Monday, May 19, 2008

Frozen Memories

On April 30th, we boarded the train to Delhi. ‘We’ included our family and 3 other families. Almost every year we visited some places in India during the summer hols. This year we were planning to visit Delhi, Agra, Mathura, Brindavan, Amritsar, Manali. Was I thrilled about the prospect? Was I looking forward to the trip eagerly? Well, actually the answer would be a very hesitant yes. I’m not a keen traveler at all. Give me my home, a book and Music I like and I’ve Paradise right within my clasp. However my husband and sons were mighty excited about the trip and that alone was reason enough for me to go along and I was determined to be at my cheerful best. The thing is that I’m too wary about travel comfort, hygiene, food quality, restroom facilities. Travel can be fine if all these factors are ensured but when one is in a mixed company its not always possible to stick to one’s idea of such matters. Our friends are very good company, most helpful, cooperative and adjusting but well, they go pretty easy on the aspects that I was concerned about.

I was traveling by a/c for the first time and the trip began comfortably. Last year we had gone by the non a/c and we got practically roasted as we passed through the Andhra terrains. This time I was swathed in sweaters inside the train while it was sweltering outside! I smiled, I laughed, I sang, played with the others but was I actually enjoying? I’m not sure. It was like I had left my soul behind. I don’t know why I’m like this?

We got introduced to a young American couple- a doctor and a professor who had chosen to come and work in India. They were very enthused by their experiences and shared their thoughts with us. Now they were returning home after visiting Agra and Manali.

We reached Delhi on 2nd noon. The heat outside hit us like razor blades. We refreshed ourselves at the guest house we were to stay in and then proceeded to Akshardham. I was a trifle disappointed that we could not make time to visit the Hall of Values- 50 minutes, Neelkantha darsan-40 minutes, Sanskruti Vihar boat ride. What then did we see there? We walked around , sometimes slowly and in a hurry at other times, gazed at the exquisite elephant sculptures. The place was sprawling and quite impressive and yet I remained somewhat untouched. As everyone around me raved , I was wondering what was it that I was looking for?

From there we went to the India Gate. I had been there years ago with my parents and brother.. I remember being touched by the thought of the soldiers who had laid down their lives for the freedom that we were now enjoying. I was wondering if our children realized the significance. As I type these words, I’m thinking that I wanted solitude- to be alone with all the sights around me. I was incapable of enjoying to the full the sights and the places in a lively group. However, one thing I realize that but for this group we would never have made the trip in the first place. We sat on the grounds as darkness was first setting in and a girl came over asking us if we wanted to apply hennah on our palms. We let her do our palms and she did it pretty fast. I participated in every everything but somehow felt strangely disconnected from everything.

Next day we went to Agra. TAJ MAHAL….As I beheld the all too familiar splendour standing out against the blazing skies, I was desperately trying to summon some kind of feeling…We gingerly traipsed along the sizzling mats into the cool interior of the mausoleum. Time management was proving to be a detrimental issue and so we jostled through the crowds. There were solitary moments when I was beckoned by the legend of the Taj, but there was no time to pause. We were scattered, the men were in the front as I sauntered up to my husband who was enjoying a joke with his friends. I whispered to him that I wanted to come back here on some cool twilight evening, sit down and simply gaze up at this sight. My husband smiled and said we’ll come again. Yeah.Sure.

We roamed the precincts and inner sanctum of the Agra fort when the sun was at the summit. The guide’s description made the tour somewhat bearable. But we were all so exhausted and thirsty because of the heat. I kept remembering scenes from Jodha Akbar and kept seeing Hrithik and Aishwarya in the locations in my mind's eye! I kept musing how everything would’ve been so much different if only it wasn’t so hot and we had lots of time to saunter to our hearts content.

From there we raced to Mathura- the place of Lord Krishna’s birth. I fervently tried to ignore the merciless heat, the oppressing thirst and my throbbing temples.I was determined to smile through it all. Only now as I type these words I’m reliving the sheer truth of it all.

On 4th, we boarded the train to Kiratpur. I was hearing the name for the first time .( Incidentally, I happened to see Veer Zaara after our return and when I heard Kiratpur mentioned as the place which Preity Zinta comes to restore her Bebe’s ashes, I was thrilled!). The berth on which I perched for the night had nails jutting out, 2 small kids were sharing the berth opposite mine and I was unable to go to sleep for a long time worried that the kids would kick eachother and tumble down from the upper berth. The father and mother slept blissfully on the middle and lower berths respectively. And the girl was coughing so badly.

From Kiratpur, we hired a van to take us to Manlai. The uphill trudge made some of us queasy, some of us threw up on the way- all in all it was one idyllic journey. The van had to stop at some place for some minor repairs as we got cooked inside. The heat outside made us wonder if we were really on the right route to the snowy caps of Manali. However to our relief and respite the air finally became cooler and the scenic beauty was quite captivating.

We found our hotel- a nice, cosy place but yes it was brrr-cold. Darjeeling on our previous trip was much colder. Here, there were times when I could bear to remove my sweaters and scarves, but in Darjeeling I was clinging to my cardigans, mittens and socks for sheer survival. Our friends who could not live without their daily dose of ‘thayir saadam’ succeeded in finding a restaurant that served good south Indian fare in the hills of Manali. It was a good place though.

