10000 steps in Kaziranga


We are shivering in the morning cold in Kaziranga. We are on pins to get started on the Elephant Safari that will take us through the thick bushes and grasslands, to see the famed One-horned Indian Rhino.

Nearly a hundred people await the arrival of 32 elephants. The sun has started its journey across the sky; the early morning mist is slowly clearing.

Soon, the four of us are on our elephant, a beautiful and majestic creature. ‘Tara’ is her name, which translates to star.

Our Mahout has been with Tara for nearly 15 years. Man and elephant are one. He gently prods Tara into the grasslands, as she stops to pull out grass with her trunk, on and off.

We soon see the beautiful One-horned Indian Rhino, majestic, graceful; and oblivious to all of us. Some of them busy chomping down their breakfast, while some others are staring away into the distance.

Enroute we also see deer, jungle fowl, eagles and huge water buffaloes.

We enjoy the safari thoroughly and get back to base, after two hours in the grasslands.

We are famished, and get back to the hotel and settle down to a heavy breakfast and many cups of hot Assam Tea.

As we prepare to get back to our room, I casually glance at my phone.

My pedometer shows 14550 steps walked, and the day had barely started. I am puzzled. My first reaction is that the App has stopped working.

I try walking with the phone, and the App updates the steps taken just like it always does.

Aha…..then it strikes me, the pedometer has also counted the steps taken by Tara, our dear elephant.

I laugh out aloud, and realize that my 10000 steps for the day are yet to begin.

Up in the clouds….


We are up in the hills, on our way to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, also known as the ‘Scotland of the East’ and ‘the abode of clouds’!

The road snakes right and left, as our car makes its way up the hills. As we go higher, we are literally in the clouds. It’s as if the clouds have come down to play a game of hide and seek. Our car slices through these clouds, as they glide past us, busily going about their day.

We see flashes of green, then white, and then green. The sun shines on a glorious, blue sky. The world looks happy and cheerful.

All along the way, we see the locals going about their day, busy with farming and mining. This beauty surrounds them everyday. I feel envious.

We stop now and then at a viewing point; to stretch our limbs and soak-in the beauty all around us. The distant calls of birds can be heard, and the occasional vehicle. Otherwise, there is only a deep silence. There is harmony, there is peace.

At one such viewing point, we sit down to look at the merry clouds and the sedate hills below.

We sit down, each of us wrapped up in our own thoughts, trying to understand this beauty and to relate it to our crazy lives that have so many deadlines.

Here, there are no deadlines, life seems simple and peaceful. We are in no hurry to leave.

There are fresh pineapple stalls along the way, and hundreds of varieties of Indian pickles on sale.

We sink our teeth into the delicious and succulent pineapples, watching the road fade away into the distance.

As we go higher, the clouds envelope us completely, in a welcoming embrace. We stop at the Lake Umiam view point, where trees, mountains and lake have all merged with the clouds.

Brrrr…it is cold. We watch the lake from above, visible on and off. Faraway lights are twinkling through the cloud cover.

There is a mobile tea stall (in the boot of a car), where we slurp cups of hot, masala chai. We walk up and down, exclaiming at everything.

After all, we are not up in the clouds often..!

A walk down Howrah Bridge, Kolkata


It is only 4.50 p.m. and the sky is pitch-black! The city’s lights are glittering gems!

As tourists, we had spent the day taking in all the ‘must-do’ local sights – the monuments, the temples and the zoo, with a little shopping thrown in.

We are now out to experience the city by foot. Our taxi driver drops us off at the ferry terminal, from where a ferry takes us across the river to the Howrah Bridge.

We are the only tourists on the ferry. The rest are the locals; who are in a hurry to get back home. They smile at our excitement. For them it is business as usual. Another day, another ferry ride.

For us, it is the highlight of our day. As we get off the ferry, we are sucked into a huge wave of people that forges ahead towards the train station. At the train station, people branch off in different directions, and we head down a small alley.

The alley is filled with vegetable vendors, whose stalls are lit by candle lights and small lanterns. Business is brisk, and there’s a lot of haggling going on; veggies are weighed, put into bags, money exchanged, and the cycle repeats.

