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.

Cycling around Hampi!

Destination: Hampi, Karnataka            Distance: 740km             Number of days: 5               Number of travelers: 2 Hampi had been on my travel wish-list for a while. So what better chance could have I got to visit this scenic temple town, other than to relieve some post exam stress? The December-January period felt like a good time to visit (it’s the peak tourist season here) and I was raring to go! Unfortunately for me, most of my friends had already visited Hampi, which meant that I had nobody to go with. Even as I was gearing myself to make a solo trip (AND convince my parents to let me travel alone), I found a travel-mate in my friend Lizann, who was as kicked about visiting Hampi as I was! After some serious planning, R&D and parent-convincing later, December 29 was fixed as the departure date (yes, this is a late post). Come December 29, and we were ready to hop into our semi-sleeper VRL bus to Hospet (one way tickets cost us around Rs. 1200 per person). VRL is one of the safest and most comfortable means of transport. They have plenty of VRL offices throughout the 727 km Bombay-Hospet stretch, which makes bus-breakdowns and emergencies easy to handle (our bus broke down at around 2am on our way to Hospet, but we were promptly shifted to another VRL bus). We arrived at Hospet by 10.30am on the next day (which was after a delay of approximately 2.5 hrs) and immediately headed to the Hospet bus depot, which is just one street away from teh VRL drop-off point. A number of auto rickshaw drivers (costing Rs. 200 per seat) hounded us, but we were on an economy trip, so decided to take the ST bus to Hampi instead (costing Rs. 15 per person). What caught my attention was the female bus conductor in our ST bus. A true example of gender equality in south India! After a comfortable journey of around 20 minutes (approx 13km from Hospet), there we were! Even as the bus halted outside the Hampi Bazaar area, a chill ran down my spine to actually see the iconic Virupaksha temple that I had only seen on my laptop screen until then! For a few seconds, we were stunned and didn’t know exactly where to go. Soon, we collected ourselves and decided to follow the path to the temple. Our phones were whipped out to call Mr. Bobby, owner of Bobby guest-house, which was recommended to us by Rushikesh – the Man in-charge at Breakfree Journeys (we were indeed an adventurous lot. In spite of warnings that it was going to be peak season and finding an accommodation would be difficult, we decided to venture out and find some decent accommodation only after arriving at Hampi). Even as we spoke to Mr. Bobby over the phone, we made our way to the boat to transport us across the river to Virupapur gadde, where most of the guest-houses are located (One way boat-ride costs Rs. 20 per person, extra ticket for luggage. Boat service functions from 7am to 5.30pm. The coracle service starts after 5.30pm, costing Rs. 50 per person one way. Cycles/bikes can also be transported across the river through the boat/coracle).

The Virupaksha temple overlooking Krishna river.

The Virupaksha temple overlooking Krishna river.

Bobby guest-house was barely at a minute’s distance from the river bank. Luckily, they had a couple of vacant rooms, so we sorted our accommodation and headed to our room to freshen up (at Rs. 850 per day, we may have shelved out a large amount for accommodation. But we decided to go for it anyway, since it was peak time, and as two female travelers, safety was of prime concern). Soon, we set out to grab a quick bite and explore our side of the river. We bought a map of Hampi from one of the local stores and inquired about cycles. Unfortunately, the all the cycles had been hired out for the day, so we decided to walk it up to Anjaneya hill, in Anegondi village (in retrospection, walking down a nearly empty road is not exactly the safest idea for solo travelers. So do try to get a bike/hire an auto in case the cycles are not available). Dinners were usually simple affairs at Bobby’s and German bakery (delicious desserts at extremely affordable prices). The village area was not very well lit at night, so we preferred to stay indoors and not venture out too far post sunset.

View from atop Anjaneya Hill.

View from atop Anjaneya Hill.

