Popular Features

From sexuality to travel, Popular Features talks about all that should be out there, but is not.

chhatedi bhuj gujarat

By Polomi Mandal:

While I searched for must-visit places in Bhuj for my Kutch trip, I had no idea about Chhatedi.

On reaching Bhuj, my travel mate asked a rickshaw to take us to Chhatedi. I did not even catch the name properly and kept asking him what it was several times. I then asked the rickshawala what the place is and he told me it’s a historical place near the Hamirsar lake.

Chhatedi is known for its architectural excellence. One shot in the movie ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ was also filmed here. Unfortunately, a major part of it was damaged in the 2001 earthquake.

I tried searching but not much has been written about this place. A local friend who accompanied us told that this place used to be the funeral place for Maharajas of Kutch.

amitesh mishra shabdanagari final

By Komal Nathani:

amitesh mishra shabdanagari finalPossessing an idea of Hindi interface, IIT Mumbai Alumnus Amitesh Mishra entrenched a long-awaited platform in the world of web. The young engineering scholar gave up lucrative job offers and made way to an avenue where he could chase his dream. With his vigorous team-mates, Amitesh created one of India’s first Hindi social networking site – Shabdanagari.in, which in no time has garnered more than 5000 users.

With paramount passion and with a desire to create an innovative change in the arena of social networking, the young impassioned engineering scholars laid all their efforts to reach to their dream of connecting 65 crore people together on a Hindi interface.

Shabdanagari.in provides a platform which is extremely easy for anyone to use. “You type in English it’ll get translated into Hindi,” said Nitin Tripathi (Digital Marketing and Production head of Shabdanagari).

In an interview with Shabdanagari team, Amitesh Mishra (CEO and a social entrepreneur of Trident Analytical Solutions) sheds light on his entrepreneurial career and shares his wonderful experiences working with his team on his dream idea.

What went through your mind in 2011, when you left your job with a renowned I.T giant and came back to your hometown (Kanpur) to initiate Shabdanagari or say, to step-up for an idea which you probably once thought during college days?

A few of my friends and I once thought of programming a site while I was pursuing M.Tech in IIT-Bombay which should strictly be a Hindi interface. We always wanted to begin something new in the web world also which hasn’t been analyzed yet but has an exigency in today’s scenario. So, after intense research by joining SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) in 2011, we set off with an aim of creating a Hindi social networking interface and launched Shabdanagari.

What triggered you to programme a social networking site in Hindi despite the fact that today’s youth are more indulged in the hashtag trend in English.

Well, for that matter firstly, I would say Hindi is our national language and it shouldn’t be neglected. Secondly, what we primarily observed is, if people want to ask in Hindi “how are you?” they probably choose to write- “kaise ho?” This is of course because the keyboard is in English. So we thought why not change that completely. You type it in your own way and after pressing space bar, the word will be translated into Hindi.

How did you decide the site’s name? ‘Shabdanagari’ is very much akin to the word ‘devanagri’. Is that how you kept its name?

Yes, you can say that. At the time of the launch, we all were thinking that it’s a Hindi social networking site, thereby, the name should also be in Hindi and that too different. Then one of our team-mate Rajat suggested Shabdanagari. And it’s certainly simple and quite easy to learn and speak. So, this is how we got the name to our website.

Who supported you in making your small idea to a big national product in the market? Did you face any sort of obstructions in the avenue of meeting the people’s expectations?

Of course, Shabdanagari is not just my initiative, we have a team of around 10 members, who buckle down and put all their efforts for the organization’s work. Besides, SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) of IIT-Kanpur supported our initiative in financial terms. More so, IIT-Mumbai also appreciated our idea and supported us.

Well, obstructions are pretty apparent in an avenue when you’re leading your dream product. But I believe when you have the support and skills of people with you, it strengthens one in a very different way which is inexplicable.

Therefore, I would like to thank my team, who have been very supportive in each and every situation with me.

How is Shabdanagari different from other social networking sites? Can you briefly describe its special features?

Shabdanagari has got peculiar features which will fascinate young people. It offers blogging, share and search, making a website and other multiple options, but all strictly in Hindi. More so, it’s very easy to work on, there is no complex procedure or language issues which people might face in other sites. It, in a way, eases your communication.

Moreover, to work on Shabdanagari, one doesn’t have to learn Hindi typing to write on it.

How do you see your project from an investment perspective? I mean don’t you think that it fits into the ‘Make in India’ project of PM Narendra Modi?

Yes, surely why not. Shabdanagari has a distinct feel of ‘Make in India’, which can attract anyone, be it foreigners, NRIs, civilians. For us as I.T professionals, it’s more like ‘Make for India’. We, firmly believe that Shabdanagari will do well from the investment perspective as it has Hindi as its quintessential feature.

Does Shabdanagari have any advertisements so far on web, or on T.V or radio?

We launched our first advertisement on YouTube which is basically presenting a small and an easy process as to tell how one can connect with site. We have advertised on the web till now and will do in other mediums shortly.

We have heard that your team is running one more site which is a social media management site known as ‘SOCIOTA’. Would you mind explaining what it is all about?

It’s a social media management site by which you can deal your campaign in a better and in a more dynamic way. Sociota is a product which facilitates that, moreover, it’s more useful for advertisers, campaigners etc. We launched Sociota in 2012, before Shabdanagari.

Is there any advice that you would like to give to young engineering aspirants and young entrepreneurs?

I would just say, always step-up and try. If you have a small idea, don’t lose hope before trying it for once. You never know that someday your small idea might make billions and trillions out of it.

narlikar big bang 3

By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:

Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar needs no introduction. He is one of those very few scientists in India who have contributed to the field of Astrophysics throughout their life. Born on July 19, 1938, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra to a family of scholars, Narlikar – a Senior Wrangler, or mathematics topper at Cambridge – served as a Berry Ramsey fellow in King’s College, Cambridge University until 1972 and, later on, became the Founder-Director of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). Former President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Prof. Narlikar, who has also served as the Chairperson of the Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics published by NCERT, is globally known for his work in cosmology, specifically championing models alternative to the popular Big Bang Model.

It was like a dream come true when the reply of my questionnaire to Padma Vibhushan Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, flashed on my laptop screen. If one needs to name the ‘Pitamah Bhishma’ of Astrophysics for the whole of today’s India, there’s only one name and he is none other than Prof. Narlikar. Way back in March 2013, I had a conversation with him to decide whether to take up Science after Class X. Although I decided to pursue studies in the Humanities instead of Science, he continues to be one of my most favorite scientist and a source of inspiration. Keeping the trend of many students opting to study Science in view, a few months ago, I decided to conduct this interview with Prof. Narlikar.

Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah (SPS): Sir, why did you select science as your area of study? When was the decision taken?

Prof. Narlikar (JVN):
I liked mathematics right from the beginning, say, from primary school days. Later I also began to like science. My father encouraged my interests by giving me books on recreational maths to read. At the secondary school level, he also set up for us chemistry and physics laboratories. I went to Cambridge at the age of nineteen to study maths and it was here that I grew interest in theoretical astrophysics. This was largely through the lectures by Fred Hoyle there.

SPS: What was the role of your parents or family as a whole in shaping your destiny as one of the giant figures in scientific research in the world? Would you like to share any incident with us regarding this? I have read the story about your uncle offering you difficult sums to solve in the book ‘One Hundred Reasons to be a Scientist’.

JVN: My father was always supportive of my mathematical and scientific interests. Additionally my maternal uncle Morumama, who was staying with us for 2-3 years for his M.Sc. studies also contributed. He noticed that we had two wall-blackboards. These had been set up by my father and had been used by my brother and me for recreational purposes. Knowing my aptitude for mathematics, he began to use the smaller of them for writing, “Challenge problems for JVN.” The writing on the board would stay until either I solved the problem or conceded defeat. This provided good stimulus to me and I picked up a lot more of maths than my school syllabus required.

SPS: As you were born and brought up in British India, what differences have you noticed between the pre and post-independence era in the field of education, science and society at large?

JVN: I feel that the people of India are more independent in thinking than they were in the British era. At the same time, I do not think there was as much corruption then as there is now. The fields of education, science and social amenities are more extensive today than they were before independence.

SPS: What were the greatest lessons you learnt from your legendary teacher, scientist Fred Hoyle?

JVN: Fred Hoyle did not accept any scientific idea until he was satisfied that experimentally or observationally it was proven. This meant he often had conflicts with bandwagon type supporters of some ideas, such as the big bang model which states that the universe started existing after a big explosion. I have tried to follow this independence of thinking.

SPS: How would you explain the ‘Hoyle–Narlikar Theory’, in a simple way for our readers, for which you are well known in the world of Astrophysics?

JVN: In the HN theory we have introduced the notion that inertia of matter arises because of the rest of the matter in the universe. Ernst Mach, a nineteenth-century German philosopher-scientist, had proposed such a notion without giving a mathematical formulation of the concept. Today it is known as Mach’s principle. We provided a mathematical structure to this idea. It led us to a gravity theory more comprehensive than Newtonian or Einsteinian ideas. We have a few new predictions which will require more detailed observations. We hope the large telescopes under consideration today will provide some relevant evidence.

SPS: As a Senior Wrangler of Cambridge you could have become a top level civil servant, but you opted for teaching. Why?

JVN: The popular career options in my time were the administrative services and engineering or medical fields. I was taken up with science and did not consider these more popular options.

SPS: Tell us a bit about your work in championing models providing an alternative to the popular Big Bang model.

JVN: As mentioned [above] I do not feel enthusiastic about the big bang model because it demands speculations far exceeding actual evidence. In this model, the notions of dark matter, dark energy and strange [kinds] of matter have to be accepted without evidence. So Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbidge (alas, both are no longer with us now) and I proposed a new model in 1993. Known as the quasi steady state cosmology (QSSC) it has [a] universe without a beginning or end, having oscillations on a time scale of 50 billion years and a longer term expansion on the scale of a thousand billion years. We claim that this model explains all the presently observed features of the universe. If we are successful in demonstrating that very old (20 billion years or more) stars do exist today, that will be an important evidence against the big bang universe and in favor of the QSSC.

SPS: How was your experience as the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union?

JVN: I appreciated the honor which at least recognized my work done against the bandwagon ideas. Several astronomers appreciated my role as an honest critic!

SPS: How is the environment of India for scientific research today? Are we, the Indians, lacking somewhere in developing a scientific temperament in comparison to the west? I mean, the murder of Marathi activist Narendra Dabholkar seems to indicate it.

JVN: There are two different things here! Indians need to be more appreciative of research and learn to be self-critical. There is adequate support for science for R&D, but no one checks if the money is spent in a productive way. Secondly, we as a nation tend to believe in superstitions and do not appreciate the scientific temper. Dabholkar’s killing was probably because of his efforts to eradicate superstitions. I sincerely hope the mystery of his murder will be solved and we will come to know the motive.

SPS: During 1999-2003, you headed an international team in a pioneering experiment designed to sample air for microorganisms in the atmosphere at heights of up to 41km. What were its results?

JVN: We planned to sample air at 41 km height for microorganisms. Normally we do not expect bacteria from the Earth to rise that high and so if we found such microbes we would have a possibility of those being extraterrestrial, falling from above. Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe from U.K. had argued that bacteria and viruses are present in the interstellar space and some of these may come near us riding on comets. If a cometary tail brushes the Earth’s atmosphere, some bacteria may be transferred there and then fall down under [the influence of] gravity.

