Shikara and sunrise

To visit Kashmir had been my dream of many years. Needless to say, I was thrilled beyond measure when the coveted Kashmiri sojourn finally materialised this year. The beautiful Dal lake, idyllic meadows, tallest pine and chinar trees, countless hidden lakes, majestic mountains, charming houses, handsome horses, raging rivers and the most hospitable people – I was finally going to be witnessing heaven on earth!

A good beginning sets the tempo for the rest of the trip. Hence, while more posts detailing my adventures in the valley are pretty much in order, I would like to recount my experiences at my first touch-point in Kashmir – Srinagar.
For most, Srinagar is symbolic of the alluring Dal lake. The many interesting stories of the Dal that I heard from friends and read over various blogs had left me curious to know how this seemingly ordinary body of water had left everyone enticed. So I excitedly decided to stay at a houseboat to experience the Dal in its truest form.

Lalarukh houseboat, one of the many houseboats that dotted the circumference of the lake, was my chosen place of stay. The enormity of the Dal lake was such, that various entry-points or ghats had been marked at regular intervals as landmarks and indicators. I was slightly confused initially, when my host informed me that I would have to come to the houseboat via ghat number 9. However, the mystery finally unfolded itself once I reached the ghat and I was left in awe of the modus operandi to get to the houseboat – Each houseboat had dedicated shikaras (traditional small Kashmiri boats) to ferry passengers from the ghat to the accommodation. I settled myself in the shikara, absolutely delighted by the fact that I was having my own Venetian experience right in the middle of Kashmir! I was joined in the shikara by a fellow trekker (Kashmir is quite popular among trekkers, so one is sure to find them aplenty) and as the driver rowed us into the interiors, away from the shikara-swamped ghats, our hands automatically reached for our cameras to captured the unhindered beauty of the Dal.

Introduction to Dal

Introduction to Dal – first impression

The enormity of the lake was surreal and its glimmering waters were bordered by innumerable colourful houseboats, and opened into the endless blue sky overlooking the glorious Zabarwan range. My enthusiastic shikara driver – Dhoni ji, as he was fondly called – ferried me to the houseboat where I relaxed for some time before finally dashing out to the ghat again. I was to be joined here by a couple of fellow trekkers who I had met at the airport earlier in the day. During the wait for my new-found friends, Dhoni ji promptly filled me in with anecdotes about his family and life in Kashmir – how he had worked in Goa for nearly half his life, his travels across most of Europe and Australia, his brother’s fancy job in Switzerland, playing football over a frozen Dal lake in the winters, the ever increasing pollution of the lake, how unquestionably safe Srinagar was for women – I had heard it all. I tried to get his opinion on what would be the best time to go for a shikara ride across the lake – morning or evening. But he nonchalantly proclaimed that he would take me to the best of places, irrespective of what time of the day it was. However, as my fellow travellers slowly appeared in sight, Dhoni ji quietly divulged that a floating market was set up every morning in a particular part of the lake. In that moment, I made up my mind to go rowing across the Dal early next morning!

I was soon joined by my fellow trek-mates and we decided to spend the evening in being touristy and visiting the Nishat garden and Shankaracharya Hill. The lazy Sunday afternoon resulted in the extensive garden being thronged by school children who were busy enjoying themselves on picnic. Flocks of school kids were savouring their day out, running across the colourful landscape, idling in the shade of trees and merrily diving into the canal that ran through the middle of the garden. We spent some time at the garden, envisioning what the 7 days ahead had in store for us and then quickly got on our way to the Shankaracharya Hill (the entry to which would close at 5.30pm). Once we reached the hill, our driver informed us that vehicles would not be allowed beyond a point and we’d have to do a short hike up to the temple. He also suggested that we left our electronic gadgets, mobile phones and all food items in the car since these were not allowed within the temple premises. We quickly hiked up to the temple and paid obeisance to the giant shivalinga that stood in the middle of the shrine, as a number of devotees sang their prayers to the deity. Once we made our way out of the shrine, we sat in silence basking in magnetic vibes of the temple, relishing the glorious aerial view of the city from atop the hill.

