Category Archives: India

Lama Tales and a Lost Land

Around the monasteries in Ladakh, you often come across notices about and faded, worn pictures of a young child.

At first glance, we thought someone’s child was missing, but upon inquiring, we learnt that the boy is the Panchen Lama – in Tibetan belief, the monk in charge of finding the successor of the Dalai Lama and has been spirited away, along with his family, in 1995 by the Chinese when he was 6 years old.

20 years and counting. Photo credit: Leeky-Boy (Flickr: Panchen Lama Association) [CC BY 2.0]

The reason why the Chinese did this, is kind of obvious (China, you may want to cover your ears for this) – if they control the Panchen Lama, they control who becomes the next Dalai Lama. The topic is extremely sensitive for Tibetans and they have been raising their voices in futility for the last 20 years to ask for his freedom. China, meanwhile, has appointed a ‘faux’ Panchen Lama in place of the real one but the Tibetan people refuse to accept him, believing that the real Panchen Lama is still alive, even though they worry about his state and well-being.

Theirs has been a long and fruitless battle in trying to reclaim their lost country, lost independence and spending generations in exile. There’s a sort of determination, sometimes punctuated by desperation, in their voices – they want him to come back, they need him to come back.

Read more about the Panchen Lama’s disappearance and the movement to bring him back:

One year ago, on this exact day, I was in Ladakh – a remote, arid and beautiful region in Indian Himalayas; and a place that I would happily go back to any day and recommend that anyone who can, visit now. You can read all about our adventures on the road in Ladakh here

Technicolor Textiles in New Delhi

Shopping for clothes is serious business in India. Try taking a stroll in one of the more famous local textile markets or bazaars in India on a Saturday and you’ll know that this isn’t a task for the faint of heart.

Lanes upon lanes of little shops snake through the labyrinth markets in all directions, crowded by women with hands full of shopping bags and buying appetites still not satiated; and shelves overflowing with fabrics of every type, every print and every color imaginable.

This photo was taken on one such Saturday afternoon in one of the many almost-identical stores in a New Delhi market, unwillingly having to brave the mad rush.

Rainbow Shelves

More bursts of colour here: “ROY G. BIV.”

The Fire Breathers of Rajasthan

The Fire Dance is a special performance put up by the Banjara (gypsy) community of Rajasthan. It involves women dancing with aflame vessels balanced on the top of their heads; and more spectacularly, the Fire Breather (and Eater) who swallows a few fireballs, drinks kerosene and breathes massive fire clouds – all in a day’s work.

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In Pursuit of the Elusive One…

This was one work trip that I was looking forward to.

We were headed to the dry forests of Ranthambore in Rajasthan. Rajasthan – the land of brave warriors (of the past), grand palaces and rich cultural heritage. Rajasthan is the stuff of postcards – it’s the place that you see most often when your mind conjures up images of India (other than the Taj Mahal, which lies in another state, Uttar Pradesh).

But here I was, headed to Rajasthan for none of its grand palaces and monuments or its music, dance or festivals – I was headed to the quiet, nondescript village of Sawai Madhopur, bordering the wildlife reserve of Ranthambore. I was here to try my luck, yet another time, to spot the elusive Bengal tiger, that most majestic of Indian wild animals. And one that had eluded me on 3 different past trips to three different national parks (Corbett, Nagarhole, Bandipur). My hopes were high; someone I know had sighted tigers twice on their safaris in the month of December in Ranthambore (and that isn’t even prime spotting season). Continue reading In Pursuit of the Elusive One…

Weekly Photo Challenge: On a Himalayan Scale

Ladakh's Mighty Mountains
Cars crawl along the ginormous Himalayan slopes like ants – do you see them yet? Click to enlarge the picture
In case you still haven't spotted them - here they are!
In case you still haven’t spotted them – here they are!