We sent balloons in 2001 and 2005 up to this height (the maximum possible!) and collected air samples. They were sent to biology labs for examination. In the first experiment, the biology group in Cardiff, U.K. found live cells and an examination of another sample by a group in Sheffield revealed bacteria. The group in CCMB (Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology) lab in Hyderabad found bacteria which was resistant to UV radiation. In the 2005 experiment, this property was also seen in the bacteria (12 types) found by two labs (CCMB and Pune-based National Centre for Cell Science). Three of these species were unknown on the Earth before. They were named after Hoyle, Aryabhatta, the 5th-century astronomer, and ISRO, the sponsoring agency. These findings are suggestive of the microbes being extraterrestrial but for a proof we need to look for some way of determining the nuclear isotopic composition of the captured bacteria. A future experiment will be needed for this purpose.

SPS: You were appointed the Chairperson, Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics. How far, in your opinion, are the various textbooks published by NCERT able to generate the thirst for knowledge in students? What improvements will you suggest?

JVN: The present textbooks are improvements on the earlier ones. But I would like to reduce the information content and add more to the comprehension of basic concepts. This may come in stages. Also, one needs to create an environment in which schools are able to have access to experimental facilities.

SPS: As a global figure in Astronomy, you once featured on Carl Sagan’s TV show ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ in the late 1980s. How was your personal relation with Sagan? What is your view of this visionary Astrophysicist?

JVN: Carl Sagan was a charismatic figure who was sincere in his desire to enthuse people [about] science and its sociology. He was an excellent scientist and science popularizer.

SPS: You have written science fiction, novels and short stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi. I have gone through your science fiction The Adventure (an excerpt of it was there in our Class XI NCERT English textbook) and realised how JVN aptly harmonised historical plots and characters with science fiction. Do you have any future plans for writing more such stories? I have also gone through your article titled ‘Where time stands still’. What are the things we should keep in mind while writing a scientific article and science fiction?

JVN: The story Adventure as printed in the textbook is half of the original. By some mistake, the earlier half is missed out. After my pointing [that] out, NCERT put the whole story on their website. I hope it is easier to understand now. While a science article is expected to be factually correct, a science fiction story can have fictional additions to the science we know. Of course, the additions should not conflict with the science we know.

SPS: What is your advice to students in general and students studying science in particular?

JVN: Try to understand the basic concepts and do not hesitate to ask questions.

SPS: I am from Assam. Have you ever visited the state? If yes, how was your experience? Our school students, sometimes opt for science but later repent as they pursue it under parental pressure, or are simply following the popular trend, but end up failing to grasp anything.What is your advice? Moreover, should ‘engineering’ (later leading to a job in a private company) and ‘medical’ be the ultimate goal of studying Science?

JVN: My five visits to Assam have been happy ones with friendly interactions with people there. My advice to students is to “opt for science if you really like it.” There are good career prospects in scientific R&D but to appreciate them remember my advice [given] above.

SPS: If you are given a second life, what will you choose to be born as?

Same as now!

SPS: Do you have any regrets in life?

JVN: Perhaps I miss reading many books for lack of time, study Sanskrit (which I love as a language) to a deeper level and maybe wish I had seen more of the world (although I have visited 50 countries).

SPS: Your motto after a lifetime of experience which you would like to convey to us?

Whatever you do, give your best to it.


By Polomi Mondal:

Some places, no matter how amazing the pictures you manage to click are, can never be captured through a lens. The beauty of such places can be captured only when you see them yourself.

The white desert of Kutch is one such surreal place. You must have seen the most amazing pictures, heard the best stories, but nothing comes close to seeing it for yourself. The full moon experience in the desert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soon after sunset, the colour of the sand and the sky looks exactly the same and there appears to be no horizon. As far as I could see, it was white and only white.

After sunset. Rann Utsav, Dhordo

The “Khusboo Gujarat Ki” ads of Amitabh Bachchan always fascinated me. You must have heard Mr. Bachchan saying “Kutch nahi dekha to kuch nahi dekha” (If you haven’t seen kutch, then you haven’t seen anything).

The Rann of Kutch is a large area of salt marshes located partly in Gujarat and partly in Sindh (Pakistan). The Great Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar Desert and is reputed to be one of the largest salt deserts in the world.

During my 3-day trip to Kutch, I spent one evening at the Dhordo Rann. I preferred to stay at Bhuj to keep my budget minimal and travel to the Rann Utsav with a Local tour Operator whose advertisement ‘my travel mate’ I had spotted in a local newspaper a day earlier when I wasn’t quite sure whether to go to Ekal ka Rann or the Dhordo Rann. The deal offered by the tour operator was a good one. Rs 550/per person only, inclusive of the Border charges. It turned out to be the best deal for us as it was a full moon night.

These are the sites we visited:

1) Black Hill, known as Kala Dungar
2) India Bridge
3) Lunch at the Toran Resort
4) Rann Utsav at Dhordo (reached around 4 p.m. and spent the entire evening there)

While we were asked to come back at 6:30 p.m., we made sure we got a good view of the full moon. We came back at around 7:45-8:00 p.m. and had to face other angry travelers waiting for us in the bus but it was worth it. Sometimes it’s okay to make people wait, for example, when you have to get the full moon view at the White Sand desert.

The entrance to the Rann Utsav.
Just arrived.
Musicians performing.
At your service.

You can opt to walk as far as you can in the desert or try these horse rides or camel rides.

Camel cart at the Rann Utsav.
Posing for a photograph.

We spotted this very popular transport medium used in Kutch known as a ‘chakda’ in the local language. This was only available for clicking pictures.

A gang of kids playing a game.
Let the shadows do the talking.
Yes. Pease, no littering.

Soon after the sunset, you see different shades of colour at the Rann. When we arrived, the sky was white. Then slowly, close to sunset, it started turning yellow, then orange, then red, blue and at the end white again.






As the sun goes down.
The full moon at night.

I wish I could have clicked a better picture of the full moon, but this is what I was able to capture with my lens (I had an 18mm-55mm).

All pictures were taken with a Nikon D3200.

Visited Rann Utsav on January 23-25th January 2016.

All images provided by Polomi Mondal.


By Polomi Mondal:

On the way to Mandvi from Bhuj, is a Jain pilgrimage, a home to 72 deris of Lord Mahavira, at Koday Village known as Bauter Jinalay (72 Temples). It is also known as “Adishwar Bauter Jinalay Mahatirth”.

Spread over 80 acres of land, the temple has a residence facility at a dharamshala and a dining facility at a bhojanalaya. After spending the day at Mandvi and visiting various places, we planned to check out this temple. It was quite tiring, and I was not very interested in visiting the temple at that time. But my friend, who accompanied me to the Kutch trip, insisted that we see it.

We reached the temple in the evening, around 6:30-7:00 pm. I was happy to see very few people, and happier to get the first look at the temple. It looked incredible. It was very peaceful, and the serenity of the temple amazed me. It looked even more beautiful, once the lights were lit up in the evening. The temple was so mesmerising and I visited it again, in my 3-day-trip to Kutch.













: 72 Jinalaya, Gunnagar, Talwana Village, Mandvi Taluka, Kutch, Gujarat, 370460.

Distance : 11 kms from Mandvi and 51 kms from Bhuj

ST buses and jeeps depart from Bhuj about every 30 minutes. If you are in a group of four to five people, better hire rickshaws/cabs that fit in to your budget. Local buses are always the easier option. Ask the driver/conductor to stop at the temple as its on the highway.


By Anamika Aami:

Source: YouTube

Jerry Pinto is an all in one package: journalist, poet, novelist, translator and social activist. He lives in Mumbai where he grew up and to which he remains deeply attached. His first novel ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ won The Hindu Literary Prize and the Crossword Book Award in 2013. He was also awarded National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema for ‘Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb’. Here is an interview conducted over e-mail:

Anamika Aami (AA): As a child were you interested in literature. When did you start writing?

Jerry Pinto (JP): I loved reading. I loved reading more than anything else. I think everyone who loves reading will begin to want to write. So that’s when I started writing.

AA: Jerry Pinto – journalist, poet, novelist, translator, social activist. Which one do you prefer and why?

JP: I don’t have much of a choice about these roles. I call myself a journalist because that is where I earned my daily bread and butter for so many years and where I learned to write under pressure. I became a teacher when I was young and didn’t know that I knew nothing and so would not be able to teach anything. That was lucky because it left me free to learn from my students. I write poetry and novels because I want to. I translate because I believe we need bridges between languages and experiences, and each translation can be a bridge. And I work on the board of MelJol because education has always been important to me and I think rural children get a raw deal and trying to make the classroom a livelier place and trying to make teachers aware of the rights of the child is an important activity. So, I don’t prefer any of these roles. They all arose because of some part of my personality and then they became some part of my personality.

AA: How much non-fiction is there in your fiction?

JP: Lots. The difficult thing is when fiction seeps into your non-fiction.

AA: Out of all the film artists why do you choose Helen for writing a biography? 

JP: Because she was marginal, the woman on the periphery. And it is in the peripheral that I am interested. The stars don’t interest me. There are lots of people who will write about them. But, when Ravi Singh, my editor and publisher, came to me and asked, “Who do you think would write a book on Helen?” my answer was instinctive. I said, “Me” and I started the next day.

AA: How do you see awards? Are they important for you as a writer?

JP: I think they’re important. That may be because I have received awards. If I’d not got any, I would have probably said they’re unimportant.

AA: How far do you agree or disagree with the socially accepted set of gender roles?

JP: I don’t know that there’s an accepted set of gender roles. If there is, who accepted them? Think about men and crying. Now masculinity in its most macho sense was represented by Amitabh Bachchan but he cried in almost every film he ever made. Think about the term ‘Mama’s boy’ which is meant to represent the worst kind of whiny effeminate boy. No Indian man would be bothered about being called a Mama’s boy. And yes, I know there are such gender stereotypes. I remember when I was translating Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue, there’s a passage where the young man Tanay is beaten by his cousin. Here it is:

On one of these days, I was taking the wooden bucket in which the ice-cream was made out of the kitchen when Sunil, Ram Kaka’s son, hit me on the legs. I almost dropped the bucket. I set it down and sat down to rub my legs. Sunil was always exercising; he had almost no other conversation. He now shouted at me, “Walk properly. Keep your legs apart and walk straight. Why do you mince along like a woman?” Then he took me into the backyard which was set with large square tiles. He made me put one foot on one tile and the other on another and walk with my legs apart. For about an hour, he sat on Baba’s scooter and tried to rewrite my gait. “Tanya, walk straight, walk slow, keep those shoulders up, push your chest out,” he roared. Aai was in the kitchen scraping the meat out of coconuts and he told her, “Kaku, make him walk like this every morning and send him out to play with the boys. He just sits around, reading.” From then on, right up to this day, I fear that I am walking funny, in other words, that I am walking like a woman. When I find myself walking at my own pace, I almost immediately slow down. And I learned what men do not do. They do not wet their dry lips by running their tongues over them. They don’t trot after their mothers into the kitchen. They don’t use face powder. They don’t sit on a motorbike behind a woman. They don’t need mirrors in the rooms where they might change their clothes. On trips, they can go behind a tree. They don’t even need an enclosed space to take a dump; they can do it in the open. They shouldn’t be afraid of other people seeing their bodies. If there’s only one bathroom, they can bathe in the open. When caned in class, they do not cry. They do not buy tamarind from the lady who sells it on the road and they certainly do not sit by her side and eat it. This is a horrible thing to do and a horrible set of almost arbitrary rules.
That’s what I think gender stereotypes are: arbitrary rules set by tradition.

