Tag Archives: travelogue

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. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

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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). पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

Toy Train to Shimla

Toy Train to Shimla and GokulWe wanted to come to Shimla in a toy train. Toy trains are slower and expensive than a bus ride to the hilly town. But we wanted to experience the train service (and route) that’s listed as UNESCO world heritage site. I also wanted to compare it with that of Darjeeling. On this route, tunnels that go through hills and some bridges are impressive.  22 March 2013

At the Shimla train station we were surprised by the sight of a train motor- it was just a single train car. Total passengers traveling: 11 including us (me and Gokul), the ‘train’ driver and a kid. At the Barog station from where the longest tunnel of the Kalka-Shimla route ends (or starts, depending upon where you are coming from) we chatted with the driver. Hari Singh from Uttar Pradesh state of India has been driving trains on this route for the past 30 years. He said BBC has made a film over him which is available in YouTube.  24 March 2013

Past entries on Indian trains:

1. The Great Indian Railway Bazaar
2. Indian Level Crossing
3. A Trip to Taj Mahal (Part I- Indian Railways)
4. Rajdhani Express 4
5. Toy Train 3  पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

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.)

Massage at Varanasi Ghats

massage at varanasi ghat

Finally, I relented. He is giving me a head massage right at Dashashwamedh Ghat

You have to be a local or an expert haggler to survive in Varanasi. If not, a rickshaw-wallah will sell you right there, on the street as you stand, to another rickshaw-wallah! Almost all tourists have to go through sometime torturous and unending offers of all kinds from touts, wannabe guides and rickshaw/autowallahs. Those offers include shaking hands with them, to let them massage you right on the busy ghats, to tip them for nothing significant and to go with them around the city. The moment they realize you are not from the city, they are after you.

पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

Varanasi: Five Years On

Unlike other Indian cities, Varanasi offers amazing excitements and challenges to tourists. First visit: 24 December 2004. Second visit: 6 January 2010

Varanasi Ghats Gallis and Ganges

A peek into their eyes: At a Ganga ghat in Varanasi.

My visit to Varanasi five years ago was first in many aspects. That was my first India trip, my first visit to any city outside Nepal. That was my first encounter with the Indian crowd, the intense and chaotic city life that can’t be seen in Nepal. Most of the things appeared to be larger and louder. The river Ganges seemed to be slightly bigger than the Indian Ocean of my imagination. I hadn’t seen the sea. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

The Great Indian Railway Bazaar

This article first appeared on Saturday’s (11 July 2009) Kathmandu Post

By Dinesh Wagle

The moment of shock came soon after I was awakened. At the time of leaving Kanya Kumari, the southern tip of India where land ends and water begins, on a cloudy day last week, the train was virtually empty as it originated from there. So my travel mates and I thought the whole thing belonged to us. We started wandering around, one compartment after another, looking for the best seat available. The man who issued the ticket at the Kanyakumari counter had told us that we could seat ourselves anywhere in the Sleeper Class as we had unnumbered seats reserved for us.

After three hours of journey (six more to go) and eating biryani in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, I climbed up to the upper berth to be awakened midway. The travel ticket inspector (popularly called TT) was checking the tickets and we realized that we were not in the ‘right’ seat. Other passengers had by then come to claim their reserved seats. One of my travel mates was already trapped between the passengers who were claiming the seat with valid tickets.

We quickly moved away only to be told by the TT that we could go and take any seats in compartment numbers 10, 11 or 12. There, we were like new refugees with no seat to sit, not even a proper place to stand. Finally we managed to jump up to three upper berths of a compartment. Phew!

Indian trains are a diverse society on the move that speaks several languages that are not understood by all people traveling in the same compartment of a train which might appear as a crawling, huge reptile if seen from a hot air balloon. This society eats food that is vastly different from that available in one station to the next. On my first journey on the Indian railways last October that lasted for three straight days and two nights I found myself interpreting on the third day to an Indian yatri what the railway staff, another Indian, was saying. The Tamil passenger who spoke his mother tongue Tamil and English but didn’t understand Hindi wanted to order some food and the Hindi-speaking Railway attendant from north India didn’t understand English or Tamil. The service of a Nepali came handy and the Tamil heartily thanked me for breaking the language barrier.