On our second day in Hampi, we decided to do a group cycle tour with a Karnataka State Tourism Department authorised guide, Hanumantha (it cost Rs. 500 per person, including cycle rent. I don’t know if we overpaid, but it was a fairly decent experience). The following places were covered by the tour: Hemakuta Hill, Kadalekalu Ganesh, Sasivekalu Ganesh, Krishna temple, Lakshmi Narasimha temple (which is a brilliant piece of architecture), Badavilinga temple, the Underground Siva temple, Hazararama temple, the Royal enclosure and the Zenana enclosure. The tour ended at the Elephant stables in Zenana enclosure. However, we took the cycles with us and also visited the Queen’s Bath, Mohammaden Watchtower, Band Tower and the Archaeological Museum in Kamalapur. Hanumantha filled us in with stories of the various places that we visited. You can find more information about these places on After a tiring, but adventurous day we retired to our room at Bobby’s and geared ourselves for the next day!

The Mahanavami dibba.

The Mahanavami dibba.

On our third day in Hampi, we explored the Achyutraya temple ruins, the Monolithic bull, the King’s balance and the iconic Vitthala temple. We covered all these places on foot, as we had to park our cycles in the parking area at the base of the hill. On our way back, we relished some aloo bondas (a local delicacy prepared with potatoes) and sukha bhel. After returning our cycles, we rushed to the river bank so as to not miss the last boat to Bobby’s! A traditional South Indian breakfast comprising of delicious appams and melt-in-your-mouth idlis kick-started day four! We were very keen on visiting the Pattabhirama temple, Jain temples and Mohammad’s tomb in Kamalapur (where the Archaeological Museum is also located). We quickly rented our cycles and set out for Kamalapur. Riding past beautiful banana fields and rice plantations, we reached Kamalapur in about 30 minutes. After seeking some local help with directions, we finally reached Pattabhirama temple. We were very surprised to find no one, except the two of us, in the temple! Excitedly, yet cautiously, we stuck around together to click as many photos as we could! We then headed out to visit the Domed Gateway, which was another place not frequented by tourists. The ride to the gateway was magnificent, to say the least! The banana plantations on either side of the road, the cow-herd walking the cattle home, the fresh air and the empty street made for a beautiful vista! The Domed Gateway was a beautiful and unexplored place, adjoining which was a forest route, which we were craving to explore! Honestly, that was the only time when I wished that I was with a group, for it was very risky for the two of us to cycle through the deserted route by ourselves! A lot of photos later, we made our way out to visit the Jain temples. However, a sari shop on the main road caught our fancy and some major sari (window) shopping later, we were left with no time for anything else. So we made our way to the gushing waters of the Krishna river and freshened up before cycling out of Kamalapur.

A part of the Pattabhirama temple.

A part of the Pattabhirama temple.

Back at Hampi, we decided to explore the area adjoining the river-crossing. Luckily, we bumped into a couple of local girls who were out on their evening walk and joined them on their way uphill to view the sunset from atop the hill. It was already 7pm by the time we returned to the boat crossing. Obviously we missed the last boat, and took the coracle instead (expensive, but yaay).

Evenings in Hampi :)

Evenings in Hampi 🙂

We started our fifth (and last) day with an early morning walk along the river bank. After spending some quality time in solitude, we headed to Matanga Hill. We (rather unknowingly) took the tougher route up, but every bit of the effort we put to climb uphill was completely worth it! The picturesque aerial view of Hampi more than made up for the toil! One of my favourite moments of the trip: Sitting atop Matanga hill even as the wind brushed across my face. Gazing, awestruck, at the lush green banana plantations, the Achyutraya temple that we had just visited a day back, the Virupaksha temple that stood tall in the distance and a road that ran amid the ruins. Perfect. We soon found our way down through the stairs (the easier route) and decided to grab a quick bite before heading to Virupaksha temple, which is a functional temple. The Virupaksha temple is usually the first stop-point for most tourists, but us being us, we decided to visit it in the end! After spending a good 40 minutes looking around the temple, we headed straight for Bobby’s – from where we collected our luggage – and made our way to the bus stand for a bus to Hospet. A short wait later, we boarded our VRL bus to Mumbai, thus marking the end to our very adventurous visit to the temple town!

Sitting atop Matanga Hill. Like a boss!

Sitting atop Matanga Hill. Like a boss!

