26 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The lost-for-words Part

PS (pre-script): What do you do when you
1. Want to drink Mami’s specialty extra-sweet very strong coffee,
2. Watch a mushy movie on HBO and
3. Are feeling lost after having completed an enjoyably long letter?

You go type out this ---- >

Its Christmas today. I am in Bomdila (West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh). It’s a township you would cross if you were traveling from Tezpur to Tawang. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, its pretty cold and foggy here. The place is delightfully peppered with bakeries, I am an ardent visitor of the closest one. The town also boasts of the only college of the district (in fact of District Tawang too). Ok enough of “bhoomika bandhna” in terms of geographical details. I had wanted to tell you about all the beautiful places I have been to in the past weeks, all the insane laughter and equally happy work I’ve been involved in, my nomadic life which forces me to have a new pillow to adjust to every other night and all the dogs I’ve petted, but something else catches my attention.

A good part of everyday finds me on the road, in the official gaadi – the rickety mehroom (that’s how our tailor pronounces maroon) Tata Sumo. Long car journeys are conducive to thinking (it can be of the inane, philosophical, silly or just plain tedious, worrisome kind). It had me looking down at my hands and wondering, “Clasped hands. Always clasped tightly together. Does that say something about me? Closed? Oh look at the white spots on my nails. When will I ever grow out of them? Since when did the lines on my hands become so criss-crossed? Am I worrying? Whoops, another landslide. Dust dust dust, roll up windows FAST. ” And so on. Some good music was crooning in my ears, a breathtaking scenery of ruby red rhododendrons and oaks clothed in fiery autumn colours greeted my eyes and my thoughts wandered off to very far off places like Delhi.

I was suddenly leafing through earlier Christmases and New Years, times when I was surrounded by people who I like to think of as mine (did I mention that I am a painfully possessive person and like to stake claim over people close to me?), and yet grumpy moods, irrational anger, plain stubbornness or just an evil disposition never let me be even remotely pleasant to them. Cancelled party plans, frowning foreheads, spiteful words, hot angry tears, mindless tantrums came to my mind. None of “my people” deserved that. Some luckier ones didn’t have their holidays spoiled by my bratty-ness, but I guess that reflects on their skills and not mine. But this year, as punishment (to me) and a blessing (to my people) for being unbelievably selfish in the holiday season, I am sitting thousands of miles away, missing you and hoping you have one hell of a holiday.

This is me attempting to thank all those people who have made me laugh this year (if you can make anyone smile, you have done your good deed for the day). This is me trying to acknowledge your presence in my life as a reason to smile in this tumultuous year when I enough to cry about. This is me telling you that you have, in your special subtle way, changed me (for the better?). This is me saying sorry and thank you in one jumbled blurt.

This is to:
The Family: Sho, Dids, Mama, Mami, Nana, dear Amma, Kishu and Sangu boy.
The Friends: Mimi, Maitreyi, Ashu and Roosi.
The Foe: Sopho

Thank you. May you all have a fun Christmas and a very happy New Year.

20 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The Picturesque Part III

A view of the mighty Brahmaputra, on the way to Tezpur.
This is not an airport, it is not even the lobby of a fancy place and is certainly not in another country. It is the ISBT (Inter-State Bus Terminal) at Guwahati. With 2 hours to kill, I was pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and order in the place. See, we can. If we want to that is.

The Sela lake at Sela top (a pass that one comes across as you travel from Tezpur to Tawang). We crossed this spectacular place at sunset, riding above the clouds (which you can see somewhere in the distance). I am the proverbial loss of words.

The gateway to Tawang if you enter from Nehru Market. The sheer colour and character of such painting is interesting to see, because every time you look at such a gateway, you find something new.

This is the “thing” in which every morning Juniper twigs are lit for religious purposes (I did know the local name of the “thing” till a few days ago…but it was a tongue-twister and my memory isn’t what it was… ) What is interesting, is the presence of a beer bottle (1000 Super strong).

This puppy was nicknamed rock-star because of his very spikey hairdo (later we realized that his hair was standing so straight because the poor guy was freezing). Therefore, he was bundled up in whatever cloth was available close by (the orange pantaloon you see on his head was actually on the clothesline nearby and it gives me great satisfaction that its gracing his shivering head instead of some toddler’s bottom).

The next few pictures (6 to be precise) are from the great picnic we had at Madhuri Lake (renamed so because a song from Koyla was shot here). This picture was taken on the way…we went berserk playing in the snow and the winning shot was by yours truly. Mukut’s nose was blue for a satisfyingly long time :D

A view of two of the many lakes we came across on the way. Its quite a heady feeling being over the clouds, skirting blue waters, the sun strong enough to burn your face, the wind cold enough to freeze your brain. It was a very very brrrringly cold day.

Madhuri Lake. What makes it eerie and beautiful is the presence of naked tree trunks in the centre of the lake. Like it was out of a the-world-is-about-to-end-movie.

