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Kumbh Mela - Haridwar - Akhada
Not even once in my dreams I had thought I would go to Kumbh Mela. But this time I did! To my surprise I did. It was amazingly organised. I was pleasantly surprised with that. The town was clean. Healthily clean. There were clear signs for parking, toilets and every such thing. Police were around and their presence seemed to be enough to keep the peace. I caught a Rixa guy and asked him to take me to the Akhadas of Sadhus. Akhada is the community of the sadhus. There are hundreds of such all over the country. Millions of Sadhus come to the Kumbh Mela every time. They have specific dates of taking a dip in the Ganga. Shahi Snaaan it is called. [Literally translated Royal Bath.] Before that, the almost a new village is constructed for these sadhus to stay. There are huge plan lands on the banks of Ganga and gigantic size tents are erected few days before the arrival of the Sadhus. The chief of the Akhada is the most important and sacred person. On each of the Akhada tent about 100 feet tall photo of the chief Sadhu is showcasing. This helps his followers to find their accommodation area easily I guess. The day the Shahi Snaan [Royal Bath] is to take place, these sadhus go to the specific spot with a huge procession. It is reported that on each of the Shahi Snaan day approximately 25 Lakh [2.5 million] sadhus take a dip in the Ganga River. Totally in 3 months over 1 crore = 110 million people visit the Kumbh Mela. I went around the tents of these Sadhus. Many main Aakhadas were yet to come and the preparations were going on in full speed. There were some Aakhadas ready and many sadhus were there. Some sleeping, some talking, some smoking, some busy in some rituals. The main sadhu was sitting in a special different, small tent and there were couple of others talking to him. Looked like they were talking something important. I roamed around clicked many pictures and returned to Rishikesh, where I was staying.
Haridwar is a very important place in Hindu world. This time the famous Kumbh mela was going on. So it was crowded. Although this time due to covid and lockdown, the crowd was slightly lesser. Afterwards some statisticians proved that in fact the covid spread went down after the Kumbh Mela. The infrastructure in Haridwar is immaculate now. There are long flyovers and if you want, you can completely bypass the town of Haridwar. I parked my car and got inside the town. It was clean and tidy. I must say, Clean India scheme [Swaccha Bharat] of the government has worked greatly all over the country. People all over have understood the importance of cleanliness. The town was buzzing with pilgrims from all over the places. There were chants to be heard everywhere. Hundreds were taking a dip in the river Ganga that was flowing with substantial force. There were guards around and chains inside the water to prevent anyone from getting washed away. I saw a father carrying his grown up son on his back. The son was clearly ill. I remembered going to Rishikesh years ago with my parents. I was small and in school then. I got fever and my father had carried me on his shoulder to the doctor and back to the hotel we stayed. I found a auto rixa guy and asked him to show me around so I could click pictures the way I want. I think it was a good decision! Got some nice pictures too.
