Category Archives: North India

Dry Fruit Sellers of Old Delhi

19th March Satish took me to parts of Old Delhi where I hadn’t gone during my two-year stay in the city. We had gone to the area looking for the shop where we had found best lassi in Delhi in 2010. I liked the effort they have put to decorate these dry fruit shops and the orderly manner in which items were on display. Shopkeepers were surprisingly peaceful and calm (at least looked so) despite the street atmosphere being so chaotic.

Migrant Workers: Nepali (Rolpali) Porters of Shimla

भागी ती भागीका छोरा पिलेन घुइक्याउदा छन्
अभागी गरिवका छोरा भारी चुइक्याउदा छन्

मसुरी डाँडोमा भारतभरीका र संसारकै मान्छे पुग्छन् । तिनीहरु कुन देश या भारतीय राज्यका हुन् खुट्टयाउन हत्तपत्त सकिन्न । तर खुम्चिएको ढाका टोपी लगाएका, काँधमा नाम्लो भिरेका र यहाँका साघुरा गल्लीमा भारी बोकेर या त्यसै भौतारिइरहेका जुनै पनि मलिन अनुहारलाई सहजै चिन्न सकिन्छ । परिचय विनाकै पहिलो प्रश्न (‘कताबाट हो दाजू ?’) ले तत्कालै उत्तर पाइ हाल्छ– ‘कालिकोट’ ।

एक हिसावले पुरै मसुरी शहर कालिकोटेहरुको थाप्लामा अडिएको छ ।

केही मिनेट असिना बर्सिएपछि चिसिएको हालैको एक साँझ एक हुल कालीकोटेहरु मसुरीको केन्द्रमा रहेको घन्टाघर नजिकै सडक किनारमा आगो तापिरहेका थिए । दिउसो एकपटकमा डेढ क्विन्टलसम्म बोक्दाको थकान मेटाउन केहीले मदिराको सहयोग लिएका थिए जो गफमा प्रष्ट झल्किन्थ्यो ।

‘लौ लेख्नुस्, हामी कालिकोटका,’ ५९ बर्षे धनु विकले लरबरिएको लवजमा भने– ‘आफ्नो देशमा काम नपाएर अर्काकोमा कुकुरको जिन्दगी विताइरहेका छौं । यही हो हाम्रो खवर ।’

थाप्लोमा मसुरी (फेब्रुअरी २००९) बाँकी यहाँ छ .

Nepali porters of Mussoorie, India. Photo taken in 2009.

Nepali porters in Mussoorie, India. February 2009.

22/23 March 2013 For the first time in a long time I was traveling as a tourist with no possible story ideas storming at the back of my mind. This was a strange feeling and also a relief. I didn’t have to do a story when I was seeing one in front of me. I didn’t have to approach and talk to people the way a reporter in me normally would have. I didn’t have to organize the voices in a structured story. I was just a tourist, not a reporter looking for stories. Not that I hated doing all that but this time I was not a reporter, I was just a tourist.

Approaching people, talking to them and composing a story- that all takes effort. Words have to reflect, as accurately as possible, feeling of the people involved in the story. They have to portray pictures of people in such a way that this portrayal properly supplements the photos of the same people that are often printed alongside the story. Continue reading

And the Monkey Stole My Glasses in Shimla

A fearless and agressive monkey ready to fight with a humanShimla’s monkeys are agressive and audacious. They don’t seem to miss an opportunity to intimidate, attack and assault humans. A huge Hanuman statue standing atop the Jakhu hill (of whose base the town Shimla is located, sort of) could be the source of their arrogance. That’s my assumption. Hanuman’s statue, way bigger than the Gandhi’s at the base of the hill, must have made them feel that they are superior to humans. Again, assumption. I noticed several ‘be aware of monkeys’ notices in the town.

