Confusions of alone.

IMG_8080Lonely – the heart or the mind? Neither actually, physical loneliness is what I think it boils down to. The heart can be full of love, the mind can be happy with the day, the flower, the circumstance, a book, a movie, the very air.

No one to sit by, no one to turn and smile at, no hand to hold. Physically alone.

Such a happy place to be when you need to make a decision, get up and go, not seek an opinion, not worry about anyone, no one to ask and no one to tell anything at all. So much ease and bliss.IMG_8365

I love travelling alone. You can decide where to go, for how long, what you most want to do there and it’s easy.

I love being home alone, wake, sleep, lounge, grunge, eat, not eat. No answerability.

Perhaps, when you sit in that cafe in the evening, it might be nice to chat about your day, what you each saw – if it was different, or what you each experienced if it was the same. To perhaps discuss what to do the next day. To even share a bad moment or a IMG_8415magical sunset.

Perhaps, wake to a smile, share a breakfast, feel a touch, walk a walk, cuddle a goodnight. Throw a tantrum even.

I actually tend to think alone people would be very good companions to have. Alone people have had lots of time to think, grow and gather experiences. They have leisure to introspect and understand. They have the ability of silence and observation. They have the value for a companion.

Perhaps, I would like to find another alone person to be alone with.IMG_8148

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Trekking the meadows of Kashmir

Kashmir, always evocative of romance. The last time I drove through on my way to the Zanskar, I found the magic of the houseboats. This time was closer to the childhood Kashmir of cottages in Gulmarg – picnics in the meadows et al.

Dilshad said, ‘you have to come on this trek.’ There are no have to’s for me when you offer me a walk in the mountains – I would live my whole life out of a tent opening to incredible vistas every morning. That I manage to do it more often than not, is the greatest blessing.IMG_8250

The first time I ever flew into Kashmir, the airport was the beginning of the enchantment – there were fields of red poppies nodding in the jetstream of landing aircraft all along the runway. I don’t know if that still happens in summer, but there were certainly no poppies this October day. It was cold out and nice to anticipate the, brisk weather, walking. We had what was meant to be a quick car ride to our trek start point in Tangmarg – unfortunately – it was delayed by a traffic jam at road works blockaded by trucks. Just the usual fare. We started our trek from Tangmarg rather late, down to cross the river where the bridge has been swept away by the floods last year. The bridge still not fixed, but the large pipes that carry the water from the small power house were all in order. We scrambled over pipes and slippery boulders to the village of Drung. IMG_8138There IMG_8139was produce being dried in fields and on rooftops, corn and vegetables, getting set for the winter. We moved on through, being greeted by so very polite school children, all rosy cheeked and clean.
Our first stop was in a meadow surrounded by pine and fir, close to a now abandoned Gujjar hut. The family and buffaloes having moved down for the winter.

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IMG_8280IMG_8142We stopped to eat our lunch. The air was crisp and clean with the smells of pine and fir. There were remnants of daisies and buttercups reminiscent of the passing of summer. Our trek continued crossing burbling brooks and through forest and meadow – we passed an ancient Hindu temple, built by the Mughals apparently, now in ruin
s and shelter for cows it seemed. It was beautiful with fall colours on the few Chinar and wild Walnut trees. Carpet of green, gold and red. I was also imagining it in summer, the riot of wild flowers and colour that we could see remnants of would be in full bloom and make for an element completely different to the one we were experiencing. It never ceases to amaze – how well nature clads herself with impeccable style, colour and taste – perfectly suited to the seasons!!

IMG_8226IMG_8227We did a two day route in one and were rather hurriedly clambering up hills and down dale to get to camp before dark, which took away some of the enjoyment of stand and stare time, which is what I savour most when on a walk like this. However our guide Wali Mohammed would saunter off way ahead of us and then lie on a rock meditating, while we scrambled to catch up. He would look pityingly and ask if we were ‘ok’ or needing a rest? We did not dare need a rest so on we would trudge – him with his easy loping stride and us with our ‘Nepali shuffle’ slowly up the mountain. IMG_8146We did make it well in time, coming up below the high Gondola wires and through a large Gujjar and ‘Ghorha wala’ settlement to descend down into a charming meadow surrounded by firs and bordering a stream.IMG_8264IMG_8149Our camp was set and waiting and the fire was lit to warm our frozen selves. A new moon appeared in the twilight blue sky and all was oh so good with the world. IMG_8148It’s that moment that one breathes a sigh for the magic and gives thanks to whatever has led you to be here now.

