Roady Toady

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national highway

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Bombay – believe it or not

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Heritage train Matheran

Vroom, vroom…… off we go, full throttle. The car surges onto NH 22 which becomes a 6 lane a short distance further. Hazy mountain outlines hover into view then become large, dark looming shapes.The first glimpse of approaching destination is always an adrenaline rush. Strange as it sounds, this to me is love of country. Gripping patriotic mania. Nothing quite like a road trip to bring it on.

Needless to provoke & annoy with forced vande matarams & bharat mata jais? Do a ‘Bharat Darshan’ instead. The countryside is beautiful.

“Vindhya, Himachal, Yamuna, Ganga……

Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha

Dravid, Utkal, Banga”

I could be on the road forever. Taking in colour & sound, meeting ‘real’ people – away from it all.

Whoever called us lazy? We are most industrious. Seriously. Imagine another country with our kind of weather & see if they could slog it like us.

I have seen Biharis break stones on the heights of Ladakh. Sleeping out in the cold, eating ‘khichri’, laying roads. Stretches of highway with milestones marking the distance to the farther most posts.

Mana:100 miles

500 miles to Mana

Mana:1000 miles.

In the cities traffic is chaotic. Adding to the cacophony is dust, heat, noise, pollution & people. Hordes of them. Men & women, full of zest, energy & drive.

Trust an outsider, a foreigner to point this out & who better than Kristoff, a third time visitor who revels in the chaos.

After getting his fill of madness he will return to the dreary orderliness of existence back home. The soap opera meanwhile…….

(He was outside an ATM, patiently waiting his turn, knowing fully well that the machine may soon run out of cash, as it had, all over Goa that season. Sundance, X’mas, New Year, peak holiday time – no matter.)

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inside a restaurant – no kidding

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India: could be anywhere

 

Step out of the national capital & notice the stark rural – urban, agro – industrial divide where Bharat, not India wins.

Ever seen a Maruti 800 or an aircraft upon a rooftop? You never will until you begin to stir out, for both these are prestige & décor items in rural Punjab. So is the truck parked inside a restaurant with headlights on. Free interior decoration tips, anyone?

Never heard of ‘Maruta’?

A contraption used by farmers, it is in effect, a cross between tractor & car – the ubiquitous Maruti once again.

Make no mistake both Bharat & India are changing –  fast. Hop on to the bandwagon, join the roadshow, take a trip – physical & metaphorical & witness the change.

There is a new cockiness in the air.

A Rabari woman in Gujarat, begging for alms, gives up with a disgusted “eh, mara Babo ne chocolate aapo na”. Don’t miss ‘Babo’ – her darling son. And what does Babo want? Chocolates. Not milk.

In Chakrata, I go scouting for a medicine the lone chemist does not have. He cannot provide a substitute, nor does he think it’s available anywhere up in those hills.

Try Dr. Joshi, instead.

I walk down the road & ask for Rosave 20 or anything else the doctor can recommend.

“You won’t find it ”, says he.

Why not?

“Because nobody here has high cholesterol. Take my word. ‘chiknai kam karo’.

And yet. Some things never change.

In the Prime Ministers constituency there is round the clock activity involving infra structure. All day one hears, the roar of engines going up & down the river, dredging & cleaning the Ganga & the ghats.

Getting off a rickshaw at Assi ghat, I ask, “ how much’?

Adjusting a mouthful of swish n swim saliva, he answers ——

“Don’t spit,“ I yell, seeing the intent “ you are not to spit”.

Yes, he nods in agreement & smiles.

And out comes the spittle. Jet like. Right there, next to me. Juicy red stains on the floor.

Kya karein!

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time on my hands

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Homestay

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still hoping

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Hajipir 1965

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We proudly celebrated 50 years of the 1965 war this year. It is therefore befitting to recall the valour & sacrifice of those who made the victory possible.

 

Some reminiscences then, of the capture of Hajipir – Pt 13620, straight – as it were – from the horses’ mouth.