AA: How do you view the recent student protest movements, for instance, the FTII or Pondicherry University protests?

JP: I am a democrat at heart and I support the rights of every segment of society to protect their interests and to make their feelings known to the government they have elected.

AA: Since you are a journalist and been in this field for a long time, what are your views on the current scenario of media?

JP: Every nation gets the media it deserves.

AA: How much influence did Mumbai have in turning Jerry Pinto to a writer?

JP: I call myself mahimkajerry. It’s my twitter handle. I think that says a lot about what I think my environment contributed to my development.

AA: How do you think one can eliminate social stigma associated with mental illness?

JP: I think we should talk about it as much as possible and we should not be ashamed of the moments when we have been subject to some mental problem, as we all are, even the most normal and rational of us. When I wrote Em and the Big Hoom, it was to me a novel. It was not about a way of beginning conversations about mental illness but if it has done that I am grateful.

AA: You recently translated a Dalit autobiography. How interested are you in Dalit literature and what is its relevance today?

JP: I translated Baluta by Daya Pawar, the first Dalit autobiography to be written in India. I believe it is as fresh and vibrant today as it was in 1978 when it was first written. This is because it is a great book and great books always remain fresh and relevant.

AA: How were you during your college days and what is your advice to aspiring writers or journalists?

JP: I was a very average college student and my advice to aspiring writers and journalists can be summed up in one word: read.

rajashtan tourism

By Lipi Mehta

It feels refreshing to see the government try out new things, and reach out to the public in creative ways. Whether it be through social media or innovative speeches or even TV ad campaigns. In its latest effort, the Rajasthan Government has tried out a zany approach to showcase the beauty and warmth of the state and promote tourism. A series of groundbreaking new ads, all from the tourists’ perspective show how there is something unique to explore for every traveller in Rajasthan.

Unlike ‘Incredible India’, that takes a more emotional approach and goes by ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or how every guest in the country is akin to god (treated with utmost hospitality), this campaign has a more free-spirited approach, with equally fun music to boot! These ads could also remind you of Madhya Pradesh government’s ‘Hindustan Ka Dil Dekho’ campaign, a popular series that remains fresh in the minds of many, even though it was first launched in 2006. However, the Rajasthan ads are unique as they allow for the viewer to discover the state’s beauty on their own, without necessarily telling them what they’re looking at or giving recommendations of where they must go.

Well hopefully, all of these efforts should be able to present the better and more ‘palatable’ side of India, in comparison to the dark, ‘inedible‘ reality that exists in most places.

Watch the ads here and if you feel like travelling to Rajasthan at the end of these, tell us in the comments below!

All in ONE Rajasthan Tourism ads. I am a fan of the music at the end of each video. I am sure you'll love it too. Good to see the Government doing new things. :)Like ➡ Oye Teri ✅

Posted by Oye Teri on Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Yasin Malik (2)

By Mir Basit Hussain for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi February 17, 2006.  REUTERS/B Mathur - RTR16BH3
Yasin Malik. Source: REUTERS/B Mathur

Known as one of the first Kashmiri boys to fire a bullet against the Indian administration, Yasin Malik, currently the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, believes that peaceful protests didn’t succeed because there is no space for them in Kashmir. Malik also feels that the phenomenon of educated youth picking arms is not a new thing in Kashmir.

“There is no difference between what it was in 1984, ‘85, ‘86. We are the products of the non-violent democratic movement of ’84, ‘85, ‘86, and ‘87. What happened to us during that movement? We saw Red-16 type of interrogation centres. We faced beating, unhygienic food, contaminated water, and psychological and physical torture. Our parents used to face the worst kind of abuse from police at that time. Those were the reasons for that generation to start an armed struggle,” Malik told me as we sat conversing at his Abi Guzar office in Central Srinagar.

Malik added that the ‘5000-year-old’ history of Kashmir had been ‘non-violent’.

“But you have to see, what forced the young people to take such a step? When you have no space for a non-violent democratic movement, what will one do?” asked the Separatist leader, counted by some commentators as one of the top four new generation leaders in Kashmir, along with former C.M. Omar Abdullah and leader of People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti.

Malik believes that the British rule in India, despite being an imperialist force, provided space for the non-violent movement of Gandhi as the English rulers were ‘wise’.

“In that way, the imperialist British were a ‘wise’ force. During that time, Gandhian non-violent movement was going on. Gandhi gave the concept of non-violence and people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others took inspiration from him. So you should appreciate the British for giving space to Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Gandhi or his colleagues were never sent to any interrogation centre by the British. Their family members were never abused or taken to police stations and tortured,” he explained.

According to Malik, the Gandhian way was not the only one open for the people to follow and it had to compete with other methods.

“At that time in the Indian sub-continent, there were two schools of thought: one was Gandhian and the other was represented by Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah, Rajguru, Ram Prasad Bismil and others who believed in liberation through an armed struggle. They were against Gandhi. But the Gandhian movement sustained itself because of the genuine space provided by the British empire,” Malik contended.

He pointed out that when Kashmiris tried their hands at non-violence during the protests of 2008, ‘09, and ‘10 following the row over a grant of land made to the Amarnath shrine, the Indian Government used the same brute force which they used on the likes of him in the 80’s.

Mohammed Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), addresses a crowd on the first day of "Safar-e-Azadi" or Journey of Freedom in Kokernag, 65 km (40 miles) south of Srinagar May 20, 2007. JKLF, which declared a ceasefire in 1994 against Indian security forces, says it leads a political struggle for Kashmir's complete independence both from India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule in parts, started "Safar-e-Azadi" on Sunday from Kokernag which will run for the next six months.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail   (INDIAN ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTR1PW7J
Yasin Malik, on the first day of “Safar-e-Azadi” REUTERS/Danish Ismail

“What happened with us in the late 80’s, same thing is being repeated for the last 4-5 years. In 2008, when we saw the collective transformation of the Kashmiris from violent to non-violent, the Indian state again used the brute military force and shot down 72 people that year. They shot down 44 in 2009 and 135 in 2010. After that, they arrested more than 7000 boys, which was a record. That was not the end. Then we saw how their parents were abused and tortured by the forces,” Malik alleged.

Malik also accused the security forces of breaking their own law by detaining and abusing the parents of boys who are either militants or wanted in instances of stone-pelting. He called them ‘kidnappers’.

“We have seen many boys who participated in that non-violent movement joining militant ranks. So what forced them to resort to violence when they were a part of a non-violent struggle? That means there is no space for non-violence. Why would your father and mother be called to a police station, if you are wanted in stone-pelting? What is their crime? Recently I was in Pulwama, where two fathers whose sons were wanted in stone-pelting were detained. I went to the police station and told them this is purely an instance of kidnapping. Does your own Indian law allow you to detain the father of an accused? Can you detain some other person in place of the accused?” asked Malik.

He recalled the time when he undertook Safar-e-Azadi (a signature campaign in favour of independence). Malik alleged a couple of boys who were with him during that ‘democratic process’ were tortured and they joined militant ranks.

“Today’s youth is getting convinced that there are no takers for a non-violent movement. There is no such space. Two or three boys who were with me during the Safar-e-Azadi joined militant ranks. The reason was the same. They were abused and tortured by the police. There is no accountability for the state and its forces,” alleged the JKLF chief.

Malik also alleged that the members of the security forces are set free after killing boys in cold blood. “Now see what they did when Modi arrived here. Gowhar Dar, an engineering student from HMT area was killed by the security forces. SSP police said on record that they fired tear gas shells. Then they constituted a magisterial probe and they said we did not find any bullets missing with the CRPF members so they exonerated them!” he told me.

Gowhar Ahmed Dar, a 22-year-old was killed when protests took place in Kashmir after PM Modi left the state following a visit. Dar died as a teargas shell hit him in the head.

Indian police personnel detain a supporter of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a separatist party, during a clash in Srinagar May 30, 2013. Dozens of JKLF supporters held a protest on Thursday against the government's decision not to allow JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik to visit the earthquake-affected areas of the Doda region to distribute aid to victims, local media reported. REUTERS/Danish Ismail (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX105WO
Soure: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Malik questioned that when youngsters saw how CRPF members walked free after ‘killing’ protesters, why shouldn’t they die as militants? “When the boys see how they exonerated the CRPF, don’t you think the impact would be directly on them? When they see how a young boy was killed in the streets during a non-violent protest, they think why should we not get killed with a gun in our hands?” reasoned Malik.

He also recalled how after a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, his colleagues were allegedly killed.

“When we gave up arms and agreed on a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, 600 colleagues of mine were killed after that. The Indian state still called us a terrorist movement but we proved them wrong. The 116-day Safar-e-Azadi march is the only democratic process regarding Independence that has taken place in Kashmir. We have 1.5 million signatures in favour of independence. Then we saw how the Indian government dealt with us again. There have been I don’t know how many attempts on my life. I have been arrested hundreds of times. In 2002, I was tortured in Jammu. I lost the ability to hear in my right ear. I was sent to Jodhpur jail in 1999 and tortured there also,” said Malik.

Malik feels it’s déjàvu all over again. “The boys are facing the same things again. Otherwise, what happened in 2008?The same youth came out on the streets to protest non-violently, not with guns. Who crushed them? Who packed them in body bags? Who sent them to torture centres?” asked an angry Malik.

He also totally rubbished the fact that ‘educated boys’ were picking arms now which was not the case in the ‘80s.

“Were boys in the ‘80s uneducated? Shaheed Ashfaq Majeed Wani was a topper. Not just in studies but (he was very good) in sports also. Did he belong to any poor family? Nadim Khateeb, who was a commercial pilot in the USA, joined the armed rebellion, for what? Fame? And please note, all those boys were for many years a part of the non-violent movement. That is the reason that they were able to bring the biggest revolution in the 5000-year-old history of Kashmir,” said Malik.

He also mentioned that in any movement anywhere, it’s the students who are the torch bearers.

“Be it the Indian freedom movement, Palestinian movement, or any other, it’s the educated students who are at the forefront. Wherever you go in the world to a conflict zone, it’s the students who are leading the dissent. In the ‘80s, the students protested in Kashmir too. It was only after jail, torture, Red-16 type of interrogation centres that they picked up the gun,” explained Malik.

avirook sen aarushi

By Manira Chaudhary:

The Aarushi-Hemraj murder case is inarguably one of the biggest mysteries the country has ever encountered. In 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar, the daughter of dentists Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, and 45-year-old Hemraj, Talwars’ house help were found murdered at the Talwar residence in Noida. A long and complicated trial followed along with a salacious media coverage. The length of the trial was fraught with stories, allegations and conjectures popularized by mainstream media and worsened by heightened public interest.

Avirook Sen, an investigative journalist, also covered the case for two years for Mumbai Mirror before he decided to write a book on it. The book spells out the progression of the case in minute detail – some that the book claims were overlooked by the police and the CBI.

Watch this exclusive interview with Sen wherein he talks about his reasons for writing the book ‘Aarushi’, the wrongs that the mainstream media committed while covering the case, journalistic ethics, and more.

