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)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nelson Mandela: The South African Mahatma



Mahatma Gandhi was nominated more than once for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. He was never conferred with this honour. Some of his followers or the apostles, nevertheless, received the same. Rolihlahla Dalibhunga or Nelson Mandela, who languished and underwent humiliation in a white controlled jail for twenty seven long years was one such public figure of repute.

Although he could achieve his objective of getting his country freed from the clutches of an outright pro-apartheid regime during his life time, he could not enjoy the political power for the reasons of age. A reign of more than five years, perhaps could have legitimately assisted him in actualizing many of his unfulfilled pro-people dreams and aspirations.

 On the contrary, for no fault of his, he had to suffer immensely on personal front. All the tragedies were tolerated with such a dignity that they hardly impacted his largely transparent public life. On being reminded of his sacrifices, he would retort “I am not the only one to do so. Others too have done that”.   Mandela, therefore, deserves to be admired and respected for his vision, tolerance, intellect and integrity.

Several heads of states, public figures, activists, artists and sportspersons would come out with words of praise in his honour now that he has breathed his last in the dying moments of 5th December 2013 but how many of them actually comprehended the basic tenets of passive resistance he championed, will be anybody’s guess. Our mystical, yet materialistic world has moved like this. It may continue to progress in this manner in the days to come.

 With the advent of Drone, upgraded cell-phones, automobiles, communication devices & automatic weapons, experiments with untruth are flourishing in a mathematical progression. No one even on tasting setbacks appears interested in drawing a line between the need and  greed. Commodification of the humankind, vociferously opposed to by Gandhi, Marx, and Mandela goes on unabated in some form or the other.

Fondly called Madiba by his countrymen, the 95 year old statesman, who began his career as a security guard, effectively anchored a non-violent tirade without having met Mahatma Gandhi even once. In his autobiography ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, he, however, acknowledged as to how the passive resistance movement led by two Gandhian followers against the Asiatic Land Tenure Act in South Africa had influenced him. In addition, choice of India for his first ever foreign visit on being released from the prison had its own weightage and significance. All said and done, South Africa may continue to be relevant for India even in the post-Mandela era.

India, on its part had always given a loud message to the world by voicing its unequivocal opposition to the racial regime in South Africa at fora, such as, UNO,NAM and CHOGM. Same was logically followed by conferring the Bharat Ratna on Mandela. Incidentally, this was only the second time that the highest Indian civilian honour was being bestowed on a foreign dignitary. Earlier another Gandhian, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was chosen for his non-violent initiatives in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Though his credentials as a non-violent crusader cannot and should not be doubted, it is also a fact and not a figment of imagination that after African National Congress was banned in 1960, Mandela became impatient and desperate to the extent that he had to resort to an armed struggle against the State. This would not have found favours in the Gandhian era. The cancellation of Non-cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi in 1919 in the wake of violence in Chauri Chaura in U.P. is an effective case in point. Another digression, perhaps, was Mandela’s consent to share the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with the last South African President of the notorious apartheid era. How could a reward in recognition of a mass mobilization of the sufferers be shared with the very perpetrators of the crime?.

His deteriorating physical health, presumably owing to bouts of sorrow and solitude in a tiny cell of 5x 6 feet at the Robben Island impelled him to enter the wedlock thrice :1944, 1958 and in 1998.In  between two divorces took place. Having lost three children and a great grand daughter, he is now survived by three daughters, seventeen grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. 

While we mourn his irreparable loss, shall we hope and pray that his close associates and followers will continue to sustain the struggle for justice, human rights and a society free from the racial discrimination?.

May South Africa progress at a rapid pace with or without the aegis of BRICS as it has to catch up fast the lost opportunities and decades.

TAKI REMEMBERED



    It is believed, what has elapsed may have gone forever. Not always. Some experiences and encounters do not wither away. They tend to leave a mark in the corner of mind, so much so, that a passing reference or a remote mention may remind. It may evoke fresh thoughts. One may, therefore, not resist the temptation to go down the memory lane.

   To prove my point, a recent feature in ‘India Perspectives’ about the annual immersion of idols of Goddess Durga in the Ichchamati River along the Indo-Bangla border is what I wish to mention. Avid description together with lovely coloured photographs of the event distinctly reminded me of my unforgettable one month stay in April-May, 2009 at Taki as E.C.I. Observer. It is situated at a distance of 95 kms from Kolkata in the North 24 Parganas District (Sundarbans area) of West Bengal.

   One had heard a lot about the co-operation and camaraderie between the people of two countries on the occasion of  this last act of Durga Puja. Seeing the same, however, through the lovely photos was a different ball game. Though the photos showed the river as a beautiful one, in reality it is not so due to its brackish water and same is unfit for drinking, bathing or for breeding of fish. According to local belief, its proximity to sea (Bay of Bengal) led to such adverse effects. It was not a smooth affair either to enjoy a boat ride owing to two factors: a non-demarcated riverine border prompted firings from Bangladesh Rifles every now and then and one would also get trapped in the Charrs. Latter is a phenomenon in which accumulation of sand takes place for a few days in the middle of river due to low tide.

   Whenever I was free from my official charter, I could candidly and confidentally observe the traditions, colours and emotions in the vast village. Its proximity, however, to Bashirhat, the subdivisional headquarter (Dist. H Q being Barasat) did not have noticeable impact on the economic condition or the educational awareness of the villagers. Majority of them were, nevertheless, loyal to the ruling left party. 

  Taki had a number of Zamindar houses. Once a centre of traditional power and influence, they present a different tale now. Most of them being deserted, were looked after, if not maintained by the part-time caretakers or the ever shrewd share-croppers. One of the prominent ones about which one was informed, belonged to Gen. Shanker Roychaudhary, the popular ex-Army Chief.

   Going for long morning walks in the pollution free atmosphere of the village was both a fun and a learning experience. I would be immediately spotted as an outsider whenever I ventured to go. My questions pertaining to the economy and society of the village would be promptly replied to by the villagers who had plenty of time at their disposal. Clear weather at this time of the year would provide excellent photo opportunities of the rising sun and river front . Taking an evening stroll on the embankment of the River Ichchamati by getting a glimpse of the border villages of Bangladesh also would be a pleasant experience. Interacting with Sikh and Jat Jawans of the BSF would add to my knowledge of the border areas, initially acquired during my association with Indo-Pak border affairs while working as a Director in MHA. The Jawans would be too eager to extend an invitation to their BOP’s. Sometimes, I would oblige.

   The easily available ‘Van Rickshaws’ were an integral part of life and times of Taki. These were not to be missed. For commuting within the village, going to nearest town, market, hospital or for accessing remote areas of the Sunderbans, one invariably needed them. Even without a back support, this slow moving means of transport would be both useful and comfortable.
Another characteristic feature was ‘Saundesh’ a very rich, tasty, tempting and popular sweet. A pure milk product of fairly high quality, it was mostly served in bulk (minimum four in a plate) as a desert subsequent to elaborate non-veg. meals. Both Saundesh and ‘Tiffin’ (twice a day) were considered sacrosanct. The area, keeping in view the consumption pattern, too had remarkable pisciculture activities. Novel ways of preventing theft of Prawn and Hilsa at night were noted in hamlet after hamlet.  Despite this the villagers did not look prosperous from any angle.

