Archive for January, 2021

On our way back from Germany our train stopped at the border station of Domažlice in Czech and we had to get off and take a bus as there was an accident down the tracks. We were not happy at leaving our comfortable,  warm train and waiting out in the cold for a bus which took its time in coming. Each time a bus appeared the impatient queue of people, us included rushed with bag and baggage only to return disheartened as it was not ours.
Finally our bus came, we stored our bags and got in and settled down and the bus began its slow journey. To our delight it did not go on a highway but on narrow twisting country roads, through little towns and old villages some with houses not more than a few decades old, painted and well kept, with bright red roofs, firewood neatly stacked in front, already ready for the cold of autumn and winter. Others with ancient looking houses, plaster peeling from walls, revealing the brick and stone beneath and blackened earthen tiles on the roofs, villages which looked so much a part of the landscape as to make a person think they had grown out of the earth itself like the trees. We passed castles, churches, forests, fields some lying fallow, some bright green, some on rolling hills, some with ripening corn, some were being plowed by farmers in tractors. Apple trees lined the road in many places, tbeir boughs untiringly carryying their ripening fruit, green and red and getting ready for picking. We passed yellow  fields dotted with rolls of hay. We passed woods and copses thick with trees still green in September. A single impatient tree in a group of green had already embraced its mantle of yellow and red, and stood as an example of the glory to come. The land around was full of signs of the season and heralding the cold months to come. Both the Earth and man were preparing themselves for it. I wondered at the difference between those living in the city and those living in the country. While city dwellers went from glorying in the days of summer to grumbling when the weather was windy, rainy or cold, huddling into their protective clothing and hurrying along on their way, the country dwellers were so much in tune with their environment, making the best of it in all seasons.
We were blessing our stars at this unexpected adventure in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the leisurely meandering drive when suddenly the bus stopped at a station and we had to get off and with bag and baggage, the young helping the old and infirm, make our way in a narrow line to the waiting train which stood beside a forested valley. We had no time to take in the name of the station and it may well stay a mystery. The mystery might be solved as the next station, was Holýšov. I might be able to find out the name of the preceding station but I would like to leave it as a mystery.

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The white line on the Eastern horizon is very distinct from the black and growing. It is time for fajr and sleep heavy eyes are now wide awake and refreshed after an early morning dinner of kofte and coffee. A fitful sleep took over almost on take off. The darkness hangs heavy in the sky and over the earth, though slowly the light is growing but stars are still distinct over the horizon. I stare at my screen, it is not the wide range of the latest movies which are available that fascinate me or even the music or the games. It is the route which is fascinating. I steal glances outside. My window is facing east and I am eagerly awaiting the sunrise but at the same time the screen attracts me with its magical names. I am  fascinated by the thought that below me lies the world. A world of mystic and legend, of history and stories, so many cultures, traditions, languages. A beautiful, colourful world now reposing tucked in comfortably in the bedclothes of the dark that still enfolds the earth. The screen offers a geography lesson. I look at place names rarely heard and wonder about them. Ashgabat, Buxoro, Astrakhan. I want to say the names aloud. Feel the taste of them on my tongue. But perhaps the Romanian gentleman to my left might have doubts about my sanity. I keep silent but in my mind I am savouring them. They are far away yet near enough to be on this route map. Air travel has made the world so small. The places one thought one would never see in life are just a short flight away. We have been flying over Iran. Tabriz lies somewhere to our South East. It is a sobering thought because the routes for all flights have changed due to the conflicts on the ground. Earlier all flight to Turkey or Europe entered Turkey from Mosul in Iraq. The conflicts, the killing,  the danger, the fear, the deprivation of those on the ground not very far away fills me sadness. I want to shout stop stop stop I want to shout it out so loud that it reaches every corner of the globe. STOP! When I allow myself to think of what man is capable of doing to man the thought fills me with agony. There on the route before me are names no longer the stuff of legends but names which seem to take on a new life and are writhing before me in agony. Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Damascus, Aleppo. Once the cities of dreams, centres of ancient civilisations, cities which are carrying the ruins and histories of so much within them only to be destroyed and ruined once more. Barbarically destroyed in a world that stresses upon being civilised. A claim which it can never make good while there is a single drop of innocent blood being shed. 

