Are We There Yet


As I made my way into yet another crowded bus to reach office I chanced to overhear two college students discussing life, work and studies and bikes. I couldn’t help but listen to them as they discussed about joining work after their 12th and about money they’d need to repair their bikes and the road they took to get to wherever they were going. And that was enough to get me started.

I pondered about where had all our childhoods gone. Were they a part of history to be remembered when those dusty photo albums were perused? Or was what we enjoyed growing up still as much a part of us as it was then?

I realised we didn’t let ourselves stay as we are for any time at all. Always the pressure to perform, to excel and to make your mark. For a society that had become as unforgiving and uncompromising as ours, the race was always on.

A city like Mumbai can best be described as a spinning top or a hurricane that never stops.  You just get drawn to the high speed with which it moves and before you know it you’re in. While we all live in this world where few things matter, I can’t help but wonder are we there yet? When are we going to reach a point when we decide “Oh yes I’m happy”. Is it feasible to always live with a feeling that you’re dispensable?

I spent the entire day pondering on these lines. Work and the pressure to do well seemed the only thing on my mind. There was a rush to meet deadlines and my mind strayed thinking that whatever I did was never enough. What actually gave us happiness? Was it doing a good job and drawing a good paycheck or was it doing something you actually loved and being critiqued for making the choice early. In this dream-killer society was it safe enough to dream anymore when you knew that the fabric of your fantasy was going to melt away in the face of someone’s acidic critique? Did it matter to stand up for yourself or listen to people who cared for you? These thoughts troubled me.

That evening as I made my way home, I had the urge to go on the terrace and stare at the city. The sun was setting illuminating the sky in verdant red, lush blue and a pensive grey. Cool winter winds enveloped me. There I was staring at the bustling city running to meet some unknown target. Everybody ran in Mumbai, nobody walked or stopped. Thousands of lights illuminated the dark and from up there everything seemed tiny. The feeling of being at a height has always fascinated me. Somehow problems seem tinier when you fly with them in the air. You suddenly realise at some point while you fly, let yourself soar, your troubles leave you behind. Just the altitude you see a bigger picture.

It struck me that although we had enough troubles of our own, it didn’t matter if we knew all the answers. We didn’t need to know all the answers now. They say life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Yes the world was harsh, uncompromising and deadline obsessed. All of us have our own battles to fight and our own wars to win. Someday I’m sure we’d get to where we always wanted to be. But for now as the city welcomed a night to rest from the pressures of the day, it was just enough to get home. And that’s what I did.

Are we there yet? Someday we’ll know. For now, let’s just go home.

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Gir: The Temple Tour


Day 3: 18th January 2011 After a beautiful Morning Safari, we decided to do a Temple Tour of Somnath. There is a point in Somanth from where there is unobstructed sea till Antarctica. And guess what, i checked Google Maps. Right it was 🙂  This is a map of the route from Gir Forest to Somnath Somnath is one of the most beautiful temples of India which stands testimony to the fact that plunderers may come and go but what has to remain will remain. Somanth is a Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva also known as the Destroyer in Hindu Mythology. He is regarded as the most powerful god in Hinduism. Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power, he lives a life of a sage at Mount Kailash. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God and has five important works: creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer (to bless).

Quoting from the Somnath Temple Trust website,

“The Somnath temple stands at the shore of the Arabian ocean on the western corner of Indian subcontinent in Gujarat State. Somnath is in Prabhas Patan very close to Veraval.   The Moon God is said to have been relieved from the curse of his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati by the blessings of Bhagvan Somnath.  In  the Shiva  Purana  and Nandi  Upapurana, Shiva  said, `I  am  always present everywhere  but  specially  in  12  forms  and places as  the  jyotirlingas`. Somnath is one of  these 12 holy places. This is the first among the twelve holy Shiva Jyotirlings.  It has withstood the six-repeated desecration by the Muslim invaders. The very existence of this temple is symbol of reconstructive spirit and cultural unity of our society. The seventh existing temple is built in the Kailas Mahameru Prasad style. The Iron man of India Sardar Shri Vallabhbhai Patel is the pioneer of the existing temple.”

India is a land of temples. So its a given that when we do go to any place, there is always a temple tour involved. It was always on the cards to do a temple tour of Gujarat.

There is Dwarka and Somanth and when we were coming to Sasan, there was Virpur, which again is believed to be a very powerful temple. Then there is a place of Jain pilgrims, Palitana. So Gujarat has its fair bit of divine destinations.

So we started off on our last evening in Gir, to visit Somanth. On the way, we drove through small villages and hutments. When i was small, there were some cottages near my grandparents’ building. There was a thin road connecting the road to my grandparents with the main road. So we had to cross over the thin stone layered road through the packed cottages. There was always a stream of water flowing beside the stone road. It was very quaint. Our first stop was a Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. There was a round of women who were singing and chanting. The temple wasn’t very clean or big.

The First Stop and the Chanting Women

It is an extraordinary feeling that you get when you drive through villages. The children look at you with such wide and surprised eyes. Also the cattle, they are everywhere!! The fields during the winter look brilliant because the winter crop is in bloom. The fields look green or white and flowers fill the air with their fragrance. Our next stop was Somnath. But before we actually went to Somnath for the evening Aarti, we went to a smaller Krishna and Shiva Temple close by. We went through a gate and a host of small mandaps made out of stone which were at the banks of the Arabian Sea. The sun was just setting then. It was idyllic.

There were people strolling around, dogs lazing and crows cawing. It was a very peaceful scene. I don’t know what it is about temples and the temple surroundings, but they are always very calm. It centers you when you’re there, quietens your mind and allows you to think. The funny thing here, was the large number of crows sitting on one of the stone structures. It seemed like they were having a parliament of their own. It was amusing to watch.

There was a Radha-Krishna temple which was our last stop before we went to Somnath. We’re usually not allowed to take pictures in temples, but this one was a really small one with not a lot of people coming. Also it was getting a little dark by then and we could see the moon. It was nice to go to a small temple. Sometimes you find serenity in small places, in corners where you least expect it. The crowd usually goes one way and it helps to go the other way. It throws up unexpected results!!

And finally we made our way to Somnath. There was a huge crowd there as it always comes during the evening aarti. And where a large number of tourists go, there are stalls selling wares. We got two books about Somnath and the 12 Jyotirlingas from an old man selling those. There were people selling shells and clips made of shells. I saw cowries with alphabets and promptly started searching for an ‘N’ in vain. There were hair clips and bracelets made with shells in addition to regular key-chains and other wares. There were also photographers who asked people to pose and then clicked photos. You have to stand and they click a photo with Somnath in the background. Then in half an hour, they develop the photo and bring it to you. So we decided to give this guy a chance and stood for a photo. The fellow charged some Rs. 30 and asked us to pay later when we got the photo. And then we went inside.

Its said that the Somnath was plundered time and again 6 times and each time a king built it, bringing funds from not only his kingdom but also the adjoining kingdoms. It shows a resilience which is an outstanding feature. Most plundered temples lay in ruin till date.

When we went inside, we were put in two lines, one for the ladies and one for the men. It is a good practice because it means men and women are not huddled together in the crowd. There was a wait after which the aarti started. Everyone leaned in forward to take blessings. There isn’t much time you can spend in the temple when there are crowds because security works in to slowly clear out the people. It was a short darshan but a nice one.

We’re not allowed to take photos inside the temple. There is a security deposit where you can keep electronics. When we were done with the darshan we collected the camera. The process was smooth. We went into the Temple Courtyard and there was a batch of school kids who had come. There was a sound and light show that was happening there that night which would tell us the history of the Somanth. So we decided to stay and watch that.

There isn’t a screen where anything can be projected and neither was the light rearranged to look like people. The projections were made on the temple and a sound boomed telling us all about the kings who ruled and made Somnath every time it was plundered. The current temple was pioneered by Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel, the Iron Man of India.

I felt proud that there was a Temple that kept coming up even though it was plundered for its riches. Shows the amazing grace we are surrounded with and the faith of the devotees which kept the Temple alive even under threat of invasion. We left after buying some key- chains.

And i figure we left so late that the photo fellow didn’t come. Usually they come and are prompt when money is involved. But by the time we left, it was late. I think we searched for him after our darshan too, but we couldn’t find him!! Case of the Missing Photo!!!

We retired, ready to pack and leave Gir after a short power packed trip!!!

Gir: The Travellers Risk a Morning Safari


When we were in the Gir forest, Abu bhai (=our tour guide) spoke volumes about how nice a morning safari is. Its also said that a morning safari is a good time to catch the lion especially the cubs because they made their way into the forest and to the ponds inside to drink water. Generally the morning is a good time to see any animal or bird because the weather is extremely pleasant.