I have seen monkeys in many places- in the village where I was born and grew up, in many other villages of Nepal that I have visited, and in jungles where my trail passed through. Have seen them in cities as well- many places of Kathmandu and Delhi (Have written an entire column about the unfriendly monkeys of Delhi that sneaked into my apartment to steal things- Humans and monkeys struggle for space in the Indian capital). But I’ll put the monkeys of Shimla at the top of the list of the most agressive monkeys that I have ever seen. Continue reading

A Quick trip to Shimla

Dinesh Wagle in Shimla

No prize for spotting me. Pic by Gokul Dahal

Shimla is a town of Monkeys who behave like Monkeys. But I will keep this album free of monkeys. I present here the atmosphere of the town- crowds and buildings- as I saw it.

During my two-year stay in Delhi as a reporter I traveled to most of the famous ‘hill stations’ in north India. Here’s the list: Darjeeling, Shillong, Mussoorie, Manali and Gangtok. Somehow I hadn’t found time to go to Shimla. I had imagined the place to be not drastically different from other hilly Indian towns. But some descriptions that I had come across (can’t remember the exact one at the moment) had put this place slightly ahead of others in the beauty contest of ‘queens of hills’. May be some political events (like the Shimla Agreement) provided some importance (and glamour) to the place. I also wanted to experience the toy train of Shimla (and wanted to compared it with similar one in Darjeeling). Continue reading

At Rohtang Pass, Himanchal Pradesh, India

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Previous post: A trip to Manali, India.

women walking under snow at rohtang pass, india

Women who sell tea and snacks at the Rohtang Pass return to their homes

Not many options were available to us at the taxi stand. Manali is a small town, every taxi driver appeared to have known the other fairly well. So the bargaining ended pretty quickly. The journey started with an unexpected warning from our driver. The road ahead, he said in a calm voice, is not so smooth.

man and horse in snow rohtang pass himachal pradesh india

Near the Pass: A man leads horses down to Manali

Five kilometers passed in a jiffy. Songs from Hindi movies were blaring from the taxi’s CD player. The driver spoke again. It would be very cold up there, he said. Our clothes were not enough to keep us warm there, he explained. “There’s a shop a few kilometers ahead,” he said. “They rent jackets, trousers and boots.” Was he telling this because he had some sort of understanding with the renter for commission or was he genuinely interested in making us warm at the pass. Either way it wasn’t a big deal. I mean renting jackets. Continue reading

A trip to Manali, India

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Next post: At the Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India

Pavan Nithin arrived at my apartment in the morning. Were I ‘up for this trip to Manali’ in the evening? He wanted to know. He had asked me the same question a few days before during a G chat session. He was in Kharagpur, near Kolkata, spending his last days in college (IIT). I wasn’t sure then, I wasn’t sure now. His friend in Delhi who was supposed to accompany him had pulled out from the trip that afternoon making Pavan possibly a lone traveler. Nothing tempts me more than an invite to travel. The city of Delhi was boiling in the heat of May. What did I need more? “Let’s go,” I said. I called Gokul Dahal to cancel our get together scheduled in the evening at my place. “Plan changed,” I told him. “I am going to Manali with Pavan. You are welcome to join us.” Continue reading

Kolkata: Runner-pulled Rickshaws of India

runner-pulled rickshaw of kolkata, india

A rickshaw-puller waits for passengers in Sudder Street, Kolkata. (More photos at the end of the post.) Pics by DW

I can’t recall when I did I first see/ride a rickshaw but I still remember that day 11 years ago when I rammed a cycle-rickshaw unto a culvert in Bardia National Park. After visiting the national park, I rode back to the bus park in a rickshaw. Somewhere on the way I told the rickshaw-puller to go back and let me pull. He obliged. I used to ride bicycles well, or so I thought. This thing had just one more tire. No big deal. I started paddling. The real rickshaw-wallah behind me was smiling. I was going good… until I started loosing balance and plunged into a culvert.