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A grateful heart is a content heart.

If the God who has taken care of our minutest needs, has kept that which we desire beyond our reach, then He must have a good reason for it.

How often it is, that while we fervently pray for all we wish for, we forget to add a few words of gratitude for all we already have

Do not limit your expectations of your future according to your present circumstances as Destiny has a way of taking you to places beyond your boldest

Healing of the mind, heart and soul is not possible without forgiveness

What worth is the remorse that is not accompanied or followed by reparation

Before you raise your hand to strike your enemy remember, the God you worship has created him too

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November 2019

Beautiful night at the Romantik Hotel Mlyn in Karlstejn, Czechia, just the moonlight shining and the sound of gushing water, Not much around, I can see just a couple of lights from the road. It’s a place to come and see stars on a clear night. Tonight though belongs to the  light of the moon as it forms a glow around and turns the clouds and the water below silver.

Another beautiful full moon night spent watching the silvery river flow past my window. It’s a magical night, painted by the moon’s own palette. I could stand here for hours in the open window watching this landscape. The distant hills are covered in mists  and are discernible by their greyish tones. The sky is half dark, half lit where a cloud hangs low, the trees look like they have absorbed all the darkness of the night and stand black and stark leaving the whites and greys for the hills and the river. I count six scattered lights on the opposite bank behind the trees, probably from the street. The hardworking  denizens of  this land have long embraced their well deserved slumber, leaving the night’s beauty to an enchanted visitor. What serenity there is here, in this place. I count my blessings at being here, a place close to a town yet far off enough to give a feeling of isolation, yet not a feeling of loneliness at being cut off from civilisation, but a solitude which enhances the feelings of being one with nature, for sure as I stand writing in the cold, in this open window, I too am bathed in the moonbeams like the nghtscape before me and have become a part of it. I wonder at other places on Earth the moon is shining on now, shining on fields and forests, deserted streets and roofs of houses under which people repose in peace.  I say a prayer for peace for them, for this peace to spread in all directions, to envelop and enfold the Earth, spread to each nook and cranny, in all its four corners, and enter deep within the hearts of men displacing and dislodging all else and reign their forever.
As I write the mist has moved in from the distance,  so quickly the shades have changed,, the trees on the opposite bank are veiled, it’s hanging over the river, moving closer, adding a hushed secrecy to the landscape. It will soon  pull the covers on the landscape, I close my window before it can reach this side and creep in. It’s time to lie down, pull my own covers and surrender myself to the sleep I have been resisting, in my desire to hold on to this moment a little longer. I wish to hold on to this moment forever,. Once more I look out, through the glass, I think sleep will have to wait a while.

Tonight is our last night here. Once more though sleep beckons, I find myself by the window, mesmerized by the moonlight and the river. The window has shut out both the cold and the sounds of the river and in the silence I feel like I am the only person in a world unaware and asleep, who is keeping a nocturnal vigil, or I am the only one invited to witness this beauty. Was it serendipity that coincided our visit with these moonlit nights? I do not believe in serendipity though I like its pretty sound, nor do I believe in luck. I believe that the path is laid out for us and sights, sounds, encounters are all planned much before one is even aware of where one is going to trod. Is it a wonder I feel blessed and fortunate. Somethings one must carry in one’s hearts forever, these past days and nights have been happy and beautiful and their memories will always be treasured.

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These were on my old Twitter Account.

Should we ‘Tolerate’ those who are different from us or should we understand, accept and respect them? Let’s celebrate our differences.

The future is not far in the distance but lies in the moment next to this & the gap between moments allows no time for procrastination.

Travel, see places, meet people, expand your mind, for in the University of Life travel is your best teacher.

Parents do not depend only on schools to teach your child but take an active part in their education.Teach them, learn & grow with them.

