Pink Twins

Pink Twins
Gangtok

Yellow Villa

Yellow Villa
Gangtok

Sparkling Rai Saag

Sparkling Rai Saag
Gangtok

Lovely Poppy Flowers

Lovely Poppy Flowers
Gangtok

A Different type of Seasonal Flower

A Different type of Seasonal Flower
Gangtok

Blue Flavour

Blue Flavour
Gangtok

Pink & White Combination

Pink & White Combination

Dark Pink Flavour

Dark Pink Flavour
Gangtok 6th March 16

Purple Charm

Purple Charm
CS Quarter Gangtok

Magnificent Yellow and Red Tulip

Magnificent Yellow and Red Tulip
Conservatory Near Selep Tank

Charm of Red Tulips

Charm of Red Tulips
Conservatory near Selep Tank

Lord Buddha

Lord Buddha
1-D Terminal New Delhi

Attraction of Red Panda

Attraction of Red Panda
Saramsa Garden

Lord Ganesh made of oranges

Lord Ganesh made of oranges
Saramsa Garden

Charm of Seasonal Flower

Charm of Seasonal Flower
Gaurds Ground Gangtok

Unmatched beauty

Unmatched beauty
Sikkim Organic Festival

Green is always soothing

Green is always soothing
Sikkim Organic Festival 2016

Yellow Orchid

Yellow Orchid
Somewhere in Gangtok

White Orchid

White Orchid
Manan Kendra

Purple Orchid

Purple Orchid
Manan Kendra, 31-10-2015

Gift of Nature

Gift of Nature
Near Cherry Building

Majestic View of Sea

Majestic View of Sea
Marina, Chennai, 19-10-15

Typical Sikkim Pillar Carving and painting

Typical Sikkim Pillar Carving and painting
Hotel Nork Hill

Mirror Reflection, Changed Angle

Mirror Reflection, Changed Angle
Nork Hill, 24-11-2015

Mirror Trick

Mirror Trick
Hotel Nork Hill, Gtok, 24-11-2015

Yes we have the power

Yes we have the power
Qtr at Devt Area, 25-11-2015

Majestic View of K.jenga from SLA

Majestic View of K.jenga from SLA
Gangtok dt 20-11-2015

MIRROR IMAGE OR COMPUTER TRICK

MIRROR IMAGE OR COMPUTER TRICK
NEW DELHI 22-10-15

BRILLIANT KATHAK PERFORMANCE

BRILLIANT KATHAK PERFORMANCE
MRS MALI SMU 13-10-2015

SAROD RECITAL

SAROD RECITAL
SMU CONVOCATION 13-10-15

SHOWCASING SIKKIM CULTURE

SHOWCASING SIKKIM CULTURE
ITM GANGTOK 14-10-15

RED BEAUTY

RED BEAUTY
GANGTOK

ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL

ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL
MAYFAIR GANGTOK

OM NAMAH SHIVAY

OM NAMAH SHIVAY
MAYFAIR GANGTOK 02-11-15

Smile and Joy

Smile and Joy
24th September Delhi

Catelia Orchid

Catelia Orchid
Gangtok

Beautiful Chinaware Lampshed

Beautiful Chinaware Lampshed
Gangtok

Catelia Orchid

Catelia Orchid
Gangtok on 7-10-15

Morning Glow

Morning Glow
Denzong Regency- Gangtok on 7-10-15

Pink Orchid

Pink Orchid
Pakyong Area

Green Orchid

Green Orchid
Bojeytar Pakyong 26 Feb 15

Tabla or Log Piece

Tabla or Log Piece
HMI Darjeeling Nov 2014

Hand can do anything

Hand can do anything
Birla Science Museum Kolkata

Legacy and Heritage

Legacy and Heritage
Indian Museum Kolkata

Queen Nephretus of Egypt

Queen Nephretus of Egypt
India Museum Kolkata 4th Mar 15

A Buddhist Stone Art Piece

A Buddhist Stone Art Piece
Tashi Delek June 2014

Foot Print of Bason

Foot Print of Bason
Satpura Forest

Foot Print of Tiger

Foot Print of Tiger
Satpura Forest (MP) March 14

Unique Piece of Pine Wood

Unique Piece of Pine Wood

Lovely Twins

Lovely Twins

Pink,Pink,Pink

Pink,Pink,Pink
Orchid,not only Spl ,It lasts longer Also

Clean Water has a Different Impact

Clean Water has a Different Impact
Rangeet at Jorethang ,24-11-14

What a Ravishing Beauty ?

What a Ravishing Beauty ?
Teesta near Kalijhora, 19-12-14

Pre Dawn Captivating Beauty

Pre Dawn Captivating Beauty
K.JUNGA, 6:20 AM 18 -12-14

Another Dawn View -Different Angle

Another Dawn View -Different Angle
K.JUNGA, 18-12-14

View at Dawn in Biting Cold

View at Dawn in Biting Cold
K.JUNGA 18-12

Dawn Scene-2

Dawn Scene-2
V Awas 18 -12-14

Dawn Scenario

Dawn Scenario
K.JUNGA

Morning Means End of Night

Morning Means End of Night
K. JUNGA,

View at Dawn

View at Dawn
K.JUNGA 2 ,18-12-14

Early Morning Freshness

Early Morning Freshness
K.JUNGA, 18-12-14

What an eye opener early in the day?

What an eye opener early in the day?
View of 17-12-2014 from Terrace of V. Awas

Another view of full snow around Mt Kanchendzonga

Another view of full snow around  Mt Kanchendzonga
17-12-2014

Magnificent view after bone chilling night

Magnificent view after bone chilling night
17-12-2014

Beauty of Kachendzonga after a cold night

Beauty of Kachendzonga after a cold night
Vidhayak Awas Gangtok

Amazing charm of Green Orchid

Amazing charm of Green Orchid
HMI Darjeeling

Green Orchid

Green Orchid
HMI DARJEELING (13-11-14)

Bell Flower in full bloom

Bell Flower in full bloom

Yellow Orchid

Yellow Orchid
Dec 14 Circuit House

View of Kanchendzonga always inspires

View of Kanchendzonga always inspires
Vidhayak Aawas Gangtok

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom
November 14 Ganesh Tok Gangtok

What a view after getting up ?

What a view after getting up ?
B-1 Vidhayak Aawas Gangtok

Chanda Mama looking at Kanchendzonga

Chanda Mama looking at Kanchendzonga
11-11-2014 VIP COLONY

Red Rose

Red Rose
Gangtok

Cranes having Gala Time

Cranes having Gala Time
Tigaon, Faridabad (2nd Oct 14)

Yes I am from Faridabad

Yes I am from Faridabad
Tiny, Beautiful Bird at NTPC, Ballabgarh (29.9.14)

Water Vital for Life

Water Vital for Life
Awesome view of Teesta near Kalijhora

Yes I had a Bath

Yes I had a Bath
Gladiola at 6200 ft.

Soothing Morning View

Soothing Morning View
Mt. Khangchendzonga from C.House (April, 14)

Natural Yellow Fascinates

Natural Yellow Fascinates
Gangtok (April, 2014)

Flowery Bell ?

Flowery Bell ?
Circuit House (May 14)

Riot of Colour in Monsoon

Riot of Colour in Monsoon
Circuit House, Gangtok(May 14)

Blushing orange

Blushing orange
Circuit House Gangtok (May 14)

Magnificent Taj

Magnificent Taj
Sept 2013

I can lift Taj Mahal

I can lift Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal,Sept end 2013

Natural fan to beat the heat

Natural fan to beat the heat
India Gate (24.08.14)

Engineering Marvel

Engineering Marvel
Coronation Bridge (22.08.2014)

Cascading water, soothing to eyes

Cascading water, soothing to eyes
Scene near Teesta Baazar (22.8.14)

Teesta attracts at every bend

Teesta attracts at every bend
16.7.2014

Monkey jump

Monkey jump
Teesta River, Birik(22.8.14)

Onset of Night

Onset of Night
Qutub,Sept.13

Qutub,Dusk Scene

Qutub,Dusk Scene
Sept.13

Together we take a Plunge

Together we take a Plunge
Clean Calicut Beach, Feb-2013

Setting Sun, always soothing

Setting Sun, always soothing
Dusk at a Gaya village(15.5.13)

Green Paradise in Concrete Jungle

Green Paradise in Concrete Jungle
Lake surrounding Purana Quila(20.10.13)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

FANTASY SOCCER


It was the solemn occasion of Pang Lhabsol. Being a holiday the people of Namchi were in a festive mood upon conclusion of a pooja at the Alley Monastery. The weather looked congenial despite light showers experienced the previous evening. Soon after breakfast, all the paths led to the picturesque District Ground. It was being spruced up to host a Friendly ‘nine a side’ football match between the District Officers (DO) and the Local Gentries(LG).
When sufficient number of people thronged the place, a request was formally delivered to the local MLA and Minister, Public Works to grace the event as the Chief Guest. Having arrived in advance, he was busy, interacting with his constituents in a Government Guest House.
The usual pomp and show was visible at the jampacked ground. The Minister was accorded a traditional welcome. After a ‘tika’ was applied on his forehead, he made the waiting girls, representing three communities, richer by Rs. 300/ each. Thereafter, a band of well dressed teenaged boys played a soothing tune in the middle of the ground.
To start the process, the Minister was introduced to the rival captains and their team-mates. Next, it was the turn of the Minister to kick the new ball. The way he did it, the onlookers got an inkling of the sportsmanship possessed by him in past.
The match began with a fair degree of fun and enthusiasm. It took some time before the spectators noticed the presence of Bhaichung Bhutia, the local hero and the India Skipper playing for the DO. Bhaichung and a few erstwhile players showed their skill and acumen right from kick-off. As a result, the LG looked perturbed, if not shattered. Since the weather was fine, natural play was very much possible. Nevertheless, as per usual experience in this kind of game, a few felt breathless, to start with. The spectators had turned up for the occasion dressed in their attractive ethnic outfits and accessories. Like any other place, the children formed the largest group.
Despite fast movement of the ball coupled with good footwork, the first twenty five minutes were devoid of any result. By this time, however, a kind of manifest division was seen among the jubilant spectators. While the stand facing Youth Hostel was cheering the DO, those occupying the West and North stand were seen shouting for the LG. Just before the whistle for the breather, Bhaichung, aided by a superb pass from Chettri, the upcoming star, could reach deep inside the goal area of the LG. He got past the athletic goalkeeper and scored a remarkable field goal. Apart from the visual treat and the thunderous applause, same was confirmed by the Referee in his typical dancing style. The spectators now had everything to cheer and relish. In addition to giving an upper edge to OT, it restored the interest in the game, which, so to say, was waning, thanks to goalless twenty five minutes.
An unusual warmth and bonhomie was witnessed during the interval. Both the teams were offered glucose, water, squash, and juices in addition to unusual items-the delicious steamed momos and appetizing chicken legs. Discussions took place on the strategy to be followed in the later half. The idea was not only to score goals but also provide adequate humour and entertainment to the festive crowd, watching the game with a rapt attention.
Unlike in regular matches, the referee volunteered to play a second fiddle in the second half. The younger but experienced Lineman, therefore, walked into his exalted shoes with a beaming face. The play, nonetheless, could resume only after the new referee took a “bathroom break”, something he could have easily availed of during the interval. Since plenty of time was available, he was allowed this unforeseen liberty.
With the passage of time, the stamina of the players began getting exhausted. Certain sections of the crowd, however, could discover novel ways to boost the morale of their respective teams.
The LG displayed a picture of renewed confidence with fresh young blood entering their ranks. Their teamwork and occasional speed bore fruits in the last ten minutes. Though they could not score a field goal, Garjaman Gurung, their oldest player, backed brilliantly by a Jorethang Sardar, managed to convert a penalty corner with perfection. With this goal, things became more interesting.
At the time of a free kick, the strategy of DO was discussed in a ‘professional ‘fashion, even when they exceeded the permitted time. The field placements also underwent a change with more active players occupying the forward line and the hefty and tired ones relegated as defenders. DO’s effective goalkeeper too had to be replaced to enable him to attend to an emergency. Many of them had to be politely requested, in addition, not to indulge in any conversation with the spectators.
At last, the second goal for DO was scored by Shukla, their captain, as a result of a fine pass by the combined initiatives of Chhetri and Bhaichung. Even after confirming the same and Shukla being hugged and lifted by the fellow players, he won’t release the ball. Afterall, it was a defining moment for his team. The referee, however, showed his reluctance to pronounce the desperately needed verdict in their favour. He ruled that the Captain was ‘off side’. Same was later confirmed by his colleague.
The sudden bout of pleasure, however, vanished in thin air. Shukla felt being awakened by Tom, his cute, quiet cat. He discovered that he was not in Namchi or any other part of Sikkim. Rather, he was sleeping to glory in New Delhi. May be, he had a really sound sleep which was instrumental in this nice dream. Even if it was momentary, not only he smiled, he felt elated as well. He was in a different world. The dream, per se, brought back sweet memories of the past. Shukla made no mistake in ringing up Bhaichung Bhutia and eloquently shared the experience of a match that never took place. Fresh from his Asia Cup triumph, Bhaichung smiled and reciprocated his feelings.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

