In the late summers of 2001, I was headed for Orchha. It was a night train from Delhi which would drop us at Jhansi in ungodly hours. Apart from a close friend, there were two couples on that trip. Orchha in end of September 2001 was a barren and virgin destination. Since the place only attracted foreigners and since most, rather all, of the western tourists were still getting out of twin tower shock, which happened early that month, the places was all for us. Over next two days, we had known almost everyone in the small village, had our share of Jahangir Mahal and the Chhatris, the evening Aarti at Ram Raja temple which is the only place where Lord Ram is worshipped as King and given a state salute. Betwa was dry but it was all for ourselves and we would just hang-around in the small town. I did find myself again, twice, at Orccha and enjoyed the new additions, especially the ‘Sound and Light Show’ at the fort but that innocent appeal of the place has simply vanished.
Back to 2001, we had a very leisurely travel with evenings dedicated for discussions over bubbly and days for aimless roaming. I had known Manish Khamesra and Jaishree Khamesra, before our Orchha trip but when you spend more time together, you get to know the person more and better. Over next many years, I continued to enjoy the Rajasthani delicacies, often we would all go out and wont find as many people in the markets of Noida and just while away time. The association grew further and there was no reason for me to ask, almost pester, Khamesras to join Ghumakkar when we started it 2007. The interviews has started happening only in last few years and we never got to talk to Jaishree, so when the editorial panel came up with her name, nostalgia took over. Jaishree has been with Ghumakkar since it was launched and if not now, I could not have found any other great opportunity to share more about her to my fellow members. Without any ado, presenting Jaishree Khamers in a tete-a-tete with Ghumakkar.
Ghum : Congratulations Jaishree.
Jaishree : Thank you Nandan. I was surprised and was not sure on whether I am an appropriate nominee for this honour.
Ghum : You have been here long enough Jaishree and it is an honour for Ghumakkar to be able to feature you and your work. For the benefit of my fellow members, please tell us on how did you reach Ghumakkar ?
Jaishree : I believe it was 2007 and we had a trip to Sikkim. I composed an album on web, a Picasa album of some photos and wrote captions for them. I sent it to friends and to some others who were interested i travel. You were also one among them. You replied after some days that you were checking your spam sections and found it. By then you had started Ghumakkar. You asked me to check it out and write there if I felt like. I liked the idea and wrote there my sikkim logs and as they say, rest is history.
Ghum : Yes, I very well remember it. It was a long log and consisted of multiple parts.
Jaishree : Yes , that is true. I think I could have shortened it.
Ghum : We recently re-published them as well.
Jaishree : Yes and that made me read them again. I could refresh their pictures and it is a great initiative from Ghumakkar’s side.
Ghum : So I get that you initially had a “Picasa Photo Album” but finally you did write so as to make it into a travel log. What made you write your first story at Ghumakkar ?
Jaishree : Well, I can not say. I think it was a small community then, so sharing it with other could not be a drive to write. Perhaps because it provided a platform to write, in the sense of a writing pad. Today, the motivation is much more.
Ghum: True. We were very young and initially everyone knew everyone. But you continued to write. What made you stick, and write more.
Jaishree : The most important was that I wrote and improved myself. Then I read others and improved my writing even more. I learned about photography, wondered how different we were the way we travel and write. There was something new to see, read and dream.
Ghum : But you have taken your time to write new posts ?
Jaishree : Yes.
Ghum : After Sikkim, your next log which is a wonderful read, ‘Another Slice of Corbett’, appeared in 2011. And before I hear from you, let me read (and mention) a small snippet from the story. I quote
“We experienced termites in action in Dhikala zone with Mr Honey Bedi. We were returning after spending full three days in Dhikala and were running the risk of being late. Evening was progressing fast and we were still some 10 Kms away from the gate. There was no vehicular movement, no tourist at that time. Honey Bhai stopped the car and turned off the engine. Views were same but the sounds were different. There was a clear sound as if many many dried leaves are falling down- the sound as we hear in a hot ,lonely afternoon of roasted summers of plains. But leaves were not falling down. And there was no breeze to cause that beautiful murmur of leaves either.