A splash here and a splash there

A splash here and a splash there – school kids at Nishat garden

As we descended from the hill, we were once again by the side of the Dal lake, the waters of which were now being used by the rays of the setting sun as a backdrop for its goodbye dance. We collectively decided to spend some time at an empty spot on the promenade to witness this captivating vista. The enchanting view of countless shikaras drifting across the shimmering waters of the Dal, flocks of birds flying back to their sacred abode and the cinnamon sky bidding the sun goodbye – made for a picture-perfect spectacle. Truly overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that we had just witnessed, we made our way to dinner and treated ourselves to a sumptuous meal of authentic Kashmiri pulao and shorba. As we reached Ghat number 9 to head back to our respective houseboats, we confirmed our shikara ride with Dhoni ji for the next morning (we negotiated a deal with him at INR 500 for an hour). I was now truly looking forward to the 5am shikara ride, ready to witness the tranquil waters of the Dal at daybreak!

Sunset shades

Sunset shades

I was awoken by the chanting of morning prayers reverberating through the cool waters of the lake. It was past 4.30, and I walked up to the window to observe a couple of flickering lights here and there, on an otherwise dark and desolate lake. Quickly dressing up, I whizzed out of my room – waiting for Dhoni ji, all set to start my shikara ride. I wandered around the houseboat in my waiting time, illuminating the dark corridors with torchlight. The houseboat appeared to be huge in size and seemed to be connected with the others from the back. Before I could continue with my pointless adventure, I was distracted by the sound of water lapping against the boat and rushed to the front porch again. Except for the prayers (which were still in continuance), it was so quiet that even the creaking sound I made while walking up and down the gallery could have woken half the neighbourhood up.

Breaking dawn

Breaking dawn

I was joined on this 5am escapade by my three newly found trekker friends. As we kick-started our morning tour of the Dal, we couldn’t help but immerse ourselves in the serene setting. Ours was a solitary shikara across the lake, which gave us ample time and space to blissfully soak in all of nature’s activities around us – the endless chirping of the birds, the first rays of the sun slipping through the clouds and crowning them in gold, the cool morning breeze and the sound of water lapping against the boat. We continued to cruise along various water-alleys across lily-swamped corridors and an isolated Meena Bazaar for another 30 minutes. Vegetable vendors with elongated shikaras suddenly started to emerge around us as we began to approach the market place. As we continued our journey towards the market place and scores of other vendors started appearing in sight, Dhoni ji pointed at the vegetables and began to tell us how and where these were grown. We soon reached the market place which was packed with all sorts of vendors – vegetable and fruit sellers, craftsmen, sellers of flowers and seeds, kahwa traders, handloom and souvenir merchants. Dhoni ji further enlightened us on how the locals cultivated water-growing vegetables and herbs in the lake. He also mentioned that the floating market was a highlight of the Dal lake, which was visited primarily by tourists. The locals apparently made their own daily purchases from the common Srinagar bazaars.

The floating market

The floating market

After spending another 20 minutes in the market indulging in sundry shopping, we embarked on our journey back to the base. The return was filled a more clear view of the houses that were perched across the lake and Dhoni ji was now showing us lettuce and onion plantations in the water. Now that the sun was out and it was bright and clear, we noticed how quaint the route was and took turns to sit at the front of the shikara to enjoy the divinity of the Dal. A myriad trees gracefully posing on the edges of the meandering lake making crystal clear reflections along the gleaming waters, young children squinting out of their windows and gushing at the site of the young travellers visiting their homeland, the cool morning breeze caressing our hair – all made for the most picturesque return sail. As we crossed a still sleepy Meena Bazaar yet again, Dhoni ji probably sensed my disappointment at seeing the closed shops and presented us with yet another piece of trivia – Each of the seemingly closed shops had a salesman sleeping inside to cater to potentially interested tourists wanting to purchase local products after the shikara ride. We were running out of time and halfheartedly decided to continue our journey back. Our glorious shikara ride soon came to an end (we were out for almost an hour and a half) and we thanked Dhoni ji, exchanged good byes and headed back to our respective houseboats.

