargah. It was crowded with people from all walks and religions.
The Khwaja was from Persia and lived from 1192 till he died in 1233. Humayun the second Mughal king constructed the shrine and his son Akbar visited it regularly. It is said that he donated a largedegh (cauldron) to it.There is a common belief that a visit to the Dargah fulfils your wishes. I do not know what my friends wished there. I just wished for a problem-free tour.The intentions of the shopkeepers and khadims (priests) to fleece the devotees dismayed me.
Through a crowded and narrow street, we walked towards the railway station. Before returning to the hotel, Gopi and I took our dinner at a vegetarian dhaba, opposite the railway station. Darshi got some non-vegetarian snacks, as he wanted to enjoy the evening with drinks in the scenic lobby of the hotel. I wanted to rest as I was feeling extremely tired. Gopi and Darshi talked with each other. Soon the topic changed to girls, women and sex. After a few minutes, both of them left saying that they were going out for a stroll. I plunged into sleep knowing well that they had gone in search of some “maal” and would not be coming back early. They returned after midnight and silently lay down in their bed.
Darshi is an early riser and he got up at 5 a.m. sharp and went out of the room to puff a few cigarettes. He is a regular smoker but has the sense not to smoke in a room shared by someone else. Soon Gopi left the room to join him. Although I was awake, I remained in the bed until 6 a.m. I went outside to be with my friends. Gopi and Darshi were sitting in the lobby some fifty steps away from our room. They were talking about the last evening they had spent together. I heard them mentioning the name of Alka. Approaching them I asked, “How was your evening?” “It was fine but since you were not interested, it is a smoke room story for you,” Gopi replied. Disappointment was evident in his tone. “OK,” I said, “what about morning tea”. “I will get it,” Darshi said and got up.
Our tea session lasted for half-an-hour as Darshi and Gopi took three cups each. I was satisfied with the first cup. As none of us is a religious man, we decided that there was no sense in going to Pushkar. We agreed to skip that. Pushkar is 13 km from Ajmer. There is a lake and a Brahma temple near the lake. This is the only Brahma temple in the world. They say it is extremely beneficial if wife and husband take bath together in the lake. It appears to be a romantic idea though it is not quite so. Too many other people are around there taking the dip.
We left the hotel at 9 and moved towards Chittorgarh. We decided to enjoy our breakfast at some roadside dhaba. At about 10.30, near Nasirabad, we took our breakfast and got ourselves checked up by a doctor at the ambulance of National Highway Authority of India. It is a free service. Everything for everybody was reported normal.
New highways are very convenient but extremely unromantic. You do not see anything else but concrete and vehicles. The worst part is, as these highways are newly constructed or under construction, you do not see any greenery on either side resulting in the absence of even birds and animals. The moredisappointing part is that you miss the local touch and colours.
The highway between Ajmer and Chittorgarh is like that. In addition, there is quite a long stretch beforeChittorgarh that is under construction and it is very irritating to drive there.
On the way, I tried to assess the impact of a recent truckers’ strike. It affected most of the people connected with tuckers in one way or the other. The strike was partial and the general opinion was that it was a failure because the government did not budge. A petrol pump owner was very sarcastic about the whole thing. He told me that while the government has crushed the strike with force, still the police officers were collecting money from the tuck drivers for the surgery of the PM. It may not be true, but it is also a fact that truckers are often fleeced on many an excuse even flimsier than the one quoted above.
By 4 p.m., we were at Chittorgarh and checked in the newly constructed 3-floor hotel Shreejee near the railway station. It is a clean hotel with comfortable beds and good vegetarian food. Gopi left after taking tea and Darshi and I rested for a while. Darshi wanted to tell me about the evening he spent with Gopi at Ajmer. However, I told him that I had no interest in that and that he should not betray Gopi. Darshi moved to the balcony and called me to join him. A very fascinating view of the Chittorgarh railway station was available from there. Darshi has a great attraction for railways and stations. He showed his enthusiasm to visit the railway station.
There was no train at the station and it was deserted. Still Darshi clicked a few snaps there. We walked to the local tourist office nearby. There we came to know that in the evening there was a light and sound show at an open-air theatre in the Chittorgarh fort. We decided to witness that. When we returned to the hotel Gopi was already there after his survey of the town. He told us about it and confirmed about the light and sound program.
Gopi had brought some fruits from the market. He asked for a knife. I gave him my Swiss knife. After finishing with chopping of the fruits, Gopi jokingly said, “You gift this knife to me or I will steal it.” “If you are successful in stealing it, it is yours. It is a challenge,” I said. “I accept and if I am not successful, I will host a dinner for the two of you at the place of your choice.” “Gopi, I am with you. Together, we will win,” said Darshi. “If you two are in connivance, then I deserve two dinners,” I said laughingly. “That means the contest is on for the whole trip, even after Gopi leaves us?” asked Darshi. “Yes, no problem! I am game till we reach Delhi,” I replied. “The game starts now,” said Gopi and put the knife in his pocket. “You will have to steal it. It is robbing,” I protested. “He is right. We have to outwit him by stealing it,” said Darshi. Gopi returned the knife to me saying, “You can keep it for sometime before we steal it.” I put back the knife in my travel bag and said, “Your time starts now.” Gopi went out and Darshi went to ooze out in the bathroom. I took the knife out of the bag, put it in my jacket pocket, and joined Gopi in the lobby. Darshi came after fifteen minutes.
In the evening when we were going to witness the light and sound programme in the fort, we had to negotiate with many motorcycle riders. They were in the age group of 12 to 20. All of them were introducing themselves as guides. They wanted to attach themselves with us for the next day. They were ready to serve us for as little as Rs.10. The catch was that they got commission from the saris and handicrafts shop inside the fort.
Whenever and wherever you see water in Rajasthan, it fascinates you. Chittorgarh has a beautiful river flowing in the middle of the city. Water was flowing very slowly in the river called GambhbirRiver. Across the river about a kilometre at a height, there is the Chittorgarh fort. It is probably the biggest fort in Rajasthan but it is all in ruins except for the houses near the first gate. In all there are some 7 gates and you climbing in a zigzag way till you reach the magnificent victory- tower. Not only is this tower intact, you can even climb up if you are young enough to climb 167 steps. Near the tower, there is the Kumbha palace. In fact there is no palace; there are just walls and a ground which has been converted into an open air theatre.You can enjoy every evening extremely entertaining light and sound programme there. The history of the Chittorgarh fort and the beautiful queen Padmini is the theme of this show. It is a spectacle of the voices of Lata Mangeskar, Shahrukh Khan and many more musical sounds, sounds, songs and lights of many colours. In addition, you are enlightened about the invasions of Alla-ud-din Khilji and Akbar.... You also learn about the biggest “Johar”, an act of self-immolation by 13000 women and children when the men folks and soldiers got defeated in the war.
The fort was so fascinating and its history so interesting that we decided to visit it again before leaving for Udaipur the next day.
On the way, Darshi took a tandoori chicken to enjoy it with his evening drinks. We stayed at the dinning hall for dinner and Darshi went to our room upstairs for his drink. The food was delicious and you could have as many helpings as you desired. They served chhach and sweets too.
When we reached our room, Darshi had not yet finished with his drinks. He was enjoying his evening in the open air in the balcony from where he could view his fascination, the railway station. Gopi sat with him and they engaged in conversation. I took out my nightdress from my bag. The bag had gone through a check. It was evident from the stacking of the clothes.Darshi was on the job. I did not know if, it was before we left or if he searched my bag while we were in the dining room. I knew how I had to avoid the heist.
We left the hotel early at 8 a.m. and had breakfast at the tourism restaurant near Jaya Stambha (tower of victory). We hired a guide to avoid irritation. We promised to pay him Rs.100 only. You will be contacted constantly if you are seen walking around without one. The tourism department credits some guides. They charge you not less than Rs. 500. The fort is in ruins; still it is a magnificent attraction of Chittorgarh. There are ruins of palaces, lakes and ponds. A few temples are also there. They say these are not the originals but have been restored. The most famous one is the Sammideshwar temple. One of the other temples is MiraTemple.
While we were at this temple, I saw a poor woman selling pictures. Although we had our camera and got a few photos of our own, I bought some from the old woman. While I was there, an attractive woman in denim jeans and jacket came towards me and asked, “Are these pictures worth buying?” “The idea is not the quality or utility of the pictures, but helping the poor woman,” I said. “There can be no better photograph than you standing before the temple,” I continued. “Come on uncle, let us stand together and make it more interesting,” the beautiful woman said sportingly. I requested Darshi to take a snap and he obliged. She clicked all the three of us with her camera. We exchanged introductions.
She was Srabanty and she was from Gurgaon, near Delhi. She had come with her baby and husband along with a few friends in tow. She promised to visit me in Delhi.
By 1 p.m., we were able to leave for Udaipur. Although the distance between Chittorgarh and Udaipur is only 140 km, we could reach Udaipur by 4.30 p.m. Wherever the highway is under construction, it takes a lot of time even to negotiate a short distance. First, we went inside the city, but the traffic was so heavy and the streets were so narrow that it was not easy to find parking for the car. We decided to move outside the city. We were able to find the accommodation in the house of a transporter. He gave us a room with three beds but there was no facility for breakfast or food. He lived with his two sons and their families. They were very simple people. The food was available just half a km from the house. It was sunset so we decided to settle down for the night. Darshi as per his routine sent the son of the owner to fetch him a chicken and a quarter of his favouriteold monk rum and refused to move from there. Gopi and I went to the nearby restaurant and had our dinner there. We did not forget to bring “rasmalai” for Darshi. After having his drinks, Darshi talks a lot and when nobody is available or not interested to talk, he talks on the phone to his friends, family and relatives. The evening drink gives him lot of energy and he talks quite enthusiastically on phone. Usually he is a very sober man and does not talk much.
After a comfortable sleep, day dawned for us at 7 a.m. We decided to go the city by auto. As our last day’s experience was not good about the traffic in the city. We went to the FatehSagarLake first. There are quite a few restaurants on the banks of the lake but we chose the Lakeview Restaurant. It is on a height and gives a beautiful view of the lake and the NehruPark. We enjoyed stuffed paranthas with curd there.
You can visit the Nehru garden only by boat. There are two types of boat services—one takes you directly to the garden and the other service takes you around the lake.We took the first service, but it is better to take the second one because the boat journey is enjoyable and you get a better view of the lake. However, if you take the first one, you save Rs. 20 per person.
When we were in the boat, my phone buzzed “Uncle, I have just seen you riding the boat. You were looking great.” It was girl’s voice and I could not recognize her. I asked, “Who are you?” “Tum to thehre pardesi, pyar kya nibhaoge” the musical words were pouring into my ears. As I could not place her, I just kept mum for a few seconds when the voice came, “Uncle! I am Srabanty.” I was pleasantly surprised. Generally, we meet people at tourist spots, get friendly, exchange telephone numbers, but seldom call each other again. “Where are you?” I enquired. “We have just left the lake and are going to ‘Sehelion ki Bari’ and then to the museum,” Srabanty announced. “I will try to catch you somewhere and thanks for calling,” I said and disconnected the phone.
The Nehru garden is very beautiful and well maintained. Whenever you see water and greenery in Rajasthan, you feel very good as you expect to see only sand or dry hills there. In the Nehru garden, you see greenery everywhere. There are quite a few fruit trees. There we could see ‘bel’ and other fruits on some trees. You do not wish to leave the place. Udaipur has many tourist spots and it was our first one, so we left after half-an-hour.
The Village, 3 kilomtres from the old city, is an artificially created rural scene. There you can enjoy camel and horse rides. A restaurant here serves thali for 70, 100 & 120 rupees, each depending upon the number of dishes you choose. The food is delicious and chhach is very satisfying. There are shops of traditional clothes and handicrafts.Rajasthani folk dances and music entertain you. It is a good experience in good ambience.
Next, we went to the market.Gopi wanted to buy some wooden toys for his two-year oldgranddaughter. Udaipur is famous for wooden toys, wooden showpieces, and utility items. After that, we visited the famous PicholaLake. It is in a crowded area and you cannot imagine that you are approaching a lake until you reach it. The luxurious LakePalace hotel is standing in the centre of the lake. Motor boats take you to the hotel. The white coloured structures look beautiful in the water. Udaipur has more than seven small and big lakes that justify it being famous as a city of lakes and gardens.
We returned to our room, as Gopi was to catch the train back home. We all had fruits in the room. I could feel that Gopi and Darshi were not enjoying the fruits. Their eyes were on the big Swiss knife. I said, “Hard luck Gopi! You can at least wish luck to Darshi and hope that he will be able to filch the knife.” “I certainly wish him best of luck, but you are too vigilant,” said Gopi. There was sign of disappointment in his voice. “To give a fair chance to Darshi on our onward journey, I will leave the knife in the room where we stay and not carry it with me outside,” I said. Darshi said,” I think now you can take your knife as good as stolen. By the way, why are you so possessive about the knife?” “I can only wish you best of luck on your good malignedendeavour. This is a 25-attachmentsknife, it is a gift given to me by a very dear friend. I rate it as one of the most treasured memorabilia I have. I will try everything to foil your heist.” “I clearly see my way to accomplish the challenging job entrusted to me by Gopi,” said Darshi. We had a hearty laugh.
After seeing Gopi off, we were sombre. Gopi is such a vibrant and lively person that he lightens the dullest moments. Engrossed in our thoughts, we did not talk with each other and strolled back to our room. I decided to skip dinner. Gopi asked Raja, the son of the house owner, to bring him half-tandoori chicken and a quarter of his favourite Old Monk rum. After gulping two pegs, Darshiexclaimed, “Let us go back to Delhi. It will be very boring without Gopi.” I kept quiet. I had nothing better to say.
The Republic Day
The advantage with Darshi is that he is an early riser. He needs to take three to four turns at tea after that. Still, we were ready to move out of Udaipur even before the watch struck eight. We were staying at the outskirts of Udaipur, so we hit the highway in less than ten minutes. The highway up to Ahmedabad is as excellent as any other highway anywhere in the world. Our car was gliding through the highway to Ahmedabad. Silently, we were passing through the beautiful Aravalli range of hills. Darshi is not a great talker and with age he has developed words-munching habit. We were silent because we were badly missing Gopi and were thinking of him and the enjoyable time we spent together. Gopi is a very articulate talker and has immense general knowledge. He can talk on any subject or topic under the sun and his talk is always informative and authentic. He enlivened up every moment of our journey until he left us at Udaipur.
Darshi broke the ice as he felt the need for breakfast. He is very particular about the timings of his breakfast, lunch and dinner. He does not take anything in-between and is satisfied with his usual quota of three pegs and non-vegetarian snacks for dinner. He is very active and punctual but from the start of the trip, he was having a severe back problem and that was hindering his movements largely. He was in pain but kept his spirits up and decided to move on. We halted at Himmat Nagar for breakfast. The highway passes through this industrial town. We took breakfast at a very big restaurant, namely Mishtaan Bhandar. It had more than 200 seats and was very neat and clean. Idli-vada served to us was very delicious.
While we were having breakfast, I received a call from Tsering from Goa. Tsering is a member of my extended family in Katmandu. We maintain a relation which is nearer to the one between a father and a son. He was in Goa with his immediate family and wanted us to join them at the earliest, as he was to leave Goa on 1st of Feb. I promised him to be as fast as practically feasible. The call gave impetus to our action and we wished to reach Goa as early as possible. It was by then evident to me that we needed some more company to enjoy our trip fully and there was a whole family of four waiting for us in Goa.
With renewed energy, I drove through Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Baroda Expressway and then really bad, under construction road between Baroda and Surat.The Baroda Expressway is as good as you may expect and while driving you feel as if you are sailing on water. The roads between Baroda and Surat were the worst we negotiated until that stretch of our journey. Flyovers, rail overbridges and roads—altogether are under construction and take a toll of your patience, energy and reflexes. Finally, we stopped at Navasari, a small town some 250 kms shy of Mumbai
Navasari is about 20 km from Dandi, the place from where Bapu started his famous Dandi March. The sea is not far from this town. We could find only two hotels in Navasari. The first one, Samrat, had only one unoccupied room, but the owner was sleeping in it and the receptionist would dare not wake him up to accommodate us. So we moved to Alfa hotel. It had a big restaurant on the ground floor. Rooms were available on the first and the second floors. A Muslim owns the hotel. The receptionist was an Indian beauty. She spoke beautiful English. Her name was Sunaina. It was a pleasant surprise to find a Hindu girl working at a hotel owned by a Mohammedan. Post-Godhra, it is difficult to imagine that such cordial relations still exist. The girl was very helpful and allotted us a room on the first floor. The room was airy with a balcony and the charges were only rupees four hundred for the night.
The call from Tsering and the distance we were away from Delhi gave a new direction to our thoughts. However, it did not mean that I had forgotten Gopi. I was still missing him. Thinking of him gave me a strange feeling, which was definitely not good. After taking dinner, I rang up my friend Rohit Jugraj, a film director in Mumbai. He has to his credit one flop, Ram Gopal’s “James” and one average film “Superstar”.His wife, a doctor, was working in a Delhi hospital. I had learnt that she hadtaken upa job in Mumbai, and had started living with her very handsome husband. Many a time, I wonder why Rohit decided to become a director. He could have easily run away with much more accolade and success as an actor. When he responded to my call, I asked him if he and his wife Priyanka were in position to accompany us to Goa. He declined my offer, citing the plea that his father-in-law was visiting them and he had an important meeting with famous duo of producers, Abbas Mastan. I felt sad but could not do anything. I felt lonely. Darshi had come back after his drinks and dinner. He was busy enjoying smoking in the balcony. He is always considerate not to smoke in the room. I just went down to change my mood. No sooner did I come down than it dawned to me that I had done the right thing. There I could see polite Sunaina talking to two other workers of the hotel. They were talking in Gujarati. I would have easily believed that they were all of the same religion had I not asked a worker earlier. He had told me that except Sunaina, all other staff members were Muslims. Language and dress link us to a particular community irrespective of our beliefs and religion. I could realize the power of regional language. It unites people. I developed a good conversation with Sunaina. She told me that she never felt that she was from a different religion. She always felt that they all were Gujaratis first and then Muslims or Hindus. How nice it would be if every Indian felt that he was just and foremost an Indian, irrespective of his caste or creed! Sunaina’s duty was up to 10 pm. She excused herself and left. I returned to my room. Darshi was already enjoying his dreams.
When I was talking to Tsering he was very excited at the thought of having us with him and asked me to make it up to Kolhapur by evening, in order to reach Goa by noon the next day. It was a tall order. The distance was more than 600 kilometres. It was stupidity at its worst. At 65, after sleeping for 6 hours, driving through the day for 600 kilometres before sun set was asking too much. It was simple madness.Courtesy Darshi, we had a head start on the entire tour. We did not waste any time and started early at 5.30 a.m. It was quite dark and the daybreak was an hour away.
Driving from Navasari, we crossed through Chikli 29 kms, Valsad 22 kms, Pardi 10 kms, and Kasakhurd 10 kms before we had our breakfast at a dhaba. It was the first instance when we found that there was no electricity at the dhaba. Otherwise we specifically noted that the electricity was not missing anywhere in our journey of about 1400 kms. From Manor, we took a bypass to Bhivandi and Thana. From Thana, we directly landed at Pune, by bypassing Mumbai.Travelling through Mumbai would have ruined most of the day. Moreover, Rohit declined to accompany us and I was not much interested in wasting time in the concrete jungle and was eager to be with the Sherpa family in Goa at the earliest.
The Expressway to Pune is the most scenic of all. Passing through tunnels is a magical experience. Moving through Khandala and Lonavala is naturally delightful. Pune is a crowded city and a lot of development is going on, but the ride through the highway is surprisingly pleasant and smooth. The hoardings along the highway rightly pronounce that that it is a pride project of Maharashtra Government. When the watch struck seven, we were at Kolhapur. I stopped the car on the roadside and sent Darshi to enquire in the hotel about the availability of a room. It was dark and there were no lights outside. After 15 minutes, Darshi came back. He asked me to move on. He appeared to be very furious. After moving for a few minutes, I asked if no rooms were available. He replied, “The receptionist was a stupid fellow.” “What happened?” I asked. Darshi replied me angrily, “He asked me if I was alone or with family and when I said it was a family, he said he would give the room at 11.00 p.m.He told me that the police might come. Is it not stupidity? I think the receptionist was insane or drunk”. I could understand why Darshi could not understand that the receptionist thought that Darshi wanted to spend a few hours only. He could not see me sitting in the car and thought that there was some woman in the car. Nevertheless, I did not elaborate it, as I did not want to ignite the lust of my friend. We found a good accommodation in the Opael Hotel in the city. Luckily, we could get a room with a balcony. Darshi forgot the stupidity of the receptionist of the Prince hotel and soon he was enjoying his drink and tandoori chicken. As usual, I slept while Darshi was on his mobile phone, talking to his sister-in-law.
Next morning, we were ready to leave by 8. Driving 60 kms to Sarkeshwar, on the highway, we took right turn for Goa. It was a single road but was scenic and without any potholes. Both sides were lined with trees and it was green everywhere. Occasionally, you could see a bus coming from the opposite direction. It was not a welcome thing because taking over or negotiating a bus coming from the opposite side was not easy. We passed through beautiful places namely Gandhiganai 17kms, Ajra 20kms, and Amboli 32kms.Amboli is a cool place.The temperature is quite low here even in summers. The Kamats are constructing a hotel there, although the tariff of the hotel is quite high for a place like that. We had our breakfast in its beautiful restaurant. The next station was Savantvadi. The town is on the Mumbai- Goa railway line. It has a railway station, probably the last station in Maharashtra. After travelling some 205 kms from Kolhapur, we crossed a bridge and we were in a Penim, the first destination in North Goa.