 

Code named Operation Bakshi, 68 Infantry Brigade was tasked with the execution. The orders went out on Aug 15,1965 & Hajipir was in Indian hands by August 28.

 

There were casualties, feats of endurance & bravery but the hero undoubtedly was Gen RS Dyal MVC, PVSM.

 

I have had the honour & the pleasure of meeting the General & distinctly recall a misty November morning, 4 years ago when veterans got together at Nahan for yet another Hajipir Day celebration.

 

A small close knit group had collected around their former Commanding Officer & one of them was heard saying “chalo Saab, assi phir Hajipir chalein

This has been the general lament. A constant refrain heard over & over again, of veterans wanting to know why Hajipir was returned.

But that is another story.

 

On August 28 this year, there was chai & pakoras, joy & bonhomie as Mrs Dayal inaugurated the auditorium named after her late husband. Former comrades in arm reunited. Some limping, some hard of hearing, they back slapped, joked & talked, graphically recalling tales of glory & of their ‘famous’ victory.

 

Col Bindra

Col JCM Rao

Brig AS Baicher

etc etc etc the roll of honour rolls on.

 

All, young 19-20- 21 year olds then & mostly without a clue except, for their inspiring Company Commander Maj RS Dyal who urged his men on, displaying outstanding leadership for which he was awarded the MVC.

 

While Col Bindra gave a presentation with complete military details the others talked of lighter moments like playing volleyball with the enemy prior to hostilities or of engaging him in fierce hand to hand combat when it came to the crunch. They had shared ONE toothbrush & had eaten half cooked meat sans salt or spice – the taste, still lingering in the mouth. The same old war stories ad nauseam but quite different when hearing it from them.

Minor details: On the final assault the soldiers walked 4000’ on foot.

Their field rations were soggy ‘shakarparas’ & biscuits. Soggy, because there had been unexpected showers the night before.

Hajipir was captured at 1100 hrs on August 28,1965. The enemy thereafter, made repeated attempts to recapture the pass, but was successfully thwarted. In recognition of its indomitable spirit & gallantry 1Para earned one MVC, one VRC, 2 SM & 4 Mention in Despatches, along with Battle Honour Hajipir & Theatre Honour Jammu & Kashmir.

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Major RS Dyal

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The Tricolour atop Hajipir

Post Script

 

One may well ask, what manner of men are these? The following story narrated by Maj Gen VB Batra may just provide an inkling.

 

“Two years later, in 1967, the Indian army conducted Exercise ‘Betwa’ in Central India

It was a 45 day affair intended to test new methodologies in mechanized warfare.

1 Para – then part of 50 Para Brigade – was commanded by Lt Col RS Dyal.

I, was a Capt, a Battery Commander then & was affiliated to him. Watching him operate at close quarters, was for me a learning experience. There were lessons pertaining not only to military training but life as well. He’d explain Infantry tactics over a drink……. I still have a book he presented -The battle of Dien Bien Phu’ “

 

Gen Batra also mentioned a 3 day training capsule they were part of.

In a loud booming voice he had heard CO 1 Para exhort his men to go hungry, to stay without sleep & to march, move & dig from position to position.

Most importantly he led by example. Baton in hand, Lt Col Dyal would make the rounds, checking each detail every night. If anyone were caught napping he’d poke & shove the fellow in the rib, startling him out of sleep.

The Capt asked, “ Sir, how do these chaps let you do this to them? what if someone were to snatch the baton or stall you. Would it not be an embarrassment? “

 

mein kabhi kisi ka pate nahin kaat taa” replied the man. Meaning that he neither meant, nor ever did anybody any ‘real’ harm. That was his philosophy. Earthy & elementary. Like the man himself. He was a simple, self contained person, much loved & respected by the soldiers he commanded.

 

Add to that the formidable reputation he had acquired post 1965.

 

His only indulgence it turns out, was the pleasure of good quality Scotch. He liked his drink & the story goes that Chokharam, the barman had remembered to carry it right up to Hajipir that day.

