Friday, September 2, 2016

A trip to Cyprus and post holiday BLUES.

What's the hardest thing to do when you come back from a holiday -- a family holiday?



Getting on the weighing scales?

Getting up the next morning to go to school, work or to drop children off to school?

I'd say all of the above, but NONE of the above are as hard as the one I struggle with the most. It's
picking the perfect picture to post on facebook. A picture that shows all of us looking our best at the same time, in the same shot. It's almost impossible.

So long and arduous has been this quest that I recently updated my fb cover photo( with a family shot) after more than two years.

It's all my fault. Really. I make the most fuss about how I look in photos. My family and friends know this.

You see, my idea of what I look like and the camera's idea of what I look like do not coincide.

For a good decade, I hid behind my Vitiligo patches to avoid being clicked sans camouflage. This could be make-up, long sleeves, turtle necks or scarves or night shots in dark corners. Now that I'm out of my closet, I create the fuss before and during and after the photo has been clicked on account of my prosperous physique (hum khatee peete ghar se hain bhai, kya karen?) My body subscribes to the Punjabi notion of being 'healthy'.

This is what goes on inside my brain when I'm about to be shot: the bossy little voice takes over...

Don't grin too wide-- it shows your creases. Suck in that lower belly, suck it IN I say...suck it in till you can't breathe. Oh! shoot! that makes you look like a rooster who's about to cock-a -doodle-doo. Okay, let out a bit of that air but hold onto that udyana bandha for your sake. Oh! And turn, stand at an angle...remember that's how all the women you know stand in all the group shots these days? And what about that chin? Should it be up or down? What did that article say? And look at the camera...not the sky. Oh! I give up...hang on, pop those shades know they're a God send. 

'I tried.' whimpers my bossy little voice. 'I give up!'

While this battle is raging inside my head, my children are informing me that the camera is NOT in the direction I'm trying to half-grin at. Aaaahhh!!! At moments like these, I feel that models deserve every penny they get for posing.

BUT, hang on...there are non-model friends of mine who can pull off a pose or a selfie before you can say 'cl' of click with such ease and aplomb that I can't help but admire their grace and poise.

How do they do it?

'It's easy.' said Sukku (a pro at getting clicked) while we were camping in Bedni in June . 'Turn your shoulder like this, jut out a hip like this, throw your head back and pose. simple.'

You have to see how quickly and effortlessly she strikes a pose-- every time!

A dear friend tried to follow her advice recently. The result made us all roll on the floor with laughter,

My conclusion, therefore, is that some of us are just born with it. I'm not one of them.

That is why, being behind the camera is so much more fun and fulfilling for me than being in front of it.

A quick and short escape to Cyprus a few days ago gave us that elusive family photo-- yes, I have my shades on! Laugh, if you must. I'm a vain Jain.

Doors, walls and windows have no such vanity issues. They are perfect subjects and when the light is Mediterranean, the blues blow you away with their brilliance. And the doors don't shy away from extreme close-ups, either.

Doors and streets of Omodos.

The blue walls of Lefkara Museum (in Pano Lefkara) made a hot afternoon cool.
The entrance

Going upstairs
The sun peeks through shutters, lace,
and windows.

Blue -- inside and out.

Where does the wall finish?
And the sky begin?

Why are all the walls blue? 

If you are planning a trip to Cyprus, a visit to this beautifully curated museum will make you very happy.
For more details, click on:

Cyprus is beautiful, no doubt. But, the MOST precious part of Cyprus is its people and their hospitality. More about them and their warm hearts and their delicious food in the next post.

Have a wonderful weekend.
And admire the blue around you.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Roopkund - about trust, trash and toilet tents

Scan. Squat. Squirt: standard modus operandi to pee on a long trek.

It's easier if you are a man because:
a) you needn't squat and
b) your scan span goes further, so you can guard your privacy easily and efficiently.

And anyway zipping up is faster than pulling up. Right?