General suggestions for those who are planning to visit Hampi:

  1. Carry plenty of sunscreen lotion with you at any given time! It is always hot and sunny, and the concept of winter does not exist here.
  2. The Virupaksha temple area houses the Karnataka State Tourism Department Office. You could get yourself a detailed map of Hampi from the office to help you with planning your itinerary. It is also recommended to hire the services of a department-authorised guide only, if at all you want a guided tour.
  3. Good news for (solo) lady travelers: Hampi is certainly safe for women. However, do remain alert and exercise caution. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend walking around alone after the sun goes down, or in deserted areas, no matter how safe it is. Walking around in groups is always recommended.
  4. You can bargain for almost everything! From room rent to yoga mats to shopping in the bazaar to cycle rent. You’ll be surprised at how much  you end up saving after all the bargaining.
  5. Cycles are available on rent on either side of the river. So you could rent the cycles depending on which of the river you will be exploring (it will save you the cost of transporting your cycles across the river).
  6. Most of the guest-houses have a check out time of 10am. If your bus/train departs later in the evening, you can check out of your room by 10am, and request the management to let you keep your luggage in a safe place. Of course, at your own risk, but this works for most!
  7. We weren’t very fussy about the food, but there are plenty of options available as far as restaurants are concerned! I won’t make any recommendations here, but will just nudge you to go and explore the well known as well as local food joints with an open mind!
  8. But….do try the curd-rice at Mowgli guest-house, if possible. Divine!

PS: Thank you Shreedhar (my brother) and Rushikesh for all your help and suggestions!

And the sun decided to shower us with blessings even as it set!

And the sun decided to shower us with blessings even as it set!

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.


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! 🙂


Because every road will take you to a beautiful place 🙂

Read this, please.
Maybe, we need to stop publishing angry tweets and facebook statuses and start working collectively on making our country a better place to live in.
Maybe, we can make a difference. Yes, WE.



<EDIT>: 20th December, 2012: Please read with the caveat that I am very much a North Indian male living in Delhi. You may consider “North Indian male” short-hand for the guys brought up in families with outdated notions of honor and masculinity. Nearly all of my good friends are in fact North Indian men who are some of the kindest, most chivalrous people you had meet. But let’s face it, in NCR, we would be a minority. </EDIT>

As people across the country try to make sense of the ghastly gang-rape of a paramedical student, here’s a short explanation: it’s because of the North Indian male. What exactly is wrong with this guy? Plenty: brought up on a steady diet of patriarchal superiority and misogyny, he is yet to come to grasp with a simple fact; that when it comes to women, his mindset is still medieval. In spite of…

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The perfect recipe to become the perfect techie!

Ingredients : One blogger meet (if it ain’t by IndiBlogger, then you shan’t enjoy it), loads of enthusiasm, 2 Punjabi hosts (preferably charming and humorous), twenty packets of pure fun, a chunk of Nokia, dollops of excitement, onions, 3 cups of games and spot prizes, one perfect and fancy venue, #NokiaApptasting, at least 300 awesome bloggers and Apps to taste.


1. First choose a perfect and fancy location (eg : Taj Land’s End) and mix it well with the IndiBlogger meet and 300 awesome bloggers on a perfect Sunday evening. Beat it well with the right amount of online publicity.

2. Add the two Punjabi hosts (Read: Rajiv Makhni, Vikas Khanna)  and continuously keep sprinkling generous amounts of live feed to the mix.

3. Deep fry a large chunk of Nokia in twenty packets of pure fun and garnish it with ’30 seconds of fame.’

4. At the same time, heat the 3 cups of games and spot prizes in the microwave for approximately 4-5 hours and mix it well with dollops of excitement.

5. Cut the onions perfectly, with a special technique that lets the root act like a clamp.

6. Also mix a little bit of Bollywood flavour, humour, impromptu dance, quizzing and a few pints of ‘tukkebaazi’ to the games and prizes.

7. Add the Apps, to taste. Make sure that your Apps include the following: Nokia City Lens, the silent movie film director, Cocktail flow, the group shot application and new ideas for newer apps.

8. Serve hot and cold with cocktails, mocktails, the delicious IndiBlogger cake, group photographs, loads of new friends and a nice buffet.

The Chef’s personal tips:

–> Ensure that #NokiaApptasting trends on twitter. This elevates the taste.
–> Make sure that you ‘hurrr’ at the beginning of every step.
–> This meal tastes best when served just in time i.e. on the last minute i.e. just a few minutes before the deadline 😛
–> If served by a beauty named ‘Simran’, the food is sure to taste better than it usually does.
–> Eat it with a good deal of blogging and socializing with fellow bloggers.

PS : This dish was prepared fresh by the chef, for the first time, on August 19, 2012. It turned out to be so delicious, that the chef just couldn’t help but share it with everyone! 🙂

Satyamev Jayate.

I was chatting with a bunch of friends in the morning. Surprisingly, at 11am, almost all of them went offline. It was only then that I realized, it was 11am!! Wasn’t it May 6 today? Yes, Satyamev Jayate.

My TV has conked off since quite some time. So I’ve been accustomed to living a TV-less life for a while now.
Being a regular tweeter that I am, it is so easy to receive first hand information or reviews or any content (which may or may not be) of national (or any other) interest.

So just when I logged into my twitter account, it wasn’t very surprising to see ‘Amir’ trending already.
But what was most baffling and surprising, was the negative approach with which so many people reacted to the show.
Of course there was a lot of appreciation for the show. For Mr. Khan. For  what the show stood for.

The fee amount charged by Aamir Khan for being a part of this show. A lot of people have issues with the fact that Mr. Khan has apparently charged an amount of Rs. 3 crore to be a part of the show. If he were that patriotic, he would have donated that big an amount to charity, they said. If he were that patriotic, he would have done a show as noble as this one for free. Is it patriotism?  Nah. Publicity? Maybe.

Now I have some points to make here.

1. Haven’t we had enough of this cynicism? Yes. It is cynicism and NOT skepticism. If you expect everyone who is patriotic to work for free, then in that case we must ask our army, navy and air force to work for free, too. As it is they don’t get paid much. So we might as well ask them to work for free. In a broader sense, everybody who earns any money SHOULD donate it to charity. How else will they be patriotic? Have working for free or donating one’s hard earned money become such important criteria for commenting on how patriotic one is?
Come on, people! He is an actor. It is his job, his profession. If you expect him to work for free or donate his earnings to charity just to prove how patriotic he is, then you really need a reality check.

2. As for the publicity, I believe it takes guts and immense belief to stand up for a cause like this. To air a show on a Sunday morning, to go all out to publicize it, to work to make people aware of it. Let’s not forget the many other ‘actors’ who have charged equally exorbitant prices to host or perform in game shows or dance shows. Let’s not forget, Mr. Khan could have very well done that. But he chose to be a part of this show. He chose to make a difference. At least he tried to.

3. Honestly, how would the amount charged by Mr. Khan even matter to you? Even if he had to do it for free, WE – yes people like you and me – would have done and said just what we did and said today –  Questioned his intentions, the amount he charged, how boring the show was and how we all wasted a precious Sunday morning watching a patriotic show?
Who are we trying to fool here?

Now, I haven’t watched the show myself. So it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the content of the show.
But what I am trying to ask is, why have become so cynical and so negative in our approach?

Here’s a man who is trying to highlight issues that would have otherwise remained mere ticker updates on news channels. Here’s a man who wants to bring about awareness. So what if he is charging an amount for something that is a part of his profession? Why are we questioning his intentions so ruthlessly? More importantly, can you think of ONE patriotic thing that you have done in your lifetime, moreover for free? How then, can you be ‘skeptical’ about a man who actually had everything to lose while taking this decision?

The point here is not about Mr. Khan. It could have been anyone else in his place.
My concerns and reactions, even then, would have been the same. Why question just one man alone?

It is not about “how a man who left his wife and kids is attempting to be patriotic” (Someone happened to tweet this, too) . That is a very sad digression from what you actually wish to opine on.
This debate about one particular man actually took away all credit from the content of the show itself.

If you are waiting for a pure, immaculate knight in a shining armor to come and rescue our country from the political, financial or social mess that it is in, then you will be waiting forever.
Everybody has a history or a sad past that they might not be very proud of. As far as people are concerned, you cannot expect them to be either black or white. Why? All of us have our shades of grey.
Maybe we should just learn to appreciate what others do, instead of questioning or complaining about all that they haven’t done.
Maybe ALL of us need to try to look at the positive side of things people do, instead of criticizing what we believe is wrong. Maybe that’s the only chance we have.

No body is perfect, people. Neither are you.