Monday, April 23, 2012

10 Pictures and Stories of Ruins from Across India

When I saw the movie Tomb Raider as a kid, I was fascinated by the Cambodian Ruins they showed. The fascination intensified when I learned they had maintained Ta Prohm in the same way they found, shrouded in roots. Of course it is a different story altogether here in India, the ruins are not maintained, they are just left. Following my quest to take the road less traveled, I guess I have developed an intense fascination for the abandoned and ruined, for no one cares or writes about them. Ruins have been a fascination ever since. Who knows what treasures it held and what treasures it still holds unknown to us. What memories could've been and what stories stay untold. Through out my journeys across India, never have I consciously missed an opportunity to pay a visit to the disintegrating monuments. So here's a list of what I saw and what I heard.

1. Temple en route VellagaviLegend has it that the erstwhile local Robinhood of surrounding area of Kodaikanal hid treasures under this tree. Some claim the kings of yore had buried a huge treasure here. Legend also has it that the treasure has to be retrieved only after following some seven stipulated steps else death would befall upon those who tried in the incorrect way. Either way everyone believes there is treasure buried deep here, under the roots, under the tree.

Orchha Cenotaphs
2. Orchha - There isn't a greater place in ruins that I have seen so far. Every monument here is standing the test of time, on its own, for the government took pains to maintain only very few of the remains. When the king undertaking the construction of these giant cenotaphs died abruptly, the construction was never continued. Today, the grandest of the envisioned cenotaphs lies in neglect and rots inside. Bats take shelter, crooks play inside, even the guards wouldn't bother anymore, for it lies outside the boundary. 

Rani Ka Vas, Bhuj
3. Rani Ka Vaas, Bhuj - The devastating earthquake that shook Gujrat in 2001 left a trail of destruction in its wake. It is surprising to see this building still standing after the damage it survived. While Prag Mahal managed to retain its strength and shape, Rani ka Vas was destroyed beyond repair or so I would assume. Today it stands shattered and totally in neglect, as a stark reminder of the forces that be, of the one who destroyed and of the one who can probably revive it.

Abandoned Havelis of Churu
4. Abandoned Havelis of Churu - This place is from a different time and place altogether. It is a small dead part of a town that is otherwise lively. Giant havelis that hosted the rather large joint families of those days lie abandoned and done for now-a-days. The property is split between a complex branch of family tree that no one cares enough neither to sell nor to maintain. Of course it is difficult to sell, for, a gazillion cousins got a room each of the haveli. Dead pigeons fall in front one door and a dead dog in front of the other. One such magnificent haveli boasts of 1100 windows and doors but no one care, no one bothers. The rich owners, the marvaris have left the place and are thriving elsewhere in the world, not here. 

Broken Krishna Temple, Hampi
5. Hampi - The glorious erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara Kingdom was a fabulously constructed city it seems. The Dravidian temples and palaces won the admiration of travelers from far away lands it seems, until it fell into the hands of the Deccan Muslim Confederacy. Hampi was pillaged endlessly and ruined until the city was abandoned. Today all that remains is the ruins, in a reasonably well preserved state. Even then, the ceilings are falling and the walls are cracking. Not because of some muslim confederacy attacked but because the ruins are not valued enough by those in power.

Remains of Chiktan Fort
6. Chiktan Fort - Deep inside a valley, by the raging Indus, with the mountains in the background, stand the stones of a fort that was. I dare not call it a fort for it is merely stones stacked up one one another now. Historically significant, today the significance is no more than a landmark in the far distance.  Built by Pakistani craftsmen in the 16th century, today the neglect and natural forces have reduced the fort to rubble.

Remains of Chiktan Fort
7. Ghost Town of Kuldhara - Legend has it that Paliwal Brahmins, the occupants of a part of Rajasthan were very adept at business and agriculture. They were thriving and were growing to be quite rich and powerful which worried the Dewan(Prime Minister) of losing his authority and so he levied outrageous taxes upon them. Either that or the fact that he developed a liking towards the chief's daughter, which the paliwals did not traditionally approve of, decided to leave the village overnight. Kuldhara, along with 83 other villages, were abandoned overnight. Today Paliwals are scattered elsewhere and no one has been able to find the 84 villages either. Legend has it these villages are cursed that no one can survive in them, which is probably why Kuldhara still remains a ghost town.Or the myth might shatter if some historian shows some interest.

