Monday, 31 December 2012

Travel Photos - GOA (My fav. destination)

Beach huts @ Agonda Beach

On way to Agonda Beach
Evening on Colva beach

A beautiful stretch between Colva and Benaulim

Palolem Beach
View from the left end of Palolem Beach
The king of good times

One of the rivers on way to Dudhsagar falls

An evening @ Palolem Beach

At the foot of Dudhsagar falls

The 2 Portuguese tunnels on way to Dudhsagar falls
Dudhsagar railway station lashed with heavy rains
The beautiful Dudhsagar water falls
A passenger train passing 
The bottom part of Dudhsagar falls
That's ME

Farm workers sowing paddy crop on way to Kulem Station

Vaishnodevi - Jai Mata Di (My first chopper ride)

2nd Dec. to 7th Dec. was booked almost 2 months in advance for my trip to Vaishnodevi and Ludhiana.  One of the company's whom I represent in Gujarat had sponsored this entire trip for all the distributors and few dealers who had completed the sale targets.  And but of course I had to go with all of them, no choice given... ;)  We were in total 54 people including the sales team and all the clients.  To visit Vaishnodevi was an unanimous choice with everyone and along with it the factory visit at Ludhiana was arranged.  

The schedule was a pretty tight one with a 32 hrs. train right from Ahmedabad to Jammu and another 22 hrs. train right from Ludhiana to Ahmedabad.  In between there were 2 bus rides too.  One was of 2 hrs. from Jammu to Katra and 2nd one was of 6 hrs from Katra to Ludhiana.

Everyone coming  from different corners of Gujarat assembled on platform # 2 @ Kalupur Railway Station and after greeting each other we all boarded the train and left at 11:15 am by Jammu Tavi Express.  The next few hours went in allotting the seat nos. to everyone and due to some last moment cancellations and some tickets in waiting list it was ultimately revealed that we were 2 berths short.  So finally we had to resort to the same old very Indian thing called #JUGAAD... ;)  

@ Ferozpur Cantt. railway station
The very thought of clients from all corners of Gujarat meeting and traveling together for the next 5 days together was very exciting to me.  Men of different ages, speaking different dialects and with different mentality, all together was surely exciting for me.  I kept moving in and between 2 coaches and kept on conversing with different groups.  Few had already started playing cards and few others did the same but with bets.  While some were discussing their business and some were just relaxing some were introducing themselves as they were meeting the others for the first time. Recently in the last few years this has been kind of a sales trend followed by many companies to take distributors and dealers on travel trips on successful completion of sales targets.

Our train stopped as someone had died on the track.
The journey went on without any problems and the high point of it was when I tempted a group of my generally shy distributors to share their views on relationships (marriage) between a guy and a girl and also the ways of upbringing a male and female child and why this country has so many social problems since long.  And but of course everyone had their own opinions on the coming elections too.  The discussion became so intense that many others left their place to join us and to express their views also.  The discussion went on for few hours with some telling their own situations at home and few others jokingly describing how scared they are of their wives.... ;)  Of course it comes out of respect but still its funny many Indian husbands fear or just find it too hot to handle their wives sarcasm.

View of the hill at night.
Anyways next day evening we reached Jammu station and 2 buses were waiting along with the company team to take us to Katra.  A bus drive of about 2 hours and we reached our hotel. It had a perfect location from where the view of the Vaishno devi hill was majestic.  After allocating the rooms to all, we gathered for dinner and discussed the next days climb along with the tour organizers.

A group of around 15, had decided to climb the hill at 23:00 hrs. so as to return by next day noon and rest for the whole evening.  While most of the others wanted to sleep and after having breakfast the next day were going to climb. We had some elders above 50 and some with weight problems and hence in the morning it was decided to hire some ponies.  While rest went on foot.  The walk to the Vaishno devi bhawan is 12 kms which includes a steep walk for the first 6 kms which is the most hard part and the rest 6 kms is a mixture of some walk and climb.  I had decided to stay back as I was not sure how my weak back would respond to the climb.  I'm as such for the time being advised by the doctor not to walk for long distances.  

Chopper ferrying pilgrims To & Fro
from Katra to Sanjichat

By noon my uncle arrived and the company had arranged one chopper ride for two persons.  So we decided to take it and come back on foot.  This chopper rides are always packed and get booked many weeks before but again after some JUGAAD the company had managed it for us.  So first after taking the token and paying the price of Rs. 699/- per person for one way, we finally checked in. There are 2 companies operating, Pawan Hans and Global Vectra.  Before boarding one has to check in just as we do it for flights.  There was a waiting for about 15 min. and then our turn came.  The capacity of the chopper is 5 - 6 people excluding the pilot and the people are selected as per the weight.  Once on the helipad one guy explains all where to sit and which direction to walk towards the chopper and after the chopper lands.