Enter Goa and you will find water bodies and greenery everywhere. You cross the TerikhRiver and than you witness the most romantic scene of the sea embracing the stunning river in to her arms on your right. The national high-way number 17 from Mumbai also enters Goa and the kilometre stone shows Panaji, the capital of Goa to be just 45 kilometres from there. However, Panaji was not our destination. We enquired about the way to the market of Penim from a passer-by and were rightly directed and reached there in 5 minutes. It was a few minutes before Tsering and his family reached there in a maroon coloured Maruti 800. Tsering is a smart person. He had hired a car in Goa on a daily basis. I had heard that motorbikes and scooters are available on hire in Goa, but that one can hire a car too in Goa was news to me. After showing his pleasure and welcoming us in Goa, he asked us to follow his car. Uma, his daughter, did not appear in good spirits to me. Tenzin, Tsering’s vivacious, tall and loving wife, told us that Uma was having some infections and was running fever and having stomach ache. Holidays are the worst time to fall ill as not only you do not enjoy the holidays but also months later you forget all about the holidays and remember only your illness. In 15 minutes, we were at Ivan’s guesthouse at Arambol beach. It was a three storiedbuilding having rooms with attached bathrooms. We got our room on the 1st floor. Tsering had hired two rooms on the 2nd floor. Besides Ivon’s guesthouse, there were other guesthouses all around in plenty. There were coconut trees all over the place. It was sandy everywhere. The rentals here depend on the number of tourists at a particular time and due to 26/11, this season the number of tourists was very low. Mostly, there were foreigners. I could not find any other Indian among the tourists there. The Arambol beach is an exotic place. It has foreigners, local people (fishermen) and coconut trees, all mingled finely with each other. It is a two-kilometre long beach, quaint, quiet and very peaceful. The sea hardly stretches its limits. You can feel people enjoying the atmosphere. Tourists, especially foreigners, could be seen enjoying all sorts of activities: yoga, exercises, walking, cycling, sunbathing and swimming. The Times before dawn and dusk are very interesting. You can feast your eyes on topless beauties aplenty and with some luck, get the views of your wildest imaginations. For locals, the day starts much before sunrise. The men go for fishing and the women are busy in cleaning the beach and other places.
After having a delicious Chinese lunch and resting for an hour or two, we could not resist the temptation of going to the sea, which was just 100 yards away from our hotel. It was early evening and there was hardly anybody on the beach. The sea gave amagnanimous view. Water approached the shore like a giant wall and then subsided in an abject surrender. This mesmerizing view of building a wall of water and its subsequent fall is so fascinating that you never get tired of watching it. We were there for almost two hours and when we returned the lights were already on.After having an Indian dinner at Ivan’s restaurant, we retired early, yet got up late in the morning.
Uma had not recovered and Darshi and I were not yet feeling very good after the long journey. We rested for the day except for the occasional visits to the sea. Floating on the waves with the help of an inflated tube is great fun if you are not at good terms with the art of swimming.Meanwhile, Darshi went to a wine shop to buy a bottle of his favourite drink. He did not enjoy the drink Tsering bought for him the previous day. I went around and talked with all sorts of people. Everyone was very forthcoming to talk. I met a couple from Spain who spent most of their time in Goa. The lady taught music and the man was an artist. They told me that they were thinking of buying a house in Goa. They liked the people and atmosphere in Goa. I also chatted for some time with a Nepali. He told me that he was working there as a waiter. He wanted to go back to Nepal but might not be able to do so as the owner of the restaurant would not relieve him before the end of the season. He also told me that huts were available for a rent as low as Rs.300. Tenzin had told me that we would have to pay Rs. 650 for the room. The facilities in huts and the room were the same. I thought to discuss this with Tenzin.
Next day after my morning walk, I was just chatting with the music lady when I saw an exceptionally gorgeous girl in the hut opposite to the one occupied by the Spanish couple. The girl had a universally acknowledgeable beautiful face, dove-like eyes and fresh skin. She was almost 20. She was extremely attractive and I could not check myself from going to her. She was sitting on a chair in the veranda of her hut. She was wearing a short skirt and a sleeveless top and was sitting cross-legged giving a delightful exposure. I was encouraged by her welcome smile and greeted her with a smile. I grabbed the only other chair available and made myself comfortable. I gave my introduction and waited for her to speak. She told me that her name was “Nina” and she was a Russian. She worked as a desk manager in a hotel in a town called Samara, some 70 kms away from the capital city of Moscow. She was a chemistry graduate like me and we struck common chord in a jiffy. We talked about our families, interests and other things till a young boy in twenties came clad in a swim short. He sat on the floor. Nina said, “Meet my friend Alex.” I was not enthusiastic to know about Alex. I realized that in that short span I had become possessive of Nina and wanted her undivided attention. This was strange but a pleasant thought. Soon I overcame my thoughts and started talking to Alex and enquiring about him. He worked as an executive in the same city as Nina in Russia. They made an attractive couple. I asked them if they were going to marry. Alex was very forthright and said that he was not thinking of marriage yet. I could see that Nina was emotional about him but Alex was a practical attractive young man. Suddenly, I thought of mySwiss knife. In the rush of things and concentrating on reaching Goa at the earliest, I had forgotten about my precious possession, which needed a constant vigil to guard it, from heist by the enemy. The thought disturbed me and I left for my room, but not before inviting them to come to my room for tea in the evening. Darshi was in the bathroom. I hurriedly went for the knife. I was relieved to find it safe at the place where I had hidden it. I thought due to tiredness and hectic schedule, Darshi would not have tried even to look for the knife. However, I was wrong. Darshi came out of the bathroom and said, “I have a confession to make.” I did not say anything. He continued after a pause, “I tried at Navasari. Kolhapur and even here, but I could not find the knife. Are you carrying it on your person?” “No, as per my word, I will not carry it with me outside our abode. Don’t lose heart, you still have many days,” I said to him. After a pause Darshi said, “The other thing is that I am missing Gopi. You are not game for the evening game. We did not succeed in Ajmer, Chittor and Udaipur, but at least we tried while Gopi was with me.” I had nothing better or helpful to say, so I kept mum.
Uma was to have an injection so I accompanied the Sherpa family after we had finished our breakfast. The doctor was some two km from the place we were staying. I got my blood pressure checked by the doctor. The reading was normal.
After that, we left for the capital city of Panaji, which is some 35 kms from Arambol. Driving on NH 17 through Mapusa and crossing the bridge over Ouren creek, you enter Panaji. Panaji is a beautiful city. After driving through the city, we parked our car near the Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It is a beautiful church, very brightly whitewashed. We walked through the square around the municipal gardens and decided to have lunch at the Kamath’s. They serve delicious vegetarian Indian food.
When we came out of the Kamath’s after having lunch, I had a pleasant surprise. I saw Nina and Alex strolling in the verandah. Our eyes met and we moved towards each other. I introduced Nina and Alex to the rest of the people. After some routine talk, we agreed that they would meet us at the Municipal garden at 3 p.m. They had come by bus so I offered them a lift back to Arambol, which they gratefully accepted. The local bus service is not that comfortable. Every one of us, except Darshi, went for shopping. Darshi had terrible backache and was not able to move much. He sat in the garden. Most of us returned to the garden at 3 p.m. Nina and Alex joined us immediately after. We showed our shopping to each other. Tenzin liked my shopping and wanted to buy some similar things. I told her about the shop from where I have purchased those things. She left and all others stayed back and chatted.
Nina is an innocent girl. I jokingly asked her to invite me whenever she married. She promised to do that. I even pretended to read her palm. I predicted that she would be a married woman by the end of the year. Alex said, ‘that is a hell of a time. She is in a big hurry to marry”. Niña started pushing and slapping Alex. We all laughed.
We returned to Arambol at 5 p.m. When it was dark at about 7 p.m., Nina and Alex came to us for tea. They brought cake and sweets for us. We had tea together. During the talk over tea, they told me that they had their return flight from Mumbai on the 18th. I asked them to accompany us to Delhi and from there they could go to Mumbai to catch the flight. They told me that they would consider it and tell us by next day. We were to leave the day after. After being with us two for an hour, they left. I said to Darshi, “I wish Nina to accompany us to Delhi.” “I have no objection but what about Alex?” I could see lewdness in his eyes. “There are always thorns with flowers,” I said jokingly. Darshi went into his thoughts. I could not read them. When Tsering’s family returned after visiting the doctor, I propped up this issue. Tenzin had no objection but she did not support me enthusiastically. Tsering said, “You may get into some problem Uncle, you do not know them a bit.” Darshi supported him and said, “They may be carrying drugs. These foreigners are notorious for these things.” “They are innocent people, moreover I have taken their home addresses and we can always check their passports,” I retorted. “Why do you want to take“panga”?” said Darshi. “You don’t talk much; you enjoy your smoke and drink most of the time. I am feeling bored. What is the harm if I get some enjoyment in their company?” There were hints of anger and frustration in my voice. “I think this is not worth it and definitely not needed. Moreover, you are to visit some friends and relatives on the way. This will put you in an embarrassing position,” Tsering finished the argument. Tenzin left silently to her room on the second floor. I could see that she was also siding with Darshi and Tsering. I reluctantly agreed to Darshi’s wish. Later I refused to go for dinner. I was not feeling good. Was it my cupidity?
In the morning when I woke up, Darshi was not there. When he returned, he told me that he was sitting with Lal Bahadur, the Nepali waiter who was working at Ivan’s guesthouse. I had met him earlier. He was not happy there and wanted to go back home. He was only waiting to get his dues cleared. After an hour, the Nepali came again. They left together. When Darshi returned alone after half-an-hour, he did not talk, but he appeared to be happy and somewhat satisfied as if he had achieved something. I asked him for a cup of tea. He nodded and started making tea. When we were sipping tea, Tsering came. He said, “Good Morning Uncle.” “Good Morning,” I returned his greetings and continued, “What is the agenda for today?” “We will spend the forenoon in our rooms and at nearby Arambol beach. After that, we will have lunch at Double-Dutch. And from there we will go to Aynne beach, Calangyute beach and Baga beach and on our way back would have dinner in Mapusa.” I immediately said, “That is very nice and exciting.” It suited me, as I wanted to be away from Arambol as I was gathering courage to face and say no to Nina. I was reluctant to go to the sea after breakfast. I did not want to face Nina as her hut was on the way to the sea. In fact, it was the last hut before the beach started. However, as all were going to the beach, I too accompanied them. Luckily or not, Nina’s hut was locked from out-side and strangely, I did not feel relieved. I felt disappointed at not seeing her lovely face.
We enjoyed ourselves at the sea, with its waves, sand and swimming until 1.30 and then came back to our respective rooms. We were at Double Dutch for lunch. We ordered some cakes, pastries and coffee. Double Dutch has a rustic look, but it is a high-end restaurant, which serves you many international dishes.
When we were approaching the Calangyute beach through a very crowded road, we saw a topless foreigner coming from the beach side. we felt very bad. It is acceptable to show your assets at less crowded beaches but to walk like that on a crowded road leaves a bad taste in the mouth. At 5.30, we were at beach, the most famous and crowded beach of Goa. It has a big market selling all sorts of tourists’ lures and attractions. Tenzin helped me to buy some gifts for my friends back home. I sat on a two feet high wall at the beginning of the beach. A woman in her fifties joined me. She was Parmeshwari. She was from Pune. She had come there with her sister. She told me that she had had a surgery for the removal of her uterus. She was having pain. It was very uncomfortable for her to walk. She also told me that her husband was a tailor in Pune and she had a son and a daughter. Both were married. I wonder why she told me all this. Probably, she wanted a vent for her feelings of pain and could not find another listener. A large crowd had gathered at the beach to enjoy the beautiful spectacle of sunset. Everybody tried to capture the splendour in his or her eyes, mind and cameras. Practically everybody with a camera was shooting the last sun of the day. By 7.30, it was dark at the beach and we left the place.
On the way, we had dinner at Ramlabai Bar & Restaurant, Mapusa. It is aGoan food eatery. The fish malai and fried fish were simply out of this world. We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner and reached Arambol by 10.30 pm. The Nepali waiter was strolling outside our guesthouse. Darshi motioned to him as if asking him to wait. The Nepali might have been waiting to bring whiskey for Darshi to earn some tip. Darshi changed his clothes and asked me if I would like to go for a stroll. It was surprising as Darshi’s back was not okay. However, I was in no mood to oblige him. My faculties were exhausted for the day, I was dying to hit the bed, and that is what exactly I did.
In the morning at about 6, Darshi woke me up. He had prepared tea. Over the tea, he calmly started the conversation. “The Nepali has duped me of Rs. 10,000.” He further added, “It was lure of white skin which forced me to make a fool out of myself.” He went on, “The piece was so frigid that I could not even enter.” “What is Nepali’s fault in that?” I asked. “He knew everything. He just gave a thousand rupees to the old lady and pocketed the rest of the money himself and has left the place for good in the night itself.” “Oh I see. But for you it is just 200 dollars,” I tried to lighten up the atmosphere. “My dear, it is not the money, it is the feeling of guilt and getting cheated. My lust has let me down,” Darshi said in a philosophical manner. “I think it is the feeling of getting cheated by an illiterate person which is killing you,” I said. “You are right. The other lesson I have learnt is that complexion and beauty have nothing to do with enjoyment in bed”, Darshi concluded the conversation.I hurriedly took a bath, got ready and left. I could not have imagined leaving Arambol without meeting Nina. I reached her hut. The door was ajar and I pushed it and it gave in as it was not bolted from inside. Nina was sleeping in the bed. I was startled as she was sleeping topless and there was no sign of Alex. I backed off silently and closed the door. “Oh! Come in,” Nina called from inside. I waited for a few seconds to allow her to put on something, knocked on the door and entered. She was in the same state as I had seen a few seconds earlier. She motioned me towards a red plastic chair. I made myself comfortable in the chair. She got up and sat there on the bed facing me. Her firm, rounded, well built and big boobs with baby-pink nipples were challenging me. They were so beautifully compact that no support was required. The blue coloured support was lying abandoned on the side table. Probably, no male, however old he may be, can feel at ease in these circumstances. “Alex is not willing to accompany you. He says that it could be very hot on the way to Delhi.” Nina’s words were extremely relieving for me and suddenly I felt very comfortable. I felt extremely relieved and then it did not matter in which state she was. We started talking. She told me many things about her, her family, her job and even her earnings. She was from an ordinary family, and had just adequate income. She promised that she would always remain in touch with me. I asked her to be my guest on her next visit to India. She told me that Alex had gone to the sea to swim. After half-an-hour of pleasant chatting, I took her permission to leave. She insisted for some more time, but I knew that Tsering or Darshi may be searching for me and may come there sooner than expected.
Nina grabbed a red towel, put that before her assets and came out of the hut to see me off. She had beautiful, even muscular legs. She had a marvelous figure. There was not a pinch of extra fat anywhere. A passerby was going towards the sea. I asked Nina if she would mind a photograph with me. She not only obliged me but also struck a romantic pose by leaning towards me and demurely closing her eyes. She was definitely in love. I had no time to find out with whom. It could be Alex or someone back home. I could see that she was rubbing off these feeling of love on lucky me too. I told her that I would be going towards the sea to look for Alex, and left.
Alex met me on the way; he was coming back after his morning swim. We entered the hut, Nina was again in the bed, but this time she had put on her blue bra. She got up. Alex offered me tea, but I politely refused, as I did not want others back in the hotel to wait for me. We took another round of photographs. . I said goodbye to them and wanted to leave. Just then, Nina came towards me and put her lips on mine for a soft kiss. I could not stand there anymore and left, feeling and enjoying Nina’s fragrance.
My party was about to leave. I saw Darshi trying to close my attaché case. “Lust and covetousness, both are sins, my friend, and you have been let down by both,” I said. Darshi replied, “We are still to cover 2500 kms before we end this mission,” “Lage Raho Munna Bhai!” I said and both of us had a hearty laugh. We left at 10.30 a.m. After an hour, we had breakfast at Navtara. There I met my young friend, Rati. I had finished my breakfast but Rati was not allowing her parents to take theirs. Therefore, I picked her up and took her outside the restaurant. She was just two years old. Strangely, she did not cry and was happy with me. Maybe, I resembled her grandfather.
Along the coast, we travelled some 200 kms and entered Karnataka. The Karnataka beaches are also very beautiful. At some places, the sea had been able to wet the road we were travelling on.
We took a left turn at Sadashivgarh leaving NH 17 for Idgundi & Yellapur. At Yellapur, we again took a left turn and after travelling more than 300 kilometres from Arambol, we reached Mundgod at 6 p.m... Travelling through some of the poorest inhabitations of Karnataka, you witness the magnificence of Tibetan monasteries in Mundgod. You are wonder struck by the large, beautiful structure of so many monasteries around you. Everywhere you could see hordes of monks wearing their traditional red dress. The biggest of all the monasteries is the Dreping Loseling Monastery. The XIV Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso inaugurated it on January 2008. Five thousand (5000) monks can pray at a time in this monastery.
A distant relative of Tsering, Geshe Lobsang Samten, received us very warmly. Geshe was a teaching Professor at DrepungLoselingUniversity, Mundgod. Women cannot stay there with the monks, so Uma and Tenzin had to stay in a guesthouse some distance away. It is another thing that the accommodation at the guesthouse was more comfortable and had modern toilets.
There are some 10-15 monasteries for 9000 monks. Some distance away, there are four Tibetan camps. Every family has a plot of up to 500 yards for a house and a kitchen garden. Ever since 1959, they are living there with the hope of going back to Tibet someday. These colonies are not like slum colonies in our cities. They are quite clean, green and peaceful.
The monasteries are peaceful, magnificent, kept spotless clean and maintained very well. One gets so much solace that one never desires to leave the place. Moreover, the monks and students served us very well. All of them were very disciplined, calm, satisfied and happy to be there.
I visited all the monasteries there with the Sherpa family. They prayed there and donated generously. They also distributed money among the monks.
After two nights of very comfortable stay there, we left Mundgod on Feb. 3at 9, but not before we had a heavy breakfast. We were also given food for the journey. The food was properly packed. We were given a warm send off and a flag was hoisted on our car to spell away bad spirits. Tsering’s family was to board the train at Hubli. Hubli is 45 km from Mundgod. We reached the railway station at 12 noon. Hubli is a rail-junction for Bangalore, Goa & Mumbai. It is a prosperous business city.
Travelling throughBelgaum, we reached Sarkeshwar at 2. Sarkeshwar was the place from where we took the turn for our up journey to Goa. Then, it was the beaten track till we halted and checked in Horizon hotel, some 45 kms before Pune. The place we stayed in is a small town called Shinwal. In my own tiredness and pre-occupation with driving long distance, I could not notice that my dear friend Darshi was practically inactive after 6 and could come to action only when he had gulped two or three pegs. He ordered the waiter to bring him non-vegetariansnacks to enjoy with the evening drinks. I went out to the nearby dhaba to have my dinner. The hotel did not serve anything as the kitchen and most part of the hotel was under renovation. At the dhaba, I met a truck driver who had lost both his legs in an accident. The amazingJoginder Singh was driving a 20-tonner truck with artificial legs. My hats are off to the tremendous courage of the man.
We started early next morning. My enquiries at a dhaba revealed that we should avoid crowded Pune and go directly to Harapsar from there. We travelled through the beautiful scenic villages and rural Maharashtra (Sasvad & Divadhar) before we reached the extremely crowded town of Harapsar. The traffic situation had worsened due to the developmental work going on in the town. It took us almost 45 minutes to cross the city before we were on the state highway to Ahmednagar and Aurangabad.
Once out of Harapsar you are on sail. There is no stopping till you are on the outskirts of the city of Aurangabad. You do not need to enter Aurangabad, if you are aiming Ajanta and Ellora as we were. On the way to Aurangabad, you pass through Ahmednagar and can see a whitekilometre-stone showing Shirdi to be just 79 km away from there. While we were on our way to Ellora caves, I received a call from my friend Dr. Chauhan. He insisted upon me to include Bhopal in our journey and I agreed to do so. He had been pressing me to visit Bhopal ever since he and his wife moved to that place.
We reached Ellora at 5 p.m. and checked in Kailash Hotel. It is a beautiful, scenic and spacious place. The blocks of rooms and huts are scattered in the hills. The atmosphere is very clean and romantic. But I was with Darshi so there was no question of any romance as he was already dying for his drops. However, God is great and I was surprised to find that my neighbour in the hotel was one Nicholas from Switzerland. In her twenties, medium height, slim, oval face, Nicholas was very lively and talkative. She was there for the night and was to leave for Goa the next day. I told her about my experiences in Goa and gave her addresses of some hotels. Soon we were joined by her brother. He was also a sport and it was a memorable evening I spent withthem. I had some fruits with me, I gave these to them. They accepted gratefully. Darshi is not interested in fruits. He rather prefers their fine extracts.
Darshi was in no mood to stir out of the room. So I moved out of the hotel. There was a row of dhabas on the road opposite to Kailash hotel. I enjoyed my dinner at Milan dhaba. I also ordered a bottle of Thumbs-up to copy Darshi and had my drinking urge fulfilled. I got packed scrambled eggs for Darshi. Nicholas had gone inside her room and I was extremely tired. I took my bath and retired for the day before it was 8.30 p.m.
I must admit that to describe, to delineate or to descry Ellora would be an unsuccessful effort by me. It would be impossible for words to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of Ellora. I always feel that a black beauty with other equal features always scores over a white one. Marvels had been carved out of the blackish hills merely by hands and hand-tools. These caves symbolize three different religious sculptures. There are the Buddha sculptures, which are on the right side of the entry. (Cave no. 17-29) These caves contain mainly the statues of the Buddha but there are some carvings of striking and exciting poses. They say that these were to recreate interest in regeneration as people had become so religious that they lost interest in sex. On the left of the entry gate, about 1 km away, there are Jain temples in caves no. 30, 31 and 32. However, the most beautiful and attractive are the Hindu temple of Lord Shiva and other caves (number 1 to 16) in the centre just in front of you when you enter through the main entrance.If you are short of time, Caves no.1, 2, 10, 16, 17, 19 and 20 should never, never be ignored. We spent enough time inside the beautiful caves. But, when we come out, immediately the desire to re-enter the caves flashed through our mind. Actually, your heart never gets the contentment. Such is the power of these marvels of Ellora. I may say that they are the number one wonder of the world because about 1500 years ago, the means were not as sophisticated as they are now. Great were the people of that time who created such marvels. You cannot stay at Ellora forever for obvious reasons. Therefore, we left for Ajanta some 120 kms away on Aurangabad-Jalgaon road.