   Like any other part of rural India, women of the village retained a low status.  Though they would be mostly confined to their small thatched dwelling units, for the purpose of bath they would venture out. Mostly they would slip into one of the several ponds ( some being very dirty) either alone or in group and spend a sizeable time in true ‘Gopi’ style. As if this was not enough, they would next soak their bodies under a road side tap in full public view. This was their unique way of relaxation and exploring pleasure. No one would stare at them. In good old days, it was gathered that even top-less bath not only would take place but same was also not frowned upon.  

   The cultural cum religious gatherings by the Hindus, more so, in the post-dinner period were a regular feature. These impressive congregations would be well attended. Muslims would not lag behind by convening a kind of Tabliq-Jamaat once again after majority of the villagers had gone to sleep. Despite my inclination, I could not witness any of such events. It will be a matter of regret.

   Smuggling of cattle being a rampant activity was always heard of. Irrespective of Police vigil, the smugglers having an all India network will have a last laugh. They would make four-five times more profit by pushing cattle in live or dead form to Bangladesh. Reportedly, from there, these consignments would be dispatched to Saudi Arabia and other parts of Middle East. Mostly this will happen between two and four a.m, upon exchange of code word and signals through torchlight or mobile. The fellows wearing only underwears and being well oiled, will be very swift in their operations. It was also a prerequisite to excel in swimming. Last named ability was a must as this would serve them well in case they were required to jump into river or pond while being fired upon by the BSF or the local Police, subsequent to an interception. No villager ever would divulge any clue about the nefarious activities. Reasons were well understood.

  . The enchanting Geographical setting of the area has attracted authors, artists and film makers every now and then. Amitabh Ghosh, the reputed Bengali and English novelist is reported to have stayed in one of many small islands to write a full length novel which won him accolades all over the world. One should also not forget the film Amanush in which Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore and Utpal Dutt played remarkable leading roles. The songs and the meticulous care taken by the Director went on to depict the nuances of the Sundarbans village life, guided both by the bounties and perils of water.

   A visit to the coastal belt of the South 24 Parganas after finishing my Poll duty was equally memorable. Light blue colour of the Sea and slow walk very close to thick Mangroves were both exciting and unusual. Sighting the Royal Bengal Tiger in a hectic schedule was completely out of question. Same required days of camping. When the video camera failed owing to the battery complications, static photography came to our rescue. It reestablished my faith in time trusted, yet ‘slow’ apparatus.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sachin, Epitome of Simplicity


Once India had taken a commanding 313 run lead over the West Indies and had also claimed their three crucial wickets in the 2nd innings of the Wankhede Test, it looked certain that Sachin was not going to get a chance to play Test Cricket again. In view thereof, I thought it proper to scribble the following humble lines in his honour :

I am in a dilemma. How to begin? For, I am not qualified enough to write about a man, rather a phenomenon, who is so unique and incredible, who makes difficult tasks so simple. Who has no aura, no airs. He is unassuming to the core. Will perhaps never make you bore. With his antics, smile, camaraderie or performance. He does not hurt. Has rarely entered into or created controversies during the momentous 24 years he played for the nation.

He had his ups and downs, climaxes and low points, wins and setbacks, a few embarrassing moments, yet, he could carry himself with grace and dignity. His extempore speech at Mumbai on the day of naming of a sports complex after him will be permanently etched in one's memory. He spoke from heart, to say the least.

15th November,2013,a cool Friday will be the most memorable day for the living legend. On this day ,24 springs back he donned the country's colours in Pakistan, as a tense 16 year old teenager when the test cricket, per se, was decisively dominated by the middle aged men. The Australian and Pakistani fiery speedsters were knocking out every conceivable and emerging talents. AND money power too was yet to show its attraction & tentacles. But Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was not only determined to make a statement but he was also there to stay for long.

He did not score a ton on debut but with his grit, hard work and overall balanced conduct, both on and off the field, he gave enough hints for a long, consistent and sustained performance in two forms of cricket. The latest one, i.e.20-20, turned out to be too much in view of his advancing age and emergence of many fitter and younger brethren, at least in non-IPL tournaments.

Over ten days, the whole of country led by ever resilient and joyous Kolkata and now Mumbai is singing praises (including Chalisas), discussing, confabulating, displaying and reminiscensing about the Master Blaster and rightly so. One can learn a great deal and draw inspiration from the career of this genius, for name and fame never really got into his head. He was never perturbed or shaken by the debacles in Australia, a decade ago or in England in not too distant a past or for that matter, the biting tongue of a handful of Australian Cricketers.


His 46 Test wickets,68 half centuries,100 centuries(51+49)15,921Test runs,18,426 one day runs are by any standards no mean achievements. It may be futile to say that such a record may not be equalled or broken. For that will go against the very spirit of the game, of any competition. Once upon a time, Sunil Gavaskar from the same crammed up Mumbai was on top of the world (without helmet) for more than a decade. Thereafter, another little Master-Tendulkar sprung up to make his mark.

While paying rich tributes to him, one should not, however, forget that he had become a spent force, if not a liability, on many occasions in the recent past, yet his past accomplishments and selfless service to the nation carried him forward. He was, in the ultimate analysis, rightly given chance after chance till his own conscience convincingly conveyed- "I hereby hang my gloves for the sake of other deserving lots".

Sachin rightly deserves to be remembered and followed like an IDOL or role model in every field of human endeavour. Let us not belittle him by discussing whether he should be conferred with the Bharat Ratna or whether he is greater than the game itself.

Dissemination of his vast knowledge and technique through setting up a politics-free Academy for the budding talents would be a more appropriate and sound proposition. The game of Cricket will continue to be played with more gutso and enthusiasm but in the words of the 'Nightingale' Lata Mangeshkar, "a pinch will be noticeable in days to come".




