TURNS OUT ALL ONE NEEDS IS CURRY AND LOVE FROM MOTHER NATURE!

Ah Seychelles, that beach lover’s paradise which is on any traveler’s dream list. I always associated Seychelles with an ultra-premium image, a playground of the uber rich.

Imagine my delight and excitement when I got the opportunity to visit Seychelles. Admittedly it was on the off peak season, but what I have realized by being a “seasoned budget-traveler” (if there is such a thing) is that off seasons are rarely as bad as the term “off-season” makes them sound to be.

For many destinations, off-peak corresponds to a time when the weather is unfavorable. For example, the monsoon season is considered off season in Goa. On the face of it, it makes a lot of sense because the monsoons are quite heavy in Goa. In practice, one still sees good tourist inflow into Goa even during the monsoon season, as tourists do other “touristy” things like visiting the heritage parts of Goa and of course, the liquor flows freely irrespective of the season!

Seychelles, being in the Indian Ocean can get hot and humid and ostensibly that would make some months of the year off-season. In practice, I do not believe there is a bad time to visit Seychelles. A bit of sweat is good to flush the toxins out of the body, they say!

I went about researching on Seychelles on the know-it-all of the Internet, Google. In 2015, the missus and I did a cross continental tour of Europe, and we learnt many tourist hacks in the process. One “hack” to minimize accommodation expenses was to pick a hotel outside of the main city. For example, if we wanted to stay in Lucerne but found the hotels expensive, we would look at villages / cities nearby. In addition to being more affordable, these villages had a rustic charm that was indescribable. Of course, staying in a youth hostel is an option, but I had a few “fun” stories (or horror stories depends on your perspective) from my stays in hostels so I thought of giving them a pass. As Baldrick would say if he heard of my cost cutting plan, “It’s a cunning plan actually”.

Being the bright spark I am, I decided to apply the same hack to Seychelles. After extensive research, I found excellent accommodation at reasonable prices at a place called La Digue. La Digue, sounded mysterious and enchanting. It was a quick boat ride away, so I planned to stay in La Digue and visit Mahe and Praslin for sight seeing. (Regular visitors to Seychelles are probably shaking their heads in surprise now) I got visions of being a modern day buccaneer carelessly crossing the might seas for my tourist-ic conquests.

With much excitement, the missus and I got on the flight to Seychelles. The Emirates flight was full, so much for off-season. As we touched into Seychelles airport, the sight from the airport was truly something to behold and whetted the tourists’ appetite. The airport directly looks onto the sea and we just got out of the aircraft and walked across the tarmac for passport control.

Seychelles airport is truly one of the most photogenic airports I have been to and sets the tone for things to come. From the tarmac, we could see the majestic expanse of the Indian Ocean. One can also catch the sight of uninhabited islets full of lush greenery from the tarmac. The sight of two majestic Emirates Boeing 777-300ER aircrafts enhanced the setting and provided many picture worthy moments.

After taking copious amounts of pictures, we turned to enter the airport. The entrance to the Seychelles airport, painted in light yellow colour, instantly transports the traveler to another era. An era of large villas, relaxed martini filled lunches and relaxing days. Unlike the impersonal glass and chrome of many modern mega airports, the Seychelles airport has a rustic French charm.

Once we got into the line for Passport Control, it can get a tad crowded and one appreciates the reasons for modern mega airports doing what they do!

We picked our luggage and headed to the cruise port to catch the ferry to La Digue island. The drive was beautiful, with lush greenery and Colonial style houses dotting the way. I got into a reverie where I was living in one of these majestic houses, sipping a juice full of tropical fruits, before heading out for a swim in the beach.

My reverie was rudely interrupted when the driver announced that we had arrived. We went to get tickets in the small booth and was taken aback by the prices. The inter island ferry is not cheap and at that moment, I realized whatever benefits I had achieved from my “cunning plan” were more than wiped out by the ferry prices. The buccaneering sea faring rogue of my dreams, was now replaced by a bumbling husband explaining the snafu to the Home Ministry!

Seychelles is a wonderful wonderful country which has many virtues, chief of them being the ability to lessen the traveler’s stress. I do not mean it as a complaint, but purely as an observation. The timings of inter-island ferry are, to put it politely, fluid. The time table is a high level document indicating the number of probable services. After that, the exigencies of the day’s operations probably take over and one must give enough buffer for delays. It is what it is.

Coming back to Seychelles, while waiting for the ferry, we started sweating bullets due to the failure of another “cunning plan”. It was cold when we left for the airport in Dubai, so Lady of the House and I were wearing thick clothes. A seasoned airline flyer once told me if you are well dressed, the chances of getting a business class upgrade improve (it has NEVER happened), but this thought has struck to my head and I usually wear a blazer at least, even when I travel for leisure.

