Friday, July 10, 2015

Crossing the Bramhaputra River in Assam

If you travel to the north-eastern states (you must at some time) then it is likely that you would be crossing the Brahmaputrariver at least once. This is an experience in itself. In some areas getting your car on the boat is relatively easy when the car is being driven from the raised dock platform onto the boat. However in some other cases, as we found out, it is a much more interesting maneuver.
These ferries are actually motorized country boats which have just enough space for a car to be parked on it  with the front and the rear touching the edges of the boat. It demands tremendous driving skill to get the car  climb on to the boat and stop it at the right moment to make sure it does not topple over the other side.
This picture was taken while we were travelling to Roing (in Arunachal Pradesh) from Dibrugarh (in Assam).
When we reached Sadiya ghat, and I saw the “ferry” that we would be taking to cross the river, I told myself that there was no way the car was going to get into that trap. There was furthermore surprise/shock waiting for me in the form of the ‘apparatus’ that was to be used to get the car onto the boat. It was mere 2 pieces of planks, each just wide enough to hold the wheels of the car!
So basically our driver Bittu had to carefully drive the car up through those two rickety planks – into the boat and stop just on time when the front wheels touch the edge of the boat !!
I looked at Bittu. But he seemed completely unperturbed by the task. A guy from  Assam, he must had done this hundreds of times. Still….
Bittu positioned the car on the river bank facing the boat, and someone from the boat set the two planks aligning between the wheels of the car and the boat.  That was it… everything was set.
Bittu drove the car carefully and the front wheels climbed on the pieces of wood. There was a little bit of hesitation (or maybe it was my imagination) and the car climbed on the boat in one motion and the front wheels stopped grasping the final inches available on the deck of the boat!
Bittu stuck two pieces of bricks under the wheels to stop the car from slipping from this precarious position.  He looked up and smiled at us.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A home for the donkeys in Leh

If you visit Ladakh, you would surely notice the donkeys. Unlike the donkeys of the plains, they have  thick and dark fur. They look quite cute, especially the young ones.
Earlier they used to be used in farming and carrying goods to remote villages. Nowadays the donkeys are mostly used to carry load for the trekking groups.
The donkeys used to be abandoned on the streets of Leh once they were past their prime and used to suffer from the cold, hunger and injury (from cars or the street dogs) till they died. 
The sanctuary / home was started in 2008 by South African journalist Joanne Lefson, who was moved by the plight of the donkeys.
 If you are in Leh and, have some time to spare, then I would suggest  you to visit this home for the donkeys. You would surely like it.
You have to follow the colorful signs and keep walking to upper Leh (quite a bit of walking, but it is really worth the effort). The cute blue gate of the sanctuary will eventually greet you with the message “This sanctuary was opened in July 2008 to accommodate the neglected donkeys in Leh. This place is a peaceful resting place for those that have faced unbearable hardships. Here they will find peace.”
At the time of my visit, there were about 40 donkeys. Some of them old and infirm, some injured and pregnant, and some babies too!
Inside you would see the donkeys milling about, eating or happily rolling in the dust. Some of them came and nudged me. Almost as if saying “Hello”. It seemed like they were really enjoying their life.
Do remember to bring some carrots as a treat for them.    

In the evening, Sonam – the caregiver took them to their night shelter. The daily cost of just the food for the inmates is more than Rs5,000. So any contribution is welcome.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Srinagar - Floating Market

You have to wake up REALLY early in the morning to go to the floating market. The first thought that came to my mind getting out of the warm quilt of the houseboat at 4 am in the morning was to cancel the trip.  
But Hanif, my boatman was already there, waiting with his shikara (small rowing boat), so I had to put on my clothes and trudged to his shikara. Looking at my sullen expression, Hanif greeted  warmly and assured me that I would be feeling good very soon.
It was pitch dark when we started. I could only hear the sound of the oar going in and out of the still and dark water of the Dal lake. 
After some time my eyes started adjusting to the darkness and I could see the twinkling lights on the shore. As if on cue, the call of prayer (azan) from the Hazratbal mosque floated across the water of the lake. It was surreal…the dark cold, rhythmic sound of the oar, twinkling lights and the beautiful azan mixed together, covering everything in a haze. All conversations stopped and we sunk into our thoughts.
After a while gradually the darkness started fading from the eastern sky. I could see the silhouettes of other shikaras, also heading in the same direction. Some of them were carrying vegetables grown on the lake, one was carrying confectionery, and Kashmiri tea (Kawa) and one was loaded with flowers.  The flower man was very persistent and made sure we buy a bunch of Chrysanthemums. We bought some cookies and Kawa tea from another one.
By the time we reached the market, the trading boats had already assembled. The sale  started right away with haggling and bantering in great haste. The buyers were mostly the houseboat owners and the sellers from the villages on the lake.
It was a beautiful experience to see something so vivid which wass part of the daily lives of the inhabitants of the lake. So close to the tourist attractions but still retaining its character and ambiance.
Within 40 minutes, most of the trading was over and either the boats were leaving while few were settling for  morning cups of tea and some gossip.
We had another round of Kawa and headed back the same way. With the morning sun spreading a golden hue, Dal lake had started breathing. There were boats carrying children to school, boats delivering fresh bread, boats collecting weeds from the lake, fishermen throwing their nets and birds circling overhead. A new day has arrived.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Corbett Tiger Cubs

We were returning from the Fulai Chaur in Dhikala (Corbett National Park) and, in the lingering forest twilight, our driver Islam asked (as usual) if we would like to go to the palm grove near Ram Singh Road. We never could see any tiger there before, but the mere hope that the cool shade of the palm trees could make a comfortable resting place for a big cat in the hot summer afternoon, made us follow this ritual of checking that thicket at least once every day.
Arriving downhill, Islam shut the engine and we crawled to the spot.  
In that windless summer evening, the palm grove was silent. Not a single frond was moving and the darkness was stifling.
We remained still, letting the adjusting our eyes slowly. Then suddenly, my eyes caught a glimpse of a fire-colored movement. And my heart skipped a beat ….could it be?
Out they came – little fur balls of orange and yellow. Playing on the branch of a broken tree trunk, four of them, they were completely oblivious of us.
My hands started shaking with excitement. Yes….it is happening….something I always dreamt about…seeing tiger clubs play. Their mother must had been resting somewhere nearby.

Have you even seen tiger cubs play? I shall not try to describe the joy of seeing them in the natural abode they truly belong to. The fantasy and reality, in that ethereal darkness and wild moistness, became one while witnessing those children of nature, as innocent as you get and as beautiful as you could imagine.

I reached for my camera slowly, lest I would make any sound and scare away the cubs. 
I knew I was not going to get good shots. The lens I was using at that time was not capable of taking good shots in low light.
Pushing up to the maximum aperture possible, I focused and took 5 shots.
Reviewing the shots confirmed my worst fears. All the shots came out hazy and dark. A combination of low light, the lens and my shaking hands had ruined all the shots. I felt like crying.
It was getting darker. I rested the lens on the hand rest of the Gypsy to keep it steady and focused on them again. I was delighted to see two of them (probably alarmed by the sound of the shutter) looking directly at me.
I knew this was my last chance. I took a deep breath, steadied my hands and pressed the shutter.

By the time I finished, it was completely dark.