Archive | December, 2012

India chronicles – a few random stories

31 Dec

The humble businessman

“Assalamualaikum,” he greeted the husband casually and placed his bags impel bags onto the floor as he retired into the comfortable lounge chair next to us.

In his fluent English, ” where are you going?” he asked and as the conversation went on, we discovered he was a businessman in Hong Kong for 50 years and has since retired in South India.

Dressed in his simple white kurta matched with a white bottom, one would never guess about his past. He was headed for Hong Kong for a exhibition he was interested in.

In his low voice and peaceful ways, he advised us to go for *Haj if we can and even discussed the availability of prayer area in the transit area.

We went on to talk about ourselves, his life and family as well as our flights. I sensed a contented man who has had his shares of hardships, pains and happiness.

I turned to husband and said, ” it’s these conversations with other travelers which makes traveling so meaningful,” with a far away look in my eyes.

* Haj is the fifth obligation which every Muslims has to complete if he can afford to do so.

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India chronicles – a few random stories

31 Dec

Our last day in Leh

We didn’t really go out much the whole day, I started packing here and there and snacked when I was hungry.

We eventually left for our lundin after ‘Asr in Leh which was around 5pm. The streets of Leh’s main bazaar wasn’t brimming with activity as usual instead the days’ activities seemed to be winding down. We were done with our shopping so it didn’t really matter if the shops were closing.

It did matter a few days ago when we were out for lundin when ALL shops were closed and restaurants were open but they were not lit. On our way to the restaurant, we met Haider Ali who told us that the network is down so all shops has closed early. At the restaurant, we were told that there is no electricity in Leh that day from 2-9pm and there is no signal either. We had our dinner in the dark until light came on at 6.30pm via generator.

Actually we didn’t really know what really happened that day because there is usually no electricity in the day in the whole of Leh almost everyday. We just get used to it. Shops would appear closed because it’s dark inside but it is indeed open. We seat closer to the windows in restaurant so that it wouldn’t be so dark. We bathe at night or early in the morning when there is electricity via generator.

Yes back to the last day, we went to the New Wazwan Planet and we were greeted not too enthusiastically by or usual waiter, a middle aged man. He gave us 2 menus and told us that there is no meat today. When I tried to ask more as we were leaving, he said its ok. We thanked him and left to another restaurant. We planned on trying another of their meat varieties but were disappointed.

At Master Chef, we were greeted with an enthusiastic, ” hello!” when we were given the menu. Set on butter chicken, he disappointed us by saying it’s meatless day in whole of Leh and when prodded further, he tried to avoid me. I had the impression that his English was quite good because he served us every time we frequent the restaurant in his polished English. I realized he knew enough English to serve what was on the menu and he would come and ask,” anything else sir?” at the end.

As we left the restaurant after a somewhat meatless satisfying meal, I caught sight if Saumi! I exclaimed that it was our last day and we would be leaving the next day. We chatted of our day and Pangong Tso of which we concluded wasn’t a good time of the year to visit as it didn’t live up to our expectations of what it promised. Suddenly our party of 3 became a party of 4 when Pooja, the little Rajastani girl joined us. I was meaning to meet her an pass her some more rupees just because she was a 14 year old girl henna girl and it makes me sad to not be able to do anything about it. She was such a sweet girl because she refused the extra money when I showed her how beautifully my henna turned out and that we decided that the money was for her. She eventually took it 🙂

They were saying how pretty the colour of the henna was on my palm was and that the wine red indicated that my husband loved me alot. Hee…
After some time, we bade our goodbyes and walked towards Upper Tukcha Road only to be faced with strong winds blowing the sand into the air blurring the vision ahead of us. Sand was forcing its way into my face; my eyes and mouth. This has never happened before in our short stay in Leh…I like to think its because we are leaving…

India chronicles – a few random stories

31 Dec

The Rajastani girl

I met her once sitting by the side of the road with a board in front of her where she neatly placed some of her henna moulds and some design books. Draped in her worn red shawl and her beige shalwar khamis, she looked small and vulnerable.

She looked up with her dark, kohl smeared eyes at me as I walked towards her.