In my life it has been always surprising to me that I started going to Bangalore, Calcutta and Rishikesh quite late. Bangalore and Calcutta, because they are very big music hubs in the country. And Rishikesh because it is Rishikesh!! I wish I had gotten to these places decades ago. Ganga Aarati Triveni Ghat This time , I drove to Rishikesh from Punjab. It was a lovely drive. I settled myself in a hotel near Lakshman Zhula, and stepped out to go to the Lakshman Zhula. I simply love t be there. The shops specifically interested in attracting the foreigners, couple of beggars dressed as sadhus, some sadhus singing some songs, Chaat sellers on the street, a couple of cows and dogs roaming around, a couple of aggressive monkeys trying to steal some food from the tourists, some small kids trying to beg, some shops selling brass idols and incense sticks and the cafes with some fabulous menus; Looking down at the river you can see some boats, some rafters coming from upstream, some cafes on the bank of river Ganga a couple of couples trying to spend romantic time with each other, some devotees getting in the water carefully and some birds trying to hunt for fish and so on. The entire place has a mesmerising vibe. At every corner you will find a temple or a yoga studio or an aashram or a dharamashala or such. Lots of these temples keep having weekly or daily bhajans in the evenings. Weekly Bhajan in a temple at Rishikesh Many, many times I have gone there on the bridge and simply stood doing nothing. It is mediative for me. Although meditative, lots of music always keeps going on in my head…. All the time! This time as I had my car, In next few days I drove to Kunjapuri Temple, Tihri Dam, and also to Vasishta Gufa. These places have their own charm. I was told that you can see a beautiful sunrise and sunset from Kunjapuri temple. So I was there almost an hour before the sunrise. It was absolutely serene and peaceful. At Kunjapuri temple a group of yoga students led by their teacher came. As the group of tourists came up, one small local boy was woken up by his father or so. He then started banging on his drums in half sleep. It was obnoxious and loud. Obviously he was expecting money for that. It was simply criminal to kill the peace and beauty around the temple. Finally someone gave him some money to stop. Probably that was his way to earn money!! Once he stopped, the yoga teacher started playing his drum and singing. !! Sleepy boy banging his drums Yoga group singing and dancing - Kunjapuri Temple Vasishth Gufa is slightly away from Laxman Zhula. I was told Vasishta Muni lived and meditated there. Now there is a quiet and beautiful aashram too. I went inside the gufa [Cave] and played a raag that I had created some time ago. It was a deep experience for me. Fortunately I did record it. Deep meditative Raag Hari Bhairav at Vasisth Gufa The popular Ganga Aarati now takes place every evening in several places in Rishikesh - Trivent Ghat being the most popular. It always is a great crowd puller. That also brings in business for everyone around! There are always some beggars dressed to look like sadhus. some playing music, some telling you your fortune, some just giving their blessings to you, and so on. There are hundreds of aashrams and even in the covid and lockdown there were practically thousands of visitors. Mainly coming from Haridwar as Kumbh Mela was going on. Famous Ganga Aarati at Triveni Ghat - Rishikesh Beggars at the Triveni Ghat - Ganga Aarati courtyard - Rishikesh I stayed in Rishikesh for a while and then left for wandering around in the inner Uttrakhand. Here are a couple of more videos from Rishikesh... And some pictures.
Suvarna Mandir - The Golden Temple
When I walked towards the Golden Temple - Amritsar, in the small, narrow, half lit alley, I could see dozens of Sikhs with guns in their hands. Some were sitting drinking Chai, and some were talking to each other. As we walked in, we passed through the curious, inquisitive looks towards us. The atmosphere was tense, For us for sure. As we entered the Golden Temple complex. It was everything that I had imagined of. Once I was inside I simply kept looking at the magnificent temple in the centre of the spectacular lake. Here too, there were hundreds of Sikhs with guns. Many were simply pilgrims. Many dressed in Cobalt Blue were the Nihang - the warrior clan. They were carrying spears and swords. On our left was the famous Langar - Ahead of us was Akal Takht. Then entire complex was surrounded by different beautiful blazing white coloured buildings. Next day in the morning we met dynamic leader Jarnailsingh Bhindranwale on the terrace of Langar. Present were hundreds of his followers. Each and every one with a gun. Once in a while someone would shoot a bullet in the air and with loud flutter the pigeons would soar up in the skies. Later on we met Sant Longowal in one of his large chambers. Unlike Jarnailsingh