LISA’s SIKKIM SOJOURN

Lisa experienced a reeling headache soon after having a sumptuous dinner. Past midnight, she was struggling with her notes. She had to take the last paper of Economics Honours, the following day. Being the only girl child in a family residing in Shiv Nagar area of Janakpuri, she was Papa’s darling. Mummy, nonetheless, also loved her on account of her undemanding nature and studious approach. On conclusion of her exams, she was promised a holiday in the Himalayan paradise of Sikkim. Hectic preparations had to be made for journey and accommodation. Though she had performed reasonably well in the last terminal test of International Trade & Banking at the Venkateshwara College, yet, she began showing signs of mild nervousness in the wee hours of the morning. A cup of hot tea restored her confidence.
Lisa could finish her last paper fairly well inspite of some questions being tricky and indirect. Her favourite dish greeted her when she came back home. In the evening, J.P.Sinha returned sooner than expected. The information culled out from the agents and internet, was shared with the family. His persistent efforts had resulted in confirmation of air tickets and accommodation in three out of four places. Due to the X’mas holidays, position was reported tight every where. He, therefore, advised his off-springs to be prepared to share rooms in case their requirement was not met.
Following dinner, packing began .While the male members packed necessary items, Lisa was seen assisting Mummy in putting biscuits and home-made cookies. Space was also created for her Teddy Bear. In view of her experience, Rita Sinha desired children to travel light and resort to ‘repeat’ formula like foreigners. Somehow, it did not have the expected impact. It was well past eleven pm, when packing session concluded.
As this was their first air journey, thanks to relaxation in LTC Rules concerning North East, a different kind of joy was visible. The drive to Delhi airport took an hour. Fortunately, queues were not long in the Terminal Building. While three of their suitcases were put in the baggage, each of them had to carry a hand bag. By the time they boarded Jetair flight 9W 602, everything appeared on time. A minor delay did occur due to delayed identification of a purse coupled with late reporting by one Minister.
Smartly dressed and energetic hostesses greeted the passengers. They spelt out basic flight related precautions. Upon offering glasses of lemon juice, announcement was made for an early lunch due to inclement weather ahead. Lisa, occupying a window seat seemed to enjoy every bit of her grub. Her mood was lifted further on being given an extra bowl of desert. While noticing exotic Mt.Everest and other Himalayan peaks, she would not refrain from eliciting comments from Papa and Vinod. Amod and Mummy, on the contrary, were seen relishing a nap, every now and then.
Their exciting maiden air journey came to end around 12 noon when the air craft began descending towards the Bagdogra airport. On landing luggage collection was a short affair. While same was being performed, Lisa and Vinod picked up brochures from a smiling attendant of Sikkim Tourism. While prepaid taxis for Gangtok were available, none of them was keen to undertake a 135 kms journey to Pelling in West Sikkim. A timely mediation by a nice soul persuaded one driver to take the Sinhas up to Jorethang (40 km short of Pelling).A deal was struck in view of his promise to arrange a connecting taxi for Pelling.
First fifteen kilometers nowhere gave the impression that a hill station was close by. It was the usual congestion and occasional violation of traffic rules by pedestrians and the cattle alike. Very soon, however, they came across a patch of soothing green forest. Tashi Tamang, the driver informed that the highway would lead to Kalimpong, apart from Sikkim and that from the gigantic Coronation Bridge, a diversion would go to Assam and Phunsoling in Bhutan .
A further drive of ten kms, brought them in the lap of the green mountains. The mighty Teesta river was seen making a defiant statement. Observing the beautiful sight of the clean meandering river, the expected temptation to shoot could not be resisted. While Vinod grabbed the camera from Mrs. Sinha’s purse, Lisa demanded that she be allowed to try her hand first. Sensing some scuffle, J.P.Sinha himself took beautiful shots of the fast flowing river. Thereafter, to please Lisa, camera was passed on to her. She, on her part, took memorable snaps of baby monkeys grabbing bananas and bread pieces being thrown by the passersby. This scenario could be noted for another half an hour.
At Kalijhora village, little bit of drizzle was experienced. Time was ripe for a tea break. The taste of noodles and momos at a joint was simply awesome. While munching Kurkure chips, Tashi narrated tales concerning tourists. To him, the foreigners would refrain from spending. The fellow Indians, especially from the North, however, will have no inhibition on this count. They, in addition, were also liberal in giving tips.
Onward journey up to Teesta Bazar was full of fun. Greenish blue colour of river water was a treat to watch. Lisa noted that a road was branching off to Darjeeling. Distance reported was barely thirty kms. Since she had heard positive stories regarding this beautiful hill resort, she lost no time in requesting Papa to take a detour via Darjeeling. “Same was not possible for want of the requisite permit”, informed Tashi. ”May be next time”, Daddy intervened to say.
The next four kilometres provided a scenic view of the Teesta river and its confluence with Rangeet. Plenty of shots were, therefore, taken. At the Melli check-post, an impressive multi-coloured gate welcomed visitors to South Sikkim. All heaved a sigh of relief on knowing that Jorethang was barely twenty six kms away. Though the Rangeet river on the left was no less attractive as compared to the Teesta , by this time fatigue was apparent on every one’s face. Lisa, therefore, bent to sleep in Mummy’s lap. Amod followed the suit on the front seat. Vinod, on the other hand, gave company to Papa in discussing the places of interest in West and South Sikkim.
Arrival at Jorethang coincided with sun-set. The flat town looked planned and clean. In one earmarked corner, dozens of stalls were selling vegetables and fruits. Unusually broad streets were well-lit. The family settled for a quick toilet and tea break. Local leaf tea-Temi tasted great. While Lisa enjoyed home made snacks and tea in the company of a few Sikkimese girls, Amode and Vinod, thanks to their flamboyance, got attracted to the sparkling cable stayed bridge over the Rangeet. While returning, they saw attractive paintings depicting the ethnic communities of Sikkim.
In the meanwhile, Tashi came with a pleasant surprise. A friend of his, visiting Legship, had agreed to lift the family, provided they could squeeze into four seats of his Bolero. With a view to save time, this offer was promptly responded to. More than any one else, it was Lisa who aspired to reach Pelling fast.
The halt at Hotel Trishna at Legship gave much needed rest to the Sinhas. Though the place was small, they were fortunate to get tasty food with insignificant hole in their pocket. Before departing for Pelling on day two, a visit to the Kirateshwar Mahadev temple proved refreshing. Amod, Vinod and Lisa were thrilled to have a feel of a foot suspension bridge. They could not believe that a bridge could shake also. On the other bank of Rangeet, it was amazing to see one hundred and eight Shiv Lings in a hall next to the main temple. A hassle free darshan on a bright sunny day lifted everyone’s spirits.
Steep climb from Legship enabled them to have a bird’s eye view of Ravangla,Kewzing and Mangalbarey. Some portions of narrow 25 kilometre long road did prove troublesome. Yet the rich forest cover and cluster of clean houses made up the loss.
The family checked into the Hotel Phamrong at Pelling. It was beyond one’s imagination to see over fifty hotels in an otherwise small place situated at an altitude of 6100 feet. Probably it was due to the breathtaking view of Mt. Kanchenjunga and adjoining peaks(most of them above 20,000 feet). In addition, Pelling was also the gateway to many lakes, waterfalls and monasteries, apart from facilitating the mountaineers to the base camp of Mt.Kanchenjunga at Yuksom.
The pre-lunch visit to Pemayangtse Monastery was rewarding. The 17th Century monastery of the Nyingmapa sect had a commanding view. It was learnt that this second oldest monastery of Sikkim had been entrusted with the task to perform all the religious functions of the erstwhile monarch. Upon admiring the statues of Lord Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, and Goddess Tara, it was a treat to watch other precious images, mural paintings and a marvelous wooden structure on the top floor. Latter depicted the Maha Guru’s Heavenly Palace(Zang-dok-Palri)
Since the Rabdentse Ruins was at a walking distance, Sinhas decided to have a glance even when it meant postponement of lunch. The second capital of the erstwhile Chogyal had been carefully restored by the A.S.I. Beautiful view of the Mt.Kanchenjunga, Mt.Kabru and Mt.Pandim was to leave a lasting impression, besides providing an excellent photo opportunity.
Prior to the onset of dusk, Amod and Vinod accompanied an energetic Bhutia lad to Sanga-Choling Monastery built in 1697. Lisa, on the contrary, took her mother to the Pelling School to mingle freely with the hill children. Not only she could see smart and healthy students play football, they did rehearse for a play to be staged after a week. The senior most Sinha, in the meanwhile, got immense satisfaction in taking a nap in the hotel room. Every one, thus discovered his/her own way to relax and recharge.
To measure her cardio-vascular strength, Lisa resorted to brisk walk in the Pelling Bazar. Seeing twinkling stars clearly after a long time and being bestowed with an opportunity to breath in pollution free air, she was in high spirits. She was waiting also desperately to get an early morning mesmerizing view of the Mt.Kanchenjunga. She prayed that clouds should not hinder the view.
It was bone chilling cold at 4.00 a.m. when the wake up call was given. Amod and Vinod, otherwise sleeping to glory were promptly woken up. The guardian deity of Sikkim was at its best when first few rays of Sun fell over it. Slowly the charm of the five soaring summits got further enhanced. The pinkish glow became dazzling white in the backdrop of a radiant blue sky in about twenty minutes. The unique scenario captured meticulously on camera, brought incalculable freshness to their mind. The experience was to be felt from within. It was rather difficult to narrate. It, nevertheless, prompted Lisa to acquire a handycam soon.
The third day at Sikkim began after a hearty breakfast. The rare early morning view of the snow clad mountains dominated the discussions in the dining hall. Before fixing a cab for sight seeing, the clear view of Dentam, and Hee-Bermiok was captured into the camera. On way to Darap, large cardamom plantations were visible all over. The Darap waterfalls, however, failed to impress at this time of the year. The family interacted with a bunch of tiny tots close to a hamlet. Their pink cheeks and overall innocence could attract anybody. Soon thereafter, they briefly visited the Rimbi mini hydel project and the upcoming Sewaro Rock Garden.
After a leisurely drive of half an hour it was simply amazing to see a huge waterbody-the Khecheopalri Lake. Remaining hidden under a rich forest cover, the lake was sacred both to the Buddhists and the Hindus. The birds, not the human beings ensured cleanliness of the lake. According to a Lama, they donot permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. While Mr.and Mrs. Sinha attempted meditation to feel the overall solitude, Lisa and her brothers found immense pleasure in rotating the wooden prayer wheels. A few foreign tourists gave them company in taking a round of the crystal clear lake. It was nice to interact with the group, primarily interested in trekking to the Dzongri area.
From Khecheopalri it was a smooth drive down to the Kanchenjunga twin waterfalls. Situated very close to state highway leading to Yuksom, its breathtaking beauty and overall grandeur highly impressed the Sinhas. Even though its water was ice cold, Amod, Vinod and Lisa derived pleasure in receiving its showers. While the child in them was thoroughly engrossed in enjoying, their camera was saved from being swept away by a vigilant guide. He was suitably tipped.
An impromptchu cold water bath proved a good wake up call for lunch. Due to a minor landslide, however, they survived on chips and popcorns for a while. A valiant search for even Maggie noodles did not bear any fruit. The nearest eating joint was five kilometers ahead of the slide point. Subsequent to a wait of little over an hour, the road was through again but speed became a casualty on account of piling up of the vehicles on both the sides. J.P.Sinha advised his children to take it in their stride and while feeling so they should appreciate the constraints faced by the villagers of the area, more so, during the Monsoon.
A late buffet lunch at Dzongrilla Hotel at Yuksom restored moments of happiness. In the post lunch period, visits were undertaken to the Consecration Point of the first Chogyal at Norbugang Chorten and two adjoining lakes. As a steep trek to Dubdi, the oldest monastery of Sikkim, was out of question, the Sinhas focus sed their attention on the Phamrong Waterfalls. What a magnificent scenario it was! It turned out to be higher than the Kanchenjunga falls. A newly built footpath enabled Lisa and her siblings to get a close look. The parents settled for enjoying the beauty from the roadside. Perhaps, they were worn out.
The eventful third day concluded with a visit to the Tashiding Monastery located on the top of a heart shaped hill. Though the Sinhas had to resort to a gentle trek, it was worth it. After seeing the sancto sanctorum, Lisa listened to a Lama with rapt attention. He explained that the monastery was privileged to be blessed by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century A.D. He also gave vivid descriptions of the Bhumchu(Holy water ceremony) organized at the monastery on the 14th and 15th day of the first Lunar month. Later the family was privileged to see ‘Thong-Wa-Rang-Dol’, the most holy Chorten(Stupa) of Sikkim. Amod gathered the information that the mere act of beholding it was supposed to wash away all the sins of the devotees. Thinking about these myths and beliefs of the mountain state, Lisa hit the pillow in the four seated room of the newly constructed Yatri Niwas at Tashiding. Though the day was hectic, the family had the satisfaction to being exposed to a good package of nature, culture and adventure.
With only one clear day at their hand, Sinhas had to rework their itinerary. There was so much to see but owing to time constraints some spots had to be left for the next visit. The penultimate day began with a gentle drive to the Rangeet Dam. The family had a thrilling boating experience. Next engagement was an interesting exposure to a village tourism site at Kewzing. Clear view of Mount Narsingh came as a bonus.
The uphill drive to Ravangla and therafter to Temi, provided them an opportunity to see the only tea estate of Sikkim. The garden spread out on a gentle hill-slope originating from the Tendong Hill facilitated a magnificent view of Mount Kanchenjunga on one extreme and the villages of East Sikkim on the other. The experience of lunch at a viewpoint in the middle of the garden proved very exhilarating. Afterall, Lisa was used to seeing the tea gardens only in the Bollywood films.
By 3 p.m. the Sinhas managed to reach Samdruptse or the ‘wish fulfilling hill’ to have a darshan of 135 feet high statue of Guru Padmasambhava The towering structure situated at a height of 6200 feet enabled them to have a panoramic view of Namchi and Darjeeling hills. It looked very awesome and spell-binding in the soothing afternoon sun. Apart from the chanting of hymns by the Lamas, the practice of offering scarves impressed everyone. While Lisa prayed for her MBA admission, Amod and Vinod desired to get promising job placements. Their parents meditated in the serene surroundings for the overall well being of the family.
The New Delhi based family had a well deserved rest at dusk in the Hotel Nayuma at Namchi. As compared to Pelling and Tashiding, it was less cold. Post-dinner, they took a stroll in the adjacent market. Even though majority of the shops had pulled down their shutters, a few curio items could be purchased as souvenir.
Sharp at eight a.m., the following day, imminent departure for Bagdogra took place. Four days meaningfully spent in the splendid setting of Sikkim were going to be in the memory of the Sinhas for a long time. Rejuvenated and refreshed by the unsurpassed beauty of Sikkim, Lisa felt more motivated and determined. Fastening the seat-belt in the aircraft, she vowed to build her career with renewed vigour and vitality.