It looked like the rest of the travelers, had spent time in Seychelles and were then proceeding to La Digue. They were dressed in the minimum amount of clothing required, allowing for the sweat to not drench their clothes.

In comparison, we looked like we were headed to the Debutante’s ball and in no time our clothes were drenched with sweat. Point 1 to off-season.

Finally, the ferry boat arrived and a collective gasp of relief could be heard amongst the now fast dehydrating travelers. We boarded the ferry which then dropped us of at the second biggest island of Seychelles called Praslin and then we proceeded to La Digue. The water was choppy and we were happy to get off the boat at La Digue.

The wear and tear of the journey immediately evaporated on setting foot at La Digue Pier. Soothing Turquoise Blue waters surrounded the traveler everywhere. In the distance, lush greenery could be seen dotting the island’s borders. Ah Paradise!

As we walked into La Digue, we realized that everyone cycled here. There were cycle stands to keep the bicycles. The main office at the pier is a charming big shack. “Cut off from the world” and “Island Getaway” were the words that came to one’s mind.

La Digue is unique in that cycle is the primary mode of transportation. There are only a handful of cars, for locals who are involved in transporting travelers from the hotels to the pier. Everyone gets around by bicycles!

A car arranged by our self catering accommodation dropped us off at our lodgings. Mom and pop resorts are the order of the day in La Digue and provide a deep personal touch. We stayed in a cottage set amidst lush tropical gardens. The resort was in between other homes and we could see locals going on about their lives. Talk about an immersive experience, we truly enjoyed this journey to another time, where life was simpler.

There is one major “road” or street which snakes it’s way through the island. If one needs to go to the La Digue pier, this is the only road to go reach.

We got our cycles and it took both of us sometime to balance, after all it has been many years since we cycles. But give it to the motor memory of the humand body, we hit our stride in few minutes and started to explore the land and more importantly look for a place to nourish the tired body.

Here’s the interesting thing. Though we were tired, just seeing the greenery, the tranquil environment of the place, the people quietly going about their lives, with smiling faces immediately rejuvenated us.

I have always believed there are two types of tiredness – one is a physical tiredness that comes after hours of physical toil and the other is a mental tiredness due to stress or feeling jaded. Physical tiredness can be cured with a quick nap, but mental tiredness can truly sap a human being and is not easy to cure.

The best cure for mental tiredness is to go back to nature. Frolic in the ocean, get drenched in rains, switch off that wifi and smell the flowers. That’s exactly what La Digue is… an antidote to the jadedness of urban life. Urban life is of course inevitable and it has many virtues, convenience being the chief of them.

But the human is an animal of nature. The elements that exist outside the human, like air, water, earth, fire exist within the human as well. Our bodies are predominantly made up of water, dehydration can kill us. Fire element exists in the form of the digestive fires. We have the term “fire in the belly” which denotes an ambitious person. Our skin, bones, tissues which are made up of carbon, constitute the earth element in the body.

We went to the Fish Trap restaurant, right on the main road. Being vegetarians, we were apprehensive, but the local creole curry with rice is spicy and filling. We had a lot of fun just cycling along the road and wherever we stopped a beach was not far away. I fantasized this was the closest that we were to get to a Robinson Crusoe experience of being in a remote island!

La Digue is great if you want to have long walks and deep conversation. We made plans to head to the legendary Anse Source de L’Argent, rated the best beach in the world.

IN THE LAP OF MOTHER NATURE

After a nice and simple breakfast in the garden, we headed to Anse (Beach) Source De L’Argent with much anticipation. We took the long route that snakes its way, through a hilly path. We could see beachgoers returning from the beach, drenched in sweat, dripping with sea water, covered with white sand but all in a merry mood.

At places, the mountain trail gets too steep to climb and we would have burnt all the calories of the breakfast by the time we reached the legendary beach.

But boy oh boy, was it worth the trip! The beach is every bit as legendary as the internet claims it is. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. As you step into the beach, you see the vast expanse of the ocean and something, something in your core, just connects. A natural sense of awe of Mother Nature arises within oneself. It is you, the infinite horizon and the calm, inviting waters of the Indian Ocean.

We jumped in right away and had a merry time. Grey and charcoal colored rocks seemingly rising from the sea provide photogenic views. But the overall theme is that of the Pure beauty of Mother Nature, majestically laid out, as a perfect picture in front of you. The sand in Seychelles is also different. Granted, beach sand can be annoying, but I have been to many a beach and the fine beach sand of Seychelles is the least annoying. It is exceedingly fine and has a soft texture to it. Even if you roll over the sand, there are no stones and it feels smooth and velvety.