Posted by Lipi Mehta in Books

cornelia funke

By Lipi Mehta for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Cornelia Funke’s ‘Inkheart’ series finds a coveted place in millions of bookshelves across the world. Often called the ‘German J. K. Rowling’, she is one of the most beloved children’s authors today and started her journey as a book illustrator who then decided to tell stories of her own. With her gripping fantasy and adventure narratives, and strong protagonists, Funke is a deserving giant of the literary world. Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with her (over email) to find out more about her audience, the causes she believes in and more. Read on.

Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr
Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr

Lipi Mehta (LM): How do you think writers of children’s literature perceive their audience? Do they think children are capable of making informed choices about what to read and what to infer from the stories they read?

Cornelia Funke (CF): A British publisher once said to me, “The difference between writers for children and writers for adults is that the children’s books writers love their audience.” Children are often far more aware and far more critical when it comes to questioning the status quo of the world. They don’t hide from the big questions yet: Where do we come from? Where do we go? Why is the world so beautiful and so terrible at the same time? At every event, I do – yes, at every single event! – a so-called grown up comes to me and says, “Those children! They asked such good questions!” and each time I answer, “Well, they always do. Whereas grown-ups mostly try to ask questions that make them sound clever.” In my opinion, we often know who we are much better when we are young. We still haven’t built a fortress around our hearts. We haven’t made ourselves into a firmly defined persona. Children are still aware that they are part of everything – which is both a magical and a frightening feeling. They are shapeshifters still – which makes them the most enchanting audience for a story teller. So in short, yes, children are capable of almost everything. They can be manipulated, they can have bad taste, they sometimes like bad books… but all that is true of their grown-up versions as well.

cornelia funk seriesLM: Do you think some themes that can largely shape a child’s upbringing are missing in children’s literature? Which themes do you think more children’s books need to be written about, and why?

CF: I don’t think that anything is missing. In our time, children’s literature is more diverse and rich than ever before. There are so many enchanting voices, from so many countries and cultures, both from storytellers and illustrators. In many ways, it is a golden age. Of course, there are also many bad books! As always. There is a ridiculous tendency to put an age label on every story, although we know how vastly different we all are and that age is relative. But still – and despite the fact that publishing is more and more just about money (which is probably true about the world as well) – children’s literature is vibrant, inspiring and offers many different dishes to feed children’s minds and souls

LM: You wrote your first story when you were 35 years old. A lot of writers find it difficult to ‘start late’ and are scared of making the switch to writing from whichever careers they are pursuing. What would you like to say to them?

I was actually 29, which is still quite old from a child’s perspective. And as for the fear: I believe that fear is something to be overcome. We are all scared to change, to grow, to challenge ourselves. Chances are golden keys, but they are always sticky with fear. They don’t come without it. One should pick up the key nevertheless. And walk through the fear.

LM: You strongly lend your voice to the cause of survivors of abuse, minority exclusion and marginalised women and children. How do you think this passion reveals itself in your writing, and why do you think it is important for creative people to contribute to society through their art?

CF: It’s a strange thing that we separate art from life – that’s as if we believe a flower can grow without the soil its seeds come from. Our creativity is a unique gift distinctly human – maybe nothing defines us more. Art enriches life, but it also questions, reveals, interprets, gives meaning… there is an artist in all of us, the strong urge to give shape and form to our life experiences. There is no greater gift than waking that talent and gift in someone, who faces darkness and pain. So yes, I think being an artist comes with the obligation to pass that gift on. To give sound to what we all feel, fear, hate and love. An artist shouldn’t express just him or herself. An artist should find expression for all the others who can’t. Music, visual art, literature… all these express the human experience in unforgettable ways.

As for how this opinion reveals itself in my writing – I don’t believe in messages or sermons. I deeply mistrust any form of missionisation, in art as much as in life. But of course, my writing is a mirror of my beliefs and passions. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that we don’t love writers for their plots, but for their spirit and for what they make us feel about the world. I agree. We all love a writer for the feeling a book gives us, for the glasses it hands us to see the world in a slightly different way.

LM: You are inspired by J. K. Rowling and your website mentions you could make the decision of ‘killing’ after how Rowling wrote the death of her character Sirius Black. Why do you think it is important, or rather necessary for writers to be inspired by other writers, and does this impact originality in any way?

CF: That’s funny, I don’t think I ever said I was influenced. I hated the way J.K. killed Sirius. I was quite upset about it, as I felt she got rid of him as casually as wiping a fly off the wall (which isn’t quite just a statement I admit) I had a discussion about it with her former editor and swore, that IF I ever have to kill a favorite character of one, there will be blood and tears on the page. Shortly after that, the story I was writing (‘Inkspell’ at that time) revealed a dead Dustfinger to me. To this day, I don’t know whether that had been decided long before my discussion (stories have their own minds after all) or was triggered by it. My first reaction was NOOO! I will never do that! But the images kept coming. I saw him dead. No doubt there. So for two days I tried to find out why the story wants me to go there. And when I did, I kept my promise to make it a memorable death (at least I hope I did). As for your question whether one should be inspired: of course. All artists inspire each other. Even bad books teach us something. But inspire doesn’t mean copy.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

Cornelia Funke will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch her between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

r raj rao

By Shambhavi Saxena for Youth Ki Awaaz:

R. Raj Rao
Source: Facebook

Credited with writing one of India’s first ‘gay novels’, R. Raj Rao, the author of ‘The Boyfriend‘ (2003) and ‘Hostel Room 131‘ (2010) spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz about gender and sexual minorities in India, responses to the brazen queerness of his literature, and his experience of being mistaken for an orthodox Hindu writer. Rao’s writing is known (and lauded) for its dry humour and irreverence, which can be a breath of fresh air in times when people take the slightest things much too seriously. Longtime gay-rights activist and presently a professor at Pune University, he was the first in India to offer a programme on LGBT literature at his University.

Shambhavi Saxena (SS): In ‘The Boyfriend’, you’ve been careful to reflect a composite of identity markers like caste, class, profession and age. Do you think the urban LGBT+ movement in India is too preoccupied with sexual identity (and almost exclusively ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ identities) to look at these other intersections?

R. Raj Rao (RRR): Yes, possibly. Each constituency is concerned with its own agendas and couldn’t be bothered with the agendas of other constituencies. This is what hinders the formation of coalitions. But then, at the end of the day, ‘The Boyfriend‘ is a work of literary fiction. Identity politics must not be taken to be its main focus.

SS: When Sridhar Rangayan interviewed you for Project Bolo, you said you “can’t endorse political correctness.” Why is that? And do you think there is pressure on contemporary queer writers to be politically correct?

RRR: I can’t remember in what context I spoke about political correctness in my Project Bolo interview. My fiction is hardly politically correct. If it were, it wouldn’t work as fiction. The pressure on contemporary writers to be politically correct comes from activists and reviewers, not from publishers and fellow writers. That is why I am not the blue-eyed boy of the former.

SS: You spent a significant period of time in the UK, where a lot of your queer politics really crystallized. From what you’ve seen, how do you think British queer culture differs from what we have here in India? Especially since Section 377 was instituted by the British in India but struck down in the UK over 50 years ago?

RRR: British queer culture today is the same as the queer culture of America, Europe and the rest of the Western world. That is to say, it is progressive. But it also tends to straitjacket sexual identities, put them into boxes, as it were. That is where we score, here in India. Homos and heteros don’t have to take one of Robert Frost’s two roads, from which there’s no turning back. We can be on both roads at the same time, as our sexual identities are fluid. So many of our respondents in ‘Whistling in the Dark‘ have said that they have had sex with both men and women and have enjoyed both kinds of sex. This does not help when it comes to movements, or when archaic laws have to be changed. But it does help in decentring the ghetto.

The Boyfriend.inddSS: “Outcastes can only expect to be friends with outcastes,” says Yudi, in ‘The Boyfriend’. But no matter how cohesive or organized people on the margins become, they will not be granted access to the centre. Do you agree? Or do the margins have more radical potential than we give credit for?

RRR: But why do we need to reach the centre? Utopias are realized when the margins themselves become the centre. If these needs radicalization as you call it, I am all for it. Radical, to me, isn’t a dirty word, though in India we associate it with Maoism and militancy. I do not regard myself as different from a terrorist, except that my weapon is the pen.

SS: The Babri demolition and Shiv Sena operations form the backdrop for Yudi and Milind’s Bombay in ‘The Boyfriend’. Do you see similar communal tension in India of 2015? What does this mean for queer politics?

RRR: Oh, everyone knows it is much worse now than ever before, with the RSS ruling us. Didn’t you read my Pune Mirror column of 8 December 2015, where I said that there was a conspiracy between the legislature and judiciary to keep passing the buck from one to the other, with neither of them having any intention to scrap Section 377? At least, that’s what I gathered from Arun Jaitley’s recent remarks on Section 377. As long as the present government is in power – which is till 2019 at least – the climate for gays in India will only get more suffocating. Technically, we are criminals, and that is how the government wishes to see us.

SS: Can you share with us your experience of ‘the queer’ within academia? How have students responded and what implications does that have for (the possibility of) mainstreaming queer politics?

RRR: Queer studies in India hasn’t acquired the glamour and respect that women’s studies and Dalit studies have acquired. And it never will. Even now, in 2016, there are only a handful of Indian universities that have a queer studies course on the syllabus. It is always an optional course, so there are few takers. Some students think that if they take the course, they will be making a statement about their sexuality, which no one wants to do. You may call it homophobia. It is preposterous to think that queer politics can be mainstreamed the way caste and gender politics have been mainstreamed in India.

SS: Why have you acquired the pen-name Raja Rao Jr.?

RRR: Well, better late than never. Raja Rao was born in 1908 and died around the year 2000. In 1996, I finally met him in Austin, Texas, where he lived. But ever since I began writing and publishing in the late 1980s, I have been mistaken for Raja Rao. My name has been printed as Raja Rao in the newspapers hundreds of times. These howlers have proved costly. Once, I was inadvertently invited to an international conference in Sri Lanka to deliver a keynote address and was put up at a 5-star hotel in Colombo, called the Lanka Oberoi. It is only after I arrived at the airport that the organizers realized that they had made a terrible mistake, that I was not Raja Rao who wrote ‘Kanthapura’ and ‘The Serpent On The Rope’. But by then it was too late. They had to put me up at the Lanka Oberoi and hear my keynote address, of which Raja Rao would never have approved.

I have been asked to autograph Raja Rao’s books many times by readers who take me to be him. Rather than educate them, I have adopted the line of least resistance at such times–I have forged his signature on their books, and they have gone away happy.

To me, calling myself Raja Rao Jr. is the ultimate act of subversion, considering that he was a Brahmin with great faith in Vedanta philosophy, and was avowedly straight with a series of women in his life. And I, as you know, am none of these things, and my life’s mission is to attack religious hegemony and heterosexuality.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

R. Raj Rao will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch him between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.


By Hitesh Bhatt

hitch hiking hitesh bhattIn last five odd months, I have hitch-hiked in almost all the places I have gone to, including Nepal. I have hitched on the back of a bullock-cart; travelled with truckers; spent kilometers talking to tractor-drivers while hitching with them; hitched a sedan and bicycles. Of all the places I have hitched to, there is one place worth talking about: Punjab.

I started from Delhi to Punjab on the third week of October last year. I stood on the NH1 where I was dropped by a trucker. There were a number of trucks pulled over in a row. Papers were being checked by police. I passed the checkpoint and found that a couple of trucks were parked near a tea stall. It almost had to beg to get a ride from one trucker. Later, while riding with him, he said that people in Delhi were not good and he wasn’t sure if I wasn’t a thug. He said had he been in Punjab he would have stopped his truck without asking. He was so true about that! He drove the truck to a vegetable market in Ambala. We chatted the whole night. He told me about his village, about his wife, about how studious his kids were. He even invited me to his house.