Friday, November 21, 2008

GOA BY NIGHT

After having a relaxed and hearty dinner in the musical setting of ‘Canacona’, I could not resist the temptation to take a gentle stroll in the gigantic lobby of the Grand Resort. By a sheer chance, I met Arif, Nusrat and Ghulam. While chitchatting, from nowhere, we were attracted towards a Golf cart parked in one corner of the portico. When casually requested, the hotel watchman, a tall, hefty but helpful Sardarji agreed to arrange a free ride for us. Seeing the dimly-lit vast compound of the Portuguese style hotel and its golf course turned out to be an interesting experience. Towards the end, we were dropped outside the main gate. A group of well dressed village young men wanted to speak to us. They followed us gently when we wished to have a cup of tea at the only Dhaba of the remote coastal village. The owner was polite but his time was up. He was in the process of closing the shop. In the meanwhile, the young men approached us again.
Interaction with them revealed that many of them owned taxis and motorcycles, available for hire at any time of the day. Either the visitor could drive them to a location of choice or else one of them would do the job. The system sounded pleasantly different from other tourist spots of the country. One could sense a degree of trust reposed in the tourists. A number of nearby tourist spots were spelt out in addition to the packages available for Aguada Fort, the beaches of Anjuna and Candolim, Old Goa, Panaji, Margaon and a glance at the newly introduced casinos. Upon listening to the whole commentary, we decided to contact Yash, one of the owners, the following day. But he succeeded, then and there in persuading us to visit the Palolem beach, located at a distance of barely five kms. He promptly agreed when I expressed a desire to pick up my mouthorgan.
What a refreshing drive he gave! The cool breeze from the Arabian sea provided us the relief from the fatigue of a packed training day. While ensuring a smooth drive, Yash also gave us vivid descriptions of the life under the Portuguese, transforming villages, unabated construction boom, communal harmony in Goa, system of hiring rooms and cottages and an Annaconda snake which lived about three kms away from our hotel. When I finished a tune on the mouthorgan, he was quick to add that the whole area looked quiet and isolated as the tourist season was still a fortnight away. According to him, the foreigners who visited this part were mostly bag packers or the budget tourists from England and Australia. They had no worry in life. Most of them happen to be scantily clad drug addicts.
Hearing these accounts we reached the small settlement of Palolem. It was already 10.pm but the shops were open if not doing brisk business. Without losing time we walked to the beach. It was heartening to see some do’s and don’ts made prominent on a board of the local Municipal body. Though it was dark, a few steps over the sand made us aware that it was a clean beach. A few more steps took us closer to the sea waves. The mere touch of sea water lifted our spirits. A few couples were already enjoying darkness. After taking a few snaps, including of a parked fishing boat, I persuaded Ghulam to have a brush with the solitude .We sat down on sand which was partly wet. Feeling the sound of the waves for about fifteen minutes turned out to be more pleasing experience. Later we resorted to star gazing. Soon Nusrat and Arif rejoined us. We began walking towards the restaurants located along the beach. As expected, a bunch of foreign tourists were seated in funny postures. Some appeared normal, some were half asleep, while a sizeable chunk was found waiting to dance to the tune of English and Goan disco numbers, two hours later. For strange reasons, all the discos of the area become actually functional from midnight.
A peep into the Draupadi Restaurant revealed that a variety of food was available-Goan,Tandoori,Chinese as also continental. The menu offered was affordable. Having witnessed the scenario there, we proceeded to the market.
While a garment seller was calculating his day’s earnings, a Dhaba owner was busy getting a sumptuous item prepared. It was educative to talk to a curio shopkeeper and later listen to his explanations pertaining to the gems and precious stones before three deeply involved middle aged tourists. But what actually stole the show was a serious game of Billiards played between the waiter of an eating joint and a foreigner, whose bulky companion, smoking like a chimney, would occasionally curse him for ignoring her.
Seeing all this, time frittered away. Though the prescribed time of two hours was about to expire, Yash was conspicuous by his absence. Ultimately, he was located at the main entrance to the Palolem Beach. Of all the things, he was seen relishing a fight involving a few stray dogs. While we reminded him of his assignment, we were, at the same time, rather impressed with the frantic efforts of a teenaged tourist in resolving the dispute between the dogs. Her partner, unmindful of the developments taking place, stuck to their hired scooter till she succeeded in restoring peace. By admiring her concern and animal handling skills and bidding her Goodnight, we began driving back to Canacona.
I was too drowsy to play the mouthorgan again. While we did experience the cool sea breeze even around midnight, Yash switched on the tape. What a treat we received! While attentively listening to the Ghazals of Ghulam Ali, we never knew that we had returned to the hotel and it was not the hefty Sardarji but a make shift thin watchman who was unprofessionally welcoming us back. Even though we had exceeded the time limit, Yash was polite enough in realising only Rs Two Hundred. His infectious smile and good nature, won our hearts. While walking down aesthetically lit corridors, we decided to avail of the services of Yash again to discover other enchanting spots of Goa.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waiting For a Train