After spending some time on the sand, we headed back. By now, we were ravenously hungry. There is a shack on the beach, but it’s pretty basic. If my memory serves me right, there is a restaurant nearby but was not open that day. I would recommend carrying a small picnic basket and having food near the beach.

WHILING AWAY AND BACK TO CIVILISATION

Sigh, the remaining two days were idyllic. Actually, I had “planned” a four day trip with one day at Mahe and one day at Praslin, but the island life caught on to us. Time was an abstract concept as we luxuriated in the simple, rural pleasures of the island. We would take the bicycle intending to go one way, but see a sign for Anse Something Something and head that way, but see another beach, park the bicycle, and while time away at that beach. We would eat somewhere and then decide to return to the Self Catering! Evening would be rinse and repeat of the same.

In these random wanderings, we came across a real gem, Veuve Natural Reserve. There is an adequate Information Center at the entrance which gave us the background of the Reserve. Set up to protect a rare species of a bird special to Seychelles, (readers will forgive me if I forget the species for I am no ornithologist, but I can assure you it isn’t a dodo), the reserve today is a wooded enclave in the La Digue islands and is one of the National Parks of Seychelles.

For us, it was a veritable treat exploring the Reserve. The Reserve is lush, densely populated with trees, rising to great heights. In the Indian mythologies, one reads of Great Saints who set up their ashrams in the middle of the forest and I could appreciate their motivation.

The air has the fresh smell of trees and if one is into Yoga and Pranayams, literally the lung fills up with some good air. After breathing urban air, with it’s pollutants, it feels like the lungs rejoice to breathe in the forest air. After an hour and half of walking around, doing Yoga, we set back to our accommodation.

The next morning as we left La Digue, it was with a desire to come back. Of course, the inter island ferry acted up, but I was in a happy daze.

To be honest, I have no clue where the time went. In our other trips, we would cover almost all the “attractions” and “highlights” mentioned on the internet. In this trip, we did not even visit Praslin, which arguably is the most interesting of all the three major islands and is literally next door to La Digue. As I write the travelogue, I still struggle to believe what I did for 4 days

But it didn’t matter. Turns out all you need for a great vacation are regular does of vegetable curry and copious love of Mother Nature!

 

Baby Bear Meets Puppy Gog

It was a cool and sunny day. Baby Bear was sleeping comfortably curled between Momma Bear’s legs. The soft fur of Momma Bear was the best pillow in the world. Baby Bear was thinking if only some fresh honey was there, what a perfect morning it will be!

Then a bee started buzzing in Baby Bear’s ears. Baby Bear said,”Oh no, not again. Big Bee don’t spoil my sleep”

Big Bee said,”Wake up Baby Bear. Don’t be so lazy! Sun has come up long time ago! Time for you to run and play with other bears”

Baby bear said,”That white bear always cheats in hide and seek. I don’t want to play. I just want to sleep, curled in my mommy’s legs”

Mommy bear who was fast asleep till then, opened one eye and looked at Baby bear. She said,”Baby, go and play now. I need to go for gathering food.”

Baby bear said with a frown,”But you say like this and come back late! You are like the raven bird mothers”. The raven birds often left the nest too early, so raven mothers were blamed for not supervising their children enough.

Mommy Bear smiled and said,”No no, I will be on time, Promise. “

Baby bear got up and shook its body. Then it walked slowly to the nearby river. The river was sparkling white today, reflecting the sun’s rays. She came all the way down from the mountains, providing life wherever she touched.

The two banks of the river were lush with greenery and fresh fruit trees were in full blossom.

Baby bear bent down and tasted the water. The water was cool and refreshing.

While it was in the water, the other baby bears called out.

“Hey, come and join us quickly. We are going to the farmer’s house to get some honey”

Baby bear ran happily towards the friends. The honey in the farmer’s house was the best!

————————————————–

As they neared the farmer’s house, they heard a strange and new sound.

All the bears hid behind a tree.

From behind the tree, they could clearly see that the farmer had got a big bad dog!

The dog was tall, sturdy and had big teeth.

Baby bear was frightened and wanted to go back to Momma bear.

But chocolate brown bear said,”Barking dogs don’t bite. Let’s go forward. Nothing will happen”

Baby bear thought, “This chocolate bear is always over confident. One time, chocolate bear made everybody jump into water. He said bears will always float. Thank God, Momma bear was nearby to rescue them that day!”