“how much do you charge?” I asked

“120 rupees for this and this” she replied while gesturing towards the front and back of her small hand.

“oh ok, I will come back on the 16th which is before I leave to go home, I want to have henna on my hand before I leave Leh, ok?” I tried to explain to her as simply as possible.

She replied with a small ok and a smile at the corner of her lips, ” I will be here and I will wait for you.”

I tried to ask her what time she comes daily.

” I try to return at 10 in morning and go at 6″ she replied kindly.

Everyday for the rest of the days, we would walk past where her board is but she is rarely there. Sometimes we see her with a customer. Other times, she would be chatting happily with her companions; other guys sitting by the road with their shoe cleaning and shoe polishing tools.

On Thursday when we were on our way to the restaurant for breakfast, we saw the little Rajastani girl and she broke into her sweet smile as soon as she saw me and she said “Saturday right? I will wait for you!”

Saturday morning, we went for breakfast and bought water. We headed to where she usually was at 10am. She was nowhere to be found but the guys who cleaned shoes were there. We stood there for a while hoping she would turn up soon.

“hi, kaha se tum?” a suave policeman came up to us. Husband replied that we didn’t know Hindi.

” Where are you from?” he tried again in his polished English.

” Singapore,” we replied with a smile.

“You’re Muslim?” he enquired curiously. He looks really happy to hear that we were Muslims.

” I am Abdul Gani,” he exclaimed proudly with his hand gesturing to his chest where his name was on his policeman uniform.

“Your good name please?” he asked and we replied politely.

“Masyallah!” he replied happily and called his police friends to come towards us and he introduced them.

Policeman is from Nubra Valley , turtuk area. We stayed at Hunder when we went to Nubra valley.

Then he asked, “you are couple?” and we replied that we were married. ” Are you married?” to which he said not yet. He shared that people in Ladakh got married between the ages of 25 to 35 and he was 26. When asked,” people here have love marriages or match made marriages,” he replied that there are both types as that he preferred love marriage. When probed further, he shared that he had a girlfriend but mom doesn’t agree. We told him that maybe with time mom would agree. He smiled. He went on with his job.

We went opposite to sit on a cemented low wall while waiting for the little Rajastani girl.

She arrived at twenty to eleven in the attire she comes in daily. I believe the policeman told her that we were waiting for her so she turned and gave a little wave. We went over and she said ” sorry I will give you discount for you so nice you wait me.”

We had a conversation about us and her while she drew prettily on my right palm. I explained to her what I did for a living and what the husband did. We talked about water and how cold the weather is now. I realized she was a pretty smart child of 14 years old and she has been working in Leh since 4 years ago. When she asked if we had any children, I said no we don’t. She replied,” it’s ok you are so young just like 20 years old and children is very difficult to look after, feed and everything, you work tired the have baby not easy.” I realized that her perspective of children was different. Other people we met thought having children was a great thing.

She said,” you my best friend so I give you good price, other foreigners, I ask for Rs800 to Rs900 for this design.” I told her that we are leaving Leh soon so we are running out of rupees so I cannot afford so much. She looked a little sad but she said,” you are my friend, I give you good price.”

While I was getting to know little Rajastani girl, policeman said to husband, ” brother, come sit here,” he placed a piece of the cardboard box on the step of the shop we were sitting at. They chatted with other people and other shop owners so husband was entertained too. It turned out policeman was a grad from Jammu University.

We paid the Rajastani girl Rs350 for the henna. We bade our goodbyes and went on our way.

Leh to Nubra Valley

30 Dec

Leh – Nubra valley

We arranged for this trip with Haider Ali, owner of Mountain Call which is located opposite Master Chef in main bazaar area. He is really friendly and a nice guy. He didn’t expect us to pay a single cent before the trip and only after everything, we paid. No receipt nothing as well haha…

I see the pattern, the Muslim tour operator arranged for a Muslim driver while a Buddhist tour operator arranged for a Buddhist driver when we went to Pangong Tso. But then again it could be a coincidence.

The sights were gorgeous beyond words!

The company was good; Saumi, a Japanese girl who lives and works in Delhi as a Japanese teacher, Ian, a Singaporean guy who lives and works in Slovenia and our Ladakhi driver. I again realized that I didn’t take extra effort to get to know the locals, the driver in this case, because it means not being able to speak comfortably in English. I shall make effort next time.