No human was hurt but the front wheel of the rickshaw had twisted beyond recognition. Smile evaporated from my ‘passenger’. He got off, inspected the tire which, I guessed, he didn’t recognize as the tire. “You will have to fix it,” he said in a low but resolute voice, “or buy me a new one.” Fixing that was out of question. That was not fixable. Second option would cost me Rs. 300. After the payment, I was left with Rs. 400. Bus ticket to Kathmandu? Rs. 370. Rs. 30 wasn’t enough to keep my stomach full for the next 15 hours or so. But I had no option. I was broke by the time I reached Kathmandu. I called a friend at my office to come to Kalanki to receive me. बिहान काठमान्डू त पुगियो तर राती खान नपाएर पेटमा मुसा खुबै दौडेका थिए ।  Some incidents can never be forgotten. A cycle-rickshaw may look like a bicycle but riding it is not the same as bicycling. The act of balancing is slightly different. The mastery over the art can only be attained by experience. Continue reading

Streets of Kolkata, India

Kolkata was one of the four largest cities in India where I hadn’t been to until October 2009. I went to Mumbai in October 2008, Delhi a month later and Chennai in July 2009. By the time I went to Kolkata, I had visited Mumbai once again in July 2009 and I have been living in Delhi ever since I came here first time. So I wanted to go to Kolkata not just because I could add it in the list of also-been-there places, but to really see how the city that I have been hearing about since my childhood looked like. I remember a distant relative/neighbor in our village who, after living many years in Kalkatta (कलकत्ता- that’s how Nepalis spell and pronounce the city that was until recently known as Calcutta), had returned with some strange thego (थेगो): बासावाजो लेकिन । There’s a clear pattern as to where in India Nepalis go for various purposes and the reason is proximity. Those in eastern part of Nepal go to Kolkata where as those in western Nepal go to Delhi (eight hours drive from Mahendranagar). I come from the east Nepal where one can hear many stories of Kolkata. A folk song from eastern Nepal even talks about Kalkattee Kainyo (Kolkatan comb): कलकत्ते काइयो केश मेरो बाङ्गो टेबुलमा ऐना छ‌‍… 😉

When I was in Shillong, however, I wasn’t entirely sure about going to Kolkata. I wanted to return to Delhi because I was already traveling too long. But Indian Railways had different plan for me. Ticket was not available in any of the trains going out of Assam for Delhi. Because Shashwat and Pavan, my co-travelers and Kharagpur IITians, were going back to Kolkata, I was tempted to travel with them. They kindly helped me buy e-tickets with their debit card to Kolkata and from there to Delhi via Ranchi as no direct train ticket was available because of holiday rush. The Garib Rath Express (Chariot of the Poor) brought us to Kolkata safely and late by several hours.

Both of the boys were not new to Kolkata though it’s not their home city (Pavan hails from Andhra Pradesh where as Shashwat from Agra). Kharagpur, where their school, the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), is located is only three hours away from Kolkata by train. They wanted to chill out in the city for a while. They had classes from the next morning and there were only a few hours remaining to catch the last train to Kharagpur. They helped me to find the hotel where we all put our bags and moved out to quickly explore the city.

We went to a busy market area (I forget the name) and had bhel puri recalling a Hindi movie song that went something like this: Long drive jayenge, bhel puri khayenge… I was eating bhel puri for the first time. In a way I was surprised. I had heard about bhel puri a lot and had imagnied it to be something like a mixture of dahi and puri (curt and bread). That was because I had liked dahi bhalla already in Chandani Chowk, New Delhi. There was no trace of neither dahi nor puri in this bhel puri.

I accompanied Shwash and Pavan in their hunt for ganja. I must admit this here that I was surprised how efficiently they looked for the thing and managed to find that in a matter of few minutes. Later I told myself that I wouldn’t have found that with such an ease if I had wanted to get some. For me, they were just daring, asking any ‘suspicious’ guy on the street about the location where they could buy the thing! I was impressed 🙂

We went to Oxford book store. I had gone to Oxford’s Darjeeling branch couple of months ago and this was the main store. I think I bought one book there. The ambiance was good. I liked.