I slept in his truck until dawn. When I woke up, he got me tea and bread. Upon seeing sunlight, I decided to move as I had to reach Barnala which was still 170km away. I walked up to the highway and within five minutes, a tractor stopped. He offered me a ride up to Rajpura Road. He told me that he and his brothers are farmers and they all live together, happily. Wishing me luck, he dropped me and headed home.

It was merely 6 in the morning. I was standing right where a flyover ends. Within 10 minutes, a truck crossed me in a good speed and pulled over more than a 100mtr ahead. Much to my surprise, by the time I reached the truck, he had already taken out a bottle and glasses and was pouring a drink for himself and his cleaning man. I wondered if I should hop on to a drunkard’s truck but decided to anyway. I realised he was pretty drunk but he was funny as well. He drove me up to Ludhiana and the whole journey was hilarious. He was around 37 and the cleaning man was a 76-year-old veteran ex-trucker. The driver would tell me that the old man was a godfather to him as he taught him everything about trucks and driving. But when high on alcohol, he would swear at him saying, “This motherfucker is a useless old chap, he just feeds on my earnings; he is a parasite.”

IMG_6073The driver drove the truck the way many ride their motorcycles. At the speed of 80, he was able to make pegs for himself. I got off at Ludhiana and hitched another truck to Barnala.

I met a friend of mine in Barnala and we decided to go all the way back to Chandigarh to spend some time with his friends. But to reach Chandigarh, it involved a hitch with a truck, on a tractor, on a bullock-cart, and on an all-new sedan!

While coming back to Delhi, Punjab was going through a huge social unrest due to the desecration of the holy book by some hatemongering group. All the roads were blocked and a lot of people and police were injured, few of them even killed. In such atmosphere, I was rescued by a Mother-Dairy tanker. We drove through the villages, broken roads and he dropped me at Karnal. I took a bus from there to Delhi.

Punjab overwhelmed me with its hospitality. I can’t thank all the people enough who made me feel like the part of a world where goodness still overshadows evil. I have made friends with a few truckers who still call me to know how my journey is going on and when I would visit Punjab again. I learnt a good deal about lives of truckers.

A piece of advice: Hitch-hiking is one of the most common ways in which budget travellers commute throughout the world. In case of India, it is not so popular yet and it makes me sad to say that one needs to keep in mind many factors before opting for a hitch-hike here. It is all the more challenging for a solo woman to try hitch-hiking. Though I know a few brave Indian female travellers who do that, I wouldn’t personally recommend this to any woman. All I can say is follow your gut instincts before doing so, assess the situation you are in, and keep your safety the priority.

solo travel 1

By Hitesh Bhatt

It is the fifth month of my solo travelling. In these months, I have received a lot of messages asking me why I travel alone. Don’t I get bored? They say they like the concept of travelling but don’t understand how it is fun travelling solo.

There was a time when I won’t even go to a grocery store alone. I used to call my roommate to accompany me as I would get bored alone. Our society is also constructed in a way that fosters companionship. Watching a movie, shopping, and dining: these are things if someone does alone, is looked down upon in the society. The conditioning of our minds have become such that there remain less opportunities for us to spend a single minute with ourselves, peacefully. At times of catharsis, people are explicitly suggested to spend a few minutes alone with themselves. Meditation is promoted to those who lack peace of mind. While we all know and have experienced the power of togetherness, there are only a few who have experienced the power of being alone. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a choice while lonely is a forced/unwanted situation.

Let’s get into the material and non-material benefits of travelling solo:

solo travel 1Expense Control: I travel with a shoestring budget of Rs.300 a day. If I travel with someone else, two things happen. Either I end up spending more than 300 or the other person bears my expense. While the former happens more than the latter, I don’t appreciate the latter as well. Hence, I travel solo to the far and wide places in this country. In other words, if you travel solo, you will always be economical the way you had planned.

New Friends: When you travel with someone else, you are confined in your own two-person territory. You will spend more time talking and having fun with each other. In contrast, if travelling alone, the whole world will be your possible companion if you look for it. You will force yourself to talk to new people, take interest in the conversations, listen deeply, speak limited and learn more. If travelling is only fun for you, travel with a friend but if travelling is a way of life, there is no better teacher than solo travels. I have made so many friends from all over the world through my travels. My cross-cultural understanding has improved and I have, now, some of the great new friends in my life.

Control On Your Life: When you are out there trekking through dense forests and mountains, lost in your own thoughts, or sitting on a hill top watching a sun setting into the lap of mother nature or when you are awake at 5 in the morning to go to the beach and take a plunge to experience how it feels to swim and freeze: there is no one to tell you otherwise. You decide which destination you go next, how long you stay there, how much you travel on a particular day or how much you sleep. You feel like a free bird/bull and trust me that you will fall in love with this feeling and yourself.

Fearless: Everyone knows what fear is. It is something that stops us from doing so many things we could have done in our lives were we not fearful. That girl/boy we wanted to propose to in high school, that competition we wanted to take part in but didn’t due to the fear of losing, that entrance exam we didn’t prepare for due to the fear of not qualifying it, the jobs we didn’t apply due to the feeling of being under-qualified and fear of not getting it. Not only that, there is a fear which tops the chart of fears and that’s the fear of unknown. The fear of ‘what-if’ is our roadblock.

Before I started travelling, I was a person with all these fears in my mind. What if I lose my job, what if my girlfriend breaks up with me, what if I never am able to buy my dream car and so on. In these months of travelling, at times with consciousness and most of the times without realizing, I have overcome my fears. I am not scared of death, not even a painful one because I have started seeing everything as a life experience. I have learned to detach ‘I’ from any good or bad that happens with me and I don’t feel too happy or too sad. I am poised, calm, and fearless. All the credit goes to solo travelling. Had I been travelling with a companion and these changes would have occurred, I would think the other person is a big reason for these changes. Since, I know I have been alone; I give all the credits to myself for showing courage to change myself.

More Confidence: Once you see yourself doing things you had never imagined doing alone, you become more confident about your capabilities. When you overcome your fear of heights, fear of initiating a conversation with a stranger in a café, fear of spending a dark night alone on top of a mountain and so on, you become confident about yourself. You know that you have achieved something without an external help. And you know you can do more things all by yourself. That feeling is liberating.

Time For Introspection: Travelling solo will leave you to have ample time with yourself. You will have enough time to think about your past, your present, your future, your people, your friends and your foes. You’ll think about things you could have done and things you shouldn’t have done. You’ll understand yourself better and try to become an improved version of yourself.

Appreciate The People In Your Life: I’m a people person yet I travel solo. When I see a group of people having fun during a trek or a couple engrossed in a deep conversation in a crowded street, I, at times, miss my people. It makes me sad for a while and then I look at the other benefits of travelling alone and I let this feeling go by. But this teaches me to appreciate and take care of my people who have been with me through thick and thin. We realize the value of something when we don’t have it. When we don’t have friends and family when we want them the most, we know how important are them. Travelling solo fosters that feeling.

Anonymity: You are in an unknown place. You are alone. You are anonymous. You want to do something crazy that you have never done. You don’t have a known person around you to make you feel uncomfortable. You lie down in a busy street for 30 seconds. You get up. Everything feels different. You are still anonymous. You feel great. You are mad. You overheard someone calling you ‘abnormal’. You smile. You reply within, “I have had it with normalcy, anyway.”

In the End, We Are All Alone: Many a times when our heart breaks or something else that terribly goes wrong; we feel lonely. We think about all the people in our life and realise that in the end, we are the only friend we have that will remain till the end. If you are someone who has travelled solo at least once, you will be able to bear the pain of loneliness. You’ll be much appreciative of your loneliness than ever. You’ll become a stronger person.

Know Who We Are: In the end, the most important problem of our life. Who are we? What do we want to become? What are my strengths and weaknesses (not those you write in your job application resume)? What are my interest areas? You might not get an answer but you will definitely get an idea as to who you are and what your limits are and who do you want to be.

I found my peace while travelling solo. You might find yours. I have conquered my fears. I live freely, happily, and adventurously. What are you waiting for? If you are not a full time traveller, this weekend, pick up your backpack and go somewhere solo. It is liberating. Trust me.

If you are a solo traveller, already, please do add on to the above points and share with me why you prefer to travel solo.

Note: This post has also been published on the author’s personal blog. All images in this post have been provided by the author.


By Aswati Anand

Flat sand banks embrace Indus as it curves and disappears into the gorge. My friend sits with his cigarette and lets the evening light the barren landscape of Ladakh. With his other hand, he fiddles with a radio, crackling with Radio Kashmir. But the three of us continue to listen to the sound of the river jumping over stones.

 He switches channels and we are listening to Radio Pakistan.

“Whoaaa..” he looks at both of us in wonder and tunes the device again only to get a channel in an entirely foreign language.

“Is that Radio China?”

IMG_2932You get enough reminders that this is a border area- through the hilariously pithy Border Roads Organisation signs (“Be gentle on my curves”), the jokes Ladakhi kids make, the army bunkers, the occasional Air Force planes going overhead and the check posts. Yet, it is difficult to orient yourself geographically in Ladakh when all you see is the sky bowing down to the majesty of these snow-flecked ochre mountains.

Among many a wonder this strange ‘moonland’ has to offer, where the idyllic haze takes over the acute awareness of being at the border, is Pangong Tso (Tibetan for “enchanted lake”).

Pangong lake is in Changthang plateau where the firoza stones Ladakhis wear on their perak (headdress) are found. The region is part of the Tibetan plateau with its dry grasslands, nomads who herd Pashmina goats, the occasional appearances of the Tibetan wild ass and the coy marmots.

After our descent from the massive snow walls of Chang La pass, where the altitude is so high that birds glide past our car like an auto-rickshaw cutting ahead in traffic, Changthang plateau is an entrance to a rugged version of Grimms Fairytale. Wild horses, yaks and pashmina goats drink from melting snow streams meandering through the dry green grasslands. Small stone houses occasionally pass you by. And at the end of this 5-hour-long drive from Leh is this endorheic saltwater lake made famous by Bollywood blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’ – which straddles the India-China border. About 70 percent of the lake sprawls in China – a hard fact that snatches away pleasures of boating on the lake.

IMG_2969In mid-March, we are greeted with a white sheet nestled between the red mountains instead of seven shades of blue that had become part of the lake’s myth. It is as if the saltwater itself is hibernating under the snow. However, a frozen Pangong Tso has other enchantments – a chance to walk on the lake or even better, make snow angels near Line of Actual Control.

But the lake wasn’t always divided.

When Ladakh was ruled by kings from Namgyal line, there was a war between Tibet and Bhutan.

The then ruler, Delden Namgyal, supported Bhutan. Angered, the 5th Dalai Lama sent an army to attack Ladakh in the 1680s. Ladakhis were defeated at Chang La pass and were chased down to Indus valley. The Ladakhi leaders and army hid inside the famed Basgo fort. The Tibetans confined them in the fort for three years.

