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In the Lap of Nature – Jim Corbett National Park

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At last we reached Dhikala. It was a cluster of small buildings at the edge of the trees and beginning of a vast grassland which reminded me of some African hamlet deep inside the jungle. The buildings are very much in tune with its surroundings and have appeared to be from the late 19th century. However, it is protected by electric fence. The complex is situated high above the banks of Ramganga but one is not allowed to venture out into the river for fear of crocodiles and other animals.

The view from the complex was simply awesome; to one side is the forest, the expanse of grassland on the other and on the third side stood blue mountains in a coat of mist far beyond the river bank. The breeze that flows brings in the fresh smell of the forest. Sitting under a huge tree, soaking in nature’s beauty all around, one simply is transported to another world, far from the madding crowd and toxic fumes – a world without worries.

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Bone Church of Kutna Hora

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The guide there gave us a leaflet and the (short) story behind the church goes like this
“The tradition in this town was that whenever any influential person of the city died his bones were used to be donated to the church and buried under it. Around 18th Century the city was hit by plague and a large number of population died. The supply of the bones was too much to handle for the church, so they dig up a large area under the church and dumped all the bones there. Still many were left, one of the rich of the city hired some workers and used these bones to create what you see in the pics ”
The center of the church has a grand Chandelier, all of bones. The special thing about this chandelier is that you will find each bone that exists in human body as a part of it. You will be amazed to see the beautiful patterns created with human bones and the number of humans “consumed” to create this one structure.

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Self-drive in Central Europe/ Alps – II (Itinerary & Car rental)

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The rule says that Schengen Visa should be sought from the country which you visit for the main business. Rule of thumb is, the country where you plan to stay for maximum period of time should be the one to issue you the Schengen. Maximum number of days rule, however, may not hold good in some cases, e.g. if you intent to spend max time in the country which is not of your main business.

In our case, we approached Czech Embassy for the visa, since we were to spend maximum period (about 6 days) there.

Schengen Visa regime has also altered the procedure for entry into EU zone. For instance, since we took a FINNAIR flight, we changed flight at Helsinki. Now, after landing at Helsinki Airport, we shifted into ‘EU Zone’ part of the terminal. So, it was here in Helsinki that we underwent immigration/custom checks. Thereafter, once in EU part, all flights within EU were like domestic flights, despite flying from one country to the next.

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Roopkund Trek

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The trek starts from Wan. Wan—10kms—Bedni Bugyal—10—-Baguabasa—-7—Roopkund. The motor route follows the Rishikesh Badrinath highway NH58 till Karanprayag, after which you take the road for Gwaldom. From Tharali, the road to be taken is towards Debal- Lohajung. From Debal, ditch your vehicle and take a local cab, since the road requires a vehicle with good clearance from ground. If you are insane like us and did manage to drive till Lohajung with a lot of pre-inspection of the road and post inspection of your vehicle after crossing the muddy truck track hurdles, do drop it now and take a cab for 500 rupees for 12 kms to Wan where clearance only matters if skills are to match. At one point during the last stretch, the cab really got stuck in mud at a turn which had a steep fall on the driver’s side, tyres deep in 2 feet high slush and the Jeep was swerving unpredictably for us, thankfully the driver knew how much mud wrestling was good for his jeep. To add spice to the events there was a herd of wild boars crossing the road 10 yards in front of us. At Wan we met this interesting guy called Herasingh Bugyali , who introduced himself as an all-rounder. His all rounder definition comprised of being a shop-owner but also being able to lift heavy backpacks and doing roopkund and back in a day. That’s pretty much true about everybody there. So we got two such all rounders or porters and started the trek the next morning at 9, one hour behind fellow Noida trekkers from an IC chip design company. We caught them resting and sharing a cigarette within half a km of the trek. They reached Bedni Bugyal at 10 pm that day, while we had caught lunch at Bedni at 2 pm (such benchmarking always impresses me). If you are carrying your own backpacks don’t imagine to do this one in 5 hours as the climb is attrocious-level-7. Attrocious-level-9 is the final Baguabasa to Roopkund stretch. You might think is this a travelogue or what, a deter-ogue, but trekking here is not easy. Oh and I haven’t told you why not to go to Roopkund between June to September( inclusive). Coz it rains and there’s nothing to see except fog and clouds and all that Trishul jazz, thoughts of views of Nandaghunti and Trishul will tease you. See what I mean.