Monday, November 4, 2013

British October: Saga of Changing Norms and Emerging Patterns


It was by sheer accident and not by design that I had a pleasant interface with the British Council Library (BCL),after good 13 years. Located now in a tall building with an outlandish yet attractive fa├žade(reminds of chocolate spread) on KG Marg, New Delhi, the setting in a concrete jungle looks better than the crammed up accommodation 18 years ago at the AIFACS building, next to Red Cross & Parliament on Rafi Marg turning.
 Down Memory Lane
 I had the opportunity to visit both the locations a couple of times in the last 35 years. Though BCL was an integral part of my growing up years in Ranchi (one would cycle with joy a distance of 8 kms), it somehow never fulfilled my desire for reading, forget about learning. Apart from seeing, touching and turning a few classics (kept in spotlessly clean surroundings) on Economics, History, Political Science and Literature ( one could not make any head or tail out of them), it was a real fun to swiftly run through the innumerable illustrated and sports pages of Time, Economist, The Times, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph etc. Coming to Indian newspapers, if my ordinary memory does not fail me, only The Statesman of Calcutta was subscribed. Why? Because, it probably appealed to, if not acceded to the colonial British ethos and life styles. Sri Prasad, the ‘brown’ deputy librarian would attempt European accent at times, akin to our ‘Father Teachers’.
Ignored Motherland
No one would answer my, the, then justifiable query-‘Why the bulky overseas publications (some newspapers would run into almost 50 pages) did not carry any news/feature concerning India? Was it still a forbidden land? I was bestowed with an answer rather late, when I began truly ‘deciphering’ the meaning of the word ’bias’ during my splendid higher education opportunity in JNU. Perhaps, I understand it much better now as a fading, non-descript civil servant, entangled in the mystical web of hypocrisy in bureaucracy.
BCL In Present Setting
Shall we go back to the present BCL before we lose focus? My immediate impression was- what a change? At a first glance it resembles a jail, not a place of reading. Ostensibly,out of heightened security concerns. One struggles to find the reading room. Entry due to my institutional card was friendly. I carry the ‘Member card’ around my neck rather proudly, till I discover that all Tom,Dick and Harries too were prominently displaying it. My body & bag were, nevertheless, not spared from mechanical and manual checking.
Groups and pairs were thronging the small, well manicured lawn and the steps leading to the main pink coloured edifice.  One wrong step and I land up in the crowded Counselling area, to be politely guided to my ultimate destination on the first floor.
Variety Exposure & Entertainment
Once inside, it was going to be an amazing experience. Despite my willingness to get rid of my bag, the usual property counter was nowhere to be sighted. One of the busy attendants, explains, I could carry everything inside (also laptop, cell phone, make up kit etc.?), since they had a sensor at the exit gate. Strange,but true. I had to live with another security if not precaution related reality reflecting the changing times.
All kinds of dresses and attire of myriad sizes and shapes, strange hair styles, ear rings and footwear in vibrant colors were on display. One was tempted to get into a comparison mode. Readers were predominantly young, not forgetting to comb hairs in between, see display on cells and surf through net on laptops recklessly. Majority were studying & reading. Some were taking notes also in trying conditions. A few, romantic types were flicking through. Rest were pretending. O yes!, those found attempting a nap or showing inappropriate etiquettes, were politely & promptly cautioned from time to time.
Whispering Windows Reflecting Emerging Patterns
Whispers off and on involved both young girls & boys. Presumably, topic may have been, what the latest issue of India Today reports-using acronyms and code words(alien to parents) to bare souls to strangers on social networking websites of Facebook and Twitter, living in unreal world by forging friendships, without realizing that the perils of excessive social networking could harm them emotionally in the long run. The possible causes could be- strictly nuclear family environment, an urge to achieve something ahead of time by defying the prescribed and time tested laws of nature & gravity and purported lack of convenient sports and entertainment facilities.
I close my eyes and utter with bonafide intentions- “Unusual and unnatural conformity with the peer group by showing antagonism towards the elders could be traumatic as also counterproductive. Resultant state of non-function or dys-function should be resisted.”
A quick round follows. Afterall, the rhythm generated had to be sustained. At the same time, I could not possibly retain a standing posture for long. When I look for a seat, I cannot succeed. Not even a stool was available. As such, the colorful chairs looked casual, as if one was roaming in a picnic joint on a sea shore or about to hit floors in  a disco. The stereotyped library chairs or couches, meant to give support to back and enhance concentration were conspicuous by their absence. One of the active attendants added to my woes by stating “this was the rush time, so tolerance and patience on the part of  the deprived was advisable.”

Bias vis- a-vis India
Upon seeing and opening and seeing again a few eye catching books on Sociology, Psychology, Economics and International Affairs, I lay my hands on a handful of notable reference volumes. One such book was Whitakers’ World of Facts (claimed to have every subject) published from London in 2005(it had to be British). I was aghast to read the following lines on page 139, once again written about our motherland with a certain bias-“Indian economy is seriously weakened by overpopulation. About 25% of the Indians cannot (?) afford to feed themselves. Most people still live by farming but India has a booming I.T. Industry.
My hectic search for an authentic book on population policy or its stabilization resulted into utter failure. For, one could see only a few hundred books in physical form. It was gathered that majority were now available on line and that too in the several branches of BCL. Being computer illiterate, I , therefore, decide to give up & explore other available non-electronic options.
Experience of Reading Cross Legged
I resolve finally to turn truly Indian in an otherwise British setting. Look for some space on floor and manage also. A few trials and I make myself comfortable next to a corner shelf in the periodical section. The adjacent children section looks somewhat deserted. I feel dejected. It too did not have any seating arrangement.
Sitting cross legged with unpolished shoes on often propelled a change of posture. Due to backache, it could not carry me through for long. Right shoe was removed therefore first to be followed by socks. Soon the left leg too was going to be bereft of shoe. But good sense prevailed at the nick of time. My socks, being dirty and somewhat torn, were neither presentable nor suited to the alien, ‘sophisticated’ environment.
A Brush With Yoga
I could carry on for almost one and a half hours. No Deviation, no other thought except the ones provoked by the magazines in my lap………., very close to the suspected Glaucoma affected right eye. And it was nothing but on my favorite hobbies- yoga & photography. I settle first for getting engrossed in a ‘phoren’ mag on the time tested practice of ancient India. It was interesting if not amusing to pick up a perspective about facial yoga. Something one does,rather daily, without perhaps becoming familiar with the nomenclature. Following lines are worth recalling-“Without moving head look to left as far as possible for 5 seconds. Repeat  by looking towards right, upwards and downwards. Take note of the sensation of the tension in the muscles that move the eyeballs. Now close eyes and relax. Rub your palms together till they get warm and then gently place them over eyes to absorb the heat. Repeat a few times.”
Digital Photography
Next the ‘Digital photographer’ gave useful insights into looking at my hobby afresh and creating contrasts by showing old and new technologies together in a single frame, joys and sorrows of ‘capturing’ at dawn and dusk, water, sand & landscape photography, snow shots, attempting memorable & authentic newborn portraits etc. Following tips were futuristic- (a) Photoshop processing helps- processed from raw, an image can have greater contrast and be more tonally interesting,(b) sometimes one can have enough options while shooting…….. that you don’t need to do any physical alterations afterwards and (c) some colour correction and a bit of sharpening helps to bring out detail in an object, be it rock or a building.
What really impressed and  mattered to me, however, were the five highlighted merits of black &white photography:(i) it has a  timeless look, hard to conjure in color,(ii) it is ideal when shooting a series of images,(iii) by removing the color from the equation, black & white simplifies a scene, de cluttering it almost instantly,(iv)it enables you to emphasise shape, form & texture and (v) this format means that one can deal nicely with tricky and mixed lighting conditions, such as, inside a building, a temple or a church with a relative ease.
I haven’t finished as yet. For, the punchline that appealed to my inner self was- “I enjoy company, talking to people, sharing passions & creativity. When I am behind a camera, that’s me”.(something within, perhaps, finds expression).
Two Twenty PM
Once out of bounds of the air-conditioned ‘conditions’ of the BCL,I am destined to have a feel of the soothing air of October on a Tuesday, a day synonymous with Lord Hanuman. Also having read about photography, indulging into instant photography was going to be a natural corollary. A beginning was made with a close-up of tempting fried rice and tasty mixed vegetables (cooked & packed with meticulous care by Jaya) in the backdrop of the historic Jantar Mantar and the modern NDMC building. Which one leaves an impression, is anybody’s guess. Having a grub in the open air for a change, had its own advantages. One could delete and edit snaps, look back, contemplate, plan afresh.
Slow and Steady Wins The Race
Post-lunch, I relish taking a relaxed stroll on a surprisingly deserted but green avenue, to my next tentative destination. I resort purposely to this time consuming venture. I have no intention to add my bit to the pollution level of the capital by getting into a bus or a three wheeler. After all, it is slow and steady that should aspire to win the race in today’s fast global village.



