Tag Archives: Srinagar

Getting nostalgic with Shashi Kapoor memories!

Shashi Kapoor was certainly one of most watchable Bollywood actors of his times- pure grace and handsome to the core. Personally I had one great memory of this star, one of the lifetime, which I never had with anybody else. It was of watching him on the sets of a film. His passing away yesterday took me back to that incident four decades back.

It was summer of 1977 and I was in Kashmir with the family, my first trip to the paradise. I was quite young that time. Forty years have passed since than but I still remember it very well. We stayed in Srinagar, courtesy my uncle who was the commanding officer of the Army unit at that time. We had gone to Sonmarg, Khilanmarg and Pahalgam. Those were peaceful times in the valley. And it was during one of these excursions that we had a chance encounter with shooting of the Hindi feature film ‘Atithee’ (अतिथि). Film’s script or storyline had nothing to do with Kashmir, but as it was a trend during those days to shoot at exotic locations, hence Kashmir used to get fair chance of few shots in every other film. So, there was this scene being shot in the film.

Scene of Atithee film whose shooting I witnessed

Scene was between Shashi Kapoor and Shabana Azmi, the lead pair of the film. Being guest of the Commanding Officer of the Srinagar, we got the chance to watch the shoot closely. Actually this particular incident was so itched in my memory that I always remembered that particular dialogue which was being filmed- Shabana’s character says to the Shashi Kapoor’s character, “जब से मैंने फ्रॉक छोड़कर साड़ी पहनना शुरू किया है, तब से हर आदमी मुझसे अकेले में ही मिलना चाहता है” (..ever since I have stopped wearing a frock and started wearing sarees, every man wants to meet me in alone). It was all retakes and retakes for those couple of dialogues between these two. There were so many retakes that I forgot the count even. However fantastic a dialogue might seem on the screen, watching so many retakes on a shoot is rather irritating. But than, a director needs a perfect shot. It was a chance close encounter, first one with a star of his calibre… encounters that we cared least about when I entered into mainstream journalism, more than a decade later after that event.

As Siddhartha with Simi Garewal in this 1972 film

Film ‘Atithee’ released in July 1978 in theatres, but I got to see it more than a decade later when it was telecasted on Doordarshan. I was so anxious to watch that particular scene on the screen and was really quite happy after that. Film wasn’t that big commercial hit as was his other films around the same time. Actually 1978 was one of the most extraordinary year of Shashi Kapoor’s career because his as many as 12 films were released that year, most in a calendar year in his entire career including much acclaimed Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Trishul.

As poet Nur Shahjehanabadi in Muhafiz

Shashi Kapoor was so different in that movie (Atithee) than his usual self- in somewhat pencil moustache and a different hairstyle. That’s what I always loved about Shashi Kapoor, although being a romantic, handsome mainstream hero, he dared to be different.

As editor Vikas Pande in New Delhi Times

He crossed boundaries like none of his contemporary greats tried to do. For all his superhit films, Shashi Kapoor’s bigger contribution is perhaps the way he gave life to Prithvi Theatre; the way he produced films like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon and Utsav, and certainly the way he chose to act in films like Muhafiz, New Delhi Times, Siddhartha and the Shakespeare Wallah. He was also one of the earliest mainstream top stars to act in a TV mini series- Kissa Kathmandu Ka in 1986, where he played the character of popular Bengali fictional detective Feluda.

As Samsthanak in Utsav

He was undoubtedly one of the first international stars of Hindi cinema… and indeed my first introduction to the world of cinema, as I don’t remember even seeing any film before that incident. Surprising!!!

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Kashmir Great Lakes : First day trek to Nichnai

One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.

Trekkers on the way

Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .

First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.

Thajiwas glacier as seen in background from the Nichnai trail.

Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.

You can see the Sonamarg town below located on the banks of Sindh river
Trekkers coming up from Sonamarg
Its a beautiful way upto the top with lots of green

There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.

