SLOWROVER SNAPSHOTS #18

Snapshot_18

Title: Her First Smile
Location: A village near Munsiyari, India

Her name is Keenu. She, alongwith some other naughty kids of her village, had come to visit us, while we were camping a few hundred meters away from their remote Uttrakhandi Village near Munsiyari.

While the other kids were busy running around our tents, little Keenu had her eyes fixated on my cell phone. It suddenly dawned upon me that it was probably the first time that she had come across this miracle consumer product. Not only was she delighted by the bubble like icons on my phone screen, she giggled each time the phone made sounds.

Perhaps her major delight was reserved for the last. For when I finally started my phone camera on ‘selfie mode’, she gave an expression that was part happiness and part disbelief. After all, this was the first time she was watching her own face on a phone screen! I’m glad I pressed the click button right then.

Not all selfies are bad, ay?

 

 

SR Travel Tip: If you ever visit Munsiyari in Uttarakhand, India, do not forget to visit the ‘Master Ji’s’ Museum. An overnight trek to the Khaliya Top is also highly recommended.

 

Vibhav

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My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 1) – An Early Appointment With The Sun and Suicide Points

“And that is the suicide point”, our driver said and allowed the jeep to splutter to a halt so that we could scramble out. A tall rock, smooth and majestic, which reminded me of the hacked torso of an unfortunate lone messenger who dared to carry a peace treaty to the enemy barracks, was the addressee of the name. There’s this thing about India, every hill station has a ‘suicide point’ and an ‘echo point’. We stood at one of those, somewhere in Munnar, a town in Kerala, on our way to Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, which are the world’s highest tea plantations producing flavorful Orthodox Tea.

Board guiding visitors to various points of interest in the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate

Board guiding visitors to various points of interest in the Kolukkumali Tea Estate

I found myself uttering the meaningless question to our driver – “Do many people come here to die?” I think I sounded stupid, but he exclaimed “No! No! No one has ever committed suicide here”. So it was baptized ‘suicide point’ for no apparent reason just like all its other namesakes in India.

While we clicked pictures, the minimal amount of knowledge that I have in Physics told me my voice would echo better here than it had at the Echo Point where we stood to watch a new day dawn some minutes ago. In spite of the severe insistence of our driver that our voice will reverberate and probably wake up all the village folk in the valley down below, even our loudest shouts feebly regurgitated for a second or so before dying out in the endless chatter of birds. The only thing which had echoed at the Echo Point was the image of the Sun, rising from behind the mountains, like a shy child rising from the crib. It must be painful for the Sun, waking up before the rest, assured of your return to the same bed. Was constancy a curse?

And the Sun had finally risen like a shy child rising from the crib, scattering its glorious warmth

And the Sun had finally risen, scattering its glorious warmth

But we had beaten the child today. We had risen before the Sun, set out in what seemed like the hour of death on a wobbly road, in the throes of the cold wind which wanted to embrace us like a jilted lover while the whole town snored in deep sleep down below, to witness one of the most beautiful early morning spectacles we have ever witnessed.

The Sun took its time, rising lazily from behind the clouds. And as it made an appearance, clouds were scattered like a mob before the cops

The Sun took its time, rising lazily from behind the clouds. And as it made an appearance, clouds were scattered like a mob before the cops

And after paying a visit to the punctual host we were brought here, to the suicide point. Maybe they called it suicide point just to preach caution to the travelers? A misplaced step around there would lead to a steep fall. I think I’d rather die somewhere like that. I mean if it has to be my last experience, I’d want it to be beautiful. And settings like these are definitely numbered

A view worth dying for! - Sunrise at Kolukkumalai

A view worth dying for! – Sunrise at Kolukkumalai

There’s more coming from me about Kolukkumalai and Kerala soon. Stay tuned! 🙂

Update – Read here for Part 2 – My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 2) – The Tea Factory, The Workers And Some Conversations

-Swetambara

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The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
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Barfani Baba And The Art Of Seeking Alms

There is something I have been concerned about since I turned 6 – the mystery which is the River Saraswati. It is kind of there and kind of not. Supposedly the entire Rig Veda was composed on its banks before it vanished from the face of the Earth (or started flowing underground if Hindu religious texts or Puranas are to be believed) . For some it is a mythic river which symbolises the Milky Way, while for some historians it is a case of misplaced identity. Mostly all Hindu kids learn Saraswati’s name as one of the three major rivers of India (the other two being Ganga and Yamuna) and have spent a lot of time trying to distinguish the river from the other two at the sangam in Allahabad.