Education and Learning that cages minds within the thoughts and words of others inhibits thinking and growth. True learning liberates minds.

Kindle & nurture a thirst for knowledge till it is insatiable and spend your days in a quest for learning to quench this thirst.

it is a great tragedy of our times that seekers and providers of all levels of education are mainly motivated by financial gain.

If a system of education fails to arouse and nurture wonder in children then it is a failed system and should be discarded.

Use time well it is invaluable & fleeting We do not have it in abundance to waste it or pass it fruitlessly nor is it an enemy we must kill.

Most people may seem ordinary but have accomplished things that have amazed them and others through their lives.

Life is not too short to worry about what happened yesterday. Its the lessons of yesterday which will shape a better today and tomorrow.

Knowledge is an ocean so vast that most of us during our lifetimes will barely be able to drink a drop or two.

Do not learn simply to earn. Seek education that will contribute towards your overall growth and development.

Progress that claims nature as its 1st casualty leaving no room even for regression is not progress but degeneration.

True development would include the needs of every species we share the planet with and not just those of a few greedy individuals.

Go with the flow, it has the potential to take you to places you have not dreamed about.

Life usually writes more between the lines than on them and we are usually in too much of a hurry to read everything.

Every moment in ‘Your Now’ is becoming ‘Your Past’ with each breath you take. Time slips away all too fast, do not procrastinate. Carpe Diem

Sometimes there is a defining moment in life that crystallizes the meaning of one’s entire existence.

When seeking the truth be prepared that it might be far greater and quite different to what you expect it to be.

If you wish to be a giant among men eliminate the smallness from your thoughts.

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Self Love

Self Love goes way beyond looking in the mirror and telling ourselves we look good. When we love someone we try to care about them as much as possible and self love also requires caring but to a much greater extent, for no one can care about us as much as we can care about ourselves. Real Self Love would be to take care of one’s self in every way that matters, not just superficially but actively take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally snd spiritually. As we care about ourselves we will understand that the above four are linked. Caring for one often means caring for another or all. Physically: There are two ways to care for ourselves physically:OutwardlyInwardlyOutward caring involves our appearance. One should be groomed neatly and comfortably, wearing clothes which add elegance, grace and charm rather than are ostentatious or then revealing. Even when alone try to be groomed well rather than being slovenly. This adds to one’s self confidence and a general feeling of well being. Graceful clothing also makes a person more attractive to others rather than showy clothing which might intimidate the other person or project the wrong image. Try to wear pleasant light colours rather than bright colours. 
Grooming does not end with clothes and hair but extends to your whole personalty. Your voice, your tone, your expressions, body language, the way you carry yourself, your language, the aura you exude, etc. Many people look good but spoil the impression when they speak. A well modulated voice, a polite, even kind tone and a good vocabulary go a long way to leave a lasting impression on people even if you have met them just once. 
Keep your expression calm and ready to smile pleasantly rather than frown. Keep your tone friendly or neutral not angry, rude, brusque or aggressive when talking to others. Taking care of your physical self inwardly ofcourse involves firstly eating the right kind of foods and getting enough excercise.  Choose foods for their nutrition value rather than calorific value. Drink enough water. Other than plain water the only other drink one should have is coconut water. Avoid all preserved and other toxic foods. Keep your digestive system healthy. Most illnesses begin from here. 
Sleep is another major factor in maintaining good health. For a variety of reasons we do not sleep as much as we should. A good sleep at night helps to rejuvenate us like nothing else. Nowadays the youth is too busy enjoying themselves in other ways to receive the benefits of a good night’s sleep and  older generations have lost their sleep due to worries and stress. It is tragic. Try to get into a good sleeping pattern where you wake up totally refreshed in the morning. Much research has proved that the best time to sleep is at night. Sleeping till late in the morning is actually detrimental to health. 
Hard work is a good thing but over work is not a good thing. As much as possible do not bring work home and keep everything work related, including thinking of work to either working hours if possible or then set a limit on the hours you give to it. Do not think and talk of work constatly. This is important because constantly thinking of work can get a person stressed out and lead to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, thyroid, etc. It can shorten one’s life considerably and also have a debilitating effect on long term productivity.  So a person who wishes to live a healthy and productive life should avoid stress. 
Maintaining good Emotional and Mental health goes a long way to maintaining good Physical health both outwardly and inwardly because your emotional and mental state projects itself on your face. As we grow older our constant expressions form permanent lines on our face which deepen with years. Good thoughts and healthy emotions help to maintain a pleasing mien which withstands the ravages of time over a longer period, giving both a pleasing and youthful appearance and helping us age gracefully. We will continue with the Spiritual side