Bhindranwale, who was an aggressive orator, Sant Longowal was a quiet person. It was April of the year 1984. Times were disturbing. It was the peak of unrest in Punjab. News of killings and such would be heard every day. And we were there right in the heart centre of everyting - At the Golden Temple. No one knew that in another 2 odd months there would a week long war, and everything would change. No one sees the future really! For my first time visit to the Holi place, I must say it was exciting! I was awestruck - Jaw dropped ! It was exactly after 37 years now, I was standing there - in the same alley that leads to Suvarna Mandir - The Golden Temple. I couldn't just recognise it!! There is a complete metamorphosis happened there. The entire façade is changed now. It looks incredible. I assumed the same shops would be there - may be some have changed. Once again - Once again, I was awestruck - Jaw dropped ! I walked towards the Golden Temple. On the right there is an ancient Shani Dev Temple - from CE 1761. In the entire beige coloured façade, that one blue building stands out. As you go ahead there is a large plaza where you leave your footwear. The people inside receiving the footwear are doing it as a service. No one is paid. Inside most of the buildings surrounding the lake are new. Actually in the '84 war, these buildings were damaged. Government re-built them. The Sikhs tore down the government built buildings, and built their own with their own money. There were many pilgrims. Hundreds of them. Some must have come from far away. Many families were clicking the mandatory pictures against the Golden Temple. I too found a guy trying to take his selfie. Asked him if I could click, and then asked him to click mine. There was some procession going around too. They were singing some songs / prayers. I think it was a Jatha from outstation, I can't be sure though. Inside the Temple area the Gurbani is heard in soft volumes. The maestros that sing it in the main temple, are called Ragi. These Ragi are masters of music and it's quite prestigious to become a Ragi. I simply kept listening to the magical verses in those magical voices. The entire atmosphere was mesmerising. 37 years ago, I too had sung Gurbani and played Tabla in several Gurudwaras of Panjab. I wasn't playing flute then! [ Nor was I playing Tabla or was singing any good, But simply no one told me I was horrible and that I shouldn't ! ] I went there once in the evening, and again in the morning. I had food in that incredible Langar, Just walked around, Sat down and Prayed, Played Flute and Just kept looking at the beautiful fish in the lake for quite some time. Honestly, I didn't want to leave. No Nonsense place this is. No security, No frisking, no rubbish of Don’t click pictures and any such restrictions. Everyone keeps the respect of the place, it's not needed to hammer it on the minds of pilgrims. I once again had fallen in love with the place, like same way I did 37 years ago. Incidentally, when I mentioned that I have met Bhindranwale and Sant Longowal, several people actually took selfies with me! That definitely left me thinking!
Milind and Ungrateful Cows of Spiti
Cows of Spiti are bad people. I am telling you, just believe me. I, personally, for once, am never ever going to talk to them now. No matter how much they woo me henceforth!
Now, for centuries and millenniums it is an established and proven fact, that many guys who walk the sheep, goat and cows and their brotherhood, sit somewhere and play flute. Cows and other animals like it too.
Well, like everywhere in Himalayas, I spotted a herd of cows on the plush meadows of Spiti Valley. Some were sitting and chewing the cud, some were just walking around, some were grazing in the pasture. So basically they were not doing anything. Exactly like what we have done for decades of sitting in Vaishali - our once a popular joint in Pune.
Here in Spiti I stepped out from the car. it was damn cold outside. I clicked some pictures here and there. It was fun - shivering fun! Then I decided to entertain them with my enchanting flute. I thought the right time has come for me to walk into the new profession of becoming a cow herder. I, then started playing the most beautiful music I could think of at that moment.
I was playing and I sensed some movement behind my back. The cows had got alert. And some had started walking. Within a few more seconds the cows that were half asleep also got up and they all started running away from me! Then some remaining few too were seen running somewhere unknown!
I have never seen such ungrateful bunch of cows in my life !!!! Grrrrr!
God knows what they understood from my music!! Probably their humans must have wondered why the cows returned so early today! What to do! Such is life!!
Looking back, now I think it was good that they ran away, instead had they attacked me, there was no tree to climb up and escape !!
