Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My tryst with the underworld....

Yes. You read that right. The under world. Under what is the question to be asked. Neither under crime nor under with spirits, but under water!

After all these years of travelling, I finally got to experience what could be termed as one of the most fascinating things to do on earth - diving. The very word used to send shudders down my spine, so much that I let go of a plum opportunity to do shallow beach diving in Lakshadweep, thanks to my morbid fear of water. From there, to getting 13 feet down in the mid Atlantic, I have progressed a bit I should say :)

I was in Bermuda Islands this November as a part of my month long tour in the Carribean and the US. My cousin was planning a dreamy destination wedding at Barbados and I was out there to soak in the sun and witness the beautiful ceremony. The bride's family lives in Bermuda  - that was reason enough for me to travel across a few days earlier, spend some time with them and go around the island. As I started researching about the place, the first thing that popped up was 'Hartley's Helmet Diving'. I was amused.

Helmet Diving is a form of diving that originated in Bermuda and is based on the ancient concept of 'Bell Diving' (Alexander the Great is said to have practised that) . In fact, father of Mr. Greg Hartley who runs Hartley's Helmet Diving, Mr. Bronson Hartley, was the one who pioneered this form of diving In Bermuda. While Scuba is a more serious form of diving, this is more of a fun and an entertaining one - provided one shuns his/her fear of water. I was hell-bent on trying this out, so I went ahead and called them to reserve a place. It was November already - the beginning of  the low season when cruise ships stop arriving at Bermuda Dockyard. However, as destiny would have it, there had been an inquiry the previous day from a group of 5 people and the capacity of the boat was 6! I was all set to dive.

The next day morning, I was at the dockyard much earlier than the reporting time. I was going through mixed emotions -  anticipation, fear, adrenaline rush... phew! Those who fear water can relate to what I was going through. The boat arrived and as I was about to board, the captain threw a challenge at me. He said "Those who are courageous walk into the boat but those who are adventurous climb over the grill and jump onto the boat!" Guess what I chose? The latter. That very moment, all my apprehensions melted away.

The boat took us about 3 miles off the coast to a shallow part of the ocean, the depths varying from 12 to 40 feet. All through the journey, our captain briefed us about the do's and dont's, the marine life and the signals that he would use underwater to communicate with us. We were given wet suits as the Atlantic waters get quite cold by November (Bermuda lies in the temperate region, close to New York unlike the caribbean islands). A ladder was lowered into the waters. 

The captain was the first to go down and once he made sure that the waters were clear of any dangerous and  bigger fish, he signaled us to come down. Laden with weights around our waists, we made our way down the ladder to ocean bed. Just before lowering our heads into the water, heavy helmets were placed on our heads to help us breathe underwater. These helmets were connected to a source of oxygen on the boat and air was constantly pumped into the helmet. 

The moment I went down, I would say, is one of the most fulfilling moments of my life till date. Happy with what I had achieved so far, I climbed down the ladder and jumped down to find land under my feet. I held the captain's hand as he helped me walk on the sea bed. A few of the group members were there before me - I was made to kneel down beside them  and hold on to an iron bar as the captain swam back to bring the rest of the group down. 

It was a gorgeous world out there - I could spot at least five different types of coral, sea anemones, pretty little reef fish and a few bigger ones like the Snapper and the Hog Fish. As the fish swam past us, the captain promptly displayed sign boards to help us identify the species. After about 20 minutes of under sea walking, it was time to click some pictures. We got some pictures clicked with the Hog Fish and the Snapper that lurked around us. All of a sudden, the captain seemed to have landed on an idea. He walked me to a coral formation nearby. As he turned back to fetch his camera, I understood what was going on and insisted on going back with him holding his hand - The last thing I wanted to do was to drift away in the Atlantic.  He then made me hold on to a piece of dead coral. As I held it, I had a funny feeling as if hundred little fingers were tickling my hand. Petrified, I promptly withdrew my hand and went back with the captain. I didn't want a picture with the corals. I just wanted to be safe where I was.