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The sun is beginning to set as we taxi on the runway. The fields besides the runway, some brown, some with signs of green are covered in frost, which belies the warm cosiness of the aircraft. The few bare branched trees lining the fields have surrendered to the elements, perhaps there is a lesson in there somewhere for man, who resists everything. We take off and are within seconds flying over a Prague hidden like a secret, in fog, and are soon above the clouds, which look warm in the dying rays of the sun. The sun throws light on our path from behind as we head off east to warmer climes. I wonder what kind of weather these clouds will bring to Prague, to the child I left behind. I hope she stays warm and safe. How hard each good bye is. I almost missed the flight, I could not stop hugging her, could not tear myself away and after I did we continued waving even after I crossed immigration, waving from behind the alternating transparent glass, perhaps thoughtfully placed for those who have to leave and those who have to stay behind. As I was halfway to the gate, I heard the announcement first in Czech and then in English, last call for Ms. ____, one more hug or a stop to buy some much needed hand cream would have resulted in being off boarded from the flight. The boarding took my mind off the parting as practical issues always do. The Qatar Airways person at the entrance took one look at my three bags and objected, I told him my huge Zara paper bag was only to carry my warm clothes as I would not need them later and the rest was a laptop bag and a small travel bag filled with crystal. He asked me if I could not remove the crystal from my travel bag and carry it in the Zara bag and put the travel bag in the luggage. Was he even for real, I was at the gate about to board and within minutes of take off, my luggage had long been stowed in the cargo section. For a minute I imagined the scenario, the plane and its passengers waiting till I emptied the offending bag with its crystal and send it to be stowed into the cargo hold, A further thought of the Zara paper bag tearing with the weight of the crystal on Doha airport and all the crystal breaking and getting further crushed under the feet of fellow passengers floated into my mind. This gentleman has clearly never transported crystal, or any kind of fragile item, for even after all the precautions I was concerned about its safety. What is this anyways Qatar Airways or Ryan Air?

In the aircraft things changed, Junaid, a very sweet flight attendant from Mumbai, carried my bags, a service I have only experienced earlier in Business class, they found me a seat by the window when I requested one and he settled my luggage carefully in the overhead bin. Seat belts, menu cards, head phones so much to take one’s mind off ones emotions but the sadness was there inside me, I could feel the heaviness in my heart. Its always been hard and gets harder each time, I looked out of the window to distract myself, we had passed the clouds and were flying over a snow covered Czechia. This was the first time I stayed for only 15 days, the first time I did not take a train or bus out of Prague. I am glad we finally went for the amazing Vietnamese coffee which my daughter loves, she was so happy and chirpy but I was so dull. I am glad I bought her the Persian cook book. I am glad we spent the last two days together. I am happy though, also guilty that she stayed home from Uni today and came to the airport to drop me. Each minute together is precious, sharing a hurried sandwich of the chicken I cooked last night or a glass of juice at the Ugo at the airport.  Perhaps we could have done something better than going to a mall on our last evening. I was groggy and dull from lack of sleep the night before, thoughts of the coming parting had begun to hurt and I tossed and turned all night. We will meet again soon. My beautiful, intellectual,  lovely child. How she enriches my existence. Please stay safe. Fervently I whisper prayers.