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Mrs Indira Gandhi with troops

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The indomitables Continue reading

The land of Kuru

DSC00122Bronze – Krishna & Arjuna  on the chariot ( 60’ long/ 35’ high) Along the banks of Brahma Sarovar

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DSC00166Bhadrakali temple – one of the 51 shaktipithas. Horses made of clay are traditionally offered here.

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DSC00143Ladies bathing area on the ghats

“Where next?”

“ To Kurushetra”

Eyebrows go up quizzically.

I must confess to having some preconceived notions myself. Eventually reduced to pulp as it turns out.

Past NH1 & less than 4 hours from the national capital, Kurushetra comprises an area covering 48 Kos, one Kos roughly equivalent to a mile & a half.

Myths & legends associated with the place go back several centuries BC. Not only is it a revered Hindu site, it was visited by all the Gurus of Sikhism & by the Buddha himself, giving it rare religious credence. Sufis & Mystics followed, congregating at the ghats on the day of the solar eclipse – to practice & to preach.

Despite this combination of history, legend & myth the one lasting impression is of a town firmly rooted in the present. Albeit quietly on the move

Witness the broad roads, residential areas segmented into sectors, the spectacular campus of Kurushetra University, the museum & the Planetarium where school children flock in droves.

The Krishna museum showcasing the past has more than a thousand footfalls a day, as do the Ghats of the Sarovar. It is believed that the mythical Saraswati once flowed through this land. Geographical changes dried up the river turning it to slush before the water from the Bhakra Nangal was brought in to replenish & restore.

A case of past meets present. And all for the good.

Kurushetra is above all an aspirational town with a feel good factor. Pilgrims, striving for moksha continue to visit in hordes but many more come to avail ample educational opportunities in pursuit of a better material life.

The inspiration clearly is Kalpana Chawla.

Not Bhishma Pitamah lying on a bed of arrows (museum).

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Highway Eatery

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Brahma Sarovar

Q & A

Khasi Monoliths

Khasi Monoliths

Q: Guess which is the cleanest village in Asia?

A: Mawlynnong in the East Khasi hills, Meghalaya

So says everyone (Try Google)

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It is about 2 -3 hours or 85 kms from Shillong the state capital & you could reach it by private car, shared Sumo, or tourist bus.

Take the highway from Shillong towards Dawki on the Bangladesh border, slicing through floating white clouds that drift & hang high above in the sky, then suddenly descend to the ground, blocking the path & view ahead.

Not for nothing is it called Meghalaya (the abode of clouds)

Driving past a landscape of quaint Khasi villages, leafy green woods, upteen waterfalls, mist, drizzle & rain it is surreal. Akin to cruising to the ends of the earth into a kind of ‘nowhere’ land

And, the road is rather good.  So you could simply zip up.

Not quite though. Alas, for the clouds.

With a population of 501, (according to the last census) there are 95 households. The village has paved roads, public parking, pay & use toilets, piped water, electricity, schools & post office

Public Toilet

Public Toilet

Parking Square

Parking Square

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A natural nursery of flora & fauna there are benches for the visitor to simply sit, stare & watch life go by.

Practically everything  – from garbage bins to tree houses to skywalks – is made of different varieties of locally grown bamboo.

Mawlynnong is green & beautiful.  And yes, it is spotlessly clean.

October onwards is the best time for a visit. With the monsoon in retreat, a brimming river & sprightly waterfalls, the colors of the hills come alive. And the rhododendron in full bloom sets the forests ablaze.

It is also a good time to trek, to the many ‘living root ‘& ‘ladder’ bridges which otherwise are inaccessible most parts of the year.

If you ever come, do try slices of fresh pineapple, sprinkled with red chili powder. It is an absolute ‘must’. As is the local red chili which has a flavor uniquely its own

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Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

What strikes one most is the quiet stillness of the place broken only occasionally by a loud buzzing sound emanating from the forest.  It is louder than the sound of a vibrating mobile & comes from an insect that is never to be seen.