Postcard views from the front

I sat myself at the porch of the houseboat, sipping on the delicious kahwa that my host had prepared for me and silently revelling in the experience of my first ever shikara ride. It had indeed been an extraordinarily beautiful morning!
The idiosyncrasies of life at the Dal lake were unfolding before me, as I sat there still ruminating over all the gratifying events from my stay in Srinagar – a multitude of hawkers hopping in and out of houseboats and calling from their shikaras to present their products, countless birds flitting in and out of the cool waters of the Dal, the lake embracing the glimmering sunrays like a necklace of its own, and a host of locals heading towards the ghats on their way to work.
In that moment, I felt a stillness and calm inside me like never before. I felt like I had been placed in the middle of the most perfect postcard and experienced a sense of absolute joy. Taking the final few sips of what was left of my kahwa, I wondered why people said that peace was hard to find in this beautiful place.

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Rain and Ravangla

It is 7.20 in the morning and I quickly gulp down my coffee and start trotting towards the taxi stand which is right outside MG Marg. Glancing back, I bid adieu to New Modern Central Lodge – the lovely place that housed me during the first two days of my travel. Even as I walk across the near empty MG Marg, trying to grasp as much of its beauty as I can for the last time, I cannot help but wonder what my next destination Ravangla is going to be like. I hurriedly buy my shared jeep ticket to Ravangla upon reaching the taxi stand (= share jeep tickets to Ravangla could be booked in advance on the previous day as well) and head to the cab.

The gorgeous mountains as they play with the Sun!

The gorgeous mountains as they play with the Sun!

The cab starts off at 7.45 am sharp and the drive to Ravangla is magnificent, to say the least – Winding roads across the gigantic Himalayas, the cold breeze, tallest trees, unending farmlands, the most exquisite birds and wonderful co-passengers. It feels like a dream. There is a visible change in climate and environment as we move away from the commercial hub of Gangtok. (= My co-passengers Simmi, Bishey and her mother are the most enthusiastic company I could have asked for. Even as they intently listen to all my stories of Bombay, they animatedly point out to the mountains outside the window and keep me updated with our geographical location. They share details of their life in Sikkim, and constantly keep checking if I am comfortable. All this in a shared-cab! These lovely ladies already make me look forward to Ravangla and I can’t wait to get there!)(= One more thing that I could not help but notice, was the availability of clean and hygienic public toilets on the route. I instantly drew comparisons with my visit to Himachal Pradesh a couple of years back, where availability of public toilets was one of the bigger challenges we faced during our road trip. Thumbs up, Sikkim!)

We reach Ravangla by 10.30 am, and even as Simmi continues her homeward journey to Kewzing (which is approximately 10 kms away), Bishey and her mother continue with me, till I manage to locate my hotel – Hotel Melody. They bid adieu with the warmest smile and wish me the best of luck for my journey ahead. I am welcomed into the cottage-like hotel by the owner / manager, Bobbit Das, and my room offers me a brilliant view of the town. It is such a pleasant day and the sun rays beaming through the window make me wonder why everyone kept telling me about how cold Ravangla is! After getting some rest, I head to a restaurant called ‘Kookay’ for lunch (Bobbit sir’s recommendation). (=Now I need to mention that at this moment, a million thoughts are bouncing all over my head! Firstly, during my conversation with Bobbit sir, I learnt that I was the only guest at the hotel during my stay in Ravangla. I don’t know how to say it, but I am scared. This is probably the first time I am experiencing the true meaning of solo travel, but I just cannot put my apprehensions to rest. My solo-traveller instincts have obviously taken over, and I have got my guard up… but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to stay here – all alone. Sigh. Maybe I should just move to some other place that is not as deserted as this one? But the reviews on tripadvisor were very positive. What other option do I even have? From what I gather, there isn’t much to do in Ravangla anyway. Maybe I should just leave tomorrow? Sigh. Maybe I should just go and have lunch first? A whirlwind of thoughts).

At Kookay!

At Kookay!

Veg thali. Slurrrp!

Veg thali. Slurrrp!

