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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A narrow network of dusty lanes and by-lanes, sunlight trickling through congested concrete, intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways, half broken creaking wooden windows, dusty wooden doors some with shining steel locks and some that appear to have been shut forever – these are just few of the things that greeted us as we stepped in through the gateway of Hari Bhakti Ni Pol.
‘Amdavadi Pols’ had piqued my interest when I first read about them in a newspaper article. The article had mentioned that these Pols significantly contributed to the 600-year old Ahmedabad City being declared as a world heritage by UNESCO. I was intrigued and the article gave only a faint idea about Pols.
Pols (pronounced as Poles) are Ahmedabad’s cultural identity and represent a unique legacy. Therefore, it featured in my list of things to explore in the city. During this trip across some places of Gujarat, I was with my parents and exploring Pols wasn’t something I could do with them. Hence, I was looking out for an opportunity to slip out on my own and go Pol-hopping.
A cousin sister happened to be in Ahmedabad for some work on the same day. She called me saying that she had read about these old havelis (mansions) in the in-flight magazine and wanted to go visit them. I instantly knew it was the Pols she’s talking about. Both of us hatched a plan and set out in the afternoon for our most looked forward to walk through Amdavadi Pols. The enriching experience of the 3-hour walk surpassed our expectations and we wished we would have had time for more.
The word Pols is derived from the Sanskrit word Pratoli, which means gate. Pols are a conglomeration of houses usually inhabited by people and families linked together through caste, culture or profession. They are living testimonies of the social unrest that existed in the region hundreds of years ago. Each Pol remains guarded by its own entry gate. In earlier days, these gates would be shut at night. Each Pol also has its exclusive secret exit gate, which is privy to Pol members only. During an attack, men would defend the entry gate, while women and children would escape into the labyrinth of pathways through the secret exit gate.
Each Pol also has a dedicated temple and a chabutro or bird feeder. Chabutro are tall poles that the people of Ahmedabad put up for birds. These were built with the idea of providing home to birds as trees were chopped off to build the city. A thoughtful gesture perhaps but replacing trees with man-made cement poles – I wish they knew better!
Pols are located within the walled city of Ahmedabad and have no space for motor vehicles. The narrow winding alleys are best explored on foot, bicycles or two wheelers. Apparently, there are more than 300 such Pols. While many people have moved out to live in better localities, many still prefer living in the Pols. Almost all the heritage houses in the Pols we visited were in a dismal state. I hope the authorities are aware and do plan to renovate some of them. Or else it will be a sad loss of heritage.
We walked from one dusty narrow lane to another, crisscrossing and trying to make sense of the maze that we were enthusiastically navigating. Nearly at every turn in the narrow lanes, we bumped into either cows or oncoming two wheelers. We came across a number of Pols in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol, Khadia Pol, Fatasa Pol, Sheth Ni Pol, and Sakari Ser Pol.
Somewhere, we entered a Pol temple where we offered our prayers to Lord Krishna, who was the residing deity. There we met and chatted with a Baa whose toothless smile and wrinkled face stole our hearts and we felt like giving her a tight hug. She offered us laddoos as prasad and spoke at length in Gujarati while we tried our best to figure out what she had to say with very little success whatsoever.
Pic 9: The entry to the Pol temple where we met Baa
Pic 10: The temple inside, the entry was small but the temple is fairly spacious
My cousin didn’t miss a chance to peep through open windows whenever she found one, a habit she carries from childhood. At one time, she discovered an entire room filled with jewellery boxes and two men sitting in a corner with whom she went on to a serious discussion about the prices, where they supply those boxes, etc. In another, she found people busy sewing some kind of traditional stuff, maybe bags she thought not bothering to get into a discussion this time.
We realised that many Pols are part of some cottage industries that allow people to earn their livelihood without leaving their homes. We also noticed that though the pathways and the entryways were very narrow, the houses inside were quite spacious.
Pic 11: A haveli that was simple and not so elaborate.
