Sunday, 16 December 2012

Photo Story As I perceive It – Part 3

Frame 1
Caption: Cozying up 

Storyline: Not many people venture out to Shivaji Park sea beach on a sunlit morning at 11 am. Even the lazy stray dogs have gone to sleep. With distant view of Mumbai sea-link and the solitude at the place is ideal for the couple of young ones to come closer and share their thoughts.  

Frame 2
Caption: That One Will Suit You

Storyline: Not very far from the seashore, at Shivaji Park Maidan, the Durga Puja Pandal and saree stall in the evening are sure shot attractions for the visitors. The hubby seems to have his choice made up even before the better half skims through a huge stock of sarees as is customary!  

Frame 3
Caption: The First Few Alphabets

Storyline: A few months after the Durga Puja, Saraswati - the Goddess of learning, once again makes her journey to the earth. In School celebrating Saraswati puja, it is most auspicious occasion for a child to begin the journey to literacy. The child is excited, the Panditji is enthusiastic and mother is proud.

Frame 4
Caption: Threshing Is No Easy Job

Storyline: With the advent of Spring, the weather getting hotter, the tourists head for hills of lower Himalayas. Urgam (6,000’) is a tiny village in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, consisting of a few hundred villagers whose occupation is mainly agriculture. The woman is on with her job of threshing wheat grass to remove the grains, watched on by the senior member of the household.

Frame 5
Caption: The Agony

Storyline: On the hill slopes at Birthi, Kumaon, Uttarakhand, the women work side by side along with their men folk, in shoveling the mountain loads of hay. The woman is in agony with shoulder pain and the hubby looks on with concern.

Frame 6
Caption: Melee at Gaurikund 

Storyline: In early summer with snow melting in Garhwal hills, the high altitude Himalayan shrine of Kedarnath reopening, the pilgrims throng the narrow street at Gaurikund in early morning, to begin their journey. The jostling and bickering of pilgrims with pony-wallas, pittoos (porters) and palki-wallas and high decibels is quite annoying for trekkers who are impatient and want to move out of human jam to reach the trek path.

Frame 7
Caption: A Welcome Breather 

Storyline: The 14 km Kedarnath trek is an arduous one and time taking, climbing nearly 6,000’on a constant gradient. One takes numerous breaks to get his breath back and then resume. The trekking father and daughter duo take a short break and make use of the time to watch couple of young local guys frolicking on snow mass on a distant hill slope.  

Frame 8
Caption: Father In Son’s Footsteps

Storyline: The Kedarnath is base for trek to Gandhi Sarovar at the snout of Chorabari glacier which is on foothill of Kedar Massif Himalayan peaks. The early summer snowfall in 2007 made the Sarovar area risky to approach, with possibility of sinking into the lake while walking around it over the snow mass. The young man goes nonchalantly ahead on his mission with a concerned father following and keeping vigilance.

Frame 9
Caption: Moon-struck in morning

Storyline:In early summer, getting rid of accumulated snow through melting, the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh opens up to tourists. With the appearance of the deep blue sky on a sun lit morning, the moon does not go out of vision so easily. The swaying willow trees seem to make their intentions clear of reaching for the moon. 

Frame 10
Caption: In Search Of Himalayan Crow 

Storyline: There is nothing fancy about the Himalayan crow and hence nothing to crow about. Yellow beak differentiates it from the rest of the species we see every day. This not so rare bird is found in high altitudes of Himalayas. A few years back in May 2006, returning from Gaumukh, my friend spotted it hopping very close to us. I merely had a glance at it. Tired after twenty km of trek that day, I did not feel like lifting my camera! Subsequently I spotted it at Badrinath, and before I could point my camera, it was gone. The quest continued till I finally caught up with it at Rangdum, Ladakh in summer of 2012.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dal Lake Is No Dull Lake – Srinagar Revisited

Arriving Srinagar from Mumbai by air on 27th May 2012 in early afternoon, checking in at hotel, we had a late lunch and sauntered around the Dal Gate area and TRC. With no idea as to what we should do, a stroll on Boulevard road adjoining Dal lake was the easiest option. While walking, we were content in watching the stationed houseboats and cruising shikaras on a placid Dal lake. Some distance later we fell an easy prey to a smooth talking, English speaking young Kashmiri shikara-wallah named Samir, for one hour plus cruise on Dal lake for Rs. 500/-; we just stepped on the boat. Even before he started rowing, his blabbering mouth was working overtime, trying to make with us a 2/3 hour deal for extra bucks, which we managed to stave off!   

The shikara has a seating capacity for three in a reclining position and on opposite side a small seat to accommodate two more. We did not lose much time in taking our shoes off and let go our tired bodies on cushioned comfortable seats, savoring the cool breeze blowing across the lake as the boatman took little time to get his shikara out of the congregation of many. His brethren, who were on a similar mission for their evening catch, looked on! 
The first visual on right side was Boulevard road, considered to be one of the posh areas in Srinagar, with high end hotels and restaurants, tourist offices and clean footpath for pedestrians for taking their leisurely stroll.
Dal lake bifurcates as we reached a position parallel to middle of Boulevard road and our boat took a left hand turn and followed half a dozen of shikaras cruising lazily ahead. An ideally located hotel named Hotel Heaven Canal looked heavenly, just over the lake bank with beautiful rose garden in front, which any discerning tourist will fancy.
As we passed by another shikara along side, a photographer was photo shooting a lady in Kashmiri outfit a la Sharmila Tagore from yesteryear movie 'Kashmir Ki Kali'. These are special boats with ‘Digital Photoshop’ written across it, with a photographer at hand and some Kashmiri outfits in its stock. Tourists carry the memory of their Dal lake cruise back home by availing of such facilities being offered at a price. 
As we chat and watch around us, the boat man trifle bored with his rhythmic rowing, interrupts us to impart us with some info on the lake. In his words (spoken in Hindi), “Sir, this lake is around 33 km (perhaps he means periphery). In month of January the entire lake freeze and kids play cricket, football and hockey. In off-season, I do weaving of shawls and carpets and also do the selling on my own.”