Just then I smell something burning, the smell is so strong that I call the attendant and tell her. the fear of a fire distracts me from my sad thoughts. Self preservation becomes the priority. After a while the attendant returns and says the pilots have checked everything, there is nothing amiss. She tells me that they can check the temperature in every part of the aircraft.
I relax and turn towards my neighbour, a youngish Czech man in the aisle seat. I love to talk to people everywhere, not just while travelling but also in taxis or queues or at bus stops. We are both comfortable with a seat between us. We start talking. He is going to Thailand and onwards to Cambodia. I tell him I always wanted to see Angkor Vat. He says he has been there three times. I remember it had been mined by the Khmer rouge. It has been cleared now. He tells me he has a business in Cambodia, my interest is piqued and I ask him about his business. He says he arranges trips to Cambodia. He tells me that he has travelled much and he has found  Cambodians to be the friendliest people. He does more  than that he buys produce from Cambodian farmers and imports it to Czechia, packages and sells it. He shows me a tube like bottle of pepper corns. He shares the profits with them and his company gives towards education and health care. What a great idea,. Soon food is served. We retire into silence, he to watch his movie and eat and I to only eat. Food is not bad as airline food goes. The chicken biryani is almost good and the black currant cheese cake is yummy but messy. It is stuck to the cover and I get it all over my hands. I wonder at the unknown hands that prepared it and where they are. I wonder at the ways this food has connected so many unknown people together. From the farmers to the traders, the purchasers, the flight kitchen staff the loading staff, this air hostess from India who served it so gracefully to so many more. If only we felt the connections, I hope we could always see the humanity behind everything, the effort, the sweat the trouble taken to give the best by unknown men and women in today’s time of import and export, where much of what is produced is for people living countries, continents or oceans away. Perhaps then there would be less hatred and killing. Imagine if you could pick up an apple or any fruit or vegetable and see in it the face of the farmer who grew it, his wife his family, his little children, his dreams. Imagine if you could see in that fruit or vegetable that travelled thousands of miles and changed many hands, the life story of every person whose hands had touched it, every farmer, labourer, vendor, customer. If each time we touched something we could see the life stories. The family, friends, joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams of all those whose hands had touched it before us how much empathy this world could have. Perhaps as we cannot we could try to imagine it and develop empathy
I also wish there was a way they could serve without so much packaging. Travel is wonderful but we travellers do tend to leave massive carbon footprints. One should try to minimise the wastage and consumption as much as possible or soon there will be no world to travel to, just garbage dumps. I look out while ruminating and there is the full moon in all its glory a little above the clouds. I have travelled with the full moon a couple of times before but never on a flight. Once we travelled to Saudi for Umra (Minor pilgrimage) on a bus. At one point in the night we drove through what seemed like 500 km of desert with just a solitary light appearing in the distance every now and then. The moon was full, bright and shining and appeared blue through the tinted windows. The journey was magical, the kind which one can experience only once in a blue moon. In the silence, as the passengers on the bus sIept oblivious to the outside, I wondered at the people who had chosen to live in such deep isolation. Lonely and solitary are very different things. Often one can be extremely lonely in the middle of a busy city surrounded by people but perhaps living alone away from civilisation, one could connect to a more meaningful presence or perhaps just touch base with oneself in the raw without all the conditioning. I don’t know, it sounds romantic but I would not like to do it. I need my human connections. The other time we had travelled during a full moon was from Pune to Nashik by car. The moon was bright and glorious and each time we went over one of the many bridges its reflection shone with equal intensity in the rivers below.
  Today I had asked for the window seat hoping for this sight. I just felt a little bad that I had missed it rising while I was busy eating but well here it was now. I thought the sea was gleaming below it then realised it was a sea of clouds gleaming much like a normal sea, how ethereal and beautiful. I immediately drew David, my fellow passenger’s attention to it. He asked me if it was a full moon. The moon looked full but it was full yesterday or the day before. It was talked about and photographed much, especially the lunar eclipse. It was called a blood wolf moon.  Yesterday my daughter and I watched it rising behind the Church of St. Ludmila at Námĕsti Miru. Later when we returned home we saw it high in the sky at JZP. We stood their for awhile in the bitter cold, admiring it. Time, how swiftly it passes and so much changes while so much remains the same. The stewardess comes to take away the dishes. I tell her the black current cheese cake was delicious. She tells me it is her favourite too and asks me if I would like some more. I am tempted but decline. I ask her where she is from and she says Tunisia. I ask her if she likes Qatar and she says yes she thinks it is the best country in the Gulf. She asks me where I am heading and I say Kuwait. She asks me how Kuwait is and if I like it and I say it is very nice and yes I like it very much. I ask her if she goes home often and she says when she has holidays. I tell her I had watched a documentary on Tunisia and it looked very interesting. She says Tunisia is a nice country. It has everything, desert, mountains, beaches. For those few minutes we connect, two strangers who will probably never meet again. In an exchange of a few words we have exchanged tiny bits of each other, I know a tiny bit about her and she a tiny bit about me and we will carry these bits with us in some corner of our memories till we walk on earth, though we may forget each others faces. Its been awhile since I began writing, the moon has been climbing higher and will soon disappear. I look down, there are few scattered clouds and below I can see mountains, some dark, some covered with snow and a few scattered tiny clumps of lights, where villages nestle on the hillsides. It is not really late and people are probably bustling around with their last chores before bed time but here in the darkened aircraft as all around me are shut away in their own fantasy world with their headphones on, concentrating on the tiny screens in front of them, it seems to be late in the night. I am wrapped in my own fantasy, a fantasy which connects my imagination to the scenes outside my window. The picture below of small villages in the darkened snow covered hillsides, gives me a feeling of deep peace. Perhaps it was a night like this that inspired the carol ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. There is something about snow that gives one a feeling of peace, not only does it absorb sound but its white cloak gives a feeling of serenity. Now we are flying over what appears to be a big city. The lights so bright a glow is emanating and spreading upwards from them. I remember when street lights only lit the streets sufficiently for us to see the streets and we could look up and see a dark canopy filled with millions of stars. It is perhaps the rise of beastliness in human beings, as man preys on man that there is now a need for bright street lights, lights that shine so bright that they swallow up the beauty of a starry night. The Captain announces that we are beginning our descent to Doha. It has been a good flight. The moon has been a constant companion and the aircraft is extremely comfortable. The service and the staff were beyond excellent, serving us something or the other every few minutes and we are reaching 30 mins early. 

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One of the things I love about the place where I live in, is the proximity to both the mountains and the sea; in a couple of hours we can be at one of the many mountain resorts of the Sahyadris or ‘hill stations’ as they are called here. The name is a remnant of the British Raj (rule).

Now the Hill stations themselves are in a way, an inheritance from the days of colonial rule, as the British ran around looking for escape routes from the gruelling and relentless heat of the summer and where could they find respite, but on the mountain tops. Well, as it would have been hard to clamber up the mountains, clawing and scraping all the way to the peaks, encumbered with family, servants and the thousands of pounds of luggage, without which no self respecting Pucca Sahib and his Memsahib could have a halfway decent stay, there was nothing to be done but to build roads, that went all the way around the mountains and more importantly to build railways, which did the same. In some places though they have built just one or the other, for e.g. there is no way to go to Mahableshwar and Panchgani except by road and Matheran still has the toy train (narrow gauge) which my dad and his family used to take to the top when he was a child, which was after WWI. The place itself was discovered by an Englishman, Mr. Hugh Poyntz Malet, the then Collector of Thane, in 1850.

As my dad’s family had a summer home in Matheran along with a few in other places, they often travelled there, which in those days of steam travel, would require more than half a day. The mind boggles when I think of the forethought required in planning the transfer of the gigantic joint family of parents, sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters, numerous grandchildren and of course the servants, for the upper middle-class Indian was not very far behind the Pucca sahib when it came to his comforts, even in the wilds. The fact that they all used to reach there and back in the same numbers, without any untoward incident of babes getting lost in the woods, or teens being thrown off horses into the ravines below, is quite a managerial feat.