My cousin was on the lookout for two specific havelis, ones she had read in the in-flight magazine – Mangaldas Ni Haveli and a certain French Haveli. Both these have been converted to hotels now. We did locate Mangaldas Ni Haveli. There were two of them – Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I and Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II.
Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I is a residential home and had a lock hanging on the front door at that point in time. Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II was the hotel. With no inhibitions, my cousin knocked on the door and it was opened by a gentleman. When she requested for a look inside, he demanded 100 bucks per person. We happily paid and took a tour of the inside. My cousin, with her penchant for interior design, was much more excited than I was.
I had a cap on time as I had a train to catch. So, we couldn’t go looking for French Haveli. I left while my cousin continued exploring Ratan Pol, which is now a wholesale market place.
Allured by what I heard from her I just had to go explore Ratan Pol, which I did when I had a day in Ahmedabad during my return trip. Overexcited with prices that I thought were dirt cheap, I only landed up burning a hole in my pocket, but that’s for another day….
I spent a few days traveling across Gujarat. The state has surprised me in many ways. One of the things that stood out for me was the people of Gujarat. Here, I came across some of the most honest and genuine people. Having traveled across quite a few places in the country, I can safely say that as a woman I have felt most comfortable in Gujarat. And, this is huge for non-touristy women travelers like me!
Of the many wonderful people I met during this journey, I want to put down three of them, those whom I would not like to forget.
The Boy in the Yellow Shirt
It was the last day of our trip and we were at Ahmedabad. Our flight wasn’t until 8.00 PM, thanks to the slow pacing of our travel. My parents had decided to rest at the hotel, so I made my own plans. I set out with the intention of visiting Jami Masjid, Sarkhej Roza, and then exploring the market at Lal Darwaza.
An Ola auto took me to Jami Masjid in just 10-15 mins. I didn’t realize that it was this close to my hotel, which was located at Sabarmati Riverfront. On the way, I spotted Siddi Sayed Mosque, which we had visited earlier. I felt tempted to go inside once again to take a closer look at the jaalis of this mosque, also known as Jaali-Wala Masjid.
I asked the auto driver about Sarkhej Roza, he had no idea and recommended I ask the people at Jami Masjid. On enquiry near the masjid, I got to know it was 11 Km. away. The auto driver demanded a whopping Rs. 800 to take me there and back. I bid goodbye to him and entered the mosque.
At the entryway, I crossed a young 19-20 year old boy. He called out that I shouldn’t enter the prayer area, as women are not allowed. A little irked that I don’t need to be told about that, I used the moment to enquire about Sarkhej Roza. He said it wasn’t that far and then offered to take me there. Not sure if I could trust him, I hesitated and said I may get delayed as I would like to explore Jami Masjid first and also planned to go to Jaali-wala Masjid. He said he had no problem and would wait.
In the 15-20 mins of exploring Jami Masjid, I had decided to take the risk of going to Sarkhej Roza with the young boy. We stepped out of the Masjid into the narrow crowded market place outside. Instead of hailing an auto right there, my young guide started walking into narrow alleys. Enough for me to pull my guards up. “Why don’t we take an auto here?” I asked. “We’ll take it from the main road,” pat came his reply.
Doubting his intentions, I started probing further – Why are you going to Sarkhej Roza? What do you do? What were you doing at the mosque? Simultaneously I took note of his bright yellow chequered shirt, the slight limp in his gait, the Cello tiffin box that he hung on his shoulder. I got to know that he worked in a notebook shop opposite the masjid. His Seth had not opened the shop that day, so he was going back home after offering namaz at Jami Masjid. His house is close to Sarkhej Roja. He went on to sing praises of Gujarat and even telling me with conviction that I should shift to Ahmedabad.
After a walk of about 15 mins, we arrived at the main road and just across the road was jaali-wala masjid. Ah! He remembers that I wished to stop here. After I was done, we crossed the road and boarded a shared auto. The shared auto put to rest all the unnecessary speculations my mind was occupied with.