After more than a week of driving around in the Himalayas of Ladakh, it was easy to get used to the massive scale of our environment and forget that we were in the middle of (and sometimes on top of) the world’s mightiest mountain range. 4000 metres, 5000 metres, we’d seen them all. Of course, when we got back to the cramped lanes of Mumbai, it was almost heartbreaking to think of the immense and open landscape that we’d left behind a few flight hours ago.

I found this picture among the hundreds that I’d taken over those 9 unforgettable days in one of the most barren, yet beautiful places I’ve been to.

The first time you look at this picture, you’re probably thinking – ‘Yeah, well, mountains. Big ones, okay.’

But I’d like you to click on the picture to open a full-sized version and take a second look, a closer one (pretty please?), and draw your eyes to the winding road along the mountain on the bottom left – see those 3 little ant-like things on the road? Those are medium-sized vehicles actually, two SUVs and one mini-bus. And now imagine, if that’s how tiny the vehicles look in comparison, you and I’d be sort of, well, invisible here. Amazes me every time, that realization.

(And now I’m trip-nostalgic, *sigh*)

This post is in response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Scale.” (click to see more interpretations)

Friday Flashback – Because on some days, Mumbai isn’t half-bad


Anyone who lives in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) presently will tell you that the living isn’t easy anymore. This vast, bursting-at-the-seams megapolis seems to be have put up its hands in resignation.

Mumbai is a city of contradictions, of inequality – children beggars clawing and tapping at the windows of gleaming luxury cars; ramshackle slums hugging the boundary walls of high-rise apartment buildings; an empty metro train whizzing above roads choked with incessant traffic; eight-lane highways with four lanes encroached by makeshift street-stalls and the homeless; fancy open-air bars in five-stars rising above the air dense with pollutants; women on their way to work jostling with women in burqas* on the train. This isn’t a city for the old, the incapacitated or the weak. Exhaustion runs high and patience runs low.

‘It wasn’t always like this.’, the old-timers will tell you; ‘The migrants came and ruined Bombay.’ They say ‘Bombay’, not ‘Mumbai’, as if referring to the city by its old name will restore it to its former glory. I’m not sure if it’s true or if they’re playing rose-tinted reminiscences in their heads. I wouldn’t know – because I, myself, am technically ‘a migrant’ in this ocean of people.

What does one do in Mumbai, when the chaos and the crowds become too much to handle?

On days that you can, you turn west and fix your gaze on the sea. The only empty space in Mumbai; without the restless honks of vehicles, the shoves of crowds, the non-stop din of construction work and hawkers. And you hope, that they leave first, or some of them at least; so you won’t have to.

Photo taken at Marine Drive (Queen’s Necklace), Mumbai (June ’14)

* usually, but not always, women from orthodox Muslim households, who aren’t allowed to work or step out of their homes without being covered head-to-toe in a cloak-like burqa

Read more about Mumbai/ Bombay:

Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts – a semi-autobiography of an escaped Australian convict who finds himself in Mumbai

Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry – the struggles of a Parsi family living in Bombay in ’70s India

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

(Admission – I’ve only read the first two of these)

Starry Nights and Multi-hued Lakes – Pangong Tso, Days 8 & 9 of our Himalayan road trip

This is the final part (Part 6) of a multi-post series covering our trip this summer to Ladakh, a remote region high up in the Indian Himalayas. You can read the other parts here.

Days 8 & 9, 1st and 2nd August – Leh to Pangong Tso and back

‘There! Did you see it?!’, N exclaimed.

‘You’re imagining things. Shooting stars are rare, you certainly did not see one.’, I replied nonchalantly.

But she insisted; made us lie down by the lake side, on the cold, pebbly shore, at near-freezing temperatures, looking up at the sky. It was an unending sheet of black bespeckled with an infinite number of twinkling stars. And there it was, I saw it. A shooting star. The first one in my recent memory. Continue reading Starry Nights and Multi-hued Lakes – Pangong Tso, Days 8 & 9 of our Himalayan road trip