People say that Ellora scores over Ajanta. However, my heart goes for Ajanta for quite a few reasons. The Ajanta trip is very well organized. You are to leave your car a few kilometers.AC /non-AC buses take you through very exciting, enchanting, scenic and greenery to Ajanta for Rs. 24 and Rs. 12, respectively. There is a restaurant, which serves you tea and snacks. It is near the stairs that take you to the Ajanta caves. These are all Buddhist monasteries--20 of them in all. They have sculptures depicting the different patterns of the Buddha and deteriorating paintings. These caves were lost to the world. A British hunting party accidentally discovered these caves in 1819.When I was at cave no. 16, I met a couple. They were Alisha and her would-be husband from Italy. They made an attractive couple. Our conversation started with the appreciation of the beauty of the caves. I said to the man, “The caves are wonderful but Alisha is more beautiful”. Alisha flushed. I continued, “You are related to us through one of the most powerful women in the world”. They appeared pleased by my words. They were in a hurry to catch a bus to Jalgaon on their further journey to Rishikesh. I am still wonder-struck why Alisha hugged me and planted a parting kiss on my left cheek.
Darshi had stayed back at the foothill restaurant, as his back was not cooperating. There were some 1500 steps before you reached the first cave. However, to my surprise when I was returning, Darshi came in apalanquin lifted by four workers. He said, “I did not feel proper to skip Ajanta after coming so far. It would have been a case of so near so far.” My regret was that had he come earlier I would have captured Alisha in his camera. I did not carry one.
Darshi had an attack of asthma after getting down from the bus. He sat down on the road. He looked shattered. He was suffering from breathlessness. I got the scare of my life. I asked a shopkeeper about the availability of a doctor in the vicinity. He told me that I could get one in the nearby town. But Darshi was insisting that he would be alright in a few minutes and we should proceed to Jalgaon and stay there. I put my foot forward and opted for the MTDC hotel. I contacted Dr. Chauhan in Bhopal telephonically. I describe Darshi’s condition to him. He calmed me and said that the patient should try inhaler. Luckily, after inhaling the inhaler, Darshi was better and was normal. We got up and started moving.Dr. Chauhan called and enquired about Darshi’s condition. He once again reminded me about my having agreed to visit them in Bhopal.
Dr. Harbhan Chauhan was in the army. After retirement, he took up a job in sugar mill at Yamunanagar. He had retired two years ago from that job too. He and his wife Pushplata have two children. Both the children are qualified doctors. Rachna, their daughter, is in the USA. Their son, Rahul had no interest in medicine therefore, after completing his graduation in that he had decided to join film direction. He has two flops to his credit. The Chauhans have shifted to Bhopal. Dr Chauhan is a dear friend and is distantly related to me.
As there was no electricity in our hotel at Ajanta, we decided to move early and try to reach Bhopal by the evening. Bhopal is 500 kms from Ajanta.
We crossed Burhanpur, Khandwa, and Hoshangabad before reaching Bhopal at 5 p.m. in the evening.
As per a legend widely known in the area, Burhanpur was the original site for building the Taj Mahal. Khandwa is the birthplace of the great Hindi writer, poet and orator, Makhan Lal Chaturvedi. The legendary singer, actor, film-producer, director and music composer Kishore Kumar and his elder brother the all time great thespian of the Indian cinema, Ashok Kumar also came from there. At Hoshangabad, we took the highway to Bhopal.
Dr.Chauhan was constantly in touch with me. He asked us to wait at the gate of the university at the outskirts of Bhopal on the national highway. But he was already there when we reached there, to my surprise his house was some 10 kms from that place. He had come all the way, to make it convenient for us.
Fortune estate is a beautiful colony of Bhopal. It is a very clean habitat. It is very green and has a dust free environment. There is either grass or concrete roads and pavements. It is also well guarded. There is only one entry. There is a big park in the middle of this small colony of 200 houses. There is a temple, with the statues of all the Hindu deities, in the centre of the park. To cap it all, there is a hillock over looking Fortune estate. Dr.Chauhan is lucky to be living in such a peaceful colony.
Pushplata is an extremely elegant lady. We were received by her with great respect, love and warmth. She even did a short puja and put a tika on our foreheads before welcoming us into her house. It was a beautiful house with two bedrooms on the first floor and open roof above them. It was kept spotless clean, though at that time, their servant was on leave.
After taking our baths we enjoyed tea with freshly cooked snacks. Then we moved out to have a feel of the colony. We returned in half an hour, as I was too tired to exert myself any more.
Later in the evening, Darshi and Dr. Chauhan enjoyed their drinks. I chatted with Pushplata. She narrated to me how Dr. Chauhan had wooed her. He faced many hurdles. Once, seeing him near her house, her elder brother even beat the doctor badly. But the doctor was determined and won the battle finally. After all, he was an Indian military officer. After sometimes, she excused herself to go for food preparation and I went out for a breath of fresh air. An elaborate dinner was laid. Chicken, mutton, rice, paneer, raita, green and Russian salads and moong ki daal ka halwa graced the dining table. Darshi said, “Bhabi, do you have a “chirag ka zin.” How do you manage so much in so little time?” Before Pushplata could utter anything, I could not resist and said, “I do not know about the chirag, but she definitely has a zin.” Everyone had a hearty laugh. Between light talks, we took our dinner and we retired after a long, tiring, but satisfying day. The secret of good mood is in being with good people and eating good food.
I was very clear about the fact that Chauhans were down to earth people. But what I witnessed was the limit of humility. I got up at 7. After a few minutes, I went out to the balcony for fresh air. I saw that Dr.Chauhan was dusting our car with a brush. He had already washed the car from outside. My esteem for Dr. Chauhan escalated to a new height, although I felt a bit shamed.
Dr. Chauhan had called for a masseur. He massaged Darshi and me for about an hour. It was very relaxing. I jokingly said to Darshi, “You would have been in seven’s heaven if Dr. Chauhan would have called a masseuse instead”. Dr. Chauhan said before Darshi could reply, “Tomorrow I will call for one”. I had hearty laugh but Darshi could only force a smile.
We finished breakfast by 9. The breakfast was a combination of theIndian and the continental. Soon after, we left for sightseeing in Bhopal and Sanchi. Pushplata stayed back.
The capital city of Bhopal is a city of lakes. The biggest of all is the upper lake, fondly called “The Bhopal Beauty”. It is very huge and gives the illusion of sea with speedboats racing on it. On the northern side of the lake there is a road called Hamidia road. It looks like the marine drive of Mumbai. The old city of Bhopal has plenty of mosques and bazaars. We took theHamidia road, then took a right turn to the Highway and after 5-6 kilometres took a left turn which took us directly to Sanchi. Surprisingly, even this was an extremely well maintained road. The 45 km drive from Bhopal to Sanchi, was a great pleasure. We reached there at 11 a.m.After parking our car, we moved towards the stupa. There were a few school buses also parked there. We started taking photographs of each other with the stupa in the background. We wished to have a snap of all three together. I moved towards a woman in a blue sari. She was escorting a group of schoolchildren. I requested her to shoot us together. She said that she was not savvy with the art of photography. I told her that she had just to press a button. She agreed reluctantly and obliged. To show my courtesy, I continued conversation with her. I asked, “Ma’am! Which place do you belong to?” “I am from Bhopal. And you? She said. “I am a Delhite.” I replied. She continued,” My sister is too in Delhi. She is a History Professor there.”Bells started ringing in my mind. I live in Delhi University Professors’ colony. I enquired, “May I know her name?” “Mira Bhardawaj” She uttered. It was an amazing coincidence. Professor Mira Bhardawaj is my next-door neighbour.Happily Lalima Khandelwal agreed to have a joint photograph with me. Then she was called by her students and she excused herself and joined them.Ashoka the Great built the first of the stupas in Sanchi after embracing Buddhism. The main stupa is very beautiful. It stands on a hill. It has four Torans, high gates, for entry from four directions. A foreigner, who was busy sketching the monuments with a pencil, impressed me. He was not carrying a camera. He was Frantisek Storm from Poland. He was a commercial designer and was into furniture business. Most of the constructions are in utterly damaged condition but a great sight. These are beautifully maintained ruins. The surroundings are green and clean. There is an archeological museum worth a visit. You can spend hours here.
On our way back, we crossed through “Chatori Galli” a famous roadside food bazaar of Bhopal, enjoyed a few non-vegetarian snacks, and salted tea. We also passed through the road opposite to the ill-fated Union Carbide factory. A gas leak there had killed hundreds of people.
The evening dinner was the result of an all day of lavish preparation and labour put in by Pushplata. The hot salted chhach was a delicacy. I gulped four glasses to my heart’s content. No doubt, Pushplata is a wonderful cook. All the dishes served were mouth-watering and nobody could escape the sin of gluttony. I said, “Darling, if I had even 10 percent of your culinary expertise, I would have started a food chain.” I always address Pushplata as darling and do not know how Dr. Chauhan feels about it. He said, “You should visit us more often to learn that and as a byproduct, I will get good food.” “Friends you visit seldom or too often are lost,” I said. I could sense that Darshi was uninterested in the conversation, so we decided to retire for the day. After talking to my daughter the previous evening, I was missing her and other family members and wished to be with them sooner than the earliest. Darshi is an early riser and I asked him to wake me up at 5 a.m. so that we could leave by 6.
In the morning when we were taking leave of the Chauhans, Pushaplata gave me hugs, kisses and a bagful of eatables, for breakfast on the way. Dr. Chauhan gave me two packs of exotic perfumes.
I drove the fastest during the trip that day. We did not have to waste any time at dhabas for breakfast and lunch. The food in the bag was more than sufficient for two meals. I was desperate to reach my family at the earliest. Darshi repeatedly reminded me that I was driving dangerously fast. Having covered 650 kms, we touched Agra at 5 p.m. Every bone of my body was asking questions, Darshi was of no help. I settled for a filthy hotel, Jaidevi guesthouse, near the railway station and collapsed in to bed. Darshi took his drinks and left for Basai. I was sleeping so deeply that did not know when he returned.
We got up at 6 and immediately dashed homeward.
Darshi told me that the previous night was satisfying and he was able to have some satisfaction. I showed my pleasure on his accomplishment. Then he said that he had the regret that he could not lay his hands on my Swiss knife. He said, “I give up. You tell me where you have hidden it?” “Since you have given up, I must tell you that it is still in your possession. I knew that I would have to reveal the secret so I have left it there”. Saying this, I steered the car to a left side dhaba and got down. I ordered two cups of tea and asked Darshi to bring his attaché case. It was a 1980 VIP. “Do you know that this model of VIP has a secret pocket in its back wall?” I asked Darshi. He said, “I do not know about any secret pocket and it is also a fact that it never came to my mind that you would hide the knife in my attaché case.” I opened the zip of the secret pocket and took out my knife. Darshi was astonished but did not say anything.
The traffic from Hodal to Delhi was very heavy and we had to crawl through it to end the “AMAZING TRIP” in which I met amazing people, at 1.00pm on February9, 2009. I am thankful to many for encouraging me to take this trip but above all, I am thankful to my car, which did notneeded even a tyre pressure check in the entire tour.
The question remains, “Was it an adventure or a sin at the young age of 65?” The coming days may reveal.
Nina has found a fiancé. He is not Alex. Alex says Nina is not as innocent as I thought her to be. Srabanity is a family friend now. My mails to the Swiss beauty always failed. Frantisek Storm is a friend and is in constant touch with me. I could not trace Alka. I sometimes miss Alisha. I did not exchange contact numbers with Parmeshwari. I am ashamed because I did not call or send a letter of thanks to Geshe. Dr. Chauhan regularly calls me from Bhopal. We are planning to travel through the entire eastern coast.
* * * * * * *
The Shatabdi Express
Those were the cold and frosty evenings of January. Most people, especially women, didn’t like this gloomy and cold weather when the sun was always fighting a losing battle to come out. People found it very depressing. But surprisingly, I always found that sort of weather very romantic. It was in such weather in the early evening on a beautiful day that I saw a tall, beautiful, fair-complexioned teenager with lusty hair and soft features moving swiftly on the track of the prestigious ornamental park of Vaishali. I was struggling to complete my quota of painful walk. My knees had been giving all sorts of problems to me after my adventurous road trip to Goa when I drove my Innova for more than five thousands kilometres. My snail paced walks were merely an excuse. It was then that the girl crossed me. I could not resist my temptation to strike a contact with her and uttered, “Good evening, Miss!” She not only kept mum but frowned at me and carried on with her health- maintenance programme. Then onwards I saw her every day, but could not muster enough courage to have another dig at her. Usually, I do not strike a conversation with girls and women unless they give some encouraging signals but this girl was an exception. I felt “Kuch- kuch hota hai” whenever I saw her.
Days, weeks and months elapsed but there was no change in her attitude and my feelings. There are three types of visitors to the park. The first are like this girl who just come for a walk and go. The second type are like me who spend two hour each in the morning and the evening. They walk for a little and then sit and gossip. And the third type are those who are too old, they are coming for a sunbath or just occupy the benches. Love-birds too come in this category. My park friends told me that they had christened this girl as “Shatabdi-Express”. The Buddhas (very old persons) have this self satisfying habit of naming every girl or woman coming to the park. Another girl who is swifter than ‘Shatabdi’ is called by them as ‘Teer’ meaning arrow. Then in September I got another heart attack. I could not go to the park for one month. When I resumed my outing to the park, the first thing I noticed was that both ‘Teer’ and ‘Shatabdi’ were also there in the park and that ‘Shatabdi’ had become swifter and faster of the two. I resumed my walks but was very slow in the beginning. One evening, while I was performing my ritual of a walk, ‘Shatabdi’ came from behind and hit me by her left shoulder. Before, I could realise whether It was an earth quack or a tsunami, she was far ahead on the track. The scene was performed again a fortnight later and surprisingly it was I who unconsciously uttered, “Sorry!” From that day onwards I started strolling in the opposite direction to her to avoid another accident.
One month later, in the last week of April, I successfully avoided another mishap on the track. To my utter surprise she gave me a beautiful smile and said, “Sorry, uncle!” That was the first green signal for me. I also saw her from that close an angle for the first time. She was much more beautiful than I presumed. She had clear shining skin, classical Indian face decorated with luscious lips, intoxicating eyes and a beautiful nose. She was a beauty in every sense of imagination.
The next day I was sitting on the green bench attending to a call on my mobile phone. I waved to her and she responded quickly and enthusiastically.
In our next three meetings she said, “Good evening, uncle!” and I responded fondly. But the next time when she repeated the greeting, I got hold of her and said, “Uncle is so flat, boring and formal. My name is Ved and you can call me Ved uncle”. “I would love that Ved uncle! And My name is………” And then it dawned upon me why ‘kuch- kuch” was happening to me.
Her name was Anjali.
* * * * * * *
A Leaf From My Diary
It was a magic day. There was excitement, fear, anticipation and expectations in the air. Everyone on the roads and phones, in the street and parks, young, old and very old were talking about the same thing. Moreover, everyone was a confident expert. It was 2nd April, 2011 the day when later in the day World Cup final was to be played in aapuni Mumbai, the city of God Sachin Ramesh Tedulkar. 1.2 billion Indians were dreaming an expectation that it was their day; that history was going to repeat itself after 28 long and anxious years. In between, six world cups had eluded us and we have to watch the 25th June's Kapil Dev’s miraculous catch again and again. Sach poocho to hum puck chuke the and wanted to see something new.
On the breakfast table I told my family that I was going to skip watching the match. I had a dream that if I watched it, India would lose. They agreed and allowed me to spend the day with my friends. This was an excuse enough for me to pay a visit to my friend's house in Punjabi Bagh. Mr. Ram Ji Dass had died a few days back. He was 90. His son Kundan Lal is also quite close to me. I could not attend the funeral due to my poor health. I requested Darshi to pick me up in his car from my house at 11.00 AM. Mr. Anadish and Dr. Ajit also accompanied us.
I was alsoto drop some papers at my CA's house, also in Punjabi Bagh. I requested Darshi to take the car to his house while returning from Kundan's house. As expected, my CA Mr. Chander Bhan Gupta was not at home. Pushpa, the chirpy wife of Chander Bhan was there. She not only pressed me to stay with her for some time but also ensured it by going out to tell Darshi and others to go home and that she would arrange to drop me at my house. I had gone to her house after 6-7 months although she had visited me 2-3 times during my long illness and confinement at home.
After spending more than one hour with me she telephoned her husband and informed him about my presence there. Mr. Gupta was there in a few minutes as he had his office nearby. At 1 PM she asked her son Veenu to drop me at my residence. While in the car I directed Veenu to drop me at Moti Nagar Metro Station and at 1.30 PM I was at C.P. Everything was going as per the script penned by me. It was all premeditated and scheduled as I was to meet my muse in the Central Park. Both Gopi and VIN had told me separately that she would be in the office and I had prayed and succeeded in getting the meeting fixed. But the script had a twist then. I had no desire to share my acquaintance with VIN with Gopi. But VIN asked me on my mobile phone to wait at the office and bore (pakao) Gopi for one hour. These girls are strange. First she was in a hurry to reach home to watch match and now she had all the time to wander in hot, humid and sultry sun for one hour with her boy friend. Love has strange and novel traits. Yet I had no choice but to abide by her directive.
Gopi was astonished to see me as nobody expects me to pay visit these days. I am not allowed to move out of Vaishali as it emotionally disturbs my family. But I did not surprise him when it dawned upon him that I was there for VIN. He had been suspecting it all along no matter I was not only hiding but always denying it.
VIN kept her time. I don't know why but we all spent some time there. She allowed me to share her lunch. It was another matter that I took most of it as I was almost starving. It was more enjoyable than any of the lunches I had with my girl friends in five star eateries. At four on Gopi’s insistence we shut the shop and at the Barakhamba Road metro station,took excuse from Gopi. Then my dream date started. We walked holding each other’s hands in the verandahs of the famous and romantic Connaught Place in pursuit of a place to sit over some coffee....but not entering many a restaurant on our way. It reminded me of the days when I used to walk there with my friends in seventies. Those were the days of much less crowd. There used to be more romance in the air. Couples of all ages could be seen in every nook and corner in the verandahs. The central park had a very big fountain. The water wet up 150 feet high. It was heavenly. Earlier, there used to be a coffee house in the centre, where ‘vela log’ and journalists used to debate the then current issues The crowd on the match day was as thin as it used to be then as it was almost deserted and a few people around were rushing towards the nearest TV available. There was a sense of urgency and haste in the movements of the people as if they were in danger of missing an important flight. Now- a- days it is so crowded and the footpaths are such encroached that the joy of walking has vanished. You will have to wait for a very big event like the death of a big leader or a film star to see so many TV sets on at the same time and almost every one of the 1.2 billion populations glued to them. My ears and mind were so engrossed in listening to VIN’s beautiful talk, stories and narrations that I did not observe the change the CP had under-gone in the immediate past six months. I would have to pay another visit to do that. However, it is inevitable as something was to be but could not be accomplished on that day; we did not get our cup of coffee. But that was an insignificant compensation for the delightful conversation we had. Her musical voice kindled in me the greed for living in me. The negative feelings of quitting this world were getting replaced by the desire and lust for spending more and more time with my angel. Alas! The heavenly time could not last forever. It was to be short like all beautiful things. We took the Metro scheduled to Dwarka. I was to get down at Rajouri Garden. I was directed to take a taxi from there as she was sure adamant that it would be too hectic for me to change the metro at Kashmere Gate to proceed to Vaishali.
At Rajouri, VIN made a fine gesture. She also alighted off the metro. She wanted to park me in the taxi before her eyes. We could see taxis parked on the road and I insisted that I would manage to go down by lift and she should go up to the platform to catch her metro so that she could reach home in time to catch the start of India's innings.
She agreed but then in a jiffy, her arms were around me for a spontaneous, warm, beautiful and pleasant hug. It was the most imaginative, passionate, and emotional hug I got for a long time.
The taxi was running towards my home but my mind was dreaming standstill and focused on the tenderness and fragrance of the hug and the vivid beauty responsible for that. All of a sudden my thoughts clocked back by half a century and reminded me of my grandmother, who when being angry and irritated by my playing pranks on her, used to get hold of me in her arms and despite my pretended resistance did not let me go free for a few moments. I tried hard to hold back my tears and thanked the time that there was nobody to notice it. The driver was preoccupied in negotiating the traffic on the road.
When I reached home it was drizzling. I changed my shirt with the blue India T-Shirt for good luck. In a short time Sehwag was out on Malinga's second ball for a duck and Sachin was packed for 18 after a few balls. But it was a magical day and nothing could go wrong. The world cup was grabbed by India in style and we will have to admire Dhoni's last ball six for years to come. I pray that it should not take another 28 years to happen as I will be 95 by that time. Who knows where I will be!
* * * * * * *
In The Land Of Lord Krishna
Vrindavan never excited me. People visit it on a regular basis. Quite a few, who have faith in Lord Krishna, go there every month to seek His blessings. Vrindavan is a part of the Brij-Bhoomi, where the Lord Krishna spent the most vibrant and colourful phase of His life. I have no religious inclination and rarely go to temples or any other places of worship. These places are dirty, unhygienic, crowded and have no other sources of recreation like cinemas etc. But learning that so many people visit the place it had left a void in my wandering lust. So when my long time friend Gopi suggested this destination for a two nights and three days tour, I just grabbed it as I was craving for a break from my monotonous routine. Moreover, my present state of health does not allow me to travel long and to stay away from my doctors for a longer time. Interestingly, mostly reluctant for any excursion, my dear friend Dr. Ajit Chaudhary also readily agreed to accompany us. After a lot of dilly- dallying and deliberations we could finally leave for Vrindavan on the morning of 23rd of October and that too at 7.10 a. m. despite the scheduled departure time of 6 o’clock. Another half an hour was wasted in Connaught place as Gopi was stuck in the toilet and could not reach in time. We utilized that time by taking pictures of the unusual calm and quiet hour in the usually bustling Connaught place. However, all this did not dampen our spirits and we started our journey in a light and jolly mood. A last minute call from Darshi increased the excitement. He rang me up at 7 in the morning and wished to travel some distance with us and return on his own. Though, it is another story that he not only accompanied us to Vrindavan but stayed with us for the entire trip. He did not have any clothes to change either. He enjoyed the trip even without his daily quota of non-vegetarian food and whiskey and kept us amused and occupied.
With unbounded enthusiasm, we travelled to Vrindavan reaching there in five hours time. Some time was lost on the way taking tea and breakfast at Prakash Dhaba and getting a flat tyre of our car repaired and replaced.
After resting for a while at the Shree Bala jee Dharamshala we left for lunch. It seemed strange that in the land of Lord Krishna people name Dharamshalas after Hanuman. Krishna is remembered by so many names that there should not be any dearth of naming something after him. We had lunch at Brijwasi, near Banke- Bihari Temple on eastern side of Raman Reti Road. It is a neat and clean sweets and snacks joint. We decided to have South Indian food and ordered different dishes. Everyone shared the food to get a taste of the maximum variety. After that, we visited a few temples but all were closed, barring one or two, all temples are closed from 12 noon to 4 in the afternoon.. We returned to Bala Jee to have an afternoon nap.
In the evening we opted to go to the International Society for Shri Krishna Consciousness’s (popularly known as ISKCON) Balram-Krishna Temple.
It was ‘aarti’ time there and we did not wish to miss that. The temple was full to capacity and one had to stand in a queue for ‘darshan’. The ‘aarti’ was enchanting and soothing to the ears and the enjoyment of the people could not be described in words. It was a wonderful visual. A few foreign beauties were dancing with carefree abandon. Over all it was a magical atmosphere to get involved in. The disappointing part of the visit to the temple was that there was a bazaar where Prasad, clothes, books, flowers and all other things related to the Lord were on sale, giving an impression of it being some commercial establishment. The positive thing was that there were some hundred shops outside the temple on the opposite side of the road run by the local people. This was quite encouraging for the economy of the local population. But running a religious place as a commercial one is not easily acceptable. Gods should not be allowed to do business, though the truth is all religious places have the same scenario.
Instead of going to our Dharamshala, we directly went to Bharti Foods at Raman Reti Road. Though the food at Bharti was good the ambience seemed really poor. After dinner, we decided to walk back a kilometer to reach Shree Bala Jee.Dharamshala but just then Darshi started having a breathing problem. We could not find any doctor at that late hour. Darshi needs nebulizers to get stabilized. Luckily, a passerby told us to go to Brij Healthcare, a charitable hospital, on Mathura Road. Vrindavan has two parallel roads, Raman Reti Road and Vrindavan-Mathura Road both are a kilometer apart and join Delhi Mathura National Highway No. 2 at different points. I called my driver and took Darshi to the hospital. At hospital the doctor on duty immediately put him on a nebulizer and he was absolutely normal within fifteen minutes. He has to undergo this treatment morning and evening, everyday, and he continued with that till we stayed at Vrindavan. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India had said that Dams are modern temples but I think Hospitals should also be revered as temples. Brij Healthcare Hospital is a well equipped, quite neat and clean newly constructed hospital. It has large open space and area for parking. It has 150 beds and treats patients for all diseases except cancer. Specialists from Mathura and Agra regularly visit the hospital to treat the patients.
Before sunrise, early in the morning, we went out to get some morning tea. There was one tea-stall nearby. After having our tea, the three of us left Darshi there and walked a kilometer to Banke Bihari Temple, the most famous one in Vrindavan. The Lord stands in a leaning position here. The temple was closed. It opens at 9AM. The magnificent structure with rare stone carvings was really impressive. We could not stay there as it started raining and moreover, we had decided to visit Kelav Dev Bird Sanctuary in Bharat Pur on that very day.
We had our breakfast at Brijvasi. I was pleased to see a young girl, Swati at the busy cash counter. It was good to see a young girl managing the counter efficiently in a small town like Vrindavan. I complimented her for her pleasant disposition and efficiency. She was visibly pleased by my words as she asked the waiter to serve me both when actually I had requested her to replace sambar (curry) with curd with my order of a plate of idli.
Bharat Pur is just a three hour drive from there.
We had our lunch at I T D C’s Ashoka at the gate of the sanctuary. The food was good and freshly cooked. There I met a couple from Delhi, who were doctors by profession. We had an interesting chat till it went personal.
One can walk through the four kilometers long sanctuary but at our age we have weak knees and thus preferred rickshaws. Tonga ride is also available here.
The rickshaw ride was exciting with the rickshaw puller providing us the necessary input about the birds. The birds are always beautiful to look at and especially when they are flying. All the birds here are Indian species. The Siberian cranes had stopped coming here for the last four years due to the shrinking of water bodies. Although, birds from South India, still visit this place to breed.
We also visited the Kelav Dev Temple at the end of the sanctuary. The story of the temple, told by the priest was that long back cows were brought to the place for grazing. The owner of a cow noticed that when the cow returned home it had already been milked.. Next day, he followed the cow and was surprised to witness that the cow was standing near a banana tree at the point where a Shiva ling is placed now, in the temple, and milk was flowing in to the ground. The place was dug up and Shiva Ling was found a few feet down whose other end could not be reached even after digging for hundreds of feet. Keval Dev temple was constructed at the same place over that Shiva ling.
At the gate of the sanctuary I met the Chhikara family who were returning to Delhi after visiting the Taj Mahal and Fateh Pur Sikri. It was beautiful family and after talking to the I learnt that they live in Rohini very near to my abode at Pitampura in Delhi. The girls of the family happily got clicked with me in a photograph. I persuaded them to spend the night at Vrindavan instead of Mathura where they were planning to stay. They agreed and promised to see us at Vrindavan. In a flat three hours time we were back at Bala Ji Dharamshala. Yes, not before we spent a few minutes at Brij Health Care for Darshi’s asthmatic treatment. We had our food at Khushboo restaurant. It is a beautiful restaurant with an excellent ambience. The food there was bland and the rates skyrocketing.
Next day, I purchased some ‘pedas’ for the family and friends back home from Brijvasi as it was the festival of Dushera on that very day. After having our breakfast there, I bid good bye to Swati and we left Vrindavan.
We took the Yamuna Express way for our return journey. I enjoyed being behind the wheel for two hours.
Everyone was very happy for the nice time we had together. We agreed that we would have stayed longer at Vrindavan but for the festival of Dushera. The legend goes that Lord Krishna attracts people to visit Vrindavan again and again. We hope the same will happen to us, too. My take is that Pilgrimages are the original tourist spots and these should be developed as such. Vrindavan has a great potential as a tourist place. It is in the vicinity of Delhi, Agra, Bharat Pur and Mathura. Adventure and recreation centers and a multiplex and a children park can make Vrindavan a very attractive and fabulous weekend hangout for the people of the cities in the four directions of Vrindavan.
* * * * * * *
A Ten Minute Romance
I have a very dangerous habit of falling in love with every woman I meet. Usually, this happens only when I get some signal from the opposite side. But that day it was different; probably the day was different. There was romance in the air. The winter had just set in and it was drizzling in the evening of that first day of December. I was having a stroll, unmindful of the drizzle escalating to rain. I was walking on the left side of the road when I had a glimpse of a lady standing on the other side of the road watching a house. She gestured to me to come to her. I crossed the road to be with her. She was extremely beautiful, slim, with a very fair complexion, soft features and possessed a radiant face and a lovely smile. She looked like an angel. I fell in love with her at first sight. I enquired what she was looking for. Pointing towards the facing house, she said,” ae doctor da ghar hai?” “Nahin agey hai, I replied and continued,”tuhanu ki taqleef hay?” I asked. Pointing her hand on the upper side of her back she told me that she had pain there. I raised my hand to hold her back and we started moving towards the clinic of our colony doctor, Doctor Gupta. “What is your name?” “Satvant!” she replied and continued, “This is my name after marriage, before that it was “Kaushalaya”. “Where do you live?” Suddenly, I realized that I should have asked her that earlier. “I live in 41”, she replied and I exclaimed, “Oh! You are Mrs. Udahm Singh”. I knew that particular house number belonged to him. “How educated you are?” I asked casually. “I have studied till the 5th std “, she replied. “Then the professor must have been lured by your beauty”, I said. “No, my father was a friend of my father- in- law and the marriage was decided by them”, She told me. “But you are very beautiful”, I said and she blushed. Before I could praise her more we were at the doctor’s clinic. I told her to consult the doctor and I would be waiting for her outside and would accompany her back to her residence. But to my surprise, after a few minutes the doctor came out and told me that Satwant had asked me to come inside. When I went inside, she gave me a five hundred rupee note and asked me to pay the doctor his consultation fee and understand the prescription. The doctor returned me Rs.350 and gave me a prescription and explained to me the dosage of tablets and application of ointment. He told me to purchase the medicine from the chemist. I was overwhelmed with the love and faith shown by the lady. I again put my right arm around her and we started our journey back to her house. The chemist was on the way back home. I bought medicine from the chemist. I told Prof. Udham Singh about the dosage of the tablets and application of ointment and returned the balance to him. He offered me a drink which I politely declined and took his leave and came out. It had started raining just then but I moved on.
It was always there in my mind to visit her again but due to my own pre-occupation, I couldn’t do that.
After about a week, when I was in Khajuraho, I received a call from my friend Anadish to tell me that Mrs. Udham Singh had died. I was stunned and tears started rolling out of my eyes and I could not speak. After getting my composure back I asked, “When? And what was the cause of her death?” Anadish told me that she died of cardiac arrest the same day I had left for Khajuraho. I disconnected the call. I started weeping bitterly. I felt a great sense of remorse that even after experiencing two heart attacks I had erred. The pain she had was the symptom of a heart attack and Dr. Gupta couldn’t diagnose it. He just lost his patient but I was a poor man to have lost my love. I will have to wait for re-incarnation to be with her.
* * * * * * *
Khajuraho and Orchha Trip
“Where are we going on our next getaway?” One of us would pop up this question whenever we were returning from a trip enjoyed together. While returning from Vrindavan on October 24th Ajit ji proposed Pondicherry for the next holiday destination in January, 2013. But after Diwali, on 13th November we needed another runaway. Shimla was proposed but rejected due to very cold weather there. I suggested Khajuraho but it is more than 600 kilometers from Delhi and car travel was not practical for us at our age. One should always respect one’s age, especially old age. So it was decided that we will travel by train. I am not excited by a rail journey as I am scared of lifting/ carrying my luggage and these days coolies are not easily available at railway stations. My companions persuaded me and I agreed but Ajit backed out as he couldn’t get clearance from his wife. He too was not very keen having visited Khajuraho earlier. Madan was taken on board to complete the foursome. So, the rail tickets were booked for 8th of December, 2012.
We three, Madan, Darshi and I took a local train at Shakur Basti railway station for Hazrat Nizamudin railway station. The fourth musketeer Gopi was to come directly to board the Sampark -Kranti Express to Khajuraho at Nizamudin Railway Station. In a hurry and confusion to catch the train we forgot our dinner and electric kettle in the car that took us to Shakur Basti. We telephoned Gopi, who was still at his residence and asked him to bring the kettle and some fruits to eat. Fruits were a delight but the two packages of dinner we bought from the vendor were below standard and cold.
The train started at 8.15 P.M.
We slept through the journey except for some conversation with Dr. Kumar from Kathmandu and Mrs Manju Singh. Both were interesting people. The Doctor was married to a doctor from Khajuraho. Recently, his wife had given birth to their son and he was going there to bring them back. Manju Singh was a railway booking clerk and was travelling to Khajuraho to attend a marriage. The train reached Khajuraho at 6.30 the next morning.
We hired an auto to our booked hotel, Hotel Surya. The hotel is 7 kilometers from the station. Although taxis are available we preferred to hire a three wheeler auto as it was not cold there and auto charges are 40% that of taxi. Moreover, autos are designed to carry luggage too. It has sufficient room to carry our four bags at the back. The charges were Rs.70 only.
There is not much traffic and also not much construction between the railway station and the town, so we reached in just fifteen minutes and checked into the hotel. Though our check-in time was 10 am, yet the manager Mr. Neeraj was gracious enough to give us not only our rooms at 7 am but also obliged us by allotting rooms with balconies, which provided a beautiful view of the lawns and garden at the back of the hotel. Hotel Surya is the best budget hotel in Khajuraho. The tariff was Rs. 900 per day per room. We enjoyed tea in the well maintained hotel lawns. The weather was very pleasant there. We also had a stroll in the hotel’s beautiful garden. There I met a beautiful British couple, Nick and Aigrette. They were quite amiable and eagerly agreed to have a few photographs clicked with me. I tried a prank on Nick. I asked him if I may kiss Aigrette. Nick replied, ‘’It would have been better if you had asked her and my take is that you should kiss your wife only”. I did not have an answer; the prank had backfired on me. Nick teased me for that whenever he met me after that. The hotel had a lot of foreigners staying in it. I met another couple who were staying there for the past one week as the lady had got her leg injured and was taking rest to allow her injury to heal.
We decided to visit the Western temples first. They are just at a five minutes walk from Hotel Surya. What a beautiful scene it is! There are five blocks of temples on this site. These blocks are separated by beautiful very well maintained vast lawns. The light brown and grey coloured temples look extremely magnificent in the green background of the lawns and trees and under a clear blue sky in a pollution free atmosphere. The temples are superb examples of architecture in the seventh century. Though the artistic stone work of the highest degree depicts all aspects of life at that time, the eye catching statues are of women and sex. Erotic poses of the Kamasutra are of the highest quality of sculptures. Varaaha and Lakshmi Temples are the first but these are small constructions, just opposite to these temples you encounter the large and the most magnificent, Lakshman temple. It took almost twenty years to build this marvel, built by the Chandels. Mahadeva, Devi Jagdamba, Chitragupta (dedicated to the Sun), Parvati temple, Vishvanath and Nandi Shrine are the other temples inside the fenced enclosure of western temples. Interestingly, no puja is performed in these temples since a very long time. Matengesvara Temple outside the fence is the only temple which is used for daily use of prayers and puja. By contrast, it is the simplest temple in Khajuraho.
Just at the exit of the temples we could find a south Indian restaurant, Madras Café. Our hunger buds started flaring up and we ordered idlis and vadas to satisfy our hunger. The food was quite tasty and rates were reasonable. There I met a young boy, Rohit Virk, a gujjar from Ghaziabad. He was accompanied by Anu Prasher, a teacher, from Palwal. Rohit told me that Anu was his sister and when I asked, “Is she your real sister?” His reply was in the negative. To me they looked to be in a relationship as they were sitting in a close compromising position. I took their photo after taking permission from them and then got myself clicked with them.
After the refreshments we visited the Archaeological Museum. It is just opposite the Madras café and north of the Western temples. Khajuraho originally had some 125 temples but now there are just 25 left. Remnants from the destroyed temples are placed in this and in another museum near the eastern temples.
Gopi and Madan moved to the Eastern temples on rickshaw but Darshi and I went to hotel to get some rest before joining them. The eastern side has a Hanuman Temple, Vamana Temple, Ghanta Temple, Parasvanath, Adinath, and Shantinath to name a few. The Eastern side has a Jain art museum too. These temples are not that exciting as the ones we visited earlier but are not to be avoided also.
The southern side hosts the Chaturbhuja and Bijamandala Temples.
While Madan and Darshi went to get some non-vegetarian snacks to enjoy with their drinks, Gopi and I enjoyed our dinner at Agarwal Marwari Dhaba, a vegetarian restaurant very near to our hotel. We ordered palak- paneer and daal. I got tandoori chapatti while Gopi preferred tawa ones. The food was tasty and the charges were also reasonable.
When we returned, we couldn’t find the other two in the hotel. They returned soon after with packed non-vegetarian food from the Sidharth Restaurant. They had an interesting story to tell. Near the Siddhartha, they met a fair complexioned girl, who was ready to spend some time with them in exchange for some money. They asked for the charges and she raised all the fingers of both her hands. Taking it to mean a thousand bucks, they agreed. When they were near the hotel, they again confirmed the amount of one thousand. To this she told them that it is ten thousand bucks and not ten hundred. They refused to pay that but had to shell out Rs. 500/- for wasting her time as she was trying to create a nuisance then and there. Prostitution is illegal in Khajuraho.
Madan and Darshi, after gulping half a bottle, were on a high. They went downstairs and ordered some food to eat and shouted for Gopi and me to join them. Gopi was in no mood to exert him at all. I went down after fifteen minutes but there was no sign of Madan and Darshi in the restaurant, lawn or garden. They were also not in their room. I went to my room and retired for the day. It was in the morning that we learnt that they went outside to enjoy ice creams and returned after mid-night. I was surprised to learn that a small town like Khajuraho was active till that hour of the night.
Next morning, we got up at 4.30 A.M. We were to visit the Panna Tiger Reserve, some 25 kilometers away from Khajuraho. Tea was served courtesy Darshi. We always carry our electric- kettle for independence of our morning tea as there is always a problem to get tea in the early hours. The national park allows visitors from 6A.M. to 10A.M. in the morning and from 2.30PM to 4.00PM in the afternoon. This is done to minimize disturbance to the original inhabitants of the jungle, the animals Our Gipsy jeep was at the hotel gate at 5.30 and soon we were on our way to meet the tiger.
The entry fee per jeep is Rs.1280 only. The jeep charges for the trip were Rs.2000 only. And entry to the park is allowed only in a jeep. A guide in attendance is compulsory and no one is allowed to get down from the jeep in the jungle except on a small patch of land on the bank of Ken River, which runs through the jungle.
We could watch antelopes, deer, samber, partridges, peacocks etc. but despite spending three hours in the jungle, we were not lucky enough to encounter any tiger. Actually, we missed the tiger by a minute only. We turned left and the couple coming from right not only saw the beautiful animal but could take a close up front pose of the tiger. A Japanese couple also showed us side poses of the tiger on the camera screen. We were told there are seventeen tigers in the reserve. Our wait at the freshly killed tiger’s kill went in vain as the beast didn’t return to eat his kill for the half an hour we spent there. Another 30 minutes were also gone in vain as we waited near the river hoping that the tiger may visit the place to quench his thirst. Still over all it was a novel experience of having a safari through the dense jungle, we will cherish this for a long time to come.
We all had our lunch at the Marwari Agarwal Dhaba. Madan and Gopi ordered deluxe thali and Darshi settled for a mini thali; I opted for a missi roti and raita. The food was delicious and the rates were reasonable but as there was no limit on servings for deluxe thali, Madan and Gopi ended in overeating resulting in their forcing us to rest for sometime in the hotel before going out for sight-seeing.
At about 3 pm we again went to the Lakshman Temple. You never feel contented visiting these temples. Every time you go there you explore something new. I bought brass statues of lakshmi and ganesh from ‘Mrignayni’ a Madhya Pradesh Tourism shop at the gate of the western temples compound. They also had many handicrafts, cotton clothes and sarees to offer.
In the evening we witnessed a light and sound show in the lawns of the western temples. It was a magnificent show. The history of temples was told with visuals and music. It was also told that ‘Khajuraho’ got its name because of date trees there. I could not spot any date tree there. Probably, the date trees could not weather time. The English show was at 6.30 followed by a Hindi show at 7.30PM. The tickets were available at Rs.150, each.
Due to paucity of time, we could not do justice to Khajuraho, not to say of nearby ‘Raneh Falls’ and ‘Pandav Falls’, which we could not even visit . We were to go to ‘Orchha’, the next day. Taxi, bus and rail services are available from Khajuraho to Orchha, an ancient village, near Jhansi, famous for its forts, temples and natural beauty. We decided to travel by train. The Express train to Udaipur leaves Khajuraho at 9.00AM. This train does not stop at Orchha station, 10 KM before Jhansi, so we had to get down at Jhansi only. The train reached at 1.30PM.
We hired an auto to Orchha for Rs.250 only. The cheaper alternative is taking an auto on per passenger basis. But then the auto takes 6 passengers and it becomes quite an uncomfortable journey. Orchha is 18 KM from Jhansi railway station. As we were feeling hungry, we decided to have some chat at the Narain Chat Bhandar in Sadar Bazar. The chat was very tasty and filling, compensating for a meal.
When we were near Orchha, I realized that I have misplaced my walking stick somewhere. Madan also said that his cap was missing. He was sure that he had left it at Narain Chaat but I had no idea. It could have been the auto stand at Jhansi station. Anwar the auto driver assured us that the articles would be restored if left at those two places, mentioned by us. Later, in the evening, he confirmed to us on phone from Jhansi that he had procured the cap and the stick from Narain Chaat.
Although we reached Orchha at 2.30, it took us another half an hour to settle for Shree Mahant Hotel. The hotel was in the populated area but its rooms were airy and sun bathed. The roof had a very good view of the scenery of the village, the temples and the forts. It was an excellent visual of the temples, forts, green pastures and trees. In the evening we went to attend ‘aarti’ at the most famous temple here, Ram Raja temple. They say it is the only temple in the country where Rama is incarnated in the form of a King. The aarti was attended by quite a crowd. There was no room in the temple so we participated in the aarti, standing outside the entry gate. After the aarti, we decided to attend the light and music show being held in the Jahangir Mahal, opposite the Ram raja temple.
But to our misfortune, there was an electricity failure in the fort compound and it was pitch dark there and I narrowly escaped of falling into a drain. A few stray dogs also scared us by barking at us. Later on it was declared that the show would not be possible on that day.
We moved to the Blue moon restaurant for dinner, everything is just nearby in Orchha. We were lucky as the birthday party of the owner of Blue Moon was in full swing there. A couple, whom we had met earlier at the Light and Music show site, was there. They greeted us and we all joined them in the celebrations. We enjoyed the atmosphere and dance. every one of the guests and family of the owner were involved in the celebrations. Blue Moon is a roof top restaurant and was recommended by the manager of Shree Mahant hotel. Shree Mahant provides lodging only. We were so tired that a ten minutes walk to the hotel was an uphill effort for us. So we stopped for a glass of milk for each one of us at a shop. Luckily, Mahant ji the owner of our hotel saw us and gave us a lift in his car. Orchha is a peaceful place and at that hour it was godly, the only noise was that of the engine of the car.
