Benaras – The Funny Sadhus

“Myself Pradeep Sharma, no wife, no children, no mummy, no papa…”, he effusively stated while extending his hand for a quick handshake. “Chaye pee ke jaiye”, he continued “humari taraf se”, pointing towards the tea shop right behind him. (Have a cup of tea, it’s on me). I politely refused, while my sisters giggled right behind me.

This was one of the many sadhus we came across in the ghats of Benaras. The sadhus were of all kinds – some in their own world, some wandering aimlessly, some looking to earn a quick buck, some asking for alms, some irritated and upset, some busy performing pujas and yagnas.

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I will narrate two funny encounters.

The Jovial Sadhu

We were passing by Darbhanga Ghat towards Dashashwamedh Ghat when we noticed this man talking to a family of 4-5 people. It appeared like they were seeking a solution to some problem and our man was happily obliging. We paused a few meters away watching him. The ash-smeared skin, the disheveled looks, the unkempt beard, the red dhoti, presented us with the perfect photo opportunity.  By now, we had learnt that if you approach any such person for a photo either they outright refuse to oblige or ask for money in lieu of a photo. But this time it turned out to be different.

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The man called us and said that we could freely click pictures of him if we wanted, he wouldn’t mind, and that he doesn’t want money in return. Having seen tourists in plenty, he had guessed our intention.  After the family left, he posed for us in various ways. His enthusiasm was hilariously enjoyable.

The next day, we happened to pass by the same area when we saw someone smiling at us. It took us a while to recognize our jovial sadhu as he was wearing a woollen cap and a sweater. Though we said nothing this time, he offered to pose with us. We were busily headed somewhere but he insisted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We just had to agree to his enthusiasm. In return, he took off his cap and sweater in the cold winter morning and posed in many different ways making sure all three of us had separate pictures with him. It didn’t matter whether we wanted a picture or not.

Happy with his earnest enthusiasm, we offered him a fifty rupee note, which he readily accepted.

The Santa Clause Sadhu

We were standing at the turning of a narrow alley waiting for the doors of a nearby temple to open for the evening. That was when I noticed a plump pot-bellied man with a flowing white beard and a red/orange robe walking towards us through the alley, which was empty until now. I alerted my sister, who was creating a photo series on sadhus. My sister jumped into action forgetting to be discreet.

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As expected, the man asked for money the moment he approached the turning where we were standing. We looked away pretending not to listen. At the same time a small boy appeared from the neighbourhood and started teasing him – “Sadhubaba, Sadhubaba, zara Hanuman Chalisa toh padke sunao!”, (Sadhubaba, why don’t you recite the Hanuman Chalissa for us!).  The man laughed boisterously and playfully brandished his stick as if to hit the small boy.

Suddenly the atmosphere became light. Digging into my pocket, I found a ten rupee note that I handed over to him. As if obliged by this gesture, he recommended a weird remedy for some unknown problem. We were supposed to take a peda (an Indian sweet) every Saturday, encircle the same around our heads three times and then feed it to a dog. This antidote to some non-existent problem was hilarious and led to a lot of playful bantering.

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Later in the day, we encountered the same sadhu once again and this time we noticed he looked a lot like Santa Clause. We had to click a few pictures.

Travelling is a Lot of Fun – Until it isn’t…


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The world of Social Media is flooded with cool travel pictures from across the world. Pictures that make you want to want to pack your bags right away and get into that gorgeous beach to watch the sun go down, trek through the meadows and jungles to reach the supposedly secluded mountain peak, dive into deep blue pools at the base of the tallest plunge waterfall, bungee jump off the highest cliff, or simply stare at the milky-way dazzling in the middle of the night. While many of these may be slightly exaggerated, they aren’t false. Travel does lead to such unique wonderful experiences creating a lifetime of beautiful memories.

However, not everything about travel is hunky dory, not all travel memories are fun. There are tonnes of unpleasant things that happen during travels, more so when on offbeat, adventurous, and budget travels. Nobody talks about them, they are things best forgotten. Afterall, we tend to remember all good things from the past rather than the not so good things. It’s not uncommon to deal with things like falling sick, unclean toilets, long waits at transits, cancelled or missed flights or trains, undesirable fellow passengers, getting injured, sudden political unrest, delayed or lost luggage, no mobile network, the list can go on and on. Any one of these or a combination of few has the potential to completely mar a travel experience.