To wake to the sun gilding the mountains and emerge into this brightening world out of a warm cocooned tent – it is one of those special joys of the trekker along with sweetly sore muscles. IMG_8224-1We were going up and over the ridge to the Frozen Lake. Crossing the tree line and up into the barrenness of browning meadow and giant scattered boulders, is not so exciting in biting cold. Then the clouds came and blocked out the light making for more ‘Drear’! Totally joyless walking when it’s meant for pleasure is no one’s idea of fun. We diverted through an enchanting forest of Bhojpatra, bone white tree trunks with flaking, paper thin bark.IMG_8239
Myriad coloured leaves that crunched underfoot, we stopped for our picnic lunch in this wonderland. Continued traversing the ridge and climbed down to the Cable car – which zoomed us up to the ridge we would have been walking across. Short cutting totally. IMG_8259By the time we reached the top it was hailing and raining and an absolute white out. The frozen lake would have to wait for another time, when perhaps the meadows would be a burst of interesting wild flowers to make that trudge more palatable.

That night as we lay snug in our marvellous tents it rained and rained and rained. I woke to the call of nature, which went unanswered because I kept waiting for the rain to abate. It didn’t at all and I finally put on my rain jacket and emerged into a breaking dawn – the toilet pit was flooded making for a natural water closet – no details here. The dining tent had stuff piled up on the table and water channels crisscrossing the floor. We had a makeshift breakfast and decided to abandon a further trek to Ningal nalla and just clamber down into Gulmarg. It turned into another enchanting walk through the rain with the mist enshrouded trees and the streams bursting their banks.
IMG_8282I must admit I could have walked some more – it was so beautiful. Unfortunately we very shortly reached the roadhead where a car and driver awaited us – he surreally appeared out of the mist holding a placard. IMG_8283We transfered to the posh Khyber hotel – where admittedly the bathrooms and the rain showers were a very acceptable luxury as was their spa. A steam and deep tissue massage were very welcome to cramping, cold muscles.

We then wandered into a lovely old village near Tangmarg to visit an old home where carpet weaving was taught. All handicrafts are essentially winter activities in most hill areas – the short summers being used to grow a crop or do outdoor work as required. The kashmiris along with having the most spectacular scenery to dwell amidst, also seem to have the most beautiful crafts and artisan work. From their fabulous carpets to the gossammer woven, intricately embroidered shawls. Beautifully carved and crafted wood work and furntiture. Papier mache art with it’s skilled painting – they truly are a talented people. Watching those spinnners and weavers sit in that old room with the misty daylight that barely penetrated the dusty windows was a fascination.IMG_8286 Their strips of pattern strung in the threads above, their nimble fingers didn’t seem to pause and obviously they made no mistake to the intricate pattern they wove. In turn we also seemed to fascinate the whole family who came to peek at the strangers peeking at them.IMG_8293IMG_8296

Our day ended with hot chocolate at the Highland Park bar, I needed to go check out an old haunt – it was much the same and it was nice to see that though Gulmarg is unrecognizable from when I knew, all the new structures have the same old architectural style – it is still the large meadow of memory and has not been high rised and built into oblivion.

This is what I would term the perfect short trek,  – it is utterly beautiful country, comfortable walking terrain, great campsites and ends with an option of opulent luxury.

My happy drive to work

IMG_5925I have been based in this city, on and off, all my life – and for the most part have been happiest away. These last few days, something changed. Not the city, just my awareness of it. Have a look at my drive to work, it is quite the happiest part of my day. Every round about is a blaze of spring colour, the roadsides are blooming.  That I choose to only drive through the pretty parts of Delhi is a very concious decision, why would one live in this city and not enjoy the bestest part of it. I find I am coming to terms with, if not actually enjoying my city.