Ghost Town Dhanushkodi
8. Ghost Town of Dhanushkodi - While the previous ghost town is shrouded in mystery, this ghost town screams of a tragedy.  The high intensity storm of 1964 came on its swift wings and took away an entire train full of passengers and an entire village into oblivion. The estimated casualties were 1800 dead people. Today the area has been declared unfit for human habitat but few fishermen still struggle to live off the sea while these walls stand in the sand, as a memory of what happened earlier.

Rosary Church, Shettihalli
9. Rosary Church, Shettihalli - Of all the ruins that are still standing, this has to be the most fascinating according to me. The church was built in 1860s and when the dam was constructed in 1960s, the village had to be rehabilitated upstream. But the church remained. Not only did it remain, it survived. It survived the wrath of monsoons and of summers. Jaggery and egg mixed in mortar gave the walls its strength is what few claim, the strength to stay submerged during monsoons and emerge in the dry season, year after year.

Houses left behind, Ladakh
10. Abandoned houses on Leh - Kargil Highway - I don't know when. I don't know how. I don't know why. I just know they are abandoned houses. War casualties or bunkers maybe, they are just abandoned. No one stays there, except for the walls and bricks and the mountains and the ghosts of the past.
And if you are wondering why this fascination with ruins, your guess is as good as mine. I don't know! Or maybe it is because it lets my imagination run wild. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

How I failed miserably on the Great Himalayan Cycling Trip!

It will be almost a year to the tragedy this July, the Himalayan Cycling trip tragedy. If not a tragedy I can only call it a farce. Now when I look back and think of the things that I did, I was wondering what the hell I was thinking anyway.

That's my bike taking rest as I click, and fellow team member going ahead.

The power of a bored mind and a crazy idea is way too great than you and I can fathom. When I was done having all kinds of crazy adventures and the adrenaline wasn't rising high enough, I decided it was time to do something a notch above my usual crazy adventure scale. Out of all the things thrown at me through "The Wall" on facebook, I somehow managed to pickup cycling as my next adventure. Because a friend or two unwittingly posted a video or two on mountain biking, I assumed "The Universe" was telling me something, I was so glad I finally communicated with the Universe, under the guise of listening to my heart I was actually listening to Facebook! 

Well it could've been the funniest thing if not for the other things that went awry on the trip. Spirits were flying high, I put together an awesome team, printed T-shirts with a logo that I personally made, then we went shopping for the missing gear, learned how pack/unpack bikes, transport them and a lot of other things. Well it seems what I forgot in all this was that to bike in the Himalayas, you just don't need some branded imported bikes and stuff. You also need some stamina and strength. Before I fall flat on my nose, let me brag, even if it lasts just for a second.

I have taken pride in the fact that I have never ever entered a gym or went through any sort of physical training so far in my life. Only the treks that I have done are about as much training as I get. I am not even regular on those treks these days because I if I don't write on my blog or publish a photo, the world will end, no seriously! So I was so busy planning the routes, shopping, bragging everywhere of the Great Himalayan Cycling Trip, that I totally forgot to train for the trip, at all! Well this could've been the only funny thing, if not for the other things.

So when we assembled the bikes back and started cycling one evening, I felt the head wind to be far greater than expected, the weight of the backpack on the cycle to be pulling me back and the smallest gradient to be much more daunting. I thought I was just too tired today and I will get used to it. Either that or my body hadn’t acclimatized yet, we were cycling at an altitude of 3800meters directly. Next day when I was feeling terribly weak, the saner thing to do would’ve been to take a bus and go to the next camp, but no, I am the mighty Neelima, how can I give up already, so I went ahead cycling. Only to fall sick immediately, my body temperature was rising and my heart was beating so fast and loud it could be heard back in Bangalore. 

We took rest for a day alright then did some major offroading on a new route, which got me excited. I was still sick but was determined too, I fell, tumbled, got up, and went ahead for the next 12 kms. It was good fun. We continued the ride for another 40kms which was good fun too and I finished the day on the bike.

The next few days everything I did was just a trigger for something that could go horribly wrong. While still struggling with fever and a mild case of common cold, we sat one night to have chilled beer in the cold night. Only after I gulped down one entire bottle, the brilliant mind of mine shouted “Hey, shouldn’t you be having something warm for your cold?” But the damage was done already. Next day, the four of us were so hungover we couldn’t get out of the bed till evening! Days later when I was telling my story to a German, he stopped me and said “So you were planning on biking for two weeks in Himalayas and then summiting a 6000 meter peak and this is how you were keeping yourself fit?” Hmmm. Good question!