Writers had aptly described, I felt after traveling on Indian trains, Indian Railways as the lifeline of India that is like a traveling theater festival that stages contrasting dramas every hour or so with even more and diverse characters who have their own unique story to tell via their different body languages and other forms of communication. A friend of mine from Jharkhand didn’t believe me when I recently told her that there are no trains in Nepal (apart from a relic that runs between Janakpur-Jayanagar (India)) covering only a few kilometers on the Nepali side. She replied: “I can’t imagine a life without trains. How do you live without them yar?”

Unlike America or Europe, India will cease to exist if its railway system that carries a sea of humanity everyday becomes dysfunctional. My feeling is that effectively disrupting and completely damaging the Indian railway network will have the same impact that the fall of a nuclear bomb in Delhi or Madras might create.

I experienced a “wow” moment last week when I entered a crowded general compartment of a train that was going to Madhurai, Tamilnadu via Alleppey, Kerala. That 11-hour journey turned out to be partly adventurous, partly torturous. The train arrived on time in Alleppey, famous for backwater boating, but with all general dibbas filled to their capacity and far beyond. It was impossible to board the train from the last compartment (general dibbas are either at the front or the rear end of the train and one need not reserve a seat to travel in those). Then we ran towards the front one. We reached the door only to see a massive crowd inside. It was a do or die situation because missing the train meant you would be stranded for the whole night there. I jumped over a man’s leg and forced myself inside like a hammer. It worked. I paved a small but crucial way for my travel mates. Once inside the dibba, the struggle to find place for our legs began.

There were all sorts of people. A couple with their infant child quietly sleeping in the seat. Migrant workers heading to Trivandrum. Families getting back home apparently after not getting a sleeper class ticket. It was a collage of people of many colors, backgrounds, purposes and destinations. Most of them got off at Trivandrum from where we got seats to sit. It was indeed a huge relief to our knees as we were badly feeling them.

Even though I lived so near to India and grew up hearing so many things about its cultural, social and political aspects, it was a kind of shock to me when I saw an Indian railway platform last October in Gorakhpur. Thousands of people were simply lying down, just like that, on the concrete floor inside the platform and outside, below the open sky. I had never seen such a scene before. They were waiting for the next train to come. Apart from the sea the only thing I missed about India after returning to Nepal were the trains. Railways are, I feel, the best thing to have happened to India under the British raj. From the toy train of Darjeeling to the faster one like Rajdhani Express, the trains awed me.

The way people travel in them, the chaotic, pathetic, and at the same time entertaining and lively atmosphere inside a general dibba, the manner in which the passengers eat food inside, fill in their bottles from drinking water from public taps at the platforms so hurriedly fearing that the train might leave them behind, the way they talk with each other and with fellow (and strangers) passengers, behave, even sleep and freshen themselves, and the way sellers literally somersault to penetrate the crowd inside the dibba to sell eatables to the passengers. It’s all amazing! A real cultural shock that is not comparable even to the one that I got in a Washington DC strip bar a few years ago.

Then there is Delhi Metro, another form of rail transportation in the city of Delhi, the multi-billion dollar project that is still in the making which is arguably better than what they have in DC and New York. Traveling in the Metro makes me believe, even though the Delhi metro is not a piece of Indian innovation, what Thomas Friedman argues in his book The World Is Flat in the context of competitive advantage that India has in engineering and technical education thanks to the famed IITs: that the days of America in terms of innovation are going to be over soon. Of course, it will be a long time before we see that happen in real life.

This article first appeared on Saturday’s (11 July 2009) Kathmandu Post

Kathmandu iPod: A Story From Nepal

The lead: There are peculiar challenges of iPoding in Kathmandu and there is also a grim irony in owning an iPod in Nepali society.

