Since moving to Australia in January, I’ve been cutting myself lots of slack – not writing much, wandering around Sydney city streets, exploring new shops, cafes, meeting new people, making friends, and in general roaming about to places close to my living quarters, even when it’s raining. It amazed me when I thought about it today. So much time has passed! Work and travel do keep me busy.
Thought I’d share something of my travels here on the blog. Previous travels since January will come in later, when I have time to consult my diary and type things down here, but for the moment, I’ll share our travel to the Blue Mountains yesterday. I think one day I shall buy a house in the Blue Mountains. Anyway, so yesterday we decided to go to Katoomba.
A well-known tourist spot, Katoomba is famous for the Three Sisters. It’s also well known among trekkers and bush walkers. After catching a train from Sydney Central, we reached the Katoomba Railway Station, enjoying lovely scenery on the way. The journey takes a little more than 2 hours, but is well worth it, especially for those who have no car and wish to do a budget travel. The train ticket costed only $11.
Getting out of Katoomba Railway Station, just across the road is “Blue Mountains Explorer Bus” or as they call themselves; Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours. We caught on of those buses, though it’s a kind of expensive proposal. They charge $40 per person. However in the long run, I think it’s worth it since you have pick-up and drop from every touristy place in Katoomba. They even guide you on what to visit most especially, if you’re short of time.
The bus took us on route to Katoomba falls, after touring us around Narrow Neck lookout, Landslide Lookout and then dropping us to Cliff Drive. We decided for a walk from the Kiosk to the Katoomba (Kedumba in Aborigine language) falls. At the Falls Café, we enjoyed an average Aussie burger with chips and lemonade. Not really a good burger but quite alright. I wouldn’t complain, although I think bringing your own picnic food is a better idea. There are benches outside where you could sit and enjoy your food. A hot cup of coffee is very welcome since it’s quite cool outside. After all, it is Autumn! So, via the Cliff view lookout, we went down to the bottom of Furber Steps and to the base of the Katoomba Falls.
Then came the turn of The Echo Point and The Three Sisters. We trekked our way to the Echo Point from Honeymoon Point, to gaze at the Three Sisters. The story of these three hills is quite interesting. According to Gundungurra dreaming, three beautiful giant sisters named “Meehni”, “Wimlah” and “Gunnedoo” once lived with the Gundungurra people in the Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains. The maidens were in love with three brothers from the neighbouring nation of the Daruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force.
Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed and the war had ended. Unfortunately, the Kuradjuri (clever man) was killed in the in battle and to this day nobody has been able to break the spell to turn the Three Sisters back to their natural form.
Finishing all places to see in one day is I think, quite impossible. By five in the evening, buses are ready to drop you off to the station from your location. And it was biting cold by evening, enough to warrant a sweater and a jacket. Before we left though, we found a charming small house where they were selling home made jams and honey extracted from their garden. We bought some and were off to the railway station. Trains are every hour until mid-night.
We left out Toy and Railway Museum, The Scenic World, Cable Car between the hills and Jamieson Valley trek, Leura Cascades trek, etc. There’s always a next time! 😉
Wise men say, it’s best to know the defects of the life you’re living, slowly & gradually, so that you can take in the experiences and learn from them, to avoid future mistakes. But I say, there are some experiences that don’t teach you much. They only leave you with grave thoughts and despair. I say this because I went through one such experience last Saturday.
Last Saturday, we were on our way to Coorg, Karnataka. My husband surprised me with this trip on Friday when he asked me to pack. It was our second wedding anniversary on Monday, eighteenth February. He wanted to take me into the place I love the most- mountains. He’d reserved a room- a home stay that are famous in Coorg, to give one a taste of the State’s culture, family lifestyle and food. It would have been a wonderful experience- HAD we been able to reach there.