After six years I got an opportunity to visit Old Delhi Railway Station. As regards volume of traffic on its approach road, I suppose, there was no perceptible change, contrary to the claims made by the civic and the Railway authorities. The old fashioned animal pulled carts still compete for space with the jet age Toyota and Suzuki automobiles. In this portion of the country’s capital, jay walkers show no regard to the traffic lights. When one gets closer to the station, there is hardly any board welcoming the private or the Government owned vehicles. Most of the entry points are in reality No Entry points. Driving, therefore, becomes a challenging proposition in these situations.
On gaining entry into the premises, a typical gothic style imposing structure welcomes you. The place is full of visible signs of renovation. Newly installed swanky flex and electronic boards give an indication of the state of preparedness for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But what a mismatch they have with the upkeep of platforms! They are not only dirty and uneven; some of them have potholes as well.
The first and foremost information I sought, was the expected arrival time of 2817 Jharkhand Express,the train Amma had boarded for Delhi. A grave voice at the ‘Inquiry’ informed me that same was delayed further by more than an hour. It was nothing unusual. What actually shocked me instead was the flat refusal of the platform ticket. I presumed, the authorities were preempting inflow of unwanted visitors. When my turn came at the‘HELP’ counter, the reason given was the expected rush of people on the eve of the Chhath Pooja. I kept my fingers crossed, therefore, on learning about denial of platform ticket to a few persons. It was becoming irritating being in queue for nearly fifteen minutes. I along with a fellow ‘receiver’ could somehow convince the clerk that each one of us was genuinely intending to help our respective female relatives, who desperately looked forward to our assistance on account of age and safety considerations.
Having secured a platform ticket after some exercise, I was looking forward to a bout of relaxation. I would have preferred having a piping hot cup of tea. But as soon as I entered, I escaped being hit by a hand pulled cart carrying sealed parcel sacks, a scene one is familiar with since the childhood. I had not finished thanking my stars that I was disturbed by a group of middle aged men bent upon chasing a departing train. Though I was pushed aside by their rapid fire action, I watched the whole thing with a degree of amusement. Why can’t they be on time? Why can’t they have some consideration for the fellow passengers or those intending to play the role of ‘receivers’to perfection?, I asked my inner-self. While half of them could succeed in their efforts, a few hit others in the process. This included a petty hawker. He appeared to have lost eatables worth Rs. fifty. For a daily wage earner it meant a lot specially when he has to give commissions to gain entry into and sustain on a platform.
Upon being witness to what I have described, I managed to arrive on the platform number 10. A wait of fifteen minutes ensured a sort of seat for me. I prefer to call it a sort of seat as the person seating next to me was reluctant to remove his handbag on the false plea that another person was occupying it already. I pleaded, but he was not in a mood to budge. Later he realized that by not allowing me to sit properly, he was, perhaps not resorting to fair play.
A couple of trains arrived and left in the next half an hour. Each time a platform would be free, futile attempts by the sweepers would follow to clear the garbage on the tracks. Gradually, however, the stench emanating from there began becoming unbearable. It was, nevertheless, interesting to hear the casual and sometimes foolish queries of some passengers.
In order to get past the boredom ,I decided to take a stroll and thereafter establish a contact with Amma through a mobile number held by her immediate neighbor inside the compartment. The first attempt was futile. So I made a local call to pass on the news about delayed arrival of the train.
Soon the dull platform became alive with a minor scuffle between the telephone booth operator and a dirty urchin selling unlicensed, king sized saboodana papad. The former had taken away one piece apparently without even realizing a need to pay. Being hefty and in command of a better and bigger business outlet, I suppose he was in a position to dictate terms to the lesser mortals. The boy ultimately gave up after churning out choicest abuses. When it was all quiet, I wished to pay for the local call. Somehow the booth operator got an impression that I had made two calls but was willing to pay only for one. I did not surrender when he tried to charge me extra. Then he insisted on accepting only change. I was, on the contrary, possessive of same to make sundry payments outside the station. Seeing no other PCO,I had to relent. After all I was also anxious to speak to Amma in this hour of extended wait.
I could taste success in my second attempt. Not only I got a chance to hear her voice, but I was equally relieved to hear the reassuring voice of her caring ‘neighbor’.He appeared cool and unperturbed. Normally in good old days this sort of help would be forthcoming in the IInd Class Sleeper and most of the AC kind of passengers would not only act snobbish but they would be also aloof and insensitive to the fellow passengers. Maybe the magnanimous behavior in question was indicative of the enhanced purchasing power of the middle class or the said gentleman was actually nice, helpful and considerate.
When the electronic clock shows 15.55 hours, I decide to get up and look for the area wherein AI coach was expected. Finding no railway staff, the old trusted coolie comes to my rescue. All the half sleeping relatives of the passengers too come back to ‘life’. While waiting for the elusive train, a minor altercation is witnessed between a husband and his wife over something trivial. A truce is ensured in no time by timely intervention by some good soul. The catering stalls and the roving hawkers begin doing brisk business.
The scheduled time of 16.00 hours passes by but the train we were waiting for, is nowhere in sight. To add insult to our injuries, a train began departing from the adjacent platform number 8.Within a few minutes, however, a middle-aged Bengali gentleman, named Ritupurno Ghosh(RG) giving me company all along, shows a ray of hope. He notices an approaching engine. Everyone felt relieved. But our joy was short-lived. The engine in question was bringing in a local overcrowded rake. At this point of time, R.G. lost his patience. His scathing attack on the railways was not only genuine but justifiable. He was to collect a packet or two from his younger sister coming by 2817 and same was to be handed over to his elder brother departing by the Awadh Assam Express at 16:30 hours. While imagining his state of tension for a moment, I forgot my own.To console ourselves, we decided to sit down over a piece of huge railway parcel. A pouch of fruit juice gave us the needed relief.
Within a few minutes, God appeared kind to us. The time was 16:12 hours. The sought after announcement relating to arrival of 2817 was audible. We position ourselves appropriately. This time the engine and the accompanying coaches do not deceive us. Exactly at 16:18 hours, i.e. two hours and eighteen minutes behind schedule, the Jharkhand Express comes to a screeching halt. I have to run at least three hundred metres for locating A-1 coach. While doing so, I curse the Coolie in question for not guiding me properly. In the process,I lose touch with RG. Nevertheless, I pray to God for the success of his ambitious‘mission transfer’.
It takes me barely three minutes to locate Amma. She is beaming despite her extended journey. While coming out, she tries her best to overcome the pain emanating from her upper back. I lean forward to touch her feet. Seeing her after months amuses me. She reciprocates. As expected, behind her are Mr. and Mrs. Jayant Aggarwal of Ranchi, gently carrying her two bags. At the first glance,I perceive them to be very fine and benevolent. After Amma alights from the bogie with some difficulty, I take her to a vacant bench. While thanking Aggarwals profusely for their kind help extended throughout the journey, I ask if they need a lift to any point in the city. Apt comes the response that their brother,a resident of Gurgaon was already waiting outside the station. We lose no time in warmly shaking hands and conveying to each other the normal courtesy of being in touch in future.
While I begin walking towards the congested staircase leading to exit, I sincerely attempt to forget the sweet and sour experiences undergone at the Old Delhi Station for close to two hours. Focus of attention rightly begins shifting from the state of platform to more mundane things engaging my attention at home. This is how life goes on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

SIkkim Expedition to Mount Everest


Named after the legendary mountaineer and the first Everester from Sikkim, the Sonam Gyatso Mountaineering Institute is located at Gangtok. From the modest beginning as an adventure club in 1961, it assumed the status of a full-fledged mountaineering institute in 1963. In view of the pristine beauty and location of many peaks above the height of twenty two thousand feet, namely, Mt. Khangchendzonga, Mt. Kabru, Mt. Talung, Mt. Siniolchu, Mt. Simvo, Mt. Pandim, Mt. Rathong, and Mt. Paunhari, Sikkim was considered the right choice for training and pursuing the sport of mountaineering and adventure activities. Much ahead of this significant step, HMI, Darjeeling had started giving training to the budding mountaineers by using Yuksom area of West Sikkim as its base.
Though worthy sons of the soil, namely, Sonam Gyatso, Phu Dorji and Nadey Sherpa had achieved the difficult and challenging feat of climbing the Mount Everest, a need was recently felt to form a fresh group comprising of mountaineers from Sikkim as also other states and undertake an expedition to the ‘Sagarmatha’.
As a result of sincere work, commitment and painstaking planning for several weeks, a twenty member team was finally selected under the leadership of G.T.Bhutia, the former Principal of the SGMI. Dr. D.S.Burfal, an experienced mountaineer was chosen as the Deputy Leader and the expedition doctor. Of the twenty members, two were women, who hailed from Sikkim. One of them, Phulmaya Tamang had figured in the HMI Expedition to the world’s highest peak in 2003 but was unlucky in not reaching the summit.
Upon fulfilling the basic requirements and completion of necessary formalities, the team members had to undergo various rigorous sessions to determine their grit, stamina and determination. The objective was to put a sizeable number of mountaineers on the top. The team finally left Gangtok for New Delhi on 16th of March,2008.After some briefings, interactions and sensitizations for nearly a fortnight the highly spirited members were in a position to land at Kathmandu.
Subsequent to arranging essential climbing and camping equipments, food items and medicines, the work relating to logistics was tied up with a reputed company of Kathmandu. It took them another six days before they reached Lukla. There was nothing to worry on account of weather. Days were cool and sunny, while the nights were not very chilly. The team members, in addition, were in good health and high spirits. Perhaps, only setback the team faced was near the Namche Bazar(altitude 11,000 feet) when Bishnu, one of the members suddenly became indisposed. When sincere efforts to cure him failed, he had to be evacuated to Kathmandu.
Following a trek of another ten days over forty odd kilometers and undergoing acclimatization sessions, the team finally succeeded in setting up its first Base Camp at an altitude of 17,500 feet on 15th of April. Many of the members had the rich exposure of earlier expeditions. It became a plus point and an encouraging factor. The location maps began to be read seriously and the tips of seniors soon became the guiding principles. This being the main climbing season, a lot of activities were being witnessed in the surrounding rugged terrain. The team members did not forget to take part in a comprehensive puja for their well being and for the overall success of the expedition.
Slowly the thought of the daunting task ahead began occupying the mindset of every climber. But no one looked worried after a detailed interaction session on probable climbing routes. The next destination for them was the Khumbu Glacier. The climb was steep and therefore tough. The steep and hard ice walls on the way actually tested the technical skills of the climbers. They had to negotiate an ice maze using ladders, fixed ropes and ice axes.

