Spiti Tales__ The Mountain Gods and Roads.

After enjoying the peace and solitude of the Goddess Temple, I went back to the hotel.On the way found this charming little cottage.

Ideal for a retreat

Exchanged pleasantries with a friendly village lady.  People in the small towns always impress me with their simplicity and kindness.

Always ready for a chat and a cup of tea.

A few backpackers and village folks were seen at the bus stop. The local men and women sport the traditional green cap known as “Thapang”.

The sullen looks could be due to the long wait for the bus Pc: Ajay

Today we are going to Kinnaur_ the winter home of Lord Shiva. Himachal Pradesh is also known as the ‘Abode of Gods”. There are more than 2000 temples and small shrines here. Each village has its own deity and festivals.

From Sarahan it takes 5 hours to reach Kinnaur and the drive is through the National Highway 22. Inspiring vistas unfolded and lively chats resumed.vista2

 

Our first stop was  Taranda Devi temple. She is the guardian deity of the mountain roads and this temple is maintained by the Indian Army. No vehicle passes by without stopping to take blessings from the Goddess. The views changed dramatically from this point.

Taranda Devi Temple. The brass bells are offerings from the devotees.

Taranda Dhank

Now we are going through one of the deadliest roads featured on the History Channel. Taranda Dhank is notorious for landslides, shooting stones and fatal accidents. The road is carved out of the massive rocks.

A cliff-hanging ride

The tension and excitement were palpable. But Deepak, our driver was cool. This young man was focussed on the road and negotiated the deadly curves and hairpin bends with remarkable ease. He wouldn’t talk much but could be quite stern if we tend to stay long for photo stops.

The iconic rock tunnel on NH22-Gateway to Kinnaur Pc: Ajay

Narrow roads, sharp turns, towering rocks, deep gorges Pc: Ajay

Rock art__ sculpted monkey. Pc: Ajay

 

Living on/off the edge Pc: Mangesh

Heart stopping moment

The rock umbrella

Driving on these roads is like being on a car rally minus the frills. One misstep could be fatal. Our drivers showed amazing skills, concentration, and attitude. They were always looking out for one another and also ready to help other drivers.  Road rage and risky stunts don’t exist in their rule book.  Deepak told us that the state road transport corporation has very strict criteria for selecting the drivers and rightly so. I can’t stop admiring our drivers and that tenacious bus and truck drivers who ply on this treacherous route every day.

Passed by the major hydroelectric project in Karcham and reached Reckong Peo__ the district headquarters of Kinnaur. Popularly called Peo, it is a bustling small town. The rocky terrains changed to lush green mountains with dense pine forests and orchards.

The Hydel plant on the Satluj Pc : Ajay

Reckong Peo town

From here the winding road climbed up and we reached the  Hotel Kinner Villa. After the hair-raising adrenalin packed drive,  it was like entering a magical world. The majestic Kinnaur Kailash was standing there in all its glory with the peaks hidden by the clouds.

The sacred mountain Kinnaur Kailash

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Light and shadow play

My room was on the second floor and from the balcony, I felt I could stretch out and touch the mountain.  I am going to put my camera away and soak in the views.

 

This post is dedicated to Deepak and his friends__ the unsung heroes of this odyssey.

May God be on your road every way you go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Tales,Thimphu-A walk down the streets

From the rustic hamlet of Paro, I found myself heading for the equally sylvan surroundings of the capital Thimphu and Bhutan’s most populated city.

Getting there took  about an hour and a half, vending through highway and all the while being treated to a still unblemished scenic beauty on either side. The capital city came into being in 1961 and the valley that envelops it stretches along the Wang Chhu river. It does have some of trappings of a bustling city but omits some features that we have come to accept as standard fare these days – airport,  traffic lights ,MNCs  and billboards.

My hotel was  near  the main street and opposite the National Stadium. This  stadium has historical significance as it is built at the site of a famous battle which led to the unification of Bhutan and the coronation of their first king.  When I went in  a football match  was going on. Though archery is their national sport, football is quite popular.

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CHANGLIMITHANG NATIONAL STADIUM

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A short walk took me to the main throughfare of Zorin Lam Street and the clock tower square. This is a  city landmark  and  remains an ever popular hangout for the young and the young at heart. A gig in connection with 4G launch was going on .For a country which introduced internet  as recent as 1999,their telecom sector is booming.
I was quite tired after the epic Tiger nest trek  and was looking forward to a comfortable night’s kip . Clearly, I knew nothing about the notorious dogs there. They  were barking all night and the canine symphony kept me awake  most of the time.