In a few minutes, we walked back to where the ladder was. The ladder stopped midway - so while going up, one had to bend down  and thrust herself upwards to reach the lowest rung. It was an adventure by itself but I wasn't complaining. It was a liberating feeling!

Back on the boat, as I thanked the captain for the wonderful experience, I mentioned the funny feeling that I had under water. He laughed and explained what it was all about. The damsel fish, a type of reef fish lays her eggs on the surface of dead corals. She gets really pissed off when strangers knock her door and resorts to biting and shooing them off. She is a tiny little thing, so even if thousands of them bite at a time, it feels like a tickle!

So if you happen to visit Bermuda or any place that offers Helmet diving, do try it out. It is an experience of a lifetime. If I can do it, so can you!

Here are some pictures.






More from my Bermuda and Caribbean Diaries coming soon...




Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Of travel and entrepreneurship.....

Yes. Am back here after a long period of silence. A 20-day gap is certainly painfully long, considering the fact that I post at least twice a week. The reason - My foray into entrepreneurship. Trying to fulfill my dream of establishing my own little business venture. A dream, strong enough to keep me away from my blog for a few consecutive weeks. This dream tries to bring two of my interests onto one straight line - travel and entrepreneurship. As many of you might have already experienced, the path isn't as rosy as it appears in the mirage. In fact, it's just the opposite and I'm already feeling the pricks beneath my feet. However, my strong hope is that there is one elusive rose amidst all these thorns.

Going forward, in addition to my travelogues, you will also get to read my rants and lessons learnt in my entrepreneurial sojourn.

 If you wish to know more about my venture, you can check this out: 

www.facebook.com/F5Escapes. All ladies out there, this might actually be of your interest!

Wish me luck!!!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An evening with children, stories and gourmet food!

(This is my entry to the Indiblogger-ITC Kitchens of India contest. The contest is about one's own dream weekend party with gourmet food from Kitchens of India)


Weekends. They are a boon. Time for us to escape the drudgery and indulge in luxury, isn’t it? But for some, especially women in the Indian context, what unfolds is more to do with grocery, cutlery, crockery and cookery!  Phew!!!!

I like food. I sometimes enjoy cooking too. Note the word ‘sometimes’. When I have something more interesting to do, something that would give me more gratification and make me immensely content, then I’d rather do that than invade the kitchen. One such ‘something’ is donning my storyteller hat. Go and blurt out stories to children. I visit one particular place in Bangalore where the children welcome me with open arms. While I have to accept that I’m not going there as often as I wish to, my connection with those children is rock-solid.

By now, you would have guessed where my party would be and who the guests would be.  Yes, it will be at the orphanage cum school and my guests would be the children! These children are either orphaned or come from the weakest sections of society, so a gourmet party would be a life-time experience for them. My son and I will play hosts and will plan out the menu. If my little one approves it, those little ones will approve it too, right?

The guests

Here comes the first factor – Ambience. Chirping of the birds returning to their nests, cool late evening breeze and loads of laughter. When you have happy, lovely little children around, what more can one ask for? I’d probably put up a makeshift pandal, just as a contingency measure. Weather in Bangalore is totally unpredictable.

The location

The second thing to take care of is entertainment. What do you think? Would there be any other source of entertainment than my stories??? The idea may not interest you that much, (may be even make you queasy!) but for those little children, I’m their Story Aunty! So that evening will see free flowing stories including impromptu performances by children, story contests and more!

The entertainment!

As you can see, there are big plans, which means, me cooking for the party is out of question. Here is where I see Kitchens of India coming to my rescue. I can make/order rice and rotis and just get the accompaniments from Kitchens of India! Talk about convenience! Not just that, it would also help me focus on the stuff that I’d need to get done for the D-day.

Finally, here comes my menu. I have carefully selected the items based on the nutritional value, taste factor and of course, my son’s inputs!







     

  • Rotis



  • Mild Mughlai Paneer (peppered with a story from the Mughlai era, of course!)


  • Cucumber Raita (To counter the Spicy Mirchi and to balance the Biriyani)





When children are around, can sweets be far behind? So I’ll grab a few packets of every dessert available with KOI, especially the nutritiously yummy Jodhpuri Moong Dal Halwa . I can imagine the ecstasy in their faces as they lap up the delicious dessert!

So, that would be my dream weekend gourmet party - an evening of stories with lovely little children and great gourmet food.

I am sure, at that moment, I’d be the most contented person on this planet.



(Do visit Shishukunj Vidyalaya in Ramesh Nagar, Bangalore. The children’s English skills will leave you awed. Even the tiny tots in primary school speak excellent English. Kudos to the teachers and the management for envisioning and executing it all!)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A JUMPSTART SATURDAY AT BANGALORE!

By Malini Gowrishankar

(This is a post that I penned for the Headstart Network, a pan India entrepreneurship network for which I've recently started writing/volunteering. To know more about Headstart, click here. Hope to see more such posts in the future!) 


It wasn't yet another lazy Saturday morning, at least for a bunch of us. It was a jumpstart Saturday. The reason? Startup Saturday was back in town! Thanks to Yahoo, we had a wonderful space for the event this time too - The Yahoo office at Bagmane Tech Park,  CV Raman Nagar. The audience turnout reflected this edition's theme - 'Building your Startup', with more than half of them having just started or aspiring to start their own business ventures soon, which in turn meant that quite a few were attending the event for the first time. Though the turnout was lesser than usual, it was an eclectic mix, which ensured a great session.



The event commenced with Prashant of Headstart giving the audience an introduction to Startup Saturday and to Nasscom 10000 Startups.  This was followed by the first scheduled talk of the day by Mr. Chetan Kulkarni, Founder and CEO at Vizury.  True to the theme, Mr. Chetan spoke about how Vizury was built, tracing along the timeline, the milestones of the company with respect to funding, customer acquisition and expansion.  He also spoke about the background of the co-founders and the common thread that brought them together. The talk was peppered with some interesting anecdotes, the most notable one being the incident that marked the beginning of their China operations. The talk ended with an interesting Q& A with Mr. Chetan and not surprisingly, the questions revolved around starting-up itself.


Before the second speaker of the day was ushered in, Prashant brought in a whiff of social entrepreneurship to the event, by familiarizing the audience to ‘Jagriti Yatra’ -  the incredible train journey for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs organized by Jagriti Sewa Sansthan. The fact that we had two ‘Yatris’ amongst us added to the credibility of the intro.

Next on stage was Ranjan Kumar of Oye Party.com. This session was a product demo ; Ranjan walked us through the various features and differentiating aspects of OyeParty. He also shared the current setup and the future direction for OyeParty. We must say he did a good job convincing the audience and taking on their bashing, as majority opined at the end of the demo that the venture would be a hit! Here’s Headstart wishing you goodluck with OyeParty, Ranjan!

The second talk of the day was delivered by Mr. Naren NS, Co-founder and Global Head for Banking and BI solutions at Icreate.in.  He took the audience on a time-travel, allowing them to have a peek into his career trajectory. Tracing back right from his college days, working on a core banking solution as a techie, starting up, getting that elusive first customer etc. to growing and expanding his business overseas, he covered it all. He also briefly described the company’s transition from being a services provider to providing product based solutions and the challenges associated with the same. Overall, it was a well-received talk with a lot of interesting questions thrown in by the inquisitive audience.


The final offering for the day was a ‘Spark the rise’ pitch by Ihitashri Shandilya of Mithilasmita. A nominee of Mahindra’s ‘Spark the rise’ campaign, Ihitashri emphasized the importance of supporting our local art and culture. She spoke in brief about her replicable business model for promoting art, with the model currently being applied to something that she grew up with and is very close to her heart – Madhubani paintings from the Indian heartland.


With that truly inspirational pitch and the networking time that ensued, that day’s event drew to a close. However, for each one of us there, it was just the beginning, for the spark to be rekindled, the beliefs to be reinforced, the ideas to be evaluated, yet another time. 

Rendezvous with Rhododendrons #6 – Shopping spree in Siliguree!

Not so long ago, but actually a little while ago, I penned the penultimate post in the Rhodendron Sikkim series. My blogging frequency has now become erratic owing to the entrepreneurial bug that has been bugging me in the recent days. However, writing is cathartic for me and as you have waited for quite long, here is the final post in the series.

That morning, when I scaled Barsey Top and viewed sunrise from there, I literally felt on top of the world, although it was just 10000+ feet.   That made my day, but it was time to step down from cloud nine and get back to ground reality (literally).  Yes, it was time to descend to the plains. This was the journey – Barsey to Hiley by trek, Hiley to Siliguri by cab. En route, we covered Daramdin Saibaba temple. A beautiful temple with beautiful paintings. A must-see if you are in the vicinity.

Mr. Bandhu, Owner of Guras Kunj, Barsey


The trek back to Hiley

A painting in Daramdin Sai Temple
Not sure what these lavender coloured blossoms are. Anyone?
Our next stop-over was at Siliguri – Mainak Tourist lodge. The place is run by West Bengal tourism and is actually a very safe, comfortable, centrally located and decent boarding option in Siliguri, while the name ‘lodge’ suggests otherwise.  With the Hongkong market at a stone’s throw distance,  my urge to shop became irresistible. So, off we went that evening, on a shopping spree.

The Hongkong market in Siliguri is a world in itself. It is a flea market for goods imported mainly from China and a few other countries. You  name it, you see it here. The usually alert me was also conned into buying a Nepal made Colossal Kajal, only to find that it is a duplicate. So unbelievably good was the finish! I also bought the cheap Asian version of the Swiss army knives, Chinese army knives to be precise. So when you are in Siliguri, a visit to the Hongkong Market is highly recommended. We also bought tea in one of the government authorized shops in Siliguri.

Now to the thing that I enjoyed the most here – Street food! Momos, chats, agra pethas – we had it all! For me, this is the most important and worthwhile factor  - visiting the local hangouts, chatting up with locals and having local food. The experience is simply mind-blowing.


Mishti Dahi
Thukpa at Jorethang
Momo and soup at Jorethang
Chat time
Chat wallah
Momos in Siliguri
So, what happened after that? The next day we packed our bags and headed back home. With heavier bags and happy memories, of course!

THE FACTS


Best time to visit Barsey:
March-April is when most Rhododendrons bloom. A few species bloom in May, so that months isn’t bad either.

How to reach:
Till New Jalpaiguri station by train or Bagdogra airport by flight. Rent a shared jeep or a cab from there.

Shared jeep: Upto Jorethang and from there to Okhrey. You will spend less than 800 rupees but be ready to get sandwiched amongst 9 to 10 locals.

Cab: Our full cab trip with NJP – Pelling – Okhrey – Hiley – Daramdin- NJP cost us Rs. 12000. It was the least of 3 quotes and was a good deal, considering the fact that it was peak season.

Stay:
Pelling  - Sikkim Aurora. At the highest point in Pelling, right opposite helipad. Highly recommended for budget travellers. The owner Mr. Raja is always ready to help. TripAdvisor recommended.

Okhrey – Sherpa lodge. Sherpa hospitality is unbeatable.
A Triple room in Sherpa lodge, Okhrey
Barsey – Only Guras Kunj and forest barracks available. Try to get that elusive double bed room there. Book early. Mr. Bandhu, the owner, is very friendly and hospitable.

Siliguri – Mainak Tourist Lodge.

The total trip is doable in approximately 7K per person (excluding airfare) if you are in a small group.


With that,  I end my six-part travelogue. Hope this is inspiring enough for you to plan this trip next year. Go ahead, have a great Rendezvous with Rhododendrons and let me know! 



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Skywatch Friday #9 - Peek-a-boo moon!