“Can you tell me what is causing this sound?”,asked Honey bhai.
“It is the termites which are eating up these dried leaves.” replied he.
Enchanting display of jugnus, murmur of termites and the fragrance of Clerodendron flowers is what I remember the most of that trip.”
Full story here – http://www.ghumakkar.com/sitavani-ke-jungle/
Jaishree : I can’t believe, I wrote that.
Ghum : Well, you did. But why such a long break.
Jaishree : My short excuse is that, my younger son, Tanmany, happened during that time.
Ghum : Yeah, I remember, now.
Jaishree : But I would be lying if I say that I was away from Ghumakkar.
Ghum : And why do you say that.
Jaishree : Because while I was kind of taking a short sabbatical from active writing, Manish was very very active during those days.
Ghum : Yes, that is absolutely correct. I guess Manish was among the prolific writers, belting out greatly-researched stories of your travels.
Jaishree : And a lot of back-end work, whether it was the research or photo-processing or story-boarding, all involved me. hehe.
Ghum : And that kept you more than busy. Manish was nicknamed as , Professor, on account of his highly academic tone of his work and the kind of research which went into each story before it was published.
Jaishree : Yes, both of us enjoy and love reading.
Ghum : Yeah, I know. And allow me to mention a text from Manish’s earlier work.
“In the later years of his life Akbar founded a new religion – Deen-i-elaahi. At the time when in Europe people were burnt on the charges of heresy and blasphemy by churches for their philosophies and scientific discoveries, there was a powerful Mughal Emperor trying to synthesize the best practices of all Indian religions into one. Isn’t this amazing? More significant was that even after proposing new religion he never forced his subjects to follow that. In-fact that religion was only embraced by very few nobles, most notable among them was Birbal – Akbar’s close friend and famous for his wits among Akbar’s “nauratna” – The nine Jewels.
My mind counter argued, Deen-i-elaahi was proposed to put Emperor as Supreme authority. It may be out of Akbar’s need to counter, sharp criticism of Ulemmas for marrying more than four women. He never forced this religion, as he was very shrewd. He knew it very well that the religious tolerance was the only way to expand his empire. Akbar built and strengthened Mughal Empire through his religious tolerance and the same empire crumbled three generations later due to religious intolerance of Aurangzeb .”
Full story here
Ghum : And Manish wrote quite a lot. Writing close to 40 stories.
Jaishree : And apart from Manish, Rachit got a fancy of writing.
Ghum : Yes, that is right. Rachit has written 16 stories and though he has not written for a while, I still hope to read more from him.
Jaishree : I should be putting something from him very soon. We have been wanting to do that for a while.
Ghum : So everyone in the family is a traveller ?
Jaishree : Yes, mostly. Manish and my two sons , Rachit who is now 12 and Tanmay who is now 6 year old, are all travellers. Rachit is a born traveller whereas Tanmay as of now is a reluctant traveller, but getting better.
Ghum : I believe the pace at which you are able to manage trips, it is a matter of time for Tanmay as well.
Jaishree : Oh, Nandan. How I wish, I could do more. Initially when Rachit was young, we thought it was hard then he got older and we could move more freely. But then Tanmay came to our life. But I do see us seeing more trips.
Ghum : What all is already planned or being planned ?
Jaishree : In October 2014, we are headed for Kerala again for 12 days, then in December we are yet to decide between Orissa and MP. Come March 2015 – and hopefully we all are in Sikkim again.
Ghum : And if I remember correctly, you have been to all of these places before ? So why again, so soon ?
Jaishree : Yes. We have been to Kerala in 2005 and that is almost 10 years back. Manish wrote about the trip extensively but this time, we are not doing Munnar, Thekkady or Kollam. The plan this time is to do some trekking in Waynad, then we go to athrapalli, there is this scenic drive via the Sholapur Jungle and finally we get to do some birding and then to verkala. So it is a new place since we do less every time there is always more to do next time. Our first trip for Kerala was for 15 days, the next trip would be 12 days and I am sure we can make a few more. Whether it is cochin and coorg, a lot seems to be always left.