After two days of hard work in the beautiful surroundings, the team could arrange its First Acclimatization Camp. A few of the members, however,had to be examined by the Deputy Leader for testing their endurance skills. They had to retreat on health grounds. With the passage of two more days, the team was in a position to climb a height of 6000 metres followed by another climb of 400 metres in the next five days. Thus, two additional rounds of acclimatizations could be completed. The Camp II was pitched at an altitude of 6400 metres on 26th April. Fourteen out of the original twenty mountaineers managed to reach this point. Intensity of cold was on rise, accompanied by strong winds and avalanche. Adequate precaution, therefore, had to be taken starting from the afternoons. At the night, biting cold conditions would prevail.
By 30th of April, further upward movement took place. Ultimately, the Fourth Acclimatization Camp could be set up. Sign of fatigue, now could be seen over the faces of a few members. When further planning and steps were being discussed, a news was received that the Government of China had imposed restrictions on more treacherous Northern Ridge approach to the peak. This was to ensure unhindered movement of the Olympic Torch. The expedition members, therefore, were compelled to modify their approach route and suspend further activities. They were, thus confined to the Camp II till 10th of May without any notable activity. They, nevertheless, kept themselves in good humor and encouraged each other to the best of their ability. When the Olympic Torch rally finally got over, further movement began.
The Camp III of the expedition could be set up on 13th May with tremendous hard work by braving inclement weather at an altitude of 7200 metres. This also meant a kind of fresh acclimatization process for the diehard 13 members. Profound discussions thereafter, led to the planning for the final assault. Further meticulous climb over the next seven days took them closer to the Lhotse Face. The view of Mt. Nuptse (25,850 feet) while ascending, was awesome. A halt or two in these beautiful settings lifted the spirits of everyone.
On 21st May, the climb began rather early for the famous transit point- South Col (26,200 ft.). Late in the afternoon, the proposed site of Camp IV located at an altitude of 8,000 metres could be approached. The sight of MT.Lhotse (27,890 feet)from here was simply out of world. It was pristine. It was crystal clear. Since the weather was very congenial, it was decided to make an attempt on the Mount Everest the same evening.
Keeping in view the fitness and overall performance, the leader decided to send D.D. Bhutia of Kalimpong first.By being cheered and encouraged by everyone, he began his climb around 19:30 hours. Kunzang Gyatso Bhutia of Sikkim followed him closely. Subsequent to almost non-stop movement of about eight hours in the trying conditions,including a 'jam' at the famous Hillary Steps, D.D. Bhutia was lucky to reach the summit of the magnificent Mount Everest at 29,035 feet. He made it at 5:30 am on 22nd May. Even though he was tired, he was extremely elated and satisfied. For him, rightly, it was a dream which came true. It was enthralling and mesmerising on top of the world. Peaks in the neighbourhood were also visible clearly.
Before Kunzang Gyatso Bhutia, the next member could make it at 5:40 am, the famous mountaineer, Yappa Sherpa of Nepal reached the peak for a record eighteenth time. Thus, the diehard Sherpa was instrumental in breaking his own world record.
The well deserved success of K.G. Bhutia was immediately followed by Ram Singh of Jammu & Kashmir. He proudly displayed the Indian tri colour and the flag of J&K Police exactly at 5:40 am. The summit was full of colourful prayer flags and many other things left behind by other mountaineers.
The next turn was that of two women climbers from Sikkim - Phulmaya Tamang and Yangdi Sherpa. With their sincerity and determination, they set foot on the highest point of the world at 6:30 am. While doing so they became the first two women to accomplish the feat from anywhere in the North Eastern Region.
Phulmaya Tamang was lucky after a gap of five years, having failed at a substantial height as a member of HMI 2003 Expedition. Recounting their experience and feelings, later, they stated “It was unbelievable. We felt as if we were in the sky. Everything else was down below. We closed our eyes on reaching the top. We thanked God and offered prayers (Mt. Everest is considered Chomolongma or the Mother Goddess of the Earth by the Sherpas).Given a choice, we are ready to climb again.”
The next five members namely, Ashish K. Singh of Uttarakhand, Nima Wangchuk Sherpa of Sikkim, N. Suraj Singh of Manipur, Yaduram Sharma of Siliguri and Atul Karwal of Gujarat reached the top between 6:30 and 8.30 am. Relentless hard work and blessings of God enabled Karwal to become the first All India Services officer to achieve the distinction.Similarly, Nima Wangchuk at the age of fifty nine years and seven months became the oldest Indian ever to accomplish the feat. According to him, it was the greatest achievement of his life.He was working very hard for same for forty years.
It was a very busy and lucky day at the Mount Everest. Including ten victorious members of this expedition, altogether twenty seven mountaineers from different countries made it to the summit. Overall, it was a show of fantastic camrederie and performance by the Sikkim expedition .Putting ten climbers on top in one attempt without any accident or casualty was incredible indeed.
After spending half an hour and expressing pleasure and happiness over their remarkable achievements, all the climbers could return to Camp IV at South Col between 14:00 and 15.00 hours. They had to spend the night therein. This night however, was different. In view of their accomplishments, all could get sound sleep.
The next day, the team reached Camp II located at a height of 6,400 metres. Climbing down ,however ,was not easy. Same precautions or sometimes more had to be taken. By 24th May, the team could reach the base camp at 17,500 feet.
On 27th May ,all except three members, departed for Kathmandu. The three members, namely. Dr. D.S. Burfal, P.W. Sherpa and S. Pokhariyal stayed back at the Base Camp for the Everest Marathon organised by Bikrum Pandey, of the Himalayan Expedition Company,Kathmandu. Organised between the Everest Base Camp and Namche Bazar(42 kms),it is the highest marathon venue in the world.
With a sense of pride, the whole team returned to Kathmandu on 31st May. Half of the team departed for New Delhi. Those belonging to Sikkim and nearby states returned to a rousing welcome and reception by the Tourism Department at Rangpo on 5th of June. People from all walks of life in Sikkim appeared overjoyed. It was a resounding success after a gap of 43 years.(Late Sonam Gyatso had climbed the Mt. Everest in 1965).Sri Pawan Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim expressing his extreme happiness, congratulated the expedition members.
The expedition, per se, had some more achievements to their credit apart from putting ten members on the top of the Mount Everest. These were;
-- Nepal Army was assisted in building a helipad at the Everest Base Camp for the emergency evacuations. Same was used a couple of times in their presence.
--In a rare humanitarian gesture, Ashish Singh gave his oxygen cylinder to a Vietnamese climber when the latter had exhausted his own. Thus a precious life was saved during the return journey between the summit and the Camp IV.
--The medical team of the expedition, in the same way, saved the life of Miss Kalpana Das, a single woman climber from Orissa .On 21st May, after scaling the peak she was reported to have developed severe dehydration and abdominal pain. She was kept on observation at the Base Camp for more than twenty eight hours and given all possible care. Ultimately, she recovered upon being evacuated by a helicopter to Kathmandu.
--Last but not the least, thirty nine expeditions from different parts of the world were also given free medical aid..
One hopes that more young men and women from the North-Eastern Region will be inspired by the achievements of the expedition. They may, perhaps be encouraged to take up mountaineering activity more seriously and diligently than before.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

INDIA'S LUNAR MISSION



Twenty Second October 2008 will indeed be a historic and a remarkable day. At 6.22 am on this memorable day, the talented and dedicated Indian space scientists led by G.Madhavan Nair, Chairman ISRO and M.Annadurai, Project Director of the Moon Mission had every reason to feel elated and satisfied. At this auspicious time, Chandrayaan I, the indigenously fabricated spacecraft was successfully launched at Sriharikota from the 44 meter tall,316 tonne Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
Though it is devoid of an astronaut, it has enabled India to join the select group of six countries to attempt an orbiter mission to Moon. In doing so, India has reestablished its credentials as a scientific super power. One hopes and prays that our maiden mission to ‘Chandamama’ achieves its goals and is in a position to throw more light on the partially known physical aspects of the earth’s nearest neigbour in space, apart from exploring the possibility of finding water, a compound necessary to establish a permanent colony.
Afterall, it has eleven instruments or the payloads on board, including two from NASA, three from the European Space Agency and one from Bulgaria. In this way, the Indian Space Scientists have added a fresh sparkling feather to their distinguished cap worn on April 19,1975, when Aryabhatta, the country’s first satellite was launched from Balkanur in Kazakhstan.
A lot of water has flown down the rivers of the world ever since the Apollo IX spacecraft of the USA facilitated the first man Neil A. Armstrong to land on the surface of the Moon on July 19, 1969. Within a few minutes, he was joined by Michael Colins. Their fellow astronaut, Edward Eldrin had to be satisfied with remaining in control of the Mother ship. Though he could not set his foot on Moon, he may have been equally proud of his achievements.
As a ten year old boy in Ranchi, I followed the mystical developments relating to the Apollo IX rather closely. Thanks to Papa, valuable inputs made available through the AIR, BBC, London and the Indian Nation would be explained to me in full details. I would not forget to religiously narrate the same to my friends in the neighbour hood and classmates in the St.John’s School. On the D day, we were expectedly excited. Close to the midnight, all of us in the family were glued to our large Bush Radio, listening very carefully to each and every word uttered in the golden voice of Amin Sayani, the famous ‘Binaca’ broadcaster.
Apart from giving a flawless and lively commentary about the movements of the Apollo IX, Sayani managed to relay the recorded voice of Neil A. Armstrong. It was simply unbelievable to hear a voice so clearly from a distance of more than 3 lakh 86 thousand kilometers. We would watch Moon Uncle almost every night. But observing HIM that very night was something special. Very innocently if not foolishly, we gazed and gazed in the hope to see if any of the US astronauts would be visible through our naked eyes.
I was extremely delighted to hear the news that a postage stamp was being issued by the Union Government to commemorate the historic moment. Amma gave me the required Paise to buy the stamp from the GPO. Seeing my hero Armstrong in print was simply amazing. He was shown walking slowly carrying his Oxygen Cylinder and essential research apparatus on the back. Behind him the Mother Earth was visible in her pristine glory. It was a scene similar to the Moon as observed on a Full Moon day from the earth.
Soon I was bestowed with the opportunity to see a dedicated documentary film on the Apollo mission followed by a chance to have a close look at a moonstone brought by the historic mission. With a sense of pride, I would tell my relatives and known persons that from amongst all the schools of Ranchi only St.John’s was chosen for the rare display.
A couple of more missions to the Moon were undertaken by the USA, the USSR and some other countries. However, the urge to further explore the satellite began waning, presumably, due to lack of an atmosphere akin to the earth. Only time will tell whether the Indian Mission taken up at an estimated cost of $ 80 million will actually take off from where the American-European mission left behind in the mid 1990’s.
By the time the Chandryaan I moves closer to the Moon on November 8,2008,renewed interest is likely to be generated in researching several unknown facets of the Lunar surface. Such an initiative, so to say, is expected to be followed by the Chandrayaan II which is being designed to actually land on Moon. Simultaneously, Indian manned space missions have been proposed that will take an Indian ultimately to the Moon. That day is therefore not far when the Moon will become a transit station for undertaking voyages to the Mars and many other planets of the vast, yet, mystical Solar system.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A TALE OF FOUR PETS

