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Info - Up And Close Bharat Tour - 3

Info - Up And Close Bharat Tour - 3

Up and Close Bharat – 2021 – Part 3 Mountain driving - According to me ‘One needs to be a very skillful driver to drive in Himalayas’ is a bad overstatement and myth. There are thousands and thousands of guys doing that every day. All you have to do, is to pay proper attention to driving and the road, and understand the limits of your car – which you will learn while driving anyway. I observed there are 3 points that affect the driving– 1] Width of the road, 2] Traffic and 3] Surface quality. The real problem came with narrow roads [ Mainly in interiors of Uttrakhand ]. At some points, the road was wide enough just one vehicle to pass. And then, if there is truck coming towards you and the road is 15 -20 Degrees steep [ or steeper] and then there is a turning… It’s the worse situation to handle. Anticipating it, I would stop at the possible wider area of the road to give way to on-coming car or truck and let the other vehicle approach me. A cheesy and shameless thing I did initially, was when I would see an on-coming car, I would take my care to the mountain side and wait for the other car to approach. They would be forced to pass from the valley side then. As my confidence increased, I didn’t do it. Reversing the car - I found out that in case of reversing the direction of the car on a mountain road, it was better to reverse the car’s rear end towards the valley side. Reasons being 1] I could see clearly the edge with the camera, and 2] the car weight is in front, making it more firm on ground. Of course I could have done it other way round and found some perfect explanations for that too! Thanks to the great navigation of google maps and my interpretation of the directions, I had to do this many times. Car changes its behaviour and response in mountains drastically. The same S Cross Zeta 1.3 feels underpowered in high mountains. [And I was alone in the car.] High altitude car and driving certainly needs special attention. With observation, I became reluctant to stop the car to speed zero. Because many times I had to take off the car by raising the RPM to 3000 + and slowly releasing the clutch – due to steep gradient of the road. I asked at the Nexa service station in Leh if this was normal, they said “Completely normal and that controlling car on gears instead of breaks is utmost important”. I also noticed cleaning air filter and AC filter regularly makes a big difference in the performance of the car. For me l having a glance at the deep valley created some fright, so I would not look at it but focus on road. One thing I did was to look out for, is the stones falling from the mountains. There is not much I could do really, but when I saw fallen stones on the road, I would be more careful. Once or twice a big boulder jumped ahead of my car. Had I been some 20 -30 feet ahead, it would have hit my car sideways. Or worse, it could have landed on top of my head! But again, this happened only twice in the entire journey of 4 months of Himalayas. Well, I couldn’t stop traveling with this fear in mind, could I ?! Water, Mud and Black Ice – Driving on the water, mud and ice or black ice is increasingly difficult. Under the water you can never know how deep is the pothole, on mud the car slips and tyres don’t take good grip, Ice and black ice is the worst; You don’t have any control on the car. Breaking is extremely dangerous as the car will mostly slip and skid with any possible velocity even if you are and 0.01 kmph. In these cases, I simply stopped and watched what others were doing and then followed. In any case normally too I control the car mainly on gears. I shall end this write up with saying this – While in Ladakh I read outside an Army Camp – What is adventure for you, is daily routine for us. Honestly if anyone thinks that I went on an adventure, I would say No. What army does is adventurous, Siachin is beyond adventure. There are only 4-5 countries in the entire world who can manage high altitude maneuvers. India is one of those. And for driving – thousands of drivers do that every day and night – and earn money too. I was very clear about my motive for this. – I wanted to see my Bharat Up and Close. - Milind Date

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour - 2

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour - 2

Up and Close Bharat – 2021 – Part 2 Travel, Car and Driving – Travel and Driving – Fundamentally I always drive without getting into racing or any such ego related complications. It is a very determined decision. For me, driving never should involve emotions. I have realised that City driving, Highway driving and Mountain driving are completely different things. You can have experience in one, still you will have to get experience in others. I think on highways, truck drivers are the best drivers – Most patient and disciplined they are. [ Although they tend to drive in the wrong lanes!] Tourist car drivers’ only aim in life is to go ahead of everyone. I also observed that many private car drivers’ attention is divided between enjoying the moment and driving – thus less focused on traffic and driving. Apparently, I managed well, as I didn’t get even one scratch on my car in the entire journey. Anticipation of the traffic is a very important factor in safe driving. The modern invention of Indicators has not reached to many people, so your judgment and imagination is important. A trick my friend had told me ages ago has come in handy all the time to me – “Look at the front wheels of the truck and then you exactly know where it is going!” In case of a questionable road, I would simply stop and wait till some other vehicle would pass through that patch and then follow. Evenings I had to drop my speed between 50 to 70 due to cows, buffaloes and their shameless owners loitering on highways. They are the most dangerous animals for traffic. Second troublesome animals are the dogs. They love to chase and some die in that adventure . But they can harm the car substantially, in case of a collision. Third most dangerous criminals are the humans coming wrong side and wrong way. I regularly encountered jeeps, tractors and at times trucks coming in opposite direction, and in several cases, they were even driving in my fast lane [ next to the divider]. Endurance – Initially I could drive for 4 hours and I would be tired. Eventually my endurance increased, and I could drive comfortably for 11 to 13 hours a day without getting exhausted or fatigued. I had not done any practice drives for that. [I had not entered any competition for “How many hours I drove in one day”, and am not interested in boasting about it or any other thing for that matter]. Also, I drove only in day time. As I would wake up early, I would feel sleepy around 10 30 -11. I would then stop and take a nap. Didn’t drive in sleepy conditions. Maps – I had downloaded all the necessary maps and saved many locations of interest. Yet, I would ask for directions to truck drivers or locals, when leaving the highways. I would save routs for tomorrow’s driving, so that I could use my brain instead of depending completely on maps brain – which doesn’t suit Indian road conditions in many situations. For S Cross, I found out that starting the car, letting the phone connect to the system on Bluetooth, and then attaching the cable worked in stable connection for 99% of the attempts. Keeping a spare cable too helped. [ Due to lockdown the shops were closed] Car - Taking care of the car is highly important for me, so twice a week in flat lands, and on alternate days in the mountains, I would check air. I would investigate any noise coming inside the car. All such noises were basically created by my luggage. Car had nothing to do with those. All petrol pumps have toilets now, and 90% of them are well maintained. I would refill the tank when it would remain about 1/3rd. Petrol pumps are a good place to make local enquiries about good hotels and better roads etc. I would get the car washed once or twice a week. I saw many brand-new looking cars having different issues. Most common was that the brake pads needed replacement. Thankfully I didn’t have any issue with my car. Carrying a powerful air pump is a great idea. In case of a small puncture, you can fill the air and reach the repair shop in case. I shall stop by telling you one fact - To be honest, I can’t even fill air in the tyres. Understanding anything else about the car is beyond me. I am writing this not because I am stupidly proud of this fact, but to tell that you don’t need to be expert in car maintenance to travel in India. People are nice everywhere, and they come and help you. In worse situations there is an all India help line for Maruti. Other car companies might have the same too. Obviously having knowledge about the car will come in handy for sure. -Milind Date More about Mountain Driving in Part 3.

Introduction to Up and Close Bharat Tour 2021

Introduction to Up and Close Bharat Tour 2021

Recently I completed a pan India tour -A soul searching solo trip in my car; From Tamil Nadu to Ladakh, it went on for more than 6 months. I visited many historical monuments, crossed many rivers and mountains, drove on roads that exist only on maps or don't, cruised on some of the best highways in the world, soaked in different cultures up and close, and met some interesting people. Loved playing flute at most interesting places, from 15,000 ft, where I could hardly breath, to beaches where strong winds made it tough to produce sound. Meditated with my flute while sitting alone on a rock - while surrounded by Monkeys, Squirrels or Musk Deers along with birds in the jungles of Himalayas under the fully bloomed Rhododendron trees. Danced around while fluting in the finest sand dunes around the camels. Fluted with frozen fingers for Pashmina goats, Cows and Yaks at -10 °C in high altitude mountains of Himalayas. Played in the 1000 years old temples and disappeared quietly when it started gathering crowd !! Also I learnt a lot. Lot about my capacities and limits. About different cultures and customs, different musical forms and melodies, and learnt a lot about human nature. This tour, like all previous ones enriched me with tremendous joy, satisfaction and happiness. Here are some impressions from the 6 months long "Up And Close Bharat tour 2021". Hope you like it 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 - Milind Date