We left the house at 5 AM, to avoid traffic on the way. While the roads may be bad, the route was really scenic. By 10:00 AM, we were only 80 kilometres away from Coorg. The roads in the State of Karnataka are in pitiable state, but that never bothered my husband. He’s a capable driver and knows how to avoid idiots who drive without any regard for traffic rules. He missed out on counting criminal stupidity this time.
We were on Highway 88, driving at the dictated speed, when the car driver ahead of us braked suddenly. My husband let out a muffled curse, trying to avert the car and pulled the brakes, but we were too late. Our car banged into the car ahead of us, jarring our senses and shocking our system.
My husband quickly regained his wits, while I was still getting over the moment and checked us both for injuries. Miraculously, we were unharmed. Getting out of the car, he met the other car’s driver, a man into his adulthood. He was a hired driver, carrying an old sick lady and another woman, who started shouting and ranting, blaming us. She was a local, on her way to Coorg with her mother. In the meanwhile, I got out and tried to find out how the sick woman was. I held her for a few moments while she got over her crying bout and consoled her. After all, she was old and sick, in shock and would need consoling more than I do, I told myself.
Soon a crowd gathered and being locals, everyone stuck together. The woman from the other car, while shouting on my husband incited the crowd and blamed my husband entirely instead of her own driver.
We come from the North of India, where Hindi and English are two major languages spoken by all. We’d been told by many of our known acquaintances that in the South of India, not many speak Hindi and despite knowing, prefer not to speak English. All this while, I’d thought this information to be load of rubbish. Why would anyone be unfriendly or rude? Why would they not help? After all, India is all about hospitality! I now realised they were right. We were in trouble. We did not know their local language called Kannada. We spoke to them in English and Hindi, asking them to help us out. Instead we found ourselves being cornered, with people coming upon us, demanding money and threatening physical harm.
Their car’s back bumper was broken and the backside of the car only dented, while our car was much worse. At least they knew their car was in a working condition. The front bonnet of our car was completely damaged, right side lights broken, and we had no idea what kind of internal damages the car had suffered. We weren’t sure if our car would start since when we opened the car bonnet, we saw lots of spilled liquid. We asked the locals to help but they were too busy in talking to the other woman in their local language. The other car’s driver knew Hindi, but he absolutely refused to help us find out about the damage to our car, and he said that in Hindi!!!
My husband called up Ford road service. I must say, had it been for another car, we may have suffered severe physical damage, but the Ford “Figo” has proved its worth to me by this incident. The impact of the accident had been absorbed by the car’s solid front. After all the parts were checked by my husband as per the directions given by the service guy, he told us we were really lucky and would be able to drive the car back to Bangalore and hand it in at the Ford service and repair station.
While the old sick lady sat in the car, calm and composed now, her daughter called her husband on the phone and started crying. Rush of adrenalin was fierce in my veins. While they started gathering up on my husband, I asked them to leave him alone. (I fear I had been having hysterics.) I told the other woman to gather her wits, she was not the only injured party here, we were much worse and all due to the fault of her driver. She was giving a fine example of how people in Karnataka are- unhelpful to strangers and absolutely insensitive. I repeatedly asked the others to leave us alone in English and Hindi; after all it was the business of two parties, what had they to do with it?
But would they listen? NOPE. Instead, they started coming close, talking and making threatening gestures. I will not deny it. I had started becoming scared. India is not a safe place any more. The memory of New Delhi victim was fresh in my mind, when back in December the entire world had learned of the shameful episode of gang-rape, abuse and finally the death of a woman who had protested against men, trying to protect herself. My husband asked me to go sit in the car while he settled the issue with them. With reluctance, I got in.
A guy from the crowd emerged while my husband spoke to the other woman’s husband over the phone. He spoke English & Hindi. There as no police station for many kilometres. (My husband later explained that he would not have preferred police any way since every one knows how corrupt police is. He pacifies me by saying that we got away lightly by only paying 30,000. Had police been involved, we’d have had to pay the police their share too!! ) He also very bluntly declared that the crowd would remain upon his head. My husband looked at him incredulously as he said, since the other car held two helpless women, all votes were on their side, regardless of whose fault it may have been. He asked my husband to pay for damages for the other car.