We observe the scene as tourists; for us ‘vegetable shopping’ seems so far away. Everyday chores and ‘things to do’ lists seem unreal.

We enjoy the bustle and walk up towards the bridge. Here, we see the fruit vendors. We stop to load ourselves with freshly cut guavas – crisp and tasty!

Further ahead, we treat ourselves to juicy oranges.

We finally arrive at one end of the bridge. As we begin our walk, we soon realize that we are walking against the tide. Hundreds and hundreds of people are walking towards us. People scurrying back from work, people running to catch a bus or train. Men and women carrying baskets of vegetables and fruit.

We carefully thread our way through this maze of people, enjoying the liveliness and the chaos. We stop to click pictures. The water looks peaceful, as lights shimmer and dance on its surface.

When we reach the other end, we start looking for a cab to get back. This takes us nearly an hour, because it is peak hour and the roads are jammed everywhere!

We stop by the roadside to have a cup of masala chai.

We finally find a cab, and head back. We walk down the last hundred metres, and stop at a local paanwallah’s shop to enjoy the famous Kolkata Meeta Paan. It tastes delicious.

I have fallen in love with this city, Kolkata. So full of life and energy, though chaotic at times; a city that is a perfect blend of both the old and the new. The Bengali language sounds like music to the ears. The beautiful women with their big bindis and sindoor. The absolutely delicious mishti doi, sandesh, jalebis and rosagullas. The innumerable cups of ginger tea….!

And as we travel to our next destination, it is these beautiful memories of Kolkata that we carry with us – an evening spent on the Howrah Bridge, and soaking-in the spirit of this beautiful and warm city.

Beckoning Backwaters – Travel Diary


My friends and I are on a houseboat in the Vembanad Backwaters of Kerala, India.  Truly, God’s own country.

We lounge on the deck, soaking in the serenity, the lush greenery and the rippling waters, as our boat glides in silence.  A silence that is only punctuated by cawing crows, flitting butterflies and rustling reeds.  Water plants float in merriment, in celebration of all that wonderful beauty.  We are awed by this experience, as we keenly observe the lives of the people, who have made the backwaters their home.  Our raucous laughter and incessant chatter are sucked away by the beautiful silence, where we do not exist any more.

Later in the day, we board a small wooden boat, which takes us through the villages in the backwaters.  Life is happening all around us, everyday life – a woman is cleaning fish in preparation for dinner, three little girls are waving out to us in sheer joy, an old man is sitting on the bank, fishing, as he ponders over the mysteries of life.  Small fish and water snakes give us company, as our boat cuts through the waters.  Kingfishers sit on electric cables, waiting for just the right moment to swoop down.

Coconut trees flirt with the water,  some of them arching down to the water’s surface for a good gossip.  We wave out to people on other houseboats, and a sense of camaraderie prevails, at having enjoyed something exquisitely beautiful.

There is a sense of timelessness, as we sip strong tea and munch on ‘pazzha pori’ a local delicacy.

We feel distanced – from our everyday lives and from the mundane.  We feel content, we feel complete.  Life was meant to be lived like this, in the company of nature – rippling water, singing birds, swaying reeds and majestic coconut trees. Where a sense of completeness prevails, where solitude is the best company, where there are hundreds of thoughts as we took it all in, and then no thoughts at all……just bliss.

Sharing some pictures!

 

The Great Wall and Time


The sun’s heat is scorching. We walk at a steady pace, completely awed.

We are at the Great Wall of China.

Before we reach the starting point, our guide briefs us about the Wall and its history, and loads us with many interesting nuggets of information. We agree on a time to meet, and proceed on our long walk.

The valleys on either side watch us in silence, as we walk, stop and marvel. How was this feat even possible!

At every turn, the wall winds up and down into the rugged terrain, an off-white line that stretches away into places that the eye cannot see.

We feel humbled. We walk up steps, climb down others, pausing for breath, pausing to take pictures, wondering, only wondering.

We can picture the soldiers at their viewing decks, and the invading armies.

My son and I sit down, as we wait for the others. There is a deep silence. Except from two crows that caw on and off, all is quiet. Our hats give us some semblance of protection as the sun’s hot rays reflect off the stones.

I look up at the clear blue sky and smile. A merry little jet is whizzing importantly across the sky, leaving behind a fluff of white lace.