Somewhere this young boy got off and when I offered to pay his fare he hesitated but accepted later. The auto zoomed away and the distance seemed to be quite a bit. I could hear myself saying – Sarkhej Roza better be worth all this trouble!
Soon the shared auto dropped me off at some point. With ample guidance from the autowala, I crossed the road, boarded another auto and reached my destination – Sarkhej Roza or Bara Maqbara.
This young boy had no intention other than just taking me to the place I wanted to go. A gesture I will always fondly remember.
We live in a world where even good acts are viewed through the tainted lens of suspicion and we find it difficult to accept that a stranger can do something nice for us. I firmly believe the world is made of more good people than bad and this is just another case in point to prove that.
The Driver Who Cared So Much
Have you ever come across a driver who pays for your tea and nariyal paani and also treats you to roadside street food? I never had until I met the driver of the car I had hired for our travel. It wasn’t a package tour and I had just booked a cab separately for 5 days and 4 nights.
The driver went beyond his duty of driving us around to make sure we had a very good experience. He became our guide taking us to places that we had no idea about and treating us with all the best roadside food found in each place. Not just that, while in Somnath he invited me to his house for an authentic Gujarati lunch prepared by his sister.
The Unassuming Chaiwala
The chaiwala (roadside tea seller) at Dwarika is again someone who touched my heart. He was just one of the chaiwalas selling chai (tea) at Gomti Ghat. I had chai from him on two occasions. The third time I had no change and he said that I could pay later. Selling chai to a tourist on credit, I thought was a very nice gesture. I told him I was leaving that day and may not be able to come back. “Koi nei” (“It’s okay”) is what he said.
These people and many others have been instrumental in making my Gujarat experience a wonderful one. And, these are precisely the kind of experiences that propel me to travel.
The month of December had arrived quite a while back and taken a quiet seat in the humdrum of daily activities. Before I realized, we are already near the end of the month and in just another blink we will get done with the year 2018.
As I write this post sitting in a hotel room at Diu overlooking the Arabian Sea, I recall last December when I had written a similar post soaking in the winter sun trickling onto the varendah of my parent’s home at my hometown, Shillong. I clearly remember waiting for a cousin who was delayed in picking me up for a family lunch get-together. I had made good use of the waiting time reminiscing the year 2017 and writing a post about it. It feels like that was just yesterday. Where the hell does all the time go?
The years seem to be wheezing by for a while now and at the end of each year I have the same question – Where did all the 365 days go? Sometimes I really wonder if the earth has started spinning faster or if its axes has undergone any alteration. With all the technological advancements and automation shouldn’t we be having more time for ourselves? Instead, we are always pressed for time. Well, that’s another discussion altogether.
As the curtains are about to be pulled on 2018, my mind does a quick flashback on the year that was. A lot has happened and it was a mix of good and bad. However, when we reflect on the past we become consciously selective and want to remember only the good. Guess it’s a choice we make quite consciously and it also aligns to my motto of practicing positivity and gratitude.
So, here’s a quick flashback of the top 10 cherished moments of 2018:
First of all, I trekked to the Himalayas twice this year – Rupin Pass and Kashmir Great Lakes. Both these belong to the category of moderate to difficult and to think that there was a time when I used to think such treks are beyond my league.
I started running and now a 3 – 5 Km run is part of my regular workout. All thanks to the preparation for the two Himalayan treks. Again, there was a time when I used to think I can never run. I still struggle and don’t think I can ever run a marathon but I am happy to have had a good start.
This year, as always, I took off on my birthday and spent the day at Bekal Fort including two days in the beaches of Kasargod and Mangalore
A major upheaval happened at work I managed to maintain calm in the face of storm and today things are not perfect but so much better.
This year I delved a lot deeper into spirituality and discovered a couple of books that have had a significant impact on me. I feel I am a better person today or at least I am sincerely trying to be one.