Its a well laid out trek, as there are a few villages of Kashmiri gujjars who regularly move up and down
Table top is a mid of the trek resting place, a big meadow.

Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.

My fellow trekkers enjoying some rest at table top.
…but this inhabitant kept looking towards me in a strange way…

Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.

A gujjar village near table top
A gujjar hut meant to bear cold and snow as well as store items

Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.

Another look at the table top from the top

Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.

Last of the trees, that we would be seeing on the trek.

Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.

Looking back: Trekkers coming along the stream from the table top side.
This stream goes down and meets the Sindh river near Sonamarg.
Being deep inside the valley, it isn’t so hot here. That is the reason that even after harsh months of summer, we can find ice glaciers here along the stream even at this altitude
Two more small glaciers along the stream on way to Nichnai camp
Looks as if somebody has made a slant cut in this huge rock by a powerful sword!

Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.

Getting closer… You can see a white sopt in the middle of the picture at the base of the hill on left, that is our campsite… You can also see some trekkers moving ahead of me

No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.

You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

 

Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek


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One of the most beautiful places to see around Sonamarg in Kashmir is the Thajiwas Glacier. It is a favourite among picnickers and campers as it is far from tourist chaos of Sonamarg market.

A view of Thajiwas glacier

Thajiwas glacier is located seven kilometres from Sonamarg. One has to trek upto the glacier from the road-head. It is lovely place to relax and enjoy.

Down in the trees is last road-head to Thajiwas glacier

But it is not just for picnickers . It is also for serious trekkers. Trek to Thajiwas is not a tough one, but it is one of the favourite treks for all those who have based themselves in Sonamarg and want to acclimatise for other high altitude treks around including the Great Lakes trek.

Camping around Thajiwas Glacier

Those who don’t want to trek, can also take a pony ride to the glacier. Glacier is at an altitude of 9,186 feet. Trek to glacier goes through a serene valley with meadows around and streams coming from the glacier flowing in it. Song of these streams is what you are going to hear all the way along.

Stream coming from the Thajiwas glacier

Those who trek to Thajiwas glacier to acclimatise themselves don’t take the road-head to get closer. As we did, most of them will trek from Sonamarg market itself.  It is generally an easy walk.

But than many people will camp around the Thajiwas glacier itself. Mostly those who look for either some adventurous stay in camps or want to away from regular tourist crowd coming to Sonamarg. Operators will even arrange for some experience of glacier walks while you camp around Thajiwas.

Glacier walk

Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.

While on the way to glacier, you will also find many shops selling tea, kahwah, cold drinks and snacks.

Camps alongside the stream

There are many operators in Sonamarg, who organise trip to Thajiwas, whether you are interested in trek, pony ride, camping or glacier walk. You can easily find these operates in Sonamarg, and actually many will themselves approach the tourists.

Trekkers on way to Thajiwas glacier

The area around Thajiwas is covered with snow in the early days of summer. The white gives way to lush greens, as the temperature picks up.

Rising high

Among the places near Srinagar, while Gulmarg is popular among skiers and snow-lovers, Sonamarg is more loved by those who enjoy rather serene nature with rivers flowing through lush green meadows. The meandering Sindh river is bound with trout and mahseer fish.

Sonamarg means ‘golden meadow’ and it is lovely slice of paradise which this whole Kashmir valley is. There are many other adventurous routes with amazing green water and frozen lakes in this region. Thajiwas glacier is just one of those routes, popular among trekkers.

Sonamarg is easily accessible from Srinagar city. You can also come directly to Sonamarg from Srinagar airport which is 87 kilometres from Sonamarg. The National Highway 1D goes from Srinagar to Leh via Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil.

Sonamarg gest inaccessible during winter months as roads get blocked because of snowfall. Work for an all weather tunnel from Gagangir to Sonamarg is already underway. Another tunnel is coming up under the Zozila pass (3528 metres), toughest mountain pass enroute Leh on this road. Once the tow tunnels are ready, Srinagar-Leh route will be accessible almost all the year round.

