OUR TRAVEL TALES: Never stop wandering....Never stop wondering....

Author: Vasudha

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

My visit to the holy town of Rishikesh on the banks of Ganga river could not have been considered complete without attending to the ‘Ganga Arti’ held every Sunset at the Parmarth Niketan Ghat, on the shores of the river.

 

A tall statue of Lord Shiva with a height of 18 feet above the normal level of River Ganga overlooks this Ghat, which we reached after taking a boat ride from the ‘Ram Jhula’ side of Rishikesh. 

*’Jhula’ is the Hindi term for a Suspension bridge and ‘Arti’ means Prayers*

The maddening crowd on the Ram Jhula that evening is what petrified us away from using the Jhula to cross to the other side of the River where the Parmarth Niketan Ghat was located.

The boat ride costs Rs.10 one way and Rs.15 both ways per person.

As the ‘Ganga Arti’ was about to begin, the staircase at the Ghats were swamped by saints and priests, and their disciples dressed in saffron robes, the lit-up incense sticks made the atmosphere fragrant, the ‘diyas’ were lit up…the young and the old, men and women and kids, took their spots at the Ghat and slowly, the chants of the Arti and the music being played on instruments like the harmonium and ringing bells, reverberated in the air.

The divine atmosphere we soaked ourselves in that evening is to be felt to be believed.

Lansdowne

Lansdowne

Lansdowne, the headquarters of the Garhwal Rifles Regiment of the Indian Army is a quiet, unspoiled, immaculately clean Hill station in the Pauri district of Uttarakhand.

British Colonial style mansions sparsely scattered in this town, now serve as homes to high-ranking officers of this Regiment.

The town otherwise is so un-inhabited that it seemed haunting to us. Our first stop was the Garhwal Rifles Regiment Museum. Photography is not permitted in this otherwise neat well-documented museum that narrates tales of bravery of the Regiment.

Then we went to ‘Bhulla Tal’- a man-made lake in the town that was being patrolled by 4 big ducks and 5 little ducklings who chased us away as we approached the lake. Guess these quacking birds too worked pro-bono with the Garhwal Rifles 

Scared to the bone after the quacking assault on us by these ducks, we opted to sip a cool drink at the ‘KalonDanda’ Café.

The town of Lansdowne was earlier named ‘KalonDanda’, the name after which this cafe was named; then it got renamed after a British Viceroy to Lansdowne.

This little town has lots of churches and vantage points in the Hills where one can halt and watch the clouds dancing. You are also likely to watch many Army Sahayaks walking their Officer’s dogs on the roadside.

We stayed overnight at the guesthouse belonging to Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam. The cottages herein were painted yellow and seemed straight out of a dollhouse. The official name of the guesthouse was ‘Tip-in-Top’ but the signage wrote it as ‘Tif-in-Top’.

The Café at the guesthouse was also named uniquely and amusingly, as the Holy-Day café.

On our way out of Lansdowne, we stopped by at a Shiva Temple named Kaleshwar Temple and then bid this beautiful town, goodbye!

‘Mangar Bani’

‘Mangar Bani’

We travel for various reasons, the biggest reason for me is to seek answers to my curious questions. A born and brought up in Delhi girl, who has seen the Ridge forest in Delhi loosing its sheen and tree cover over the years of growing up, I was dying to understand that amidst all these buildings made of glass and concrete, where am I getting the water and the oxygen to drink and breathe?

I got the answer to this question of mine while browsing through Naturalist Pradip Krishen’s book, “Trees of Delhi”. 

The answer lies in Mangar Bani Forest grove – the last existing virgin forest area in Delhi-NCR.

I visited this place with my brother in the year 2009, in a time when we had minimal access to GPS, Google Maps and Mobile data. ‘Bani’ means Forest that falls within Mangar and Bandhwari villages and the local Gujjar community has been protecting these forests ever since and thus the name-Mangar Bani.

That visit of ours to Mangar Bani on a Sunday morning was an escape from the polluted air of Delhi. 

These forests are located at the edge of the Aravallis, India’s oldest mountain range. The local vegetation here comprises of Dhau trees that can survive in the harsh climatic conditions through millions of years of evolution and boasts of rich flora and fauna. 

Mangar Bani is considered to be the last stretch of un-fragmented habitat for wildlife in this area.

If you are driving to Mangar Bani, like we were, then the forests are located as one turns in the lane next to the Mangar Police Post on the Faridabad-Gurgaon highway. We kept checking with locals along the way to reach our destination. This was also a fun-way of travelling and finding ones way in the years when we had no smartphones with data plans. A phone in those days was just a phone.

As the stories go, villagers believe in the miracles of a Gudariya Baba, who lived in Mangar Bani several years ago and who is believed to have vanished in a cave in Mangar Bani. That cave is now his Shrine.

As per a strong belief that the locals carry, cutting trees in the Bani would invoke the wrath of Gudariya baba and wrath of nature. Once inside Mangar Bani, we requested and befriended a local Gujjar to accompany us to the Shrine of Gudariya baba. While we saw many deep brown-red coloured cattle along our way and walk to the shrine, the shrine itself was guarded by black coloured Indian dogs. We also saw a statue of Chajju Das, a disciple of Gudariya baba.

Consider visiting Mangar Bani to catch a breath of fresh air. 

The existence of a virgin forest hidden amongst skyrise buildings and reckless development of Gurgaon is a miracle which is to be seen to be believed! 

Loam’s View Point

Loam’s View Point

On the 9th Hair-pin bend, en route to Valparai is the ‘Loam’s View Point’.

Stop by here to see a panoramic view of Aliyar dam with reservoir and the plains.

Jaggery Making Unit at Muzaffargarh

Jaggery Making Unit at Muzaffargarh

While driving back from Dehradun to Delhi, we crossed Muzaffarnagar and spent time understanding the fascinating process of making Jaggery (termed ‘Gurh’ in Hindi) at this roadside unit.

The state of Uttar Pradesh tops in Sugarcane production in the country and thus, not surprisingly, Muzaffarnagar District in Uttar Pradesh has the largest jaggery market in the world – we learnt this during the course of our interactions with elderly men owning this unit.

As per BBC food website, “Jaggery is a completely unrefined sugar made from sugar cane juice that is reduced (cooked down) and set into blocks. It has a wonderful, rich flavour, somewhere between molasses and caramel depending on the quality and season.”

But for me, ‘Gurh’ as I commonly refer to it, is something I love having a little block off after my meals. It helps in aiding digestion and is non-fattening, says my mother.

Recent scientific studies have proved that consuming a small piece of Jaggery every day can fight carbon pollution and this is thus a popular way to protect factory workers who work in polluted environments.

You can perhaps consider stocking some little blocks of ‘Gurh’ in your medicine kit and remember the information shared above as a travel tip on your travels across Indian cities that are battling high pollution levels.

Safe travels!