A Tiny Town Called Bangarapet

And it’s Legendary Chaats

The weekend was here, and we did not have any specific plans. There’s nothing much to do in Bangalore, anyway! We didn’t want another day of mindless wandering around Jayanagar and JP Nagar. Though it’s something we had been enjoying of late – traversing the lanes and bylanes underneath the soothing comfort of the large canopies of age-old trees that line many of these streets. Scattered here and there are many parks, all refreshing spots of green.  The old-time houses stand in sharp contrast with the ones renovated to spacious and lovely bungalows. Things that more than often spark interesting conversations, as we watch life happen in the streets of Bangalore. All of these with my good friend R, a proud native of Karnataka, who always comes up with some interesting cultural insights and anecdotes.  

Pic 1: The sun was about to set when we arrived at Bangarapet

It was during these walks that I got introduced to many kinds of authentic Bangalorean food. The result of not being a foodie was that I never had much idea about the varied range of Kannadiga cuisine even after being here for more than a decade. R is a foodie and as a result our casual weekend sprees always lead to discovery of some good eating joints too – roadside as well as fine dining.

And, whenever we savoured chaats, R would invariably say, “I’ll take you to Bangarapet one day”. Bangarapet Chaats are very commonly found in Bangalore. One can spot that banner in almost every lane and street.

So, this Saturday we decided to go to Bangarapet to sample the chaats at their place of origin. I was, however, more interested in exploring the town than its legendary chaats. And no surprises at that! R grew up in a township very close to Bangarapet and even lived in the town for a couple of years during his childhood. Naturally, the place stands very special for him.

Located in Kolar district of Karnataka, Bangarapet is about 90 Km. away from Bangalore. We could have driven down but decided to take a suburban train instead. That got me even more excited! Afterall, we hardly travel in trains these days.

Pic 3: The train was relatively empty when we boarded but soon enough it was jam packed.

Travelling in the crowded suburban train for two hours turned out to be the most interesting experience of the trip. Scores of people commute in this manner everyday and I don’t mean to undermine the trouble they may go through. It could be all good though. At least they don’t have to struggle with traffic jams and all its associated problems. We boarded a Chennai bound train. This was the second time in my life that I was onboard a local train. The first time was about a decade ago when we had traveled to Murshidabad from Kolkata.

Pic 4: Several such colourful flower shops all around the town that make you pause in admiration.

The train was relatively empty when we boarded as it was at the station of origin. As the train started moving and we passed by two other stations in Bangalore, it got fully crowded.

I was comfortably seated at a window seat that gave me the best of views outside and even somewhat shielded me from the jostling crowd. Though I was equally interested in observing people and experiencing all the things that were happening inside the train – incessant chattering, strangers smiling and almost starting a conversation, some even managing video calls with their near and dear ones, hawkers calling out in their typical sing song manner, and so much more. It was like getting transported to childhood days when trains used to be the preferred mode of travel. Now even on those rare train travels you hardly get to experience such small little things.

Pic 5: Simply fell in love with these dilapidated old structures in one of the lanes.
Pic 6: The dilapidated building in its entireity.

We started our Bangarapet sojourn by having a very good chai (tea) at the platform. R claims it’s the best platform chai one can get! And I had to agree, as it was perfect.

Bangarapet is a very small town. It’s quite like the size of a neighbourhood in Bangalore. There are just 4-5 streets and one can easily walk through the entire town in less than an hour. It reminded me of the common Hindi adage of – shuru hone se pehle hi khatam ho jata hai (ends even before it starts).

Nothing distinctive about the town other than the chaat stalls liberally scattered all over in various shapes and sizes. We sampled a wide variety of chaats. Some were good others not so much. However, it’s the hot and spicy water served in small glasses, which is unique about Bangarapet chaats. The water is clear and transparent and can easily pass on as ordinary water till the spice knocks your nostrils so hard that it leaves you baffled for a while. It has the taste of ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, chilies – hot, salty, and tangy all at once!

Pic 7: Thats’s us. A quick selfie before the train got over-crowded.

What are Chaats?

Chaat or chat is the collective name of a spicy and tangy category of roadside savoury snack found in India. This popular mouth-watering snack that originated in the state of Uttar Pradesh is prepared in various combinations. It may contain vegetables of the likes of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peas, etc. It must contain some kind of crunchy and crispy base or topping or both. Mostly, it will be accompanied by curd and sweet and sour watery dips of various kinds.

A Part of Tagore Remains in Shillong

“Rabindranath lived in this bungalow”, I commented as we passed by the iconic heritage home located about a kilometer from my house. We paused at the large iron gate to read the black granite plaque that had the name ‘Jitbhumi’ engraved on it. “I heard this place has got some new owners”, I continued. “I hope they give this place its due and maintain it as is”. It was then that we noticed Tagore’s bust, just beyond the gate. Now this was something new, I hadn’t seen it before. Clearly, the new owners (a doctor couple) do understand the value of this property. Just then a man, clad in a security guard’s attire, appeared and started walking swiftly towards us. We were all set to be shooed away. Instead, the guard opened the gate and ushered us in. While entry inside the house was not allowed, we were happy to walk and look around the property. So, visitors are allowed in here.

Pic 1: Tagore’s bust at the entrance
Pic 2: Some description

We all know Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, the legendary poet, who was also a writer, novelist, dramatist, composer, philosopher, social reformer, and painter. The iconic figure of Indian cultural renaissance, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912 for Gitanjali – a collection of poems, originally written in Bengali and later translated into English.

But, how many of us know that the multitalented personality had a deep connection with Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya!

Tagore visited Shillong not just once, but thrice in 1919, 1923, and 1927. No other hill station has had the privilege of hosting the illustrious poet so many times. Several iconic literary creations emerged from these three visits. The classic master piece romantic novel, Shesher Kobita, for e.g., is set in the backdrop of Shillong, though Tagore wrote it during a trip to South India. Raktakarobi and Shillonger Chiti are the other well-known creations associated with his Shillong visit. Shillonger Chiti is a true representation of how profoundly Tagore’s poetic sense was captivated by the innate natural beauty of Shillong.

In his memoirs, the poet describes the winding road to Shillong as ‘aka – baka – poth’ with eye catching forests on either side. He celebrates the unique aroma of the Pine trees and is charmed by the Rhododendrons of the evergreen Khasi Hills. Shillong’s calmness and tranquillity surrounded by Pine and Deodar trees reflects well in all such Tagore’s work.

Pic 3: The entrance gate

Tagore was already a global celebrity when he first arrived at Shillong. However, it’s a pity that the city did not give the bard his due welcome. Shillong was then the capital of Assam and was under the administration of British Government. It was a time when the political scenario of the country was in a very disturbed state. Tagore had denounced his Knighthood as a protest to the inhumanly cruel Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1918 when the British Army had opened indiscriminate fire killing 400 innocent Indians and leaving several thousand injured. Many people in Shillong probably avoided his company lest they offend the British rulers. It is said that Tagore was upset with the attitude of people but that did not diminish his adoration for Shillong. During his first visit, Tagore stayed for 20 days at a bungalow known as Brookside, which is now owned by the Art and Culture Department of Meghalaya Government.

Pic 4: The Assam type heritage home

It was during his second visit, that Tagore stayed at ‘Jitbhumi’ for two months, which at that time belonged to his niece. He was just back from a year-long trip to Europe and America. It was during his time here that he wrote Raktakarobi (Red Oleanders), a drama reflecting his experience of the largely mechanical and materialistic life in the West. A significant event during this second visit was the celebration of Tagore’s birthday on the 8th of May, 1923.

That ‘Jitbhumi’ owners have retained the bungalow in its original form and preserved many of his precious memories speaks volumes about their admiration and respect towards the renowned poet.

Pic 5: Another view

During his third and final visit in May-June 1927, Tagore stayed at Solomon Villa, later renamed as Sidli House in Upland Road, Laitumkhrah. During this time, he composed the novel Tinpurush, which he later renamed as Yogayog. He penned a few poems too. The letters he wrote to friends and family are also preserved. This heritage house no longer exists.

Besides Tagore, Shillong has also been fortunate to host Swami Vivekananda and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. However, it’s extremely unfortunate that there has been no effort to preserve the heritage homes where people of such stature have stayed. Most are destroyed. It’s a blessing therefore that ‘Jitbhumi’ is owned by people who understand and value the glorious heritage linked to eminent distinguished people, like Tagore.

Disclaimer: The information on Tagore’s Shillong visits is sourced from various news articles in the Internet.

Mattu Beach – A Tropical Paradise

Our auto took a turn and quite unexpectedly we found ourselves on a narrow but perfectly tarred road that was lined with coconut trees on one side and the vast Arabian Sea on the other. Peeping through the coconut trees and scattered all along were quaint little colourful houses painted in red, blue, yellow, pink. It was the long weekend of Independence Day and we were gallivanting around Udupi.

Rajesh, our auto driver, did mention that he was about to take us to a place that we would really like but we hadn’t paid much attention thinking that he hardly knew what would interest us. And, here we were in a state of complete euphoria mesmerized with the scenic and picturesque setting around us. We had grossly underestimated Rajesh’s capability of gauging the interests of tourists riding with him and customising the trips accordingly. His experience and zest in delighting his customers is something he repeatedly proved to us in the next few days.

Sensing our excitement, Rajesh stopped the auto somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was only when we stepped out that we saw the backwaters beyond the coconut trees. The narrow strip of road was flanked by coconut trees, palm trees, and backwaters on one side and the deep blue sea on the other. Nature has uniquely blessed this place. There were very few people around and it wasn’t the least bit touristy making it the most pleasant place at that moment. There were no hawkers, no shops, no restaurants. The air was filled with the gentle sound of waves splashing into the golden sands, the swishing coconut trees dancing to the tune of the breeze emanating from the sea, and the pleasantly fluttering Indian Flag – it was the day before Independence Day.

Pic 2: What can be more refreshing than strolling on roads like this!
Pic 3: The narrow road flanked by coconut trees and backwaters on one side and the sea on the other.
Pic 4: A view of the backwaters.

The thought that I had never heard about this beach before was astonishing, especially in this digital age of social media. Such a charming beach remains lesser known is a blessing till word spreads and it gets discovered. I just hope the beach remains empty as it is today, which is a possibility so long eateries and hawkers don’t set up shop here. Thoroughly delighted to discover this hidden gem, we had clearly fallen in love with this place. The blissful, pristine, clean, and quiet surroundings exuded the perfect therapeutic feeling of peace and joy. The next few days saw us coming here at least once every single day and spending time in nature’s heavenly solitude.

Just two weeks before I had been to South Goa, which is known for its stunning white sandy beaches, clear blue seas, swaying palm trees, and the amazing sea food. Therefore, it was only natural for me to make a quick comparison of the beaches in South Goa to Mattu Beach. The latter won hands on for reasons more than one. The soulful and serene Mattu Beach is grossly underrated, which is not a bad thing at all, especially for travellers seeking to enjoy nature’s inherent quietude.

Pic 5: The entire stretch of the beach is separated into smaller coves by artificial rock walkways that extend onto the sea.
Pic 6: Clean and simmering golden sands, something that I haven’t seen in any other Indian beach for quite some time.

The 30 Km. long Mattu Beach is also well known for bio luminescence – the sea sparkles at sun down because of the production and emission of light by some bio-luminescent microorganisms. Unfortunately, I got to know of this only after getting back to Bangalore when my friend, unable to get Mattu Beach out of her mind, went into a research mode and started reading up about the place. That was certainly a big miss for us as we never stayed back after sundown. Well, I will certainly visit Mattu Beach once again and bio luminescence will be an additional attraction.

Pic 7: There wasn’t a lot of sun those days and mostly the sky remained overcast, yet we got to witness brilliant play of colours everyday at sunset.

When Staycation Got Hold of Me

Staycation – nah! Not my kind of thing! Why would I spend so much money on a fancy resort or hotel in my own city! Not something I’ll ever do. Or so, I thought.

It must be a year ago or may be two when I heard this word for the first time – STAYCATION, a portmanteau of the words Stay and Vacation. Travel hadn’t opened up fully until then and I would find colleagues off on staycations with their families or friends. When someone explained to me what a staycation entailed, it didn’t appeal much to me. Sure, it worked great for them, especially with their young kids, but it wasn’t for me.

If you surf the Internet, you will find various definitions of staycation. Wikipedia says, it’s about staying at home and participating in leisure activities within day trip distance of your home that doesn’t require overnight accommodation. Merriam Webster says, it’s a vacation spent at home or nearby. Somewhere I also read, it’s a vacation close to your hometown or in your home country rather than travelling abroad. Merriam Webster has even traced the first usage of the word staycation and interestingly, it dates way back to the year 1944. So, the trend of staycation may not be as new as we think it is.

Take a Stay-cation instead of a Va-cation, this year.
— Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 July 1944

[Source: Merriam Webster]

My interpretation of staycation, based on what I see people around me doing, is staying at a hotel or resort in your home city. This felt like a weird concept to me. It was a complete waste of precious holiday time. Must be stemming from my acute love for the outdoors.

I have been told that staycation need not necessarily have to be limited to staying at a hotel or resort with your family and loved ones. It doesn’t have to be just an indoor activity. It could also include short drives and hikes in the surrounding areas. Well, isn’t it just another vacation then? My brain hurts, it’s confusing. Ah! It’s vacation when it’s another city, staycation when it’s the home city. I suppose I got it right. But, did I?

To add to my confusion, the tourism industry is abuzz with terminologies like workcation, homecation, daycation, and what not. While I was comparing, contrasting, and trying to make sense of these post-Covid travel terminologies, I found myself in the midst of a staycation.    

I had to visit Guwahati a couple of times during my extended stay at my home in Shillong. A few of my friends live in Guwahati but more often than not I have to miss meeting them because of competing priorities. There’s one friend though, who never misses to catch up with me each time I pass by Guwahati, even if it is for a few minutes. And, ironically, she happens to be the busiest of them all. This time, both of us had the luxury of a little more time – the afternoon of that day until forenoon, the next day. Incidentally, a common friend also happened to arrive at Guwahati that day. The three of us were meeting after a very long time and we had loads to catch up on. I presumed that we were going to spend most of the time at my friend’s home in Guwahati.

My friend threw up a big surprise by announcing that she had booked a room at a luxury hotel in Guwahati and that’s where we would put up for our time together. And, when three women are together after a very long gap what happens is anybody’s guess – talk nineteen to the dozen – an activity that’s completely in tune with the concept of staycation.

The impromptu staycation planned by my friend turned out to be the best decision. We got to spend such quality time with each other. All three of us were fully absorbed and completely focused on each other. There was no concern for food, no worries about tidying up the place, no diversion with anything or anybody interfering and taking away our time.

My maiden staycation turned out to be a lot of fun and quite an eye-opener too. Now, I can say with some authority that staycation sure has its merits. And, I learnt for the nth time to be open to ideas and not be opinionated or biased towards things that I haven’t experienced yet.

So absorbed we were with ourselves that we had no time for pictures, but here’s two for memory’s sake.

Chasing Waterfall Through Torrential Rains

I’ve been away from the world of blogging for two whole months and that’s a significantly long time. It wasn’t a planned getaway as such, no intentions of taking a break from social media, but just happened that way. I got a little absorbed in my own world with the usual ups and downs of living life. Amidst all of that, the best thing of traveling and exploring kept happening. So, that leaves no room for any kind of complaints!

As you can imagine, I have a lot to write about.

To start with, let me provide an outline of some of the waterfall that I have visited this monsoon. Except one, all of these are from Meghalaya. I will describe them in greater detail in a future post. This is just a sneak peek.

Prut Falls

The gushing waters of Wah Urwan (Wah means river in Khasi), located in Laitlyndop Village falls from a height of 40 m. creating this elegant sheath of white spilling over the ledges. I can easily rate this as one of the best waterfall I have seen in Meghalaya. This waterfall provides a unique opportunity of seeing it from behind the fall – the first of many such waterfall experiences I have had this monsoon.

Pic 1: Prut Waterfall: This picture shows a part of the waterfall. (Mobile Shot)
Pic 2: Prut from behind the fall(Mobile Shot)

Mawsawa Falls

The waters of Wah Umlapieng gently tumbles down through the boulders on its way, creating the captivating Mawsawa. This waterfall is more broad than tall and is a treat for the eyes.

Pic 3: The captivating Marsawa from a distance as we first saw it. (Mobile Shot)

Lyngksiar Falls

The layered Lyngksiar surging and plunging down the rocks through the green valley was as picture-perfect as you can imagine. This waterfall has two views, one at the mouth and the other at the bottom.

Pic 4: Lyngksiar was just too beautiful for words. I could spend my whole life staring at it. (Mobile Shot)
Pic 5: At The mouth of Lyngksiar. (Mobile Shot)

Wei Seidong Falls

The famous three-tiered waterfall, which was discovered recently and has become a hot tourist spot in the past 3-4 years. This gorgeous waterfall is formed when the white water benevolently cascades down a linear step-like pattern on the rocks.

Pic 6: The famous three-layered Wei Seidong. Remains way too crowded now.

Dainthlen Falls

The gorgeous legendary waterfall of Sohra, known best for its marvelously gorgeous vista. Besides, it is associated with ‘U Thlen’, the gigantic serpent of Khasi folklore, from which the waterfall is said to have derived its name.

Pic 7: The legendary Dainthlen, pictures do no justice to its sprawling surroundings.(Mobile Shot)

Wah-Kaba Falls

This waterfall is surrounded by scenic views of lush green hills and valleys. It descends from a steep rockface and drops into the gorge from a height of 170-190 m. Like Dainthlen, it is associated with a Khasi folkore, which claims that two fairies, one black and the other white reside in this waterfall.

Pic 8: No lens can do justice to the panoramic scenic beauty of Wah-Kaba. (Mobile Shot)

Nohsngithiang Falls or Mawsmai Falls

Popularly known as the Seven Sisters Waterfall because of the seven segments that come cascading down side by side. There were more than seven cascades this time, thanks to the excessive rainfalls. Plunging down from an altitude of 315 m., it is one of those waterfalls that I associate with my childhood having made umpteen visits here.

Pic 9: The magical play of light and shadow when the rains paused for a bit was quite a sight to behold at Mawsmai Falls. (Mobile Shot)

Elephant Falls

The most touristy waterfall in Shillong, another one that I associate with my childhood. Elephant Falls used to be a mandatory visit for all guests who visited our home back in the days. During those days there were no steps and no railings. Climbing down used to be an adventure through moss covered rocks and boulders. I can still visualize moms and aunts clad in their 6 yards saris, precariously maneuvering their way down.

Pic 10: The touristy and forever crowded Elephant Falls. (Mobile Shot)

Dudhsagar Waterfall

Dudhsagar is the fourth tallest waterfall in India, the grandeur of which is pretty well known. It is located on the border of Karnataka and Goa where Mandovi River plunges from a height of 320 m. Most people trek to the waterfall during monsoon season, which is the best way to experience the spectacular fall. We took a train to Goa from Bangalore, which is the second-best way to experience it as the train line passes right through this waterfall. It was an experience of a very different kind with water sprinkling across the train compartment drenching us right through the skin. There was no way to click pictures. Here’s a video of the same that I had posted on Instagram.

A Beautiful Afternoon at Orchid Resort

We woke up to a relatively bright Saturday morning. It had been raining with almost no respite for the past few weeks. Hence, a morning that wasn’t cloudy or rainy was a celebration by itself. This Saturday was special for another reason too – it was J’s birthday. My presence on her special day was a rare occurrence, which surely added a little more to its significance. The plan for the day was simple, we would just spend it together along with A1 and A2. The three of them are my core group of friends at Shillong, the ones who fortunately or unfortunately settled down in Shillong. The rest of us left the city and the state of Meghalaya, mostly forced to do so due to lack of jobs and other opportunities for the non-tribal populace of the state.  

Pic 1: Somewhere at the resort

All four of us are outdoor people and love to go on long drives around the outskirts of the city. Such long drives frequently happen when I’m in town and they constitute some of my most treasured memories of visiting Shillong. The best part is that the three of them would sing all through the drive. Their lovely melodious voices would fill the air creating a dreamlike environment that’s difficult to describe. We hardly had the need to play music from the car’s music system. I haven’t written a single post on those drives yet. The reason being I feel words can do no justice to the feelings and emotions of those drives.

This time we haven’t had the chance to go on a drive yet. Besides, the weather playing spoilsport, A2 has broken her wrist. All our drives usually happen in A2’s car with her being behind the wheels.

Pic 2: From the restaurant when it was pouring outside.

The plan for this Saturday was to visit a place called Mawkasiang, which isn’t very far from the city. I was delighted as this was towards North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRMS) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Shillong), an area that I hadn’t been to yet. It’s apparently known as New Shillong. I knew the drive would be good but had little idea about the exact destination my friends had in mind. I didn’t bother to find out and let them take the lead.

Pic 3: Several such gazebos lay scattered across the resort

We met up at a pre-determined location in the city a little before noon, hired a local taxi, and headed out. A few minutes into the drive, we found ourselves passing through a series of uphill and downhill on a road that surprisingly had more greenery than concrete. We passed by NEIGRMS, crossed a signboard indicating that IIM was nearby, and also a dome-shaped construction that reminded me of Capitol Hill. That’s the new Meghalaya Assembly building under construction, said someone.

Soon, after a drive of just 30 mins from the city, we arrived at Mawkasiang. We took a turn beside Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) and in less than 5 minutes arrived at a huge gate, manned by a security guard. As, we entered after completing the formalities, I noticed we were at Orchid Resort.  “Aare, it’s Orchid!”, I exclaimed. Orchid is too familiar a name for me. It’s a chain of restaurants and resorts belonging to Meghalaya Tourism Department. The most popular one being Orchid Lake Resort, located beside Umiam Lake, on way from Guwahati to Shillong. I have frequented that place countless number of times. Haven’t been there for a few years now, but I’m sure it still exists.

Pic 4: The canopy walk through the metallic bridge surrounded by jungles of Pinus khasiana, the indigenous Pines of Khasi Hills.
Pic 5: Another picture of the canopy walk.

About 20 Km. from Shillong city, Orchid Resort at Mawkasiang is easily accessible. Situated on 27 acres of land surrounded by luxuriant Pine Forests, it is relatively new. There is a restaurant and several wooden cottages or log cabins for those who plan to stay. Quad bikes and bicycles were parked outside the restaurant, surely guests can rent them. There’s a long canopy walk through a metallic bridge flanked by lush green jungles of Pines. This, for me, was the highlight of the resort. The young Pine needles almost brushed against us while we walked across. Tiny young green Pine cones peeped through the branches as did the mature large brown ones, each one vying for undivided attention. It was indeed a refreshing feeling.

Pic 6: One of the log cabins at the resort
Pic 7: Some more log cabins where one can plan a stay.

We spent about half a day at the resort, walking around, enjoying the brief spell of heavy showers, having lunch at the restaurant, and of course, chattering endlessly all through. The starters and desert were great, the main course was average. The resort provided the perfect ambience for us to relish every moment of being together, as we celebrated J’s birthday.

Before ending this post, I must mention that this is the first time I am writing about visiting a resort. The nature-lover in me can never align to the idea of having an enjoyable time at an artificial and manicured environment. Yet, that’s just what I did today. While this place did manage to impress me, I also realized that I was perhaps upholding a negative cognitive bias about resort outings. Hopefully that’s broken today.

Pic 8: Cheers to friendships that must have been made in heaven

Shrouded in Mist

A Drive Through East Khasi Hills To Pynursla

The car moved at a slow pace and it literally felt like we were riding through the clouds. The mist was so thick that we could barely see even 10m. ahead of us. “I hope you’ve switched on the fog light”, I heard my sister’s anxious voice while nephew and I were more concerned about our rumbling stomachs. We had a light breakfast earlier in the day and now it was well beyond lunch time. The thick mist made it impossible to know what lay on either side of the road. Our plans of having lunch at one of the roadside small eateries, locally known as Kong’s Shop, seemed like a far cry. My brother-in-law, who was at the wheels, had to meticulously concentrate on the road and maneuver the continuous turns. One wrong move and the car could easily topple down into the deep valley, which wasn’t visible at all but very much existed.

Pic 1: The clouds moving through the valley, clicked on the way back when the mist had cleared for a little while.