One Hour in China


On 6th July 2006 all roads led to Nathula in East Sikkim, located at a commanding height of 14,469 ft. Nowhere in World one covers 9000 ft. by a vehicle in 2.5 hours criss-crossing a ravishing Alpine scenario.

2. On this red letter day, border trade with China was going to be resumed after a gap of 44 years. This is only the third mountain pass of this nature opening into China. Other two being, Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand.

3. For the world in general and India in particular, the occasion was significant from strictly commercial parameters. For the people of Sikkim, especially those of Tibetan origin and very few survivors of the erstwhile trading communities having acquaintances across the border, it meant restoration of old ethnic ties, if not regular people to people contact.

4. Tremendous ground work had to be undertaken at the official levels in both the countries. Positive and negative lists were debated at length. These involved hectic diplomatic parleys, consultations with the representatives of trade and industries on the one hand and the border protection forces and Army, on the other. An MOU for the purpose was signed earlier between the two countries at Beijing. But turning the event into actual reality took quite some time.

5. Though India was very eager to move one or two steps forward, China too would pretend to take some semblance of the confidence building measures. According to the veteran China watchers and followers, she could not be trusted keeping in view the circumstances leading to 1962 war and the acute embarrassment caused to the then Foreign Minister Sri A.B. Vajpayee in 1978 when its troops  attacked Vietnam without any provocation in the midst of his state visit. Less said is better about the regular incursions by the Chinese Army through Arunachal, H.P. and J & K borders.

6. In the wake of publicized improvement and upgradation of road and related infrastructure along the trade route on the China side, a high level Study Group was sent by New Delhi to Nathula through Beijing, Lhasa and Renqinggang to make an assessment and take stock of the prevailing situation. Its entry into India through Nathula a few months ahead of the D.Day was eagerly awaited apart from being widely reported. It also led to tremendous interest and speculation in the International media. If one recalls correctly, there was no official comment whatsoever from the USA.

7. In order to see and feel the historic event from close angles, Babs began his journey cautiously from Gangtok, to be precise at 3.30 AM. There were too many stops and barriers on the way as the traffic bereft of tourists and visitors was pretty heavy. Unlike on regular days, there were no takers for Kyongnasla sanctuary or Tsomgo Lake. No photo opportunities were, therefore, being availed of at truly scenic locations all along.

8. The security was tightest at Sherathang (13,300 ft.), wherein 10 Army barracks had been temporarily converted into a Trading Mart to facilitate the Chinese traders. Thick, high fence at a rapid pace had come up together with widening of roads and strengthening of breast walls, culverts and causeways. Both valley and hill sides, right upto Nathula looked different. The Manju Lake with its clean water was decked up for the occasion, while the Sherathang Lake had hardly anything worthwhile to offer owing to less discharge of water.

9. The last 4 Kilometers having traces of melting snow had become bumpy and slushy. While taking a slow climb in a sturdy green Bolero, Babs did not miss the panoramic views of twin semi-frozen lakes on the right as also the Kupup lake, 5 to 6 kms. away. He could too have a ‘Darshan’ of Baba Harbhajan from a distance. Day was crystal clear. Sky was azure blue. A good setting indeed for taking snaps after falling in love with nature.


10. From the make shift parking lot to the highest conference hall in the world, climb was longer than expected. Due to breathing problem, short, careful steps were to be taken. Those on duty, however, were advised to take a detour to another new spot created or mutually agreed upon between the two countries. The view of China was as usual awesome and breathtaking. Their short statured soldiers in green uniform were more courteous than the normal days. For a change, they were not asking for cigarettes or Rs. 100/- currency notes. The usual ‘plucking’ of Indian infants by them as a matter of friendly gesture, was also not to be seen.

11. The widened portion of road with freshly cemented breast and retention walls right inside the Chinese territory truly impressed. The colorful prayer flags on both sides looked like jewels in the crown. The tall Jawans of ITBP in their colorful headgear and impressive turnout simply outclassed their Chinese counterparts. The Indian troops, as such, had every reason to be happy, having defeated the Chinese in a volleyball match recently at Nathula.




12. Colorful tents had been erected on both sides to seat a selected batch of traders, officials, politicians, Panchayat members and the mediamen. The correspondents of Reuter, A.P., A.F.P, B.B.C, Star T.V., NDTV, Aaj Tak, Zee, D.D. and major Indian newspapers, all thronged the place. Babs together with his assistants was often pushed into the Chinese territory by the ruckus perpetrated by the media, much ahead of the appointed time of 10 AM.

13. Giggling, fair skinned and charming Chinese teenagers were looking very colorful in their woven attire and indigenous crafts. In red colored long ‘Khadas’, beautifully arranged on large trays, one could see a tinge of their cultural heritage and vibrant customs. A smart woman Interpreter was adding the midas touch by her timely commentaries. They were widely and regularly photographed till official reopening materialized. 

14. Sri Pawan Chamling, the C.M. of Sikkim and the Governor of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) did the honours from their respective sides by cutting the ribbons. It was cheered and hailed by the present thousand odd spectators, who for a moment, forgot or ignored the chilly weather. As  such, exchange of pleasantries in an atmosphere of bonhomie and bright sun had ensured sufficient warmth on the eve of historic reopening. The bands played soothing melodies accompanied by instant claps for 5-10 minutes, cutting across boundaries.

15. The Governor of TAR was politely led by the C.M., Sikkim into the Sikkim side of India first. He was offered a long white colored ‘Khada’, Temi tea and mouth watering ethnic snacks. Years of bitterness and distances seem to have disappeared. Upon spending a good half an hour, he reciprocated by holding the hands of the C.M. and took him swiftly into the Chinese side. A group of 30 to 40 persons from the bureaucracy, Panchayat, press and Army accompanied. Scene was same, so was the color of soil. Sky and cloud patterns were no different, nor were the make of barracks. Yet it was a different country. For Babs, it was an unusual feeling and experience to get physical access to this part.