An entire month of this year I spent travelling – something I had never done before.
All through the year, I had someone or the other visiting me and staying at my home. Friends, some of them long lost, surprised me and added so much colour to the otherwise monotonous everyday life.
Life threw up a tough situation at me, something that I never thought would happen to me. I have managed to pass that test successfully. And, I did that by actually putting into action certain theoretical knowledge that I had gathered while designing certain leadership training at work dealing with mindfulness and positivity and the neuroscience behind all these.
WordPress gave me a couple of meaningful connections, people I can call friends, people with whom I have connected beyond the blogging world and shared a piece of my life. I never thought something like this was possible.
Last but not in any way the least, right now I am on a trip with my parents across some places of Gujarat. What better way to end the year than doing what I love doing – traveling.
[If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!]
Long walks through colourful flower-embroidered meadows punctuated by gorgeous alpine lakes; frequent hopping through boulders small and large; sporadic companionship of sheep and goat along with shepherds, and quite often migrating shepherd families; obtaining permits at the Army Camps; and all through being in a dream-like state of disbelieve spellbound by this heaven on Earth!
That’s how I would describe Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) in a nutshell.
Besides, it was quite thrilling to imagine being so close to Pakistan!
I have already written two posts on this trek – one on the lakes and another on the meadows. This one is a day-wise description. Here’s the links to the other two:
Day 1: Sindh River and Thajiwas Glacier at Shitkadi
Situated just a few kilometres ahead of Sonamarg, we arrived at Shitkadi after a drive of about 4 hrs from Srinagar. Shitkadi was our basecamp. The Sindh River and Thajiwas glacier amidst the lush green surroundings served as the perfect trailer to the gorgeous beauty that we could expect to unfold in the days to follow.
Day 2: Bhoj Trees on Way to Nichnai
Technically we started the trek on this day as we walked towards Nichnai, our first campsite. The initial few hours consisted of an arduous climb as we huffed and puffed towards a place called Tabletop. Being breathless is normal as we had just started walking and our bodies was just getting used to it. At Tabletop, we rested at a Dhaba run by a Kashmiri couple. The omelettes, tea, bread, biscuits, and munchies gave us the much needed energy to continue with our walk.
Through a lovely dense forest of Maple trees, we soon landed on a carpet of green lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch. The bark of these trees were used by Rishi/Munis in ancient India for writing and that ensued excited chit-chatter in the group. I couldn’t resist the urge to carry back a tiny portion of the whitish brown bark to show folks back home.
We proceeded and walked precariously through a section of rocky terrain with Nichani Nalla gushing by as if in great hurry to join Sindh River. The rocky terrain gets abruptly replaced by a green meadow and after crossing that we reached Nichnai. It started pouring the moment we landed at Nichnai. Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed into our tents and remained there for the next one hour as the rains continued to splash.
Day -3: Vishansar – The First Lake
This was a very special day as we encountered the first lake of the trek – Vishansar. We started by crossing a nalla (stream) by hopping through stones and then walked through a beautiful lavender meadow towards Nichnai Pass or Vishnusar Berry. At an altitude of 13,500 ft., Nichnai pass remains surrounded by jagged tall mountain peaks and the climb to it is not an easy one.
After a well-deserved rest, we descended from the pass through a tricky rocky terrain and landed onto stretches of grass with red flowers springing on our path. Thereafter, we encountered two more nallas, a big waterfall splashing down the mountain cliff, an utterly green meadow devoid of flowers and a certain stretch of heaven-touching barren tall mountains looking down upon us. It was the fag end of monsoon, so we didn’t see much snow, though snowfall would start off soon.
Just before arriving at the campsite, we crossed a rather wide nalla by hopping over stones. The campsite is situated on the base of a small hill, on the other side of which lies Vishansar Lake – my favourite lake of the trek.