Later I came to know that stray dogs are a major problem here and being a Buddhist country they  cannot euthanise  them.Singey told me that they have an ongoing spay neuter and vaccination program.Well,that did put me at ease.These dogs are fiercely territorial and  one can see chorten dogs,monastery dogs , restaurant dogs,etc.My tormentors  could be the downtown pack.

I got out of the hotel   as the city  was waking up to a new day. My first stop was the clock tower centre.  Souvenir shops,restaurants,cafes, and bars are seen around the  well maintained streets.A few elderly ladies were seen   turning the prayer wheels.I think this is their  morning ritual.

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CLOCK TOWER SQUARE

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From there I walked down towards the  traffic kiosk. Thimphu being the capital has the  heaviest traffic  in the country and it also boasts of having no traffic lights.Traffic police from the Royal Bhutan  Police controls the traffic.In 1995  traffic  lights were installed  but they were taken off soon as most people failed to follow  and there were accidents.So  the  traffic cops were reinstated   and this spot has become a major tourist attraction. The kiosk also sports  the  traditional  look.  The night revellers  were seen curled up and sleeping cosily.They must be the kiosk pack.

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The picturesque traffic kiosk.Don’t miss the sleeping beauties.

Symbols of Buddhism and pictures of the King  and the royal family  can be seen everywhere.

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Most of the commercial buildings are 4-5 storey structures  made in the traditional style with  brightly coloured  hand painted floral, animal  and religious motifs on the walls and  embellished windows.All the shops are numbered.bldgb19b16

Few old mud houses   share space with their modern concrete counterparts.

Impressive government offices are also scattered in and around the main street.

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UNITED NATIONS OFFICE

I wandered into an alleyway and  couldn’t help noticing the red stains on the wall.These are betel nut stains.Doma pani is the local term and quite a few  Bhutanese are addicted to its use.

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STREET ART &DIRT

The high point of the morning was  seeing the flowers  in bloom and I knew I  was in the right place.appleyellowflora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dragon Tales,Paro-A Dzong ,monks and movies.

Dzongs [pronounced as zong] are fine examples of the traditional Bhutanese architecture. Each district has a dzong which serve as administrative and monastic centres.  They also have temples and living quarters for the  monks. Most of them were built during the 17th century.I was surprised to know that they are built without nails or iron bars and   without any   blueprints.Then how were they made?A high ranking lama  will be calling the shots  and he would be guided by  spiritual inspiration.

Rinpung Dzong  is  a   majestic  golden domed  red and white building  dominating the Paro skyline .  Rinpung means   a heap of jewels.This impressive  fortress/monastery    had  also seen massive   earthquake and fire and what we see now is the rebuilt structure. Most of the treasures were lost in the  mishaps except  a precious tapestry Thongdrel.This is unfurled  once a year  during the Paro Festival and it is believed that seeing it can cleanse  you of all  your sins.Festival season is the best time to visit Bhutan and  the next festival will be from April 7-11.

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Rinpung Dzong

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Bhutanese people have to be in  their national dress to get inside  and they also have to wear a  silk scarf  known as Kabney [for men]  and Rachu[for women].I must say they look very elegant in this attire.There is no such dress code for the visitors.We just have to be  dressed appropriately-long sleeves,no shorts,no caps.

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Men in gho and kabney and lady in kira and rachu

I was in no hurry to get inside and  spent time admiring the vibrant colours and the  intricate woodworks.

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After going through the imposing  main door you will see  the    huge courtyards, winding corridors,central tower ,temples and living quarters for the monks.The entire structure is   breathtaking.For me Rinpung Dzong was the jewel in the crown of Paro.

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COURTYARD

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CENTRAL TOWER

 

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MONASTIC QUARTERS

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We have to climb a lot of stairs and some of them can be quite challenging.The ascent is fairly easy but the descent needs  lot of caution.Photography is not permitted inside the temple complex.

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A VERTICAL NIGHTMARE-What goes up must come down !

Saw these student monks playing in the courtyard. They seemed  to be having  a good time and   I wondered  how many of them will go on to becoming lamas. Do they miss home? Is their curriculum tough?What if they can’t cope? What if they want to leave? I was very keen to talk to them.They are not shy and are quite used to  visitors.But this was their  recess and I did not want to disturb them.

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YOU NEED A HAIR CUT,BUDDY

Seeing these young  lively monks     I was reminded of  a delightful  Tibetan movie Phorpa [The Cup].It is  about a  mischievous kid monk who is obsessed with football  and is set against   the 1998 Football  World Cup. It was made by a Lama and I think this could  be his own experience. It takes you to  the  unknown world of young monks and they are shown as they are- free spirited and natural. Another one I remember is  ‘Spring,Summer,Fall,Winter and Spring’-a Korean movie on the life of a monk with each season signifying a  stage in his life.

Paro Dzong and movies?Yes, few scenes from  ‘Little Buddha’ were shot here.

Turtles can fly ?

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On a serious note,Turtles can fly  is a 2004 Kurdish movie directed by  Bahman Gobadi.This is one movie I wish everyone watches at least once to see the horrors of mindless war through the eyes of innocent children.

I had seen this movie many years ago  but  still feel   connected to it.

Haunting and lyrical.That is the power of  cinema and children.

 

Tbilisi-statues and street art

Like churches statues  are a common sight in Tbilisi.There are statues  honouring  saints, kings,poets,philosophers, artists ,statesmen and traditional art forms.Street art/graffiti  also seem very popular.

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St.GEORGE at FREEDOM SQUARE

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KING VAKHTANG GORGASALI

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TAMADA

Tamada is the toast master of the traditional georgian feast known as Supra.

 

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LAMP LIGHTER

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BERIKAOBA (DANCING RING)

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SOFIKO CHIAURELI-actress

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Have a look at these insightful comments.

 

 

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True that!!

 

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Narikala Fortress-deja vu once more.

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Narikala Fortress seen from the cable car

Narikala Fort is a prominent landmark in Tbilisi. It was constructed in the  4 century and  was expanded by the Arabs  and Mongols over the centuries.In 1827 an earthquake destroyed parts of the fort  and today we see remnants of what was once a heavily fortified  citadel.

We took the cable car to go up the hill.It costs  1 lari and takes  2 minutes.We could also walk up the hill but I had seen the cable car from our room and wanted to try it.

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From the top you can enjoy a  spectacular panoramic view of the city.I was trying to identify the places and  was delighted to locate our  house.

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It is a steep climb.You can find vendors with cold drinks and refreshments.  Most of the fortress is in ruins  though some parts look well preserved.

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Finally we reached ‘HOME’ to see Mother of Georgia   up close and personal.She did look massive and formidable.There is just a narrow strip in front of the statue and I was not adventurous enough to   go across and take  her anterior views.

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From this statue there are many trails going up the hill  We decided to walk down stopping at many places and taking pictures.One has to watch the steps as there are no railings and it is quite steep.

This fort  offers a beautiful sight at night.

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coutresy google images

I had another   deja vu.

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Mehrangarh fort,Jodhpur

This was taken in 2010  when the fort was  decked up to celebrate the  wedding of the king of Jodhpur.

 

 

 

Cornucopia of memories-The Dry Bridge Flea Market,Tbilisi

Tbilisi has its own share of  shopping malls and  bohemian art galleries.I was not keen on  visiting any .I had heard about the Dry Bridge  flea market  and  our host Teolina took us there.It  felt like we were in another era.This open air market has something for everyone.Antique jewellery,furniture,porcelain,silverware,vintage cameras,coins,sepia tinted family pictures,relics from the soviet era like medals,flags, military uniforms,portraits of Stalin ,Lenin  and bric- a- brac are displayed on the ground  or  wooden stands.Some  have kept their wares on car boots. Most of the sellers were  middle aged.This place  attracts a lot of tourists and even if you are not buying anything it is interesting to take a walk  through the past.

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THE DRY BRIDGE

 

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BRAND NEW SCISSORS !

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LORD HANUMAN AMONG THE RELICS-I AM SURE HE DID NOT COME FROM THE SOVIET UNION

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There is a park near by  where    nonprofessional  as well as well known artists display  and sell their paintings.

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I AM HERE

We bought a pair of traditional drinking horns known as Kantsi.I would have liked to spend  more time out there .Kitsch,vintage or antique there is something    about this place   that attracts people.

I still wonder  whose precious companion  this baby doll was.

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Shrines of Tbilisi

I do not know the total number of churches in Tbilisi  but I saw quite a few.Apart from the popular ones there are   some charming   old churches near the old part of the city . I used to get up early  and take  different routes invariably ending up in a church .It was surprising that not many people attend the daily service .I was hoping to see a church wedding but no luck there.Maybe this is not the  wedding season !

 

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CHURCH OF BETHLEHEM

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St.VIRGIN MARY CATHOLIC CHURCH

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SIONI CHURCH

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Though they may look similar in structure each one gives different vibes.