We had asked our auto driver to come to us the next morning to enable us to do some sightseeing there and to travel from Orchha to Jhansi to board the Taj Express back home.
Next morning at 9am, our auto was at the door-steps of our hotel. We decided to leave our bags in the hotel and straight away ventured out. On the way to Jahangir Mahal, we stopped at Ram Raja restaurant for breakfast. We ordered four paranthas, each one stuffed with different vegetables, potato, cauliflower, cheese and carrot. We shared the paranthas among us and enjoyed them with curd and daal, followed by tea.
The entry fee to Jahangir Mahal was Rs. 10 per person. The Mahal was built by bundela raja Bir Singh Deo to honour Jahangir. The mahal was constructed in 22 years, during from 1605AD to 1627AD. Ironically the King came with his entourage and queen Noor Jahan but stayed there only for one night. The mahal has 137 rooms in its three stories. It houses a hotel Sheesh Mahal also. The hotel is a good peaceful staying place. I could see its Maharani’s suit courtesy Nupur Gupta and her husband Akshit. They had come from Bhopal to celebrate their wedding anniversary there. The room was decorated with antique furniture and the toilet had throne like seat. The restaurant was nicely decorated and the rates were very reasonable. A cup of tea was available for Rs. 20 only and a cup of coffee was priced at Rs.30 only.
The Mahal had a lot of visitors, including a large number of foreigners. Jennifer, a young Australian girl in her teens was there with her father. We walked and talked together and clicked photographs together. They were very pleased with their India visit.
The Betwa River adds vitality to the scenic Orchha. Cenotaphs or chhatris built on the eastern bank of the river are a treat to watch and flowing water in the river gives a mesmerizing effect to the view. On the other side of the river, across the bridge, there is a 45 sq.kms. vast National Park. We could not go inside as we did not have time and had to be content seeing a few monkeys at its gate.
We visited Lakshmi Narayan Temple and Chaturbhuj Temple before returning to the hotel.
We left Orchha at 2pm and reached Jhansi railway station, 19 km away at 3pm. But we did not forget to enjoy our lunch at Yadav Dhaba, a highway eatery, famous for its exotic non vegetarian cuisine. Our train Taj Express was in a derelict condition. Its compartments were in bad shape and seats uncomfortable. Yet it started at exactly 3.20 and reached Nizamudin at ten, in the evening, the exact time for its arrival there.
Orchha and Khajuraho are beautiful, peaceful historical tourist’s places and should be visited separately, as the architecture of the monuments is different as they were built at a difference of 1000 years from each other. Also they deserve more time than we devoted to these marvels.
[Photos of Khajuraho can be found on Ved's FB page]
* * * * * * * *
KERALA, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
I last visited Kerala in 2002. That was more a road trip. We drove more than 1500 kilometers in 8 days. We started from Bangalore via Mysore, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Madurai, Rameshvaram, Thekdi and Munnar and back to Bangalore. The first two are in Karnataka, the next five in Tamilnadu, and the last two, viz. Munnar and Thekdi, are hill stations in Kerala. At the most I can term it a whirlwind tour. Kerala is more famous for its sea beaches and backwaters. And the hill stations and other sites in Kerala are so beautiful that an itch to visit it again was always there.
My old-time friend Darshi is a patient of COPD, an irreversible disease which forces him to be hospitalized once or twice a year. Actually he has damaged both his lungs and calls hospitalisation as akin to visits to a mechanic for overhauling. Courtesy his service with the NDMC, he gets the medical aid free and he takes his stay at Max Hospital as a holiday. He has a great knack of making friends with the nurses at the hospital. These nurses are mostly Keralites. He visits them whenever they are in Kerala on their home visits. He has even attended marriages of quite a few of them. (It is another story that no girl had any contact with him after her marriage.) The marriage of such a nurse from Max Hospital was to be solemnized on 6th September, 2014. So the visit to Kerala was on. Our common friends, Madan, 74, Munish, 69, and Gaur, 61 also agreed to accompany us. I am going to be 71 in December and Darshi has crossed 66. All of us are senior citizens and have modest means and are dependent on our children. So train journey was a better option. Tickets were booked for Rajdhani Express from Delhi (Nizamuddin) to Ernakulam for 24th August. My granddaughter was coming for a month on holidays on 7th September. So, I decided to return on 2nd September and the three others also wished to come back with me, except Darshi, who was to attend the marriage of his female friend on 6th October. He decided to reach Delhi on 10th October.
It was a Sunday on 24th August and Vinnie was at home. So, there was no problem on how to reach the station. He dropped the four of us to Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in our Innova car. Gaur was already there when we reached the station. He lives in Sadpura, a village, 8 kilometers off Faridabad. Vinnie helped us with the luggage and remained at the platform till the train moved at 11am.
We got uncomfortable and separated from one another. Three of the berths were just next to the door and two a little bit away from the three. Moreover, four of the berths were side ones, a bit smaller than the regular ones. I and Darshi occupied lower berths and other three the upper ones. Later, it was revealed that the fellows who occupied the upper berths were not in the best of their health. Munish was having a bad stomach but he got over it before the train reached its destination. Madan was having pains in the knees and arms and remained uncomfortable throughout the tour. Gaur’s condition was a peculiar one and he was not enjoying anything including food. I made to the distant berth and soon was left on my own.
The cabin opposite to my berth was occupied by four young men, Bank of Travancore’s employees. I started talking to them. I told them that two among us, Madan and Munish, are widowers and are interested to have Malayalee wives in the evening of their life. Then it was leg pulling for Madan and Munish.AMalayalee soldier going home on vacation also joined in the fun and teased Madan and Munish of getting a wife each, if they accompany him to his native village and gave Rs. 15 lac each to the bride or families of the would be “bride”. He made fun of both by saying that he knew 4-5 widows 65 to 70 years old. Both Madan and Munish were a sport and the fun continued. The food quality was tolerable at the most. The non-vegetarian food was a bit better than the vegetarian one.
The train got late, as there was derailment of a goods train ahead on the track. After halting for more than 8 hours at Penvel railway station, the train took a detour and started its long journey via Pune and Belgaum, finally joining the original route at Mudgaon (Goa).The delay did not have any adverse effect on us due to the enjoyable company in the train. A nurse couple was very cooperative and vacated their seats, whenever we asked them to do so for us to play cards. Another young lady who was walking to and fro in the corridor, had a divine glow on her face. She was feeling a bit uncomfortable to pass through the narrow passage but there was a strange comfort in her disposition and what she was doing at that time. Actually, she was passing through the most beautiful phase of the life every lady had or had a dream of. She was in the family way. The pregnant young lady was having some acidity problem and was taking short walks at regular intervals. She was beautiful, tall young girl with sparkling big eyes. She got quite friendly with me and told me that she was expected to deliver her first child in October. I wished her a safe delivery of a healthy child. She promised to inform me about the baby once she would deliver. Unfortunately, we forgot to exchange contact details before she alighted from the train at Kannur.
At Darshi’s instance, we decided to settle at a nearby hotel, Cochin Guest Home. Also, we were extremely tired after a journey of 55 hours. The train had reached Ernakulam Station some 15 hours late. It was 6.30PM when the train stopped at the platform. It was very near, a stone’s throw from the railway station. But that was its only saving grace; otherwise, it was a horrible place to stay. We were put in an only available stinking room with a bathroom, which appeared to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, cockroaches and reptiles.To add to our agony, the lift was not working and the room was on third floor. I refused to stay there but everyone was tired and two of us, Madan and Darshi, had already started their drinks and ordered non vegetarian food for themselves. Moreover, they got the room on ground floor. Gaur, Munish and I went for dinner to Hotel Arya Bhavan, a recommended, vegetarian eatery nearby. This area is called South Junction.We were so exhausted that it did not matter that the room was stinking and flies and mosquitoes were there to give us company.
In the morning we left the hotel at the first instant and walked to the posh M. G. Road just a kilometer from the hotel or railway station. We took our breakfast at Dwarka Hotel. The food was delicious and the seating comfortable and ambience desirable. We wanted to stay in the same hotel but did not like the rooms. We started moving towards the Aiswarya Hotel, near the crossings. It started raining and we had to find shelter at a petrol pump, though we were carrying umbrellas from Delhi but forgot them in Cochin Guest Home. It was a passing shower so we started moving towards Aiswarya. This hotel’s rooms were neat and clean and the staff was enthusiastically amiable. We settled for one AC and one non-AC room. Madan, Darshi and Munish settled for the AC room. I and Gaur stayed back in Aiswarya, while Munish and Darshi went to collect the baggage from Cochin Guest Home. The front desk man at the hotel conceded to my request and opened our rooms though the check-in time was still half an hour away. Soon Munish and Darshi returned with our bags. After imbibing a cup of tea, we agreed to do some sight-seeing. No sooner we moved towards Marina Drive then it started raining again. We moved into a “Pandaal” of temporary stalls, selling all sorts of things. This was part of Onam festival celebrations. When the rain turned to drizzle we started moving again but after a few minutes the intensity increased but we carried on our crusade and soon we were at the sea. It was just a kilometer from our hotel. Marina Drive is a beautiful walk. It has sea on one side and restaurants on the other side. Some Malls have come up and a few more are coming up, overlooking the sea. There were motor boats to sail in the sea but they were charging in thousands of Rupees. Darshi took us to the public boat station and we crossed to the Fort Kochi in just 7 Rupees per passenger. No sooner you set foot on soil after a boat ride of 20 minutes, you find yourself in an entirely different environment. Ernakulam, with its two railway stations, and several bus stations is an extremely bustling town with frequent traffic jams. The situation is worsened by the metro rail construction activities. It is cosmopolitan in character with up markets, malls, hotels, and crowd everywhere. On the other hand, Fort Kochi is historically serene and extremely peaceful place. Its old churches and other buildings add to its beauty.The giant fishing nets give a magnificent look to the sea shore. The fishing activity is in action from sunrise to 2 PM. A walk along the sea gives a heavenly feeling.We could watch a film shooting in progress on the further end of the sea where the sea had beautiful tides to charm and enchant every visitor. Old buildings architecture gives a romantic feeling. St. Francis Church, Dutch Cemetery and Indo Portuguese Museum are on must visit list. An actual anchor displayed and mounted on a platform on the sea-side walk also attracted me. It was raining on and off and every building was looking washed and clean and trees greener than the green. We spent some three hours there but the time went in a jiffy. We decided to visit Fort Kochi again before leaving Ernakulam. My friend Meenu later told me that Willington Island is the dividing line between Ernakulam and Cochin or Kochi: before the island it is the first and after the island it is the second.
We hired a three wheeler to go to the boat station for Rupees forty but the driver took us to the private boat station and asked us to get down. Madan started shouting at Munish for not specifying the proper destination without realizing that conversation with the locals is a genuine problem in Kerala; they simply do not understand English or Hindi. This language problem is everywhere in Kerala and Tamilnadu. Shopkeepers and drivers at hill stations and most hotels staff are exceptions. The matter was sorted out by paying just ten rupees more to the auto driver and I was wondering why we lose temper for petty amounts and small things. The return boat journey was bumpy due to windy, rainy weather. It reminded me of the news I had read in newspapers of people dying due to capsizing of boats in the rivers and seas.
Back on Marine Drive, we started walking towards our hotel which was at a stone’s throw from there. But it started raining and we decided to have coffee at the restaurant run by Indian Coffee Board. The coffee was good but the snacks and sandwiches were not as per our taste.
Everyone was extremely tired. We had been on our feet the whole day. I and Gaur enjoyed our dinner at the hotel dining hall on the ground floor. The food was delicious.We opted for vegetarian pullao, daal, salad and chapattis. Darshi, Madan and Munish managed some non-vegetarian snacks and enjoyed the evening with rum and scotch. The hotel does not serve non-vegetarian food, though eggs are on board.
There were stairs by the side of our room and after a room, in which four young girls were staying. One of the girls was having a long conversation on the phone. When she finished her call, I greeted her and she replied with good evening in her musical voice. She was very beautiful girl. She told me that they were employees of Syndicate bank and were there for training. I told her that there was training also for the employees of Bank of Travancore. She told me that she knew it. She also told me that she was engaged and was talking to her fiancé. Incidentally, my friends were not there when I was talking to her.
At Rs. 850 per person tour to backwaters by car and boat was available there but we decided to explore it on our own. As decided overnight, we finished our breakfast at the first opportunity to catch a train for Aleppey (Alappuzha).The breakfast buffet had variety of tasty food. Pranthas, idli, eggs on order, bread, juices, coffee, and tea were served. However the fruits served were a bit raw.
We boarded the 9.30 AM passenger train, which took two hours to take us to our destination. The passenger train fare from Ernakulam to Aleppey was just rupees ten per passenger. We went to the Public Boat Station but to our disappointment, the next boat was at 1PM. We decided to take an early lunch, though the buffet breakfast had killed the desire for lunch. We went to the best restaurant, Ihaff Delicacy, there. The food was just okay or it may be our already filled bellies did not allow us to enjoy the food. We took the public boat at 2.00 PM and the one way journey to the last village in the backwaters took 70 minutes and cost us Rs. 40 each. It was an out-of –the-world experience with water all-around us and our motor boat going through the water and passenger alighting and boarding at different islands, some as small as to have only five houses and a few coconut trees. There were villages with schools and hospitals also. There were spice gardens, too, in a few villages. Some islands had restaurants also. It was beautiful. Water and greenery are everywhere; it is so soothing for the eyes, mind and soul. The only regret was that we couldn’t interact with the locals due to language barrier. We took an express train for our return journey. We paid three times the fare we paid for the up journey but the train took the same time as it got late in the way. But it was a boon in disguise for me as I was able to befriend Meenu, a co-passenger, and had a long conversation with her. She had recently finished her M.B.A. and was looking for a job. Her parents were Government servants. She was living with them in Trivandrum.She told me many things about Kerala and its people. She promised to guide me about shopping and sites worth visiting. She kept her promise and now I have a friend in Kerala. Her hometown is Kollam and she travelled with me up to Ernakulam. She was visiting her aunt there.
The train reached at 6.00 PM and we were in the hotel before the clock struck seven. While sipping tea, it was decided that the day after we would go to Munnar. We would first go to bus stand and if we didn’t get the bus or the bus had uncomfortable seats, we would hire a taxi from there. Gaur, Munish and I went for dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Madan and Darshi enjoyed their drinks and non-vegetarian dinner in the room watching TV.
There was a little drama in the morning. First, Madan came to my room and updated me,” Darshi is saying that it is no fun going to Munnar in rainy season as we will find landslides there and will be confined to hotel rooms and this he is saying by experience of having visited Kerala many a time” He left after I said, “Why did he not say this thing yesterday when the programme was finalized?” After 10- 15 minutes, Munish appeared and gave the news that Madan and Darshi are feeling tired and were not a party to Munnar. This annoyed me and I went to their room and shouted, “Everyone is free to go anywhere and we will meet on 2nd September at Trivandrum Railway station”. Both of them kept mum and I left the room. After a few minutes, Madan came to my room and objected to my outburst. He had a great objection to my suggestion that everyone is free to enjoy and all would meet at the railway station on 2nd. He also told me that he was having a backache and so wanted to rest. After my objection that he should have told this thing at the first instant. Then, Madan suggested that those who wished to go to Munnar could proceed and he would rest there in the hotel. After breakfast, Darshi also decided to stay with Madan. He made it a sacrificial act. I too, was a bit disturbed for losing my temper and using some harsh words. Still, I decided to continue with my programme of going to Munnar. I thought it was better to move on.
Munish, Gaur and I reached the bus station by an auto. A bus was ready to leave for Munnar. No sooner we boarded the bus it started raining. It was exactly 9.30. The bus took more than 45 minutes to get out of the city. The road was narrowed down due to construction of Metro Rail on that route which also leads to Kochi Airport, near Aluva. The bus stopped at important stations but sometimes had to go inside the town to take passengers. After some 90-100 kilometres, there is a climb up the mountains for about 40 KM till we reach Munnar and it is such a heavenly journey that one wishes it never to end. Due to rainy season there were waterfalls all along the way. Just before we were to reach our destination it started raining again.We reached Munnar at 1.30 PM. As it was raining quite heavily, we rushed to a recommended budget hotel, J. J. Hotel, but it was all sold out. Luckily, we got a room on the ground floor of an adjacent hotel, Hotel Four Seasons. Tourists to hill stations prefer top floor for a better view but for our age and weak knees, ground floor was a boon. After taking rest for an hour, and two helpings of tea, we found that rain had stopped. We seized the opportunity and went to the local bazaar. The bazaar had shops selling chocolates, dry fruits, handicrafts and other gift items. My friend Ganesh, chef at hotel Aishwarya, had told me that the spices grown around Munnar are of very high quality.A nun, who met me at a coffee shop, told me that fixed prices store ‘Krishna’ sells the best quality.But I found it a bit expensive shop. Most of the shops in bazaar were selling cashew at Rs. 750 or less but at Krishna it was available at Rs.820. I purchased some spices and 3 handicraft items for my grand children, and left the rest of the shopping for Cochin and Trivandrum. I bought a wooden bagatelle for Rs. 200/-. Later, in October when I visited Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh with my granddaughter, I found the similar bagatelle displayed there at the same price. The distances have shrunken and marketing has become competitive. Bagatelle is a toy or game which has 3-4 circles engraved in one into another and there are some steel balls which are to be placed in the inner most circle. The person doing it in shortest time is declared as a winner. I left my stuff at Krishna as it started raining but without bothering that we continued our walks. There are two beautiful churches there, one on the road level and other some 40 feet above on a hillock. Both are aesthetically painted in white. It started raining a bit heavily and the weather was getting cold. My friends were shivering but thanks to my plastic raincoat, which not only protected me from the rain but also made my life comfortable from cold. Munish was having two pegs of scotch in his bag lying in the hotel to beat the cold. Gaur also decided to counter the cold with whiskey and bought a quarter. we rushed to our hotel, and both of them gulped their drinks to face the chill. I do not drink alcohol, yet a thought came to my mind that I should keep some brandy with me for these sorts of situations. We had to go again to bazaar to take our dinner as the nearby restaurant was closed by the time Gaur and Munish finished their drinks. It was just a few minutes away by auto. We hired an auto for to and fro journey. Shree Mahaveer Veg. Restaurant, in the main bazaar, served us a good dinner. We took ‘paneer - bhujia’, ‘daal- fry’, green salad and ‘papar’ and plain chapattis. The total bill was Rs. 475/- .The owner was from Rajasthan. He was an amiable person.Next morning at 9 we checked out of the hotel. We took our luggage with us in the auto to Yadav where we had our breakfast. Then we hired a taxi for half day for 25- KM excursion tour of Munnar. After the tour we had planned to take a bus to Cochin. There are three routes of excursions but we took the most popular one towards Top Station. We visited flower gardens, which have hundreds of varieties of different colours of flowers, Kodaadu Elephants camp - a 15 minutes ride costs Rs. 500 per person. Later, we went to Echo point, where, if you shout in to the air, your voice comes back echoing. Kundala Lake is a long lake with boating facilities but we decided to do away with the boating as it was raining continuously since morning. Top Station had a magnificent view and it was our last point too. Top station is border of Kerala with Tamilnadu.
We returned to Munnar, and had our “Karimeena-fish” lunch. Krimeena is the most delicious and famous fish of Kerala and Karnataka. It resembles pomfret fish in size and shape but is much bonier.
It was raining all the time in Munnar. I can’t recall when I last enjoyed the rain more. Munnar is a very beautiful hill station and, unlike the hill stations in the north where we confront lot of concrete, here in Munnar there is limited construction and all green, thanks to 65000 acres of tea gardens. The rain had washed off all the dust and cutting of tea plants had given them a look of a very vast golf course. Visiting Kerala without going to Munnar is like eating bread toast without butter and jam.
We took the 2 PM bus and were in Aishwarya in Kochi by 7 PM. It was raining till then. That we were tired would be an understatement, we were exhausted after almost fifteen hours of travel in two days in the rain, which never seemed to stop. The girls in the room adjacent to stairs had checked out and the room had been occupied by Madan and Darshi.
Next morning, the 31st of August, was our last day in Cochin.I did not forget to call my granddaughter. After teasing she for some time, gave her my greetings but not before she said, “Dadu! It is my birthday today!”I also told her that I would be there to greet her in Delhi, when she would be back from her hostel on 6th. We decided to leave for Trivandrum by the noon train. It gave me some time to visit Kairali Emporium, a Kerala government showroom for handicrafts and handlooms. I found it was costlier than Munnar, so left my shopping experiments for Trivandrum, the capital city of my friend Meenu. I was hoping to meet her there as she had told me that she will be returning there before 2nd September and expecting her to be a great help in my shopping adventure. I dropped a letter to my grandson in the letter box on the way back to hotel.I also met Praveen Kumar, who is a big businessman of Cochin. He told me that he intended to join politics and knew all the big politicians. He is a handsome, 6 and half feet tall, young man in the early fifties. I got photographed myself with him for my album …who knows he may one day become chief minister or prime minister. I wished him to that effect also.
We took the Varanasi – Trivandrum Express from Ernakulum for our final leg of Kerala tour. Due to continuous monsoon rain all trains were running late. The train was scheduled to reach Ernakulam at noon but it reached just a few minutes before the watch struck three. In the train, Munish and Gaur told me that the night we were in Munnar, Madan and Darshi had a great time with the girl, who was always sitting in the stairs of Aishwarya Hotel. They also told me that they paid just Rs. 300/- only to the girl. I could not decide whether to laugh at the foolishness of Gaur and Munish in believing the other two or weep at the bluff of the tour. We reached Thiruvarnanthpuram (Trivandrum) railway station at 7.30 PM and lodged ourselves in the nearby Manjikulam Tourist Lodge. Manjikulam Road is just half a kilometer from the railway station and has a dozen of budget and mid-range staying options. Though KTDC Chaithram hotel is just opposite the railway station but it was a bit above our budget. As usual, Darshi and Munish stayed back in the hotel and the rest of three of us went for dinner at Arya’s, a vegetarian eatery opposite railway station. The joint was full to its capacity and we had to wait for ten minutes to get a table. The food was tasty, the ambience pleasing and rates reasonable. On way back we bought four pieces of lemon chicken from a take - away outlet.Madan told us that he would rush to the hotel so that Darshi and his companion could enjoy chicken while it was hot. The irony was that he lost the way and it took him an hour to reach the hotel. By that time, Darshi was snoring, loudly.