We went from Leh to Khardung La, the highest motor-able pass in the world. On the way up, it started to snow :)) when we were up there, we were shivering like crazy! It was snowing and freezing cold. Im not a tea person but when you are up there, you just must have something hot so kashmiri tea it was.

Our driver was really good at maneuvering the never ending curves of Ladakhi road. Even then, I couldn’t help but feel sick, had to have a sweet in my mouth most times.

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We arrived at Diskit Monastery at 1pm. We were not really into monasteries but just went up and have a look at the scenery which surrounds it and went back down. Most monasteries in Ladakh are built in the mountains.

After that, we stopped by at a open air restaurant for lunch. It was more like a coffeeshop. The husband and I shared a vegetarian fried rice. For the journey, you don’t really want to have a full stomach.

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We headed to Hunder village soon after and the driver brought us to a Jamshed Guesthouse and hotel which I believe is his friend’s guesthouse. We negotiated for Rs500 for the room. The owner was a nice person but it was Saumi who did all the talking since she speaks Hindi.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the guesthouse and we even tried to trek up a gompa which we caught sight of from the terrace of the guesthouse. Ian had the cube puzzle thing we messed with all afternoon. We chatted with one another. We plucked apples from the apple tree from the owner’s garden, washed it at the stream and ate them. We sat by the garden and spotted a rainbow after the rain. We went to the kitchen where the owner was cooking our dinner while Saumi was talking to him and leaning how to cook. Ian asked if I wanted to smoke some Indian medicine which he obtained from Jammu. Saumi smoked some. When I asked her how it was she said she didn’t really taste it. I declined the offer as he said you get a high feeling after smoking and I felt it was wrong. We took photos from the terrace. We wandered around to see some ponies. We saw some tourist camping in the ground near our guesthouse. We went to see the double-humped camels of Hunder. We had some Maggie which Saumi stole from the driver of another group of tourist who came to live in the same guesthouse. We all had a taste. We rushed the owner to prepare our dinner. We had sumptous dinner comprising of dal, chappatis, plain rice and aloo gobi with cauliflower. Saumi bargained for mint tea to be served after dinner. We paid Rs120 per person for dinner that night. We turned in at 8.30pm.

Saumi speaks Hindi like an Indian! You should see her mingling with the locals and how friendly they were with her. Another resolve to learn Hindi before my next trip to North India in the future InsyAllah.

During my last trip to Thailand and Vietnam, I resolved to learn riding so that we can go around in a bike instead of a car. Alhamdulilah I managed it with His blessings. Sadly, husband doesn’t allow me to rent a bike here because he said Leh’s too dangerous 😦 but it wouldn’t be called an adventure if I can’t ride in Leh.

Leh to Pangong

29 Dec

I know the title says Pangong but we didn’t know we were headed for Pangong until we were 3/4 way there.

We booked for both Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley with this agent from Mountain Breath. He did our permit for us and charged us Rs500 each. Actually I knew we can do it ourselves at the DC office and it wouldn’t cost so much but he said that there might be long queue and troublesome so he would do it for us and we agreed. I kind of regret, not because he didn’t do a good job but because we could have saved some money and I knew about it. The agent, didn’t catch his name, was a very nice person who explained to us quite simply how things would be like and told us the prices of the trips we plan to take. He showed us the guide book which states clearly all the prices of trips you wish to take in/out/ around Ladakh. He followed quite closely to the price in the guide book. We told him that we would go for whichever he can find other people to share the taxi with.

When we went to visit him to collect our passports after he helped us make permits, he told us he found 2 other people to go to Nubra valley.

In the morning, we packed up and checked out of the guesthouse. We told them we were going to Nubra and would be back the following day.

We met our traveling companions soon after near main bazaar. It was Fransisca, a Swiss lady, Jeremy, an American boy, is and the Ladakhi driver. Couldn’t catch his name either as he was also a Buddhist as can be seen from the picture in his car. He is from Sakthi a town quite close to Leh. We passed it on our way to Pangong. He was a really good driver. He drove on till Chang La Pass which is the 3rd highest motorable pass with the 3rd highest cafeteria in the world. It was snowing lightly as we climbed to that pass so it was super cold even with the jacket on. The cold wind was like biting me 😦 the driver though didn’t have anything on except his short sleeved cotton t shirt and a pair of jeans and he seemed fine.