I walk to Kookay which is barely 5 minutes away from the hotel, where I meet Norzang, who is meticulously redecorating a wall with post-it notes left by the many visitors at the restaurant. The restaurant is beautiful and exudes a lovely vibe. I request Norzang to suggest a local delicacy for lunch and he gladly recommends the thali. ‘It is not a local dish, but it is cooked in the local way. Maybe you can try it’, he says. So thali, it is! Given that I am the only guest at the restaurant (again!), we end up making small talk on why I am travelling alone and what my folks think of all the photos that I keep sending across to them. Soon, my meal arrives and my appetite takes me by a big surprise as I gobble the food down. To call it delicious, would be gross injustice to the food! After my meal, I randomly ask Norzang to help me with off-beat places to visit at Ravangla. What happens next, is something I will always remember. He tears off a couple of pages from his diary, and begins to draw miniature maps to help me with directions to what he suggests are the places worth visiting. Another brush with the affectionate Sikkimese hospitality!

Kookay maps

My favourite souvenirs from Sikkim 🙂

I thank Norzang, collect my bag from the hotel and merrily start walking to Tathagata Tsal (=more famously known as Buddha Park – Yes, that is the first destination!). It is easily a 15 minute walk, to say the least. As I stride away from the dreamy town, I am left walking alone along the empty road (again!), even as a number of tourist vehicles zoom past me. However, as I near Buddha Park, the Buddha emerges through the mountains and its sheer size leaves me captivated. I purchase my entry ticket (=which costs Rs. 50) and make my way through security. The guard collects my ticket and asks me if I am alone (=First emotion: fear. Is he a creep? Why should he ask me this? What has it got to do with him? Should I tell him the truth or lie? Why am I stuck in Ravangla? So many thoughts in a fraction of a second. Funny how the human mind is so quick). I reply in the affirmative, and he politely shows me directions to the Buddha, the souvenir stores and the washrooms before welcoming me with a smile. I am completely taken aback. (=Next thought: this place is beginning to shatter all my opinions on sixth sense and intuition). 

Tathagata Tsal

Tathagata Tsal

As I set foot into the park, the view of it leaves me enthralled – the strong wind, manicured lawns, the prayer flags and the enchanting Buddha statue with the mountains acting as a perfect background. I climb down the stairs and walk along the path only to be left mesmerized by the ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ prayer playing in the park. Wow! (=I can’t stop thinking about the powerful vibes that Buddha Park exudes. It is undoubtedly one of the most serene places I have visited). In all my excitement, I make a mental note to stick around the place for at least a couple of hours more, and explore every corner that I possibly can. However, the bright sun-rays are slowly beginning to vanish, and a cloud-army is marching towards us in the sky. I am quite enjoying my walk along the elaborate path-way, but silently praying for it to not rain. As I reach the foot of the statue, I can hear loud thunders from some place far away in the mountains. I quickly take my shoes off, and enter inside the statue. I am welcomed to the sight of a magnificent stupa at the centre of the hall! To the left is a museum with 1,000 Buddha statues and straight up is the route to walk what feels like 3 floors up inside the statue. This circular-walkway runs through various wall-paintings of the story of Buddhism – its origin, how it got to India, the story of Buddha, etc. Just when I am about to exit from the statue after completing my tour of the inside, a group of approximately 50 South-Asian tourists walks in with 5 monks and they start chanting prayers and do a parikrama of the shrine. Almost as a reflex action, I step back inside the statue and sit down in a corner to watch them pray. (=It feels so powerful, almost hypnotic). Having lost track of the amount of time I have spent here, I slowly move out of the statue after a while.

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags

My worst fears come true as I step outside – It had been pouring. The strong winds are making whistling sounds and causing the prayer flags fly – which is a vista I want to remember forever. The bright sunny day that had welcomed me into the town has now disappeared and all that is visible now, is the grey sky. The thundering has gotten louder and closer and even more vicious. (=Honestly, I love rain. A part of me was actually even wanting to get drenched. But I had my phone, camera, diary, story book, map, wallet and tickets with me in the bag… with no plastic to cover these things up. Hence, the caution). I quickly trot along the path-way, on my way back to the gate. I am contemplating hitch-hiking my way down to the town, but then decide to just make a run for it instead. As luck would have it, only a minute into my exit from the park, it starts to drizzle. I am too far away from the parking lot to ask for a lift, so going back is not an option. I then notice the other gate to the park (which has a roof) and run to seek refuge. All this while, I can feel small pebbles hitting my back. I look around to see who is throwing these at me, but not a soul in sight. It is now pouring heavily, and I am safely under the shade of the roof at the gate. It is only then that I realise that nobody was throwing pebbles at me – it was raining hailstones!! HAILSTONES! I am just standing there, at the gate, with no other human being in sight – awestruck – as the rain lashes the ground and as the hailstones fall with a force like never before, as if it was never going to stop. (=Even though I am alone and stranded, in this moment I feel happy like never before. I think I am the happiest I have been. It feels like every cell in my body is feeling the joy of experiencing a hailstone shower. It feels so wonderful to feel so vulnerable to nature. I want to absorb every bit of the beauty that I am witnessing – the falling hailstones, the clouded mountains, the roaring thunder and my feeling of infinite happiness. In this moment, I am the happiest I can be 🙂 )

In a short while, it stops raining, and I dash back to the hotel. I get to my room and the anxiety of being the only guest at the hotel floods my head again. I call a friend to pour out my concerns… and after immense pacification, I finally decide to go ahead with my stay and enjoy the beauty of Ravangla. Just as I finish my call, it starts thundering and raining hailstones again – almost as if the rain gods want me to stay 🙂

IMG_3185

 

Lost my heart in Himachal Pradesh!

This gallery contains 40 photos.

Caution: Long blog post ahead! Well, travel is an enriching experience. For me, travel is meditation. It is the best kind of therapy. Travel is not about going away from home. It is about making another one! Which is why, I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to the mystic land […]

Satluj

Having just returned from a fulfilling trip across the eastern regions of Himachal Pradesh, I am filled with memories, awestruck by it’s beauty and gripped with nostalgia even as I write.
A detailed post outlining our adventures in the mighty Himalayas is very much in order. However, there is something that I would like to share with you before that. Something that was symbolic of the entire trip, to me.
Most of us have our best and worst moments after every journey. But there is more to that. We also have this one thing- an experience or an object or a person- that becomes symbolic of the trip for us.
For me, that was river Satluj (Sutlej) and her tributaries.
The river managed to capture my heart as flawlessly as she changed her form – first as the mighty Satluj, then in the form of the beautiful Baspa, then as the serene Spiti and ultimately in the form of Pin. The virtuous river had so many roles to play and yet, she played each of them with unrealistic ease!
For me, the Satluj was the epitome of determination. Delicate, yet strong. She had made a place for herself in the mighty Himalayas..or rather through the mighty Himalayas, hadn’t she?
So even as I flip through the pages of a magnificent Himalayan experience, I cannot help but pen down the awe I feel for Satluj.

 

 

She appeared, almost out of nowhere
Chaste and clear, Blue and bare
She saw, she observed
She looked like she had her doubts
But faith was all we had.

She swerved, and we followed
She curved, and we wallowed
She turned, and we blundered
She danced along, and we only wondered.

She changed her form with celerity
She tiptoed away, with grace unparalleled
She returned when she felt like, with a mystic air
She touched us, almost
and then she left again with a teasing stare.

She ran at first, but then slowed down
She was fierce at first, but then she wore a mellow brown
She wavered at first, but then she never left our side
She was aloof at first, but then she also kissed goodnight.

She called us, with one flirtatious stare
She made us follow her, with a promise unsaid
She advanced slowly at first, and then all at once
She had befriended the mountains and the clouds
and also the glistening rays of the sun.

She kept her word and our hand she held
She stayed with us, right until the end
At the end of our sojourn, she stopped in her track
And then she took the final turn and never looked back.

spiti river

The glorious river!

 

PS: Detailed post coming soon!

Santa on Wheels!

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“Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others.” – Barbara Bush This year, I had been waiting for Santa on Wheels (SoW) since October. Having missed it in all the previous years, I just knew for a fact […]

Vipassana – An experience to remember!

Please note: This post is not written with an intention to give a detailed account of my experience of Vipassana. Not only is my experience very personal, but it is also inexplicable! Words cannot do justice to the beautiful time spent there.
Before deciding to go there, I had managed to read a few blog posts just to know others’ experience of the course.
Now, after having attended the course myself, I feel that many posts on the internet are not only misguiding, but also very discouraging.
However, I beg to differ. I write this post with an intention to share the beautiful experience with you as crisply as I possibly can, to clarify a few doubts that you may have about the course (my folks had plenty of doubts! So I’m guessing that others may have the same questions playing in their head, too) and to do my bit to encourage you to go for it in case you are planning to!

I know this comes in very late, almost a month after I attended my first vipassana meditation course. But then, better late than never!

Course duration: 10 days.
Location: Igatpuri

So now, first things first.

1. What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It means to see things as they really are. It was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago, and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills i.e. An art of living.
(source: www.dhamma.org)

 

2. Why did I decide to go there?
Well honestly, I didn’t go there for any particular reason. I just wanted a break from the monotony of my daily schedule and wanted to spend some time with myself.
Over the last year, I realised that I had such a hectic schedule and such a busy life, that I hardly spent time alone because I always had something or the other to do. I had begun to dread spending time alone. I couldn’t even think of spending time without my phone or a book to read or a movie to watch or the laptop. Basically, I hardly spent any time in solitude and neither did I see any chance of that condition improving anytime soon.
So my only trigger to attend the course was to experience living on my own without any connectivity with anyone else, without my phone, without any books and without anything else to do.
Some time alone, just with myself. Without having to bother about anything else.

 

3. My experience, in my words:

When I shared my plan of attending the 10 day course with a few friends, I got three kinds of reactions:
a) From those who had not attended the course before: “Why do you want to go for it? Sudden plan? Do you have any problem?”

b) From those who had attended the course: “It is a wonderful experience! You may feel like running away on the second or third day, but hang in there! You will absolutely love it! ”

c) From those who had not attended the course, but planned to attend it soon: “Go for it! But will you be able to live with absolutely no contact with anyone you know? Let me know how it was! I want to go, too!”

To begin with, for me, it was the best ten days of my life! The experience, in more ways than one, is inexplicable.

On Day 0 (the day of arrival at Igatpuri), I was pretty much blank. I didn’t know what the course was going to be like, I didn’t know anybody there and most importantly, I didn’t have any expectations from the course.  The no-expectation bit came from the fact that I didn’t go there with an intention to solve any physical/emotional problem or with any other pre-determined reason.

After having spent all my years in living the typical super-fast life of an average Mumbaikar, Day 1 made me feel like time had stopped! I remember looking at my watch at regular intervals, only to see time move at a snail’s pace! At the end of the day, I was so sure of one equation:  1 day in Igatpuri = 1 week in Mumbai. Yes, that’s how long the day was, in my opinion. I kept wondering how I’d pass the next 9 days if time had decided to go so slow.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I would later realize), Days 2 and 3 passed swiftly. I realized that I may have found Day 1 slow only because of the sudden change in routine. Days 2 and 3 were passed with dedicated practice and constantly being in a state of self-awareness.

It was on Day 4 that we were introduced to the technique of Vipassana. The remaining 6 days were spent in slowly understanding the technique more deeply and practicing it more diligently.
Of course, the end of each working day was marked with a 90 minute discourse from Shri S.N. Goenka-ji. Conducted in different languages (for the benefit of students coming from diverse backgrounds), these discourses gave us a deeper insight into the technique of Vipassana and the art of living.