We were camping as a family in the outskirts of Bangalore, thanks to CampLinger. It was a cool and cloudy night. The campfire was burning bright and the moon was nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden, there she was, the full round moon, gleaming in the night sky and playing peek-a-boo like a little naughty girl. The pictures do little justice to her beauty.

This is my entry this week to the very popular Skywatch Friday.


Listen to your body...

It was one March afternoon in Chennai. A bright sunny afternoon it was, but a very dark one for a few. In the drawing room of that small apartment, he lay, sleeping peacefully, albeit in an ice box.   His 19-year old son kept talking to him, leaning on the box, asking his Dad to come back. It was a heart-wrenching sight that I’ll never forget in my lifetime. Over the past few months, I had seen him gradually melt down and now, he had diminished in the horizon. Gone forever.

A FEW YEARS AGO

The occasional twitch in the stomach was bothering him. Episodes of indigestion were also becoming frequent. He had erratic work schedules owing to which his meal times were haphazard. The initial diagnosis was Ulcer. Of course, given his schedules, that was a disaster waiting to strike. But, it didn’t feel like a disaster to him; he brushed it off as a casual lifestyle problem. But being a staunch believer of natural medicine, he started consuming Keezhanelli leaves regularly. However, the pain was here to stay.

A FEW MONTHS AGO

He had lost oodles of weight over the last few years. The occasional twitch had by then turned into incessant excruciating pain. Unbearable it was, so much that the family dragged him to consult an allopathic doctor. And the diagnosis? Not Ulcer. Not any stomach disorder. It was Cancer. Cancer, not just isolated to any one part of the body, but spread across the digestive system.  Years of misdiagnosis, ignorance of warning signs and self-medication had cost him dear. The carcinoma was in its advanced stage and all that the doctors could do at this point was to extend his life by a few months. And that too, by chopping off most parts of his digestive system in a series of surgeries. A cheerful, witty man with a sharp sense of humour, he never stopped cracking jokes even during these dreadful times. Post surgery, what was left of him was just a bag of bones.

A FEW DAYS AGO

He had become bedridden. The doctors had given up. The family, inconsolable.  The IV fluid line was the one that was tugging him back, keeping him alive.  And on that fateful morning, that March afternoon, he breathed his last. I had gone to meet him; held his hand, the previous evening.

THE MORALS/INFERENCES (I wouldn’t call this a story though)

  • I’m not advocating allopathy here, nor am I saying that natural medicine isn’t good enough.
  • All that matters is the right diagnosis at the right time.
  • It’s about respecting one’s own body. The body clearly gives out signs. When things are wrong, the body sends out alarms.  The alarms may not exactly scream on your face, but they are there. Notice them.
  • Self-medication may not always work. Whatever branch of medicine, a systematic therapeutic plan is needed to cull any disease or cure any disorder.


As I write this, I remember the tamil saying,

“ Suvar Irundhaldhaan Chiththiram ezhudha mudiyum”

(“One can paint only if there is a wall”)


Stay healthy. Stay happy. Chase your dreams.

(This is my entry to the Indiblogger "the moral of the story is" contest. More health related articles here)
















Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rendezvous with Rhododendrons #5 – Path to the sky!

Ok, I’ve gathered myself now. To narrate the climbing experience. If you reader, are an avid trekker or a dare devil, you might find this story inane.  But if you are like me, battling to overcome your acrophobic instincts, then you may be able to relate to this.

The Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim, is a place where every nook and corner radiates beauty. However, some of these beautiful places are daunting too, especially for people like me – steep cliffs, sheer drops, snow-covered slopes and so on. One such place is what the locals call ‘Barsey Top’ or ‘Barsey Point’.  It is about a kilometer away from ‘Guras Kunj’, the forest guesthouse. But the catch is that the second half of this walk is a steep climb. I’m not afraid of climbing. I’m an asthmatic, yes, but I’ve overcome that to a fairly decent level, with positive thinking and breathing techniques. But the bigger problem was the fear of elevation – the gorgeous views that would accompany the climb, those very views would make me shudder and lose my balance. But the fighter in me said, “If you don’t do this now, you will never do any of those great Himalayan/alpine treks that you dream of doing someday”. So, believe it or not, I was the first one to jump up and say, “Let’s go.”