Desperate, Delden Namgyal asked the Mughal rulers for help. Their help came with a price: that pashmina from Ladakh and Western Tibet be sold only to Kashmir and he must  convert to Islam. After this, Delden Namgyal was known as Aqibat Mahmud Khan in Kashmir. Tibetans, upset with this development, sent a representative to meet the king and signed a treaty in 1684 with the present borders cutting through the Pangong lake. The Ladakhis had to send tributes for Tibetan kings and monasteries every three years and Tibetans agreed to sell the pashmina from western Tibet to Kashmir. Ladakh was never truly independent after this. Subservient to both Kashmir and Tibet after this siege, the kings never tried to expand Ladakh’s borders.

ladakh 1My friends start to make a snowman by the lake’s edge as I stagger around with my camera, listening to the fluttering of prayer flags, sounds of laughter as my friends’ snowman-making exercise devolved into a snow fight, clicking pictures of this expanse of white contrasted starkly by the red mountains hemming the lake in.

Since it is off-season, there are only a few tourists apart from us – eating Maggi, clicking pictures and much to our amusement, asking their bewildered Ladakhi driver for the ‘3 Idiots point’. It can be argued that the movie has brought a lot of tourists to an otherwise isolated region, but I end up chuckling when my friend muttered under her breath, “Well I can see one idiot.”

As we head back to the school we were volunteering in, trying to process the beauty we saw, one of our students broke the spell: “Aap logon ne Pangong nahi dekha, aap ne barf dekha (you didn’t see Pangong, you saw snow).”

Kee_monastery_Spiti_Valley (1)

By Anchit Thukral:

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions. Our lions are the two massive 200-plus feet frozen waterfalls of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. Welcome to ‘The Fall’. In January 2016, a team of passionate filmmakers and mountain climbers will come together to film a first of its kind ascent of two uncharted and never before conquered waterfalls and this is how it came into being.

How It All Started

Kee_monastery_Spiti_Valley (1)Almost two years back, Abhijeet, pro mountaineer and photographer, learned (well, realized) that nobody in India had ever climbed a frozen waterfall in the country. Why? Most likely because it is too dangerous. But to Abhijeet, the idea and the challenge were too exhilarating to let go without a fight. He not only wanted to make the climb but he also wanted to film it. He shared the idea with me and, just like him, I was blown away by it. But as the adrenaline receded, my mind was clouded with questions. For example, how will we get the crew competent enough for the project, are people ready to take such risks in our country, does a country like India care about adventure sports and many more such thoughts kept me awake at nights. But, as the saying goes, ‘I didn’t say no because between safety and adventure, I choose adventure.’ And that was it. I decided to take a leap of faith and we started ideating on the campaign. The past few months have taught me that it is not only about the right people being in the right place at the right time, but it is also about knowing what to do when you find yourself there. Fast forward 18 months… that moment has turned into ‘The Fall’.

About The Climb

Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley located in the heart of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. There are two frozen waterfalls above 200 feet in the valley. To give you some perspective, the waterfalls are as big as a 20 storey building. It is for the first time that any Indian is attempting the climb of a frozen waterfall in India. And it is cold out there… very cold, in fact. The temperature in January can go down to as low as -20 degrees Celsius.


This one of a kind adventure gives us goosebumps, but also makes us excited at the same time. Each member of the team has been going through intense physical, mental and emotional training to make this happen because the terrain is deadly and one mistake can lead to death. There really are no second chances. Are we crazy? Perhaps. But the idea behind this project is to make an attempt to let common people like us understand and feel the emotion that goes behind every experience and every triumph by conquering extreme physical, emotional and psychological barriers that we meet along the way. It is mind over matter in the truest sense.

The Team

The project is very close to the heart of each and every team member. The team includes 9 members and an independent rock band called ‘The Local Train’. Though the band won’t be travelling with the team, they are giving the soundtrack for the official film, ‘The Fall’.

Our core team includes:
Abhijeet Singh: Mountaineer/Photographer
Pranav Rawat: Mountaineer/Instructor/Apple Farmer
Anchit Thukral: Filmmaker
Ankur Phougat: Director of Photography
Shubhranshu Chaudhary: Mountaineer

Every step has been a challenge. For each of us, this project is very special. For the past few months, we have fought innumerable challenges to make this happen. And this project is a little contribution from our side towards securing Mother Nature and its greatest keeper, the mountains.

We invite you to join this exciting journey and make a small contribution towards our crowdfunding campaign.

budget traveller featured

By Hitesh Bhatt

Two months ago when I decided to travel full-time, I had very limited money in my bank account. I had no other option but to travel cheap. Two months later when I have travelled to quite a few places in the northern part of India, I have realised the immense benefits of being a budget traveller.

1. Less Money, More People

FB_IMG_1441105457285If we have limited money, we’ll need people more than anything else: to hitchhike, to feed ourselves, to sleep in a cheap place or in our own tents, to know the directions, to travel. Money can buy any material for us, it can inflate our ego and it will definitely distant us from people because we won’t need them for our survival. A leisure/luxury traveller misses out on everyday-trivial-yet-important conversations that revolve around peoples’ lives. At least for people like me who see conversations as a must-have ingredient of travelling, low-budget really helps.

When I was in a village called Kalga in Himachal, I stayed at a place for Rs.50 per night. The hosts were such amazing people, that I can’t compare it with any hospitality offered to me by five-star hotel staffs. The reason is simple: The former were natural hosts while the latter were professionals. You get the point.

2. Test Your Limits

I read somewhere, “When you reach your limits, your limits expand.” In the consumerist world, there is no place for a poor person. Everyone needs to earn money to sustain a life. How much ever sad this is, this is the reality. When our pockets are empty, we go beyond our limits to fulfill our basic needs. From finding the cheapest place to have that afternoon meal to finding that reliable place where we can keep our bags without paying a penny to walking those extra miles out of the city to reach the highway; a budget traveller always tests their limits. I have walked many miles with 15 kg of luggage on me. Now I don’t even feel the pain in my shoulders. I can eat once a day and not feel weak or hungry. We are more than what we know of ourselves.

3. Kill Your Ego

DSC_0481We have an enormous amount of ego stored safely in us to make us miserable. The ego which we believe to be our self-respect (who accepts that they have an ego issue?) is doing more harm than any good. The ignorance of self, I, me, and mine makes us an egoistic person. In reality, we never try to observe our existence independent of our possessions. We are all the same people without our possessions. Without air, water, and food we all will die. We realize this when we travel with a very low-budget (INR 300 a day is mine). When we are out there in a far away place with no worldly possession and everything is at risk of being lost, we find ourselves. We happily and gracefully kill our ego and come out as a better person who values everything and everyone in life. What best could travel offer than this! I have found people mean to me, mocking me, judging me and I have realized that it is not my problem, it is theirs. I do not feel bad anymore, I just do not take the unnecessary offense which helps me focus on my work and move on.

4. Learn New Skills

IMG_20151106_082332When we are testing our limits and killing our ego every day, we become less judgmental. The real learning starts. We learn how to hitchhike, how to talk to anyone, how to convince a total stranger in a village to let you camp in their premise, how to cook food and enjoy it and what not. Since we are willing to do anything, all the strings in our mind loosen and we tighten them again like a new-born baby. We are aware, empty, and always ready. These skills, I believe, will help us in a long run as well. These are survival skills. (I am learning how to cook and enjoying it.)

5. Food Tastes Better

When we realize that life is more than satisfying our taste buds, we accept anything that comes on our plates. And surprisingly it tastes so good (better than KFC’s ‘soo goood’). We get to eat local food from different places that we enjoy with total strangers in their premises. And the conversations over food, Ah! inexplicable; tastier than the food. I make friends every day. I love the stories I hear during the meal. I love the sense of humor and simplicity with which people in the rural India live.Know Ground Realities: Apart from knowing who we are, what are our limits, what is our reality; we get to know the ground realities that are prevailing in peoples’ lives. We experience life situations at the bottom of the pyramid. When people share with us their stories, their struggles, their happiness, their tales, folklore; we learn how limited our problems are and also how limited our happiness is.

6. Know Ground Realities

Apart from knowing who we are, what are our limits, what is our reality; we get to know the ground realities that are prevailing in peoples’ lives. We experience life situations at the bottom of the pyramid. When people share with us their stories, their struggles, their happiness, their tales, folklore; we learn how limited our problems are and also how limited our happiness is.

7. A Better Person

IMG_20151213_112200563_HDRThe more we travel; the more we break our stereotypes. We become less judgmental. We see humans as one species and learn that religion can be more dividing than uniting. It sometimes creates more problems than solving them. We find one in all and all in one. It is debatable and so I claim is true at least to me.

Life is more than what we will ever know. Travelling is one way of getting closer to its meaning and purpose. Travelling for me and many like me is just not an escape from the world, it is rather a journey of self-exploration. Travelling is adventure, travelling is for that adrenaline rush that makes me feel I am alive. It is to evolve and empathize and live: live beautifully.

This article was originally published here on the author’s blog.

beatles in rishikesh

By Parul Doshi

As my friend and I landed at the Jolly Grant airport in the city of Dehradun around noon, it occurred to me that she presented the perfect picture of an Indian-American tourist; with her hat, sunglasses and backpack at the ready. When I first suggested this trip to her, I was sceptical of her response. Her travels in India had started and ended with the two Tajs – the hotel in Mumbai and the spectacular structure in Agra.

So when she finally agreed to come to India and “explore” the interiors with me, I was jubilant. It was easy booking tickets to Dehradun via Delhi. We exited the tiny airport and she quickly took out a small planner which had a list of things to do in Dehradun. As we left the airport vicinity, the crisp morning air greeted us. Fresh smells of magnolia and greenery soothed us after our days in hot summery Bombay. On our way from Dehradun to Rishikesh, tree-lined roads with thick deodar forests greeted us. The wind brought with it an earthy fragrance mingled with the scent of flowers.

Soon, we started climbing the hills of the Shivalik – a range in the Himalayas that boasts of bearing the Gangotri and the Yamnotri in its womb. Our car passed through clouds and the whole landscape resembled a Monet painting. Far away, we could see the flow of the Ganges. The river accompanied us – at times parallel and at other times, distant like a sulking bride.

The moment we entered Rishikesh, we could feel the tranquillity and quietness of the surroundings. As one experiences the sheer poetry of the Ganges, one feels it ricochet within.

We had decided to explore the untouched and offbeat parts of Rishikesh, besides taking a dip in the Ganges. The next day, as we walked around the small lanes and by-lanes of Rishikesh, we came to the Parmarth Niketan, a popular Hindu temple and ashram that hosts the famous Ganga aarti every day. Further down, the lanes were crowded with pilgrims wearing saffron and chanting loudly, some of them wet from the dip in the holy river, small children running helter-skelter and sadhus asking for bhiksha in their quiet way. It indeed was a colourful sight. Shops selling gemstones, sweet shops selling local sweets and vegetarian fare and heavily crowded bookshops selling books on religion and spirituality along with loud honking of the scooters lend these small lanes of Rishikesh a unique dimension. In a whim of fancy, I felt the need to explore the end of that lane assuming it to be the end of the whole city. Completely overpowered by the sensual influx, we finally reached the end of that lane, only to reach a small cafe named, The Last Chance Cafe. Ironically, it shared its boundary wall with a Hindu crematorium (Smashan Bhoomi)!

In our quest for exploration, we moved further down and found a group of sadhus sitting below a huge mango tree, playing cards and smoking bidis. Out of curiosity, I went and asked them if anything lay beyond this place for us to see. At first, they completely ignored us. When I pestered them again and asked, “Baba, is there anything ahead?” Irritated by my enquiries, one Sadhu without looking up replied nonchalantly, “Nothing except the Beatles Ashram.”