16. The wounds of 1962 war were temporarily forgotten. The bonhomie created by the cheering crowd, an official band of the Chinese Army in green uniform and local band men in traditional orange attire, were all pervasive. The Chinese and the Tibetans were friendly, smiling and forthcoming. Babs noticed a newly made check post ahead, presumably for the Indian traders and a few bunkers on the differing heights. The Chinese troops did not prevent him from taking memorable photos.

17. The Chinese Ambassador to India was taking immense pride in explaining things to a select Indian gathering, allowed knowingly to ‘violate’ normal diplomatic restrictions. Official procedure was set aside for a while to ensure people to people contact of a different kind, even though it was destined to last less than an hour.



18. When Sun moved further up, clouds began hovering in this high wind region. Babs could not see any human habitation or the wide winding roads leading to the trade mart of Renqinggang (10 kms.). Nor the rugged mountain peaks and deep river valleys were visible. Nonetheless, he had brief and good memories of the historic Yatung in Chumbi valley to carry.

19. While the retreat for a few Indians without passport and visa became imminent, the building up of enthusiasm on the part of 50 odd Indian traders led by Sri Motilal Lakhotia (who still had a bank account in China) of Tashi Delek was simply unexplainable. Only they could feel and measure it. After all, they were waiting for this momentous occasion for years (during June-September,29 items from India & 15 from China were to be traded). Standing on a red carpet at the I.B.,they were determined to herald a new chapter of hope for the betterment of relations between the two countries.




20. Babs, having known some of them personally, shook hands and wished them all the best. Back to the Indian side, the warm tea and Sikkimese snacks in the Army mess no longer interested him. While descending the heights on way to his abode in Gangtok, he had one of the greatest job satisfactions for having contributed his bit for this remarkable day. He was no longer heading the nodal Department, supposed to handle the border trade, but he felt and rightly so, he could still work hard for fine tuning tourism promotion prospects of this unusually enchanting region. Lhasa was only 545 kms. away from Nathula and the physical distance to Mansarovar Lake was much shorter through this axis than the one through Uttarakhand. In a nutshell, there was a lot more to ponder over and explore in regard to religious and adventure tourism. The public servant in him was not dormant as yet. It was alive and kicking.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lumsey to Thangu: Make An Unique Travel Statement