Pets are domestic or tamed animals. They are kept for pleasure or for the sake of company. Whatever may be their size or breed, they evoke warm and nostalgic memories. They make us smile by bringing in joys. By their sheer nature, they work as stress busters. Unlike human beings, they are trust worthy and loyal. We give them little time, spend an insignificant portion of our income on them, yet, they are large hearted in giving returns.
Pets have been part and parcel of the human civilisation. They have been found working hand in hand with the mankind both in win and loss situtaions. Besides being inseparable members of many a household, their emotions, affection and sense of attachment is truly noticeable if one is away from them for long durations. Their sense of belonging can be felt and experienced only when we spend some quality time with them. Upon developing a particular rapport, they begin asserting and demanding. Sometimes they show the same tantrums as non vocal infants.
Subsequent to adjusting to a particular location or a family, it is hard for them to get used to an alien setting or a new group. In the event of any change, they express their anguish in no uncertain terms. At times, it is silent. They tend to give up food or continuously search for familiar surroundings or the old mates and masters.
The earliest memory of a pet I have, concerns a locality dog named Tipu Sultan. Since he was fed and looked after by more than one family, he could not be considered a pet in the usual sense of the term. I along with my siblings seemed to have developed a certain fondness for him. A black and white dog of medium built, Tipu would occasionally turn ferocious at fellow dogs, hens, cats, cows and buffaloes, who would dare to enter his territory. While protecting the people of the area he would, invariably resist the entry of strangers, more so, at night. His loyalty to the families of the area and affection shown to the tiny tots earned him goodwill.
He was entitled to the delicious meals during the festivals, marriages and birth anniversaries. Though he was fed all kind of food opposite various houses, he will be always be present at the entrance of our house early in the morning or when we would call it a day. During the course of the day, he will find out ample time for rest and relaxation.
Tipu had the unusual strength and determination to bear the summer heat, intermittent rainfall and biting cold conditions. As teenagers, we would often innocently wonder as to how he could manage to withstand the vagaries of nature without wearing clothes. Tipu was very fond of running behind the speeding vehicles, more so, during the Durga Puja holidays when as a result of diversion of route of some town buses, peace and tranquillity of our locality would get disturbed. One by one, Tipu’s legs would get hurt during the chase and run. Despite our wish, nobody would take him to a Vet. By grace of God he would get cured in the natural way in no time. When he would limp, all of us would feel profusely for him.
A time came when Tipu became rather old to carry forward his antics. While chasing a heavily loaded truck on a misty winter evening, he received irreparable injuries. Two of his legs were fractured. It made him immobile for weeks. Even in this condition, he will refuse to vacate a portion of the road. A time came when he began declining food. His pots would be full of milk and wastefood but he stopped even looking at the eatables. Early in the morning of a Sunday prior to the Holi festival, Tipu was found dead. From some elders, we ascertained his age. He lived an active life of twelve years. Very few persons gathered when we arranged his burial in the adjacent jail field.
With the passage of time, Tipu was replaced by a light brown coloured dog named Tiger. In his infancy, he was a cute Puppy. By nature, he was shy but performance wise, he fell short of our expectations. He could not fit into the shoes of Tipu. In order to hone up his skills, Dabloo would take him for jogging every now and then. But Tiger was unresponsive. As a result, the unwanted animals and ruffians began having gala time. His fervent desire to have food without doing anything in return gave him a parasite kind of reputation. No one, therefore, took note of or expressed grief when he was crushed one day by a high speed bus.
Lucy, in contrast to Tipu or Tiger belonged to a superior pedigree. She became our exclusive pet by design. She was born to an Alsatian father and an Indian mother. A lot of care was taken in bringing her up. Thanks to our profound affection and fondness, she became a roly poly. As her performance was getting affected, we were, advised to give her a balanced diet according to a fixed time schedule. To begin with, she would survive on chapati and milk. It was gradually supplemented by pieces of mutton two to three times a week.
Each time we would enter the compound, Lucy would bark. In no time, upon knowing our identity, she would jump in absolute jubilation. Very often, she would leap forward right upto the chest level. It was always a pleasure to throw rubber balls at her and wait for her prompt reaction. At the end of such performances, she would be entitled to tasty sweet biscuits.
Outside animals and unfamiliar human beings would figure in her ‘negative list’. On more than one occasion, theft and house breaking were prevented due to her robust and alert nature. Her strong olfactory sense always worked to our advantage. Though she would not venture to harm anybody, once’ identification parade’ was complete, it was always considered desirable to put her on leash during a pooja or social event at home.
Once she fell sick. She gradually lost her appetite and resultantly, her stamina and charm. Each one of us got disturbed. We tried our level best to go to the root of her problem. At last on the advice of a family friend, we lifted her on a scooter and consulted a Veterinary Doctor. After a thorough check up, he found something wrong in her stomach. She was prescribed liquid medicines and restricted diet. Though she began responding to the treatment, administering her medicines was a herculean task. As a result of our prayers and care, she recovered within ten days or so.
In the meanwhile, in order to stand respectfully on my own feet, I had to migrate to New Delhi. With my shifting, contact with Lucy became a six monthly affair. But I won’t forget to ask her welfare through the weekly letters addressed to Amma. During the peak summer of 1989,when I visited home, no one greeted me at the gate. The familiar jump of Lucy was missing. Something was amiss. Within no time, on my insistence, the sad news of Lucy’s demise two days ahead of my arrival was broken to me. I was deeply upset. Without having water or tea ,I went straight to Lucy’s den. There was a pin drop silence. Closing my eyes, I prayed for the well being of her soul with a heavy heart. Late in the evening, I ate something not because I had to, but because I had to overcome the fatigue of the long train journey.
It is after a lapse of almost 19 years since the demise of Lucy that Tom the cat entered our life. She is incidentally the first pet of my family of procreation. Late in the evening of 30th July 08, she was sighted wandering aimlessly in the green belt behind the Kaveri hostel of J.N.U.I fell for her at the first sight. She showed no signs of resistance when I began touching her. I was therefore encouraged to lift her in my lap. Thereafter, in the good company of Thaks, we began a gentle stroll towards the Administrative Block. The first ten minutes, she maintained silence. When she got an inkling of friendly captivity, she began making little bit of noise. Her sharp nails became active in my chest region. Somehow, I retreated and could succeed in convincing D.T. and Ankoor to adopt the cute, quiet cat. Though they nodded, it was not going to be acceptance from within. Thaks also opined that my act would separate her from her mother and that she may miss her familiar surroundings.
I ultimately managed to bring her home. Although she gave tough time to Ankoor on the way, it was he, who named her Tom on being reminded of the famous cartoon serial ‘Tom and Jerry’. Like any other living creature, she took time to adjust. After turning down the offer of a bowl of milk, she spent her first night in the reasonable comfort of our Drawing Room. Next morning, we found her up and roaming fairly early. We were more than satisfied on noticing the empty milk bowl. We were encouraged to offer her more of eatables. At the earliest opportunity, Ankoor initiated a kind of search on the Internet for food habits, likes and dislikes of the cats etc.. We supplemented it by interacting with the people familiar with the cats.
Each passing day became interesting and full of activity. Gradually, our spacious balcony became her happy hunting ground. Herein, she would get ample scope to see all the developments in the neighbourhood and occasionally may have a friendly interface with the newborns of the Pigeon family. On the 10th day, an excellent photo opportunity was provided by her. We clicked and clicked. Later, some of her snaps were sent to relatives and friends all over the world through the Internet. Her bemusing acts, day after day prompted us to buy a Handycam.
The first day when she had to be left alone in the house, we were not only concerned, we were tense as well. Now we frequently go out by leaving Tom only in the company of milk and curd or whatever she relishes. But each day we venture to go out, one can read the feeling of loneliness in her. There is, no way out, however. All attempts to expose her to outside world have failed. She hates noise and heavy traffic. Despite my sincere attempts, I have not been able to create even one interaction session between her and the elderly cats of our premises. Hope she has a rethinking in her own interest.
TOM is predominantly white with large patches of black. Having a black coloured tail, white whiskers, round black eyes, alert and sharp ears, she gives a friendly appearance. She is fond of nibbling things and chewing her favourite tail when she is in a good mood. She uses her long nails to perfection for climbing up the curtains of the house. She maintains balance and weight of her body equally on her four limbs. Apart from liking milk. curd, cheese cubes, ice-cream, pasta, egg, and the Maggie noodles, she expresses her non-vegetarian intentions amply clear, when flies, pigeons and cockroaches are sighted.
D.T. sums up the behaviour pattern and the overall persona of Tom in the following words -“Tom is cute, beautiful, sweet and loving. She is not rude. She is a kind being. We miss her when she is away. She is obedient. Though she sleeps late, she gets up early. She has a good soul. She is the only being in the world who loves me. She eats, whatever is given to her. She is not fussy. She has the pristine touch of heaven. She is pious. She is like a saint. May God give her a happy and long life

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A RUSSIAN EVENING

Projection of rich and vibrant Russian culture in the Indian situation and the vice versa, is not something new. In view of the mutual respect and admiration for the deep and fascinating cultural ethos of one another, a “Festival of India” pageant was organised in Moscow in the Seventies.
With a view to continue the friendly tradition, the year 2008 is being observed as the ”Year of Russia in India”. Close on the heels of the breathtaking Russian Musical Circus at the Sirifort on 25th September, the “Russkaya Fe’eria, a grand show of Russian folk and modern dances was staged on the 1st October 2008.It was meticulously organised by the Russian Centre of Science & Culture in association with the Mamontov Centre of Moscow.
The curtain raiser was an impressive group dance. Comely fairy look-alikes performing on the pencil heel sandals were a treat to watch. The items presented over the next forty five minutes ranged from the traditional Ballet to the faint touch of the modern disco.
The dances were not only choreographed brilliantly, the artists possessing supple figures managed also to give their best in their attractive costumes and sparkling headgears. The dancers looked awesome in all the appearances, be it a doll or the Charlie Chaplin look, a queen’s poise or the Tango or the Sambha type dance. The change of dresses and accessories was at an electrifying speed. This resulted into a no gap kind of situation between the two performances.
The last group item, dominated by the song-‘Liz Gama, Liz Gama, Liz Gama’ arguably stood out vis-à-vis the rest. A group of five girls also stole the show in the stunning combination of golden hats, tops and flowing coats. These were adequately supplemented by the black slacks and sticks of same colour. Their sense of timing and overall coordination was praiseworthy.
What was prominent, was the grace and the decency at which the artists would strike a statue like pose at the conclusion of an item. Thus, they would, invariably succeed in effectively conveying the sum and substance of every performance.
The discotheque kind of number presented by two girls flaunting white and black figure hugging and revealing dresses respectively, did not perhaps fit well in this cultural show. It looked a bit awkward.
The participation of only two male dancers left much to be desired. Though they were of equal calibre, age difference between them and their female counterparts was apparent and obvious. Inclusion of a few more males could have acted as an icing to the cake. In the same way, change of light to enhance the overall effect of the performances needs consideration.
The costume design, the colour combination, apt choice of jewellery, expressive eyes as a result of professional make up, rhythmic body movements and the flawless rapport among the dancers spoke of their high standards. The capsule of thirteen items presented in forty five minutes could have been staggered, however, to elicit still better applause and ‘Bravo’s’. Neither there was a time constraint, nor was there any visible sign of discomfort amidst the captive audience.