Two boys in Jumla, a remote district in Nepal, listen to folk songs iPod

With jeans tugged into their socks and eyes as red as ripe tomatoes, the boys were Jug Bahadur Bhandari, 15 (left), and Prakash Bhandari, 13. (from From Wagle’s Rara travelogue: Up to Rara Lake with Dohori Dhun All the Way

What do you do when you are eagerly waiting for something and you know it will take some time for the thing to arrive to you? Well, you eagerly wait. You prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for THE thing. And if THE thing is an iPod, you might do some research about the tiny and beautiful piece of music playing device. You might want to learn how to transfer songs from your computer, learn more about the machine itself: from ways to save battery to organizing songs in iTunes. I did all that on the first week of April (and continued doing so until I got hold of a video iPod at the end of the month). I used to give about three hours of my internet time just to do research on iPod and the iPod universe.

Not many people use iPod in Kathmandu and there was only one iPoder in our office: with a Nano. So my 80 GB video iPod instantly became the object of envy and desire and wow among my colleagues and other friends. Can I just touch it? Can I see how the songs sound like? “Well, Rs. two for touching,” I would joke. It took me no time to realize that I must cover the iPod with some cover if I want to save it from being scratched or loose some friends for not giving them to touch the thing. I opted for the first option.

As soon as I get hold of the iPod, I intensified my search for multi-gigabytes of songs. One song or hundreds, I don’t care, I would say, just give me because I have to fill this monster. So far, after using the machine for months, I have only managed to fill 30 gigs of songs. (Another 30 gigs is filled by files from my laptop.)

In the meantime, I also write an op-ed piece in Kantipur about iPod that received a lot of comments and appreciation from many young readers of the newspaper. I basically gave introduction of iPod to readers along with some information on iPod culture worldwide and shared my experience of iPoding in Kathmandu. If you think you will be able to enjoy the music of your iPod in a public vehicle in Kathmandu, think again. The gurujis (drivers) of public bus/autorickshaws have their own music system which includes blaring up folk tunes so loud that if you happen to be sitting near the speaker, you will probably be deafened. There is no way you can play your iPod with the buses’ music system on. Otherwise it will be an ideal device to keep the chattering of fellow travelers at bay.

iPod article I wrote in Kantipur:

गोजीभरि गीत : आइपोड लहर

दिनेश वाग्ले

त्यो जादूमयी ‘क्लिक ह्विल’ चलाउन अल्छी लागेपछि मैले ‘सफ्फल’ मोडलाई सक्रिय पारेर आइपोडलाई डीजे बनाइदिएको थिएँ । त्यसयता उसले त्यहाँका अनेकौं भाषा र विधाका गीत सुनाइरहेको छ । सुरुमै ‘आइएम गोइङ टु टेल अ सेक्रेट’ भन्दै, उनको भलो होस्, म्याडोना आएकी थिइन् र अघिसम्म मेट्रोको ‘करले तु भी मोहब्बत’ बजेको थियो । भर्खरै ‘गार्लिक मस्टार्ड पिकर्स’को इट्रुमेन्टल ‘इफ इभर यु वेर माइन’ सुरु भयो । यसपछि के बज्ला मलाई नसोध्नुस् । नारायणगोपालले ‘मलाई नसोध’ भन्ने हुन् या नेल्ली फुर्टाडोले ‘से इट राइट’ चिच्याउने हुन् या नोरा जोन्सको सुरिलो भाका आउने हो या राजा हिन्दुस्तानीको ‘परदेशी’, केही थाहा छैन । या जिमी हेन्डि्रक्स ? गेरी मुर ? मोहम्मद रफी या चियाबारीमा रिमिक्स । ८० जीवीको यो सेतो, अति सुन्दर र निकै मायालु भाँडोमा मुस्किलले ३० जीवी ठाउँ तीन हजारजति गीतले ओगटेका छन् । ती सबै गीत सुन्न मलाई लगातार ७० दिन लाग्नेछ, तर आइपोड भर्ने अभियान जारी छ । (continuing reading it here)