Lumsey to Thangu: Make An Unique Travel Statement                                 

One was longing to undertake a repeat visit to this beautiful high altitude vibrant Revenue Block. It is located in the lap of God-gifted North Sikkim. Idea was not only to sort out some nagging irritants linked to the site of the highest micro hydel project in the country (14,000 feet) but also to soak unhesitatingly in the unbelievable visual delight.
Jinxed Project
It was culled out from the files of S & T Dept. that the jinxed project was planned and initiated in 1998. Actual work is supposed to have begun in 2006. Rather ambitious for its times, it had its own share of challenges and problems. These were reported to have got complicated time and again due to the whims and fancies of the nominees, casual approach of the bureaucrats, permutations & combinations and all-pervading Pipon system, akin to the direct democracy pattern of the Greek city states. The scheme was slated to meet the bare minimum electricity requirements of the remote and sparsely populated village situated in the depleting tree cover zone, nearby hamlets, Gothalas as also the tough and sturdy Army units guarding the close by Indo-China border.
Characteristic feature of the area was an old Monastery having a commanding location. One can look for imprints of a bygone era in the rugged, vivid, yet attractive setting. Flavour of semi-pastoral period is also reflected faithfully. The highest transit camp no. 225 at 13,500 feet together with a field hospital blesses this tract of land with its usual facilities, frills and paraphernalia.
The Take Off
Since only one night halt was involved, we had to begin early from our beautiful, cosy and eco-friendly abode in Lumsey, the outskirts of Gangtok. Much against our wishes, quilt & blanket had to be thrown aside around 4.15 hours. Upon performing the essential and age old bathroom rituals, a cup of mixed tea (Gol dana & Temi) followed.
Side by side, munching of a few cookies, a prerequisite for gulping medicines had to be resorted to. Same was not even completed that Tommy and Bailey, members of our now depleted household began wagging their tails as a mark of faith and affection. In normal course, they would ‘knock’ at, between 6 to 6.30 am. We, however, were determined to look after them at this unearthly and dark hour, by opening ‘their’ tumbler, even though, having locked the kitchen, Jaya was not in a favourable mood to display even shreds of obligation in the semi-hostile chilly conditions of the day break. 
Sri D.G. Shrestha, the hard working and trust worthy Additional Director, arrived dot in time. His tour vehicle - a sturdy silver colored Bolero was supposed to be a symbol of reliability owing to its 4x4 wheels than our old but beautiful white Esteem Car (No. SK/02/077). Many fellow Gangtok-its were still in relaxed slumber in Lumsey, Ranka, 5th Mile Tadong, Dara Gaon, Convoy Ground, Amdo Golai etc.
Scene at Dawn
Around 5.30 am, we passed through Deorali, right below an area, once completely devastated by a massive land slide. Though it was settling gradually and was not even declared fit for construction, yet people in general were seen indulging in cut-throat competition with their counter parts elsewhere to construct high dwelling units. It was, to say the least, against all concerns for conservation of environment and bio-diversity. God bless them. I could not utter anything else.  
It is only when we entered the Indira Bye pass that we came across some discernible movements of men, vehicles and materials. Soon tiny tots began thronging the nearby footpaths and serpentine roads in their voyage to various places of learning. After all, free education policy of the State Govt., coupled with SSA was doing wonders on the  secondary socialization front. Side by side, ICDS, R.D.W’s, V.L.W’s and ASHA functionaries were also contributing their bits at the visible and crucial cutting edges. The ambitious institutions in the fringe areas and the grass roots were also taking the pressure off the parents of children of GREF and hydel companies.
Cattle, Goats, Poultry etc. began appearing along the road, time and again. Movement was slow due to bad condition of this part of the National Highway. Crores go down the drain in the name of maintenance and repair, year after year, yet, overall atmosphere looked congenial.
The Day Break
As we gained height, the snow peaks in the distinguished company of Mt. Khangchendzonga slowly appeared on the horizon. Clear blue sky in the morning glow formed a fantastic back drop. More beautiful and enchanting scenario was in store in another half an hour or so.  
Near Burtuk, exposure to lush green patch was soothing. Once a semi-forest area, this too was falling prey to the unsatiable concrete designs of a hogging creature called man. As a consequence, once charming, cascading and cute rivulets and waterfalls were becoming bounties of the past. It was unfortunate indeed from the perspective and angle of sustainable development and traditional livelihood patterns. When a former C.S. chose this location to settle down in early years of the new century, a few denizens of the capital city will not laugh at him but would not refrain from commenting either.
Tashi View Point
Once we gained further height and moved away from the city we were in for another marvelous visual delight. Though not in our original schedule, we were tempted to have a brief halt at the famous Tashi View Point (6100 Ft). The crystal clear view of Mt. Kanchenjunga and surrounding peaks was simply amazing and awesome. It defied all descriptions, something to be felt, experienced and cherished. Undoubtedly, it provided rare photographic opportunity of both types- static and moving. It was, nevertheless, distressing to note that a telescope and a mini restaurant inaugurated by the Chief Minister in 2006 were now rendered useless.
Pangthang
The slow passage through the Pangthang Sikkim Armed Police campus and the village proper enhanced further our levels of excitement and pleasure. A halt here or there, presumably for a cup of tea or for catching a different glimpse of the clearly visible snow peaks were no longer bothersome. When we will lose sight of snow peaks, the thick Pine and Rhododendron trees together with lovely cascading waterfalls and bewildering water bodies would enthrall us. However, we were telephonically reminded to move “fast-forward” to Thangu through a shorter route via Samdong & Dikchu.  
Entry into North Sikkim
A brief halt of 15 minutes for breakfast at the site of a small hydel power project being commissioned by NHPC in the outskirts of Dikchu in North Sikkim gave us a much needed break. The view of mammoth dam of Teesta Stage V project again of NHPC cannot simply be easily erased from one’s memory. More pleasure to eyes and mind followed when we hit the road  while proceeding towards Mangan through the new and short cut stretch built by GREF, little over a decade ago. The typical rain forest of Kerala kind was every where to see on both sides of Teesta river in the Dzongu region.
Magnificent Mangan
In order to catch up with time, it was decided to skip lunch at Mangan. A glass of water was gulped down. Taking stock of the rapid changes in this once sleepy town (population in 1986 was 723) was exhilarating. One also went smoothly down the memory lane, having begun one’s bureaucratic innings in this beautiful setting in the last week of August 1986. Visits to the confluence point of rivers, Kanaka and Teesta at Namprikdang still linger on.
No visit is complete and worthwhile unless one captures the unforgettable conical view of the guardian deity of Sikkim from Pakshep and Singhik. Needless to say, we did not want to be prominent exceptions. Jaya very nicely became my readily available unpaid for model. She was promised a grand treat in an up market eating joint in  down town Gangtok on return. Even she confessed to have rediscovered this unusual nature’s garden, say slightly after two decades.
Charming Chungthang
The drive between Mangan and Chungthang (30 kms.) exposed us to what would have been the horrendous experience of the earthquake that ravaged the area on 11/09/11. The devastations caused in Sakyong-Pentong, Tingvong, Passingdang, Lingdong, Singhik, Lanthe Khola, Naga, Namgor, Tong, Pegong, Chungthang and Bop were simply immeasurable. We stopped, therefore, at a make shift temple and a Chorten to pray for the departed 66 souls. This did not, however, include a large number of unregistered workmen missing from a crucial tunnel of the Teesta Stage III, an ambitious project being handled by an inexperienced Teesta Urja Limited.
With a gloomy mood, we entered the first floor modest flat of Sri Tega (the nominee’s son) in the heart of  Chungthang. The breakfast cum lunch served with usual Sikkimese warmth and hospitality by Tega’s mother and wife an hour before sunset proved to be a refreshing experience. A cup of Green Tea, thereafter was like icing on the cake.
 I did find out some time to take snaps of earthquake affected structures. The dwelling houses, schools, shops, hotels, animal sheds told their miseries yet again. It was very distressing to learn that even the SDM’s office was not spared, what to talk of the Veterinary complex and the hospital premises, wherein I was privileged to take lovely snaps during 1986-87 from a borrowed non-digital camera. Foundation stone for my sustaining interest in photography was laid in these settings. People of this tiny sub-divisional HQ were so simple and honest those days that the lens cover of an Yashika camera belonging to one and only Aroon was sent very faithfully by the slow moving SNT bus (average speed 15 Kms an hour) to my  Mangan  residence almost 48 hours after our departure.