Towards Key Gompa
There are many journeys where the journey is the main thing and not the destination. Going ahead of Kaza in Spiti Valley is one such journey. There are places like Key Monastery and Hikim and all those popular ones. Somehow it didn't interest me, to go all the way to Hikim to see and click a post office board that has been clicked by lakhs already! I took a drive ahead of Kaza towards Key Monastery. Here are some pictures…
Way to Kaza - Spiti Valley
Kaza is in the middle of nowhere! Deep inside the Spiti valley, Kaza has got its popularity comparatively recently, when people found Spiti Valley as a cheaper and quicker option to Ladakh.
On the way to Kaza
It’s a circular route to say. You can go from Shimla side and come out to Manali or vice versa. When I went there in April 2021, Kunzum pass was closed as it was still snowing. So I went and returned from Shimla side. On return journey the same road looks a bit different ! So I enjoyed.
As you go ahead from Rekong Peo region, slowly the green vegetation starts disappearing and only barren land is seen. On the way to Kaza there are a few popular villages of Nako, Tabo and some other few. Each offering something special. Buddhist influence increases and Monasteries with 500 year old mummy and large Buddha statues such welcome you.
On the way I spotted an apiary. Road side bee keeping! There are tin many many boxes scattered along side the road and a small tent for the guy who manages that!
This entire region is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen, and so is the drive through it. You see stunning meadows on both the sides of the road, then there are snow-peaks, there are caves on the way, there are deep valleys you cut through, and of course huge rivers with little water most of the times. You come across a couple of smaller villages too, Some Gompas and all that usual scenery you see in Ladakh. Just that this feels little more greener than Ladakh.
The road eventually goes to famous Kunzum pass and of course Chandrataal lake. I couldn't go there as due to snowfall the road was closed. Otherwise I could have taken the exit from this side to Manali. But April obviously is too early for that.
Here are a few pics..
Kalpa is in Himachal. From Chandigarh airport via Shimla you can reach there in about 11-13 hours of drive. Most of the drive is just magnificent. After a while the road goes alongside of the river Sutlej. The more common plan for holiday is to go to Sangla and Chitkul first and then come to Kalpa for a night. And then either go back home or go ahead to Spiti Valley.
Typically tourists stay for one night at Kalpa. Perhaps 2 nights. I stayed there for more than 2 weeks. It was one of the best times I have spent in Himalayas. I was the only customer in the entire hotel. and there was only one chap - 23 years old, who was managing the Hotel.
To get groceries etc, this chap who would have to go down to the bigger town with a curious name - Rekong Peo - 12 km downhill. Sometimes I would take him there and bring him back with vegetables and other things. He, Thankfully, was a good cook.
I composed there a lot, Practiced a lot, Recorded 3 new pieces. 3 New raags got created there. They just pop up, I really don't create a Raag to say. Raags get created on their own. When a melody wants to get created, it will just flow! Anyway, all in all the stay at Kalpa musically it was brilliant!
Another thing I simply loved to witness, was the blooming of Apple flowers. I was living amidst of those wonderful Apple Orchards. Surrounding me were all Apple trees, Across the road there was tall mountain. Just little ahead was a lovely local house. They had a dog who would alert his masters of my presence, and a couple of cows. Probably my man would get milk from there. Actual Kalpa village was little and below. I could get some mesmerising view of the village. Kalpa is certainly photogenic!
In those 15 days I saw all types of weather. When I reached there it was still snowing. Then slowly the snow started melting and I could wear only one sweater. After a few days, It got hot for a day, then it rained, then it was cold again. Hot means about 18 degrees C. One day I saw so much of fog that the massive valley completely disappeared in it! Then again it rained a bit, but with thunderstorm this time. The thunderstorms with lightening in Himalayas is quite frightening sight if you are not used to it!
Every day I would wake up and start practicing sitting in the balcony looking at the rising sun. Then this guy would get my breakfast. Haldi Milk [ Turmeric Latte !] and in most of days - a Paratha. But he was a good cook. Practicing with the rising sun is a lovely experience. Then the day followed with lots of creativity. It was lovely.