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour  - 1

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour - 1

Up and Close Bharat – 2021 – Part 1 1st January 2021 – 10th July 2021 My Route – Pune, Goa, Murudeshwar, Udupi, Mary's island, Halebidu, Mullayangiri, Belur, Rameshwaram, Dhanushyakodi, Tanjavur, Chidambaram Tranquebar, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Kolhapur, Pune, Thane, Mehsana, Modhera, Mount Abu, Chitodgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Rishikesh, Lansdown, Kunjapuri, Tehri Dam, Agra, Haridwar [Kumbh Mela], Bheemtaal, Saat Taal, Naini Taal, Almora, Dandeshwar, Jageshwar, Mukteshwar, Pithoragarh, Munsyari via Nepal Border, Kasar Devi, Karna Prayag, Vishnu Prayag, Nand Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Dev Prayag, Joshi Math, Gopeshwar, Chopta, Tungnath, Gupt Kashi, Chamba[ UK],Harshil, Gangotri, Rishikesh, Solan, Rampur, Sangla, Chitkul, Kalpa, Nako, Tabo, Kaza, Losar, Rampur, Mcleod Ganj, Dharamkot, Sonamarg, Kargil, Leh, Nubra Valley - Hunder, Turtuk - Tyakshi, and Pamanik, Hemis [ Hemis Mask Dance Festival], Pang, Ludhiana, Gawlior, Dhule, Pune. Some statistics - 6 Months and a few days, Approximately 21,000 Km, My Car S-Cross Zeta Manual 1.3 Lt 2017 model. Milage I got 21.8 Km per Liter of Diesel. Expenditure approx. 35,000 Per Month includes fuel, accommodation, food. Only one night I stayed with a friend all other were paid stays. In December 2020 there was quite a fear or such in my mind, about this road trip. Now in July 2021 I feel that such fear is not correct, and is imaginary and unnecessary. India is quite safe. People everywhere are helpful and nice. I am sure solo women travelers too will be safe. [ In fact, there are many.] [ Also playing flute to unknown people helps a lot!! ] Unavailability of information, as well as completely wrong or outdated information, biased information coming from tourism industry, or worse, half information on blogs or Instagram has populated the internet to a large extent. For example, it is quite difficult to find any reliable information about journey from Pithoragarh to Munsyari. Some blogs / Instagram accounts tell info that has become outdated now. Most of them go there for 3-4 days and tell what they feel is correct. Many will tell you how beautiful the Tso Moriri is, but I haven’t found any post telling that the road to there is as good as one that on moon. On Facebook groups you find people laughing and insulting the person who has asked for accommodation under 800 rupees. Whereas you practically find thousands of places, offering 500 rs per night or lower - everywhere in India where the rooms are excellent – clean with western style toilet, 24 hours of hot water and 100% safe including private parking. Preparation – Route and destinations – First thing I realised was that some places are highly interesting [ like Taj Mahal or Golden Temple]; Some journeys are amazing but there is nothing much to see or do at the destination; [Like to Munsyari]; And some are great journeys and great destinations [ Like Ladakh]. Looking at the disappointed tourists I observed, I think it is necessary to have some idea of what we should expect from that travel. On the 1st January 2021 I left home for Goa and then to Murudeshwar. As I had not done any such trips before, I was not sure of my abilities or the capabilities of my Car – S Cross Zeta. I just kept on going ahead – One day at a time. I would make some approximate plan for the next few days, and would follow it roughly. For sure, more research would have gotten me more places to visit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every day of my tour. Accommodation – Initially, I booked mostly on Oyo and Bookings. Oyo being more reliable with people, safety, and the quality of rooms. I looked for AC room [ in South ], Private Parking, and location. Rajasthan was the worst - by all means. Rooms were excellent in general but what I was told and what I got were two different things. Once I realized that ‘Walk In’ is the cheapest option I stopped advance booking. Narrow down to a couple of hotels in a online search, and go directly there, would give be the best rates. With my own car walk in was not a problem at all. Averagely, I paid around 500 Rs per day for the room in the north and about 1100 in the south – [manly due to the need of an AC and not walk in]. Hostels are expensive than hotels. Homestays that are not listed online are the cheapest and perhaps the best. I stayed in Hotels in the South and mainly in homestays in the north. Only in Kaza I stayed in a hostel and the experience was not good. Food – As a vegetarian I never got any issue for availability of vegetarian food. I had carried some Aurvedic medicine for better digestion, and would take it if the food was too oily or such. Travelling alone it was vitally important to keep my health intact. Himalayan national food is Maggi, which I had only once and it did upset my stomach a lot. Homestays offer you home food, and I think that is the best. I didn’t drink bottled water even once. Whatever the locals drink was good for me. I always kept a few chocolates and a box of Besan laddoos with me. Offering Laddoos to people proved to be quite effective! More about Travel, Car and Driving in Part 2.