The beginning of the pathway. Who wouldn't want to tread this path?

The temple made of stacked stones. This is common sight in Sikkim.
The first half was as expected. Easy. Then began the climb. Initially, the cobbled stone path was wide enough to accommodate 2 people walking side by side. Later, it tapered down to a very narrow line, which could allow 1 person to step at a time. There were places where at one end of the stone path was a sheer drop. This was when my problem started. All this while, I was holding one of my friends’ hands for that comfortable feeling. Now, she had to walk ahead of me and I had to handle those steps, all by myself. Thankfully, she was a very courageous person who happened to be my messiah that day. She walked just before me, and still lent her hand so that I could keep shadowing her. She also kept talking about the several wonderful experiences that we had during the trip, so as to encourage me to keep thinking positively.  And you know what I was doing? I was busy chanting,” I’m going to make it”. Strangely, the very presence of our trek guide, Mr. Hissay Sherpa also provided a great sense of comfort. And oh yeah, I made it to the top! In fact, we loved the place so much that we went there again the next day, sharp at 5 AM to witness sunrise. The second time, I had a bit of breathing difficulty, but it all vanished when the sun rose!


5 AM at Barsey point. It's still moon's world. Can you spot the crescent?

The valley below. 5 AM. Barsey Top.

Sunrise at Barsey Top.



Kanchenjunga range view from Guras Kunj


So why did I have to explain all this in such excruciating detail? Just to emphasize the fact that most fears are man made and that it can be overcome with positive thinking and the urge to conquer the fear. What the human mind can conspire still continues to amaze me. If it desires, it can make me wet my pants on a railway over bridge; on the contrary it can also motivate me to climb mountains! No wonder someone rightly compared it to a monkey. Restless. Boundless. Reckless. I would've missed all these views, had I not pushed myself.

Views on our way back. That green hut is the place where we stayed.


Coffee with Kanchenjunga

Maggi with the mountains!

Selectively shining sun
Please note - I’m not saying that I’m not acrophobic now. I’m still scared of heights, but the magnitude of the fear is slightly lesser. I’m confident that I’ll, one day, accompany my husband on those wonderful mountain treks, which he does every year. 

And one last word here – A big shout out to those lovely people who were with me at that time,  without whose help I wouldn't have been able to make it.

P.S: This is the penultimate chapter of this travelogue. It will end with my Siliguri experience. So, please do stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My blog's first milestone - 5000 hits for the curious drop!

February 18, 2013 - I created this blog. A curious drop in the bucket. Am glad that it has crossed its first milestone exactly 3 months after that. 5000 Hits.

I sincerely thank every fellow blogger for accepting this newbie as a fellow blogger,  helping my blog reach this milestone and most importantly, for being there as a source of inspiration and motivation. I need to tell you something very important at this juncture. I am not just a name-sake blog hopper. I don't read posts for the sake of reading. In fact, I refrain from reading when I think I can't concentrate. I read posts to make myself write. "Wow, someone's doing such a wonderful job blogging, can I try doing that too?" I feel this every time I visit Indiblogger and click on my favorite blogs.  I once setup a blog in 2011, but miserably failed in maintaining it. This time, I'm not looking back. And I'm managing that only because I've cultivated the habit of appreciate genuine creativity in the blogosphere. I'd like to mention every blog that I've read and admired, but I run the risk of missing out a few of them. 

So, its just one word. THANKS!





Friday, May 17, 2013

Rendezvous with Rhododendrons #4 – Barsey beckoning!