I was intrigued by how it had managed to become an underground river and for most of my childhood it came to symbolise the gangster of the river world (because gangsters are supposed to be underground – I know, lame, but I was a kid!) Now, so this particular river has something of a Bond status in india, seems like every river wants to be Saraswati. Because of its ‘invisible’ nature and mythological importance, several rivers have been named ‘Saraswati’ and there is a lot of confusion over which the real one is. This story concerns one of the many Saraswatis in India – the Saraswati which originates near the Mana village (famed to be the last village of India, but not quite) in Uttarakhand and is a tributary of the Alaknanda river.

River Alaknanda keeps you company through most of the 9 km hike from Mana village to Vasudhara Falls

River Alaknanda keeps you company through most of the 9 km hike from Mana village to Vasudhara Falls

My aim was to hike up to the 400 ft tall Vasudhara falls. All the other landmarks like the Vyas Guha (where the Epic ‘Mahabharata’ was supposedly written), the Bhim Pul and Ganesh Guha were wonderful distractions on the way. But as is usual for me, I was distracted by something not so obvious on the 9 km stony trek from Mana to Vasudhara falls. It was this section in the stone wall painted red, right before the Bhim Pul. It carried a message by Barfani Baba. Roughly translated to English, it said, “Baba Barfani, Naga Baba – doesn’t demand donations, devotees are free to donate”.

The message outside Baba Barfani's decrepit cave

The message outside Baba Barfani’s decrepit cave

Now if you have spent any time roaming the narrow lanes of India, you will know how pushy saints can get. It can be anything from ‘Bhagwan lambi umar dega beta, babaji ka ashirwad lete ja’ (The Almighty will bless you with a long life if you seek my blessings), to ‘Babaji ka ashirwad thukraoge toh paap chadhega’ (If you don’t seek my blessings, you shall be doomed). I have heard them all. So, Baba Barfani’s method of seeking alms really stands out. He come across as a maverick of the world of Indian saints. I wanted to talk to him. Find out whether the message was written by him or some devotee helped him or if it was from some organisation responsible for Naga saints. Unfortunately, he was lost somewhere in his cave, concealed by the red-painted asbestos sheet.

I was taken by this show of brilliant salesmanship. Many people who would not bat an eyelid at a saint could be seen donating generously. I was impressed. And thought much about him through rest of the climb.
Don't be fooled by the seemingly dreamy gentleness of the water seen from afar, on approaching near, the water of the Vasudhara falls was cold and sharp

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly dreamy gentleness of the water seen from afar, on approaching near, the water of the Vasudhara falls was cold and sharp

I would like to go back and see him. Get the answer to some of my questions. Or maybe you already have and would like to tell me?

-Swetambara

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The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

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SLOWROVER SNAPSHOTS #17

Coffee Seller

Title: The Kaapi Innovator
Location: Manamadurai Junction, Tamil Nadu, India

 

The compartment was abuzz with a distinct sound. Our train had  stopped at Manamadurai Junction, a small station that falls on the route from Madurai to Rameshwaram.

Throngs of coffee sellers bombarded our peaceful journey with an incessant sound of business.

“Kaapi, Kaapi, Kaapi” they cried in unison, trying to sell the world’s favourite drink in a local accent (Kaapi is a phonetically corrupt term for ‘coffee’). One of the sellers parked his minimalist coffee store by my window. He had managed to customize a rod of iron to be used as a makeshift coffee stand (See Picture).

Need is indeed, the mother of all inventions.

SR Travel Tip: If you ever visit Tamil Nadu, we recommend you to visit Dhanushkodi, a ruined city that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1964. The eerie walls of the ruins, accompanied by the incessant sound of ocean waves lashing against the nearby shore – Can’t be missed .    

Vibhav

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