We had left Shillong a few hours earlier with the aim to drive around the countryside. It had been raining heavily for the past few days, right from the day I arrived here on the 3rd of May. Heavy rains lashed the city this morning too. However, for the first time the rains had stopped and the day seemed brighter though the sun continued to remain elusive. We headed towards Pynursla completely forgetting the fact that this part of Meghalaya always remains shrouded in mist during this time of the year. As we started the drive, all I could visualize was the perfectly tarred winding roads with pine-covered hills on one side and the deep valley with various shades of green on the other. Just as I had seen it at other times.

Pic 2: Umtynger River somewhere just after leaving Shillong. The muddy water is an indication of the heavy rainfall.

Pynursla town is a quiet small hamlet located in East Khasi Hills about 53 Km. away from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. This region is not very popular among tourists and that makes it a great destination for the locals. It’s enroute to Dawki and Mawlynnong, places that are thronged by tourists. The drive from Shillong to Pynursla is simply stunning because of the lush green landscape. I had seen a few resorts in this region the last time I had visited, some of which were under construction. Perhaps some people do come here afterall, but certainly most wouldn’t stop here.

Initially, the experience of being enveloped in the thick mist gave us the thrills. The ecstatic feeling of moving through clouds, surrounded by the thick curtain of white, and with near zero visibility was indeed exciting. Soon it gave way to unease as we were missing out the scenery of the landscape that we had in mind. We kept thinking it would reduce and the mist would fade away. But it continued in the same state and the entire route remained whitewashed.

Pic 3: When the mist had cleared for a little while on our way back.
Pic 4: The beautiful road that could be clearly seen just once while on our way back.
Pic 5: Somewhere a small waterfall and the associated landslide.

Driving very slowly and carefully, we arrived at Pynursla town only by late afternoon. It was 3.30 PM by then. Our stomachs were revolting and the first thing we did was to put it at ease by grabbing some lunch at a small local restaurant. Concerned about the mist on the way, we could take no chance of hanging around in the quaint little town.

It was market-day and the town wore a colourful look. With a lot of self-restrained, we controlled the urge of walking around and left for Shillong immediately. Our hopes of getting some views on the way back was once again strangulated by the thick stubborn mist that simply refused to go away. This time we noticed signs of landslides that would have happened in the recent past. At one of the bends, we noticed the clouds moving very fast and the green valley was revealed in parts. That was our moment! Of course, we had to stop the car, step out, and soak in the surroundings. But it hardly lasted just a few minutes.

Do not miss this video, it’s a small one created by nephew on that day’s drive.

We reached Shillong safe and sound, just before darkness descended. I heard my mind quietly hoping to go for a drive in the same route on a bright and sunny day before I take leave from Shillong.  

Leaving you with two images of the same route clicked three years ago on a clear day.

Yoga Begins Outside Your Mat

Three Yoga Myths Debunked

Yoga is a way of life. I enjoyed (well, most of the times) practicing my Yoga Asanas and have been regular for three days a week for the past 5 years. The novice in me thought Yoga and Yoga Asanas was synonymous. I never paused to differentiate between Yoga in its entirety and Asanas being just a part of the whole. Today, I am kind of embarrassed to think that I never bothered to find out how Raja Yoga was different from Hatha Yoga, or what does Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga even mean. My understanding was very limited and often times I would blindly use these terminologies with no accurate knowledge whatsoever. Why did I not read up more or how could I not be curious enough to know more, are some of the disappointing questions that nag my mind today.

That Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga is synonymous with Maharishi Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. That Yoga Asanas and Pranayamas are just a means to the end, being two parts of Ashtanga Yoga. That the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered to be the basic text for Yoga. And, so much more. All such information is open source content and freely available, yet I never thought of doing any detailed reading. Today I feel ashamed to say this, especially after being a yoga proponent to friends and acquaintances for all these years.

Pic 1: We start off with the residential part of the program.

I can only thank my lucky stars and express my deepest gratitude to the universe for all that I have learned at the Yoga Teacher Training Program I completed at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK). My eyes have opened up, though I just got to taste a drop from the mighty ocean of our ancient knowledge.

Read more on my experience of the Teacher Training HERE.

The program also busted many myths about Yoga that I was harbouring all through these years. And, it wasn’t just me, everyone in the class had their own sets of misconceptions.

Here are my personal top three Yoga Asana myths debunked:

Myth #1: I am not flexible enough even after practicing Yoga Asanas for 5 years now. Why do I struggle to get into that Asana, which seems like a breeze for others?

The Truth: Flexibility has nothing to do with Yoga Asanas and it is certainly not a pre-requisite to start practicing. While flexibility will build over time, there will still be Asanas that one may not be able to do. Every individual has a different body structure, even the right and left sides of our bodies are not exactly the same. Some may get into an Asana very easily while others may struggle. Focus on yourself instead of looking at others. Make sure your alignment for every Asana is correct. Make sure you know the purpose of the Asana. Do not blindly copy others or get carried away with those perfect social media posts. Never be violent with your body.
Myth #2:I pack in as many Asanas as I can in my regular hour-long practice sessions. I incorporate the warm-ups in between the asanas and that gives me a good break too.(I never paid much attention to the warm-ups, they would just remind me of the "useless" P.T. classes at school.)