After advising everyone on the team a thousand times about the importance of taking care of your health in the Himalayas, to me it deemed fit to disregard my own advice. By now I was royally sick. Sick enough that I needed some support to walk long but I still managed. I hitchhiked my way to the subsequent camps while the boys rode and joined me every evening. 

Now it would’ve still been fine if I was continuing what I was doing, hitchhiking my way out of Spiti but how can the adventure end already. I had to make matters worse, so I took my cycle and headed towards Chandratal, on a trail that hasn’t been cleared yet, for yet another true off-roading experience. But my condition was so pathetic, every small stone that got under the tire was giving me a headache and if I fall, I’d fall straight into the valley, tumbling like Jill! So I thought devil may care, I’ll leave my cycle unattended here and walk to the lake. I walked 16kms and then I dropped dead the moment I saw a huge 2km climb to the lake. It was here that my condition took a turn for worse. Since I couldn’t move a group of bikers agreed to take me back to base camp the next day after an agonizing 24 hour wait. During which time I wondered if I should have made that call to home when I had the chance. Later I started coughing so bad I scared myself to death with thoughts of pulmonary edema! Thankfully a group who had been touring in Spiti through BNHS offered to take me back to Manali. 

Sitting alone in Manali, I was still coughing blood and the doctor’s medicines weren’t working either. It was only then that I decided that the adventure was over. I flew back home, rested, cried, recovered, screamed and then packed my bags again for another adventure with a week, which is why I call myself the wandering soul. ;) 

It may sound like it was a ruined trip but to tell you the truth, it wasn’t. Until about the last few days where I fell life threateningly sick, it was great fun all along, the views, the company and the experience. Without all the helpful folks in Spiti, BNHS people, the bikers and my dear friends, it could’ve been a real tragedy, but thanks to them, it is just a story now. 

I have learnt a thing or two about planning an expedition and preparing for it. Next time I will plan another crazy trip and this time I will finish it, or so we hope! And I write this because, this blog is not just about all the sugar coated sweet moments of travel. Half the times when I travel or go for an adventure, I keep thinking why did I ever get into this! I want you to know it is perfectly alright to doubt your sanity when crazy things are happening around you, but I also want to tell you that these crazy things is what makes for a great story years later! Imagine if someone wants to write a book about you, give him some material, won't you? 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

13 Pictures of Incredible Clouds from Western Ghats!

First time I saw white fluffy cottony clouds below me, through the flight window, I almost cried! That's how much I love clouds. There is something so inexplicably magical and mysterious about the white wonder that comes and goes and makes everything around it look so beautiful. I never knew these kind of views existed in the real world and even if they did, I wondered they must be in some place exotic quite far away. When I saw photos of clouds in Western Ghats I didn't believe it, until I saw the magic unfold in front my eyes. Today I have been blessed enough to have a collection of photos of clouds from Western Ghats, it has been 3 years since I started trekking and I have seen clouds very few times. Of those few times I had even lesser time to shoot the clouds, but many misses later, I think I can show you a quarter of the actual opulence through these captures of mine.

Kodachadri Clouds
One of the most beautiful things I have seen so far in all my travels is clouds drift into valleys. This was seen quite recently around Kodachadri during sunset.

When I say good things come to those who wait, I am not kidding. See what we saw just because we waited it out. A Brilliant show of clouds and colors at Narasimha Parvatha during Sunset.

Way back in 2010, I had my heart skip a beat. That was after all the first time I was seeing clouds beneath my feet. Shot at Kodachadri during Sunset.

When the greens, whites and reds put up a show together, you can do nothing else but stare with wonder. Shot at Kodachadri last weekend during Sunset.

While the Sunsets always have been much more dramatic, Sunrise brings calmness that nothing can compare with. Mornings are serene, solemn yet extremely soothing in its simplicity. Sunrise at Narasimha Parvatha.

At times, the camera sees much more than I do. The camera captures, I imagine. Both of us together can work wonders I guess.  Sunset at Narasimha Parvatha brought pink shades along with the greenery.