The first of September was allotted for a visit to Kanyakumari, 100 KM from Trivandrum. Kanayakumari is the southern end of India. Here the three seas, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean meet each other. It is named after Devi Kanya, the incarnation of Parvati. The taxi we hired for Rs. 3000 for the trip was there at 9 but we could not start before 10 as the hotel did not have any arrangement for breakfast and we had to go to Arya’s for the same. The road to Kanayakumari is quite scenic, with lot of greenery. It has mountains on the left for quite a big stretch. After travelling some 50 kilometers we entered the state of Tamilnadu. It is more scenic a view in Tamilnadu than in Kerala part of the road. But the traffic on both stretches was quite heavy. When we settled for lunch at Annapurna Restaurant, near the famous rock, it was 1.30 PM.
After finishing our lunch, we moved towards the rock. Madan is hard of hearing and we have to face many situations of confusion and misunderstanding every day. He presumed that we are to go to the rock by car and swiftly walked towards the parking lot. Nobody noticed him going towards that direction. Also, the driver had gone somewhere and the car was not there. We were looking for him at the ticket window of the rock. Though there are mobile phones and it would be stupid of one to get lost but due to his hearing problem it is very difficult to communicate with him. Everybody tried his bit and finally we could see him walking leisurely towards us after one hour.
And what a magnificent view it is!!! The sea and its tides make it a mesmerizing view. There are two rocks in the sea. And when you face them on the right side rock is the temple of Swami Vivekananda, he meditated on the rock for 60 hours on 29th, 30th and 31st December in 1892 before going to attend the world religion meet in Chicago. The memorial was completed in 1970. On the left rock there is a tall, in fact to be exact, 133 feet high stone statue of the great Tamil poet and philosopher, Thiruvalluvar. The statue is 95 feet tall and there is a 38 feet high pedestal (athara mandapam) to support it. One has to climb 140 steps to reach the feet of Thiruvalluvar. The statue was inaugurated in January, 2000. And it took about 21 years to complete. One wonders why it took so much time; when the world famous Taj Mahal also took almost the same time to come into existence in its full magnificence. The technology, transport facilities and engineering entrepreneurships are much advanced in this era: though both are different projects and politics must be having a smaller role to play in the times of the emperor Shahajahan.
The motor boat charges were Rs. 34 per person for to-and-fro journey to the rocks memorials. The boat took us to Vivekananda rock first. There are two temples on this rock, one of Vivekananda and the other of feet of Kanyakumari. The place was kept very neat and clean. The air was of purest quality and despite the crowd it was very peaceful. I felt so comfortable there that I wanted to be there for a longer time but paucity of time forced me to leave the place. One leaves the rocks reluctantly. The safety measures were well in place and crowd management was good. Photography, inside the temples, is prohibited. While the four of us were enthusiastic, Darshi was feeling exhausted and finding excuses to sit and rest. When you all are touching seventy, it is normal that one or the other would be feeling tired at sometimes of the tour. Here I met a young and attractive girl from north east. Her name was Sweety. We moved together to the second rock by boat. The boats go on taking the tourists from entry point to first rock, then to second rock and finally to the exit point. The boats have more than 100 seats each. The wind was much fiercer at the rock of Thiruvalluvar. It was raining, too. Yet, it was great fun and everyone was getting oneself photographed. There were professional photographers, who were giving instant prints at Rs. 40 a print. Sweety not only got herself snapped with me but also got herself snapped by a professional photographer. She gifted me one of the prints, and autographed it too. Darshi missed all the fun as he refused to climb the stairs.
After coming out on the road we moved towards the temple of Devi Kanya. It is about 400 meters from the rock memorials entry gate.It is strange that male devotees have to remove their shirts before entering the Devi Kanya temple. Only Madan and Gaur went inside the temple.
We went to sunset point but there were clouds on the surface of the sea so we could see the sun disappearing in the clouds instead of drowning in the sea. Yet, it was a magnificent view with red light spread all around the sky. We could not visit Gandhi Memorial as it closes at 7 PM. By 10 PM, we were back in our hotel in Trivandrum.
We had a full day in Trivandrum. We had planned to visit Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple - now probably the wealthiest temple in India -and Kovalam beach. We were to do some shopping also and for that Meenu had already advised me about some shops and malls. But it was not to be as Trivandrum was closed due to a BJP call for a bandh. A worker of the party was shot dead a day or so earlier. There was no transport available. Shops including eateries were closed. Luckily we could get something for breakfast and lunch at the restaurant of KTDC hotel Chaithram. Regular buffets were not laid there too. I telephoned Meenu and she told me that she was still with her aunt in Cochin. I was a bit disappointed to learn that as I was expecting her to meet me that day. With that our stay in Kerala ended.
Kerala is unique. If nature is God then Kerala is truly a god’s own country. Its greenery, rivers, lakes, sea shores, backwaters and hill stations make it an incomparable tourist destination. Where else you would find so much nature in one state. It has a potential to become number one tourist destination, not only in India but in the world. The only problem is the infrastructure and the language barrier. Despite being cent percent literacy rate, the people there, barring a few, are reluctant to converse in Hindi or English even when they know these languages.
We reached the station well in time for the 7 PM Rajdhani Express. The bankers, who travelled with us in the up journey, were there. They jokingly asked Madan and Munish about their brides. They were allotted berths in different compartment than ours. Gaur had a bout of sweating and exhaustion while we were boarding the train but recovered in a few minutes. Darshi was to stay back for the marriage of his female friend. But he was there till the train started rolling. There was a feeling of amiss in our hearts and I am sure he too must be feeling the same. The dinner was served at 9 PM and after that we started stretching on our berths. The romance of train journey startednext morning.
At dawn the train reached Mangalore, Karnataka. And then the train started its famous Konkan journey. The train crossed hundreds of bridges, and passed through hundreds of tunnels. There was greenery and water as far as the eye could wander. Everything was washed clean by the rains. It was impossible to judge that the ponds and lakes on both sides of the track were natural or only a monsoon phenomenon. It is rightly ranked as the most fascinating rail journey in India. During the monsoon season the journey time is officially increased by four hours due to the difficult terrain.
After the breakfast, I ventured into other compartments of the train. In one compartment, I met a young girl, Rajni, a student of Physiotherapy in Amity University. She was an amiable girl and taught me some exercises to ease my back and knee pains. Another lady whom I helped to board the train at Uddupi also spent some time in conversation with me. She was British and had devoted her life to social service in India. She was working in an ashram in Vrindavan, when a roof collapsed there and she got multiple fractures. She had gone to Manipal for treatment. She was a very courageous lady of my age but looked exactly half her age.
The charger of my mobile phone refused to do its duty and I ventured to find someone with similar one. There in another compartment I located the bankers. One of them had a similar mobile to one I posses. There I also met Ranjeeta. A round faced girl with dreamy yet large eyes, beautiful hair and suave and sophisticated personality. I fell in love with her instantly. Soon we were talking about everything. A young banker was trying to flirt with her and she was acting a sport. She had an expression as if she was missing something and also appeared a bit confused. I insisted and she revealed that she was in love and was going to marry her love in December. She invited me to attend her marriage. It is strange that many a time we meet people who become friendly instantly. Most these sorts of relations end with the culmination of the journey. Rani, as I called her - the name Ranjeeta reminded me of Dharmendra’s character of a dalit in the movie,’ Ghulami’. His character was named Ranjeeta. I found it a little bit absurd to call a petite girl like her by that name. She had some apprehensions regarding her marriage. Those sorts of reservations every girl has before plunging into the unknown world called married life. I tried to assure her and also told her that I will always pray for her happiness. Another girl, who was sleeping on her belly on the upper berth, went on enjoying her sweet dreams. The boys were busy playing cards. I left when my mobile got charged but not before mentioning that I would be there when my mobile would need charging again. My friends were getting a bit bored in my absence as I spent more than 2 hours wandering here and there. I could not go to see Rani again that day.
Next morning after finishing my breakfast I again went to Rani’s compartment. I was surprised to see a cute and young little girl clung to Rani. The cute baby was not there when I was there the last time. Then I thought she too might be sleeping on the upper berth at that time. I tried to attract attention of the little child but she was glued to Rani. And when I said something against Rani, the little angel not only vociferously protested but also hit me with her little hands. It took me quite an effort to even make her well disposed towards me. It dawned on me, later when her mother came to take her to their seats, that she was a co- traveller, travelling with her parents. She refused to go back to her mother. It showed how much compassionate Rani was. The other girl, who was sleeping when I was there yesterday, was also sitting with Rani. The boys, as usual, were busy playing cards. The girl was attractive, lively and quite talkative. Her name was Preeti. Both the girls were in their twenties. Preeti was working with an N.G.O. in her home town Ambala. Rani was a neighbor of Preeti. She was working in a bank in Chandigarh. The poor girl has to travel for 2 hours daily. Preeti was calling Rani as ‘Didi”. Otherwise, it was difficult to guess who was older.
The train was delayed by two hours as some passenger pulled the chain as they were annoyed due to the poor quality offood served in the train.
The beautiful tour ended when the train stopped at Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station for the last time of its long journey. Montu, son of Munish, was there to take us home but not before I said good bye to the two charming girls and the young bankers.
* * * * * * *
Why I Love Nepal, The Himalayan Country
In my childhood I had learnt a few things which later turned out to be misconceived. I was told that India has Himalayas in the north, which has the highest peak in the world, the Everest. I concluded that the Everest is an India’s pride but actually it is in Nepal. Also I learnt that Lord Buddha, the incarnation of lord Vishnu, started his teaching of Buddhism in India and it spread throughout the world and later disappeared or have very little following in India. Also that Buddha, then Siddhartha, was the prince of Patliputra (now, Patna). I never knew that Buddha was born in Nepal. We know that Lord Rama was the prince of Ajodhya. He married Sita and she was born out of mother earth in Janakpur. It was very late in my life that I learnt that Janakpur is in Nepal. And there are many more things about Nepal which I learnt during my visits to Nepal and prompted me to write a few lines. My first visit to Nepal was in May 1996. It was a family holiday and we took my nephew, Summit, also with us. We stayed for a week there with Tsering Rithar Serpa and his family in his palatial house. Tsering is a collegian of Vineet, my son. Both of them studied together in Kirori Mal College of Delhi University for their English Honours degree. Tsering was a regular visitor to our home during that time and their friendship developed into a family relationship so much so that Tsering’s parents and other family members attended Vineet’s marriage in 1994. India had not opened to foreign markets by that time. And there was a big craze for imported goods. Most of our time was spent in shopping and spending time with the Sherpa family. Mila, Tsering’s son was just 5 months old and his wife, Tenzin, was always occupied with her son. But we were well taken care of by the young Yangzom. She was doing her M.B.B.S. from Lady Harding Medical College, New Delhi. She did everything by herself and did not allow any of the three ladies of my family even to enter the kitchen. The fourth female member of the family, Vivien, was 9 months old. We enjoyed the Sherpa’s hospitality and did shopping at Bhaat Bhatini, New Market and many shops in Thamel. The first two are malls while Thamel is the downtown shopping area with shops of all sorts of goods and eatables. We also visited the famous Pashupati Nath Temple and travelled to Bhakta Pur on the eastern side of Kathmandu Valley. Bhkta Pur is one of the three old kingdoms of the Valley. It has some 8 to 19 temples. The wooden structures of its Darbar Hall deserve special mentioning. During this visit we had a great time with the Sherpa family and Tsering’s cousins and his sister in law Namgel. Namgel had recently visited Tibet. She was very much pro-Tibet and was very confidently hopeful that one day Tibet would be free country, When I argued with her she silenced me by saying that India took more than 500 years to get independent and Tibet was a free country just 50 years before. She is settled in Canada, now. She is very beautiful and was very slim at that time. I got another chance to visit Kathmandu in May 2001. The occasion was the marriage of Tsering’s younger brother, Sonam Sherpa (Appu). It was a grand show. It was a three-day celebration. The first day was devoted to marriage rituals. The bride came to groom’s house with a handful of her relatives. The bride, Jigme, was from Dehradoon, India. A Lama performed the rituals, which lasted for a little more than an hour. The next day was fixed for a reception the guests numbered almost a thousand. There was an unending queue of guests who brought gifts for the bride and the groom. Two trucks full of gifts were collected. There was an expansive buffet laid for lunch and the party ended after the tea and snacks. It was held in a five star hotel. It was a hot day and children enjoyed swimming in the swimming pool of the hotel. The third day was called a relaxation day and thanks giving day for the guests and local friends of the family. The atmosphere was of a carnival. Guests were eating, drinking and playing cards (gambling) there. After lunch a music and singing programme was there. Even the guests sang some song. Tsering was a hit with his songs. One of the songs he sang was “Jhoot bole Kawa Kate, Kale kawe se dariyo...” I also sang a song with Mithoo. Appu, the groom was also supposed to sing but he was so scared that he was hiding in the washroom. But later he sang a beautiful song in praise of her extremely beautiful bride. The song was, “Ye chand sa roshan chehra, zulfon ka rang sunehra...” It was a great fun. We were specially noticed as four generations of my family attended the wedding ceremonies. My father, my son, my grandson and I made the number complete. Later when we were in Delhi, the world was shocked by the Killings of King Birendra of Nepal and his entire family. It is still a mystery that who performed this ghastly and gruesome act. The mercury was moving in one direction only and had touched 47°C and what a pleasant and refreshing news it was from Tsering Rihtar Sherpa! He was premiering his Nepali movie “UMA” on 24th May 2013. I virtually self invited myself to attend the premier of the movie. When I told Gopi and Darshi about my intention of visiting Nepal, their excitement rose to unbelievable heights. The air tickets for 22nd May were booked immediately. The cost of a return ticket was Rs.10, 000. We were to catch an eleven am, Indigo flight and for that I started at 7 am from my residence, picking Darshi from his house and Gopi from Kirti Nagar Metro rail station. We were received by the senior Sherpa at the Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu. I had an earlier experience of the hospitality of the Sherpas. Still it was an overwhelming experience to be their guests. They left no stone unturned to make us comfortable. My friends, Darshi and Gopi, were in awe. Everything was there when we had the faintest inclination for that. We were served with the food as per our Indian taste at home and were taken out two or three times for dinner out. My son, Vinnie, also joined us for two days. He came to attend the screening of the movie and returned to India the next morning. We saw the movie with Sherpa family in the matinee show. Everyone liked it very much. It was a story of a young woman who was forced by accidental circumstances to join Maoists movement. It is an excellently acted and very well directed movie. But strange are the viewers that it didn’t do well at the box office and Tsering had to suffer a huge loss. Gopi, too, left on 27th due to his prior professional appointments. We had visited Pashupati Nath with him on our first evening in Kathmandu. I found it cleaner and better maintained and managed than it was on my first visit to the temple in 1996. Also we visited Nagar and Swambhunath, not to say of Baudha, which we visited on daily basis, sometimes 2-3 times in a day. It is at a stone’s throw from Tsering’s house. After the departure of Gopi, Tsering gifted the two of us a two nights three-day holiday in Pokhra. It is 7-8 hours journey though the distance is just 200 kilometres west of Kathmandu. The road is without a divider in between and the traffic is quite heavy. Yet, it is an enjoyable journey due to the scenery. Once you are out of the Kathmandu valley, you find river on the left side and mountain on the right side of the road. And this is almost there till you reach Pokhra. We stayed in Mount Kailash Hotel on the lakeside. Lakeside is the most happening place and the biggest tourist attraction in Pokhra. The Fewa Lake is about 3 kilometres long there is a road by the lake. Handicrafts, woollens, books, clothes and gift items shops, hotels, eateries crowned the road. In the evening my son called me from Delhi and told me to visit Manipal College of Medical Sciences, in Pokhra. My granddaughter, Vivien was able to secure admission in B.D.S. in Manipal, Karnataka but fail to get admission in M.B.B.S.. The college authorities had suggested trying for admission in M.B.B.S. in Pokhra. Tsering had gifted us a half-day sightseeing tour, also. The taxi was there in the morning at 9. I asked the driver to take us to Manipal Medical College, first. The driver took us there but on reaching there we found that it was a holiday. The receptionist at the Manipal Teaching Hospital was cooperative enough to enable me to talk to the top man on telephone. The man instructed me to go to Manipal College of Medical Sciences in Deep Heights, Pokhra and meet the administrative head Mr. Gaurav Yadav there. The taxi driver took us to Deep Heights. It was about three kilometres from there. The college had a natural scenic environment. It had hillocks in the background and the famous snow clad Annapurna range of mountains on the right hand side in the north. The office was closed and Mr. Gaurav was nowhere there. The security guard had no information. And I had no clue about my next move. Suddenly I saw a girl coming from the college side. I asked her about Mr. Gaurav. She too, had no idea, where I could find him. She was bubbling with energy and appeared like a fresh breeze. She had round face, soft features, speaking eyes and pleasant disposition. I liked her instantly. She was DRISHTI, a 1st year student of the college. She was from Kanpur, India. She was all praise for the college and the procedures of teaching there. We talked for some fifteen minutes. She telephoned 2-3 people and was able to get me the phone number of Mr. Gaurav. I telephoned Mr. Gaurav, who in turn assured me after learning about the percentage of marks of Vivien that she, would be given admission in the college. He was not in a position to come to college as he was away, out of Pokhra. After talking to Drishti and Gaurav I was convinced that the college would be a good choice for my granddaughter. Our taxi driver took us to Seti River gorge. It was not even a kilometre from the Deep Heights. The river has milky water and passes through the entire length of Pokhra. Somewhere it is just a creek and at other place it is gushing out at a great speed. At some places it is making a lot of noise and at other places flowing calmly. The best thing about the river is that it goes underground at many a place. A very scenic view of the Seti meaning white in Nepali is at the bridge at Mahindra Pol, in the hub of the city. Next, he took us to Bindhyavasini Devi Temple. We have to climb about 100 steps to the temple. Here we witnessed four couple getting married. It was a small gathering in four groups. Every couple was accompanied by 10-15 people. Women were wearing colourful saris and men were in pants and shirts. The brides and their grooms were in traditional clothes and headwears. We spent more than an hour there. Pokhara has an estimated population of 0.3 million. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world—Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manshastu—are within a linear of 50 km from the city. The city is also a base for trekkers undertaking the Annapurna Circuit. Para gliding and rafting is also enjoyed here. The taxi took us to Devi’s fall and Gupeteshwar Gufa. Devi’s fall is landscaped fall. It has green lawns, murals of snow peaked Annapurna and a few temples. The water of the falls after the fall disappears in the earth and reappears again at the lowest point of Gupeteshwa Gufa, The Gufa is about a hundred yards from the gate of the Devi’s fall compound, There is a wide road, with shops on both sides, in between. You have to go down some 300 steps to see the water emerging in to a stream. There is also a Shiva Temple there at the mouth of the Gufa. We returned to Hotel Kailash after that. In the evening I went to Punjabi Dhaba for my dinner while Darshi kept confined him in the hotel room. The wait at Punjabi Dhaba was long but food was too spice for my taste. I would not dare to visit it again. No sooner I came out after finishing my so-called dinner, it started raining. I rushed towards the hotel but due to dark missed the hotel and went till the end of the road. There I have to take refuse at a Kashmiri’s shop due to heavy rain. The Kashmiri told me that Indian tourists haggle a lot and are irritating most of the times. He was very disturbed by the law and order conditions in Delhi. He had directed his daughter to go directly to Srinagar from Delhi airport and not to venture in the city. It shamed me a lot that my beautiful city, Delhi, is unsafe for girls and women. Next morning, we left for Kathmandu by bus. It was raining there, too. Mr. Sherpa was there to receive us with his new Brio car. On our last day in Kathmandu, Tsering took us to a Vishnu Temple, where The Lord is lying on sheshnaag (Hundred mouthed python). He showed us the bamboo jungle where climax of Amitabh Bacchan’s movie “Mahaan” were shot. In the evening, we flew back to Delhi by the evening flight. Luckily, Vivien got admission in Manipal Medical College, Pokhra and I had to go there with her and Mithoo, in September, 2013. We reached Kathmandu on 17th and Sherpa family hosted a dinner for us in their star hotel, “Shambling” to wish good luck to Vivien in her pursuit to become a doctor. The senior Mrs. Sherpa also gave an envelope containing Rs.5000/- to Vivien as a good luck gesture. Next morning we left by car to Pokhra. Tsering was on the driving seat. The journey to Pokhra is scenic and extremely enjoyable. We directly went to the college. Some formalities were completed and Vivien was able to select a room of her choice. Her roomie was already decided. Astha was from Kohat, a colony in our neighbourhood. The next day the remaining formalities were completed. We could have left but it was pre planned that we will remain there for a few days till Vivien is settled. She was missing home. But after two days we decided to leave and left her to fend for her own. In six hours we were home, in Kathmandu. We stayed there for 3 days. Although Mithoo enjoyed shopping in Kathmandu, those three days were full of anxiety and stress. Vivien was finding it extremely difficult to adjust. Her problems were exaggerated due to ragging by the seniors. We even considered going back to Pokhara. Finally, she reluctantly allowed us to travel back to Delhi. Tsering also assured us that he would dash to Pokhara on her first call. We reached Delhi on 25th September. It chanced again and I was able to visit Nepal again in November, 2015. Vivien was here for her end of first year holidays for a month in September, 2015. She made it clear in no uncertain words that she wanted no one from the family to come to Pokhra before her semester exams in February. But after one month she had a change of mind and asked her mother to visit her. Incidentally Mithoo was not free and my family allowed me to visit her. She too, had no objections to my visiting Pokhra. I wanted to go by road but my son and daughter in law were against it and got all-round support. My desire to go by rail up to Gorakhpur and then by bus or taxi was also turned