The woman had called her local friends who had come in other cars. Apparently they had been deciding upon the sum they could demand from us, for after a while, she asserted the same demand, repeated by her husband on the phone. My husband proposed to give them our insurance details and take the car into the nearest service station, about 180 kilometres away. He said he’d pay if they left us alone, once the damages were calculated. But his offer was rejected, with the other party demanding instant cash of 50,000 Indian rupees!!
Our mind boggled. Obviously, we weren’t carrying such cash, even if we wanted to pay them and get ourselves away from the threatening public. The man who spoke English said, he knew of an ATM 10 kilometres away. Finally, my husband gave in to their demand, negotiated and paid them 30,000 Indian rupees. We had the foresight to ask them to sign a receipt that said, we had paid them in full for the damages and that they wouldn’t ask for anything more and would let us be on our way unharmed. After all, who knew what they’d be up to the next?
We came back to Bangalore and handed in our car at the service station. Thankfully insurance would cover the cost and we may be without transport for two weeks, but I’ve learned my lesson. Do not expect any help from locals in Karnataka. I had heard that it was one of the most corrupt States of India, but this experience has just proved it. I am still very upset and perhaps not able to think selflessly. All I know is that, we could have died out there, and no one would’ve helped us and saying THAT would be no exaggeration.
The more I look at things happening around me, the more I despair for my motherland. India is no more a secular country. India has been divided by its own people into small States and even smaller frame of mind. Now we have become the unhelpful lot. There’s nothing in the world that can make me sadder than this knowledge that my country has literally gone to the dogs.
Some scenic images from before the accident and after the incident itself (two pics on the left).The man in Purple shirt is my husband, trying to keep everyone away, while I sat in the car and clicked pics with shaking hands.
As I’d said, I would write the details of the travel that I recently made. I wish to remember this trip of mine for the simple reason that it taught me to appreciate life all the more. It taught me that in the face of adversity, one must persist to reach their chosen destination or peril may be the last option of life. Let me then begin with how it all started.
Our flight from Bangalore to Delhi was uneventful. A simple chronology of taking a cab in the morning to the airport-stuffing myself with food and coffee and sleeping all through the flight takes care of that part of the trip. J By evening, we were in Delhi. Metros in Delhi are really helpful because we were able to leave all our luggage in the cloak room there. We took the Metro from New Delhi to Rajiv Chowk since it was the best route ahead for a little past time to Connaught Place. It is one of my favourite shopping places apart from South Delhi. Husband was groaning knowing that I’d be secretly making a list of all the things I wanted to buy from here. And quite right he was too! I had my favourite Cavender’s Milk Shake and mentally made a list of the things I would buy once I am back from the trip for a pit stop here. We also shopped for some patties, doughnuts and an assortment of biscuits at Wenger’s.
When we returned to the New Delhi Metro, we collected our luggage and waited for the right time to go to the New Delhi Railway Station. It is a stone’s throw away from the New Delhi Metro Station. There is a Café Coffee Day inside the Metro station, thus an ideal spot for us to wait. Our train to Haridwar was at midnight. When the train arrived, we settled down and I instantly went to sleep while husband looked at me in stupefaction. I was so tired! *laughs* The train journey barely took four hours for we were there by 4:00 AM.
It had rained a while back, leaving a nip in the air. If you’re ever travelling to Haridwar, be sure to handle our luggage with care and keep your head on your shoulders when dealing with Auto rickshaw drivers. They will quote you exorbitant amounts for taking you to nearby places, taking advantage of your ignorance of the place.
Much as it smotes my heart to say it, I advise the pedal rickshaw since I find that they are the honest lot. We may be of tender hearts and not wish to take them on their services but they need to earn too. This is a way of life for them and they must have the opportunity to earn their bread. So we took a pedal rickshaw and went to the famous “Har ki Pauri”.