Sudden excitement from boatman, “Dada, function boat, right hand side, ooribaba!” made us crane our neck hastily to see a gigantic blue and white function boat reserved for occasions like wedding and other social activities and capable of accommodating 150 – 200 invitees.

We pass through a place on lake which prides in having Masjid, hospital, medicine shop and doctor’s services.
We sight a bird gliding on the water surface near dense growth of aquatic bushes. On query the boatman replies, “This one is Jalmurgi” and cautions, “Hold securely your cameras. If it falls in the lake, it will not come back.” Again when queried whether cameras fall into the lake, pat came the reply, “They fall in thousands.” Meanwhile we pass by a guy in a small boat with fishing rod in a quiet corner, patiently waiting for a catch. 
As we were having an exciting cruise, the boatman sensed an opportunity and once again took his chances of pushing through a deal for two hours of boat ride. We deftly avoided the proposal and had a sudden view of an aquatic bird similar to crane or heron perched up on a wooden stump in backdrop of a houseboat named ironically as ‘King Of Sea’, from a very close proximity.
We pass by beautiful Nehru Garden not to be confused with Nehru Park at the foothill of Shankaracharya hill. This portion of Dal lake is known as Golden lake. The houseboats rentals on both sides of this waterway are anything between Rs. 5,000/- to Rs. 15,000/- per day. 
Dal lake is by all means a floating town with houseboat for staying and floating market for purchasing any types of commodities.  We caught a boat selling biscuits snacks, soft drinks and much more. 
In June / July day temperature at Srinagar goes thirty degree plus during day time and ice cream is a welcome commodity and of course any time is tea time. The boat serving ice creams and tea and snacks was stationed with a few guys buying their cup of tea. But, we did not want to lose our precious floating time.
We pass by a large green area partly submerged in water. The boatman resumes, “This is called floating land. Local people spread seeds of Lauki, Khira and Tomato on it. The vegetable grows easily in this land without much fuss with water and nutrition from lake. The whole land is tied to wooden stumps embedded in the lake subsoil and can be shifted from one place to another location.
Some more advice came from Boatman for not buying Kesar (Saffron) from Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam where it may be cheaper but will not be of original quality. Even he requests us not to buy the same product offered by floating boat-shops on the lake. He claims all the products like Kesar, shawls are supplied from lake side shops even to the Srinagar markets.  The intention of the boatman was became more clear as he interjects, “The commodities at shops lining the lake cost less as they do not have to give taxes unlike the shops at Srinagar market.” We reached a few shops alongside the lake, where one can hop from the boat and step on to a platform and enter the shop; in short hop-step-shop.
We had some shopping done at Royal Kashmir of dry fruits and Kesar. Kesar was priced at the rate of Rs. 300/- per gram. On our trip towards Pahalgam at Pampore a few days later, we got the same product at Rs.200/- per gram. My shopping of some stone jewelry from Farooq and Sons proved to be good as I did not get that kind of product in other regions of Kashmir. We came across more gorgeous looking shops but refrained from wasting our time. 
Some distance later it was interesting to read the names of some of the finest looking houseboats with fancy names – Goona Palace, Lake Palace, Alps, Chicago, Beauty Star, New Zealand Deluxe, Almost Heaven Deluxe, New Lucky Flower and so many other phoren sounding names! Surely the idea is to lure the overseas tourists to houseboats made with walnut wood having delicate designs, intricately carved, showcasing the artistry of Kashmiri craftsmen. 
We were back to our starting place, immensely happy. But the Dal lake story does not end here. Next day in morning we travelled in our rented car by Boulevard road and had another look at the Dal lake activities. Near the floating post office we had a few minutes break.
The second halt was at the base of Shankaracharya hill facing Dal lake. From here one sees the most important island and happening place in Dal lake known as Nehru Park. Bollywood film shootings of blockbuster of yester year like 'Kashmir Ki Kali' and not so old films like 'Gul Gule Gulfam' and 'Mission Kashmir' were shot here. 

Driving up on tree-lined hill road on way to Shankaracharya temple with occasional view of Dal lake as seen from elevation appeared to be more enticing. A place with a large opening amidst the trees, has been created and named as ‘view point’ for tourists. What an awesome view from there! The enormity of the lake is very much apparent. Many islands and land mass around the lake is clearly visible. A large number of houseboats on water body make a picturesque scene. Major portion of Nehru park is visible from here and definitely looks pretty. The distant hill with Zorawar Fort on top is faintly visible through early morning haze.

The shikaras moving in slow fluid motion is worth watching for hours but our tight schedule did not permit us this luxury. 

After having our darshan at the Shankaracharya temple, where photography is prohibited, I picked up my camera after coming to the view point once again while going downhill, to catch up some action on the water body of Dal lake. Morning time looked to be ideal for speed boats carrying tourists for a cruise. Some adventurous tourists took part in water surfing, latching on to the rope hooked on to the speed boats. We bade goodbye to Srinagar after a short sweet overnight stay to drive to Gulamarg.

* Many photos are of low resolution as they have been created from video clips. I have tried to make up for that shortcoming by my words. However, viewers wishing to have more fun and nine minutes of patience may see the video created for our shikara ride full of interesting scenes in Dal lake and equally interesting interaction with boatman. The video link is as follows: