Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mcleodganj - Where all Come Together in Peace - My article published in TOI Jammu

My article about Mcleodganj, along with pictures by VJ Sharma, was recently published in TOI Jammu. Here's what I had written:

Mcleodganj, a small town about 10 kilometers from Dharamshala, isn’t anything like your typical hill station. Yes, there are mountains, temples, and even a quintessential waterfall, but one whiff of the air fragrant with the tantalizing aromas of fresh baking, Italian and Tibetan Cooking, and coffee, and a walk through the Buddhist artifacts-laden market are enough to transport you into another world altogether.   The fact that this town is also the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is palpable everywhere, from the narrow congested streets, receding into the heart of the town, to the Tsuglagkhang, Dalai Lama’s temple, towering over the town.

In this mesmerizing town, it is easy to chance upon sights and sounds that will make your heart burst with joy. At one corner, beautiful notes of the flute played by a tourist from another country may float through the air and make you feel one with the supreme power. While in another street, the more earthy sounds of tourists haggling with shopkeepers for the fair price of a Buddha statue that has conquered their hearts make you feel connected to the world we are bound to live in. But just when you are ready to head back towards the worldliness of Dharamshala, the sight of an old Tibetan lady, her back bent with age, walking slowly and turning the prayer wheels silently makes you want to stay on just for a little while more.

Besides Monasteries, eateries, and shops, Mcleodganj also holds close the Anglican Church of St. John in the Wilderness. Built in 1852, this magnificent building is nestled in the forest near Forsythganj and is surrounded by graves dating back more than a century. Reading the gravestones while walking around in the cemetery is enough to give goose bumps to even the bravest of the souls.

Summers in Mcleodganj are cool while winters are very cold with temperatures dipping below zero at times. The area records the second highest rainfall in the country. So it is better to carry an umbrella and waterproof shoes if you are planning to visit Mcleodganj. The town is accessible by air, by road, and by train so getting there isn’t too challenging. If you are looking to spend a day with yourself, trying to discover new things about yourself without having to cut yourself from the world, Mcleodganj is a place to visit. Go with an open heart, and you won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Barot - A time capsule (Article Published in TOI Jammu)

Recently my article about Barot, a small town in Himachal Pradesh, was published in Times of India, Jammu. The pictures in the article were clicked by my friend VJ Sharma.
Here is the article:
Tucked away in the remote recesses of the Mandi District of Himachal Pradesh, lies the tiny town of Barot. To a large extent untouched by tourism, the town offers a peaceful getaway to travellers, away from the hustle-bustle of daily life. Surrounded by century-old, tall deodars, Barot is a time capsule and visiting Barot is like taking a peek into the bygone era when human beings still knew how to live in peace with their surroundings and with nature. The river Uhl runs through the town twisting its way amongst boulders and polishing pebbles till they glitter like silver and gold, and birds of all colours and sizes sing their various songs while flitting in and out of sight.
On the surface, Barot appears to be a sleepy village with women chasing hens and chicks to put them away for the night and folks dressed in traditional attire chatting away in the afternoon sun. But you just have to walk a few metres to come upon the Uhl Water Reservoir or the trout farm, which are not only symbols of progress but also underline the intertwining of a traditional way of life with modern thinking. Several homestays and guest houses offer affordable yet comfortable lodging and also provide you with a chance to interact with the ever-smiling and pleasant local people.
The town experiences very cold winters and often receives snowfall during the winter months. Days in summers are cool while the nights can get very cold so carrying light woolens even during peak summers is advisable. The road that connects Barot and Jogindernagar is more-or-less in  good condition with the exception of a few rough patches, but the route is very scenic, offering distraction from the bumpy ride. Even though Barot may not exactly be on the tourist circle or, for that matter, even easily accessible, but for those who want to let their hair down, the town is a good travel option.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Meet the Street - Manisha and the Dogs