So Baby bear blinked many times in indecision. Chocolate bear taunted,”What baby bear, always afraid. Are you a bear or pussy cat?”

Baby bear said,”You go ahead, I don’t want to come. I want Momma bear”

All the bears laughed and said,”What a coward! Call yourself baby pussy cat from now”

——————————–

The other bears hatched a plan. Baby bear placed itself safely between two branches of a tree and saw everything.

The other bears spoke,”These dogs are crazy about bones. Chocolate bear found a bone nearby. White bear throw the bone on other side, alert the dog and come to us”

We will sneak through the back side of the house and get the honey jars from the shed.”

White bear took the bone and went to the opposite side.

But the Big Bad Dog smelt the bone! It came behind white bear. White bear ran as fast as possible, but Big Dog was fast gaining.

Baby bear looked at all this with alarm.

Meanwhile chocolate bear and others, were sneaking up to the garage.

Big Bad Dog pulled the bone from white bear and bit it. White bear began to cry.

The Dog looked back and saw the other gang

The Big Dog reached the other bears and bit all of them.

All the small bears were crying as they limped home. Baby bear quietly joined them and they all walked to their caves without talking.

On the way, baby bear was thinking, “What a bad dog! It could have just stopped with barking. Why bite and do all this cannibal behavior?”

Dogs and bears could never be friends!

———————————————-

Just as the bears were reaching their caves, chocolate bear spotted a small pup lying near the bank of the river. All the bears immediately got angry.

White bear shouted,”Here is a pup lying helplessly. Let’s take our revenge. Let the Big Dog know what will happen to their friends if they mess with us”

The other bears were so tired. Chocolate bear simply said,”I need my momma to apply bandage on me. I am hungry, I just want to go home”

All the bears agreed.

Baby bear said, “Hey guys, this pup is harmless. It is not even related to the Big Bad Dog. Why do you want to attack it tomorrow?”

The other bears just said, “Shut up baby bear! No understanding of this world. You just go to your mommy and eat honey.”

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Baby bear ran quickly up the steps to the caves to talk to mommy.

Mommy was lying in a relaxed manner, scratching it’s back. Today was a good day.

Mommy hunted this big seal which will last for atleast 15 days. Mommy was rubbing her hands and eating some berries in delight.

Baby bear ran to mommy, with big open eyes, told mommy,”Mommy, I am very confused”

It went closer to the ear and whispered the happenings of the day.

Mommy bear affectionately kissed baby bear, took the child in her lap and said,”Baby bear, your friends are really adventurous! There is no need to unnecessarily make enemies with Big Bad Dog. Everyone has a purpose on this world and Big Bad Dog’s nature is to fight and protect.”

“But aren’t all bears and dogs enemies”, Baby bear asked with a sad look in it’s face

“Not at all, baby bear! It is about the nature of every person”

“Then I want to save that little goggy pup!”, baby bear said with a determined look, from the lap of mommy

Then baby bear described the cute pup lying near the river bank and the evil plans of the other bears.

Soon mommy and baby bear reached the river bank.

It was getting dark. The small pup, not larger than momma bear’s wrist, was curled up behind a rock.

It was brown in colour and had the tiniest eyes.

As baby bear neared the puppy gog, the tiny pup had a look of alarm in it’s eyes. The eyes seemed to say, “Please don’t hurt me”

Baby bear sensed the goggy’s uneasiness and gently stroked the little gog’s fur.

On touching it, baby bear could see the poor goggy was shivering.

Baby bear turned to mommy and said,”Mommy mommy, this goggy is shivering”

Baby bear stroked the pup’s fur and said, “Don’t worry goggy. We are here to rescue you! We will take you to our little cave and give you food and warmth”

The cute gog stroked baby bear’s cheeks to express gratitude.

Baby bear’s eyes lit up with a sense of joy that Mommy bear had never seen.

Mommy bear stood up. Baby bear caught the pup tenderly with her teeth. She climbed on mommy bear’s back and all of them went back to the cave.

Puppy Gog felt very secure and got a lot of energy. It started tickling baby bear.

Baby bear yelped with delight.

Mommy bear asked smiling,”So who is your new best friend?”

Baby bear shouted happily, “Puppy Gog! My bear friends are only secondary!”

———————————-THE END——————————

Movie Review: Jagga Jasoos

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Saswata Chatterjee (or that Insurance Agent / Assassin of Kahani), Saurabh Shukla (or that Inspector in Barfi) and few motley and completely unmemorable characters

Once in a while, someone in Bollywood tries to do something, way out of the ordinary, reach for the Sun but they fail to realise, that like Icarus their wings are made of wax.