There is a story that surrounds the city of Haridwar and Har ki Pauri. This city is considered to be one of the seven holiest places that are visited by Hindus. The story of Samudra Manthan (Churning of the cosmic ocean) mentions Haridwar along with three our places where Amrit (Elixir of life and immortality) was dropped by the celestial bird “Garuda” while taking it to the gods. Ah yes! The other places I believe are Ujjain, Allahabad and Nasik. This are the four places where Kumbh Mela takes places. I was in Haridwar during the last Maha Kumbh in Haridwar in 2010. It is said that during the maha-kumbh, all those who come to bathe in the holy river Ganges are atoned from their sins and gain Nirvana. The place where Amrit drops had fallen in Haridwar is called Brahma Kund. Brahma Kund is today popularly known as “Har ki Pauri” literally translated to Feet of the Lord.
The ancient Ganga temple is also situated here. The shops open by about 5:30 AM so we had to wait for our first cup of tea in the morning. In the meanwhile, we enjoyed sitting on the banks of the river that flowed in full strength. I love the cool breeze on my face. When I close my eyes, I can hear the river flowing, sparrows chirping and the sun just about to come out. Though there were a lot of clouds in the sky, nothing could hide the brightening sky. People had started gathering, taking a dip in the river, regardless of the cold that could chill the bones of the elderly.
There is an “Aarti” in the morning at about 5:30AM. The guys associated with the temple roam about on the banks, looking for those who can contribute to the “Ann Bhandara”. It is a sort of program whereby what you donate goes towards feeding the poor on a daily basis. We contributed our share for the Bhandara and the aarti. Since we were the first people to be standing on the bank, the pujari gave me the opportunity to do the aarti with a huge lamp/diya and perhaps thousands (?) of baatis (cotton dipped in ghee/oil) in it. My heart was overwhelmed with joy at such a huge gesture from Mother Ganges. She let me worship her in place of other pundits! My husband who didn’t really believe in god and religion until a few years ago says it was the first sign that we received from Mother Nature that our trip was going to be eventful and unpredictable.
After a hearty breakfast of Puri and Potato subzi, we met our driver who will be our companion for the next 7 days. It was time to go further up the Shivalik Range of mountains. What a lovely ride that was! Every where that one could cast their eyes on, one could see rocky mountain faces.We travelled the path of river Ganga and reached our next stop- “Devprayag”.
Devprayag is the town where the rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet. Together they form the mighty river Ganges that flows down to Rishikesh, Haridwar and further. After resting for a bit for tea and snacks, we moved further on. The journey thus far was uneventful and pleasant. We were yet to feel the cold seep into our bones. We had to stop at Mayapur for the night, not very far away now. What awaited us there then?
I shall write more in the next segment. Until then, Cheers! Enjoy the photo collage and leave loads of comments if you can please! 🙂 Thank you.
“It is worth dying to find out what life is.” – T.S. Eliot
It has been an eventful journey, this one. When I went away on this trip, I had a simple adventure in mind; adventure that was filled with fun and relaxation, some alone time with husband as well as with self.
Instead I found my self brushing shoulders with death. Too tired to talk about it today. Will be writing soon on how the Himalayas tried to seduce me into staying there forever, buried under the snow. My hands had started going blue and so had my lips. But for my husband I may have gone ahead and slept the final sleep. I think it was an experience necessary to finally bring me back to life, appreciating what I have all the more.
For now, am back from my trip in Bangalore and excessively tired. I have yet to unpack and sort out the washables from non-washables and put my socks and shoes to dry out in the sun. The weather here is sunny-glaring at me again, now that I’m back to curse it. we were supposed to have started with rains here but global warming effect has resulted into shining sun and irritating weather. I wish for the rains to cool me down! Ah! that feeling!
As for the FF chapter, keep a wide smile posted on your face my dears ‘cos postings will begin from Wednesday, on a daily basis.
Trust you all are enjoying the sunny weather out there, where ever you are! Keep rocking!