Lake-side beer drinking. I have never had beer in such freezing temperatures. And yes, it tastes even better. [L-R: Tashi, Namrata, Chandni, Binoi, Lobsang, Oinam, Mukut…Gombu (facing away)]

Outside the guesthouse at the Madhuri lake. It’s a wooden chair, shaped like a person (ok you can see that) but what is interesting is the cap on the chair/person’s head. It’s a traditional cap, made of yak wool, with five extensions. The shape of the cap is such to keep the rain off the wearer’s face.

On the way back from the picnic. Sigh.

That’s deforestation for you. The logs were being cut and shoved down the hillside till they reached the road.

A view of the war memorial at Tawang. The war we are referring to is the Indo-China war of 1962 where Chinese troops managed to march upto Tezpur, undeterred by an Indian side riddled with inadequate clothing and food supplies and outdated weapons.

The goose-bump inducing flag down ceremony at the memorial. Flags of all the regiments are brought down for the night, to the haunting sound of the bugle.
Payer wheels in the foreground. Names of the 2420 soldiers who laid down their lives to protect our controversial borders in the background.

It’s a nice picture. The kind that tells stories. I needn’t say more.

The house of Tsering Tobgayal, one of the most progressive farmers in Tawang. He has vermicompost pits, greenhouses, twelve cows, a nursery, kiwi and apple orchards, a 26 year old wife (and he's 58!) and most importantly an infectious laugh. I fell in love with his Geranium festooned house. That’s him on the left.

That’s his cat taking a nap in the warmth of his greenhouse. And that’s me pulling her paw and playing spoilt-sport. “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

11 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The Hoga Hoga Syndrome

What I love the most about traveling is the numerous possibilities it promises. The people, each with their own quirks, the different landscapes, so spectacular in their variety, the various modes of transportation, each at their own pace, the different moods and delicate flavours of each place. The stimuli your senses receive as you travel from the hurried metropolis that is Delhi to the bustle of Guwahati, the quiet chatter of Tezpur and finally the grand Buddhist town of Tawang is bewildering to say the least.

Let me skip through the dropping of my laptop from the topmost berth and thank-heavens-there-is-a-God who saved it from breaking, the 12 hour journey in the cab where four people were sitting in the front seat (one of them being a certain me), the buying of yummy yummy yummy “kamala” (oranges) on the way to Tawang, the breathtaking beauty of Sela (its this pass atop which you are above the clouds, somewhere very close to that utopian place called paradise) etc etc. So lets just hop from saaddi Dilli to Tawang.

Tawang. The entire town proudly displays its scars of the ’62 war. The army flaunts its power with pride, helicopters whirr above the mountains in practice sessions, any place you go to eat will have a few soldiers having a hearty meal, you meet abandoned moss-covered, snow-clad, bullet-riddled bunkers with surprising regularity…Situated atop a mountain, the town boasts of the second oldest, second largest monastery in Asia. Everywhere you look, Buddhism leaves its beautiful print: in the colourful prayer wheels dotting every lane, in the maroon-clad monks and “anis” (female monks), in the juniper twigs lit throughout the market place which imparts a heady aroma, in the ornate gateways, in the ready smiles of the people and the warm open air about them.

As you walk through the market, you are treated to an awe-inspiring spectacle of the upper Himalayas, dusted with snow at this time of the year. The vegetation (a spectrum of rhododendrons, the precious cancer curing Taxus spp. and ferns of every imaginable shape) is drying up now, reflecting the colours of the sun, as if the forests are on fire. In this land of the rising sun, the day begins at 5:00 am, and packs up at an alarming 4:30 pm. 4:30 pm!!!! That took some time getting used to. By 5 its pitch dark and the entire town starts its 'nocturnal' activities. The boys (ALL the boys) rush off to the snooker tables: its developed into artful gambling here with people actually getting tatoos on their forearms just to show them as they play, the girls taking care of the more mundane activities of the household variety. And most interestingly, the people here never say NO. The standard reply to “Yeh ho jayega kya?” is “Hoga hoga.”

But what amuses me is that even so far away, when I walk through the marketplace, I see boys with spikey hair and ground-kissing jeans, I see girls in weather-defying skirts, with eye-shadow of colours that would put a rainbow to shame, I hear Himesh crooning through some flimsy Chinese speakers, I can find pirated dvds of the latest Bollywood releases, I can spot more daru dukaans (liquor shops) than stationery shops and the garbage finds place everywhere except dustbins. But I also see someone hobbling on crutches, wearing a worn-out uniform with an undefeated air, I see the moon (at an un-earthly 11:00 am) as charmingly imperfect as ever, I see the STD booth lady smile at me in warm familiarity, I feel the chill in the air and the spring in my step, I rub my frozen fingers as I sit down to my now-routine candle-light dinner, I see my smile reflected in the foggy mirror in my room.

It’s a beautiful place, this eastern haven of our awe-inspiring country. But for once I am finding beautiful, as a word, incompetent.


PS: How could I possibly refrain from mentioning the friendly furballs of snow: the short-legged, fluffy dogs of Tawang? And to top it, its puppy season (yay!).


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