My iPod has gone through wide array of usage in various places that, I think, American (or any other for that matter) iPods rarely go through. My iPod has done white water rafting, almost did bungee jumping, has reached to some of the remotest corners of Nepal walking for as many as 10 hours a day. It has boated over the biggest and second deepest lake in Nepal. And many people- from journalists of downtown Kathmandu to shepherds in remotest corner of one of the most remote districts in Nepal- have enjoyed the music in it with equal enthusiasm. I was enthralled when two boys of Jumla, a remote district, were humming songs that they were listening to the iPod: latest Nepali folk remix that they were listening for the first time in their life though they were very good at singing local folk tunes of the region. A shepherd near Rara Lake was fascinated when he heard a song about ‘wool and sheep’ in the iPod. He was surrounded by his sheep as he was listening to the song.

To own a machine like iPod for a person like me is to fulfill an expensive hoby for sure. It cost me more than the combined figure of my two months salary and prompted my Canadian friend who brought it for me to write this line: “I though you were supposed to buy land with that much money [almost US $ 350= Rs. 24000].” When you really want something, you really don’t care about other things and don’t care about how much you are spending. To own an iPod had become a long time dream for me and I am so happy that I finally bought one.

I was embarrassed to tell the price of iPod when an enthusiast Jumlee boy, who hosted me an evening in his house turned Dhamaka Hotel for the night, asked. He had guessed that he could get the machine in the market for about Rs. 1500. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to tell him the real price and he stared at me (and then the iPod) for about 2 minutes in disbelief. Of course no one a village like that one in Jumla believes that a small machine can fetch up to 24 thousand because iPod are the machines of a different world. After that evening, I told many that I bought the machine for about Rs. 2000 in Kathmandu. The irony is you can get pirated iPod in the marked for as little as Rs. 1200. Even some colleagues in my newspaper bought some from China for the same amount. There are plenty of iPod look-alikes in the market but they can be distinctly identified: just by asking one simple question- does this need iTunes? And the answer is certainly a big NO.

Thanks to the spreading use of Internet and expanding penetration of satellite channels in the households, Nepali society has been exposed to the world like never before. As Thomas L. Friedman likes to say, the world has become flat and we in Nepal are also experiencing some aspects of the flattening process. At the same time, there is this stark reality that many people in Nepal are living under poverty and in miserable life. Millions of them don’t have access to electricity and telephone, let alone computer and Internet- two essential things to have an iPod. That’s the biggest irony.

On The Top Of Poon Hill (Day 3)

poon hill

Poon Hilai ma, phool jasto sundari…

A morning in Poon Hill. We started walking up at around 6 AM. We were already late but I was determined to reach at the top. Stuart pulled off from the hiking within first five minutes. Then it was turn of porter. I thought Martha would make it to the top considering the way she walked the day before. No, she also wanted to return back. I remained alone and I continued walking humming this song: Poon Hilai ma, phool jasti soltini rakhe manai ma! [I met a girl beautiful like a flower and put her in my heart]. May be I was hoping to find a soltini in Poon Hill. I had already missed the sun rise but the desire to be at the top constantly kept me pushing up. I reached there, in about half an hour, and saw the fabulous Dhawalagiri Annapurna range. That was really awesome. I kept watching Himals, so clean and shining because of the sunlight, for several minutes from the view tower. The view of other hills was so fascinating.

biritsh folks on poon hill

There were about four dozen English folks (pic, above), members of scout, who were trekking Annapurna region from Jomsong. A boy told me that they were returning to Pokhara today. I took a few photographs, many of them my own self-portraits with Himalayan range on background. I spent about 20 minutes on the tower overhearing English folks and observing them getting excited about the view.