In the case of Jagga Jasoos, that Icarus would be Anurag Basu and the movie’s meandering plot would be the wax wings.

The movie starts with a story telling session by Shruti Sengupta (Katrina Kaif) on the exploits of the great Jagga.

But who is Jagga?

Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) is an orphan who grows up in a hospital. One day he sees a man fall off a goods train and gets help to bring him back to the hospital. That man repeatedly asks Jagga for his name, but the young boy does not speak. It turns out the boy is afraid to talk since he stammers. The man walks up to Jagga and inspires him to sing his thoughts out, if words are a problem. This particular scene is actually quite inspiring and one of the better moments of the film. However, this also tragically sets the premise for making the film a musical, something that in hindsight should never have been attempted.

Through musical conversations, Tutifuti Bagchi and Jagga become very close and Tutifuti becomes Jagga’s foster father. Tutifuti, as the name suggests has a tendency to get into accidents and troubles and also earns the moniker “Bad Luck Bagchi”.

The idyllic days are interrupted when someone spots Tutifuti and few big bad men arrive in Sarkari Ambassadors to hunt him down. The biggest, baddest and baldest of them all is a Sinha. Sinha leaves a message for Tutifuti which leads the latter to admit Jagga in a boarding school and scoot off to some exotic and mysterious adventure.

Jagga grows up with an insatiable appetite for asking questions and solving them. This results in his first success where he cracks a classic whodunit. A tale of revenge and passion involving the History Teacher, her husband who is the PT teacher and the pretty English teacher (Wonder why is that the language teachers (English / French) are the Gitas and the non-language teachers are the Sitas?)

To be fair, the simple plot has its moments. However, the musical style is completely unsuited to the mystery plot’s nuances. What makes a mystery story successful? It is the suspense. The musical format completely removes the nail biting anticipation, leaving the viewer confused whether he should be angry at the killer or dancing to the death of the English teacher.

The second book introduces the heroine Shruti Sengupta (Katrina Kaif) to Jagga’s life. Shruti is a reporter but has the same penchant for accidents that Tutifuti had.

When she is not falling or spilling water on others, Shruti is a reporter tracking the illegal arms trade. She is in Jagga’s town to meet an informer.

Shruti meets the informer in a giant wheel. She warns him that these rides make her uncomfortable but the informer insists. As the ride is going on, Shruti shuts her eyes and cannot listen to the informer. Someone stabs the informer and Shruti accidentally places her hand on the knife, making it appear as if she had done the murder. The ever curious Jagga who had followed Shruti sees this and decides to come to her rescue. The rest of the plot revolves around how he gets her out of trouble and in the process unravels a secret underground tunnel between Myanmar and India to smuggle illicit arms.

At this point, your head is probably overloaded and you need a break. Incidentally, Katrina asks two kids in her story telling session, “Bored Ho Na?”

It is as if even the makers understand the absurdity of claiming to make a kid’s movie when the plot becomes so heavy and serious. So to justify the plot, they sing sanctimonious tripe about how none of us cares about the larger world until something happens to us.

The already exhausted viewer is now going to be presented with an even more exhausting finale.

You see, every year on his birthday Jagga receives a VHS tape (yes a VHS tape in 2000s) from Tutifuti Bagchi. However, that year he doesn’t receive the tape.

On a parallel story, it turns out that govt’s investigating officer Sinha isn’t really a govt. officer but a two timing blackguard referred in known circles as Blackmail Sinha! (Cue Surprise Sound)

And to add to the surprise, Blackmail Sinha has been using Tutifuti , by tricking Tutifuti into thinking he is going to stop the illegal arms trade, when all Blackmail Sinha wanted was evidence to blackmail the illegal arms dealers. There is mention of dark and sinister things like Purulia Arms Drop Case but nothing amounts to anything or connects to anywhere.

Jagga convinces Shruti to try and track Tutifuti in an obscure African country. At this point, once the plot enters Africa, the director and crew just give up and the climax is reached in the most ridiculous manner conceivable. Some critics call it play of the absurd and wonderfully whimsical. Don’t listen to them, the plot is just stupid.

But here is the pinch! There may be a sequel, talk about ambition!

A wise man once told me that you must never combine too many different types of food. Wish that same wise man had advised Anurag Basu to never combine so many movie styles. Is Jagga Jasoos a musical? Is Jagga Jasoos a kid’s movie? Is Jagga Jasoos a mystery movie? It is all and none, at the same time. It is Lala Land + Sherlock directed for Nickelodeon.