Picharavam Mangroves and a Labrador.

Picharavam Mangroves and a Labrador.

Pichavaram is a tiny little village known for the mangroves there. Mangroves are the coastal trees, that grow in saline water. Due to the salinity in the water they develop special type of roots that breath. These roots grow upwards - ie, towards the sky against the gravity. India has several places where you can see Mangroves. Subdarbans being biggest and most famous. Picharavam is also one of those places, located just below Pondicherry, on the east coast of India. Once you go there, if you are unlucky, you will meet the absolutely unintelligent parking attendant they have. Then you can take 15 minutes to park and another 20 minutes to get the car out when you are leaving - in an empty parking lot!!

There is a well-established boating centre. They have 2 types of boats. Motor boats and Manual Rowing boats. Motor boat [ naturally] takes you farther away in the river, But I thought it will make too much sound and they might even blast music and people might simply dance [ As my previous experience with Karnataka!] , I took the rowing boat. And certainly, it was a very good decision.

Once you buy the ticket, they will give you a life jacket, which, in many instances, somehow is already wet! So you look for a dry one. Then you look for the one which has the clips working, because in many jackets the clips are broken ! Although I imagine it won't in really matter - especially if you know how to swim and if you have taken a rowing boat; because the water there is hardly waist deep.

The duration of the trip is supposed to be 1 hour. This must be quite a popular place, as there were many, many boats, continuously filling up with groups of tourists. I am sure in the era of BC [ Before Corona] there would be a longer queue considering I had gone there on a week day! As the luck goes, somehow, I was the only person in my boat. I was pleasantly happy. But also, As the luck goes, my boatsman couldn’t speak a word of anything but Tamil. So, as the luck goes, there was not much conversation and the entire travel was nicely peaceful. As soon as I started, I regretted not carrying my flutes with me.

Getting inside a big and wide river in a row boat is always a special experience. As soon as you go away even by about 50 feet, the entire surrounding sound drops, and further you go the only sound you hear is the sound of peddles hitting the water! Swoosh Swoosh….It is a very different type of silence.

Within 10-15 minutes the guy rowed me inside the mangrove jungle and then simply parked the boat somewhere. There were some other boats already parked there. Under the shade of larger mangroves, It was quite peaceful there. People in groups were having fun between themselves. Most groups were entertaining themselves by taking selfies and pictures and singing some songs, which I could hear feebly as they were quite away from our boat.

Most interesting boat for me, was the one with a family that had their lovely Labrador with them in the boat. They all looked so happy - the dog looked confused though. Nevertheless they were enjoying a lot. They even posed for me when they saw me clicking their pictures. Once I was back, I waited for that family with the idea I will offer them the pics, but then I got very hungry and remembered I had to deal with that absolutely dumb parking attendant, So I left. But that visual of the family and the dog in the boat is going to remain in my memory for a while for sure!! Summerising, I can say, there is nothing spectacular there to say, but in general it’s a nice experience. I wouldn't have felt bad had I missed it.