Much of the ravishing scenario of the dense forest stretch between Chungthang and Lachen was missed due to partial to full darkness situation. The view of the innumerable waterfalls and the highest river bridge of the area very close to Chatten, however, was as usual very impressive. The panoramic Army helipad later dazzled like a jewel. A hot cup of Coffee with Pakoras, Jalebis and Cookies offered by Col. Niranjan at the Brigade HQ. gave a warm welcome to the attractive flat land situated at an altitude of 8,600 feet. A semblance of relief too was ensured for the ruffled feathers.
Lachen            
The hurricane stopover at Lachen ensured that we had the misfortune of missing its brilliant weaving, embroidery and wood carving traditions. Getting an exposure of the cloud burst point of 2006 which claimed 40 lives, the Dzumsa and the works undertaken by me in a record time while executing the UNDP sponsored Village Tourism Project (Lachen was adjudged the best) were also out of question.
The blanket of darkness soon enveloped the tiny valley. Early dinner laid around the fire place as per custom had its own fantasy and flavour. Bone chilling cold perpetrated countless visits to the loo, having sparkling Silver Fur interiors. I could succeed in politely turning down the offer of hard drinks. Jaya too was enticed without any success. In a MCP society like ours, how could spouse take hard drinks when the husband was a teetotaler? We posed to ourselves and had a hearty laugh.
The next morning one was up at 4.30 am. The disturbed sleep was possibly due to minus 4 degree celsius temperature. Both of us used two quilts in addition to famous ethnic blankets of Lachen in the modest room, purportedly being used as a Bed & Breakfast facility. Such a tourism oriented activity in this remote region would be an unheard of proposition, say a decade ago.
One had not shivered and struggled so much in this place while braving winter in the past or for that matter, when I had visited Vyberg or St. Petersburgh on Finland border of Russia (May 1995), London (Nov 2006) or Berlin (March 2006) when it was snowing all through in first and the third city. The traffic jam next morning was not irritating as in Delhi. Instead it was majestic due to sheer beauty and charm of snow and ice. Orderly conduct of the citizens even in inclement weather conditions was something to be learnt and admired.
First exposure to snow conditions
My first exposure to Lachen valley in November 1986 was unforgettable in the sense that despite being number 2 in the district, I could manage apology to an accommodation only after an hour of taking dinner. The then Governor, Sri T.V. Rajeshwar, father of present Foreign Secretary, Mrs. Sujatha Singh did not land by helicopter at  the nearest Army helipad due to what they proclaimed- ‘bad weather’.
It did snow a lot later in the evening and early morning. Had they tried, landing was possible prior to snow as I had trekked to the helipad to get satisfied. Idea was not to spend more than a day in tough snowy conditions as I was not properly dressed to withstand what I considered that time, inclement weather, albeit, in the lap of marvelous nature which had all the beauties -large, small and miniature.
Introspection  
Though I slept that time also in a RDD nominee’s wooden house, for barely 5-6 hours, same was more than sufficient as I was young, energetic and dashing, opposed perhaps to the present when I feel that I am a poor reflection of my former self.
Whatever it may be, presentation of self in everyday life upon proper or careful introspection had heralded, thanks to my two post graduate degrees in Sociology from JNU, the famous left (?) bastion. Side by side, the process of profound dialogue between me and myself at night after dinner in front of mirror in the dimly lit rooms had begun. It was sure to help and guide my destiny in the years to come. “Presentation of self in everyday life” was perhaps having its impact and bearing on my action patters, both latent and manifest, if I may use R.K. Merton’s phrases.
Following the resolve over dinner in front of fireplace in the memorable company of Sri S. Gyamtso, Sri Shrestha, Mrs Nima Choki, nurse in Lachen PHSC and Tom IV, the cute snow kitten, I dared to take bath in the biting & challenging cold conditions, after winning a bet with Jaya. This was, incidentally, her first night stay in winter at a height of 8,880 Ft.
Amazing early view
When Jaya was getting ready minus usual make up, I took some amazing shots of quietly flowing Lachen Chu & handful of snow peaks, sparkling right in front, on receiving early sun rays. They looked initially darkish pink and pink, soon to transform into bright pieces of gigantic Crescent oranges. It was a sight to watch, behold, capture, get mesmerized ……….. and what not. At dawn, as such, you are replete with energy and inspiration .Consequently, one famous English poet has uttered – A thing of beauty is joy forever.
Lama Ongden peak
When we finally came out at 5.45 am, prior to hitting the road what we saw in front was much more impressive – The Lama Ongden snow splattered peak (5868 meters) was in its crowning glory, looking much more beautiful than what we saw half an hour ago. We shot at it from different angles for the sake of future.
Some more such peaks could be sighted from Zemu Chu, the base camp of Kanchenjunga expedition. We also could capture the ravishing view of Lachen valley, slowly waking up to face the day. It was a perfect start to the great day ahead to the land of Thangu (13,500 ft.), Chopta (13,800 ft), Lunak La (15,000 feet), Zaru La (5100 meters), Gurudongmar Lake (17,800 feet) and Tsho-Lhamu, the origin of Teesta river at 18,500 feet.
Drive was slow, sturdy and lovely. No other vehicle was in sight. A waterfall on the left was presenting an attractive sight. We could see some Yaks and Mules here and there. It looked like a shot straight from a western movie. Only a cow boy was conspicuous by his absence.
Shivling Peak
Very soon we were fortunate to see a Yumthang type wide valley full of Rhododendrons on to our right. The Lachen Chu together with soothing high altitude vegetation was criss-crossing remarkably. One stopped by for a short photo session. While Sonam Gyamtso and Shreshtha obliged, Jaya preferred the warm interiors of Tata Safari/Bolero. Basking in glory like this also sometimes has its own merits.
By 7.00 am the awe inspiring ‘Shivling peak’, once shot meticulously by Sri Pramod, D.E., Tourism was seen on the right. It could stand out on its own  on the other side of the river. Though a major portion of terrain was devastated, the peak simply remained prominent. We had the privilege to show its picture in Sikkim Tourism calendar in 2005.
Between 7.30 and  7.38 am, the flat ‘table’ peak in front gave a mesmerizing look. We could not resist the temptation to take photos, knowing it fully well that one was getting further behind schedule. One took also photos of damage to the road by the  earthquake. The green patch of pristine Pine looked simply awesome. Soon one comes across a few Gothalas, though only a few individuals wearing long leather boots and Army Coat Parkas were seen here & there, looking after cows and Yaks.
Kalep and Gyathang
When the Cell watch shows 7.40, we reach Kalep, a beautiful valley on the left side. A ‘table’ mountain forms a magnificent backdrop. Another photo opportunity is not to be missed.
By 7.50 we reach Gyathang (10,000 ft). Abode of six Gods, a heart shaped island instantly attracts. The place, 16 Kms away from Lachen, to me also resembles Yumthang, situated on the other axis at an altitude of 12,000 feet.
Yakthang Village (12,500 ft)
At 8.00 am, what a sight we see next. An old affectionate woman in her 70’s milking a frail brown coloured cow from the wrong side. Her ethnic dress, colourful fur cap and fair skin impressed immensely. Though it was eye catching & interesting, I was aspiring to see a Yak being milked in this area. The shadows emerging under the clear and strong sun were utterly striking. They undoubtedly made a mark.
Another small round island in the middle of the river is seen on the left side. It satisfies our urge further. We do not forget to munch pop corn and boiled Maize together with lots of tea and hot water nicely kept in the large Chinese thermoses. It is repeated time and again. At the same time, we do bask in the glory of Sun for a while.
Now it is time for the snow to emerge beautifully on both sides of the river. Till 15-20 minutes back, only ice, that too, dirty ice was pleasing our senses.
21 Elite Unit
Sharp at 8.05 am we come across 21 Elite Unit of Army after 2 kms. of Kalep. Ankoor and Jaya had come upto this point in September 1991. Bauwa or Babu, as we will affectionately address him, was barely 2.5 years old. I vividly remember the instant transformation of his chubby cheeks into pinkish red colour due to effects of low oxygen supply. Inclement weather, thus had compelled their halt, while I being the D.C., North, had no option but to proceed ahead with my inspection of alleged Army encroachments along the road leading to Gegong (Kareng) plateau. One remembers fondly Late Sonam Lepcha, the ever jovial SDM, Chungthang at this juncture.
A bout of sunshine emerges. It is very refreshing & welcome. Another small village is seen. A wooden bridge over a Khola on the left side looks like a scene straight from a Hindi movie. I imagine that a hero & heroine may approach each other from either side, And a villain may emerge from nowhere to stake a claim over the damsel in romantic mood if not in distress. Whatever it may be, the effect of body chemistry is bound to be absolutely sizzling.