Time seems suspended between history and the future.

The Wall is unchanging, a witness to thousands of years of history, culture and human development. The jet is too busy to stop, it is after all, busy carrying people to appointments and meetings.

The word ‘time’ as I know it seems pointless, as I sit on the Great Wall, knowing that even after we are all gone, this architectural wonder will still remain.

On the road….


We are on a road trip in the state of Tamilnadu in India. We are visiting many old temples in and around Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.

It is quite hot, as our cab weaves its way through the most beautiful villages and towns, hidden in swathes of green paddy fields.

The paddy crops sway in the gentle breeze, as scarecrows watch over them silently. There are goats, cows and buffaloes dotting the landscape.

There are kingfishers on every electric cable, waiting to catch their prey from the water. 

Small shops, which sell a household’s entire supplies, flit past as we drive through these towns. 

Life is happening, children are cycling to school, men and women are already busy on their farms. In certain places, both paddy and sugarcane fields greet us.

We soon pass the small town of Tiruvaiyaru, famed for one of the greatest composers of Indian Carnatic music, Saint Thiagaraja. The driver points out various sites in the town.

He suddenly says, ” There is a must-stop place in this town.”

We look enquiringly. He talks about this sweet shop named ‘Andavan Kadai Halwa’, meaning God’s Halwa Shop.

For those of you who don’t know, the ‘halwa’ is an Indian sweet made of wheat, sugar, ghee, milk, cardomom powder and other ingredients.

Though halwa is not a particular favourite in our family, we agree to visit the shop.

The halwa shop is located on a busy street. It is a very small shop. The heavenly smell of ghee greets us. There is a display counter with pieces of halwa and other savouries on display.

We ask the man behind the counter about the halwa, quantities and prices.

He says, “Please taste some first.”

And as we watch, he takes a big blob of hot halwa that is floating in ghee, drops it on a banana leaf, and gives it to us.

We salivate just seeing it; the orange colour looks inviting. We cut off small portions and taste it.

My husband and I look at each other, as our eyes widen in delight. This is easily one of the best halwas we have ever tasted. The man smiles knowingly…!

We polish off the halwa. We order take away packets and walk out into the afternoom heat.

We finish our trips to all the temples, admiring centuries-old architecture. It is late evening as we head back to our hotel. It is a ninety-minute ride.

The moon flies across the sky with us, as the stars twinkle. The festival of Kaarthigai is being celebrated. Small earthen lamps have been lit and placed on the front porches of most homes.


We enjoy the gentle breeze, as the road winds and takes us back to dinner and other mundanities like packing and getting back home.

A walk on the Scottish moors


We are in a small coastal town in the Scottish highlands. It is a warm and pleasant day. The sun is out on a blue sky, and the waves are gentle as they approach the shoreline. Small families are scattered on the beach, young kids with their spades and buckets, trying to build sand castles; busily carrying water back and forth.

Behind us, the moorlands stretch as far as the eye can see. We set off on a long walk. There is a roughly formed path-of-sorts. We set off, a few adults and a few children.

The beauty is simply breathtaking. There is blissful, golden silence; a silence so profound that one can actually feel the peace within.

There are merry little bunnies hopping about and a few birds, who are hidden but whose sweet music brings such joy to the listener.

Image copyrighted to Simple Moments of Life

Dandelion wands beckon to the kids. We walk up one hillock, come down and then climb another. Cheerful little silvery mountain streams give us company, as they make a gentle gurgling sound against the rocks.
The grass is green and lush. Gorse bushes abound, their yellow flowers lighting up the landscape. Then again, there are these absolutely tiny flowers in mauve and white, making one marvel at the sheer beauty of it all.

Not a word escapes our lips. For once, we are so overwhelmed that even the kids have nothing to say.

The breeze whips around us, perfectly gentle and cooling. When we reach the point where we want to turn back, we sit down to soak it all in.

We close our eyes, and it feels like we are in deep meditation. So much calm and peace. The real world drops away; for this moment nothing but ‘this exists’, this beautiful silence.

I can well imagine Wordsworth penning the lines of his famous poem The Solitary Reaper, after walking through these highlands.

We head back trying to carry the silence and the peace with us.