On the whole, it was an excellent and soothing evening treat. Though I regret very much my failure to capture the performances into my camera or the handy cam, the grace, humility and the professional stage manners of the artists will be deep in my memory. Who knows, many from the audience may be tempted to undertake a trip to Russia in 2009 when the ‘Year of India in Russia’ is due to be observed as a natural corollary?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ABHINAV BINDRA’S GOLDEN MOMENT (11-8-08)

Subsequent to a pleasing round of Yoga and brisk walk, I was all set to proceed to the AIIMS for my quarterly heart check-up. When I was about to finish my restricted fat and oil-free breakfast, I decided to check the latest Beijing Olympics development from the DD Sports. In the process of sipping rather lukewarm milk tea, I faintly hear the word India. Attentively, I move closer to the TV and make an effort to confirm. I could’ nt. Ankoor too, was not very sure. While I gulp down my throat rest of the milk, it became apparent that one of the Indians was in the reckoning and that too seriously.
Soon it turned out to be the final of the 10 Metre Air Rifle contest for the men. Vaguely again I managed to hear the name Bindra. But thanks to the slip shod telecast, his image or live shot would not be shown. Within a spur of moment, all three of us not only became curious but began showing a certain degree of anxiety, if not concern. Each time we tried to locate our Bindra, he would not be visible. Whichever Chinese or western shooter would be shown, he would not be shown hitting the target. Merely their side poses would be focused. Off and on, the points tally would emerge, nonetheless.
At last, we could clearly see the name of Abhinav Bindra, the world champion, on top of the scoreboard. Having seen that and thus optimally stabilized my B.P. and possibly the pulse rate, the voice of the commentator conveyed what millions of Indians were desperately waiting to hear for a long time. Not only Abhinav Bindra was shown on top, but he was pitched ahead of Zhu Qinan, another World Champion from China and the gold medalist at 2004 Athens Olympics. Trailing behind at the third spot was, Henri Hekkinen of Finland. Naturally, we were glued to the TV set more than before. Notable Indians among the spectators and Gaby Buehlmann the Swiss personal coach of Abhinav, could not suppress their deserving sense of excitement. Every now and then they would get up and continue shaking their bodies in adoration. Gaby lost no time in hugging her special prodigy.
The final moment of well fought for glory came sharp at 10.00 hrs. It was Bindra, Bindra, Bindra. He was adjudged the WINNER. He had clinched at last. Thus he became the first ever Indian to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics. So far, India had won the gold medal eight times, but they were all in the group event of the Men’s Hockey. For a moment, therefore, I closed my eyes. And jumped off in excitement. Not only I remembered the Almighty at, I should say, this historical moment but also did not forget to thank Him profusely from the core of my heart. Our joy knew no bounds while shaking hands and hugging each other warmly. It was momentous. It was unforgettable. It was definitely emotional.
Then followed the usual boring, drab and uninspiring commentary on the DD Sports. At last, Abhinav Bindra, the beaming yet cool and composed young man appeared prominently on the small screen. For a moment, it became a golden screen for all of us. To our utter disgust, they kept showing the second place Chinese and the third place Finnish. Naturally, no patriotic Indian will relish it, leave aside taking it lightly. Situation became rather bad when the telecast of some other event began all of a sudden. But same was rightly interrupted by the announcement of the Medal distribution ceremony of the 10 Metre Rifle Final for men. The shortest of the three, Abhinav, without divulging his sense of joy, obviously occupied the centre stage. What a proud moment for India it was! India appeared truly Incredible and unstoppable at this point of time.
The dignitary from the Netherlands tipped to be the chief guest showed the charm and grace befitting the occasion. She looked at the winners, who nodded politely in turn. I was dying to hear the National Anthem for the first time in 28 years from an Olympic podium. I appealed to D.T. and Ankoor to observe silence. Each time it is played, my respect and admiration for Mother India is enhanced. In no time, we were fortunate to witness the medal ceremony. First, it was the Finnish. He gladly and sportingly accepted the bronze. Thereafter, it was the Chinese. He looked rather dejected while taking the silver medal. Exactly at 10.20 hrs, came the golden moment for India.
When the Dutch lady picked up the sling having the gold medal, our hearts seemed to have stopped for a moment. It was unbelievable, but true. She made no mistake in putting the sling into the deserving neck of Abhinav. Latter took it with a sense of humility and grace. While keeping his nerve, he decided to smile at last. With his smile, the whole of India smiled, cheered and yes, shouted in jubilation. It was the fitting time to clap vehemently and perhaps jump as well.
I went a step further to capture this memorable golden moment into my camera. By the time I succeeded in taking two shots, my battery deceived. But with the ferocious speed of an Olympian, I managed to change the cell. I was on the job again with, so to say, an electrifying speed. When the scene changed over the TV, I rang up friends, relatives and well wishers to share our joy. Having finished with that, I religiously transferred the coveted four shots into the Laptop for the posterity. As per age old ethos, DT and Ankoor were given Rs.101/ each in this moment of unprecedented glory. They accepted with the comment that the most defining moment in India’s Olympic history called for a much better treat. I promised that with a glowing face and determined spirit.
While the well deserved victory of Abhinav Bindra stopped the heartbeat of the nation, it was time for me to remind myself about my impending heart check-up. Even though it was delayed by an hour or so, it was worth it. Afterall, an Indian does not win an Olympic gold medal everyday, I told myself while turning on the ignition of the vehicle.

Monday, September 29, 2008

LATA, THE LIVING LEGEND

(28-9-08)



Music heals. It relaxes and refreshes. It triggers memories of the bygone era. When mood swings to music, we tend to relive a setting, a situation, we were in, years ago.In view of the intrinsic bond between music and emotion we feel elevated or associate ourselves with a happening. Sometimes the line between the two becomes so thin that we are impelled to believe that a particular song or its lines were exclusively written for an incident we once confronted or came across.

If literature is considered the mirror of society, songs sung through the medium of music depict or amplify a custom or tradition or for that matter, an institution or sacrament in a way, easy to remember .A song that leads one person to smile can make another one cry.

All said and done, some songs are for ever. They may thrill or may haunt but they do enable us to walk down memory lane. One is reminded of his infancy, joys and sorrows, unforgettable incidents, a lost relative or friend or the carefree actions of the teen age.

When some positive thoughts concerning song and music came to my mind on a relaxed Sunday morning, I was tempted to postpone the daily exercise. I settled instead, for receiving the musical delight through the ‘idiot box’ .To my surprise, the cable line was temporarily disconnected. The penultimate sentence of the DD News, however, brought me closer to what I had aspired for. I learnt that today was the 79th Birth Anniversary of Lata Mangeshkar, the evergreen melody queen of India.
Soon followed the rare opportunity to watch a specially compiled episode of ‘Rangoli ’on the living legend. The programme commenced with the vivid descriptions of the struggle Lata had to go through at the young age of twelve years when her musician father departed for his heavenly abode. Gradually, not only she tasted success but she was also in a position to support the singing careers of her three younger sisters. While Asha closely followed Lata and became more versatile and likeable, Usha’s overall career graph could not be considered remarkable. Meena, the youngest of the lot, is hardly known.

Like her physical features. the voice of Lata was initially considered thin and uninspiring. Her surprise choice as a playback singer in the movie ( ) nonetheless, turned the tide. Through her simplicity and unassuming nature, she made her presence felt on the horizon of an otherwise nascent Hindi film industry. Music began her way of life. She was determined to play a long innings. Often minor controversies would erupt. But Lata was, perhaps, unaffected, undeterred. Many of the screen sirens, she sang for, may have retired or expired. But the force and commitment of Lata goes on unabated. It remains incomparable. Her singing has the power to take the listeners to a different world.

In addition to highlighting the varied human emotions forcefully from time to time ,she has occasionally rendered her singing talents at the time of war and natural calamities The songs sung by her in the old classics ,such as, Barsat, Madhumati, Aawara, and Mughal-e-Azam, to name a few, and the ‘medieval’ films, namely, Kati Patang, Aandhi and Razia Sultan not only speak of her multi-faceted talent but they have become good reminders of history as also our rapidly transforming social and political norms.

Keeping in view the sheer number of songs sung by her in different languages and her apt depiction of the human feelings and social change through them, it would be difficult to pinpoint a heroine or a music director who has not been associated with this singing sensation at some time or the other. In Lata, the spinster, we have a living example of a disciplined, cultured, sincere and dedicated human being.

She not only inspires or motivates, she personifies simplicity. She guides and encourages the budding singers with equal ease. No wonder, when she appears on the dias and bows before the audience prior to and after every song, she correctly reminds us of our fast diminishing age old ethos. Thus, her fan following simply goes on multiplying. Shall we say, she sets the examples for others to follow?. May the almighty, therefore, give her more strength, courage and perseverance to enthrall the audiences all over the world for many years to come.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

DEMISE OF A PROMISING TEENAGER (March 04)