At one point, I felt like screaming “so beautiful.” At the same time, I felt lonely. I wanted to share my feelings but there was no one to share my excitement. At least, not a Soltini! But I consoled myself that even if I missed the sunrise, I hardly see sunrise in my daily life anyway because at that time I would still be in bed, I got to see the Himals and the view.

wagle in poon hill

Wagle on Poon Hill Tower. Pic by an unidentified British boy

It was time to descend. I came down ready to climb up again toward Tadapani. Girls were having breakfast. But they had news for me. “We are thinking of staying here for a day,” said one of them. I was mentally prepared to walk, was ready to go Tadapani and I wasn’t thinking about staying there for a day. But I also couldn’t tell them that they shouldn’t stay and move. That would be, I thought, so un-American. Who was I to stop them from fulfilling their desire to stay a day in Ghorepani. That is why I told them my intention. I would be going and wait for them in Ghandruk. I don’t know why but girls also decided to start walking.

Climbing again up to Deurali Danda was challenging especially after Poon Hill feat. But I did it easily though it was noticeable that Stuart was finding it very hard. Later I was told my Martha that Stuart vomited. Now I started worrying but I didn’t show my concern because I thought that would put extra pressure on her. My feeling was that she would make it to Tadapani without difficulties and we don’t have to walk back all the way to Ghorepani. I kept walking on a slow pace. Stuart was too slow for my normal pace and reducing that pace unnaturally would have created negative impact in my walking. As I was carrying a backpack, I wasn’t in a position to stop every now and then because that would have left me tired at the end of the day. Girls were walking well and that was fine with me. They ought to experience the challenges of trekking and I hoped they did so well.

wagle in poon hill

I think Stuart didn’t like me leaving her behind but I had my own compulsion as I mentioned above. I had to walk on my natural pace. I tried to explain this to Martha and I think she understood. If there is no compatibility of pace between trekking partners, I think the best idea would be to walk on their own pace and the person with fast pace waist for the friend after covering a reasonable distance. That’s what I did.

Martha was a great walker which was beyond my expectation. But she tried to keep herself with Stuart as, I think, she didn’t want to make her feel bad. Oh yea, the only thing that made Martha upset was the unavailability of menthol cigarettes in the trek route. Hum, there was no ganja available as well. First thing she did in Tadapani was to go hunt for menthol cigarettes but unfortunately she wasn’t successful in the mission.

On Ghorepani. Wireless Internet A Dream?

Finally, I am in Ghorepani (or Ghodepani), the place that stayed in my mind after I read the description in an article published in San Francisco Chronicle. It is evening and the cloud has ruined my view of Himals (snowy mountains) including the great Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range. We three- Martha, Stuart and myself- played cards (Ace or Call Break or Golkhadi as we call the game) and I made some good points though once I went golkhadi or negative. No problem, the whole cool world outside the dining hall of the Sunny Hotel was waiting for me.

ghorepani woman group leader

I went outside and headed toward the Magar museum set up by local Aama Samuha (Women Group). A 50-year-old lady from Samuha, Seumaya Pun Magar (in pic), opened up the center for me. The Samuha, the lady told, had done some remarkable job like maintaining the trekking trail on a regular basis and organizing cleaning campaign in the village on the first day of every month. While getting out of the museum, that had memorabilia and other materials that represent Magar culture in the village, a computer inside an adjoining room caught my attention. That was a laptop attached to a communication antenna on the window. I was surprised to see the equipments there. The lady told me that they were donated and installed there by Mahabir Pun of Nangi Village. Mahabir of Nangi School fame is in a mission to establish wireless networks in villages.

on way to tadapani from ghorepani

Wagle on way to Tadapani from Ghorepani. This place about 45 minutes up from Ghorepani, was one of the best in the trail. The cool breeze was unforgettable. I was marching ahead free and careless enjoying the mixture of sounds from birds, worms and wind. Photos like the one posted above were my favorite for the trip: Face Value!

on way to tadapani from ghorepani

As I am writing these lines, I am missing my laptop-connected-to-internet very much. I wish I had that with me here. That would be really cool to get connected to the world from these highlands of Myagdi. Just imagine using internet and checking emails from atop Poon Hill! Especially in the home district of Mahabir Pun who is, though in a small way, revolutionizing the way Nepali people are connected. But that will be possible one day when his mission becomes a complete success.