1] Carry some drinking water as it may get hot in the high sun time.
2] Spend some time in looking a jacket that fits you, isn't wet, and the one with functional clips.

Puncture and a performance

Puncture and a performance

These days everyone has a bucket list. Mostly where they want to travel to and such. While travelling to Udupi I too made one. First on the list was to eat Udupi food in the town of Udupi. Second was to get a puncture repaired in Kerala by a Keralite !! Bad thing to wish, but there is a charm in it!

As it had to go, I got a puncture somewhere on the road and that too in Kerala !! In my life I have had may be 4 or 5 punctures. Out of which, I have changed the tyre only once before. Centuries ago I had got my first puncture - this one I had repaired. It was when I had travelled to Nagpur from Pune on my bicycle, alone. I just had given my 10th grade exam. [Someone told me that the summer in Nagour is extreme hot, so I went there to see how bad it is!] Then once I was travelling with a friend and the car got a puncture, so I had helped him change the tyre. So now, this was the second time I was going to change the tyre!

Now as I got the puncture, I got my car to a side and got the stepney out and raised the car on the jack. Nearby there was a small hut that was selling the Indian National Snacks - tea and cream rolls. A couple of guys were sitting on a bench there. One of the guys walked up to me and asked if I needed help. I told him, let me try, if I can't manage, I will come to you. He smiled and walked away to chat with his friend.

Now was the time to unscrew the punctured tyre, and I got confused whether I should turn it clockwise or anticlockwise. I checked on YouTube, it was anticlockwise. I tried. The screw didn't move a fraction of a radian! I decided to ask this guy, I took a couple of steps towards him and as he looked at me with raised eyebrows, I simply moved my hands clockwise and anticlockwise, he had a big smile on his face and he indicated that it should be anticlockwise. I returned and tried again. The screw wouldn’t budge.

He saw that and walked up to me and as I moved away, he simply unscrewed it in about 2 seconds !! He then changed the tyre in next 30-40 seconds. I am sure I would have taken an hour to do that!! As he finished he told me that I will have to buy a new tyre as this one is not repairable, and walked away to his friend to continue their chat. I kept the punctured tyre in the dicky, locked the car and walked up to him.

" Thank you very much sir, You helped me a lot." I said with folded hands Namaskar.
" No problem." He said with a very sweet smile.
" Bhaisaab, you helped me, Now please tell me what can I do for you."
"No, nothing, there is no need."
" Oh nono, please tell me something that I can do for you "
"Treat me for a chai - tea" He said waving his hand towards the tea stall.

I got him a tea and we started talking. He was a truck driver and had come there for some family wedding, and had stepped out for a tea and chat.

I was thinking. I really wanted to return his favour. I was not happy with treating him just a Chai. He clearly was not a guy who wanted money. And I felt offering him money would be actually insulting to him.

You see, we performers are good in one thing. We understand if the audience is getting into our performance or not! Many a times it can happen, you are performing at your best, yet the audience is not moving. Something is not clicking. Then you have to use your special tricks to get the audience grooving on your music. I got exactly that feel here with him.

So I told him, come with me to the car. I play flute and I want to play something for you. He and his friends came with me. I picked up one of my smaller flutes and played the famous Hero tune for him. He hot a wider smile on his face. Both of them were quite curious about this guy who was playing the Hero tune for them roadside!

But still I was not happy. It hadn't clicked. I had to do something more to make him really happy. And then suddenly it came to my mind.

"Sir, I want a selfie with you. Will it be ok for you?"

And it clicked….!! He was damn thrilled that I was asking for a selfie with him! He had the most innocent smile on his face. He looked at his friend with a pride and we posed for a selfie. He was happy, I was happy. I thanked him once again and drove off.

The world is a stage for me, Every moment is a performance. All I want to do is to create good music and good memories for my audience. I hope the God and audience will keep me blessing forever.