So here’s my public reply to all the aforementioned reactions and concerns:
a) I didn’t go there to solve/cure any ‘problem’. You don’t have to be unwell or ill to go for vipassana! It is an art of living. A way of life! It is not a hospital to cure ailments and illnesses. You going there does not mean you have a problem! I went there to relax and to spend some time with the one person that I had always ignored all my life – myself. That’s it.

b) Yes, it was a wonderful experience and I did love it! Throughout Days 2 and 3, I kept waiting for the ‘I-want-to-run-away-from-here’ feeling to come to me, but it just didn’t! I was enjoying every moment in the beautiful campus and not once did I feel bored. No, not even for a second!

c) Yes, everyone should experience it at least once. I survived without my phone/book/laptop/internet/family/friends for 10 whole days. In fact, I did not miss any of them at all! By the end of the course, I almost forgot what my phone looked like, too! Which is good..because just like me, the phone also got some well deserved rest! 😉

 

4. The challenges I faced:
Honestly, there were none. The Assistant Professors (APs) were extremely knowledgeable and were always available for any help and guidance. They were open to discussion (we had special time slots arranged only for Q&A as well) and I managed to get all my doubts, concerns and questions answered.
Adjusting the body to the revised schedule (waking up at 4 am everyday) and to new eating habits (breakfast at 6.30 am, lunch at 11 am) took some efforts. But it was only a matter of a day, after which all was well!

 

5. What kept me motivated:
From the time the course began, I was sure of one thing: If I was investing 10 days of my time (missing work and without any contact with the family) in coming all the way to Igatpuri, then I’d much rather do the course properly. I made sure to follow all instructions and all rules as sincerely as I possibly could. Also, I was very determined to experience the benefits of the course. I knew for a fact that I just had to be there!
Also, a couple of friends had already the 10 day course before me. The fact that they completed their courses successfully much before me proved to be a major confidence booster!
Last but not the least, the weather! Having gone there in the last week of June, the weather was just perfect! The lush greenery, fog covered mountains, fresh air, beautiful rains and pleasant atmosphere only magnified the effect of all our meditation!

 

6. Some points to remember:

  • The course instructions clearly mention that a Noble Silence has to be maintained through out the 10 days (Students are requested to maintain silence throughout the course and not interact with anybody other than the APs and Dhamma helpers).
    However, there are bound to be people who will talk amongst themselves and try talking to you as well. In interest of your own progress in the course, avoid talking.
    You will realize on Day 10, what a big difference it makes to maintain silence!
  • A lot of people have concerns about the availability of food over there. You can absolutely trust me when I say that I loved the food! The food was not only healthy, but also very good to taste.
    Also, no restrictions on the quantity of food to be taken by each student. It is a buffet, and you can help yourself to as many servings as you want.
  • The laundry service is excellent! Available at a nominal rate, the laundry service helped tremendously in the rains. Your laundry will be returned to you on the very next day – washed and ironed!
  • You are allowed to carry and take your medicines, whenever required.
  • 3 meals are available during the day for first time students – Breakfast, lunch and snacks. However, exceptional approval for dinner is provided to pregnant women and to students with a medical condition (on providing the AP with a medical certificate).
  • Vipassana is only a meditation technique revived by Gautama Buddha. The concept of “Buddhism” is not propagated by him or any faculty at the Vipassana centre. In fact, for them, no such word exists.
    The teachings of Buddha are universal and non-sectarian i.e. they do not wish to convert anybody into any sect/religion/any other group.
    No such religion such as ‘Buddhism’ is recognised by the institute of Dhamma and neither does the institution intend to drive anybody away from their religion.
  • Once there, you will realize that kind people do exist, even today. The Dhamma Sevikas (Dhamma Helpers) were so kind and so helpful! In spite of having to make so many arrangements for 300 odd students, all of them were always smiling and ever ready to help. I was so used to the arrogance and crudeness of the city, that I was left completely overwhelmed with the kindness and niceness that I saw there.
    You will realize that you always have an option, and the kinder you are, the more you make others happy and remain happy yourself!
  • I would suggest, do not attend the course along with someone you already know (say, friends or siblings or parents).  This is my personal opinion. You need your space once there, and the presence of someone you know may just end up making you feel conscious or distract you.
  • Among other things, I came back from the course feeling much more confident of myself, feeling very very happy, having overcome a lot of my fears and insecurities. Having faced a lot of testing times immediately after my return from the course, I was glad and surprised (pleasantly) at how I handled myself and family during trying times. I don’t think I would have been able to remain as strong and as composed as I did, had I not had the beautiful experience of Vipassana.
  • All you need is discipline, determination and a desire to complete the course successfully. You will experience the benefits of the course for yourself!