Ranbir, Ranbir you are extremely talented and you are my favourite actor. But you select the most horrible scripts. Remember Madras Café. No one had made a movie on Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

Similarly no one has made a movie based on Purulia Arms Drop Case. Why not just make an an action movie? Make yourself a RAW agent, a la Saif Ali Khan in Agent Vinod.

Why this stubborn insistence of playing the chocolate boy or the lover boy or the boy who is discovering himself. Why can’t you just be a normal Indian mass movie star?

In this particular week, there was absolutely no competition. There aren’t even good Hollywood movies. The viewer had no option. Still if you cannot get the viewer back, that would count as a tragedy.

Katrina is as usual pretty as a picture and a bit out of place in her role as an Indian girl. In this case, she happens to be out of place as a Bengali reporter, who speaks without a tinge of Bengali accent.

Saswata Chatterjee has acted well in a badly sketched role.

Less said about Saurabh Shukla the better.

Overall rating: Ho-hum, don’t bother downloading and watching, just watch some other movie again.

Danger Takes No Appointments – Episode 1

MYSTERIOUS MCLEODGANJ

“I should have been a mountain boy”, declared Vikram happily as he climbed the sloping roads of McLeodganj. A broad smile showed on the twenty one year old’s face as he walked briskly with long strides and deep breaths.

“And I should never listen to you”, Aditya said as he panted at a distance

“At least have the courtesy to maintain a respectable distance between us”, he called

Vikram stopped and smiled at him gleefully.

“Remember, it was your idea. I would have rather preferred lazing on a beach in Goa, but you wanted nature”

Vikram and Aditya were in the final year of college and had taken a trip to Himachal Pradesh to explore the wondrous and per government ads, unforgettable experiences that awaited them.

However, the holiday, which had been enthusiastically put together by the absent minded Aditya, had all the portents of a disaster.

Initially, it had been for a party of six people to attempt a trek to the famous and spiritually significant Mani Mahesh Lake.

Aditya was extremely interested in mythology. As per folklore, Lord Shiva performed penance on the lake and it was considered an abode of the Lord. Even if one didn’t believe in mythology, just as a trek, it had many attractions and was a popular destination.

Unlike Aditya, Vikram was an agnostic. He didn’t particularly care for the question of God. The trek was more of an endurance or fitness event for him.

Aditya had booked the trip, bang in the middle of the monsoon season. Hearing that, two members dropped out.

Two others were planning to join directly from Delhi by car. The friend providing the car fell ill and the car option went out. The last friend was taking a circuitous route to McLeodganj and would reach the next day.

“The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley“, Aditya philosophized, but it really wasn’t even a scheme, let alone one falling under the category of ‘best laid’

The decision to base themselves at McLeodganj was more out of financial consideration, rather than anything else.

It was a novel experience. The duo were greeted by swirling, cool, moist winds. It was almost as if walking through the clouds. The lanes were narrow, cramped and steep.

Houses and lodges seemed to be blending into each other. Numerous shops displayed Tibetan charms, chants, and motley knick-knacks. A car suddenly sped up the road, forcing them to scurry to the side.

Dawn had just started to break. As they scanned the houses / lodges looking for their “hotel”, the lights went out. They continued searching in the dark. Just then, the sound of someone walking came from behind them. A short, stocky youth was walking in a funny way, probably imitating the style of the hip hop artists. Or maybe he had some sort of defect and then it would be cruel to judge.

Aditya asked hesitantly, “Do you know where this hotel is?”

The youth blinked and looked at the booking printout for a long time. Vikram stepped in and asked the same thing in Hindi.

The youth replied quickly, “I know English! There are two hotels which sound like the one you said. Which road is it?”

Aditya and Vikram blinked. There only seemed to be one road really. Houses and streets which couldn’t be accommodated onto it seemed to have spilt on to smaller streets. Like tributaries from a mighty river, ‘street-lets’ snaked from the main “road”.

There was no mention of any road in their booking. Aditya called the hotel and the lady at the reception gave directions to the young lad. Aditya and Vikram were just expecting directions but the boy said, “I stay nearby, come, come I will take you”

Impressed by the hospitality, the duo followed the lad to the hotel. He wore large sunglasses whose utility was not clear in the cool climes of McLeodganj. Another couple carrying large bags, walked behind the trio. They were probably here for a trek too.

Vikram introduced himself and his friend and asked the youngster for his name.

“Nirmal”, the lad grunted.

Aditya and Vikram spoke to each other in a low voice. Aditya said, “He seems like a shady character. Hope he doesn’t kidnap us.”

Vikram said, “Kidnap? The guy is barely able to manage himself”

Aditya smiled, “Yeah, the only way is if he mistakenly leads us to a gang of kidnappers”

The lad suddenly turned around and said, “Hey, where are you guys from?”

Vikram said, “We are from Bangalore”

Nirmal suddenly brightened and nodded knowingly, “Oh South se. Chinnai Express. Kya awesome movie! South ke log itna cute hain!

The duo groaned, but it was a lost cause. Yet again, an entire culture reduced to a caricature due to movies.

They reached the hotel. As Aditya and Vikram were about to step in, Nirmal said seriously, “What about my charge??”

Aditya and Vikram looked at each other incredulously. People charged for showing directions?

Then suddenly he smiled and said, “Kidding! Enjoy McLeodganj!”

Vikram laughed and said, “Thanks for your help friend!”

Aditya woke up after a quick nap and stepped onto the balcony. The room was small but neat. The view was something else however. The majestic Dauladhar (meaning the White Range) stretched magnificently in front of them. Proud, snow-capped peaks were crowned by doting clouds. The Almighty sun graced the mountain with its life giving rays, sun rays that created a halo on a grateful mountain. The view was literally a royal treat.

As Aditya looked down, he saw old houses badly in need of a coat of paint and some maintenance. Of course, in a location with heavy or persistent monsoons the houses tended to get a mossy and old look. He recalled visiting Goa during the monsoons and how some of the houses seemed to have a musty smell. A falling white stick figure was painted on to a red wall cautioning the unassuming to look out for slippery floors.

Saurabh, their friend from Delhi had joined early in the morning. He had had quite an adventure getting there and was describing it in detail to Vikram. He decided to skip sleep altogether that morning.

Just as they were leaving for breakfast, Saurabh found a piece of paper under the table. In a handwriting which looked like a child’s, it was written in Hindi, “Parcel Dharamkot pahunch gaya hai. Abhi zyada vakth nahin hai – T” (Parcel has reached Dharamkot. There is not much time now – T)

Saurabh told Vikram, “What parcel could it be?”

Vikram joked, “Maybe the pizza delivery happened at the wrong address? Then the pizza delivery guy told his friend who dropped this message”

“Lame”, Aditya said. “What about thieves who are coordinating?”

Both Vikram and Saurabh just rolled their eyes and said, “Yes, it’s thieves coordinating. Very talented ones, don’t even know which lodge their co-conspirators are staying!”

Saurabh made a ball of the paper and threw it. “Parcel tho pahunch gaya hai na, what will we do with this”

They went down for breakfast. The place was run by two ever smiling Tibetans with the help of part time Bihari cook. As they were eating breakfast, Saurabh saw a rack filled with books. He went over and picked a book “Death Must Die”, an account of the spiritual journey of an Austrian lady. Saurabh got engrossed in the book while Aditya and Vikram got engrossed on that ultimate squanderer of precious time, WhatsApp.

The hosts came and cleared the table. Suddenly, all three awoke with a start. They had come down for breakfast at 9.10 and it was 11.30 now!

The trio quickly scrambled up, got ready and headed to the Dalai Lama Temple. On the way, they saw a small Tibetan temple. Tourists and young monks in saffron robes were turning prayer wheels. The trio read a write up on the wall that explained the function of the prayer wheels.

As per the notice, each prayer wheel had mantras and chants wrapped around or inscribed on plates. On rotating the wheels clockwise, the person who rotated the wheel got the benefit of chanting of the mantras!

The three of them completed one full rotation turning the wheels. Whether bad karmas had been cut or not, they had definitely given a good workout to their biceps!

The road to the Dalai Temple inclined steeply downwards. As they were walking down, Vikram declared, “This prayer wheel things, makes no sense at all! Probably to inculcate a pious nature, priests created these myths”

Saurabh countered, “Not necessarily. In tantric practices, and Buddhist schools of thought also draw inspiration from Tantric practices, the focus is on management of energies.”

Aditya added, “Energy and matter are related. That is accepted since Einstein said it. Prayers can also be thought of as means to create certain frequencies”

Very soothing chants of “Om Mani Padmeham” could be heard in the background.

Saurabh added, “Yagnas are also one way to achieve generate desirable frequencies and energies”

Vikram mocked the two of them. “Have you seen those late night shows where gemologists talk of tapping cosmic energy by wearing stones and gems. Good backup profession!”

Aditya made the impression of talking hand and said, “Yada yada, no point convincing you”

The narrow thoroughfare seemed to be an incredible global melting point. European and American tourists, Tibetan monks, Tibetan ‘non-monks’, Indians milled together. Some of the tourists were in search of something profound, while others just looking for a good time.