“The Beatles Ashram?” my friend and I simultaneously squealed, creating a dramatic effect. The sadhu looked up at us, not moved by our reaction and said lazily, moving his hand as if he were swatting a fly, “Those singers from Amrika.” (Maybe for them all the foreigners were from the U.S.A.) My curiosity knew no bounds. I started walking ahead and suddenly came across an entrance with three conical structures decorated with round pebbles from the Ganges and a huge board hanging on its gate with the sign, ‘This property belongs to Rajaji National Park. Entry is prohibited.’ I knew a little bit about the Beatles’ visit to India and Rishikesh and their stay with Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, who had established his ashram there.

Never in my wildest dreams, had I ever thought of encountering the ashram where Beatles spent their time in 1968. The Maharishi was already well-known among Britain’s hippie circles and had made numerous public appearances in the UK by the time he met the Beatles in London in 1967. It appears that in February 1968, highly fascinated by spirituality and Indian culture, the Beatles travelled to India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Amid widespread media attention and all the hype, their visit was one of the band’s most productive periods. Led by George Harrison’s commitment, their interest in the Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation all over the world. As we all know, the Beatles already had a huge fan following. Their stay in Rishikesh became a huge incentive for a lot of foreigners and spiritual pursuers to visit the Ashram.

Feeling all excited, I asked the sadhus again if I could go inside and see the ashram. “Please go away. There is nothing to see. It is all over. The ashram is dilapidated with its glory gone. Please go away,” one of them, visibly annoyed, snapped. Disappointed, we came back to our hotel room. But somehow, the place struck a chord within me. I couldn’t forget that place and its solitude. I decided to visit again. The next day, I went alone – cautious yet determined. It was 11 a.m. and the sun brightly spread its halo over me, even as it played hide and seek with the clouds. When I reached the ashram, I found it quiet and lonely. No sadhus flocking under the mango tree to play cards. Taking a deep breath, I approached the gate – entry was prohibited. I could hear the rhythmic sound of the Ganges in the distance, enveloping my senses with its musicality.

Ten or fifteen minutes must have passed like this, when I suddenly saw an old sadhu with a long white, beard and a thick turban of tangled hair, wearing a white dhoti approaching the gate. I requested him to open the door and allow me to go inside. In a thick Garhwali accent, he asked me whether I was from the media. I said I was just a curious traveller and a huge fan of the Beatles. He said thickly, “OK beta, I can let you enter this place but promise me that you will come out within ten minutes.” I promised as requested and, with a spring in my feet, finally entered the Maharshi Mahesh Yogi ashram aka the Beatles ashram.

As soon as I went inside the creaky doors, everything exuded a sense of calm. Eerily quiet and completely secluded, this place must have seen better days for sure. As I started walking on my right, I could see single small cubicles scattered all over the place. They were conical shaped and the outer wall was decorated with pebbled stones from the Ganges just like the cubicles at the entrance. Upon enquiring, the gentle elderly sadhu – my guide – told me, “There are 84 such kutikas (cubicles) scattered all over the ashram. They were mainly used for an individual to meditate and dwell in.” He also said that the conical shape would transfer the energies in a concentrated form which would be helpful in increasing the vibrations of the person sitting within.

Climbing further through the winding stairs, we passed by a small house that belonged to the bank, where all financial transactions used to take place. A little ahead lay a community mess, cottages for the guests, cottages for the regular staff and a huge hall for meditators and practitioners. As I walked along, I could feel the whole tree-lined lane becoming quiet and heavy with thick air. I could hear my guide’s heavy breathing as we climbed up. I thought of the glorified past of this beautiful and tranquil place and the slice of heaven it must have been, back then.

Walking further down, we came to the huge meditation hall. At times, the Beatles used to host their concerts here with yogis sitting on the elevated altar. But the space was mainly used for quiet meditation and satsang, I was informed by the sadhu. Reaching the old dilapidated green moss-covered building, he pushed the creaky door slightly. To my surprise, a large hall with all the four sides painted with fancy texts and photos of the Beatles and also Mahesh Yogi opened up like a magic box! The paintings appeared well worn but still in their essence. The entrance to the hall was painted with colourful graffiti. One side had the Maharshi’s profile, and the opposite that of the Beatles. A few poetic sentences here and there along with scattered drawings and paintings amongst the tattered walls made for a unique sensory experience. I stood staring at it all in awe. On seeing my expression, my guide, by now a friend, said, “It’s all been done by the Beatles fans who come from all over the world.”

Suddenly, out of the blue, he said almost incoherently, “If you know their famous white album, it was all conceptualised and also played here. All on the land of this Ashram. The Beatles along with others used to meditate, give concerts, and ask questions to the Yogi.” I was completely captivated and in a state of trance, overwhelmed by the place.

Out of nowhere, the sadhu started humming a song I couldn’t decipher. I looked at him and with blank eyes, he looked at me saying, “Everything is over. The past has gone, the present is here. I don’t know where everybody else is. I miss those days, those moments, those people.”

This article was originally published here

chandertal lake himachal pradesh

By Abhishek Bhati

Note: This article was originally published on Down To Earth

On my journey to Chandertal Lake in Himachal Pradesh this summer, I found how the pristine beauty of the Himalayas was marred by pollution and heaps of garbage.

The lake, which is situated at a height of 4,200 metres from the sea level, is a popular trekking destination. My first stopover was at the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation’s (HPTDC) hotel in Swarghat.

Though the stay was comfortable and I got hot water for bathing, it was disappointing to find the use of plastic water bottles at the place. Just behind the hotel, garbage mixed with rainwater was making its way towards the Sutlej river.

himalayas mountains hills

Despite my initial disappointment, I continued on my journey to Chandertal via Manali. After spending a night there, I tried to get a permit to cross the Rohtang Pass.

The recent law passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) allows only 1,000 vehicles to cross the Pass daily. Though it is a welcome step designed to protect the fragile environment, the current process is cumbersome and time-consuming.

One has to stand in a queue for hours at the sub-divisional magistrate’s (SDM) office to get the permit. The bureaucratic red tape can be smoothened by introducing e-permission.

If the process of getting permission to visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan is so efficient, I don’t see why the permission to cross the Rohtang Pass is still based on archaic procedures of submitting documents a day before to obtain the permit.

The entire process is not only inefficient and frustrating, but also opens up the possibility of corruption and harassment of tourists by middlemen.

As I crossed the Rohtang Pass to go to Gramphu (a point of diversion for going to Keylong Valley and Lahaul/Spiti Valley), potholes on the road greeted me. I had to climb out of the vehicle several times so that it can easily pass along the places dotted by waterfalls.

Finally, after a tiresome journey of around 150 kilometres (12 hours), I reached the meadow of Chandertal. Initially, I was glad to hear that nobody was allowed to camp near the Chandertal Lake for fear of polluting the environment.

Having trekked to Roopkund Lake two years ago where I witnessed environmental damages due to over-commercialisation of trekking (read Wrong Trek), I was surprised to see clear blue water and no sign of plastics in and around the lake.

After spending some time in the lake area, I climbed a small hill and saw the peaks of the mesmerising Chandra Bhaga mountain range in the distance.

Though at that moment, I felt it was “worth it” to come to Chandertal, I got a rude shock when I decided to head back towards the meadow.

When I reached there, the number of tents and vehicles parked at the site disturbed me. There were at least 40 tents erected in an area of only four square kilometres and around 100 people camped there at night.

It would take years for the human excreta of these tourists to decompose at such a high altitude. Further, it will contaminate the nearby water sources and spread water-borne diseases among the locals.

As food was being prepared in the tent around 6.30 pm in the evening, I heard loud music in the meadow. The tranquility of the place was broken and it seemed like a marriage ceremony with a DJ playing Bacchanalian songs.

chandertal lake himachal pradesh
Image source: vijay_v82/Flickr

The anchor was shouting at the top of his voice, “Aaj ki raat, Chandertal ke naam” (Let us dedicate the night to Chandertal).

As if loud music was not enough, some of the tourists expected food similar to the kind served in a Punjabi dhaba. The expectation of having a similar kind food served in the plains in high altitude areas also gradually leads to environmental damage.

Instead of cooking, tourists should be encouraged to eat processed food so that the amount of cargo carried from plains to the hills can be reduced.

The music continued till midnight and disturbed the tranquility of the place. I wondered how disturbing high decibels can be to animals living in the meadow or whether they have all gone deaf!

As more and more I trek in the Himalayas, I think about how tourists can enjoy the beauty of the mountains while at the same time preserving the fragile environment.

Obviously, restricting trekking or travelling in not a solution. Rather, I think the answer lies in restricting the use of vehicles and promoting trekking on foot.

On my way to Chandertal, I noticed several taxis carrying only two to three passengers. If the vehicles carry five to six tourists, it will reduce the number of cars plying in the area.

When it comes to fees, it should be charged per person rather than per car and foreign tourists should pay at least three times higher than Indian citizens as they have higher purchasing power than Indians.

When it comes to Indians, many do not keep the environment clean and spreading awareness about environmental degradation, especially in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, becomes important.

Coming back to fees, whatever is collected should be handed over to environmental groups so that they can ensure the protection of the environment.

While entering Manali, tourists have to pay green tax, but there is no clarity on how the money is used. Tourists, who visit the higher reaches of the Himalayas, will be ready to pay higher amounts if they know that their money will be used for a right cause.

The Himachal Pradesh government can set up an online monitoring system and ensure transparency regarding what happens to the so-called green tax. To tackle noise pollution, a complete ban should be announced on the use of loudspeakers in the higher regions and meadows.

The government should announce a helpline number where tourists can complain if other visitors or tent owners break the rules.

Local taxi drivers and tent owners should be educated how in long run commercialisation of trekking routes will be detrimental to their growth, as they are the ones who depend on the beautiful mountains to earn their livelihood.

Image source: nripulse.com

By Uzma Shamim:

Jyothi Reddy is an entrepreneur settled in the US, heading a company all by herself, and hearing about this would make us admire her for living the American dream. On further digging, when we find her real story we will be in awe.

Jyothi Reddy was born in 1970 to a financially weak family. Owing to her family’s inability to take care of her needs, Jyothi was sent to an orphanage on the false account of being motherless. She was married at the age of 16 to her cousin from whom she has two daughters. After the marriage, her condition deteriorated. To feed her children, she was forced to work on paddy fields for less than Rs.5 a day. Later she became a volunteer with NYK (Nehru Yuva Kendra) and started teaching. However, the money that came from teaching was not enough to feed and educate her daughters. So, she took forward her dream of completing her education, battling opposition from family. Reddy completed her BA from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University in 1994 and studied for a postgraduate degree from the Kakatiya University in 1997.

Image source: nripulse.com
Image source: nripulse.com

After the visit of a relative from the US, Jyothi finally decided that to brighten her prospects in life, she has to move to the United States. However, life in the US was not easy from the beginning. She had to work as a baby-sitter, gas station worker, as a worker in a video game shop and others. Gradually, she saved some money from all these jobs and in 2011 started her company KEYSS in Phoenix, which she has been wonderfully running ever since. She is actively involved in activities promoting the welfare of children in orphanages. She works with NGOs like Prajadharana Welfare Society, MV Foundation and Child Rights Advocacy Forum (CRAF), and has formed a Pressure Group Force for Orphan Rights and Community Empowerment (FORCE).