You can see a video of trek to Thajiwas glacier on my channel on YouTube by clicking on the link below.

Hurry up! Tulips in Kashmir are calling!!

Its getting hotter day by day. Though the forecast for the summer aren’t very pleasing, but still we have some more time to celebrate spring. Everywhere, it is also the time to celebrate the good harvest and rejoice while getting ready for the next season. Many colourful festivals around to give an occasion to travel. Two prominent festivals of the north-east Aoling festival of Konyaks in Nagaland and Mopin festival of Galo tribes of Arunachal Pradesh have just concluded. But there is lot more to do still this month. Here are some ways to celebrate this month in India.

Tulips of Kashmir

Asia’s largest tulip garden on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar has been thrown open to visitors on 2nd April. Though last few days were tough for Kashmir due to sudden snow & rainfall caused by western disturbance, but things will improve tomorrow onwards. Hence you can look for a quick trip to the valley. Spring is when Kashmir is at its most picturesque, and is also the season for flowering tulips. This special time of year is beautifully captured by the Tulip Festival in Srinagar. The garden, in the foothills of Zabarwan Range, has a total of 1.5 million tulips and its opening marks the beginning of new tourism season in Kashmir Valley. Formerly known as Siraj Bagh, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden was opened in 2008. The idea of the garden was conceived to advance the tourism season in the Valley by two months. The average life span of the tulip flower is three to four weeks but heavy rains or too much of heat can destroy them.

When: April 2-17, 2017

Rongali Bihu in Assam

One of the most colourful harvest festival in India, Bihu is the main festival of Assam. This agricultural festival occurs three times a year but the biggest celebration, known as Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu, happens in April. It’s celebrated for three days and marks the start of the new year there, as well as seeding time in spring. The farmers prepare the fields for cultivation of paddy and there is a feeling of joy around. The ladies make pitha, larus (traditional food made of rice and coconut) and Jolpan which gives the real essence of the season. The first day of the bihu is called goru bihu or cow bihu, where the cows are washed and worshipped, which falls on the last day of the previous year, usually on April 14. This is followed by manuh (human) bihu on April 15, the New Year Day. This is the day of getting cleaned up, wearing new cloths and celebrating and getting ready for the new year with fresh vigor. The third day is Gosai (Gods) bihu; statues of Gods, worshiped in all households are cleaned and worshiped asking for a smooth new year.

When: April 14-16, 2017

Arattupuzha Pooram, Thrissur, Kerala

Arattupuzha is a culturally significant village located in Thrissur district of Kerala. This village, about 15 km from the town of Thrissur is renowned for the annual festival called Arattupuzha Pooram. The Sree Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, which is believed to be more than 3000 years old and its premises are the venue for the festivities. It is believed that during the festival period, Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity at the Sree Sastha Temple is visited by gods and goddesses of the neighbouring villages. The annual festival at Arattupuzha is also termed as the mother of all pooram festivals in Kerala, due to its sheer magnitude and grandeur. Visitors from nearby and far off places reach the village of Arattupuzha during the festival days, to be part of this grand festival. The pinnacle of excitement and devotion during the seven-day festival is obviously the last two days. The evening prior to the last day of the festival would have an assembly of caparisoned elephants and staging of percussion ensembles as part of the ceremony called Sasthavinte Melam. The atmosphere during Sasthavinte Melam would have the brilliance of the many brightly lit traditional lamps and also the huge flame bearing staffs, locally called as theevetti. Once this ceremony is over, by early morning the elephants carrying deities of nearby temples would proceed to the adjoining paddy field for the grand spectacle that would have about 50 odd elephants lined up in front of a cheering crowd. The venue would soon become electrifying with groups of traditional percussion ensembles comprising Panchavadyam, Pacharimelam and Pandimelam playing their best possible beats and rhythms, while the caparisoned elephants bearing muthukkudas (sequined, glittering umbrellas) and venchamarams (white whisks) make a delightful sight, as they stand patiently and entertain the crowd. By sunrise, the elephants carrying deities from neighbouring temples that had gathered at the Sree Sastha Temple at Arattupuzha would proceed to the nearby river for the aarattu ceremony. It is a ceremonial cleansing process by immersing the idol in the river accompanied by chanting of mantras and floral offerings. The last to undergo the aarattu would be Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of the Sree Sastha temple at Arattupuzha.