Despite being an avid traveler, I have had several situations where travel felt no less than a torture. Here I share three of those.

Chemical Burns

Yes, you read that right! It was peak monsoon during the month of October and I was in Goa during an extended weekend with a friend and my sister. We were at Palolem beach in South Goa on a day when the rains poured incessantly. Not to be perturbed by the dismal weather, we set out walking along a lonely stretch of the beach towards a point where the sea meets the backwaters.

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Pic 1: Palolem Beach on a rainy October day

After an enjoyable ride in a boat through the mangroves in the backwaters, we were walking back when we spotted a series of colourful boats set in a row towards the periphery of the beach. Drawn towards them, we went and happily perched on the boats oblivious of the fact that those boats were coated with some chemical that contained acid. The boats were kept there for drying. There was no warning sign anywhere.

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Pic 2: The attractive colourful boats at Palolem Beach

After a few minutes, we felt a sticky substance on our back. My sister immediately went to the resort we were staying at and changed into a fresh set of clothes. I didn’t. Being completely drenched, I thought I would dip myself into the seawater and get rid of the sticky substance. I felt some discomfort on my back but didn’t pay any heed to it. It wasn’t until midnight that my sister and I discovered we had blisters all over our buttocks and in certain areas on our thighs. My condition was far worse that hers.

Coming back to Bangalore was a pain that I am never going to forget. It took me nearly two weeks to heal and the treatment had to be done with utmost care as chemical burns can easily get infected.

Allergic Reaction

This happened to me on two different occasions. The first time in Kanyakumari when I did not know I was allergic to certain types of seafood, including prawns. I gorged on a plateful of prawns and had a lot more than I usually do. The others thought the prawns weren’t cooked well enough. I had their share too!

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Pic 3: Viveknanda Rock at Kanyakumari, where Swami Vivekananda had meditated for three days.

When in the ferry towards Vivekananda Rock, I started wheezing. Thinking that the cold wind of the sea was getting into me, I didn’t bother much. Once in Vivekananda Rock, my face swelled beyond recognition forcing us to get back to mainland immediately. A few doses of Avil, an anti-allergic tablet, helped arrest the situation. I spent the rest of the holiday with a swollen face with eyes that were nearly shut.

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Pic 4: Notice my swollen face (right)

Another time, while returning from a trek, I was bitten by certain insects leading to a severe allergic reaction. This time, I had an Anaphylactic Shock – a life-threatening situation – and had to be rushed to the hospital ICU immediately. It’s by God’s grace that I am here today to tell the story. [More on that story here.]

Marooned in a Beach and then Getting Lost in a Jungle in the Dark

It was about 7 years back when I was visiting Gokarna with a bunch of friends. At that time Gokarna was relatively unknown and didn’t get many visitors. We had hired two autos to go to a place called, Paradise Beach. We had no clue where this beach was or if such a beach even existed. There was no Google Maps, no smart phones.

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Pic 5: The so called ‘Paradise Beach’

The auto drivers duped us and took us through a jungle dropping us in some isolated place far away from civilization saying that was Paradise Beach. We could see no beach but could hear sounds of waves crashing somewhere down the hill. We climbed down the hill maneuvering tall bushes only to find ourselves on huge boulders amidst thousands of crabs.

One of us was smart enough to note down the auto driver’s phone number. Or else, I have no idea how we would get out of that place. Now, why the auto driver’s left us at an isolated place is anybody’s guess!

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Pic 6: The trail through the jungle, clicked during the day, where we got lost at night.

On the way back, it had gotten completely dark. We had to make our way down a hillock following a trail through a jungle for a distance of about 2 Km. to reach Kudle Beach, where our resort was located. No motor vehicles could pass through that part and it had to be traversed on foot. We weren’t prepared for the dark and didn’t have torches.

All we had in the group of seven of us was two working phones, the batteries of which were nearly draining. The rest of the phones were completely out of charge. The friend leading the group down took a wrong turn and we soon realized we were lost in the middle of the jungle. To make matters worse, the two working phones went out of battery. After panicking for a while, we had no choice but to carry on walking following the sound of the waves. Once again it was by God’s grace that we made it alive to our resort in pitch darkness.