Day 4: Colourful Meadows Make for a Pretty Day
This was the longest and prettiest day as we moved towards Gadsar Pass, the highest point of this trek at an altitude of 13,800 ft. We started off with a gradual ascent leaving behind Vishansar and went right up to Kishansar, which is the second lake of the trek.
After Kishansar the trail became very steep, challenging us both mentally and physically. The narrow muddy strip that we climbed for almost 2 hours to reach Gadsar Pass was very strenuous. Thankfully it was a sunny day, I can only imagine the scenario on a rainy day. The magnificent view of the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar greeted us at the Pass, which instantaneously dissolved all pain of the arduous climb.
An equally steep descent through loose mud and scree followed. My descending demons started raising their ugly heads but this time I had made up my mind to tackle them head on. And I surprised myself by actually descending without any help and quite fast with a little bit of downhill running too!
We found ourselves at the meadows even before we knew it and in we were for a visual treat of red, blue, purple, and yellow, meadows. Every turn threw up a different colour and these multi-coloured meadows just continued one after the other for 2-3 hours. A fellow trekmate rightly commented – “I can imagine little girls walking ahead of us with baskets of colourful flowers sprinkling them on our path.”
The meadows slowly give way as we crossed yet another nalla and landed at Gadsar Lake – another pristine and gorgeously elegant lake. I ranked it as my second favourite though many in our group thought Gadsar was the best lake. After spending a good amount of time at Gadsar, we continued our walk once again through the colourful meadows towards our campsite.
We arrived at the campsite just after crossing an Army campsite – the first one in the series of three along the trail.
Day 5: A Glimpse of Nanga Parbat
It was an adventurous start to the day when we had to take off our shoes and wade through knee deep ice cold waters of a gushing stream. This was followed by a very steep ascent. We were off from the normal route as the snow bridge that is used to cross the stream had broken. Nothing alarming as that’s not an unusual thing for this time of the year.
On this day, we walked through a never-ending lush green meadow that went on and on. There weren’t many flowers on this one but it was lined by variegated barren undulating mountains on one side and sheep grazing in huge numbers almost everywhere. Sheep and shepherd are common all along the trail but this one was special because the huge stretch of green meadow was literally dotted by these grazing fluffs of white balls.
Somewhere on the way, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nanga Parbat even though the sky was not all that clear. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world located in Pakistan, the visibility of which depends on the weather.
At the end of the meadow, we climbed a hill to report to Satsar Army Camp. After the Army Camp, we walked along with huge flocks of sheep and goat, maneuvering large boulders and reached Satsar Lakes. We were able to see three of the seven Satsars, one at each turn of the winding mountain trail.
That night the sky broke down into heavy showers that continued way into the morning nearly messing up our plan for the day but before that it rewarded us with a magical view of the Milkyway.
Day 6: A Risky Boulder Hopping
We almost thought we would have to stay back at Satsar campsite. It was 8.00 AM and the rains showed no respite. Heavy rains are no fun in the mountains especially when it continues incessantly. Around 9.15 AM, the Rain Gods showed some mercy and the showers lightened till it ceased altogether. We packed up and started moving around 10 AM, which was a good two hour delay from our planned time.
The highlight of this day was hopping through a boulder section that constituted large boulders, some of which had good enough gaps in between. This tricky boulder section lasted for a little over an hour and was an Adrenalin rush for everyone in my team but not me. The boulders were wet due to overnight rains and that didn’t make life any easier for us. My legs wavered and I was very scared. I literally clung on to our guide for the entire section and somehow made it through.
Boulder hopping is common in KGL trek but this one was risky. In fact, on 3 days of the trek we had a horse accompany us, which was the designated ambulance for any uncalled for situations of twisted ankles or fractured legs.
Beyond the boulder section, we maneuvered mild and steep ascends and arrived at Zajibal pass. Once again, we were swept off our feet by the glorious views of the twin lakes of Nandkhol and Gangabal against the backdrop of Harmukh Peak.