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It is quite spectacular – at least the bits I choose to see everyday. My spirits lift the moment I cross the Dhaula Kuan flyover and start seeing the pretty flowers and nicely maintained road sides. The Teen Murti Circle is a delight, then I turn and the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan takes centre stage – very proud making. The fountains and flowers of Vijay Chowk have to be the best bit of it all – such a wonderful spectacle spreads all the way down Rajpath till India Gate. By now I am in such a happy state that the rest of the traffic becomes

IMG_5920IMG_5922inconsequental and the mood wafts me into my office on a haze of happy colour. How easy it is to change a perspective, I only just realized that I have an infinite ability to see only what I please. Thus, when I drive back to Gurgaon in the evening and leave the pretty bits behind, honestly, I still manage to see a very pretty sunset almost everyday through the haze of pollution. It’s a happy state.

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The River

IMG_5738I drove across the bridge at Hardwar, and that first sight of the Ganga brightened my heart and set me smiling. It happens every time – the river, the mountains and that forest act like an elixir. The guard at the barrier to Rajaji Park, smiles and waves you through, the road winds through the forest and it feels like old friends welcoming you. Every vista, the trees and the grasses spell home. The old guard at the inner gate who has been there forever, recognises and waves. This time I took the road along the left bank all the way to the Garur Chatti bridge, by passing Rishikesh aswell. How I do love this part of the world and what a beautiful drive it makes with non of the traffic and noise, the perfect way to enter this home stretch after the maddening road conditions all the way from Delhi. Suddenly, it all washes away, the sunlight makes tree shadows dance, the road along the canal brings memories of elephant meetings and butterflies.

Three days at camp – blissful sunshine, the sparkling river with all her familiar nuances and time to stare despite being there to work. It is never work surrounded by that view. I found a new rock and spot to replace the one I lost. Sitting there and talking to the river as in the old days was a healing that has been a long time coming. She was my friend and confidante for so many years and washed away many a care and I thought I had lost the connection. Now as I sit and watch, the cliche of life flowing like a river resounds  – the turbulence, the obstacles, the depths and shallows and all through it, the constant flow. How many, many people before me have thought and said it, and how many more will say it, the point is how many have found wisdom, strength, succour on the banks of how many rivers? This one is just special to me – I think all rivers are special – but the Ganga truly is my friend and I am blessed to still be able to live on her banks whenever I choose.

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Bombay: Nostalgia and memories

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The Gateway of India

Bombay, for the last few years I have been coming to a different Bombay – what I knew as the suburbs, but where all the young ones, including my daughters live. This time the girls are not here and I am in old haunts and it is a trip down memory lane. Just how much I realised when I was sitting by the window of my beautiful old room in the yacht club, overlooking the Gateway of India and saw the Naval ensign flying off this venerable old building. Obviously I opened the window and tried to peer through the trees to see what was on. That’s when I heard the announcement for the beating retreat ceremony to be held there forthwith. It is a ceremony that I love, with the marching bands and the melodies. Imagine it in this setting, with the backdrop of the harbour and the ships.IMG_5558

I ran down and out into the street to see what I cold see. Naval personnel all over the place, for an instant, I actually thought of going up to the entrance and talking my way in. Then I looked around at the milling throngs and decided I had been in the enclosures often enough. This time I was going to be just one of the crowd peering in.

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The Naval ships lit up

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Helicopter fly past

Found a great vantage point on the median of the road in front of the Taj Hotel. I had to crane my neck to actually see much, but I could hear the music and I could see the colours of the sunset. The helicopters arriving and doing their bit, I realised I didn’t actually have to see any of it, my minds eye relived it all from so many times, but just the fact of being there – in that place at that time. The haunting melody of ‘Abide with Me’ and the naval ships in the harbour turning on their lights. I think all my ‘naval brat’ friends will understand exactly what I mean, there is a poignancy to the whole; pride and a belonging along with a sense of nostalgia.

That this was to occur just the day that I chose to be here, happy chance!

I am now sitting in the bar at the Yacht club, overhearing snippets of sailing conversation, some gentleman trying to get a pretty, scared lady to go sailing. I look around at the memorabilia of sailing lore and think how much I love the sea. I think i shall go sailing one of these days while I am here.

I am so glad I decided to stay here rather than with family and friends. It reiterates for me that thought that comes so often, how being alone can be such a blessed state. Though I would have taken that buggy ride if there had been someone to share it…..so….