Would you like to share your not so good travel memory(s)?

Kyllang Rock – Got to Go Again!

Lum Kyllang and Lum Symper are brothers who fell out with each other and fought with such animosity that they have parted ways forever. No ordinary sibling rivalry this is! The two brothers here are hills and not humans. [I have outlined the local folklore at the end.]

BIL (brother-in-law) and I were once again on a long drive in the countryside when we had an opportunity to meet with Lum Kyllang. It was the first day of the year 2018. A bright and sunny January day ushered in additional joy and cheer to our New Year celebrations. This was rare as the month of January is usually associated with gloomy weather in the cold winter of Meghalaya. BIL, the happy man, was happier today – not because of the weather but because his wife (my cousin sister) had joined us too.

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Pic 1: The bright and sunny day was a huge mood lifter – what better way to start the new year!

We headed from Shillong towards West Khasi Hills district to go to Mairang. Shillong is in East Khasi Hills district. The sparkling tarred road was an absolute pleasure to drive and BIL was enjoying every bit of it. It was a newly inaugurated National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. Our intention was nothing more than a long drive by the countryside – indeed our way of celebrating the new year.

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Pic 2: The perfectly tarred road was a driver’s delight!

We passed through undulating winding roads amidst green hills dotted with Pine Trees, brown meadows of dried grass, villages with pretty houses of tin roofs, lace curtains, and playful children. Somewhere during the drive, one of us mentioned Kyllang Rock, which is also located in Mairang. We had heard stories about the peculiarity and uniqueness of Kyllang Rock but had never visited it and this drive presented us with the perfect opportunity.

We enquired for directions from a local tea shop and got to know that Kyllang Rock is locally known as Lum Kyllang. Based on our enquiry, we diverted onto a broken road from the National Highway. The narrow dusty road was lined with Pine forests on either side. As we approached, after a drive of about 20 mins, the massive dome shaped single rock of granite was clearly visible from a distance. With a girth of more than 1000 ft., the monolithic Kyllang Rock stands tall at a height of 5400 ft. above sea level. It is situated 12 Km. from Mairang and about 78 Km. from Shillong.

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Pic 5: As we first set our eyes on Lum Kyllang 

Kyllang Rock is several million years old and it is believed to have a magnetic field. It is believed that the magnetic field makes it easy to climb and once on top nobody falls off despite the very strong winds. The dense forest around the rock is home to age-old red Rhododendron trees and Oak trees. I had all plans of climbing up to the top as friends had told me about the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the top and also that the climb was fairly easy.

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Pic 6: The narrow lane that leads upto the rock.
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Pic 7: Do you see the tiny dots on top of the rock? Those are people up there.

However, I had to rest my plans of climbing up the rock as the place was immensely crowded with local people from the surrounding villages. Villagers revere the rock and were here to pay their obeisance on the occasion of new year.

I sure have to go back again to feel the massiveness of Lum Kyllang and experience the power of its magnetic field.

Local Folklore

Khasi folklore has it that Lum Kyllang in Mairang (West Khasi Hills) and Lum Symper in Weiloi (East Khasi Hills) are brothers. Kyllang was a mischievous God known for his mood swings. Symper was a calm God and always disapproved Kyllang’s violent and destructive ways. Kyllang did not like Symper’s interference and this led to a battle between the two brothers. Symper won the battle as he was blessed to have boulders while Kyllang had only sand. After the battle, Symper stayed in the same location in East Khasi Hills and Kyllang moved to Mairang in West Khasi Hills.

Another folklore talks about a man, his wife and child, who due to certain circumstances got transformed into one whole rock.

Picturesque Diu – Other Attractions


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The morning was bright and sunny. I expected a warm day but on stepping out of the hotel realized there was a strong wind blowing and it felt rather cold. It was a December morning and quite like one!

My parents and I were out to explore more of Diu, which had already surprised me with the amazing sunset and sunrise I experienced in its city beach – Jallandhar.

[Read my experience of Diu beaches here.]

There is more to Diu than just the beaches and here are some of those in order of my preference.

Diu Fort – Cannons Overlooking the Sea

I am more of a nature person than a history person, Baba is quite the opposite, and Ma keeps changing her taste depending on several factors. However, when it comes to forts all three of us are on the same page and equally interested.