At a height of 600 meters Mawlynnong can get hot & humid during the daytime. The locals then retire for a siesta. After a hearty meal of rice, meat & vegetable what could be more desirable.

Leisure, after all is the hallmark of civilization.

A River & a Temple

Guwahati crow

Guwahati crow

There is nothing here”, said my host, of Guwahati, while conceding it was the entry & exit point to most of the North East.

I was surprised.

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The thought of not having seen the Brahmaputra had niggled a long time & set the adrenaline flowing. The entire NE trip had in fact been planned around it.

The mighty river & Kamakhya the ancient temple atop Nilachal hill. Two birds with one stone as I flitted across states by road, rail & air.

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Guwahati is a B grade town, no doubt.

We drove through empty streets for the VIP ‘darshan’ scheduled for 08.30 am when the temple opens to the general public. The queues get inordinately long thereafter.

It was a distance of 30 kms from Narangi  & took 45 mins by car.

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Kamakhya Devi is 800’ above sea level & offers a stunning view of the town below. It is in fact a collection of temples dedicated to goddesses of the Hindu pantheon who are important to the tantric worshipper. The garbhgriha or sanctum sanctorum is ancient & prehistoric & lies in a cave below ground level. There is no image. It is simply a sheet of stone in the shape of a yoni washed by the fresh waters of a natural underground spring.

The structure above has frescoes & figurines reminiscent of Khajuraho. It is all about Shakti. Worshippers can be seen leading goats to the altar – not as a sacrifice anymore. The temple dates back early 4th century & has solid silver artifacts & doors. It was destroyed several times during foreign invasions & later reconstructed by an Ahom king in the 16th century.

Saraighat Bridge

Saraighat Bridge

On to the Brahmaputra.

It is breath taking in its sweep. It is awesome!

Stretching 2900 kms via Tibet, India & Bangladesh

Home to the endangered Gangetic Dolphin

Its monsoon waters muddy & brown.

The currents fast & furious

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There are river cruises from Machkhowa Ghat, Fancy bazaar operated by ‘Al Fresco’. A sunset cruise at 1700hrs followed by the dinner cruise at 1930. At Rs 250 per person one gets to sail for an hour. The cruise ship has a restaurant & bar & crooners sing to a live band. There are weekend parties on board & extended tours further north to Kaziranga wild life sanctuary & Majuli, a large river island & world heritage site.

Nearby at Uzan Bazaar state owned motorboats give a ride for as little as Rs 10. Taking you to a small mid River Island that has a Shiv mandir & view of the swirling waters around busy Saraighat Bridge in the distance.P1020610

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Dateline Kohima India

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Handy Tips, Info & Insights

Kohima has a helipad but is not directly connected to any other place either by rail or air. You could travel by road or take the train from Guwahati to Dimapur a distance of 250 kms/ 4hrs. From Dimapur, the commercial capital of the state it is a further 70 kms.  The road is good & the drive scenic. The roughly 2hr journey costs Rs 80 by bus, 220 in a shared taxi & 800 by private car. You are dropped off at the NST – Nagaland State transport – in the heart of town. Local buses & black & yellow taxis (all Marutis) are available at a minimum of Rs 80. There are no auto or cycle rickshaws.

Cricket on a rainy day

Cricket on a rainy day

It is a crowded mid size town with crazy traffic that snarls through the day. Restaurants & coffee shops are few & nothing to write home about. The ‘Ozone Café’ near Naga Bazaar was pretty decent but it did not open until noon. Which means that there simply is no ‘breakfast place’. Also, there are no parks or bars as liquor is banned – enjoy the rice beer, instead.

DC Heritage Bungalow

DC Heritage Bungalow

Despite the big & small hotels there is a real paucity of accommodation especially during the Hornbill festival in December when occupancy shoots up & there isn’t a room to be had. Nagaland tourism advertises homestays but there is a wide discrepancy between rates quoted & prevailing. What the tariff includes is also a bit hazy. Most often rooms do not have attached toilets. Toilets are generally clean but without running water. You may also never get to share a family meal. This, when tariffs are at par or higher than that of the hotels.