down. My old pal, Darshi, agreed to accompany me. He is a wonderful person. He is always eager to travel. To make our stay in Nepal flexible, we purchased one-way tickets. Moreover, a few of our friends had reservation that Nepal is not a very interesting place and we will not be able to enjoy there for more than a week. But we had different idea. We flew by 10.55 am indigo flight on Sunday, the 9th November, 2014. Although, we reached at the airport at 8.45 yet could barely managed to board the plane barely 10 minutes before the departure time. The girl at the check-in counter declared that our bags were some 5 kilograms overweight and we had to open our bags and take our overcoats out and wear them to adjust to the prescribed limit of weight. We were on our feet for two hours due to long queues at check-in and customs clearance counters, before we were in the airplane. And we were carrying our 8 kilograms carry bags all the time. Due to a traffic jam at Tribhuvan Airport, we have to hang in the air for almost one hour. Flights from Southi Arabia and Mumbai landed before ours and we had to wait for another hour to recover our luggage. To add to our miseries there was a heavy traffic in the way to Tsering’s house and finally we reached there at 3.00PM. All this and that Tsering had to wait for more than 2 hours before we came out of the airport, compelled me to think that travelling by train to Gorakhpur and then by Taxi to Pokhara would have been a better option. Tacho, the homemaker at Tenzin’s house was there with her always-smiling face. Immediately, the lunch was laid. The green vegetable, mushroom and daal were delicious. The yoghurt was creamy and sweet. Tacho is an excellent cook. Tenzin was away in Bangkok on business trip and she was to return late in the night. In the evening, we with Tsering visited Boudha, the most bustling place in the vicinity. Tsering told me that he was there every evening for his evening walk. Boudha is also a meeting place for the people living around. It was a coincidence that we met Jigme and her elder daughter Mendha, there. They were there after watching Shahrukh Khan’s movie, “Happy New Year” in a nearby theatre. All big movies release simultaneously in India and Nepal. It served my purpose, too, as I could not visit them in the evening due to paucity of time. Appu, Tsering’s younger brother, who is married to Jigme, came to our abode to deliver our tickets for Pokhara, when we were away at Boudha. Dinner was promptly served at 8. Green Vegetable, Black Daal, Dry Chicken and curd were served with chapatti and salad. Everything was nicely cooked, excellent in taste and properly lay on the dining table. Darshi did justice to chicken only with his drinks. In the morning, I was pleased to meet Tenzin, who had returned late in the night. She was cheerful and looked lovely as always, though a bit tired. Despite being sleepy she, too, accompanied Tsering to drop us at the bus station. There were some more than a dozen of busses lined up for Pokhara at that time. Mostly they were carrying tourists from all part of the world. Pokhara is no. 2 tourist attraction in Nepal. It is visited for its natural beauty. We boarded and occupied our pre-booked front seats in the bus which left at 7.15AM. The bus took 45 minutes to get out of the city. And then it was a scenic journey of almost 7 hours. The entire journey was through mountains on one side and a river one the other, reminding me of the Chenab run along Jammu – Srinagar highway and the Beas between Kullu and Rohtang. Definitely the Indian rivers are more enchanting in their magnificence. The Kathmandu – Pokhara route has the Budh Gandak River from Kathmandu and the Marsaymgoi River from Pokhara, both meeting at midway at Mugling and proceeding southwards to India. The bus had three stoppages in the 200kms Journey. Interestingly, the first stop was called as toilet stop. The other two were for breakfast and lunch. When you enter Pokhara you find a milky water river on your left and snow clad mountains on your right. It is a mesmerizing view. The river is Seti River and the mountains are Annapurna. Seti means white in Nepali. We reached the Tourist Bus Station at 2.30pm. Most of the hotel had a pickup arrangement. But we were availing Manipal College concession so our hotel, Mira Hotel did not provide us the pickup facility. The hotel is almost at the middle of the long lakeside road. It is the most populated and popular place of the lakeside. There are big trees on the road and one such tree is just opposite to Hotel Mira. The hotel is just 2kms from Bus Station and taxi charges were NPR 200 only. But in hiring taxi and settling in our pre-booked room consumed one hour and we took our lunch at 3.30pm. We had skipped the lunch in the way as it was too early for us at 12.30pm after having our home cooked pranthas in the breakfast at 10am. A plate of daal and the cost for a plate of daal and three chapattis was NPR 375 only. Vivien came to meet me at 5. Her college conducts classes from 9am to 4 pm. She left after we had dinner together in a nearby restaurant, “Almond”. Kadai Chicken was good but the tomato soup was ordinary. Vivien left after the dinner and we returned to Mira. We slept early as we were tired. But not before I had a stroll on the lakeside road for 15 minutes. In the morning, I called Drishti. She was very excited to learn that I was in Pokhara. Drishti is one year senior to Vivien. Her campus is near the Manipal Teaching Hospital. The students have to study for two years in Deep campus and then they are shifted to the MTH. Both are some 3 kilometres away from each other. She told me that she can arrange my stay in the boys’ hostels as there were a few rooms unoccupied there. I got excited on the prospect of staying with the young aspiring doctors. Moreover, it would be easier for Vivien to visit me. Later, we went for a walk on the lakeside track. The track is named The Peace Foot Track and it is more than two kilometres long along the lake. The lake, the mountains and the scenery is so enchanting that a walk of one hour was a pleasure, even for my bad knees. The breakfast buffet at Mira was explicit and tasty. Potato pranthas, cornflakes, milk, bread, jam, honey, butter and sausages were available to do full justice with our stomach. Tea and coffee were also served. We consumed so much time in walk, bath and breakfast that we just made it to be at Vivien’s college when her lunch-break started. The college cum hostels compound is extremely bewitching. Snow clad fishtail peak and adjoining peaks are visible from everywhere in the compound. It is so mesmerising and one has to make an effort to leave the place, irrespective of number of times it is visited. We saw Vivien coming towards us, when we reached the gate of the college. The guard insisted on permission before allowing us to enter the premises. Vivien had to go to the administrative office to get the permission slip. She returned within minutes and we accompanied her. It was a pleasure to meet her friends and classmates in the mess. She took us straight to the mess as it was lunchtime and she was to attend her classes at 2pm. We had lunch together. The food was simple, not spicy and limited to daal, rice and vegetables. Vivien took us to her college. She showed us classrooms, library and laboratories. I was taken aback, when I saw three dead bodies lying on the tables in the anatomy lab. The college has two museums also. Models of different parts of the human body are displayed in the museums. As Vivien was to attend her classes, Darshi and I left for the Manipal Teaching Hospital to meet Drishti. It is just a ten minutes journey by taxi. It is a large green scenic compound. There is hillock in the south while snow clad Annapurna mountains are adding to the beauty of the place in the west, on the eastern side we have residential colonies Phulbari, Nadipur and Mohindra pole in an area of about two kilometres. On the top is the Teaching Hospital, with a hillock in the background. Coming down by a circular road or 120 steps, you come down to the boys’ hostel and mess. On the back of this there is a girls’ hostel, which has an entry from the mess and another independent one from the outside but before that there is a barrier and a guard is there round the clock. If we go further down through another circular road for half a kilometre, in the north, we find the flats for the teachers. It is a double story complex having 92 flats. In these flats two flats are earmarked as guesthouses. There is boundary wall. Behind the wall there is narrow road going to village Bhamaal and along the road, deep, noisy, mesmerising River Seti is flowing. Drishti was in her class and we had to wait for close to an hour. We were sitting near the barrier when I saw a crowd of young doctors climbing down the stairs. We moved towards the stairs and lo, there was Drishti coming down. Our eyes met and we recognized each other without a flicker. A short, round faced girl with sparkling eyes ran towards me and gave me the warmest hug anyone had given me for a long, long time. I had met her only once before that, on 27th May, 2013, at Deep Complex, when I was there to make enquiries about admission for Vivien. We started walking towards the housing complex in which she had booked a flat for us. We were talking as if we knew each other for years. Flat number E-1 was a two-bed room, ground floor flat. It had a 120 sq. feet kitchen with refrigerator and cooking gas and utensils. There were two bedrooms with two bathrooms and a 250 square feet drawing room. It was a fully furnished flat with TV, sofas, dining table and hot and cold running water. It also had two verandas to enjoy fresh air. The accommodation was better than we could have imagined. The environment was peacefully heavenly. Mesmerising snow covered mountains were a delight to watch in the day and moonlit nights from the verandas, too. Seti River was flowing emitting musical sound just at a distance of 100 feet from our abode. We decided to move to our new abode the next afternoon. The Mira Hotel’s checkout time was 12noon and we could stay there for the night. I asked Drishti to join us for dinner on lakeside for dinner with a few of her friends, she agreed to be there in the evening and we left. She came as per her words but alone. Darshi, always, prefers to have his dinner in the room and it is an unwritten rule between us that we don’t interfere in each other’s comfort zones. Drishti and I walked on the busy lakeside before entering a restaurant of her choice, “Maya” just a few yards away from Mira. The food there was tasty and ambience good. Drishti is a vegetarian. We enjoyed Malai Kofta and Daal with tandoori chapattis. After dinner she took me to Olive Cafe, a few yards further to Maya. She ordered “Machhapuchhere Kiss.” It was a delicious sweet, a mixture of vanilla ice cream and chocolate pastry. I took one piece for Darshi, too, he always love to have ice cream. Drishti left by taxi, after leaving me at the hotel’s main door. Travelling alone by taxis is safe and quite common in Pokhara. I felt a void and could not wait till the next day to be near her. We could occupy the room in the hotel till noon. We had an hour walk on the beautiful, scenic lakeside in the morning breeze. Many people locals and foreigners were there on the Peace Foot Track. Quite a few restaurants were serving tea, Coffee and snacks, in the open. There are restaurants on one side of the path and lake on the other side. At the far end of the lake, there is a range of mountains giving vividness to the entire area. After spending about two hours on the lakeside, we decided to return to the hotel. Our hotel package included breakfast, also. After taking bath, we finished our breakfast and hired a taxi for MTH. No sooner, we settled in our allotted flat, Drishti called on my mobile and told that she was waiting for us in the mess. We walked to the mess. She was occupying a table with her two-class mate. She introduced us to the girls. She introduced me as her grandfather and Darshi as my friend. The guest room is rented to the parents of the students or to the visiting faculties. The girls were Sajla and Priyanka. Sajla was from Chennai and Priyanka from Gorakhpur. We had lunch together. Rice, lentil, green vegetables, salad and chapatti were on the table. It was a self-service arrangement but Drishti helped me to fill my plate. Everything was non spicy or rather bland. But It suited me as I am a heart patient and on low fat low salt diet. Darshi is not much fussy about lunch but concentrates more on dinner for him non-vegetarian food and hard drinks are a must to enjoy his evenings. The charges for the food we were taking in the mess were to be debited to Drishti’s monthly mess bill. The evening was enlivened by the visit of Vivien. After spending two hours with me, she wished to go as she was having the fortnightly test the coming Sunday. I went to leave her till the hospital gate, a kilometre away. She hired a taxi from there and I returned after buying eggs, milk and some snacks. I missed the dinner. Darshi took boiled eggs with his drinks and we retired in our respective bedrooms. It was a big relief to have separate rooms as it is some time quite uncomfortable to endure with Darshi’s snoring. The next morning we went for a walk on the road along the river. After some 100 yards from the back gate of the housing complex, there is a narrow, hanging bridge to cross the river. It is short cut to two colonies; the left track goes to Nadipur, just half a kilometres away by this short cut, though 2 kilometres by road. The right narrow path goes to Bugger a colony near Vivien’s college. By motor able road it is 4 kilometres while this path is one kilometre only. But it is a very steep dusty, zigzag and uphill track. The track to Nadipur is easier to negotiate. We avoided climbing the hills and re-crossed the bridge towards our abode side and walked up the road along the river. At about 200 yards we witnessed the amazing view of two rivers. Seti was coming towards us from a gorge and another river, with blue water was coming from up the hill deep but along the road. Both the rivers were meeting hundreds of feet down the cliff, where we were standing and turning towards the left. The meeting and mixing of milky waters of the Seti River and blue water of its tributary reminded me of famous Sangham or Triveni at Allahabad. There you had to go by boat to see the merger of blue and light brown streams of water. Also, the Yamuna and the Ganga rivers are very vide. Here the streams were narrow and hundred feet down but extremely scenic due to hills and greenery all around. Just sitting there gives a feeling that one is doing a lot. Later in the afternoon we went to Mahindra Pol, Mahindra was a famous king of Nepal and pol means bridge in Nepali, one gets the best view of river Seti from here. Mohindra Pol is most happening place in Pokhara beside Lakeside. Here the crowd consists of locals while Lakeside is tourist’s attraction. We were to meet Vivien there. She took us to Bhatt Bhatini, a four-storey shopping complex. We bought some groceries and packed foods. Darshi was very pleased to get tinned salami and some other non-vegetarian food from there. We had tea and snacks at the nearby famous Indian restaurant “Bikano”. Vivien left for her hostel and we to our abode. Late in the evening, Drishti came to deliver paper napkins and some fruits, she had brought from MP. We chatted for an hour. She is a good conservationist. She told me about her family and life at college. She was enjoying life there. Darshi had already bolted himself inside his bedroom. To my surprise, though a pleasant one, Drishti dropped in at midnight, again. Priyanka was in toe. It was Priyanka’s birthday and Drishti had baked a cake for the occasion and they wished to cut the cake with me. It was an overwhelming experience. Priyanka started weeping when I gave her a hug. These girls miss their families, badly. My eyes were also moist. On 15th May, we had invited Vivien and her friends for a dinner in MP. But we had the whole day before that. I had an hour walk in the compound. Had boiled eggs and milk in breakfast and left the abode. There are a few good food joints near the hospital gate. Drishti had told me that food at Raju Dai’s outlet is good. Dai is a brother in Nepali. We tried chicken briyani there. It was well cooked but a bit spicy. Actually, it was my mistake. Raju cooks everything fresh and I forget to instruct him that I don’t like spicy food. We took bus from the gate for MP. The ticket per person is Rs.7 only while the taxi charges are not less than Rs. 250. We were there at 4pm while Vivien and her friends were to come at 6pm. We wandered around the MP and reached New Road, a kilometre from the bridge. New Road is about 2kilometer long and the best shopping area of Pokhara. There are quite a number of eateries there, too. At the beginning of the road towards MP, we were to meet Vivien and her friends at a restaurant, named “Cross- Road”. After a few minutes of our reaching there, Vivien and her four friends also arrived. I have met Barsha and Mitul earlier in the college. Barsha is from Kathmandu and Mitul from Andaman and Nicobar. The other two girls, Binisha and Trisna were also from Kathmandu, I was meeting them for the first time. Darshi had no regrets for joining us. He took a light dinner with us and got her favourite non-vegetarian dish packed for his evening enjoyment. The girls were full of life and talkative and made my evening. Pokhara sleeps early. It had been the trend since the Maoists movement when the shopkeepers used to close the shops before the sunset and the same routine continues till day though the movement is over and Nepal is quite peaceful, now. When we came out of the restaurant at 8 the road was deserted but for the taxis, waiting for some business. It was impossible for Darshi to sit at the guesthouse. He doesn’t enjoy watching TV and is also not interested in reading and writing he always wants to be on the move. Lakeside is the place, one can visit for any amount of time and any number of times. We decided to revisit it again the next day. After the morning walk, we finished the breakfast in the guesthouse, only. Darshi was in no mood to take lunch in the mess, so, I left for the lunch. Outside the mess i met Professor Sharma. He was a Punjabi from Lahore. He was a jolly interesting fellow. I found him a bit sarcastic when he told me that besides teaching he had been given the duty of maintaining the hostel. He jokingly told me that it was a duty without any responsibility. When I asked him, “Should I address you as professor or doctor?” His one word reply was, “Surender”. I liked the professor and we chatted with each other whenever we met again. I also liked Professor Verma. He was a straight walking slim and fit man. You could always see him walking from the college to the housing and going back in the lunch break. He too, was a very amiable person. Actually it was a privilege to be among these elites. On day we were walking on the road when a man with long moustaches approached us and said, “ I was looking for you people ever since I was told that another man with longer than my moustaches is there in the campus ‘. He was referring to Darshi and his moustaches. We introduced ourselves and he told us that He was Professor A L Sharma. He was teaching anaesthesia, there. After taking lunch in the mess, I sat outside on the roadside under a tree. Every student going to college had to pass through that point. It was interesting that I had to respond as if I recognise them all, who so ever greeted me. But the fact was that I was unable to place most of them. But I enjoyed all the attention till Darshi came and we moved towards the gate. We took a bus from there to MP. Darshi is not fussy at all about his lunch. He took his lunch at ‘Marwari’ there. “Marwari’ is a popular vegetarian outlet near the bridge, just opposite to the bus stand where the bus dropped us. We took another bus from there for Lakeside. One can be on Lakeside everyday for any number of hours and still enjoy it. The area has the best walk path along the lake, best eating joints in the city and international crowd. Boating in the lake is an added attraction. You can get cycles on hire, too. We spent more than two hours there. And before boarding the bus for return journey, we enjoyed chicken momos and coffee at ‘Bayanjan’. The bus service is cheap and convenient in Pokhara. Though, it takes a much longer time to travel by bus as the bus keeps on waiting for the passengers at various stops in the way till the next bus drops in. Next morning, the 17th of November, I decided to meet the administrator, Dr. Talwar, at Deep Complex. He was on leave and had come a day earlier only. Darshi showed no inclination of accompanying me. So, I finished my breakfast in the mess and took a taxi from the gate to Deep. Dr. Talwar was taking a class. His assistant asked me to sit in his room but I preferred to enjoy the sun. It is a beautiful campus and walking around is a pleasure. DR. Talwar came after sometimes. He received me very well. He told me about himself. He had been living in Kamla Nagar, Delhi before joining defence services as doctor. He, too, migrated from Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947. He was at least 5-6 years elder to me. He assured me that Vivien will become a good doctor. I gave him a small gift, which I carried with me from Delhi, he accepted that reluctantly. It was a satisfying visit and I came out, a proud grandfather, from Dr. O. P. Talwar’s room. Vivien met me in the way and told me that she has a class and would be free at 2pm. I decided to stroll around that area and came out of the campus. Coming down, I found the road joining three other roads. The right turn was leading to Nepal Ganj on Indian Border and the left road was going to Pokhara town. Another road, making an angle with the Nepal Ganj Road, was going towards a colony called Deep Housing Society. I ventured in to that colony. It was a peaceful, open and colony with the lot of greenery in the form of parks and trees and appeared to be a high-end colony. Though there were very few people outside their homes at that hour. It was a pleasure to have a walk there. After an hour I returned to the College. Vivien took me to the mess. We took our lunch there. Three of her classmates joined us. Vivien had a class at 2, so, I left her in her room and left. I knew that Darshi wouldn’t return till evening. I started walking on foot. In the way I visited Seti Bridge, they say that river Seti starts from there but the flow tells that the river is coming from much above the hills. Probably this is her first appearance in Pokhra. I also visited Gorkha Museums. It is just adjacent to the entry to Seti Bridge. The Gorkhas are a warrior tribe and there is one army regiment in Indian Army by that name. The museum exhibits some armaments and pictures. When I reached Gagger, I received a call from Drishti. She was going to my flat. I hired a taxi from there and reached my abode in 10 minutes. It was 4.30pm. Drishti and her classmate, Yash were already there. Yash lives in Gurgaon and had visited my house also. Drishti left after a few minutes. Yash stayed back and talked to me for another 15-20 minutes. He talked to me more about sports. He was excited about playing football. Some intra-college tournament was going on there. Soon after Darshi came and told me that Drishti and Priyanka with a lady and another girl had met him in the way and were going towards the river and would be coming to us on return. I felt amused that we had some visitors and a bit confused as we have nothing to entertain and serve but a cup of tea to them. After a few minutes, Drishti, her best friend, Priyanka, Shree Vijaya, another class fellow and mother of a Sri Lankan Student arrived in our flat. They spent about an hour with us. We talked and exchanged information about one another. I, mockingly pointing at Darshi, said, “My wife prepares very good tea.” Drishti and Priyanka objected and said that I always tease Darshi. I thought Darshi did not take any note and prepared tea for all. They left after an hour. We had a good time. Before leaving, Drishti told me that she will come again with a cup of coffee for me. And as per her words she was there at 9.30 with two mugs of coffee in her hand. It was well-brewed coffee and we enjoyed coffee over talks for half an hour. I insisted to accompany her to the gate of her hostel and after returning retired for the day. It was quite a hectic day. Yet, I was able to leave my bed at 6 when Darshi called me for my morning cup of tea. It was 18th May, the birthday of my friend from Switzerland, Mugali Zugar. She met me in February 2009, at Ellora when I was on a road trip, then. I tried to contact her on phone but the number seemed to be incorrect. I posted a message for her on Face book. Darshi was not in mood to go to mess and boiled eggs for his breakfast. I went to mess to take breakfast, there. Poorie, potato and bread were available. I took bread instead of Poorie. Actually, I enjoyed going to a public library near the Gate. And mess is midway from our abode. I visited library and then went up to Sidhi for recharge on mobile. I returned to guesthouse through a treacherous hilly track. A student from the nearby degree college helped me by holding my hand at 3-4 dangerous turns. It took a great toll of my knees, too. Darshi wanted me to accompany him to the bridge but I was extremely tired. I told him that we would go, but after I had taken bath. I took an hour to take bath and when we were moving towards the bridge, Drishti called she was waiting for us at the lunch table in the mess. But she was not there when we reached. We waited for a few minutes and then started our lunch. Soon, she appeared with a big mug of coffee in her hand. I enjoyed the coffee with my lunch. She rushed for her class and we returned to the guesthouse. Ultimately, Darshi left for the bridge. He was missing the scenery. I decided to take rest. In the evening we walked up to Sidhi to buy groceries and ice creams. Darshi is a daily taker of ice cream but doesn’t like coffee. I don’t take ice cream but don’t mind coffee. We do not have many things in common but we are together for more than 50 years. Next morning, Darshi again wanted me to take to the village Bhalaam. I told him that I would oblige him