At the first glance, Diu Fort felt disappointing but we quickly realized that we were expecting the architectural marvel of Mughal forts like the ones in Agra and Jaipur from a Portugese Fort. The Portugese weren’t as lavish as the Mughals neither could they afford the grandeur of the Mughals.

Having made peace with that, we noticed that the unique position of Diu Fort overlooking the sea made it very appealing. The huge wall around the fort secured it tight with the sea on three sides acting as an additional barrier. The fourth side used to be protected by a canal. Huge canons occupied the bastions that pointed in different directions towards the sea. These bastions opened into attractive courtyards lined with rows of trees. We crossed several gates that looked simple yet sturdy, then there were walkways, and few rooms as well.

A light house was located at one end of the fort. The history of the fort is displayed at the entrance gate. A section of the fort is not open to public and has the office of Jail Superintendent and used to house Diu Prison until recently.

Panikotha (or Fortim-do-Mar), a former prison, located in the middle of the sea can also be seen from the fort. Panikotha was once connected with the land by an under-sea tunnel.

Naida Caves – Manicured and Neat

A labyrinth of interconnected orangish-yellow wind-eroded rocks; trees springing up here and there with their artistic roots hanging in random places; sun beams passing through narrow crevices putting up a beautiful play of light and shadow – that’s what we saw at Naida Caves. I remember jokingly telling Ma, “I can imagine an old woman holding her pet black cat wearing a pointed black hat with a cackling voice suddenly springing up from nowhere.”

The cave was truly beautiful but seemed tad cosmetic to us. We couldn’t help the unfair comparison of this cave with the rustic ones back in our hometown Meghalaya. While Ma and I had a little fun with our imaginations running wild, Baba was clearly not impressed. I loved the trees though!

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Gangeshwar Temple: Five Shiva Lingas

Five Shiva Lingas situated inside a cave located just a few feet away from the sea – that’s Gangeshwar Temple. Apparently, the temple dates back to the times of the Mahabharata. It’s simplicity and quaintness is what amazed me.

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The Shiva Lingas are of various heights and are believed to have been installed by the five Pandavas during their exile in the forest. The varying heights portray the seniority of the Pandava brothers, except the largest one at the center which represents Bheem, the strongest brother. There is a well on one side of the cave that apparently gets filled with sweet water during low tide despite being surrounded by the sea. Locals call this flow of sweet water as Ganga Dhara (sacred flow of River Ganga) and that’s how the temple gets its name too. During high tide, the Shiva Lingas are washed by tidal waves.

St. Paul’s Cathedral – Intricate Wooden Interiors

Someone had told me that St. Paul’s Cathedral was really amazing, which led me to build up an expectation that was obviously not satiable. So, I am probably biased when I say  that for me the churches in my hometown Shillong are far more beautiful. Anyway, the church did have aesthetically appealing interiors with elaborate wood work. We lit candles at the altar and sat quietly for a while before walking towards St. Thomas Church located right next to it.

St. Thomas Church is also known as Diu museum but didn’t have much to offer other than few antique artifacts made of petrified wood, mostly figures of Catholic saints, from the Portuguese era.

INS Khukri Memorial – War memorial in Glass Casing

Located in Jallandhar Beach, the memorial of Indian Naval Ship (INS) Khukri is dedicated to all the valiant sailors of this ship who died during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971. The memorial is a scaled-down replica of the ship inside a glass casing. Khukri went down with her crew of 18 officers and 176 sailors a few miles off the coast of Diu, when a Pakistani submarine fired a torpedo at her. Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla chose to go down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

Hoka Palm – A Discovery After Leaving Diu

I thought I was seeing coconut trees but I did wonder why they had their trunks fused together. Several coconut trees seemed to be growing out of a common trunk and diverging in various directions. I also noticed an oval fruit hanging in bunches on top amidst the dense green foliage. These were definitely not coconut!

Hoka Palm Tree – PC: outreachecology.com

It was only on my way back from Diu that I questioned our cab driver and got to know that these are Hoka Trees and that they are unique and found only in this part of the country. Hoka seeds are used for preparing a local alcoholic drink known as Tadi. The soft flesh inside can be eaten raw.

Hoka Palm Tree or Hyphoena indica is a native of the Nile valley in Egypt and is also known as Doum Palm or Gingerbread Tree.