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The Southern Sojourn – Rameswaram

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It takes around an hour to take bath in all the 22 wells. The modus operandi is simple. There is a person standing by the side of the well ready to pour water on you with a small bucket. Some of the pilgrims make a small donation at each of the wells. We preferred to have holy water sprinkled over us and move to the next well.Despite the fact that thousands of pilgrims are visiting the temple every day and having a bath at these theerthams, it is believed that the tanks around the temple have a perennial source of water.

Having finished the ritual of purifying ourselves at the holy wells, we once again passed through the magnificent corridors, passed by the Nandi and reached the exit gate. I do not know if my sins were washed away, but one thing is certain that the experience of visiting the temple will remain etched in my memory all through my life.

It was around 6.30 in the evening. Still in a trance, I reached the hotel room, ordered a steaming hot cup of tea and thereafter met Rajah, the cabbie whom we had hired for taking us to Kaniyakumari, the southernmost tip of the country, where Swami Vivekanana meditated before proceeding for America and which is the confluence of two great seas – Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea and the great Indian Ocean, about which I would write in my forthcoming post.

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Self-drive in Central Europe/ Alps – I (Intro)

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In the course of our travel, we stayed in a variety of accommodations, including pensions, home-stays , tent (tipi, as it is called locally, located in the midst of Slovak wilderness where Sharmi heard scratching noise on the outside in the middle of night) and an apartment, which was vacated by the occupant for our stay. In many places, we had kitchens to ourselves.

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Getting lost in Sambhar Lake

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On the way back, we drove the entire distance over lake only. Trying to absorb more of that dry-dusty frame. We also learned that ‘Jodha Akbar’ was shot here and apparently they created the entire war set here. Another movie, this time of junior Bacchan was shot in the main town. We dropped the Sambhar Salts gentleman back after thanking him for all his help and started back.

As we were driving back, I was thinking that how long the lake would remain like that. Probably 50 years down the line, this story would look like a legend. May be the area would get habituated, the land would be reclaimed to build SEZs and factories or may be the new Jaipur Airport. Who can imagine a 230 sq KM dry lake which is open for driving. You tell that to your grandkid and he would laugh it off. Go and look at it before it vanishes.

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Biking across Thailand – Bridge over the river kwai

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After our brief encounter with wild cats concluded, we headed to River Kwai bridge. River Kwai bridge was constructed under Japanese command during world war 2, to enable Japanese troops to cross across Thailand to Burma and eventually India. Thousands of PoW (Prisoners of wars) were deployed for construction work, without adequate food, rest or medical care. This resulted in deaths in thousands and being alive for one more day was a luxury at that time. Our generation isn’t really exposed to such life and death hardships and all we complain about is traffic, high fuel prices and slow internet. But life back then was very different. A visit to the museum and war memorial will remind us of harsh realities of life in the times of war. River Kwai bridge stands as a testimony to the fact that thousands had to die to satisfy greed of few emperors. The movie by its name, which was pictured in Srilanka has made this bridge immortal.

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Rock climbing - Dr Taher loves adventure but his family doesn't like to rough it up too much

Ghumakkar Featured Author Interview with Doctor Taher

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When Nandan informed me that this month’s Featured Author is none other than Dr Taher Kagalwala, I was delighted, because not only is Dr Taher a gifted writer, but is also an extremely inspiring human being, both as a person as well as a professional. I have had the privilege of knowing him for several years now. I “met” him on a writing website, where he was leading “Team India” in a competition. The team did pretty well in the competition, and he came across as an able, thoughtful, and fair leader, settling arguments and misunderstandings, and at times taking hard calls wherever required. I took a break from the writing website, but we stayed in touch through emails and messages.