The bridge is also having a splattering of snow, which enhances the beauty of place further. An attempt is made again to capture the nuances. It is also the time for disappearance of the tree line. Road condition deteriorates. The valley is, however, flatter than before. One sees a board indicating the progress of Kalep – Giagong road (19.285 kms.) being constructed by the 86 Road Construction Company (RCC) of GREF.
First view of Thangu
When the watch strikes 8.15 am, one gets the unbelievable view of the flat village of Thangu from a distance of half a kilometer. Flat, tree less mountains are seen all over, prompting me to shoot with a rapid speed. I am tempted to get down to have a direct feel. It is a maddening experience, even if it is difficult to take long steps. Breathing all of a sudden gets affected. But the view of following does not affect the spirits: Snow Pigeons, light blue color of Lachen Chu, unusual shape of vegetation less mountains, cute dwelling units, sustainable  Army setup , fluttering prayer flags of five colors: blue, denoting ocean and sky, white symbolising peace, red ( ), green for earth,  and yellow (            ). Last, but not the least, the affectionate smile on the faces of Mrs. Rinzing Lhamu and her meek husband (Tega’s In-laws) has a spell binding effect. We take quick shots even at the risk of slipping on the hard ice on the road. Between 8.25 and 9.00 am we are treated to a very hearty breakfast in the house of Mrs Lhamu. All sorts of vegetarian and non-veg items are served with lots of care so early in the morning. Corn, Wai Wai, Soup, boiled vegetables, chicken, meat of local Sheep, all taste sumptuous. The famous Thangu potato and huge size of Shalgum are not to be missed in one corner
Challenge in Restroom
When I have to use toilet, there is no water in the bucket. Instead, it is all ice. Naturally, either I wait for it to melt or request Amla (Mrs.Lhamu) for a helping from kitchen. When Jaya also desires to visit the rest room after enjoying one of the most beautiful scenes of Lhasa Chu from the window, she does not wait for ice to melt. As she could not relish a joke, we have a big laugh at her cost. As a matter of decency, I don’t forget to tender an apology instantly.
The Inspection  
All said and done, we eat and drink to our satisfaction. Provide sufficient warmth to our body, prior to inspecting the site involving a careful and very slow (due to high altitude) trek along a PMGSY road going to Byamze village. Though, the velocity of the snow fed Lhasa Chu was difficult to be measured yet repeated assessments had confirmed that discharge per second even in lean season could sustain a micro hydel project. Looks wise also it was a world apart. The gushing rivulet was not only looking good, it was capable of sweeping away life and property in the event of flood owing to heavy down pour on the higher ridges. The cloud burst in Manali and Leh three years ago immediately remind us of the harmful aftermath of a powerful catastrophe.     
When we turn here & there for rest, it is a heavenly sight all over. Jaya opts for taking the vehicle up and has a feeling of great victory near the water collection tank (13, 900 feet). She looks very cheerful, still & calm in the company of bright and strong sunshine. Her eyes are rightly hidden by the newly bought dark glasses. She takes off her French Marooned coloured cap very often.Before we complete the next lap, we meet a few locals and labourers. Another photo opportunity is certainly not to be missed.  
Soon we complete the essential formality of inspecting the pipeline, dug-up ground, Pen stock etc. Water diversion point was simply looking out of world. Meditation, therefore, became a must in such a bewildering setting. Control over breathing learnt while doing Yoga comes as a blessing in disguise.
While retreating, we encounter numerous beautiful ice flaks, Rhododendron and endemic pine roots and drift wood. Some are picked up to be used as curio items. I carry a Dhuppi sapling together with its leaves to be burnt as Incense while performing Puja at home.
Thangu Monastery
As 74 year old re-incarnate Chewang Lama, a Tibetan was waiting for us in the old monastery of the village since breakfast time, we had to pay regards to him and the Guru Padamsambhava in the earthquake affected religious place. A Cosmopolitan Solar Energizer at this height makes us comfortable. One learnt that this century old monastery had 1,500 miniature clay images of the presiding deity, all made by the revered Lama between 1963 and 1990, subsequent to receiving divine sermons of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. These were for general well being of the people. He had kept some aside for being given as presents to the distinguished visitors. I too was privileged to be a beneficiary.
Upon chanting of hymns and lighting of required butter lamps, as per tradition and out of profound respect, I offer some money to the deity and the Lama in the name of Ankoor, our dear departed. Jaya,for half an hour or so gets into a mood to meditate and contemplate. While we talk thereafter of organizing more relief for the earthquake affected monastery and the people in general, she is engrossed in her own world and perhaps, rightly so. Why shouldn’t she be? While I am busy officially and otherwise, she has to brave hard, long and arduous days all alone.
While descending, the view of Thangu village, serpentine footpaths and Army settlements is simply eye-catching. Something to be seen seriously, difficult to be described.                                                   
Chopta Valley
One can go on and on. We are yet to narrate the brush with the splendid Chopta valley. It may have been a lake in view of the present Geomorphogical conditions. Close by are the high altitude Yak farm, the ‘enigmatic’ Chumamu Khang (6,000 meters), the ‘chocolate’ peak for me all the while and the highest Tourism Guest House at 13,500 feet built under my close supervision in 2005. The eye-catching Igloo huts of 86 RCC, the far off Lunak La pass at a height of 5,120 meters on road to Mukuthang (30 kms.) and Zaru La at 5,100 meters are the other attractions which will have to be postponed for the next visit.
Before Jaya develops headache and fatigue for not being used to wearing caps, we indulge in photography session yet again to capture this unbelievably beautiful sunny & windy landscape. While turning back at 11.20 am, it is nice to wave at GREF personnel and their indomitable work force. Earth is full of sand and pink coloured stone chips. May be, this place was in the extreme end of the Tethys Sea once upon a time. I donot forget t, carry a piece of stone as a momento.
VIEW OF CHUMAMU KHANG
A tea break with Wai Wai opposite fire in a stout labourer’s hut in the company of a cute mountain dog follows. We are privileged to get another view of Chumamu Khang, in addition to the Golden Eagle, Snow Pigeon, Tibetan Mouse, Chinese jet black Crow and the Riband bird. The peak named, had unfortunately claimed the life of Sri Das, an IPS officer of Punjab Cadre and a former Director of SGMI, Gangtok in 2005-2006 when an audacious mountaineering expedition was being undertaken.
No energy is left now for an adventure to the Gurudongmar Lake. We therefore, pray to Guru Padmasambhava from here, having heard a great deal about his miracle over there while coming to Sikkim from Tibet, upon helping the people to get rid of devils and bad omen. According to a legend, due to digging of one corner of the lake by his stick, that particular portion does not freeze even in extreme winter conditions. Who says, therefore, religion is unscientific?
Time to Rethink & Retreat
More upward movement would have meant inviting further strain for the body which may have spoilt the good feeling of having enjoyed the nature in its extreme beauty on a clear sunny day. Though we had not acclimatized as per requirement, if not procedure, we managed to show and display our mettle rather well.
Before I conclude, I must share an experience of September 1991. I made it in similar fashion from Mangan to Tsho-Lhamu (186 kms one way and a movement from 4,000 feet to 18,500 feet) and back in the same day. However, I did conk off and vomit around 7 pm. It was right opposite Lachen Police Station. The faithful Govt. servants brought hot water and extended all help that was possible.
In view thereof, I suppose, the turnaround above Chopta valley at 12 noon on 20/11/2011 was very much justifiable. Later, a farewell cup of tea at the Transit Camp completed the journey nicely. We thanked Col. K.S. Mahar, the C.O. in absentia. Later he took the trouble of calling on me at Gangtok. While entering vehicles for our last lap, we could sense that air had become thin, while Sun was fairly strong and scorching in the zero hour. A sack of tasty Thangu potatoes purchased for Rs. 500/- and a cute and submissive Doggy kept in an open carton by Sonam Gyamtso were the deserving mementos placed on the rear side of the vehicle. A competition followed for taking a nap, turn by turn……     
Post script
With the passage of time, it will be and it is a cherished experience. The journey to this high altitude destination was not as easy as it may look in print. It entails sizeable patience, perseverance and hard work. Nevertheless, one felt happy and encouraged. In my service spanning almost thirty years I have been to many beautiful places all over the world. But I suppose, I was yet to rediscover a place like this.
I do not know whether we tasted a bit of success or had substantial accomplishment. Certainly, we were riding high on freshness, rejuvenation and creativity fronts, having thoroughly enjoyed what India Today Travel magazine declared in 2010, the best mountain drive in the country.