I know, my posts have been sporadic for a while. Life has been trying as much as possible to shear me away from my blog, but I stubbornly stick to my commitment to tend to my baby (blog, I mean! My biological baby isn’t a baby anymore, he is a little boy). It is still taking baby steps, so nurturing it is of prime importance to me. Once in a while, it becomes a little overwhelming, but I manage to successfully overwhelm the overwhelming feeling!

So, where was I?  Yes, I went to bed that night in Sherpa Lodge, Okhrey, dreaming of dancing amidst Rhododendrons.  Did that happen? Did I really dance amidst those lovely flowers? Read on.

I still vividly remember that morning. The birds were still waking up. The cold mountain air and fog was still holding the beautiful valley below in its wraps. The orange ball was yet to make its appearance in the horizon. That was when I stepped out of my room, bundled in layers of warm clothing, clutching my camera to get that glorious first shot of the sunrise, as is always my habit wherever I go.  I held my head high, feeling a little proud that I was the first to wake up, that I’m going to be the only one to witness the gorgeous sunrise.  As I marched outside the lodge, in search of the most appropriate location to perch my camera, I heard him.

“Hey, sunrise dekhnaa hai? Yahaan se mast dikhtaa hai. aao!”

Someone poked a pin into my ballooned pride and enthusiasm. I scornfully looked at who that intruder was. He was the person, who stayed in the neighbouring room and it was his second day at Okhrey. He obviously knew better. I reluctantly dragged myself to the spot where he was standing. There wasn’t any time for my grumpiness showcase. The sun was already rising. 



Soon, my fellow travellers joined me. We had our morning tea, entrusted our bags to the trustworthy Sherpa and set off to Barsey. Joining us on our journey was our guide, Mr. Hissay Gyatso Sherpa. We drove up to Hiley, which is the entry point to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Mr. Sherpa had arranged for our breakfast at Hiley. After devouring the yummy Poori-Sabzi, we set off on our trek.  

Wild berries
  





Air moss


Lichens


Having Mr. Hissay trek with us was the best part of the trek. Armed with a Himalayan birdwatching guidebook, he helped us spot every little bird that flew by, helped identify every exotic plant that we beheld on our way and helped understand the locals and their ways. He also provided insights into the problems plaguing the sanctuary – such as the heavy influx of local tourists during festival season and the consequential littering, thereby disrupting peace in the jungle. He also briefed us about how the supplies to the forest guesthouse are transported in the absence of connectivity. Sherpas, naturally have great lungpower and a number of them double up as porters to transport the groceries and provisions uphill, offering to carry them on their backs for a paltry sum of three hundred rupees. Tough lives.

Mr. Hissay, our trek guide

After a couple of hours trekking, spotting Magpies, sunbirds and the exotic(?) Himalayan crows(no luck with spotting the elusive Red Pandas though) and learning to tell the difference between Rhododendron Barbatum/Rhododendron Arboreum and Grande/Falconeri, we reached the forest guesthouse, ‘Guras Kunj’. There wasn’t much of literature on the net about this place, hence I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, what I saw was beyond my expectations. It was an elegant wooden cottage with basic facilities, but the location was simply stunning. Painted green and standing amidst raging-red-fire like Rhododendron blooms, it seemed lifted straight from a fairy tale. Probably the most romantic of all places I’ve been to, ever.
‘Guras Kunj’ is basically a dormitory. It has one big hall which can accommodate 20 travellers easily. There is also one double bedroom with attached bath, which needs to be pre-booked. However, pre-booking is tricky as it is a herculean task to reach the owner’s mobile phone. Hence, you have to be lucky to have that room. And not to mention, we were incredibly lucky that day. 

Guras Kunj, the forest guesthouse


That evening was one to remember. I lay down on the cool grass, watching the clouds penning poetry, listened to the whistles of the wind, admired the stark color contrast of the ravens and rhododendrons, peeped into a rhodo flower, witnessed a hailstorm at 10000+ feet, snuggled up and watched ‘As good as it gets’, invaded the kitchen, dished out some French fries for us as well as the cooks and much more. In short, I had the time of my life that day. Never before, had I felt so emancipated. Every mountain in the vicinity seemed to echo my excitement.