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My trip to Garh Mukteshwar

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Finally, we had arrived at Unchagaon. We stopped in front of a stable. For a moment I thought this was where we were going to stay. Thankfully they took us to neat and clean rooms. The rooms were quite big. We stayed in room no 16. My roomies were some boys from my section. In that room the bathroom door was of frosted glass. You could see through the door! The bed was so high they could have given us a ladder to climb it. In the night we would go to the girls room and scare them. We would knock, make scary sounds and then run away. We’d keep our lights off so that the teacher wouldn’t discover us.Two or three times teacher would come and check if we had slept. When they would come, then we would run and get into our beds, swith off the lights and pretend to be asleep. Sometimes we’d fall in the process.

In Unchagaon, there was a big garden in which there were lots of lounge chairs. Sitting on them was real fun. I wish I had one of these in our balcony back home. There was small shed in which there were balls, bats, rackets etc. We were very careful with the equipment, because if we broke anything we’d have to pay for it. Sehej is going to pay for a bat. There were two terraces. From one we could see a beautiful lake. On the other side we could see a village.

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One Day Adventure Trip Around Delhi: Zipping at Neemrana

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We had Ankit, Avinash and Sumaila joining us from Munerka. So at around 7 we had crossed the Gurgaon toll and were on our way to Neemrana. We halted at Haldiram’s which is around 60 km from the Gurgaon toll bridge but that 60 km had taken a lot out of us as the highway really sucked. There are lot of flyovers under construction, a huge truck line follows you everywhere and the dust and heat will always be there to do a creamy facial. By the time we reached Haldiram’s my grey shirt’s collar had turned black. In that sweaty mood and dirty face we were just looking for some good food but Haldiram’s had more to offer. The moment we entered the door we saw girls from the fairy tales walking around carrying chole bhature in their hands, smiling, chatting, luring us more and more towards them. We controlled our emotions and started looking for a nice seat, preferably closer to, you know what, but the whole ground floor was full and we had to occupy the first floor, yes and then we enjoyed the TOP VIEW. We had our stomachs overflowing when we came out of the door but a lot of them had left their hearts inside, even I had fallen in love with 6-7 girls in that very hour. Rest of the journey was no different, the same dust, the same trucks as if they also had breakfast with us. We were able to reach Neemrana by 10 and the fort by 10 30. As soon as you enter the Neemrana, just opposite to the Japanese colony is an underpass below the flyover from which you have to take a right turn. Any local guy can help you out with the way and also there are sign boards available. Parking is free at the hotel and a vintage Rolls Royce Phantom is always parked caged inside a glass chamber. By this time my top half of the grey t-shirt had turned black, our faces almost unrecognisable and our our eyes amused at each other.

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Baha’i House of Worship – The Lotus Temple

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The figure of “9 “ seems to have some significant meaning as we could see the temple surrounded by nine pools and there were nine archways into the temple. Another interesting thing is that a simple nine-pointed star is generally used by the Baha’is as a symbol of their faith. At the Information center, we were told that “nine” is chosen because it is the highest single-digit number and in many countries symbolises comprehensiveness, oneness and unity.

The most astounding thing is that this beautiful edifice has no pillars or beams. The petals are made of white concrete and are covered by marble (the same quality of marble as used in the Parthenon, mined in Greece, cut and polished in Italy and 10,000 pieces were brought to the site and assembled as a jig saw puzzle).

The volunteers at the entrance tell the visitors to maintain absolute silence in the temple, though every one is free to meditate or pray as per one’s religious practices.

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Khajuraho - Beyond Temples

All that you can do besides the temple sojourns in this beautiful city Take me here