The Truth: Holding an Asana is more important than doing more. It’s quality over quantity. Warm ups are critical that needs to be done in a systematic manner and in a particular series. The “Yogic Sukhsma Vyayama” has a different concept altogether and the benefits are immense. It has a very different effect on the body as compared to “Sthula Vyayama” (the PT classes in school).
Myth #3:I make it a point to practice Yoga three times a week. Often times I force myself to get onto that mat. Afterall, it’s for my body and overall wellness.

The Truth:Yoga Asanas make you feel energetic. You get onto your mat not because you should but because you want to. If that doesn’t happen and you’re having to force yourself, something is going wrong somewhere. Also, it’s common practice to say something like “I do Yoga” instead of “I do Yoga Asanas”. You don’t do Yoga, it’s a way of life. You do Yoga Asanas or Pranayamas.

Pic 2: Engrossed in our in-depth training sessions.

Yoga Asanas is just one aspect of Yoga. Making a conscious attempt to live by the principles of Yoga is what really matters. Hence, it’s rightly said that Yoga begins when you step out of your mat. The practice of Yoga influences your mind and perspectives enabling real changes in how you carry yourself through life.

I’ll end this post by stating a generic misconception – Yoga is a practice of the Hindu religion. The fact is Yoga does not belong to any religion. It did emerge from the Hindu philosophy but it’s incorrect to associate Yoga with the Hindu religion. There is no God associated with Yoga, it’s all about being aware of ourselves and connecting with ourselves. Yoga means union – the union of that which we identify as body, mind, and senses with that real self which is free from all worldly limitations. By calming down the mind, Yoga aims to awaken the real self.

Yoga – Unearthing its True Essence

Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being – a phrase that we keep hearing and using randomly but do we really comprehend its true meaning? I didn’t. Yet I never shied away from using the phrase liberally here and there and everywhere. Afterall, I have been practicing yoga (or, I thought I was) for 5 years now. I certainly knew what I was saying!

Last month I participated in a Yoga Teacher Training Course, just on a whim. My impulsive nature always catches me off-guard even though I have been deliberately trying to be more calculative. I NEVER harboured any ideas of being a Yoga teacher, yet I landed up with this course. I might have secretly wished, I guess, but I am really not sure. It could have been one of those fleeting thoughts that get no importance in one’s life. The entire experience feels surreal today. I just happened to chance upon the program the night before the course was starting. I have no idea why the thought of participating got planted in my mind. There was no time to research or even think about it. I had to take a decision that very moment.

Pic 1: A random picture from the ashram complex.

Doing a Yoga Teacher Training Course wasn’t something even remotely present in my mind. I had some time to spare and was toying with the idea of going on a trek to the Himalayas, something I haven’t done since the pandemic. While I debated between Sikkim or Nepal, I found myself at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK) instead. Now, as a certified Yoga Instructor, I can say this has been one of the best impulsive decisions of my life. And, I can only express my gratitude to the power of the Universe that’s beyond the understanding of our limited human minds.

BYVK is an initiative of The Satsang Foundation and was founded by Sri M. It is recognized by the Government of India and Ministry of AYUSH. The 200-hour long course, which spans across one month, has been immensely fulfilling and enriching. So much knowledge gained and so many myths broken. [You can read about the myths I had HERE.] The curriculum is based on ancient yogic texts, like, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. The course design follows the blended methodology of learning – 15 days virtual and 15 days residential. The crux of the experience naturally lies in the residential segment.

Pic 2: The Yogashala, also called as Patanjali Temple. This is was our classroom.

The residential segment was held at The Satsang Foundation ashram at Madanapalle, a small town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. (Madanapalle is a distinctive town for many reasons. One of them is that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had translated his Bengali poem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ into English as ‘Morning Song of India’ while he stayed at this place during his tour of South India. The tune of our National Anthem was also conceived here.) The calm and peaceful ashram ambience was a huge contributing factor towards all the knowledge we imbibed in the short span of time.

Pic 3: Graffiti at the ashram goshala (cowshed).

We had a packed schedule with our day starting at 5 AM and ending only between 9.30 and 10.00 PM. Asana classes that included pranayama and meditation techniques, theory classes, mantra chanting, silent walks, Karma Yoga, are some of the sessions spread through the day. We remained physically and mentally occupied all day long. The program design left no room for idling both in body and mind, which I think was done on purpose. A lot of content had to be covered in that short span of time. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single iota of exhaustion. We were always in a cheerful and joyful state of being. Mindfulness and being present at all times was a natural state of the mind. Having trekked in the Himalayas multiple times, I was quick to draw parallels and equate the state of mind in both the situations.

In between the tight schedule, we had to carve out slots for personal study as well. We had two exams to appear at the end of the course. One internal, conducted by BYVK. The other external, conducted by Yoga Certification Board belonging to Ministry of Ayush (Govt. of India).