Raven and the Rhododendrons
Rhododendron Grande
That evening, I also had to prepare myself for the last bit of the trek – the steep climb to the Barsey point/Sunrise point and back. Why prepare, you may ask. Well, I have a weakness that I hate to admit, that any self-confessed traveller would hate to admit – I am scared of heights. The minute I look down from a height, vertigo engulfs me and bogs me down.  However, I constantly try to work on my weaknesses. From being scared of climbing railway over bridges, I’ve come a long way - I’ve parasailed, climbed temple hills, done one day hill treks etc. However, mountains still manage to scare me out of my wits. I just can’t walk over a ridge or look from over a cliff. And this last part of the trip had both. I just had my fingers crossed.
Dear reader, please let me gather myself to come back and narrate the rest of the story. Till then, hold on and stay tuned.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Healing souls, touching lives....





“Transverse Myelitis”, he said.

 “Transverse …err… what?”  I gasped.

“Transverse Myelitis. It is a neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord. Look at this, can you see this bulge? This is the problem area”, the neurologist said, as he held the MRI film against the brightly lit board.

“But, how did that happen, Doctor?” I still could not comprehend what exactly was going on.

“Can't say exactly. It is a very rare condition that affects one in a million people… Almost all people affected by this condition get paralysed. You are lucky that your husband is still ok, relatively that is….”

The whole world seemed to spin around me. We had just returned from our backpacking trip to Europe. My husband, still in his late twenties, had been complaining of numbness that seemed to have originated at the feet and crawled its way up to the chest, throughout the trip. I had in fact been mocking at him, for imagining things. However, by the time we returned, we knew something was terribly wrong. And unfortunately, it was.
Initially, I hadn’t understood the gravity of the situation; I had taken my husband to consult a family physician. Only when the doc gaped at him like a specimen in a science lab, we figured out that this wasn’t common at all. After all, the doctor hadn’t seen even a single TM patient in his entire career!

He was then referred to a super-specialty hospital. A team of neurologists assessed his condition. He was immediately hospitalized and a high dose of steroids pumped in to decelerate the numbing process. Though the doctors were non-committal with the prognosis and recovery, they were almost certain that he wouldn’t be paralyzed after this point. And I should say that they were spot-on, my husband indeed miraculously escaped from the clutches of that dreadful condition.  

 After a week at the hospital, my husband was discharged. He could barely walk, let alone resume work. However, we were extremely positive. “This too shall pass”, we kept telling ourselves. True to the word, that too passed. Today, my husband is almost cured and till date, I cannot thank those neurologists enough.

Ah! That was just my husband’s story. I have one more personal story that makes me vouch for today’s modern healthcare. It is my little son’s story. The dreadful story of acute bacterial pneumonia turned into a gruesome empyema. A keyhole surgery (Laparoscopy) was performed on him to remove the puss and to drain the infected pleural fluid. Thanks to modern healthcare, my son has just a small mark today, instead of a huge scar cutting across his thorax.

The two stories penned above have an eerie coincidence. Yes, they happened at the same time. It all happened like clockwork, with the two most important people in my life battling with indescribable pain and agony, almost concurrently. And there lay my battered soul, clinging to the hope that the doctors provided. Looking back, I realize how lucky we were to have access to excellent healthcare facilities, without which there wouldn’t have been a ‘normal today’.

Minimally scarred body, maximally healed life. That’s one of the greatest promises today’s modern healthcare provides. If not for its intervention, my life’s trajectory would’ve been poles apart from what it is today. Till date, when illnesses invade our peace, I keep telling myself, ‘This too shall pass’. That word slips my mouth, JUST because of today’s healthcare.

Thank you God. Thank you doctors. You’ve not only touched my life, you’ve made it livable. 

(This post is an entry to the Apollo Hospitals - Indiblogger 'Touching lives' contest. you can read more about the hospital here: http://www.apollohospitals.com/cutting-edge.php)