Ghum : How about Sikkim ?
Jaishree : Same is the case for Sikkim. It would be mostly western Sikkim, some small treks.
Ghum : I guess, it is time to go a little back and know more about you. May be that way, our readers would be able to place you better. You are from Rajasthan, right ?
Jaishree : Yes, I was born in Bhilwara , Rajasthan and I stick to Bhilwara for all of school education.
Ghum : Tell us more about Bhilwara and your childhood.
Jaishree : It was a small town then. We played on streets. There was an occasional Bicycle on roads. We would play Rope skipping, Satolia(pitthu), gilli danda, Oonch-neech. Carrom, Ludo, char-bhar, cards were the popular indoor games. There was no such thing as home work and unit tests. Later on Lamberetta and coolers arrived but in few houses.
Ghum : What did your parents do ?
Jaishree : My father taught Mathematics in a school. My mother was a home-maker. My father always insisted on three subjects viz. Maths, Hindi and English. And I think it was very good for all of us. We all studied in a hindi medium in school and then changed the medium to english.
Ghum : As in, you and your siblings.
Jaishree : Yes. I have two siblings, my 3 year elder sister and a three year younger brother. Interestingly both of them were outgoing in nature, while I was not as much. But, all three of us were good at academics.
Ghum : Yes, knowing you all these years, I can vouch for that.
Jaishree : You haven’t met them and then you might change your perception about me. hehe. Both were in the merit list during class X as well as in class XII. My brother did Enginnering, and was again among toppers, while my sister did CA and sorry to repeat but was in merit list.
Ghum : You are a CA yourself. So did your sister had a role there ?
Jaishree : Yes, but my interest areas are languages, arts and humanities. I did read a lot of classics during my graduation but those were not the days of choosing a subject of your ‘calling’. Even though, I hated Chemistry, I did like Physics and Biology was sort of OK.
Ghum : True.
Jaishree : So I ended up majoring in science from ‘Ajmer University’. But age was on my side since I was all of 18 when I finished my graduation. I knew that I do not want to do PG in pure sciences so instead I chose CA and finished it in 1996.
Ghum : I can sense that there was enough stress on getting a high quality education from your parents and that is heartening to read.
Jaishree : My father never raised us that we will get married and someone else will earn for us. He drilled it in our mind and we, my sis and me, that we have to study so well that we earn our money to live the life as we want. This question of marriage never entered in our lives till we were in last days of CA. My grandma was also very supportive. She has done only till Class V but even then. She is 90 now and still reads the morning newspaper and other story books like Amar Chitra Katha and likes, besides religious texts.
Ghum : What about your mother ?
Jaishree : To be truthful, my mother was a little apprehensive of all this study and she wanted us to learn some household work as well. But my grandmother would never let it happen till we were sixteen or I guess eighteen. My mother on the other side was excellent at many things, singing, dancing, embroidery, cooking. She used to sing bhaajans in early morning while doing the chores and that started my journey and quest to know about God. I acquired all her skills of cooking and embroidery, and I am a good cook.
Ghum : Yes, its been a while though but I remember those Daal-Baati days. What else ?
Jaishree : Hehe. These days I am not very fond of cooking but over time, I have had a ‘body of work’ in ‘cooking’ and that is my home made atta cakes, home made thandai, besan Chakki, churma laddu, lapsi, Dahi Bhalle, Kishmish Maithi, Kair-lasora etc. Come over.
Ghum : Cetainly, thanks. So after CA, did you pick a regular job and started working ?
Jaishree : Yes, I started working in Finance and Accounts in a textile unit in Bhilwara before completing my last four papers of CA. I worked there for three years. Then I took a break and learned singing and read a lot.
Ghum : When did you leave Bhilwara.
Jaishree : In the year 2000, when I got married to Manish and came to Delhi-NCR. Since then I have worked part time, with a mix of working from home and from my work-place.
Ghum : So from Bhilwara to NCR. Have you mostly been in NCR area for last 15 odd years.
Jaishree : Yes, except a few months when we were in Europe.
Ghum : When and what ?
Jaishree : It started with France. Manish had a work there so we also moved with him. We were there for a month. Grenoble in France, was my first destination in Europe. It was 2001.
Ghum : Coming from Bhilwara with a brief stay in NCR, how did France look to you ?
Jaishree : I was married for an year and was trying to live in a a city too different from the cities I had lived, in an accommodation which was too small and a lot of time at hand. France was a new world. Everything from the flight to the all gadget fitted apartment, the tram, TGV, packed food, hyper markets to the places we visited, I viewed them wide eyed. When I came back I was not the one who went there. I realized that my thinking was too moulded. But windows of mind opened.
Ghum : So did you get an opportunity to head out of Grenoble and visit some other places in France
Jaishree : Yes, we went to Paris, Sassanage, Annecy.
Ghum : Where next ?
Jaishree : We had our local trips. A one week trip to Khajuraho but next long overseas trip was to Dublin.
Ghum : How long, when and what all ?
Jaishree : It was a three month trip to Dublin in 2003. Rachit was one yr old then. If given a choice for one place (of all the places I visited) that I would like to go again, then without a second thought, it will be Dublin.
We did not travel much beyond Dublin, only Glandelough and Kerry, but we explored Dublin as much as we could. This city has all the good things that a city offers but with warmth and laidback sense of smaller towns. And it had a beautiful skyline, devoid of any highrise, at that time.
Ghum : And then there was Italy, I believe.
Jaishree : Yes, in 2004 it was Milan, Italy. Rachit was two then. Every weekend we went somewhere or the other. We did Venice, Pisa, Firenze, Lago di Como, Lago Maggiore, Bellaggio, Cinque Terre.
We also went to Germany for 15 days. It was pleasant when we reached there. The view outside my Balcony was green fields and some swings for children. Next day morning it was all white. It continued to rain and snow and we visited local attractions in that weather with a two yr old.
Ghum : So a lot of Europe you have been to ?
Jaishree : We went to Italy again. And this time it was Cinque Terre, Genoa, Noli, Loano, Toirano, rappalo, Portofino, Casella, Camogli and some other places .
I was also able to visit Austria. Salzburg and Vienna was all that we did in four days. And of course, Amsterdam.
Ghum : Do you long to go back again ?
Jaishree : I long to go back to all the places, all the time. Do not ask me.
Ghum : Do you guys travel with family mostly ?
Jaishree : Yes, every time. All four of us or more.
Ghum : Years of travel, as a seasoned traveler, how much ahead of time do you plan your trips ?
Jaishree : About an year. I have this annual ritual. As soon as I get the calendar for next year, I get into this activity where I try to see the commonality between school schedule, Manish’s office holidays schedule and then I block those dates. Once that is done, based on season I look out for places and If I am certain for certain dates and destination, I would go ahead and buy tickets, book hotels and just close the deal.
Ghum : How much autonomy you have here ?
Jaishree : Complete. hehe. Yes, over time I have learnt the interests of Rachit, Tanmay and Manish. I try to create a balance on what each trip would bring to each one of us but it is mostly me.
Ghum : I know that you have been to most of the states in India but would you want to share that list with us, that may inspire us to travel more.
Jaishree : Let me take a stab at it. From NE, we have been to Sikkim, Meghalaya. Both were long, detailed trips. In North, a lot of HP, UK. Rajasthan is our home state, both for me and Manish and we have traveled extensively there. Then Gujarat, a lot of MP, Orissa, Maharasthra, Karnataka, TN, Kerala. The list is pretty long but a lot is left to do as well.
Ghum : Tell us more about one of your recent trips.
Jaishree : In Meghalaya, we went to Laitsynkew, it is a small village in khasi hills near Cherrapunji. From there we trekked to Nontriang Double root bridge, walked three kms in Cherra rains to reach Bangladesh viewpoint, did a kid friendly caving at mawsmai.
Ghum : Where were you last ?
Jaishree : Yes, we were at ‘National Chambal Sanctuary’ (NCS), just a couple of months back in April. NCS we did in April beginning, which is kind of off season because all the migratory birds are gone by then. But it sprang surprises.
Ghum : Good. Your ‘Ghumakkar Insights‘ on ‘Birding‘ is quite a comprehensive guide. What did you discover at NCS ?
Jaishree : We did see the gangetic Dolphin, our national aquatic animal, also called tiger of Chambal, Mugger Croc, Snouty Gharial, two freshwater Turtles, Indian Hare, Civet cat, Golden Jackal but highlight of the trip was mating of Indian Skimmer and mating of Little Tern.
You might be knowing that birds have diferent mating behaviour- change in Plumage, preening, Singing, dancing. One of the most interesting mating behaviour is feeding. Male brings some special food for the female and if female agrees then she accepts the food and eats it. So here we were in the boat and looking at the Skimmer do skimming. Suddenly the guide pointed to the male Skimmer, which was not more than fifteen feet away, bringing a fish in his mouth and approach the female. He, the bird, offered it to the female, she accepted it, and the male sang loud, in triumph. Then the mating was to happen and there, just two feets away, a male little tern also brought fish for the female. Now, there was over excitement in the boat. We were looking at one and then at another. The Skimmer did mate, it is called ‘coacal kiss’ for birds which lasts for a few seconds. By then the female little tern has also accepted the food and male was circling around it. Then another male intruded, a fight ensued and the female flew away.
But we did not get a good picture because of all this frenzy happening simultaneously. Could we ask for more. Perhaps yes. A pair of Damsel Fly settled on our boat’s Oar, in a copulated position, which is unique than other living beings.
Ghum : Wow. I am no ‘birder’ but I would assume that this must be a once in a life time kind of thing.
Jaishree : I do not know but probably.
Ghum : With two growing Sons and both kids going to school, Manish in a full time job, do you get time to do anything else ?
Jaishree : I think there are periods when one gets enough time and then there are those when I do not. But whatever,I do steal enough time to read.
Ghum :What do you read ?
Jaishree : Usually, it is non fiction like art, architecture, biographies, travel, trees, birds, wild life and many more. I also like fiction when it has setting that tells me about something- some place, some other aspect of life about which I know nothing.
Ghum : Like what ?
Jaishree : I read ‘ Vets might Fly’ by James Herriot. The writer is a vet, practising in rural areas and he writes about the experiences he had treating the animals. The stories are hilarious, heart warming, and unpredictable.
Ghum : What are you reading currently ?
Jaishree : I just finished ‘Land of Seven Rivers’ by Sanjeev Sanyal and ‘Into thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer . ‘A short history of nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson and ‘Elephantoms’ by Lyall Watson are on my side table, to be read.
Ghum : Any favorites, recommendations ?
Jaishree : Kamayani and Geetanjali– I do not know how many times I read these books. Another book which I read quite often is ‘Shri mad Bhavad Gita- jeevan Vigyan’ by Dharmendra Mohan Sinha.
I am fond of nature and I am interested in trees and birds and many other wild things. ‘Trees of Delhi’ by Pradeep Krishen is lovely book to go tree spotting in delhi.
We were in Dublin for 3 months and I was gifted some excellent books by friends there and one which I would highly recommend is ‘Brendan Voyage’ by Tim Servin.
Ghum : Thank you. I guess our readers now have quite a task list.
So a lot of travel, a lot of times. Before I close this interview, I asked her the greater question around travel.
Ghum : Why do you travel ? What is the big idea ?
Jaishree : It is never that we get bored or tired of daily life. We travel because there is a world at home and there is a world outside. To us, traveling is seeking, not escaping. Home provides us the pleasure of reading and dreaming, it gives us the strength to seek all that we read and dream. It is the axis of our life. It is the canvas and it is the color. It is the note-book and it is the pen. Travel gives us different perspectives. And together it becomes a painting, a story, a full circle.
Travel brought out our passion for almost everything Art, Architecture, History, Geography, Flora and Fauna, Cuisine, Culture and People, and what not! This fueled our desire to seek more and more which led us to many known and unknown places.
Thank you Jaishree for your valuable thoughts, deep insights, the everlasting inspiration. I wish you and our family a great time. Cheers.