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Lit in tricolour

The fortune of my life that throws up these magic moments makes me sure to thank the powers that be for the enchantments.

PS: My photographs are just for story telling not for their great quality!!

The great Taj Mahal Hotel

The great Taj Mahal Hotel

The buggy rides.

The buggy rides.

An encounter in the Dhauladhars

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Many years ago I did an amazing trek up across the Dhauladhar range, crossing the Indrahar pass above Dharamsala, down into the valley of the Chenab and the ancient temple town of Barhmour. But feeling intrepid, we had decided to keep going and cross the crazy Kugti Pass aswell bringing us into the Lahaul valley and on again across the Rohtang into Manali and roads, baths etc. That this was a fabulous trek with many adventures is true, but I tell this story because during that trek we were travelling with the Gaddis, (Shepherds of the Himalaya) who take their flocks to the high pastures perched below these passes. We met one family while crossing the Indrahar, and they introduced us to another that was going upto Kugti.

259bd908e21fcd0d842a3d606e4c0e63Now a few weeks back I was on a short walk in the very same mountains with an amazing group of people who had come all the way from Ecuador to visit the Himalaya and also touch base with the spirituality of these mountains. We were doing a comfortable trek from Macleodganj, via Baal village upto the meadows of Triund, up beyond to the Lahesh caves and back. The age group varied from 30 to 78, all wonderfully positive and full of vim and vigour.

We had lovely clear mornings, but after the first day every afternoon would bring the clouds and rain. Every evening we would sit around the fire and recount what were the pearls of our day. It was a lovely ritual, but I can’t tell you how many times I heard that the pearl of the day had been ‘walking in the rain.’ This was just how positive the mood in this group was.IMG_5399

On our third day, while climbing up to the Lahesh caves and or the temple at the top of the hill, one of the ladies felt under the weather and so I walked back to camp with her, while the others carried on. Back in camp after she was comfortable, I decided to go find a likely rock and write, gaze, medititate in this suddenly found free time. The mist was swirling, I went and sat comfortably in the embrace of a likely boulder and the dreaming came easy. Shortly I heard the familiar bells of goats and sheep and sure enough they were all around me in minutes, appearing out of the swirly clouds like ghostly shapes. Along with them came the shepheard. He perched himself on a rock when he saw me sitting there and we started chatting, I asked him when he would head down and where his home was. Somewhere during that chat I asked where their high grazing grounds were – he said below the Kugti. That is when I told him that I too had crossed that pass with the help of some shepheards many years ago. He said, ‘I know, I was a young man then and I remember taking you and your friends to the top. You have not recognized me, but I do you.’

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It was the most surreal moment – sitting on top of a mountain in this misty haze surrounded by the tinkle of sheep bells and meeting a stranger who was an old friend. What a perfect afternoon that added another touch of magic to my many magic moments in these mountains.

The written and the read.

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I received the most touching mail wishing me well with my new found love.
However, my little anecdote is not about a one love, but the discovery that I still have the capacity to throw my heart over a windmill and perhaps not worry about whether it lands in the right place. Just experience the emotion and the euphoria of doing it, without counting the cost – and most importantly the discovery that the cost is not what matters at all. It is the enjoyment of the feeling; whether it is fleeting or lasting must be left in the hands of the Gods.
I say that quite deliberately, because the moment you start to anticipate the where, what, how, what if ? It’s finished, it’s lost, the euphoria is gone. All those human things will creep in, the doubt, the uncertainty, the wanting, the needing, to have, to hold. With that dissapears the essence of that pure, soaring flight. Why would you want to do that? Also that is what prevents you from throwing that heart over in the first place. Caught for a moment, caught forever, who knows?  If one does it often enough maybe it will entwine with another such floating feeling and fly forever.
Also the learning that no matter what the age, love feels very much the same, there may not be as much angst to it with experience, because perhaps you, like me, can discover it to be a many splendoured thing, but it can be as silly, as electrifying, as embarrasing and as euphoric at 18 and at perhaps 80.
So in short, no my friend, I still have not found the man who will walk beside me and I wasn’t even looking. But now I think, if I can risk it then perhaps there is somewhere out there ‘The Passionate Shephard’ type of man who will risk saying those magic words too.