Diu is a great destination for a quick weekend refreshing getaway!

 

 

Dwarika – Charming Liveliness

It was a little after 6.00 AM when I stepped out of my hotel room. It was still dark and that made me double-check my wrist watch. The morning aarti (prayer) was due at the temple at 6.30 AM. I could either watch the sunrise or attend the aarti and I still hadn’t decided which one I wanted to do. My parents preferred to stay back at the hotel as we were expecting a long day ahead.

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Pic 1: A portion of Gomti Ghat

We had arrived at Dwarika the day before. After settling down in the hotel, I had stepped out for a stroll in Gomti Ghat while my parents rested after the 4 hour drive we had from Jamnagar. Our hotel was located at Gomti Ghat and it was just a few meters from the temple.

It was late afternoon and the first thing I saw on stepping out was Sudama Setu, the suspension bridge, over Gomti River. The ghat had as many people as there were cows. There was a camel too offering rides with its owner and it just seemed so out of place. Street vendors spread out their wares and tiny shops dotted the ghat. Someone was also seeking donations over a loudspeaker for feeding cows. I turned around and spotted the temple Shikara (spire) just opposite to the ghat.

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Pic 2: A Sadhu all set for his evening rituals.

This part of the world looked so different from the hi-tech world of Bangalore – reason enough for the sense of excitement I felt. The thought that it was Christmas day and for the first time I was in a not-so-Christmassy set up amused me even more. I walked leisurely towards the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea while enjoying the old world charm around me.

An interesting thing about Gomti River is that, its water recedes during the day and one can walk to the middle of the river, in the mornings the river gets filled with water once again.

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Pic 3: Sudama Setu as the Sun had started conspiring with the sky and the sea

Somewhere on the way, I stopped to have a cup of tea from a roadside Chaiwala (tea seller). Meanwhile, the Sun was busy conspiring with the sea and the sky. By the time I finished my tea, the sun had started bathing the sea and sky in a burning red with tinges of orange and yellow. I hurried my pace to reach the end of the ghat to get a good glimpse of the gorgeousness that was unfolding as the sun was bidding goodbye for the day.

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Pic 4: Sunset, as I saw from Gomti River, the water had receded and I walked on the river bed.
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Pic 5: Sunset from the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea.
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Pic 6: The temple town after sunset as seen from the other side of Gomti River.

This morning I felt compelled to step out. All in the hope of beholding the golden colours once again. This time for sunrise. Though the morning was still dark, the ghat was abuzz with activities. It didn’t take me long to decide it was sunrise that I wanted, the morning aarti could wait for the next day.

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Pic 7: As dawn was breaking in.

Once again, all the activities in the ghat fascinated me – some were bathing in the river notwithstanding the cold December morning; some were performing Puja and releasing oil lamps onto the river; some were hurriedly walking towards the temple; some were feeding fishes; some were buying sea shells; and so on and so forth.

The cows were up too, jostling to share space with their human counterparts. Few sadhus in their saffron robes wandered around aimlessly. The shops of colourful shoes and bags were opening up. Those selling Puja items had already started their business.

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Pic 8: Sudama Setu looked brilliant at sunrise.

Somewhere, I met my Chaiwala where I sipped tea while watching people – watching people happens to be one of my favourite activities. The buzzing energy all around was somewhat contagious. Everybody and everything at the ghat seemed like little stories to me.

Somewhere in the flurry of activities, nature had quietly started painting the sky in hues of yellows, oranges and reds. As the Sun peeked over the horizon, it was time for me to go back to the hotel where my parents were waiting for me.

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Pic 9: The point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea. The river is filled to the brim in the morning.
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Pic 10: The temple shikhara seen clearly with the first rays of the sun.

I turned around and noticed the temple shikhara, which was now clearly visible with the first rays of the Sun.

I recalled last evening when we had visited the temple during the evening aarti. The temple was swarming with people. My parents didn’t dare to brave the crowd and found a place to sit instead. I went ahead and managed a quick glance of Dwarkadhish – that’s how Lord Krishna is referred to here – but not before the undisciplined crowd squashed me completely.

As always, I wondered why people become so unruly just before the actual darshan in some of these temples. All that I could think of is Lord Krishna perhaps enjoys all the attention he gets from His frenzied devotees.