While walking casually in Connaught Place, I was struck by a curious sight. A woman manning one of the roadside stalls was engrossed in her business while two stray dogs were patrolling the area around her. After a while, the dogs took their positions around the stall, curled up, and dozed off. Soon more dogs arrived and joined the sleep-over. The woman, all the while, was apparently unperturbed by the increasing canine presence around her and went on haggling with the customer who was inspecting a colourful patchwork rug that her stall apparently specialized in. As soon as the customer walked away with the rug and the woman pocketed the money, the ears of the apparently sleeping dogs twitched and soon they were looking up at her.
She reached inside a polybag that was lying next to her and took out an unopened packet of biscuits. And threw one biscuit at a time at the dogs. The dogs swiftly gulped down their share and gave her that persistent pleading looks only dogs are capable of. She distributed another round of biscuits. Absent-mindedly she reached out and petted the nearest dog. In exchange, the dog lay down and kept its head in her lap. By now, I knew that this roadside vendor had to be the next candidate for "Meet the Street".
Upon talking to her I found out that her name is Manisha and she travels to Connaught Place every day from Rohini. She has been manning the stall now for more than 10 years and ever since she started coming here, she started adopting the street dogs. Or you can say that the dogs adopted her. Every day without fail, she brings biscuits and other goodies for her canine friends and that is enough for them to stay rooted to the spot. As you can see, the dogs seem well-taken-care-of. I asked her the names of all the dogs and they had the usual doggy names, such as Moti, Sheru, Jimmy...I pointed at one particular pomeranian curled up in a corner.
"She's Jeevika." Manisha replied. I was surprised because I was expecting a "Lucy". I asked her the reason for this name. "When she came to me, she was tiny and barely alive. She was sick for a really long time. I wasn't hopeful of her survival. But she made it!" Till now, I was intrigued by this woman's affection for the dogs but now I was touched. I love dogs and have always wanted to keep one as a pet but have never found myself in a suitable situation. But looking at this woman, it was clear that you don't need to keep a pet in order to love a dog or to receive love from it in return.
After spending some more time with Manisha and the dogs, I clicked some pictures and bade farewell to my newest source of inspiration while a couple of more dogs arrived. I smiled and moved on but Manisha's natural love for the dogs and her generosity will warm my heart for a long time. Hope to meet more such people more often...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Winged Wonders of Pong Wetlands

Recently, one of my articles, supported by pictures by VJ Sharma, was published in TOI Himachal Pradesh. Here is the entire text. Let me know what you think.

Fluttering of almost a thousand pairs of wings sounds like a clap of thunder and the cacophony of their various calls, echoes all through the surrounding wetlands, resonating in the memories of bird enthusiasts long after the birds themselves have flown back to their distant homelands. These are the birds of Pong Lake, some of whom travel to Pong from as far as the Arctic Circle much to the delight of the bird watchers who eagerly wait for their arrival. What is it that fascinates us about them and drags us out of our comfortable homes to brave the chill of winter and travel great distances to get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures? The mystery no longer remains a mystery when at the slightest hint of intrusion, the placid vista of the Pong Wetlands is brought alive by the frenzied flights of these vibrant birds. Mr. Devinder Singh Dhadwal, range officer, Pong Wildlife Sanctuary, aptly calls these winged wonders the “hidden treasures” of Himachal Pradesh.

Pong wetlands provide a wide variety of habitats that suit different species of birds for different purposes. While the Mud flats and mud splits, shallow and deep water, grasslands and swamps provide ideal feeding areas for birds, tree covers, sand banks, and scrubs act as the ideal breeding grounds for many bird species. So far 416 species of birds have been spotted at Pong, with the rare Falcated Duck having arrived here for the first time ever just a couple of months back. Over the last two decades, the number of birds flocking in Pong wetlands has gone up from just a few thousand to almost 1.5 Lakhs. There is never a dull moment at Pong with various birds visiting Pong at different times of the year for various reasons. Mr. Dhadwal’s book Wild Wings: Pong & its Birds, painstakingly compiled over two years, gives a detailed account of which birds can be observed at Pong in which season.
The abundant Bar-headed Geese like to frequent the lake in the winters while some birds such as the Yellow-wattled Lapwing prefer to make an appearance in the summer. Various varieties of ducks, herons, cranes, eagles, vultures, woodpeckers etc. can be observed around the lake at different times in a year. Apart from the birds, the wetlands also provide home to several species of mammals, reptiles, and insects such as monkeys, antelopes, leopards, cats, porcupines, Mongoose, snakes, pythons, lizards, turtles, and butterflies.
In spite of such abundant fauna, the area hasn’t yet been discovered by tourists and, therefore, the birds enjoy more or less undisturbed stay at Pong. The only human presence is that of a handful of local tourists, passionate bird watchers, and the personnel of the Wildlife Department. Once more and more people frequent the area, the area will undoubtedly face the same issues as the other tourist places do. And then, it will become important for us to understand that all of our actions have a ripple effect on our surroundings. The first stone thrown at a flock of birds will not only cause the birds to take a flight, it may also encourage other tourists to throw stones as well. And in no time, birds may lose trust in the place and look for more peaceful grounds elsewhere.
When asked whether it is possible to ensure that this does not happen, Mr. Dhadwal points out that while the authorities try to do as much as they can, the responsibility also rests with the tourists. “We collect many discarded plastic water bottles and polybags from the lake and the surrounding areas every day. These can be disastrous for the wetlands if left lying around. We all, authorities as well as tourists, should respect the habitat of the birds and not treat tourist spots as dumping grounds.”    
One cannot but agree with his sentiments. While most of us love to travel, very few of us give a thought to our responsibilities as tourists whereas we cannot afford to be callous towards our environment anymore. We are seeing the impact of irresponsible treatment of environment all around us. India has seen a steep decline in its vulture population. These scavengers were once frequently seen circling the skies in all parts of the country. Big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are rapidly losing their sparrow populations. If there’s a time to change our approach towards our surroundings, it is now. Any time later than this might be too late.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guidelines for Writing a Post at Ghumakkar