The descent from Zajibal Pass was very steep and stony demanding a lot of caution and focus. One misstep could result in serious injuries. As we descended, Nandkhol and Gangabal appeared closer and closer, but they were still far away. It took us another 2-3 hours to arrive at Gangabal first and Nandkhol after that.
Day 7: Descending Through Slippery Muddy Trails
This was supposed to be a rest day, however as a team we decided to not take the rest day and instead carry on towards Naranag. This was the last day of our KGL Trek.
Through steep and gradual ascends and descends, and passing though meadows, we arrived at the final Army Checkpost. Thereafter, we walked through a well-marked trail passing through traces of civilization, and arrived at the point where the final descent begins. This descent was literally back-breaking and a killer on the knees.
We had just started descending when the weather that was by our side all along decided to turn against us and it started raining quite heavily. No complaints as it was the last day and we didn’t have to bother about wet socks and muddy shoes. However, the difficulty we now encountered going down the muddy trail, is just anybody’s guess! The thick Pine forest all along could not do much to protect us from the rains. The descent seemed to take forever as we had to tread slowly and cautiously.
Drenched and tired with jittery knees we finally arrived at Naranag, which is a tiny little town separated from the forest by Wangath River, a tributary of Sindh River. With the trek coming to an end, we celebrated with a quick lunch, and drove off to Srinagar.
Note: Once again these are unedited pictures clicked through iPhone-6. For exclusive pictures of the lakes and meadows, look up the links provided at the beginning of this post.
My Very Personal Opinion on KGL
The KGL trek entails very long walks, it isn’t difficult but the long days of endless walks through meadows, boulders, and moraines does test your mental strength and perseverance. The breathtaking landscape keeps you engaged and does a great job of diverting your attention all through.
However, there exists predictability in the exquisitely beautiful surroundings that you encounter each day and this may sometimes lead to monotony. I felt this was the flipside of KGL, which is unlike all the other Himalayan treks I have done so far. This became more pronounced for me as I had been to Rupin Pass just three months back where there were surprises at every turn.
Take this as no discouragement though as I am quite certain there is no match for the awe-inspiring rustic vistas of KGL. And if you are a nature-lover like me, this trek is an absolute must do.
The Army Camps
Gadsar – This was a small Army Camp in the form of a hut, housing a handful of Army Men. Our National Flag fluttered proudly at one end. We had to provide our original identity proofs and the detail of everyone crossing the camp were checked and recorded. This also included questions on where we were traveling from, what job we did, etc.
Satsar – This camp was small also but was larger than Gadsar. It is situated on top of a hill, and quite a climb it was. When we arrived, a large crowd of migrating shepherds with their families were also waiting to cross over. Some groups were moving with their horses, there were about 40- 50 horses. Then there were others with their flock of sheep and goats and these were huge groups probably in hundreds. We learnt that the horsemen have to wait longer as each and every horse is checked thoroughly before being allowed to pass. It’s easier with sheep and goat as only their owners need to pass the security checks. It’s the common man who always ends up paying the price.
Before Naranag – This camp was larger and much closer to civilization. There wasn’t any detailed interrogation here. We just had to provide our identity proofs, no interrogations.
Remember Charlotte and how she had spun webs to save Wilbur, the pig?
I came to know of the existence of Charlotte just a few years back when I watched the movie ‘Charlotte’s Web’. This movie is based on the children’s novel of the same name. The graceful and intelligent spider had made me fall in love with spiders. The story revolves around Charlotte’s friendship with Wilbur in a farmstead. The farmer decides to slaughter Wilbur and Charlotte writes messages by spinning webs in praise of Wilbur to persuade the farmer to let Wilber live.
Back in the real world, I was quick to separate my love for Charlotte from the everyday creepy spiders that drive me crazy. I despise them even more when they attack my potted plants spinning webs and making their homes all around the leaves, leading the plants towards a slow death. As if it isn’t enough to occupy all the nooks and corners of my home.
Surely, nobody wants spiders hanging around unless one is an entomologist studying spiders or if Spiderman was for real, at least making our commute easier.