Luckily I was told to sit in the front next to the pilot and instructed not to touch the two control pedals in front and to walk from the front of the chopper after getting out.  The chopper finally arrived and 6 of us boarded within 30 secs. and in less than 45 secs. the chopper was up.  The initial lift send tickles in my tummy and I could see the ground from the transparent floor.  Slowly the chopper went up and up and the view around was simply majestic.  Snow clad mountain ranges could be seen at far distance and Katra town was looking beautiful.  The ride lasted for around 7 min. and finally we landed on the helipad which was like 3 kms away from the bhawan.  The walk to the bhawan was pretty easy as there was no climbing or steep slope.

What I found surprising was that entire place was absolutely clean with proper garbage handling arrangements.  Food stalls and drink stalls were in abundance and the quality and price was good.  There were enough places to stay overnight also.  While entering the bhawan, no one is allowed to carry anything except a coconut and a piece of red cloth (Mata ki chunni) which are to be offered.  Not even a pen is allowed inside.  And one more thing, no leather shoes or belt or wallet is even allowed inside.  After getting checked and frisked at 3 points finally I was in the queue to enter the tunnel leading to the actual place of worship.  Luckily the queue was not very long and in 10 - 15 min. I was seeking blessings from the Goddess.  This queue normally is very very long and sometimes it can take 2 - 3 hours before one can actually enter the bhawan.  You are allowed to just stand there for few seconds and the security than immediately tells you to move ahead for others to come and pray.

So then begins the descend. All the way up just for few seconds ? Yes that's how it is.  We grabbed our stuff kept in the locker and started walking back.  It was around 16:00 or 16:30 and the sun was shining enough to keep us warm. We just kept on walking and walking covering km by km.  There were lots of people who were climbing and I thought they would reach by night.  Many were climbing with luggage which indicated that they would stay in some guest house and go for the prayers early in the morning.

View from the hotel of Himalayas.
Well after walking few kms I was really thirsty and stopped for few min. for some water.  I didn't had a 5 rupee change and so the guy gave me a chocolate.  I was holding it in one hand and suddenly from somewhere a kid came up to me and poked me.  I was like hey what do you want.  He again poked me and asked for the chocolate.  I was so surprised that I didn't know what to do and I just handed over the chocolate to him.  Well the chocolate I guess had his name written on it ;) .  The sun had now started to go down.  We had just covered the flat part of 6 kms and the steep slope was about to start.  I could still see the valley from the top which was by now entirely covered by a thick layer of mist.  I cursed myself that why did I leave my camera in the hotel.  The view was just breath taking and I could have clicked hundreds of pics.  We kept on walking and enjoying the beautiful sunset and after a few kms walk when I looked the sun was now perfectly orange and its golden rays had turned the white mist into light yellow.  I was just stunned on seeing this scene.

By now the pathways were looking dark and soon the lights came on.  The number of people who were walking up had increased and also now we were walking pass the steep slope.  The walkway was now divided into two.  One part was for people who were walking and the other part was for the ponies carrying people on them.  I could people of all different ages.  Kids from the age of 5 - 6 years to elders who were barely able to walk with the support of a stick.  There was one guy who was climbing in sleeping position.  Now that was shocking.  I had even heard that there are thousands of followers who climb right up there in different ways.  Some climb bare foot.  Some climb by touching there nose till the top.  Some carry their infants in their hands all the way up.  Just make me wonder, how strong their belief is in this particular place of pilgrimage.

By now we had covered almost 9 kms and the last few kms were left.  My back had given up and it was paining.  My calf muscles were indicating me to take some rest.  My feet were paining.  But I knew if I sat even for few min. I'll be done and I won't be able to walk continuously.  Even my uncle was of the same opinion.  So we kept on walking and to reach down quickly we took the short path of around 500 - 600 steps which were broad and quite high.  Those steps made us more tired and the walk after the steps were over became more difficult, but say around 21:00 hrs finally we reached the foot of the hill and took a rickshaw back to the hotel.  OMG what a way down it was.  My back, my feet, my calf muscles, my shoulders all were in pain and the first thing came to my mind was a hot shower.

It was a memorable trip.  Somehow I still feel the spiritual power as the people say made me visit the top and come back.  A trip which I was not willing to do got over and was truly wonderful with some new experience.