When: April 8, 2017

Vaisakhi in Amritsar 

Vaisakhi is one of the most popular harvest festival of north India. Vaisakhi (also spelled Baisakhi) is the festival which celebrates the founding of the Sikh community known as the Khalsa. It is celebrated on April 14 each year. It falls on the first day of Vaisakh which is the second month of the Nanakshahi calendar. On Vaisakhi day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh summoned Sikhs from all over India to the city of Anandpur Sahib. It was then when the Panj Pyarey came into existence. It’s celebrated with a great deal of feasting, bhangra dancing, folk music, and fairs. Major celebrations are organised at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and it becomes carnival-like outside. There’s also a street procession.

When: April 13, 2017

Chithirai Festival

Chithirai Thiruvizha is one of the most important annual festivals held at the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple at Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The festival is celebrated for 12 days during the Tamil month of Chithirai or Chitirai. It re-enacts the wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu’s sister). Legend has it that Lord Vishnu came to Madurai, mounted on a golden horse, to witness the wedding. In 2017, the date of commencement of Chithirai Thiruvizha is April 28, 2017 with flag hoisting ceremony. Pattabhishekam of Goddess Meenakshi is on May 5, 2017. Celestal Wedding or Thirukkalyanam of  Lord Sundareswarar with Goddess Meenakshi is on May 7, 2017. The Car festival is on May 8, 2017. The Theertham festival is celebrated on the 12th day (May 9, 2017) with the Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi going round Masi streets and blessing the devotees.

When: April 28-May 9, 2017

Painkuni of royal Travancore

Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple with its rich history is one among the most famous temples in India. A major festival at this temple which sees huge participation of devotees from across the state is the Painkuni Festival. Painkuni is a ten-day festival in which special rituals are offered every day. The festival is a visual delight where in colossal figurines are set up. These huge fibre glass figures of the Pandavas (the five sons of Pandu in the Indian epic Mahabharata) are placed at the eastern entrance to the temple. It is held that these figurines are set up in order to propitiate Indra, the Rain God. The festival starts with kodiyettu, which is the hoisting of the ceremonial flag. The ninth day has the head of the Travancore Royal Family performing the palli vetta (royal hunt) ritual, near the Vettakorumakan Temple in the Fort area. The arattu (holy bath) ceremony of the idols in the sea at the Shanghumugham Beach marks the end of the festivities. The head of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore will lead the procession for the arattu carrying the ceremonial sword and wearing the traditional green cap. The male members of royal family of Travancore will escort the deities in the procession and devotees line up to offer their prayers to the deities. The idols are then taken back to the temple.

When: April 10, 2017

Sankat Mochan Music Festival

Banaras or Varanasi has a long tradition of classical music and dance in temples. The first Sankat Mochan Musical Festival was held in 1923, and since then it’s attracted acclaimed classical musicians and dancers to perform from all over India. Recitals are held every evening in the temple courtyard and go on until dawn, as part of Hanuman Jayanti (birthday of Lord Hanuman) celebrations. The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh is the biggest annual classical music and dance festival of Banaras, and one of India’s biggest. For many Banarasis, it is the highlight of the year, its magic lingering long after it is over. First Sankat Mochan Music Festival was organized in 1923 and since then it attracts numerous enthusiasts of Indian classical music and dance world, including Odissi guru, Kelucharan Mahapatra, who was associated since its early days. In fact he was instrumental in starting women’s participation in the festival with Sanjukta Panigrahi, Swapna Sundari and Kankana Banerjee. Sankat Mochan Music Festival is an all night long music festival which goes on for four nights. India Classical Music maestros from all over come to participate to showcase their skills and consider it as an honour. This Music Festival has attracted numerous maestros of Indian classical music and dance world