Next morning, we climbed the hills to snow point in a place called Marih- Rohtang pass had been closed due to heavy snow fall. Our friends were gasping at the breath taking view of snow laden mountains. I too tried to share their thrill but honestly I was unable to feel the same way. The uphill ride was too precarious but I was too preoccupied with the cold to be nervous. We were wearing all the protective gear and I was grateful for the warmth that it gave. We looked like astronauts. We reached the summit after hours of slow travel. We climbed the snow laden mountains and it was drizzling sleet. The huge masses of frozen mountains that stood menacingly all around awed me naught. To me it looked like an endless expanse of lifelessness- the magnificence failed to evoke in me an inspiring awe. I could only perceive the stillness, the frozen aspect of Nature as lifeless-The gurgling, gushing angry waters of the Beas instilled fear in me- It was always only stretches of lush greenery, flowers and gentle warmth that brought cheer and serenity to my soul. I was wondering why I was feeling different from the others?

When I had seen pictures of snow in the past my brain had understood snow to be soft and spongy. The snow I beheld now were chunks of glassy ice. I was not charmed by the sheaths of glassy, crystalline all around me. My limbs cringed at the assault and I longed for the cosy warmth of the plains. The sheer lifelessness, the enormity of the deathlike glassy reflected glacier sheaths failed to evoke cheer in me. But I looked around me- my friends were laughing and I joined in the merriment. I did not want to be the odd one out. We took photographs – frozen memories. We partook of hot steaming noodles under a leaky tent. It was delicious. And finally we returned downhill.

In the evening we visited the Hidimba ( Bheema’s wife) temple, Vasishtha temple with hot springs. My elder son hung on a harness above the roaring rapids and I looked away.
Next day we trudged uphill endlessly to reach the only temple dedicated to Manu the first Man according to the Hindu scriptures. We also visited the Jataka temple and Van Vihar and did a bit of hurried shopping- mainly for souveneirs.

From Manali we left for Amritsar. The 12-13 hour van ride was tedious to say the least. We wanted to make it to the Wagah border. As we sprinted along the somewhat regulated crowd, I felt excitement building up within me as we moved among people from all over the country. As we passed through that narrow strip of land between the 2 massive gates- Pakistan on my right and India on my left, tears sprung to my eye and I was shivering in the blazing summer evening. I’m not sure I’ll be able to decribe what I felt during those moments, simply because I myself don’t know clearly. Basically I believe in the Universality of Humanity and I feel we are one with Nature and yet during those moments I was overwhelmed by some other emotion that I cannot define or name. Let me just say that during those moments the sheer proximity of these 2 countries which used to be one blurred the margins for me.
We waited on the open balcony seats for the ritual salute to begin. The sun lashed on us mercilessly and the wait was extremely uncomfortable. Patriotic songs blared from either frontiers. At some point, people, mostly girls began dancing enthusiastically on our side of the wall. There were people decrying the dancing display and there were people who simply watched. I belonged to the latter group – unknown strangers from all over the country holding hands and matching steps for those few minutes.
Finally the ritual salute began, the synchronization on either frontier- the salutes, that split second when the flags touched in an embrace, when the soldiers from either side shook hands- those moments made it all worth while for me. I cannot say what went on in the minds of the rest of the multitude. We came away exhausted but with a lightness in our being.

From the Wagah Border we went to the guest house we were to put up for the night. We freshened up and then proceeded to the Golden temple.
My first glimpse of the Golden Temple glimmering in the dark- the shimmering reflection in the waters around as I descended the stairs -it was so astounding . For me, in that moment the whole world reduced to a bubble and I was enveloped by as sense of immensely soothing serenity and sense of well being. For me it went beyond religion or community. I was lulled into a sense of being alone with the Universe in spite of the sea of people around me.
The Gurudwara is extremely well maintained and the members of the Sikh Community irrespective of their socio- economic standing worked towards the upkeep of the entire place. A member explained to us the history of the Gurudwara , at our request. The experience there made my entire trip most worth while and a most cherishable memory. I came away feeling blessed.

We returned to Delhi the next day. We visited the ISKCON temple, the Lotus (Bahai) Temple. As we were leaving the Lotus temple, we received the +2 results of our children. There were three (including my elder son) of them who had appeared for the +2 exams. Excepting for one of the girls, the results were not much to be rave about and that kind of dampened the cheer during the rest of the trip. Qutb Minar, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi Memorial were all skimmed through in a blur of phone calls.We traveled by the Metro which was a memorable experience. Finally we returned to our lodgings exhausted and vaguely depressed.

On 10 May, we boarded the train back home. I love coming back home….

4 comments:

Gauri said...

Hi Ardra :)

Nice to see you back in action in Blogsville :) Was wondering about the long silence ...

Ardra, could you send me your email address. YOu could email me at gauri0909@gmail.com. Would very much like to get in touch with you thru email :)

Hugs

G

Priyamvada_K said...

Ardra,
Felt good to read your blog! Some people like to travel, some have paradise where they are, as you said.

I used to be awed by snow when in India - saw my first snow in Shimla. After coming to the US and bearing 6 months of snow a year, "snow" became just another 4-letter word :). It can get depressing - the word "lifeless" used to flash through my mind too.

Priya.

MM said...

I was glad to see my Blogroll showing that you had updated after a while!

A huge welcome back!
:)

Velu.

Arunima said...

you have expressed yourself very well but I don't know if you enjoyed the trip.

I love train journeys.