I thought we would pass Khardung La Pass and not Chang La Pass. I brushed the thought away because I thought we would be going to Khardung La next before ending up at Nubra.

After stopping at another place, I saw a sign which says Pangong Tso and then we stopped at another booth where we had to pay the entrance fee Rs10 each and the ticket stated Pangong. When confirmed with the driver, it was clear that we were headed for Pangong and Nubra valley from my limited knowledge of Ladakhi region was on the opposite side of Leh.

Fransiska really wanted to go to Nubra valley as someone told her that she had to go there and she would like the nature and the camels and all the other wild life there. Even when we reached Pangong Tso, she didn’t know we were not going to Nubra valley. She thought it was nice that we stopped by this beautiful blue water lake before continuing on to Nubra. We showed her the entrance ticket and she was bewildered. She blames us being in India where things like that can go wrong.

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We had our lunch at the 3 idiots restaurant and she joked that we were the 4 idiots.

We were supposed to stay the night but since Fransiska and Jeremy weren’t meant to be at Pangong, they would rather go back after lunch. I wanted to stay because we were supposed to watch the stars at night and we travelled many km for 5.5 hours to Pangong. I don’t think I could take another 5 hour drive back on the same day.

After some time at near the lake, we went to tell the driver, who was clueless and he spoke little English, that we wanted to see the guesthouse and then decide if we want to stay.

The guesthouse which was called Pangong Inn, was just a bed in a room and the toilet was a huge cemented area with a dirty toilet bowl in the corner and a sink with a bottle in it in the other corner. There is no light in the toilet in the day or at night. What?!

So we voted; Jeremy wanted to leave, Fransiska was the nicest, she said she didn’t mind staying if I wanted to stay, the husband wanted to leave so we left.

The husband wasn’t feeling too well so he sat next to the driver. Half way through Jeremy was feeling sick. We stopped for a while. He sat next to the driver. I had my bouts of carsickness but I always had a candy in my mouth or was distracted while talking to Fransiska. She was a pleasure to talk.

We went all the way back and to the agent’s office where he explained that it was his mistake and that Jeremy and Fransiska didn’t need to pay if they didn’t want. Fransiska would sort it out with the person she paid. Jeremy havent paid at all so it was all good for him.

Both Jeremy and Fransiska were in Leh to work for a period of 7 weeks. It was part of Fransiska’s job as a teacher in Switzerland. Fransiska really wanted to see Nubra valley before they started work on Monday.

Actually the Buddhist people in Leh have Tibetan sounding name if I’m not wrong and they are more difficult to catch than Chinese names. Our agent for Pangong was buddhist.

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Gardens by the bay

28 Dec

I’m disappointed yet again. Really I’m now convinced that there is absolutely nothing locals can enjoy here except the food. My recent visits to the East coast beach and today to gardens by the bay was disappointing.

Yay!

The only fascinating thing was the super grove trees which one can see while driving on ECP.

Boo!

Besides that, I couldn’t find the dragonflies in the huge dragonfly lake which was a man made lake with absolutely nothing to see. It’s just a lake. Oh as usual there are a couple of man made mammoth sized dragonflies in the middle of the lake.

Boo!
We walked through almost all of the garden area except for the conservatories. Could it be all free admission areas so they were BORING? The fruit and flower area had no fruit and flowers except a few. The undercover area which was suppose to feature mushrooms and such had no mushrooms at all. I started wondering I something was wrong with the signs.

Enjoy some of the photos we took of the Super grove trees. We didn’t pay $5 for the OCBC skywalk because to be honest the canopy walk in Macritchie is way better. The bridge wasn’t that high so I’m not sure what we are supposed to be able to see from there.

I gave this place a try because my mum wanted to go and because gardens meant flowers and mum loves flowers. There were flowers along the way but nothing unusual. Perhaps we would have seen more unique flowers in the conservatories.

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