 

 

PS: I would really want to thank my parents and brother from the bottom of my heart for being completely supportive of my decision and encouraging me, always.
I would also like to thank them for making sure that I enjoyed my experience! They did not call me up in spite of there being an emergency at home only so that I could have enjoy the benefits of Vipassana. Thank you! :’)

Another big, big thank you to my friends – Sneha (for helping me get an independent accommodation and for being super enthusiastic about my course) and Gnanesh (for always encouraging me and for coming all the way to drop me to Igatpuri!).

A big thank you to everyone else who helped me attend the course in any way whatsoever (that includes my boss for approving a massive 10 day leave! :P)
And…thank you, Universe!

PPS: If there is anything else that you would like to know about the course, please feel free to ask! Would be happy to help! Good luck! 🙂

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Because every road will take you to a beautiful place 🙂

STAR-STRUCK! :D

Ok so there are days when you wake up and the first thing you do is..SMILE. Well, for me, today was one such day.
I am yet to understand if the early morning ‘smile’ is any kind of indication from God about how awesome the day is going to be, but if the ‘smile’ can really turn the day into being anything close to today, I’d smile to myself every single morning!!

So just because I am hyper-ventilating already and this post is coming at the cost of some much needed sleep (and not needed dark circles), let’s just get to the point : Discussing how fantabulously awesome my day was!

1. Went to college after so long! If meeting all my friends after two months made me so emotional, I wonder how I’m going to deal with the void that sets in once college ends..which is like in 3 months 😦

2. My audit place had a diwali celebration today! Besides the fact that everyone was dressed in their blingy best and kuch kaam nahi kiya and I took a half day and left office due to lack of work (for once), MY AUDITEES LOADED ME WITH DIWALI CHOCOLATES!!! Now, can it get better? (Ans: Yes 😛 )

3. Went to Prithvi theatre to watch a play- Between the Lines. This was the first time I was watching one! So my excitement obviously knew no bounds – I’d been *waiting* to watch a play since ages AND I was *finally* at Prithvi: One place I was longing to visit!!
Yes, so while I wait in the serpentine queue and strategize about how to get the best seats in the theatre, someone shouts ‘Dia Mirza!’. That one shout was enough to have all heads turned towards the pretty lady.
Once we got in and found ourselves some great seats, just a cursory glance behind made me realise that there were so many stars – not just inside my head – but also on the seats behind me! Vishal Bharadwaj, Alyque Padamsee, Prasoon Joshi, Ila Arun, Dia Mirza..all together!

Just when I finished whispering to my friend about Vishal Bharadwaj sitting right behind us, the audience suddenly started clapping. On looking up, we realized that the subject of all the adulation was none other than Mr. Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan! OH MY GOD.
Although, I’ve never been much of a ‘star-admirer’, seeing Mr. Bachchan there just got my eyes popped up wide open (quite literally!)
His stature, humility, how he smiled at the fans and everything about him just had everyone zapped! Of course, the first thing I did was to tweet about it 😛
Donning the ‘English Vinglish look’, he humbly obliged fans with autographs and handshakes during the break while the awestruck audience just stared at him or discussed his movies.
As soon as the brilliant Nandita Das written play ended, almost everyone in the audience started following ‘Big B’ on his way out.
Boy, believe me, this was the first time I experienced the ‘papparazzi’! A wall of sophisticated cameras and ultra enthusiastic fans gathered around the gates, eager eyes waiting to catch a glimpse of the man himself. Once Big B was out, the media guys went berserk with the ferocious clicking of their cameras and fans running up and down to catch a glimpse of India’s favourite star.
Withing no time, Mr. and Mrs. Bachchan disappeared into their car – away from all the frenzy and away from all the starstruck fans.

I don’t know why, but star presence hardly affects me. But then today was something different altogether! Getting to meet and shake hands with Amitabh Bachchan is a big deal, after all. Again, smiling days like this don’t really happen all that often. But then, today was one such day 🙂

Photo credits : Trilok Ashpal..thanks to his iPhone 😉