Aditya looked at a pair of pretty Tibetan girls, on the other side of the road, walking up.

The fair, slim girls were specially looking very pretty in their traditional dress. It was a kimono like dress. Both of them were wearing a dark blue kimono decorated with bright yellow floral patterns.

Perhaps conscious they were being watched, they suddenly turned to the direction of the three boys. Out of politeness, they smiled.

Amongst the three, Aditya smiled back, giving a broad grin.

Saurabh and Vikram, never ones to let go of these things, seized on the moment.

“Who are you smiling at?” Vikram asked, seemingly very innocently.

Aditya stuttered, “No one, just like that. Beautiful place, crime to smile or what?”

Saurabh set up the bait, “I thought the two girls were smiling at you. Even now see they are turning back to look at you”

Aditya turned around and said, “Really”

The other two howled in laughter.

“Just a smile is enough to bowl over our man”

“Loafer, how do you know they smiled at you?”

Aditya said, “I was just being, like polite. Imagine that they were not smiling in my direction. Even then, there is no harm in me smiling. There is no harm is spreading joy.

But imagine that they were indeed smiling at me. How rude it would have been, if I didn’t acknowledge it. You guys may not know what constitutes gentlemanly behavior, but I do!”

Vikram said, “Oh, so it’s gentlemanly behavior? See that white guy going down, they were probably smiling at him. Why did you come in between, like a kabab mein haddi. That’s very gentlemanly or what?”

Aditya countered, “Why do you always assume that if white guy is there, girls must be smiling at him only. What’s wrong with me?”

Saurabh laughed and said, “No, who said anything is wrong, that too with that masterpiece of a tummy”

Vikram ribbed, “Yeah, why go for chiseled six packs when we can settle for dad bods”

Aditya made a sarcastic face and said, “Have you guys heard of the term Reubenesque? Painters have made paintings of Reubenesque people.”

Saurabh said, “Trust me, it’s not a compliment”

Aditya sensing that he was losing the battle, said, “Anyway, I have a theory on the prayer wheel. Maybe, the rotating of the wrapper prayers creates a certain frequency…”

Vikram said, “Nice try. Clearly shows what kind of a loser you are. Your true lovers have left you behind and you are talking of frequencies. Run behind them”

Saurabh added, “Yes, remember to keep running. Even if they are boarding a train, run behind them like Shah Rukh in DDLJ”

Aditya had an expressive face which could never conceal emotions. As a result, he usually became the butt of jokes.

Vikram said, “Let’s give the Tibetan Princess a name. Aditya and…”

Saurabh laughed, “Let me google Tibetan girl names.”

Jampa hmm… Kunchen… Rinchen too fancy for this face, we will go with Jampa itself

Aditya and Jampa, how it is?”

Aditya protested, “Guys, guys grow up. Control control…”

Laughing and joking, the trio reached the Dalai Lama temple. After praying at the Temple, as they were stepping out, a voice called from to their right. “Hey Bros, how you doin’?”

The trio swung around to see a tall lad with a large dropping moustache.

“I am Tommy, Tommy Tuntuniya”, he said confidently “Welcome to McLeodganj”

The trio said slowly, “T-t-thank you for your welcome. What can we do?”

He continued with the same confident tone, which was a surprising contrast to his nervous body language, “I am one of the best guides here and this is one of the best rides”

Tommy stepped out and slapped the hood of the car. “Meet the Bhai”, he beamed proudly.

The Bhai” was a white Maruti Alto, which looked so lacking in maintenance it should have been more aptly called “The Bye Bye”. There were many scratches but instead of being fixed, Tibetan inscriptions were painted on to the car.

“I will take you around for a small fee. We will start from Dharamshala stadium, there are temples, waterfalls, whatever you say, we have it”

The trio spoke to each other.

“Should we trust this weird guy? Let’s ask the price”

For all his talk, Tommy wasn’t too commercially savvy and he agreed to a really bad price.

Vikram said, “Screw it. Let’s go. At this price, even if he collapses while driving, I will finish the rest of the tour”

As Tommy started the car, he announced, “We will start the tour with Dharamshala Cricket Stadium. It’s the second highest cricket stadium in the world, did you know. Chota hai par khota hai!”

Welcome to VikAdi Chronicles

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

VikAdi short for Vikram and Aditya are two happy go lucky boys who have a tendency to get stuck in the, shall we say, stickiest of pickles. (if having a gun to the head can be considered a pickle that is)

We chronicle their ever exciting never boring journey through weekly episodes.

Stay tuned, same channel, same time… erm, you get the idea, just login weekly to see what the duo are upto.