Mullayan Giri

Mullayan Giri

I got to know about Mullayana Giri from a friend, only a day before I went there. He was going to Murudeshwar from Mullayan Giri and I was going uphill from Udupi. He told me the peak and mountain was completely under clouds and fog and that he couldn’t see much. I made plans to visit there, I took my chances and well, the weather had completely changed overnight and it was completely clean sky day for me! I wouldn't have minded the foggy road too, But honestly when I actually drove on those roads, I was happy there was no mist, fog, clouds and it's 23 other versions! The drive was literally enthralling for me. Mullayana Giri is the tallest peak in Karnataka, standing tall with about 1900 mt height from sea level. Giri means mountain. How it got the name Mullayana is unknown or disputed. This peak in reality is a twin peak, with Seethalayyana giri peak next to it. it is near the town of Chikmaglur.

The real thing I loved with Mullayana Giri was essentially the drive through coffee estates. It's simply magical. Put some lovely music in the car and breeze through on the curves of the mountains, while there is minimal traffic! At some point the road bifurcates and one goes to the other peak, one goes to Mullayana Giri. Go ahead and there is a big chowk. From that point busses can't go ahead. And there is a lot of drive or climb from that point. The road to the peak can be scary if you are driving new. But while climbing down the road doesn't look so tough!! It is not tough at all actually!

I stayed at the peak for a short while and returned. On the way back stopped and several places as the views are mesmerising, and I am totally a mountain person!

Udupi - Heaven for Udupi food!

Udupi - Heaven for Udupi food!

Udupi is a west coastal town in South India; famous now for the Udupi Restaurants all across. I think Pune lives on those! Udupi restaurants are a class of restaurants that offer vegetarian south Indian snacks.
While driving to Udupi, I suddenly realised that I too can have a bucket list.!!! Everyone has one these days!! First on the list was to eat some Udupi food in the town of Udupi! Which, obviously I eagerly did! The guy who served me was happy to know that I am from Pune, and told me with a very happy smile that he had worked in Pune for 5 years, and has many friends working still in Pune restaurants. It turned out that I knew 2 of his friends! After all I have spent half my life in Vaishali and Roopali the two highly popular Udupi style sister restaurants in Pune.

Udupi is also famous for a very old, and absolutely cherishing temple of Lord Shri Krishna . The temple is completely wooden from inside, and is very serene. Naturally, there are some ancient stories about that temple and the Lord. I felt sad I didn't carry my flute inside the temple. Little away from the temple is the Malpe beach. Off the shore, there is an interesting island - St. Mary's Island. There is literally nothing there on the island! Few huts which might be serving as restaurants or such, were empty now, mostly due to Covid. There is a ferry that takes you to the island and brings you back after 1 hour. The ferry requires minimum 30 people to start. So I waited for almost an hour till the head count of 30 was gathered. I wished Ravan of Shri Lanka also wanting to go to the island, could have been an advantage. I could have asked him about a couple of Raags too! [ He was a great Veena Player]

Once I was on the boat, the first thing I noticed was a pair of big speakers. And once the ferry started, obviously the dreadful thing happened and they started playing some Kannad song, that was clearly a copy of Naveen Popat Haa - an old Marathi song !! It was probably some Kannada Film Song. As soon as the song started, a group of college girls got up and started dancing. Everyone started shooting their dance, they didn't care. As the ferry went a bit ahead I noticed two things. Another smaller boat started following us. They must be pirates I thought. I was quite suspicious about the entire thing! Second thing that happened was that another boat that was returning from the island, crossed us. I saw, on that boat 25 of 30 people were dancing !!! All in all Kannada people love dancing. A few days later I was in the mountains and had stopped at a shade. Suddenly an autorixa pulled up in front. 3-4 guys got out, danced for a few minutes and left!!! I think I have a video of that somewhere! The ferry takes about 15- 20 minutes. When our boat slowed down, the smaller boat that was following us came side by side and we all were asked to embark into that boat. That smaller boat took us to the island. We returned in the same sequence.

As I mentioned before, there isn't much on the island to say. What it is famous for, is the natural geography. Particular rock formations all around the island. The entire island certainly is a photogenic location. They had given us an hour to return. It was sufficient. We returned on a boat with more dancing people! It was quite entertaining really!

1] When you will want to go to the island - look for 'The Sea Walk'. That’s where the ferry goes off.
2] Definitely carry drinking water on the island. And possibly eat something too If it is in your food timings.

McLeod Ganj Market

McLeod Ganj Market

One of the two parallel roads of the market Years ago when HHH Dalai Lama settled in McLeod Ganj,, tourists from all over the world started to pour in McleodGunj. This triggered many unusual things in this small, quiet, laid back Himalayan town - started happening there. Hundreds of small, big hotels, hundreds or restaurants, dozens of Yoga and Music classes and so on came up. Also bloomed was a big market. Now there are literally hundreds of road side shops, that appear in the morning and disappear completely by night. The sellers just sit on a cot or some kind of temporary elevated platform they have built at the road side.

Some utmost interesting things could be found there for sale. The focus, obviously is mainly on traditional looking or ethnic looking things and artefacts. Although lots of brass things made in Kanpur or Lucknow [in India] are sold in the market, they are quite popular amongst the buyers - especially foreigners. One entire road side is full of jewellery. Mainly beautiful colourful necklaces made up of stones and beads has been in fashion for several years now. Now a days you get the same in other cities of India, but the quality of the jewellery here is considered to be better.

Most Tibetans who run small stalls of food or jewellery or memorabilia, shift their stalls to Chandigarh or some other towns in the winters; as not many tourists visit McleodGunj that time. Later, in March or so, these sellers return back to McleodGunj as the touristy season starts that time.

Lots of these sellers create / manufacture their own stuff to sell. Most of the woollen things, especially hand-gloves, caps, scarves, sweaters etc are woven by the ladies who are selling those items. So, when you buy those, you definitely are helping them. There are one or two Thangka Painters too. Thangka painting is the traditional painting art from Tibet.

Whenever I visit McLeod Ganj, I keep wondering on the streets when I have nothing else to do. Once I went on clicking pictures of various lovely colourful patterns being created by the arrangements of goods on the stalls. Some of the arrangements were quite artistically done. While I bought some things, I chatted up with the sellers. Most were quite enthusiastic for talking. They had their own stories to tell. Common factor being, how they came to India several years ago when they were a teenager, and how India has supported them. Generally they were quite grateful towards India, but not necessarily every Indian they come across.

One day I witnessed an unpleasant incidence. While I was looking for some incense sticks, one nearby vendor suddenly burst out shouting at some Indian buyer. This vendor was a bit elderly. Apparently, the Indian guy had insulted him in some way. The Indian guy must have crossed the line, as he quickly disappeared from the scene. I approached the Tibetan vendor. He had a small tear in his eye. He kept talking to himself about although he is a refugee, he too is human and a person with self-respect. The street went back to the normal and onlookers lost the interest in the case. I kept chatting with him for a while and soon he calmed down. I decided to buy some things from him and he offered some good discount to me which I politely refused it telling him that It was good for me that he offered me a discount, but that more than the discount I was happy as he talked to me..

In the course of time I have bought lots of necklaces and many earrings etc, and tested all my bargaining skills on the younger sellers somewhat successfully. If you ever go to McleodGunj, keep some time in the schedule for shopping :)

Tibetans in India

Tibetans in India

Tibetans purchacing Tibetan bread in Main Square of McLeog Ganj Now by 2020, it has been more than half a century, the Tibetans have been living in India and in many countries for that matter - mostly as refugees. In 1959 Dalai Lama escaped from the Chinese invasion and came to India via Sikkim. With him and following him, many Tibetans took refuge in India. Many other countries like Switzerland and Germany too, accepted many refugees from Tibet.

Initially The Dalai Lama was given some land in Delhi for residence, but He didn’t like the big city and requested for more mountain place which resembles his home in Lhasa. Indian government was happy to allocate him the land in Upper Dharamshala or McLeodgunj in Himachal Pradesh. Many Tibetans went to different places in India. Today there are as many as 38-40 official settlements of Tibetans in India. Near Mysore in Karnataka is one very big settlement which hosts around 70,000 Tibetans.

Usually Tibetans make a very friendly and peaceful community. They are known as good neighbours and mostly live peacefully and contribute a lot to the society they are living in. I know several musicians who are living in Europe doing some very good job or running some businesses besides their performances of Tibetan Traditional music and dance around the world.

It is estimated that McLeodgunj hosts about 6,000 Tibetans. Some are in TIPA [ Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts] , some are working in Tibetan government offices, some run their own businesses - small or big, and some are doing social work for other Tibetans. All the newcomers sooner or later get absorbed in the society and work hard to make their life. Although, generally the Tibetan community is peaceful, there are lots of hidden issues and attitudes under the surface. Indians in McLeodgunj are getting business Only because the Tibetans are there; And Tibetans are getting everything, as India has politically supported them. But they also know the Indians are getting business because of the presence of Tibetans as well as The Dalai Lama.

Although the Tibetans are refugees, some of the Tibetans have become rich by now. Either they have excellent business sense and have made some very good monies, Or have married some Indian person and are doing some very good business. And then it could be considered natural that jealousy can emerge out in some other minds; especially that of local Indians who don’t have such business sense. Typically the Tibetans who marry other nationals, tend to retain their Refugee passport [ documents and status]. Either because a refugee passport is the most powerful document or for their national pride - or perhaps both.

Decades ago there was one major incidence in which a big fight erupted between Indians and Tibetans. Lots of Tibetans were beaten as they sheerly were outnumbered by the Indians joining in from neighbouring villages. Media in India wasn't so strong then so it went unnoticed for the rest of the country. Naturally there was government mediation and since then both the parties have been living comparatively peacefully.

But recently no such incidence has happened and the life generally is peaceful. India has been traditionally patient with refugees. Illegal entrants from Bangaladesh, and the refugees from Shri Lanka and Tibet are the main refugee communities and I imagine Tibetans are the some of the best contributors to the Indian society. Glimpses of Tibetan people in McLeod Ganj, and nearby.

Meeting a Buddhist Master

Meeting a Buddhist Master

Monk playing a traditional drum in a Buddhist Monastery in South Korea I did travel to Korea numerous times. My first visit was in 2002, and since then I have travelled tremendously inside Korea and have performed over 600 concerts there. These were all sorts of concerts. With some rock band, with jazz Bands, with philharmonic Orchestras, at Yoga Studios, in big theatres, in cafes and clubs and in churches, and also, many in different Buddhist Monasteries. Korean Buddhist Monasteries are some of the most serene and peaceful places I have ever visited. The monks are quite fond of my music. Some of them can speak fluent English too! The typical day in a monastery begins at 4 am with the meditation, and goes on till 9 pm. On special days you have concerts and such. And then there are some special sessions of people with the Head Monks or senior monks. I was lucky to get one such session one day with the senior most monk of a very big monastery. It was serene. I went in and sat doing nothing. After a while finally The Head Monk walked in and asked me What are you Doing? I said Nothing, Master The monk simply left and returned after 4 hours, and asked me again What are you doing? Nothing, Master. I am not finished yet O' Master. Apparently I did pass the test, and our session started. After a while of teachings the Master said, Do you understand that you don’t really exist? Upon which I very politely replied To whom are you telling that Master? He seemed highly pleased with that reply. The teachings went on for a while and then the Master ordered me Do the opposite of what I tell you. So I didn’t. With this not doing successfully, He seemed quite happy !!! Then he said I have never met someone so thoughtless in my life. I bowed down and humbly said Thank you Master He blessed me and said Keep up the good practice. There ended our session. I feel I am a blessed soul…

Pi Shop

Pi Shop

Not exactly pie, but well it's food somewhat similar may be Dharamkot, where I am staying in Himalayas, is a small quaint village. Extremely clean and peaceful. It's spread out on the curve of the mountains that make the valley. Large amount of foreigners come and reside here for couple of months or more. Thus, entire village seems to be busy in popularising Indian art-forms. Everywhere there are many yoga studios, some music classes, some astrologers and all that. Cafes here are really special. One gets splendid quality food from different parts of the world here. Just yesterday a new pie shop opened here! And It’s open 22/7 🥧