Actually I have been living in Himalayas in every April and May for several years. It's hitting 40+ here and I am comfortably living amidst jungles or such in higher altitudes with 8 -10 deg C. It's fun. It’s the Old idea of shifting to the Summer Capital!
One thing I did in my Kalpa stay, was to shoot our Milky Way. With the guidance of ace photographer Amith Nag from Bangalore, after several tries on several very cold nights I could get some good pictures of the galaxy. I would sleep at 10 pm and wake up at 2 to go on the terrace. It would be frighteningly cold, but with practically zero light pollution!! It was fun and a memorable experience. Milky Way over Kinner Kailash seen from Kalpa
All in all, It was quite healing - to live there in Kalpa. Generally I prefer some lower altitude place. Like somewhere between 1800 to 2300 Mt from seashore. Kalpa is about 2800 mt. Above 2500 mt, at times one could fell slight breathless. Thankfully I don’t have any issue even at 5000+ Mt. Here are some pictures I got in my stay in Kalpa
Sangla and Chitkul
In the last week of April 2021, I was travelling in Himachal. I think it was a delayed winter for the higher altitudes. It was quite cold above 2000 mt from sea level, and every alternate day there would be snowfall. From Rampur, I travelled to Sangla and then to Chitkul. Once I left the badly maintained highway, the road became even worse; Just so that I won't miss my Maharashtra roads. Some landslides here and there, and I did escape falling boulders a couple of times. One of the boulder was bigger than my car, and it just jumped in front of me and thankfully disappeared in the 5000 feet valley below. I have video somewhere, shot from my dashcam. As I reached Sangla, I found the village closed down due to some local issue. The winds of corona - the Chinese Virus were getting stronger in the country, but thankfully there was nothing much up in the mountains. In reality, I was in one of the safest place. Undoubtedly that region is one of the most beautiful places in the country! I did have some lovely time there, composed some music, drove around a lot, and played lots of flute… Here are some pictures clicked around the village of Sangla, Some on the way to Chitkul. In any case, no photograph will ever come to close to the reality!
Wedding Party at Sangla
While I was going to Chitkul in Himachal. After exploring a few days in and around Sangla one fine afternoon I spotted a wedding party. They all looked so happy and exotic in their traditional attires. I thought probably they were a small family coming from a wedding. They were ! One guy was quite drunk but no one really cared!
I stopped my car and pretended to look at my mobile. No one seemed to care about me or for that matter anything around them. They were laughing, talking and singing and were just being merry! I simply kept looking at their joyous faces. After a short while one of the guys noticed me and gave me a big smile. Soon enough I landed up asking him if I could click some pics of their group. They were quite happy actually.
One of the guys asked me if he could get the pics, I said I can whatsapp the pics once I reach back to my hotel. I sent the pics later that day. But there and then I showed the pics to them in my camera, and oh boy, they were so happy to see the pictures! Then I played some wedding song for them on my flute too! They got into a small dance to that !!!
It was certainly one of those moments in your travel, where you just become a part of universe around you that is happy and satisfied!!
The road from leh to Kargil is studded with interesting places. Several popular ones and several in the zone of Hidden Treasures. Although by now those are also well-known.
Midway to Kargil from Leh you pass a region that once looked like Moonland. Although, if you see only a certain part of it, it looks like Moonland. Basically with no trees whatsoever. But now lots of the valley is green. Like all other in Ladakh this is a valley surrounded by tall mountains. There is situated a very famous monastery called as Lamayuru Monastery. Almost same view from same point showing the increased greenery in 10 years. [ Left 2011, Right 2021] Originally this monastery was that of Bon Religion. Generally speaking Bon was the religion of the valley till it became Buddhist and later in parts, Muslim.
The legend says that there was a sea all around and a Buddhist saint Naropa, dried it up and built this monastery.
When I went there, it was officially closed. So basically no one was there. But thankfully I could walk around and click some pictures.