Then we went to a McDonald’s.

It was a nice evening. I bid goodbye to my co-travelers. I did have a great time with them.

Second and Last Day in Kolkata

First thing I did was to check out from the hotel and put my luggage at the reception so that I could go around the city without any loads, return back in the evening and head for the station to catch the 9:30 pm train to Ranchi.

I decided to make Kolkata Metro rail line the base for my tour. It seemed easier to explore the city that way. If I hadn’t seen Metro rail in Delhi (and before that in Washington DC and New York) already, I would have certainly been surprised. The underground railway line has become pretty old now and compared to advanced metro system in Delhi, single-line Kolkata metro looks basic. It’s somewhat dirty and poorly lit. But the fact that it was made by Indians, many years after the Independence of their country, should convince one not to complain about it.

I took a train from a nearby station and got off at Kali temple station. I visited the temple which I found smaller than that of my imagination. Like many other Indian temples, there too, the priests (or pandas) were waiting to rip off devotees. I was shocked to see how a group of priests sat right at the front window of the temple blocking the view of the main idol. If paid, say Rs. 50, they would not just go aside but also push other devotees to clear the space so that the payer could have clear view of the idol. I didn’t pay but somehow stole the view.

After visiting Victoria Building I went to MG Road making Howrah Bridge my destination. The MG Road neighborhood is grand, old, colonial and Indian. The buildings are most interesting of all. Old buildings housing trees and tall plants stand side by side with newly renovated ones. I wanted to know why those old buildings were not repaired. I was also curious to know why people let those trees grown like that on the walls of their houses. Don’t they harm the building? Those trees are attractions of MG Road.

As I moved towards the bridge, I saw many elements of Old Delhi (Chandni Chowk/Chawri Bazaar) there. All sorts of household things and equipments like chains, boxes, locks, keys, iron rods were on sale. In some shops, people were busy making things giving me the impression that I have just reached a factory. The crowd, particularly near the bridge, was so intense that I can’t remember facing same type of crowd anywhere in India. Not even in Chawri Bazaar, Delhi.

Click on the photos to enlarge them:

Previous blogs from this north-east India trip:

1. In Guwahati, Assam: a Temple at the Hill

2. The Hills of Gangtok, Sikkim

3. Shillong and Cherrapunji

Next: Rickshaw Pullers of Kolkata who pull their rickshaws and run

Shillong and Cherrapunji

shillong city

Shashwat and Pavan at the Shillong City view point (more photos at the end of the post)

Traveling with two IITians: Cherrapunji to Kolkata [PDF version of the article in Koseli] The event described in the blog happened in the first week of October. Here’s Parmalink:

The highway leading up to Shillong from Assam’s Guwahati was terrific. The trip began with some glitches. The road in the beginning is being expanded. But as it climbed upward the spiraling trail that passes through dense forests became mesmerizing. The three-something hour ride was wonderful. I didn’t feel dizzy as it usually happens with me on spiral hilly roads.

Reaching Shillong bazaar, I tried to wander around and wanted to find hotel ignoring the Lonely Planet guide book. After walking for about 10 minutes, I found a hotel. No rooms available, I was told. I then dialed all the hotels that were listed in the book. They were all fully occupied. I began to worry. I headed to PB. Police Bazaar, that is. This part of the city is packed with hotels of all kinds. I went to the reception desk of one and I was give the same reply that I had got on phone. I went to the next one. Same answer. It was freaking annoying. Finally, as it happens with everyone at some point in time, I found one room. I didn’t bargain. I just wanted to get hold of the room and throw my luggage inside.

That I did and got out into the bazaar. Amidst the bustling activities of PB, I was thinking about where to go. I was also looking for cyber cafe. I was standing and thinking about where to start. Then a boy approached me. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you a local from here?”

“No,” I replied. “In fact, I am not even from India.”

The heavily bearded boy smiled. “Oh we have also come here to visit,” he said after I introduced myself to him.