All my life I had heard the stories of Matheran not just from my dad, but also from his numerous great aunts and cousins. They talked of the peculiar quality the red earth had of clinging to the clothes, and the tribes of monkeys, for Matheran and its surrounding hills and forests were filled with monkeys in thousands. These primates were unafraid of humans and were often up to pranks, which included stealing clothes from the clothes lines. The tales intrigued me and Matheran was firmly set as a destination in some future time. Through life and time though, the memories and the desire to visit grew hazy, till one day recently, when my daughter had to give an exam in a village over a 100 km from where we were. Looking the place up on the internet, we discovered it was barely 20 km from Matheran. There would be time to go up, explore a bit and return, while she was busy with the exam. So with much excitement I set out the next day with the kids. To be honest I was the only excited one, after all it was getting hot and we were not exactly going to an air conditioned mall now, were we? At 1 pm we said good bye and good luck to my daughter, and made our way to the mountains.

After we reached the foot of the mountain and began climbing, the road was very steep and the drive slow and in first gear. We crossed the tracks in many places. The view though, was absolutely breathtaking, as just after a few turns the entire landscape began unfolding in fabulous vistas. The hill sides were thickly forested, contrasting sharply with many of the other badly deforested slopes. Like in other forests of the Western Ghats, here too numerous plants and herbs with medicinal value grow in profusion. I enjoyed the growing beauty of the view with the vale below and the mountains on all sides; though I must confess it was with tightly clenched fists, heights do that to me.

About 2.5 km from the top we had to park the car and had four options: take the train; a journey of about ten minutes which would require an interminable wait, ride a horse, or take a hand pulled rickshaw (putting life and limbs in the hands of another), or the last and the only real one for us, walk. There are no tarred roads from here on; we would have to walk through the red earth, liberally spread out with horse dung. Red earth was not bad, but the thought of submerging my Pumas into horse dung was definitely off putting. It set me off thinking, at a tangent as usual; this was a ‘no pollution zone’, and it reminded me of earlier times, before automobiles, when the horses ruled the streets. Was there really no pollution then? Pictures flashed across my eyes of ladies in long gowns sweeping the streets of London which were similarly bespattered, or for that matter the streets of anywhere else, I shuddered on behalf of the poor servants, upon whose lot fell the washing of those gowns. Reluctant to step even sole deep in the stuff, we decided to take the tracks, as there was no train expected. These circuitous tracks that had begun from the foot of the mountain, cover about 20 km and the curves are said to be amongst some of the sharpest in the world. We had a walk of about 3 km ahead of us and as many others had the same idea too, it was quite a procession of out of condition urbanites, which huffed and puffed its way around the mountain, perspiring profusely in temperatures which were higher than normal for a February afternoon.

Trudging up those tracks was hard work in the beginning but after a while it began getting better. The hillsides were covered by forests and the trees lined both sides of the tracks and grew in the valley below. Even now moss could be spied growing on the trunks and branches and dappled light played on the forest floor. The monkeys were our constant companions on that trek, many watching us from strategically well chosen positions in the trees. A few entertained us with amusing antics and some ambled alongside, a couple choosing to walk on the rails themselves. The view was obscured by trees in the beginning, but after a while we could only draw our breaths in sharply, as the tree cover cleared a bit and before us were spread out magnificent vistas of valleys and hills.

We stopped here to take photos and enjoy the scenery. In the monsoons all this turns into every possible shade of green and some of the hill sides, which sadly have been badly scarred by deforestation, are once more granted the grace of a verdant cover. Now that the grass had dried and turned yellow and many hills were bare, the view had a more colourful, though rugged look; with the blue of the sky, the red of the Earth, the yellow of the grass covered hills and the green of the trees presenting a picturesque sight. The peaks in the distance appeared blue in the mists. In the valley we could see clusters of houses of the villages and towns that lay below.