This post is however not about my disgust for spiders but something closely related.
Winter is here and that means it’s time for oranges. Oranges and winter always make me nostalgic as they obviously remind me of my home, Shillong. The lazy and warm feeling of soaking in the winter sun while peeling and eating oranges is something only a fellow Shillongite can relate.
A favourite pastime of the kids back then was to create spider webs using orange peels. We would take great delight in creating the intricate patterns, comparing the webs with each other, and competing with each other in spider web craftsmanship. Oranges are plenty in Shillong, all we needed were plastic rulers. Almost everyone in school would have one end of their rulers sticky and coated with a thick layer of dried stain. The stain wouldn’t go away and who cared that it interfered with the regular usage of the ruler.
I have no idea if kids today indulge in similar activities. I won’t be surprised if they don’t, though that would be quite a pity. Like many other childhood games we played, possibly this one might have fallen prey to smart toys and virtual games.
I am not sure if such spider webs with orange peels is something specific to our childhood in Shillong or people elsewhere did/do this too. I had totally forgotten about this activity. It resurfaced this weekend over some childhood discussion with my sister.
With oranges readily available now, we just had to relive our joy of creating spider webs. Here’s a sneak peek:
Tree tomatoes or Tamarillos made an appearance in my Bangalore home last week. This juicy, sweet, and citric fruit had managed to escape my memory altogether. No clue how that happened, given that Tamarillos belong to those exotic category of things that I intrinsically associate with my hometown, Shillong.
Naturally, I was delighted to spot them spread out on the floor along with several other vegetables including Chayote and neatly pieced Pumpkin.
All of these had travelled a distance of about 3000 Km. all the way from the hills of North East India to the Deccan Plateau in South India. Strange, you may think, but such a thing is common when my parents come visiting me.
My disapproval in the past regarding the uselessness of carrying additional baggage has had no effect on them especially my father, who takes great pride in displaying the produce of his kitchen garden. I have since made peace and if this gives them pleasure so be it.
This time my parents were surprised with my enthusiasm over their extra baggage, which was only because of those reddish-orange oval fruits. [I have no clue whether to classify it as a vegetable or a fruit. I believe technically it’s a fruit but known as a vegetable.]
Back home, we also refer to tree tomatoes as Anda-Begun, which literally translates as ‘egg-eggplant’. Not surprising, afterall it’s a close relative of tomato, eggplant, and capsicum.
I am not sure many people in India are aware of this unique fruit and hence this post.
Ripe tree tomatoes have a smooth and shiny skin. The colour varies from red to yellow to deep mauve. Some even adorn dark longitudinal stripes.
The flesh is juicy and filled with many small flat, circular edible seeds. The taste is flavorful, sweet yet tangy, and the texture is somewhat similar to the usual tomatoes but pulpier. Tamarillo has a high content of Vitamin A and C.
Google says Tamarillos or Cyphomandra betacea are a subtropical fruit, thought to have originated in the high altitude Andes forests of Brazil and Peru. Surprisingly, Tamarillos have disappeared from their native habitat and happen to be listed among the lost foods of the Incas, known as the ‘tomate de arbol’. It was in 1967 that tree tomato got the commercial name of Tamarillo, which was to avoid confusion with the common garden tomato.
In India, tree tomatoes grow between elevations of 1,000 and 7,500 ft. Hence, their occurrence in places like Assam, Meghalaya, Uttaranchal, Nagaland, and Himachal Pradesh is understandable. They are also found in certain hilly pockets of West Bengal, Maharashtra, and in the Nilgiri hills of the South India. The latter did make me wonder as to why I never saw the fruit in Bangalore.
At home, we usually prepare Tamarillos as a chutney and serve with rice or roti as a side dish. The chutney can be refrigerated and consumed between 10 – 12 days. We have also used Tamarillos in preparing fish, which surely must be attributed to my Bengali lineage!