Walking along the clouds was always just a metaphor I thought. What did I know that such places do really exist, we haven't lost all yet. There is still a lot that can be preserved. Evening walk along the ridges, along the clouds, enroute Kodachadri.

Looking down at the trail we came through last night, if only we were still there while clouds kissed the sky! Ridges around Kodachadri, one morning during sunrise.

When we wake up to views like this, how can we not think Life is Beautiful? It is such a beautiful world all around us. Sunrise at Narasimha Parvatha.

Layers and layers of mountains in the far distance and only those who managed to rise high, rise above the clouds to enjoy the view. From inside it is nothing but blinding mist! Life's lessons taught with subtlety at Kodachadri during Sunset.

I always imagined if we jump into the clouds, we won't pass through, just how we saw in the cartoons as kids. I wonder how it would've been it were actually true, jumping into the clouds and float away along. Narasimha Parvatha magic at Sunrise.

It is quite difficult to see such clear clouds during monsoons, it is all misty and view is obscured. But the clouds are around nonetheless, sometimes they open up to show the green valleys beyond. Taken at Tadiyandmole one day.

I turned back a million times before I left. I was afraid the clouds might vanish in a split second. But they didn't, they stayed, until they left that is. But here in my mind, the clouds will be beneath my feet forever, Thank you Western Ghats, without you my life wouldn't be the same! Thank you for showing me the beauty that I never knew existed! Sunrise at Narasimha Parvatha.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

30 Before 30! :)

So the title gives away that I am not 30 yet. ;)
I have just few months and 3 years to accomplish things on this list. Not that this list would be my guiding light for the next few years, but since making a list is so much fun and striking things off the list is even more fun, I made this list. What do you think?

How many of these things do you think I will be able to complete? How many should be done? Any suggestions that I might add here? What's on your list if you have one? Don't worry if you are over 30, you can write your 35 before 35 or 40 before 40 lists!

Sometimes I do crazy things for just as less as a good photo or for something as much as an awesome memory!

  1. Go to Ulan Bataar (Go to Ulan Bataar, August 2014! Wohoo :))
  2. Take a solo trip ( Take a solo trip (Sikkim, Andaman, Nagaland)
  3. Summit a 6000m peak or aboveSummit a 6000m peak or above, Stok Kangri(6153m) in July 2012 )
  4. Learn how to swim and dive into a natural pool
  5. Finish a mountaineering course
  6. Ride a camel in the desert and then stand on it! (  Ride a camel in the desert and then stand on it! Rajasthan 2009  )
  7. Learn a new language(Indian, preferably Tamil).
  8. Get a stamp on my passport of a country which at least five people should ask me where it is ( Get a stamp on my passport of a country which at least five people should ask me where it is, surprisingly Mongolia!)
  9. Spark a fire like Bear Grylls
  10. Cycle in the Himalayas ( Cycle in the Himalayas  )
  11. Have my photo published in a magazine ( Have my photo published in a magazine | Media )
  12. Trek in a desert, along the beach, on the mountain ( Trek in a desert, along the beach, on the mountain )
  13. Go to a place where you can see clouds below your feet ( Go to a place where you can see clouds below your feet )
  14. Finish the 100 Strangers Project, twice!
  15. Cross from one Country to another on foot  (Cross from one Country to another on foot | India to Myanmar at Nagaland)
  16. Go Couchsurfing
  17. Surf in the seaSurf in the sea ) 
  18. Get a tattoo in some weird language
  19. Set foot in every state of India
  20. Go to Pakistan
  21. Ride a SUV in the mountains
  22. Stay with indigenous tribes in their forest 
  23. Taste at least five kinds of local liquor (Taste at least five kinds of local liquor | Chaang[Ladakh], Raksi[Ladakh], Asha Kunwari[Rajasthan], Feny[Goa], Thongba[Sikkim])
  24. Walk on a frozen lake (Walk on a frozen lake, Pangong, Jan 2014)
  25. Give a talk on travel to a live audience ( Give a talk on travel to a live audience, IIT Madras January 2012 & Thalam September 2013 )
  26. Have my face published in a news paper ( Have my face published in a news paper | Media)
  27. Have a successful gallery show
  28. Win/Get invited for an all-expense-paid trip to any place exotic, abroad
  29. Welcome the 30th year in the Himalayas :)
  30. Quit my current job and enter the world of Travel & Photography full time! (Quit my current job and enter the world of Travel & Photography full time! | That's it folks, I quit! :))

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