but we will go after the breakfast. I rushed to mess, had my breakfast and after that went 104 steps up to the bank’s counter in the hospital to exchange Indian currency. Although all the shopkeepers accept IC in Nepal, yet it is convenient to have NC. I was told that the counter opens at 11.30 and I returned to the guesthouse. Thereafter Darshi and I moved towards the bridge to take bus for Bhalaam from there. We waited in vain for the bus for half an hour. Darshi got nature’s call and we started moving towards guest house. And then my friend Dr. Ajit Chaudhary, noted Hindi writer, called on my mobile. I stopped and had a talk with him while Darshi moved on. No sooner, I finished the talk, the bus arrived. I thought for a second and then boarded the bus. The bus started climbing up the mountains. The road led to a few villages along the river. The bus stopped at every village and some passengers got down at every stop. It was a narrow road luckily no bus came from other side. After climbing a few kilometres, a one and half kilometre dust road started and after that we started going down the hill into the river. It was a bit scary and then the bus crossed the river. There was no bridge on the river. The tyres of the bus got submerged in the water of the river. After crossing the river, the bus again climbed a hillock and we reached Bhalaam. It is a small village with a population of 3500. I found it a clean village, not to say of greenery everywhere, with a primary school and dispensary there. There was only one shop there. It was an open defecation free village. Bhalaam is five kilometres from the gate of the Manipal Teaching Hospital. After a stoppage of fifteen- twenty minutes the bus started for its backward journey. Darshi was there at the bridge when I alighted the bus there. We went for the lunch in the mess and after lunch rested outside there under the tree. Darshi returned to the guest house and I climbed the stairs again. The banker exchanged my money after a little hesitation. She insisted me to go to the main branch at New Road. But later did me the favour as one of her customer needed IC. Vivien came in the evening and we had dinner together in the guest house. She ordered Chicken Briyani and two leg pieces for Darshi from Raju Dai’s. The briyani was good and chicken tangri too big. In Nepal, They grow their chicken big and sell when it grows 4-5 kilogram. After the dinner I went to see off Vivien up to the gate to get her a taxi. The taxi does come down on a phone call but they charge fifty bucks more. I climbed the stairs for the third time in a day that day. That made 312 stairs. It reminded me of my childhood adventure when on a picnic to the Qutab Minar, I climbed three times up to the top. The Qutab has 393 stairs and at that time one was allowed to go up to the top of fifth storey and that too free of charge. Later, it was allowed up to the first storey with a ticket and after a few suicides being committed from there, the climbing was banned. Drishti had earlier called as she wanted to come but on learning that Vivien was there gave me exclusive time with her. She is extremely sensible and well mannered girl. I telephoned her from the gate that I was free and when I reached the barrier, she was there with a mug of coffee. When I told her that I had climbed the stairs the third time she was angry with me. After having a talk for an hour we moved our ways. It was a few minutes passed midnight and when I reached the guest house, Darshi was up after a 4 hours sleep. The dinner with Vivien had a toll on my stomach. I decided to skip the breakfast and have an early lunch. I washed my dirty clothes while Darshi boiled eggs for him and finished with his breakfast. A few minutes passed noon, Drishti called for lunch. She was waiting for us in the mess. We had rajma, rice, cauliflower-potato, curd and salad in lunch. Drishti went for her classes, Darshi towards guest house and I started for the library. On my way back I didn’t forget to buy eggs, bread and fruit. While I was doing the outside duty, Darshi was enjoying the kitchen work and we were having great holiday or was it an illusion? When I reached the guesthouse, Darshi told me that some person came from the hostel and told him that we would have to vacate the guesthouse the net day as some guest had a booking from that day. I was a bit disappointed but Darshi was excited that we would be shifting to Lakeside and would be having free Wi-Fi there. In the evening, we walked to the Sidhi to recharge our mobile and buy ice-creams for Darshi. We met Varsha from Madurai and Snehja from Chennai near the gate. Both the girls are class mates of Drishti. Varsha knew that I am Vivien’s grandfather. Later Drishti told me that All Indian girls knew that and only the Sri Lankans and students from Maldives thought that I am Drishti’s grandfather. Darshi is a fast walker. He reached the guesthouse some fifteen minutes before I could. Darshi told me that the chowkidar had informed him that we would be shifted to B-1, another guesthouse, nearby. We considered leaving Pokhara on 27th and flying out to Delhi from Kathmandu on 29th. Later we discovered that due to SAARC summit the tickets rates have jumped from Rs.5000 to Rs. 17500 and we could get tickets for Rs.8500 for 2nd onwards. Next day we went to lakeside to enquire about the Gorakhpur route. There were so many options available. We could go by bus, shared taxi or individual taxi up to Bhairavah border and from there to Sanoli, on India’s border and from there to Gorakhpur. There were many trains from Gorakhpur to Delhi. The individual taxi would have cost us Rs.4400/- up to Gorakhpur. But all our efforts were dwarfed by Vinnie as he ignored all and insisted asked us to return by air from Kathmandu. Finally, our tickets for down journey were booked for 3rd 0f December. I felt a bit disappointed e evening when I was sitting in the library, Tsering called and told me that he would be shooting in Chitwan from 25th to 30th. Chitwan is wild tourist area in Nepal and almost midway from Pokhara to Kathmandu. I asked him if we could join him there and go forward to Kathmandu. He gave his consent to it and I was a bit cheered up by this development. So was Darshi when I told him about it when I reached the guest house. On 22nd, after the lunch in the mess, we boarded a bus for MP and from there another bus to Tourist Bus Park. Bandna, the ticket agent there was also running a tea shop and had free Wi-Fi for customers. Darshi started talking with his wife on face time and I started enquiring about the tickets from Bandna. I jokingly remarked to her that my friend is missing his wife so talking to his wife. She asked why she did not come with him. I said, “He is enjoying here and she is having good times there, in Delhi”. We bought the tickets for Chitwan for 27th. She offered us tea and biscuits which we accepted gratefully. Two tickets cost Rs.1200/-. In the evening, Darshi complained to me that I am always teasing him and also he had disliking and reservations for my talking about his wife. He also quoted Drishti and other girls in support of his objections. I didn’t say anything as defending before an old friend was not in order. Although, I thought, it was harmless to say all those things to the people, whom we may never meet or meet again after a long time. Yet, I realized that I have no right to hurt him and should be more careful in choosing my words. Tsering had told me that he had his late grandpas’ house in Tibet Camp, Pokhara and we could stay there on our future visits, there. So, after the breakfast, we decided to go there. Tserng’s mother’s sister lives nearby that house. We had to meet Vivien also after her morning session. Vivien’s college was also on that side but the camp is beyond the college. We had time at our disposal, so, we decided to take advantage of the bus service. Though, we had two take three buses to reach there. First, we went to MP and from there we took the bus to Bugger and after walking half a kilometre we got the bus for Henza, the Tibetan camp. Pokhara is a beautiful city and full of scenery. The camp was no exception. Situated in the hills, the camp has a river by its side. There are all type of houses, huts, single-storied, and a few two and three storied ones. The camp came into existence in fifties, when refugees from Tibet were given shelter there. Like any other refugee camp, there were still, signs of it being a refugee camp in the past. We asked a few people about Tsering’s Aunt. I told people there that her name was Tashi that was what we knew and Tsering’s mobile was out of reach and Tashi is quite a common name among Tibetans and there were more than a dozen people by that name. I tried the other information that Tashi had two more sisters. One lives near the airport in Pokhara and other, Tsering’s mother in Kathmandu. Luckily a man standing there in the Chowk not only knew Tashi but also corrected me that Tashi is actually husband of Tsering’s aunt. He led us to their house. Aunt was there and she recognized me having visited my home in Delhi, though I could not place her. She received us very well and soon Mr. Tashi Phunsukh also came. We spent an hour there. We had some photographs with the couple. We had tea together. al All their children are working abroad. Tsering’s house is adjacent to their house. Nobody lives there. Darshi and I were of the opinion that we could stay there though it was at quite a distance from MP or Lakeside, the two most happening places in Pokhara. While we were there, Vivien called and told me that her classes were over. We hired a taxi and in ten minutes reached “Deep”. With Vivien we went to MP. I was feeling hungry so took a thali from Marwari. The food was good and of Indian taste. I bought a greeting card and gifts for Drishti from the market, purchased some groceries. MP is a favourite hunting ground for the students and staff of Manipal. Some of Vivien’s class mates were roaming there. She decided to return to her college with them. We hired a taxi and reached our abode. It was 6PM. In the late evening, I had a talk with Drishti’s mother who was in Delhi to attend a wedding. I insisted her to visit my home and meet my son and daughter in law. But she politely declined my request. I decided to be in the campus, so Darshi left early for his furlough, I call it so because he roams around without any destination in mind. I went to Sidhi to recharge my mobile and on way back spent some time in the library. I took Alloo Parantha and coffee in the breakfast in the mess and returned to the guest house. I again went to mess to have lunch there. It was cold and bland. After that I took the outer road to guest hose. It is the road that leads to Village Bhalaam. I saw some poultry and piggery farms there. I visited the farms out of curiosity though the place was stinking and the interior roads were rough and bumpy. There they grow poultry and pig in big sizes. A pig is fed till it is 1500 kgs. and broiler 4-5 kgs. A pig sells for NPR 40000/-. In retail, the pork and buff is sold at NPR 340/- per Kg. The rate for chicken is NPR 400 and mutton sells at NPR 800/- per kg. Before going to guest house, I went to the bridge and enjoyed the river and the scenery for about an hour. Darshi informed me on mobile that he had befriended a fund collector and was moving on bike with him in the down town Pokhara. He returned at 5.15 and told me that he had a great time. Before retiring I tried to talk to Drishti but she didn’t take my call. It was 25th and we had another two days in Pokhara. We decided to explore “Stupa Guest House”. It is a homely stay place. The owners also live there in the same building and they provide breakfast to guests, too. The bed charges were NPR 300 per day and a Parantha with honey and black tea cost NPR 50 only. It is in between gate and Sidhi. There I met Dr Meera, a resident of Kathmandu, who was staying there with her husband, an orthopaedic surgeon, working with the Manipal Teaching Hospital. She was doing MD. Darshi bought some stuff from Sidhi and rushed to the guest house. I spent some time in the library. When I was there Tsering called and told me that his work at Chitwan will be finished tomorrow and we will not get a chance to stay there. Rather, we would have to leave for Kathmandu immediately after we reach there. I told him that I will discuss it with Darshi and also said,” I will rather prefer to stay back in Pokhra and leave from there to Kathmandu on 30th as three days are more than sufficient to be in Kathmandu. That would give me three more days to spend with my granddaughters. He seemed to be agreeing to my idea. While walking back to guest house, I met Dr. Sharma outside the mess. I asked him how I should address him. I should call him doctor or professor. He instantly replied, ”Surender,” and added to that “Na Hindu banega na muslmaan banega, insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega”. He was a jolly fellow but was a bit perturbed with the management. We had our lunch in the mess. While we were waiting outside the mess under a tree, Drishti came and told me the reason of her not answering to my calls last night. There was some problem with Priyanka. She had a bout of migraine. Drishti insisted me to stay back for a few more days. That cemented our decision of staying there till 3oth. Darshi was reluctant to move so I went down alone to guest house to pick the tickets for Chitwan. Darshi met me at the gate and we took a direct bus to Private Bus Park. The bus took 30 minutes to take us there. Bandana was there. She served us tea and biscuits and did the rest. The cancellation charge was NPR 100 per ticket and we booked tickets for a Wi-Fi equipped bus for Kathmandu. While we were there Vivien called and told me that she would be coming to our guest house. We rushed back. Incidentally, we immediately got the bus from there for MP and the bus for Manipal was ready to leave when we reached there. Vivien and we reached at the same time at guest house. I spent two hours with Vivien. She was also pleased to learn that we would be there for some more time. Later in the night, Drishti came with coffee and we talked for 2-3 hours. These children had so much to talk about that you never realize how the time flied. It was already half an hour past midnight when I slept. Darshi was not feeling well the next morning, the 26th of November. I had my breakfast in the mess and then went up to the shops near the gate to buy a towel and fruit. My towel had been blown away by the wind while put for drying. Darshi was still not feeling well. He had some stomach problem. I moved towards the bridge and decided to climb the hill to Bugger. Without adventure, any holiday is not one. It was a narrow, stony, bushy and steep path. Many a time, I thought of abandoning my adventure but my will power forced me to continue. Also, the scenery at many points was so beautiful that it kept me going. The Seti River gave a mesmerizing view from every step I took. I crawled up the hill. For the final step, I had to take help from the two young men standing on the top. There was a big complex there, the P N College campus. It was closed and there was nobody there. While I was enjoying the beauty of the Seti from the top, the two young boys had disappeared. After wandering there for a few minutes, I met with a guard. He told me that the road in between the campus was going to Bugger from where I will get a taxi to go back to Manipal. But I decided to go back the way I had come. It was dangerous and could have resulted in a serious injury to me. But my adventurous spirit gave me courage to do that. The first step down hill was the most difficult. I had to sit on my bum and still the next flat 2X2 space was two feet down. I waited for a few minutes and then jumped. I stumbled but somehow managed to prevent myself from falling 100 feet down. I was sweating profusely and my heart was beating faster than ever before. It was extremely painful. There was a lump in my throat. I rested for some time on the little space available there to get my breath back. I don’t know after how much time I gained my composure and slowly I started my downward journey. Only one person met me in the way. The fresh and clean air full of oxygen helped my cause. I crawled back to guesthouse. I decided never to take that adventure again. But I know I would not be able to resist it when I would be back there. I was tired, was an understatement. A cup of tea prepared and served to me by Darshi, was a great help. Earlier in the morning, Drishti and Vivien had given their consent for a dinner with us at some restaurant in Lakeside. We had decided to do boating for some time there. But later in the evening, Drishti told us that since the boating was up to 4.30PM and we were late for that. Finally, we left at 6.30 and the casualty was that Darshi refused to accompany us. He was thinking that we would leave early and return early. He didn’t afford to miss his evening’s enjoyments. We picked Vivien from “Deep”. The girls zeroed on the dining hall of “The Fishtail Lodge” for dinner. It is a luxury hotel in an island in the lake. There is a raft service to the Lodge and the raft moves by pulling the rope on the raft itself. Though the hotel’s help was there to do the job, yet the girls enjoyed doing it themselves. It is a high-end hotel with lush green lawns, swimming pool and beautiful cottages. The restaurant was quite large with about aesthetic, 100 seats, indoor and outside in the open on the bank of the Phewa Lake. It was night and a bit cold too, so we decided to sit inside. Boneless fish curry was delicious, daal-tadka was nicely cooked and mildly spiced. But Paneer Makhni was a disappointment; the paneer was elastic and a bit stiff. Overall it was a very good experience and gave me immense pleasure as the girls enjoyed the evening. They even visited “Olive Cafe” for a Machhipusher for each of them. It was decided that we would visit the fishtail again when I visit Pokhara the next time. We were told that late film star Devanand used to stay there to write script for his movies. When I opened the door of the guesthouse the watch struck 12. The snoring of Darshi was the only vibrations in the cool and calm environment. With great effort, I managed to brush my teeth and fell like a sack. The last day adventure of the climb and late night return from Lakeside had taken a toll of my energy and strength. Darshi was considerate enough to give me a boiled egg and a cup of milk in breakfast. He asked me to accompany him to Bhalaam but I, politely, refused and he left and returned in an hour or so. He was so enchanted by the beauty of the five kilometres scenic journey and village Bhalaam that he told me that he can go there every day. Later, we went for lunch in the mess. It was a Rajma-Rice day. Drishti also met us, while we were idling under the tree, on the round platform, outside the mess, after lunch. Drishti passed through on her way to her college for afternoon classes and told me that she would come to the guesthouse in the evening. Darshi went back to the guesthouse and I climbed to the gate and spent sometime in the library. On my way back, I strolled through the hospital and college. When I reached the guesthouse, I saw Darshi entering the complex through the riverside gate. He had gone to climb the hill to Bugger. I was a bit surprised when he told me that he didn’t saw the P N College campus though it is visible from the place where we were standing. He might have climbed some other hill. As usual, Darshi started preparation for his evening pass time. I suggested him to go to Kowloon restaurant to bring some non-vegetarian to enliven his evening. He agreed and immediately left. I was a bit surprised at his decision as he was extremely tired. He did not ask me to accompany, also. But the mystery was solved when he returned and he complained about Wi-Fi at Kowloon not working. He was missing the exchange of messages from his wife and friends. As per the daily routine, Darshi retired after enjoying his evening and I started writing my diary. The high spot of my stay in Pokhra was the time I spent with Vivien and Drishti. I never felt that I was away from my home. There were about 60 hours before I was to leave Pokhara but I had already started missing my granddaughters, their friends and classmates and the city of Pokhara. At about 10 Drishti entered with two mugs of coffee in her hand. She had brought coffee from “COFFEE CULTURE”. It is a coffee store which sells coffee beans, coffee powder and also serves freshly brewed coffee. She had to climb 104 stairs to hospital where the store is and had to walk a kilometre to reach my abode. Her good gestures overwhelmed me, always. I felt indebted to her for her love, affection and sometimes motherly treatment. I enjoyed everything done by her. We talked and talked for two hours, touching all the issues on earth. Finally, when watch struck 12, she decided to leave. I went to leave her to her hostel. It was very safe inside the campus but I got pleasure out of my act of walking up the hill to girls’ hostel. There was a chill in the air but it was more pleasant rather than cold. It was the second last day for me in Pokhra. I wished to spend more time with the girls so we went to the mess for breakfast. Drishti and a few girls were there. Drishti told me that she would have dinner with me at a nearby restaurant. She rushed for her college and we crawled back to the guesthouse. Darshi wanted to take me up the hill to Bugger. But I took him to the less high hillock which has a residential village, Nadi Pur, atop it. It was a narrow track with natural beauty spread everywhere. We met a few young couples there. When i asked a young couple to click them together, the young girl did not agreed instead she insisted on getting photographed her with me. I agreed for a nice resultant photograph. She told me that she had worked in a store in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi (India). We rested for a few minutes in Nadi Pur. I proposed to return the way we had gone up, that would have taken 25-30 minutes. . But Darshi wanted to return via the flatter but longer road route. He is an adamant man and always has his way with me. We started for our three kilometres long journey. We managed to reach the guesthouse in two hours. We were completely exhausted. Darshi even claimed to be running fever but the thermometer showed otherwise. And he was to his normal after his evening routine. I had to go to mess for dinner as Drishti was celebrating Sapna’s birthday. Vivien had excused herself, earlier on pretext of participating in badminton match. Pokhra stay had improved my culinary skills. I was able to prepare scrambled eggs to the satisfaction of my friend and co traveller, Darshi. After the breakfast we left for MP. Vivien met us at Bhaat Bhatini Mall. We had lunch at Thakali Bhancha. Thakali is place in Nepal famous for traditional Nepali food. The thali consisted of rice, daal, and vegetable. After the lunch we wandered around in MP and then took a taxi for the guest house. It was my last day at Pokhara and Vivien wanted to spend some time with me and came along. At 5pm, Drishti dropped in and the two started teasing me and Darshi. They were quoting Darshi as my better half. He is a dear friend but he started feeling embarrassed. To his relief, the girls decided to have a dinner at B-9 restaurant near the gate. So, we left leaving Darshi to fend for him. Vivien ordered chicken- briyani for herself and Drishti chose daal fry and bhindi for the two of us. I had not eaten a tastier cooked bhindi than at B-9 for a long time. Vivien left for her hostel after the dinner but not before giving a warm hug to me. I could not utter a word due to lump in my throat. The same may be true for Vivien. Drishti returned to guesthouse. Darshi had already locked himself in his bedroom. I went to see Drishti off to her hostel at 9.15 but could not sleep before the clock struck 11. The next morning, we left the guesthouse at 6.00am. Drishti was waiting to say goodbye outside her hostel. She gave me a hug and we parted with tears in our eyes. There was a little commotion at the bus station as the bus with the number given on our tickets was not there. We were made to travel by another bus of the same company. The bus left at 7.30 and we reached Kathmandu at 3 in the afternoon. Milan, Tsering.'s driver was there to receive us. In fact he came right inside the bus to take our luggage. Tsering and Tenzin were waiting for us to join for tea when we reached home. In the evening, I was busy talking to Vivien and Drishti as I could not do so earlier due to signal problems and then battery getting discharged. I slept at 9pm. I was tired due to an 8 hours journey from Pokhra to my Kathmandu home. The next day we remained at home only but for spending two hours at Boudha and a visit to Tenzin’s parents’ house. The house is rented out and we went to see the puppies delivered by a pet bitch. But she was so aggressive that we returned without accomplishing that. We were to fly for Delhi the next day so we went for shopping gifts for friends and family members in Delhi. Tenzin took us to Thamel and helped us to select some woollens and tea. Before we left for the airport the forenoon was enliven by the meeting with Zigme and Appu over lunch in their hotel. In the flight I was seated by a charming American lady, Sandra, she was travelling alone and was nice to talk to and even applied his touch therapy too sooth my knee-pain. She made the1hour 30 minutes flight a memorable one. She promised to remain in touch when we parted at Indira Gandhi International Airport. No sooner, Sandra mingled in the crowd and disappeared; my thoughts started wandering back to Nepal. I am an emotional fool. I started missing my family, Sherpa family, in Kathmandu, my granddaughters in Pokhra, the sceneries and rivers, snow clad peaks and hard working , innocent and honest people in Nepal. I was missing all that and more. Nepal has all the potential of being number one tourist attraction in the world. It has eight out of ten highest mountain peaks in the world. It has abundance of natural beauty. The people there are forthcoming and genuinely helpful. The only drawbacks are infrastructure and transport. It is a pity that Pokhra which should be number one destination doesn’t have an international airport. Still, I love Nepal. Why? Go and see for yourself !