Pic 4: A picture from our first silent walk. PC: thesatsangfoundationofficial (Instagram handle)

As I already mentioned, I have been practicing Yoga asanas for 5 years now. More than half of this time, was in a studio which was my first training ground. But while practicing the same asanas in the training, I realized that I was doing many of them incorrectly. Since this was a teacher training course, a lot of time was spent on every asana leading to perfection in alignment and also in understanding the benefits and contraindications of each asana.

To add to the experience, I was blessed to be in the company of ten wonderful people, who were my classmates. Being bound by a common purpose, every one of us felt a great connection with each other. There was great team energy and the positivity was palpable. I need to mention the teachers too, who were not only knowledgeable but very kind and patient too.

Pic 5: All smiles on successful completion of the course.

This program has been a life-changing opportunity for me and I don’t want to take this for granted even once. It’s a blessing in the truest sense. Our ancient wisdom is so profound and insightful. It’s a pity that many of us know nothing of it and here I have just scratched the surface. The invaluable knowledge that I have gained is something I will carry for the rest of my life – the theoretical as well as the practical aspects of the Science of Yoga. I can now say with full understanding that Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being.

Most importantly I learned that our bodies and minds are what we make them to be, and all it takes is the consciousness of our breath. Not only can we hold complex asanas for long durations or sit still with complete focus, we can reign in our emotions and show humility and respect towards fellow human beings or other beings that co-exist with us on this planet.

Pic 6: A picture from the goshala (cowshed), where the cows also appeared to be meditative. Her name is Hemavati.
Pic 7: As part of our Karma Yoga, we had to clean up the goshala, bathe the cows, feed them, make dung cakes. This activity was the best of all the Karma Yogas we had to do, which also included, campus cleaning, Yogashala cleaning, kitchen cleaning.

This experience has been so deep and intense that even the best of my travels doesn’t match up. I would highly recommend trying something like this at least once in your lifetime. Not to be a Yoga Teacher but for your self-development. It’s worthwhile to invest your time and energy in yourself by turning inwards rather than outwards. Self-reflection enables a harmonious balance between ourselves and the outside world, which then translates as wellbeing and happiness in everyday life.

Pic 8: I cannot end this post without mentioning the healthy and nutritious, yet mouth-watering ashram food. Just a little of this food and our mind and tummies would be completely satisfied. Our food intake was always comparatively less even after being so active for the whole day, which is another thing that amazed us. It surely has to do with the overall calm, peace, and contentment we experienced during those days.

Bold and Beautiful Balcony Beauties

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

Hans Christian Anderson

I had been noticing the plant for a couple of days that lay abandoned in the common passage area outside my flat. The soil in the flowering pot was hard and dry, devoid of any signs of moisture content. I wondered if it was left behind by the tenant of my neighbouring flat, who had vacated a few days ago. The plant had a strange appearance. There were hardly any leaves, perhaps just 4 or 5. It had a thick stem of about 30 cm. arising from a bulbous and twisted base. I had no clue what plant this was but it’s unusual look attracted me.

This was before the pandemic, more than 2 years back. I got it inside my home, replanted it in a different pot and found a place for it in my balcony. Soon enough the very few leaves of the plant withered away and the stems wore a bare look. I wondered if the plant was about to die. A few days passed and it remained the same, even though I watered it regularly. The thick stem and its bulbous base seemed alive, but I was certain that its days were numbered. I let it be without bothering to give any special care.

More flowers than leaves!

A few weeks passed and one day the leaves reappeared, just three or four. Needless to say, I was very happy. A few months down the line, the plant threw up a huge surprise for me. I noticed tiny buds appearing and there were several of them. Extremely excited and intrigued beyond words, I spent the next few days in patient eagerness. I had no idea this was a flowering plant! I have always had only green plants and succulents in my balcony, which was quite by choice. I always maintained that flowering plants need more maintenance and they look good only when the flowers bloom. Ornamental greens on the other hand are evergreen. An opinion that was about to change.

The first thing I did every morning was observing the buds as they grew and changed every single day. One morning radiant bright pink flowers bloomed in my small plant. And there wasn’t just one, but multiple. Luscious and ravishingly attractive. My elation knew no bounds. Each flower lasted several days, before withering away. The blooming continued profusely for few weeks adding colour to my balcony and joy to my heart. I learnt this was Desert Rose or Adenium obesum.

Right now, my Desert Rose plant has bloomed once again. The resplendent, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers are adding exuberance and profound joy to the monotone called life!

The bud flowers!
Random Tit-Bits About Desert Rose or Adenium obesum
  • It’s not a Rose and has no similarity to the Rose Plant in any way.
  • It is an evergreen xerophytic succulent shrub, native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar.
  • It’s a good candidate for bonsai plants, given the thick succulent trunk, thin and delicate leaves.
  • It typically blooms for several weeks throughout spring and summer.
  • Its flowers may be red, pink, or white. Pink being the most common.
  • Its sap is toxic and if ingested can be lethal but has medicinal properties too.
  • It is a sun-lover and thrives in bright sunshine.
  • The pink flowers symbolize rejuvenation and is associated with peace, happiness, and prosperity.