Meet Swash and Pavan, 20-something IITians at Kharagpur, wandering on the hills of Shillong, looking for some fun mixed with smoke.

Swash asked me if I knew about some good restaurants in town. I turned the pages of Lonely Planet and mentioned at least two of them. Then the young man came to the point.

“Do you know where we can find ganja?” Swash asked.

“Now, that can’t be found in this book,” I said.

We all laughed. We encountered again that evening and became friends, co-travelers. In fact, we had become friends on the instant Swash approached me. We would travel to Cherrapunji and Kolkata together, take pictures in front of one of Asia’s highest falls, dine in a restaurant floating over Brahmaputtra and browse books in Oxford book store in downtown Kolkata. Later I would describe my journey and some of our conversations in a piece that I wrote for Koseli (PDF).

Interesting thing happened that evening. The boys hadn’t found ganja yet when we met second time. “Lets find out,” I seconded and walked with them. Soon, we chanced upon a boy who happened to be a Nepali-speaking local (Indian citizen, local of Shillong). I started talking with him in Nepali, occasionally telling the boys what we were discussing about. Such was the situation was that Swash and Pavan, both Indians, were feeling excluded (my observation though they might not be feeling same) where as I, a non-Indian, foreigner, was trying to explain them about the locality and town based on information that I was getting from the boy. I asked the boy if he could find Swash and Pavan some gajna. It seemed like he could. Swash and Pavan were visibly excited. The Nepali-speaking boy said he will have to ask his brother (or some relative) about the availability and place to procure. Soon the other man came and we five went for shopping. We found, Swash and Pavan bought and stuffed the thing into my bag!

Because Swash and Pavan were staying in a crappy hotel room that they badly wanted to change, I suggested them to go to my room instead and check the quality of ganja. The puffing and drinking and talking started. By the time it was all over, it was already 11 pm (or more, I forget as I am writing this entry pretty late). The guys went. I locked the door, brushed, and was about to sleep when somebody knocked on the door.

The same guys! Apparently the hotel security had locked the main entry and wouldn’t open after 10 pm. Mine was single bed and there was no way we all three could be accommodated there. I took out the bed sheet and blanket and the boys slept on the narrow floor between the bed and wall. (There was another thin blanked that I used).

Next morning, I moved with the boys in a different hotel, a few kilometers far from Police Bazaar. We went to Cherrapunji and came back in the evening to have dinner in ‘the most expensive hotel in town’. On the third day, I went to meet a Nepali writer (local from Shillong) in a town where many Nepalis live.

Here are photos from my Shillong and Cherrapunji trip (Click on a photo to read caption in detail):

Previous entries from the same trip:

1. In Guwahati, Assam: a Temple at the Hill

2. The Hills of Gangtok, Sikkim

Khajuraho: A Tour of Erotic Carvings and Statues

khajuraho carvings statues sculptures

This stunning statue of a bathing lady was standing in a park near the Khajuraho bus stand. click to enlarge

The Khajuraho temples do not contain sexual or erotic art inside the temple or near the deities; however, some external carvings bear erotic art. Also, some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. There are many interpretations of the erotic carvings. They portray that, for seeing the deity, one must leave his or her sexual desires outside the temple. They also show that divinity, such as the deities of the temples, is pure like the atman, which is not affected by sexual desires and other characteristics of the physical body. It has been suggested that these suggest tantric sexual practices. Meanwhile, the external curvature and carvings of the temples depict humans, human bodies, and the changes that occur in human bodies, as well as facts of life. Some 10% of the carvings contain sexual themes; those reportedly do not show deities, they show sexual activities between people. The rest depict the everyday life of the common Indian of the time when the carvings were made, and of various activities of other beings. For example, those depictions show women putting on makeup, musicians, potters, farmers, and other folks. Those mundane scenes are all at some distance from the temple deities. A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities. (source: Wikipedia. Most photos by D and that’s not me.)