Youth Ki Awaaz reached out to Mrs. Jyothi Reddy to know about her journey.

Uzma Shamim (UZ): Having battled a lot of opposition from family members in moving to the US, what do you feel about the societal restrictions imposed upon women by the conventional Indian society? How are oppressed women in rural areas supposed to react towards such norms?

Jyothi Reddy (JR): Absolutely, it was a very pathetic situation. The woman could not do what she wanted to. She couldn’t even decide how she wants to use her money for her kids. In the early 90’s, women were supposed to remain under the control of men however educated and wealthy a family was. Before shifting to the US, there were a lot of arguments in our family. But I always dreamt of providing good education and life to my daughters since I knew very well how hard it was to be raised in an orphanage. I never had a shoe or a school bag, and I didn’t want the same to happen to my kids. So I went against all opposition from the family. I negotiated with my husband for the sake of my daughters and pledged not to compromise in that regard.

UZ: You took a lot of pains in educating yourself. How useful were the skills you acquired in India? Did they enable you to singlehandedly manage a $15 million IT Company you handle now?

JR: Good Question. Yes, I acquired skills to build a good future for myself and my kids.

a) Vocational Courses
b) Bachelor Degree from Dr BR Ambedkar Open University
c)Masters in Sociology from Kakatiya University
d) PGDCA Diploma in Computers
e) Software Courses from the USA.

All my education took place after marriage and after having kids but for a woman who used to work in a paddy field for less than Rs. 5 a day, it is a big deal to feature in a school textbook, so the journey has been an achievement.

UZ: Why is that you had to move to America to fulfil your dream? What is lacking in the system here in India, which needs to be corrected, so that people like you and me can realise their dreams right here?

JR: Lack of good opportunities in the country is a big worry, and the caste system has become so complex that those in the forward castes are often denied fair opportunities. I was a government teacher, but the salary of one government teacher was not enough to give a good education and a comfortable lifestyle to my children. I have gone through a very difficult phase in life and did not want my daughters to go through the same and I had big dreams too, so I decided to take a risk and move to the united States.

UZ: Having spent a substantial amount of time in an orphanage, what according to you are the problems plaguing the Indian orphanages?

JR: I love this Question. The unfortunate thing in India is that there is no identification of orphans. There is no security for such kids. From 1978 to 1984, I was in a Children’s Home called Balasadanam and thus am very much aware of the condition that exists in such homes. Till today there is no difference, there is no sense of comfort or a feeling of an actual home. A lot of Private Orphan Homes depend on donations only and thus when there is a shortage of funds, many facilities are stopped. Also, most of these homes and orphanages are administrated by men, and it often becomes difficult for the girl inhabitants who have their personal needs such as sanitary napkins, to approach the male in-charge. One of the biggest problems is that most of these orphanages and shelter homes function for kids only till class 10th and after that they have nowhere to go. My demands on their behalf are-

1) Identification
2) Proper nutritious food
3) Accommodation and special care for girl child and the presence of a female officer
4) Financial support till higher education
5) Health care
6) Employment support or skill development training according to their interest
7) Wedding support

UZ: What is your message to all those who are being oppressed right now in any aspect and to those who can do something to end this oppression?

JR: Every woman must earn and be financially independent, and only then will she get equal respect and rights. Also, one must keep trying because I strongly believe that nothing is impossible in the world.

UZ: What according to you does the government need to do in order to make sure that the girls who come out of orphanages are not forced into an early marriage, prostitution or bonded labour but have good opportunities, for employment and well-being?

JR: I believe that not just orphan girls but all girls from class 5th itself should start to understand how to take care of themselves. There should be counselling from class 10th onwards, encouragement should be given to pursue higher education, employment support, skill development training centres and control over exploitation. The woman shouldn’t be stopped and should not let herself be stopped just by virtue of her being a woman. If she knows how to take care of herself no can stop her, or as said in Tamil, Aaasakthi unte ea Shakthi aapaledhu. Jai Hind!

dolanji himachal monastry 13

By Chintan Malhotra:

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A journey through the hills always unfolds some mysteries. You are numb, cold and your eyes wander the sides as if reading the blues of a black & white text.

These frames were captured in one such small journey taken through the hills. The place is Menri Monastery, situated in Dolanji, almost 28 km down the hill from Solan. In July this year, the peak summer season when people from all around India stuff up their bags and come visit the beautiful hill stations, my friends and I mutually decided to settle down in a place that is away from the crowded ones and since we had the short period of three days, Barog was thus finalized for the trip. Exploring the places around the hill station by foot and wheels took up the first two days.

So the third morning I woke up, went for a calm walk around. And as soon as I came back, started searching for other known places around. Google would have given me a list of places being walked by many daily, so I decided to ask the locals instead. Menri Monastery in Dolanji was the one commonly mentioned.

In 1967, Menri was re-founded at Dolanji in Himachal Pradesh, India by Lungtok Tenpai Nyima and Lopön Tenzin Namdak. This monastery has recreated the Geshe training program and is home to over 200 monks. Menri in India and Triten Norbutse Monastery in Nepal now host the only two Geshe programs in the Bon lineage.

The drive to that place was beautiful in itself, very less one-way traffic, amazing sights on the way, and small schools from where some tiny kids walked a long stretch to their homes every day, without any sign of distress at all! We asked a few kids if we could drop them back home, but all they did was smile, giggle and then happily wave at us as we drove ahead.

After finally reaching the place after 2 hours, it was an amazing sight. Amidst all the greens and browns of nature, there lay a very colourful, beautiful, and calm kingdom. It was so pure and untouched. After entering the main area, we could not find even a single person, or any sign of human presence either.

We went ahead and walked a few more steps, and gradually explored the marvellous architecture, vibrantly coloured buildings, huge golden gates, and the aged locks on them. We were totally mesmerized with all the artefacts around, and at the same time we were equally curious to see who would be the first one to welcome us. And there he was, a nicely dressed monk who just came in front of us with a gentle smile, nodded and spoke in a very tender and indo-Tibetan accent that he would open the gates of the main hall in a while for us to see it, and went away. The monastery was beautifully situated, far away from the traffic noises, and human interferences. The monk came back with the keys to the hall and we went in to experience a silence that actually sang. We sat there for some time and meditated. After coming out, there were a few more monks quietly walking around the main hall in its circumference chanting with beads in hand. They showed no sign of surprise on seeing us. If we happened to make eye contact, there was a faint smile from both sides. There were some younger monks too who were seen running and playing around. Besides them, there were a few foreigners who had been staying in the monastery for quite some time.

It was a beautiful experience altogether, observing the calmness in that place, its people, objects and even the animals there.

Thomas Piketty

By Thomas Piketty:

In the wake of a surprise re-election of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza, Thomas Piketty discusses the need for a more active approach from European leaders when it comes to the Greek question – and for a eurozone parliament to be established.

time for real proposals on greek debt
Time for some real proposals on Greek debt. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, CC BY-NC-ND

The Tsipras victory has come as a surprise to some. What has changed for Greece?

Normally, we would expect some stability in the coming years. But above all, Greece and Europe need to make up for lost time. Until now, Europe has obstinately refused to talk seriously about restructuring Greece’s debt. That was what caused the downfall of the last government.

Europe had in effect implied that it would reconsider the debt as soon as the Greeks managed to balance their budget with a small primary budget surplus – which meant Greece would have more revenues than public spending. But when the Greeks appealed for help in December 2014, Europe said “no“. That is what ultimately opened the path for Alexis Tsipras.

And the situation continued. Between January and July 2015, Europe refused to reopen talks. Now it’s September and the new support package that was discussed this summer has led to the further postponement of debt negotiations. If Europe insists on repayment, there will be fresh crises and the problem will not be resolved.

Why does the dialogue between Europe and Greece need to change?

Europe has other problems to tackle. There is the migrant crisis and the wider economic situation. Europe, Germany and France can’t exist in a permanent state of crisis. Europeans need to adjust their position. And for that to happen, France needs to have more courage – others too. Perhaps the elections in Spain at the end of this year will change things. All these elements can combine to influence majority politics in Europe when it comes to the Greek question.

Former Greek prime minister and leader of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves to supporters after winning the general election in Athens, Greece, September 20, 2015. Greek voters returned Tsipras to power with a strong election victory on Sunday, ensuring the charismatic leftist remains Greece's dominant political figure despite caving in to European demands for a bailout he once opposed. REUTERS/Michalis Karagiannis - RTS21SE
Alexis Tsipras

What should Tsipras’s economic priorities be from now on?

Modernising the tax system is clearly the priority. It needs to be fairer and more efficient. But that can only really be done with Europe’s cooperation – and if Europe sets an example.

We have to remember that the biggest businesses in Europe often pay less tax than small- and medium-sized businesses. That’s because governments do deals that will lead to favourable conditions for their own national industry. That’s without even considering that the European Commission has a president who, as prime minister of Luxembourg, signed deals with multinational corporations that allowed them to pay just 1% to 2% tax.

Europe can’t just hand out advice without itself committing to fiscal transparency. That goes to the heart of the system – German and French banks are only too happy to handle the funds of rich Greeks.

What should French president François Hollande do about Greece?

This summer, François Hollande started to make suggestions about making the eurozone more democratic. In particular, he spoke about establishing a parliament for eurozone countries. But that’s still too timid and too vague. If he wants to do something to save his second term, and above all improve the governance of the eurozone, he needs to make more precise proposals.

I believe there would have been less austerity in Greece, and more solutions would have emerged if there had been public, democratic discussions in a eurozone parliament, populated with representatives from each national parliament.

The trouble is, the eurozone is currently governed as a technocracy. The heads of state meet behind closed doors. They send out incredible proposals in the middle of the night – like privatising 50 billion euros of Greek assets – while everyone knows it will be a veritable fire sale. As if the Greek economy could sell its assets under these conditions!

This happened without legal deliberation and without the motives behind the decision being interrogated. We need to put an end to this Europe and start again with a eurozone parliament that allows everyone’s motives to be made public. What is important now is that France – and all the countries that want to make progress – set out clear proposals to democratically restructure the eurozone.

Should we still fear a Grexit?

Yes. The risk is that in delaying discussions about restructuring the debt, we realise in one or two years that the terms of the bailout package will not be respected.

We want Greece to keep a huge primary budget surplus for 20 to 30 years, which will mean setting aside an enormous budget for repayments.

How do you justify that to young Greeks? It would be reasonable to say that until the Greek economy has been rebuilt, a reduced primary budget surplus, around the level of GDP, will have to do. That’s normal and not excessively punitive.

I worry that some people continue to bet on a Grexit, setting objectives that are impossible to meet so that when Greece fails, it can be pushed towards the exit. That is still a risk, which is why we need clarity and realistic objectives – and quickly.

Thomas Piketty is an Economist, Director of Studies at the EHESS and Professor at the School of Economics Paris/Paris School of Economics

This article was originally published here on The Conversation.


By YKA Staff:

Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Travelling can be a great opportunity to open up your mind, and it gives you great life experiences. It gives you stories to tell and photographs to show. But planning for a trip can be a hassle, whether you’re traveling alone or with people, or if you’re intolerant to the noise of aeroplanes, or can’t sleep without listening to your favorite playlist. But technology comes to the rescue of everyone, including travelers.

Here are 10 hacks to your travel problems.

Image source: Nerdgraph.com
Image source: Nerdgraph.com

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