We, the women folk, have to rely on others to be our scanners. It's all about trust. You trust that your scanners will ward off wanderers and keep your dignity in tact. You trust that they won't put a sign up to say: BIG rock- good phone reception and point the arrow head in your general, squatted direction!

So when we reached Patar Nachauni and spotted big boulders, our bursting bladders ordered us to find spots to squirt. This was also the last spot for any phone reception. While some of us clambered down to squat, others climbed up to the highest point and called home to inform that we were alive and well and that they won't hear from us for the next 24-30 hours or so, as there would be no phone reception after this point.

Sharp incline and rocky terrain tested the trekkers' strength and will. While some in the group suffered from symptoms of altitude sickness (breathlessness, dizziness etc.) others managed by pacing their stride.


When the going gets tough, trust yourself.

I did.

Thick fog descended and all you could see was the next bit to climb. In a way, the fog helped. I was forced to focus on just the patch I could see in front of me. It made the climb easier.

Sometimes, it's best to take the next step and not worry about the bigger picture.
Climb. Stop. Breathe.

Climb. Stop. Breathe.

The rhythm lulled me into oblivion. I was alone but didn't feel lonely. It felt like I was back on my yoga mat -- in sync with myself, my breath, my body, my soul.
And every now and then, I'd stop to:

The fog engulfed the terrain. It gobbled up the trekkers behind me. For the duration of this laborious climb, I trekked alone.

Was it wise?

In hindsight: NO!

Trekking as a group requires trust. We trust our guides to keep us safe. But, we also trust each other to look out for us.

I got lost in myself. It's okay to do that when one is on a solo trek, but not when you are part of a group.

'Anything could've happened.' I was told. 'You could've twisted your ankle.'

Sense was knocked into me.

I could see the folly of my ways.

Not once during that 4 km stretch, did I think of anything or anyone-- not even my son. When I try to recall that time, it feels as pure as silence. There was magic and I think I felt it.

If I were single and if I had no worldly ties, I'd go on solo treks all the time. In fact, I met one such man one morning in a tea stall in Bedni.

He's 55. He's single. He lives and works in Kolkatta. He picks a trek that calls to him from trekking magazines.

'You must be reaching Nirvana.' I remarked.

'Far from it.' he said. 'I still like money. Still need to earn it to be able to afford treks. But only when I come here, I feel truly alive.'

Trekking is as much about such chance encounters as it is about traipsing through tricky terrain and soaking in sunsets.
Kalu Vinayak temple marks the end of the steep ascent. 
It's all downhill from here till we reach Bhagwabasa.
According to a guide I overheard, people take a vow to do the parikrama with the statue of Ganesh (looks pretty heavy to me).
I waited here for the rest of my team to catch up.

You see, I'm not a hermit. I may wish to be on my own for longer periods of time than most people, but I still crave human company. Treks are fun because I go with my friends. And as a member of a team (any team), my responsibility is to be worthy of their trust.

The duality of going solo and being part of a team can rip you apart. It isn't easy. But a balance can be achieved.

Lessons learnt today will come in handy tomorrow at 2 am when we will set out on the most treacherous climb I've ever attempted.

But before we go there, let me show you our camp site for the last day...
Do you see the slate like rocks? Yes, they were sharp and uncomfortable. We didn't pitch a tent. Instead, we were given a shed to squeeze our cocooned bodies close together for warmth. It was cold and extremely uncomfortable.

Basically, once you found a spot where the rocks poked you the least through your sleeping back and through the mat below it, you lay still -- like a mummy.

The good news was that we had to be up around 2 am to get ready for the climb.

'We will be preparing porridge and you all will eat some before we head out.' announced Chauhan, our guide. ' You will all need the energy.'

We groaned collectively. Who in their right mind was going to eat porridge at 2 am?