The DC Bungalow, now a heritage hotel is strongly to be recommended not only for its rooms but also for food & service. The rates are extremely reasonable & it is beautifully located.

Above the entrance of a Naga home

Above the entrance of a Naga home

Homestays are an experience nevertheless & well worth trying out. One gets a feel of the pulse of the people & the place. In any case it all depends on how well the inter action goes. I had a neat & clean room with the Wiso family at Naga bazaar. We had long interesting chats over cups of tea & coffee with smiling little children flitting in & out not to forget the squealing pigs & crowing at the crack of dawn

Local girls wearing Tribal jewellery

Local girls wearing Tribal jewellery

Nagaland is Christian majority. There are Christians of all denominations with churches scattered everywhere. Until the arrival of the American missionaries in the early 20th century society & culture was Animist. Without music & drinks it seems rather joyless now.  The church exercises a rigid control. Sunday is strictly a day of rest so plan it well. No taxis ply.  You will be charged return fare for a cab to the airport or to the station. You may not even get a cup of tea anywhere.

The Church actively discourages family planning. Most couples have 4 children on an average. Families are larger in the countryside.

Aids & drug awareness slogans adorn billboards.

There is little Hindi but English is widely understood & spoken.

Angami Naga Tribal home

Angami Naga Tribal home

The beauty of Nagaland lies in its quaint & charming villages. There is Kohima village adjoining the town, also Kisama (a fake showcase village), Phesema, Zakhama, Kigwema & several others within an easy 30 kms radius. The weather is lovely & the girls beautiful.

Because of a largely salt & meat diet many of the elderly suffer hypertension.

The Policeman here is as elusive as the London Bobby for there is hardly any crime. One doesn’t even hear of petty theft

It is lovely to stay connected while on the move. Updating status on Facebook, posting pictures & keeping abreast

Traffic police woman

Traffic police woman

What one cannot help but notice is the near total disconnect between rulers & ruled. Nagaland feels like it has been left in the backyard. The local government- corrupt & rapacious, while the writ of the banned Underground rules. There is an organized extortion racket in place where the Naga Underground collects tax. All government servants, policemen included, have to pay one month basic salary. It is also the reason why shops close so early (7.30 – 5.30). Every shopkeeper shells out anything between 10 – 50K.

Kohima village

Kohima village

There is no shortage of water yet whole colonies go without. Tankers fill the streets. Water has to be bought. My hosts buy 1000 cc, at Rs 500 every week. This is besides the water from the bore well that is pumped up daily. Each member of the family makes do with a bath on alternate days. In fact a lot of time goes into the ritual of collecting & organizing water for the day. Any wonder then that the local lad looks confused & dumb when asked for directions to the Raj Bhavan or Tourism office? Nobody knows or cares.

There is also the perennial question of the “inner line permit”. Is it or is it not a prerequisite? Tourist brochures insist it is compulsory but I roamed around freely without one. Neither did I see or encounter any checking. Nagaland tourism please clarify.

June 2013

Ceremonial door used in a rain shelter

Ceremonial door used as a rain shelter

Namaste

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Room with a view

India exists in several centuries simultaneously. These 2 pictures epitomize the stark reality. They were both clicked in the very heart of urban India. Not in some remote, dusty outback as one might imagine

The first belongs to Mumbai, the commercial hub of the country. Standing on my balcony & sipping a morning cup of tea this is what I espied – an elephant go majestically by.

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Rush hour traffic

Dashing to work, in the national capital Delhi, and what have you? A traffic jam revolving around a pachyderm, camel, bus & a car.  All merrily blocking the way.

This is co existence.

Laugh as you may, it is also beauty in chaos. Hardly to be noticed or commented upon. An everyday thing that we take in our stride.