Though we were walking through forest cover, it was still hot and began to get tiring, especially as small stones were spread all around the tracks, which made walking not just difficult but even painful. Soon the path we had left behind, began to run along the tracks and presented us with images from another century, a procession of people in rickshaws, horseback and on foot as well as mule trains, coolies, and pushcarts, all carrying luggage and other goods. I have never seen anything so dangerously laden with goods before as those push carts, especially ones that had to maneuver such steep slopes. There were trails leading off from the path, through the surrounding forests to many view points, but time constraints held us to our path.

Soon we reached our destination; the railway station. A train was waiting to leave the station. Horses and hand pulled rickshaws waited outside the station. The market was one long road with shops, restaurants and hotels on both sides, close by the station. The shops sold the local handicrafts besides other things. I found a shop selling beautifully made and inexpensive leather bags, which would have made any boutique in Bombay proud. Luckily he accepted credit cards. It was tough to make a choice as the bags were really good but finally I walked away with two, sadly leaving the others behind.

Lunch was an absolute necessity but after that there was little time to see anything except one point, called Khandala Point from where we could look at the Khandala mountains. Though we stopped at the railing, there was a family sitting right at the edge, staring out intensely at the view. It was a family of langurs (monkeys) and it truly looked like they were looking at the view. What affected me most werethe completely solemn expressions on their faces. They perhaps were touched, more than humans usually are, at the wonders of creation.

As we walked away from Khandala Point and on to the market road, I spied a house behind the shops. It looked like it had once been the residence of some proud owner, yet now, derelict and abandoned it wore a look of utter desolation. The windows were broken and through one we spied an empty four poster bed. The yard was strewn with logs of wood. Someone, perhaps squatters, had also recently burnt a couple of logs in the yard, and had left behind the cold remnants of a fire. There was, what once must have been a beautiful railing, across the verandah. My daughter asked me sadly why this happens and I replied: so that we do not become too arrogant about youth, beauty, fame, fortune or possessions. It is a reminder of the transient nature of everything. The house did not give out good vibes and with a shudder we walked away. Much, much later, I wondered if that was the house that had belonged to my family, the thought saddened me and I thought of:

‘Through the cracks in these battlements loud the winds whistle

For the hall of my fathers is gone to decay;

And in yon once gay garden the hemlock and thistle

Have choak’d up the rose, which late bloom’d in the way’.

by Lord Byron

Later on questioning my mom about it, I discovered that the house was still lived in. There was a strange story to that too: One day while travelling by train, my father had met a man and as conversations spring up between strangers on a train, so after a while they became friendly and started exchanging information about each other. When the man said he lived in Matheran, My dad could not help exclaiming that they used to have a house there once. On further inquiries it turned out that the house this man lived in presently was the same one. He then gave dad his card and told him to feel free to visit and stay there whenever he and the family liked. That was so kind of him. He never threw away cards or addresses and maybe we will still find it somewhere in his things, that all of us have so far been reluctant to touch since his passing.

It was already past the hour we had decided to leave. I had no wish to make my daughter wait alone in a deserted, village college. We both had had enough of walking so my younger child opted for a horse, while I took a rickshaw. Unfortunately I had chosen in haste and without wisdom, as the rickshaw puller was an old man. The rickshaw is actually a pull push affair, with one man pushing and the other pulling. The one pushing comes close behind and it gave me a prickly feeling on my neck to have someone so close by, especially as I felt almost drowned by the stench of country liqour emanating from him. The rickshaw too was a sad, rickety affair and moved with much complaining, groans and creaks, while the poor un-oiled wheels screeched and squeaked in protest throughout the ride, as we hurtled down the slope at a frightening speed. All the while, as I was being rudely jolted through the bumpy ride, I could not help fearing every moment, that the old man would lose control and I would go flying out. Luckily a mule had dropped some sacks on the path blocking it and hence preventing us from going any further. I took the chance to scramble out quickly, stuffed some notes in his hand and ran off down the road, thanking providence for the safety of life and limbs.

We drove down the mountain faster than we had come up, enjoying the lovely view all the while, as the evening sun spread its warm honey tones over the landscape

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