Although the morning safari did come with its own T&Cs, the cold temperatures and the prospect of waking up in the wee hours on a vacation. Abu Bhai sold us the idea of the Morning Safari though. He said seeing the safari looking hot and dusty in the afternoon was a common thing but the real grind was in seeing the day unfold right there in the midst of nature.

So the next thing we knew, we’d signed up for a morning safari.

Abu Bhai in a Jacket. It was quite a chilly morning

At 5AM we reached the Gir sanctuary and booked tickets for another safari. And my dad asked for Abu Bhai to be our guide again. When Abu Bhai came to us he was surprised that the authorities allowed that. Its not common for the authorities to assign the same guide to a tour. The process of assigning a guide is random so as to eliminate bias.

And might i say, this was far too much an adventurous step we’d taken. Usually we read up about a place, research, ask the locals and then go. This was the first time we’d actually decided on the spot that we’d go for the morning safari and actually got to doing it.

The whole world around us looked deep in slumber. It was dark all around save the Sanctuary Booking Office. Once we were allotted a vehicle, driver and a route, we set off.

The Lake looking smoky with energy balls called ‘orbs’. We believe these are angels or positive energy that we sometimes get lucky to capture in our photos

We got allotted Route 6 which is the opposite of the Route 2 we got the last time. So we had hopes of seeing some lions or cubs coming out to have a drink at the pond.

When we drove inside the Forest, the first thing that struck us is the silence. It is incredibly silent in the Forest. Our old and clattering jeep sounded so loud that we were worried for a moment that all the birds and animals would hear us and run away. Dawn’s rays were breaking into the Forest, painting the leaves a beautiful golden and ushering in a new day. It was a beautiful moment. The Forest was so cold, we had to wear a jacket and a woolen cap over our ears to stay warm. Our fingers were frozen though.

The Golden leaves

There was a point where we stopped. There was another jeep which was stuck because its motor wasn’t working. There was nothing we could do. While we waited for a patrol jeep, we stood hearing the cicadas and other insects welcoming dawn.

If you go into a forest just before dawn and wait until the sun’s first rays paint the world spectacular, you’d notice how Nature celebrates the arrival of another day. Animals wake and smile, insects buzz, birds chirp. There is celebration and gratitude for the new day. Its a subtle habit that we need to pick up too, celebrating every moment!!

There was a point where we waited for a while. The spot overlooked a pond and there was a pug mark just before we went. But Lady Luck didn’t favour us that day and we didn’t spot a lion/ lioness/ cubs. But what we did spot were a lot of birds. It was a bird lover’s paradise. We could see so many birds, few of which we were lucky to capture. Some birds were enjoying a morning meal while some storks played in the pond. It was beautiful to watch.

A Crested Serpent Eagle

Our guide Abu bhai could rattle off the names of ALL the birds we saw. It was amazing. I wondered how life would be for these guides. Spending their time with nature in the Forest every single day except the monsoons when the park was closed to visitors. People from the Cities are so ambitious and in so much of a hurry to climb ladders, while some people in the villages in pockets of India have already climbed their ladders and are at peace with what they do. It is nice looking at such people. Plus Abu Bhai knew the ways of the Forest and the flora and fauna there, which was no mean feat let me tell you.

There was a spot where we saw a Kingfisher Bird waiting to catch a small fish for breakfast. It was fascinating. We just had to stop and watch. The thing is, none of these birds flew when we stopped to see them. They say birds and animals flee and react only when they feel threatened. I guess the birds are used to jeeps coming and stopping, making no sound or an attempt to harm them.

An unidentified bird

Its actually quite disappointing to come to a Lion Safari and not see any. But the birds are a delight to watch too.

A Rare Brown Fish Owl. Was a task hunting for this geezer!!

There were of course deer which were sauntering around. The spotted deer always make good watching. The way they move around in groups for everything they do was nice to watch. The sun made their spotted hide look golden. It was beautiful. We hardly realised when time was up. Most of the journey was looking for any sign of animal activity which we weren’t blessed to see.

Even though we didn’t get a lion spotting, there were so many birds we saw and we saw fog lifting off a lake which looked like there was steam rising off the lake. Also the beautiful morning which we experienced in the quiet and cool Forest was far better than the one we’d be experiencing waking up late in our beds!!

Stay Tuned for More Gir Travails!!