Tag Archives: India

Leh

When the prospect of exploring the Himalayas popped up, I was above and beyond ecstatic.┬áMost I have been around mountains was outside India. There were only handful of occasions I saw them in India in over two decades. Part of the tradition to explore India every time I visit, following a trip to Agra, a friend and I made impromptu flight reservation to fly from the capital of the country to the capital of the Himalayan kingdom – Leh.

As soon as we landed in Leh, we were left breathless both metaphorically and literally. At 3500m, not only did lack of oxygen has caught us unawares with altitude sickness, but also the cold. Excitement turned into grumpiness. Breathlessness, cold, grumpiness and of course drama enveloped us.
One hotel customer was kind enough to chide us for being so unprepared and gave us medicines for altitude sickness. That breathed life into our miserable souls and lifted our spirits up. With that, we hired a taxi and proceeded to explore.

Pretty much everything around Leh is built by the Indian Army. The amount of engineering that had to be done to make life possible there was beyond imagination. Life in the Himalayas is hard. There is no internet, water supply, fresh foods, for weeks or maybe even months during winter (which spans almost the entire year). And yet, somehow human spirit found ways to survive and thrive.

The morning dose of chai at an altitude that exceeds most peaks in the Alps, certainly gave me goosebumps.

Pretty much all infrastructure is built and maintained by the Indian BSF (Border security forces). Civilians are allowed to use most of it with exceptions for certain roads which restricted to foreigners.

There were several temples we visited. The peace and tranquillity I observed left a desperate to give up life in the urban rat race and live there.

Leh palace was a stunning sight. Sitting atop a small peak, it had incredible views.

Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery, Kargil.

The most ubiquitous piece of gadgetry in the Himalayan range turned out to be satellite tv. The satellite dish antennas were everywhere! In hindsight, it seems obvious now, but I was amused to see them. They perhaps are the only means of connecting to outside world.

Cricket – not surprisingly, the most popular pastime. I loved seeing kids dressed in monk’s red-orange robes playing the game everywhere, brought a smile to my soul.

Taj Mahal

Seeing the Taj Mahal the second time, after almost 15 years, reminded me of my first visit during my childhood. Although I don’t remember much of what I saw back then, the feeling of having been there brought back nostalgic memories from times past. This time around I had a good camera to capture the sights.

Getting there early in the morning gave us spectacular views without too many people around. Here are those sights

Indian Railways

Travelling on trains in India, makes for a wondrous journey filled with amazing sights of towns, villages and other dwelling places and a mesmerising view of hundreds of thousands of acres of farmlands, draped in a blanket of early morning fog, or fresh crops bathing in sunshine and morning due, or forests filled with freshest of waters, or just simple people trying to get by their lives.

The country is so big, that it sometimes takes upto 3 days to go from one corner of the country to another. Consequently the country also has one of the largest railway networks in the world employing over 1.5 million people to serve over 25 million passengers travelling on 15,000 trains – every single day.

Visiting India and taking a 5 day trip to the mountains while using only trains as means of transport, after staying abroad and being used to high speed trains and urban-ness for a long stretch of an year made me realise how amazing India is, and how even more amazing the Indian Railways is. Serving 7 billion passengers annually, despite the bad reservation system and incompetent management, running a network of that scale in a developing nation is no small feat by any means.

I decided, every time I visit India, I will explore the country, travelling to the remotest parts (that are safe) while using trains as my primary means of transport. 

Here is a glimpse of my experience..

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Train stations tickle all your senses with the amazing variety of smells from foods stalls and sweet stands, mixed with the bad ones from the ill-maintained tracks and places – while you are simultaneously doused in the clamouring sounds of hawkers and vendors; beggars and coolies; and bustling sounds of people just trying to reach their destinations in their own busy lives.

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Here is a short video I shot while hanging off the doors, along with dozen others, of a moving train that is about to come to a halt at a station …