At the break of dawn I was up. I was up but not immediately inclined to leave the cosy comforts of bed. Afterall, the night before was exceedingly cold. Since the bedroom windows of the State Guest House were facing East, the entire room was flooded with the free gift of sunshine. I got over my inertia upon looking at the timepiece. The tour of two Districts had to begin at 6.00am and it was already forty past five. Swift action followed. Even the daily bath and pooja had to be cut short. Breakfast had to be packed rather than taken. It was too early for performing the ritual.
2. We hit the road ten minutes behind the schedule. Outside it was foggy. Visibility was a problem but my expert driver could manage reasonably well to drive swiftly on the meandering road going down to Ranipul. While passing through the 6th Mile, one could presume that Jayshree Didi was struggling to wakeup Jeejaji for the morning walk. K C Daju ,on the other hand, was not only up but was deeply engrossed in looking after his marvelous collection of orchids.
3. Today being a holiday, majority of the populace of Gangtok was in deep slumber We could notice some traces of previous night drizzle. Opening the window screens enabled the cold piercing wind inside. For a moment, it was refreshing. Later, to keep myself in tandem with the outside atmosphere, I kept lifting the glass up and down a couple of times.
4. From Ranipul to Singtam, the Ranikhola , to our left ,gave us the much needed company in this quiet hour. Its water was light green but the overall flow was clean. Patches of forest on both the sides of the highway were not dense. They had the necessary relaxing effect,nevertheless. While sighting of traditional huts would be soothing ,appearance of unaesthetic concrete structures at quick intervals will propel me to think about the imminent ecological catastrophe ahead.
5. Though we had begun slightly late, we managed to reach Singtam ahead of time. A steaming hot cup of milkless Temi tea at Food Godown provided the required refreshment. Munching of a few Crackjack and Goodday biscuits too had the desired effect. One had to resist the temptation to have more of these as proper breakfast was arranged at Namthang, a distance of 33 kms.
6. The dependable Esteem car picked up momentum in a matter of seconds. As soon as we left Singtam, the mighty Teesta river began following us from the right side. Though the volume of water was low, its currents were horrifying, to say the least. What a contrast it was with the Rani Khola! While the scenario ahead looked more attractive, the road also became somewhat straight and wide. A fast drive of about nine kms upto the Mamring bridge was extremely thrilling if not exhilarating.At the sleepy village of Mamring , we were very close to the Teesta, so much so ,that I decided to feel its icy cold ajure water and followed up the same by taking a few rare snaps.
7. The Journey resumed soon. Now it was going to be an uphill drive both through the devastated and green well preserved patches. The vehicle will slow down occasionally whenever a slide or sinking area or for that matter, a causeway will appear. Not only many parts of the East and South Sikkim were visible, but the famous town of Kalimpong could fortunately be seen ,though from a distance,as we gradually proceeded to Namthang.
8. The simple yet appetizing breakfast,forty minutes later in the satisfying setting of a traditional Nepali house was something, one was longing for. Bright sun greeted us when we were in a mood to stretch our tired muscles. The drive further was enjoyable. We could see less of human beings but more of nature. View from some of the turns and bends was simply exotic. One came across cute and handsome tiny tots as also naughty small animals every now and then. Sight of waterfalls and streams was missing ,somehow.
9.Subsequent to a drive of little less than half an hour, the first view of Namchi, the HQ of South Dist. was possible. Apart from the rapidly developing town, the sparkling statue of Guru Padmasambhava, atop Samdruptse was very much noticeable. A small hamlet situated about 80 degree below a poorly maintained Viewpoint completed the picture. I could not prevent myself from taking more rapid fire snaps.
10. Very soon I was in the premises of the Namchi Food Godown. It appeared in better shape than what I had seen at Singtam. Though it did not have any space constraints, record maintenance left much to be desired. Without spending any further time we drove comfortably down to Jorethang(18 kms). Thereafter, began the steep climb to Soreng. The drive through steep dense forest of Zoom lifted our spirits. One could comfortably have a bird’s eye view of Jorethang and quietly flowing Rangeet river. A few nondescript hamlets in the vicinity of Darjeeling were also visible. In view of the fact that the total drive thus far was to the extent of about 130 kilometres and that we had to go down and then climb up at least three four times, signs of fatigue became apparent. After a relaxed lunch cum dinner, therefore, we decided to halt. For want of advance booking, no government accommodation could be accessed. Nonetheless, it became a blessing in disguise.
11. The arrangement made for the night stay at a small hamlet in the outskirts of Soreng was going to be a memorable piece of experience. One felt as if one was back to school days spent in the modest settings of small towns. The element of warmth, courtesy and care was prominent in the overall behaviour of our hosts. In addition to nicely prepared ethnic food, the looks of pets was something which needs to be flagged. There were dogs, cats, goat kids, pigs as also a talkative parrot.
12.The next day was not very bright .The feel of better and fresh air as compared to Gangtok was definitely soothing. Naturally, therefore, I was tempted to undertake a brisk walk in the congenial and pollution-free rural settings. Everyone appeared up and kicking by the time it was quarter past seven.
13.The journey towards Sombaria began around 9:00 am after we had helped ourselves with a hearty breakfast. All along, plenty of constructions were afoot. These concerned, mainly the footpaths, roads, bridges, culverts and a few community oriented facilities. Most of these were to disturb the ecological balance sooner or later. After going through many of these biotically interfered areas, we did get a chance to see gushing streams, thick canopy of forests and terraced fields growing wheat and seasonal vegetables. We also passed through some of the beautiful bailey and suspension bridges. More photo opportunities,therefore, came by .
14.Having seen a few minor waterfalls close to the road as also deep into the cliffs, I was astonished to hear the sound of a huge waterfall. I could not believe myself when a mighty fall very close to Geetang village was sighted, very much on the road. We had plenty of time to go up the stairs and onto the arched bridge in order to admire the breathtaking beauty of the roaring waterfall. A halt of half an hour amidst its pleasing surroundings, perhaps helped in laying the foundation for a meaningful day ahead.
15. Within twenty minutes or so we reached the quiet village of Sombaria. The building housing the Food Godown, though newly constructed, was under occupied. The round and inspection took about an hour. I was surprised soon to note the absence of some of the key employees. It transpired that the Godown’s watchman had lost one of his teenaged daughters, the previous evening.
16. Upon reaching the balcony of the office I could see a cluster of traditional houses down below. One among them belonged to Karma Thinley Lepcha, the watchman. A descent of about two hundred feet through the dilapidated village footpath led us to the house. A simple wooden structure having a place for firewood and domesticated animals at its basement, was buzzing with activity. Though a shocking tragedy had happened in a matter of a few hours, there were no visible or felt signs of same. Some of the visitors definitely wore gloomy faces. As per local tradition, however, they would not refuse tea, Channg or even beer, something I politely declined in deference to the custom we followed on such sad occasions.
17. With the passage of about ten minutes I was introduced to Karma. Unfortunately, he hardly showed any sign of grief. Rather, he appeared drunk. Having given my heartfelt condolences, I decided to speak to his two surviving daughters and three sons. I also got a chance to converse with his two wives, called Jethi and Kanchi in the local parlance. I was informed that two days ahead of her premature demise, Nim Doma, a bright and promising class X student of Govt. Secondary School, Sombaria had developed light fever upon returning from school. She refused regular meal, milk or fruit. The examination by the Nurse-in-Charge of the Govt. PHSC was of no help. Some of the friends and relatives, therefore, managed to pool in some money to reserve a jeep so that she could be quickly taken to a relatively bigger PHC at Soreng. A qualified doctor was very much there. He looked at her in a routine manner. Instead of giving her the desired attention, he lost no time in referring her to the Dist. Hospital, Namchi. In the meanwhile, Nim Doma is reported to have developed more complications. Though the facility at Namchi was better and responses were somewhat quicker, perhaps a lot of valuable time was already lost. Subsequent to a long struggle throughout the night, the helpless girl breathed her last. A bright, smart and loveable being ,thus left this amazing world, much sooner than expected.
18. I was simply stunned. I was left with no expression. Bouts of silence engulfed the room. Very soon I was taken to a corner room to get the first and the last glimpse of the dead teenager. I gathered enough courage to perform the ritual of offering Khada over her body and left behind whatever money I had at this juncture. When I looked at her fair face, it was still attractive and glowing. Her eyes were closed for ever but her face probably gave faint hints about what she was aspiring to be even in absence of any worthwhile encouragement or support from her uncaring but poor father.
19. Back to the living room, I tried to mingle with the villagers. Though this was not the time to talk official, a few of them did recognize me and addressed me as their unassuming D.D.O of late eighties. Within no time, a few energetic young men managed to put the dead Nim Doma into a large tea carton in a sitting posture. With the chanting of Slokas by a group of handsome Lamas, the box was sealed forever. Before it was taken out for the last journey, all the offered Khadas were placed over it .I folded my hands, bowed and bid Nim Doma bye from a very heavy heart.
20. Slowly walking upto the Food Godown ,I felt as if I had developed a very strange rapport with the departed young soul. I won’t speak a word while we began an otherwise fascinating drive down to Daramdin, the rich and highly fertile and possibly the only ‘rice bowl’ of Sikkim. Going through the middle of this breathtaking flat region, I was fondly reminded of the memorable lunch taken in July 1988 in the office of Verghese, the then area JE of RDD. My life partner had just joined me then. In view of what I had seen and experienced, I could not gather courage to look for the lunch venue of yesteryears.
21. Leaving behind the memories of the immediate and distant past, turning towards the historic Limboo village of Tharpu, my attention was drawn to a patch of smoke coming from the top of Sombaria. Perhaps the smoke emanated from the funeral pyre of late Nim Doma. A bubbling
and vibrant life was on the verge of getting reduced to ashes, I thought so, without confirming the origin of the prominent smoke. Once again I felt perturbed. Though I had begun my journey from Gangtok on a happy note, I was retreating with the feelings that brought me much closer to the realities of the mystical life cycle. Life has to go on. It must go on. Tragedies come and go but the scar left by some of them, perhaps, cannot be erased from our psyche.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SRIVARI KALYANAM

On a full Moon winter evening, I had the pleasure and privilege to witness ‘Srivari Kalyanam’ or the divine wedding of the Lord Venkateswara and his consorts. The rare ceremony was organized with adequate care and devotion by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) at Sri Venkateswara College, New Delhi. I cursed myself for arriving slightly late. When I entered the neat and clean premises, I could see a riot of white and orange colours. The gathering appeared disciplined, focused and orderly. Thousands of devotees were already seated on the chairs and carpets. There were men, women , children from the diverse age groups, waiting anxiously to have a ‘darshan’ of the Lord Venkateswara , brought specially all the way from Tirupati by the dedicated and well qualified priests.
2. The huge stage in the centre of the sprawling ground was looking gorgeous with layers of marigold flowers, attractive muslin designs and elaborate lighting arrangements. A huge eye-catching curtain was hung in the middle, so as to ensure privacy to the Lord and his consorts prior to the ceremony. For the convenience of the devotees, sound boxes and hundis were placed at important locations. Soon after announcements were made for bringing a semblance of order, the whole atmosphere began to be blessed with singing of soothing bhajans by two remarkably talented Telugu women, dressed immaculately in bright Kanjeevarams. They were superbly supported by simply dressed men playing well decorated South Indian musical instruments. Their flawless rendition not only touched our hearts but provided necessary solace as well. They had a truly golden, melodious and convincing voice. The volunteers sporting bright orange coloured scarves and the tall security guards were quick, firm, yet ,courteous. The flow of people at all the enclosures including the ‘advance Prasad’ and literature distribution counters, was well regulated.
3. As it may happen anywhere, several of the devotees turned out to be mere onlookers. Relentless efforts of some of them to get closer to the deity were politely prevented by the vigilant volunteers. Cash donation of a few enthusiastic young women was also timely declined. They were promptly guided to put the same into a near by Hundi. Use of mobile phones off and on, was irritating, nevertheless. Noise generated by the cries of tiny tots had to be ignored, if not to be tolerated .Afterall, they were offshoots of the same prominent Hindu samaskara of marriage, which was going to be the central theme of the ceremony.
4. Sharp at 18.15 hours, lights were switched on. Instant applause followed from the captive audience. The programme of bhajans immediately made the way for dedicated chanting of ‘Govinda…Govinda…. Govinda’. The main ceremony began with offering of Sankalp by the Joint Executive Officer of the TTD. He was seen leading a galaxy of VIPs with their spouses in toe, all distinctly seated on a high pedestal to the left of the dais. It was followed by the Havan ceremony. While the high priests initiated the rituals with a noticeable command over the chanting of the slokas, their simultaneous translation into English enabled many of us to get a feel of the essence of the ceremony.
5. When the curtains were finally drawn open, everyone stood up in reverence to catch a glimpse of the almighty. One by one , different ceremonies, such as, Bhaktsankalpam, offering of saris to the Goddesses Bhudevi and Sridevi, recitation of the lines of the ancestors of the Lord and the Goddesses and finally, bestowing of the sacred cloth to the deities took place with care and precision. Towards the end, when the Chief Priest came to the forefront of the dais, the devotees bowed and acknowledged. When the Mahasankalpam was being performed at 19.06 hours, the Lord Moon rose majestically from the West direction. Cool breeze followed suit. What a memorable sight it was! Under full glow of moonlit night, Kanyadaan ceremony was performed with purity and sincerity. It was an unforgettable climax. Alas! On account of a prior mundane commitment, I could not possibly wait till the distribution of Prasad and refreshment. I had to be contented with the Maha Laddoo, I had managed to buy, ahead of the ceremony.
6. The wedding celestial of the Lord Venkateswara and His consorts blessed everyone present. Truly it was an unique opportunity on a Poornima day. It enabled the devotees to take part in the solemn ritual without any distinction of caste, creed or the region. The whole experience was not only satisfying. It was thrilling and mesmerising as well. It was expected to ensure a certain degree of mental peace, prosperity and happiness, apart from re-building self-confidence.
7. In addition to the soaring standards displayed by the priests and the organizers alike, the overall discipline and decorum was something to be learnt and cherished. Their credentials could not possibly be doubted. Will this divine wedding bring in better sense, trust, mutual affection and regard to the numerous couples , who thronged the place? Will they share and care with renewed vigour by duly maintaining the sanctity of the age old institution of marriage? I asked myself these routine yet pertinent questions while retreating in a measured way towards my obscure dwelling unit.
8. Before calling it a day, I felt an unusual calm. I was devoid of any stress. I suppose, I was satisfied. It was a question of faith. It may not, therefore, call for any plausible explanation.