The Editorial Team at Ghumakkar adheres to certain guidelines while accepting and preparing posts for publishing. While some guidelines may change over time, most of them have stayed more-or-less the same. With new authors joining Ghumakkar every day and more and more authors undergoing bootcamp and, as a result, publishing their own posts, we think it is time to share these guidelines with everyone. If you wish to write for Ghumakkar for the first time or are an author who's returning to Ghumakkar after a break, following list should give you an idea of the type of content we are looking for:

Subject of Posts
Most of the posts published at Ghumakkar are personal travel experiences of travellers. Apart from these, we publish "Ghumakkar Insights" on the 22nd of every month. "Ghumakkar Insights" are travel-related advice, suggestions, tips, philosophy, opinions that our authors wish to share with the audience at Ghumakkar. You can submit your travel experiences or Insights to be considered for publishing.

Ghumakkar does not publish SEO articles or promotional articles from Tourism Authorities, Hotels, or resorts. So please do not submit these articles as these will be deleted.

Nature of Content
The content should not be offensive to any community, religion, or section of the society. Ghumakkar publishes content related to travel and we like to stay focused. If you wish to share or learn about political, social, or religious issues, Ghumakkar may not be the right forum for you.

The Content should be suitable to readers of all age groups. Nudity or Obscenity in photographs and bad, offensive language in the write-up are not tolerated.

Ghumakkar does not tolerate plagiarism. If any such instance comes to our notice, the content is quarrantined and the author is informed. Repeat offenders may be barred from writing at Ghumakkar. If you want to publish a post at Ghumakkar, please ensure that the write-up is original and not copied from anywhere. You can use quotations but they should be attributed to the right person and/or source.

The same applies to pictures and videos. Photographs that are associated with the write-up should be the property of the author or the author should have the rights to use them at Ghumakkar.

Length and Number of Photographs
The minimum number of words is 75O excluding picture captions and html tags. The ideal number of  photographs for a 750 words article is 5 or 6. Ghumakkar prefers stories where the text is supported by pictures and not the other way round. This makes it difficult for us to accept photo logs.

Even though there is no maximum word limit, if your post is longer than 2500 words, you can explore the possibility of splitting the post into a series of two posts.

Quality of Content
The content should be properly proofread. Before publishing content, please ensure the following:
  • Automated proofreading has been done using the spelling and grammar check of a word-processing software such as Microsoft Word and all errors have been corrected.
  • The post has been manually read to weed out all errors that were not caught by the automated proofreading.
  • The pictures are not blurred and are 640 px in width.
  • Watermark or copyright info does not hide a significant part of the picture.
  • Video is clear and isn't shaky or noisy.  
If your post follows these guidelines, please feel free to send it to the Editorial team at info@ghumakkar.com or submit it for review using the dashboard at http://www.ghumakkar.com. The editorial team will get back to you promptly.

If you are confused about any of these guidelines or have any other questions, please feel free to write to us at info@ghumakkar.com. We will be glad to help.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meet the Street - Everyone is someone

World's population recently crossed 7 billion and, out of those, over 1 billion people live in India. There is, indeed, a lot of us! But how many people do we know or recognize? Perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 or, if you are socially very active or have an unusually good memory, 15,000.

Of more than 1 billion people, only a handful are famous. And there's enough talk about them already. Twitter, Newspapers, Facebook, post-lunch discussions, all are buzzing with their names and their personal and professional lives are being minutely analyzed. But do we ever stop and think about who runs the country? Not the politicians or famous writers or artists. And definitely not the Bollywood Actors. The country is run by the guard who stands alert outside your housing society and the milkman who delivers milk to your place before you leave for office and your housemaid who cooks, cleans and washes up for you and by you yourself.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets fame, but everyone does bring something special to the world. Everyone is someone.

Musings brings to you the Meet the Street project to highlight the spark in the so-called common man – someone you are likely to run into on the streets. Hopefully we will someday help some of these faces stand out in the crowd for who they are and what they do for the society to keep functioning.

We hope that you will enjoy these stories. And if there is someone you know who will be a good addition to the project, Musings would love to share their stories too. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and we will get in touch.

Stay tuned!