When: April 15-19, 2017

Patayani at Kadammanitta

Kadammanitta Devi Temple in the tiny hamlet of Kadammanitta in Pathanamthitta is famed for its impressive display of the ritual art form of Patayani- the Kadammanitta Patayani. A vibrant outburst of colour and energy, the Patayani is performed to appease Goddess Bhadrakaali and this festival is celebrated every year from the first day of Malayalam month, medam to the 10th day, called the pathamudayam. The festival begins with chootuveipu – the lighting of fire and the beating of the thappu, Patayani percussion instrument. This is followed by eduthu varavu or the procession of several patayani kolams which marks the conclusion of the festival.

When: April 14-21, 2017

Where: Kadammanitta Devi Temple, Pathanamthitta. Nearest railway station is Thiruvalla, about 30 km, while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 105 km.

 

Tulip Garden at Heaven

Almost 50 thousand visitors have been to Tulips gardens, Srinagar since it was thrown open for public early this month. Tulips are in full bloom and will remain so for atleast early May. Don’t miss a chance to see one of the most beautiful places on this planet.

Vagabond Images

Kashmir is often referred to as Heaven on Earth and Tulip Gardens at the foothills of Zabarwan hills in Srinagar is one more addition to its glory. It is biggest Tulip Garden in whole of Asia. Spread in area of about 30 hectares, this garden has more than seventy varieties of Tulips in more than 2 million bulbs. Many of these vaieties have been imported from far Europe. Its a colour riot, a sight to behold with picturesque Dal lake in foreground. In just six years, this garden has become darling of tourists coming to Kashmir valley. This garden is in Chashmeshahi area with Botonical garden adjacent to it and many of the Mughal gardens for company in close vicinity. A must see for every tourist coming to India and Kashmir.

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Naranag: Kashmir we know less about

Talking about tourism in Kashmir, will generally take you to Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam. No doubt that they are the gems of the valley, but there is still a lot besides these four top spots. Lot many places to see and admire and lot beyond the regular natural beauty spots. Naranag is one of them and it was an altogether different experience for me to visit an archaelogical site in such a scenic surroundings. But equally anguished was I to see such a place in total shambles. Nobody to protect or even take care of such an important site. It has been left to be ruined. I was astonished to see that there was not even a single sign board or a plaque which could give visitors any idea about the site, its history, importance or architecture. Go googling was the only option left.

Naranag is in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir.  While going to Sonmarg from Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh highway, just before Kangan there is a diversion to west. It takes us to Naranag valley and Naranag village. Naranag has two clusters of temples and historians believe it was built in 8th century by King Lalitaditya. That this was dedicated to Lord Shiva is quite obvious because of the presence of shivlingas here- in the temples and on the carvings. The architecture of the temple is also said to be of that period.

Located on the left bank of the Wangath reiver Naranag is also known for its scenic meadows. It is also base camp for trekkers to the Mount Harmukh, Gangabal Lake and Satsar lake.  There are also long distance treks to Gadsar lake, Vishansar Lake and the Krishansar Lake.

Never a dull morning in the Dal

Dal Lake is the heartbeat of Srinagar in Kashmir. It’s enjoying a full house this season. Dal isubbling life centre of all tourists activities in Srinagar. All the Mughal gardens are located around the lake. Dal has hundreds of tourists houseboats, more than that shikaras to take tourists on a ride on the lake, and a whole lot of colourful life. There are vendors, florists, photographers, merchants… everybody moving on shikaras. Floating boats, floating gardens, floating markets- Dal has a very bubbling life. Equally entertaining is the life behind the scenes on this Dal. Few shots of the daily drill of this beautiful lake and how it gets itself ready every morning…