But we all did. And relished it. And asked for more. It was the most delicious sweet porridge (sans milk, but stuffed full of energy boosting almonds, cashews and raisins), I've ever tasted in my life. Yum!

Clad in all the warm layers we were carrying, we stood ready on the grey stones.  An early start ensures safety, we were told. Melting snow makes climbing dangerous.

Torches -- Check

Last loo run ---Check... hold on a tick! Who's been using our toilet tent?

This is turning out to be like Goldilocks in the Himalayas, after all.
Yes, those are our toilet tents: the beautiful red one and the one next to it.  As Bhagwabasa is the last and only campsite before Roopkund, it gets busy. As trekkers, we trust that other groups would use their toilet tents (even if they are pitched a bit further). We also trust that trekking companies who bring large groups (almost 30 in one) to the Himalayas would ensure that their 'groupies' observe certain civil etiquette to make the experience pleasant for all.

Sadly, that's not the case.

Toilet tent misuse may be overlooked when the terrain is tough and the cold is biting, but there is no excuse whatsoever to litter.

Come on people, wake up! Take your trash with you. It's not rocket science. Leave only your footprints behind-- the Himalayas don't need your plastic sweet wrappers, discarded cans and bottles-- take them home with you and then recycle them. Or better still, don't bring plastic with you.

Can we trust ourselves to keep the Himalayas safe and clean and litter free for the generations who will come after us?

A clean India is not impossible to achieve.

This kind of behaviour gets my goat. TV and radio ads can blast out 'Swachch Bharat' or 'Clean India' slogans till the cows come home, but India can be clean only if the people who live there take care of their trash like it's their responsibility and not just the government's.

Back to the trek, then:

It was dark. It was damp. But, at least the rain had stopped. Had it been raining, we wouldn't have carried on.

Instructions were very clear-- we keep pace with each other and we keep hydrated.

The first light...

We stopped to put crampons and gaiters on just as the sun was streaking the sky red.
We could see what lay ahead. It was stunning. It was scary; so scary that I tucked my camera away to free my hands.

Jagat (the best guide in the world, according to my son) who is also a minefield of information about peaks and everything else used his ice-pick to claw out a foot hold, the person behind him would put his foot in and then the next, and so on. The progress was slow but steady.

I reached the top and took my camera out.

 We DID it!!!
photo courtesy: Rajat:)
Almost as soon as this picture was clicked, the sinking feeling that we had to climb down sunk in. NO!!!!
Temple at Roopkund Lake.
Climbing down may be easy on the lungs but my poor heart was petrified of falling off the mountainside!

Splitting headaches (thanks to altitude adjustment) greeted us back in Baghwabasa when we reached at around 10 am. Strong cups of tea and a little rest sorted us out. The day had only just begun and we had to make our way back to Bedni.

Come along and watch the sun light up the Himalayas; the abode of snow ('him' means snow and 'alaya' means abode).

The same temple (Kalu Vinayak) on our way back, when the sun shone in the bright blue sky.

I met a local family who were carrying these flowers as an offering for the temple at Roopkund. They were climbing up the path like you and I stroll in a mall-- totally chilled!

these flowers have an amazing scent and they paint the mountainside purple.

Halfway down, it started pouring buckets. My IKEA poncho didn't hold out. I squelched my sodden body back to camp.

But look what happened almost as soon as we reached Bedni -- the sun smiled and shone through the blanket of clouds.

 Our beloved toilet tents.
If I tell you that we saw yellow daisies next to the hole in the ground the next morning, will you believe me?
Well, it's true:)

A clear morning the next day-- Good:)
All we had to do was walk downhill for about 12 hours through a thick forest of Juniper, Pine, Oak and Rhododendron to reach the point where a vehicle would pick us up. 
That should be easy, right?

If, like me, you are fascinated by myths and legends, then check this link out: 

Hope to see you all soon. Enjoy your weekend 
Better still,
RECYCLE, if you can.

In case you missed part 1 of this trek, here it is: