The Mists of Fagu

One fine day, two friends, women mind you, decided to do what they had never done before. Go on a road trip. Both were adventurous, willing to risk it on a wing and a prayer, and drive on the hills, something which at least one of them had never done before, and the other had done only once.

So with passion, good wishes and an extremely supportive family, the two of us set off on a never before trip. After much soul searching, looking at blogs of all kinds, surfing the net for lesser known weekend getaways from Delhi, we decided on Fagu. Coming from a family which has a travel bug, it was easy to get feedback for the place. After all both of us preferred less crowded places and were the sort of travellers who like being parked in one place, with a book and coffee, and mountains for company.

And boy, what a journey it turned out to be.


On researching, this is what we found out, Fagu is a small gem of a place 22 kilometres ahead of Shimla. Shimla, a preferred destination once, is now akin to Chandni Chowk of the hills (courtesy a friend). Located on the Hindustan-Tibet road, a tiny hamlet, it offers beautiful views of the valley and mountains around including the Greater Himalayas (as some sites claimed). One can see beautiful apple orchards, and hills all around. It is conveniently located near other sites such as Kufri and Narkanda. The most dominating part of the landscape is the fog, which descends on the hamlet everyday, as we were soon to find out.

The Roadtrip

With a lot of excitement we set off on our journey driving for the very first time, with the Google Maps as our navigator. We made good time and were in Shimla, by afternoon. The journey was uneventful, as we stopped at Macdonalds for breakfast near Chandigarh and then started to ascend the hills. A few wrong turns later we were on the right track. The greenery, the cool air and the roadside small shops were a delight. We couldn’t wait to reach Fagu. After google map sort of gave up in Shimla, we did our usual Indian Google Map service, which was to ask the roadside pedestrians and traffic police. As we turned onto the road to Fagu, the air instantly became chilly. It was the middle of June, but the hills did not disappoint despite the global warming. As we approached Fagu it started to rain, a good omen for us.

The Apple Blossom

Our destination was Apple Blossom, though the websites we checked out before coming really gave a sad picture of it, but people who had stayed there before, had given good reviews. Suddenly, we saw this colonial looking white bungalow seemingly placed on a ledge. As we took the winding road towards Fagu, our gut feeling said this was it. And suddenly on the side of the road appeared the sign welcoming us to Fagu and right across was The Apple Blossom.

To say our stay was dreamy is an understatement. On the first day morning, clear skies welcomed us. But being the only good hotel in the vicinity, it was packed with tourists, screaming children and people stopping over for tea. On top of it one of us fell sick. All this almost threatened to upset all our plans but the weather saved it. From afternoon onwards fog could be seen settling in and chilly winds would start blowing. By night the hotel would take on the look of a setting for a perfect ghost story, and you could only see nothing around you. The trees from the window would take on a fantastic look as if floating in air.

The service of the hotel was not bad, and the food ok, though they tried to feed us dal and chawal mixed as a substitute for kichidi!

We spent two beautiful days, reading and sipping tea, parked in one place, enjoying the views of the hills and white gauze covering the apple trees.

The Return

Soon it was time to return. We packed our bags, checked out, and then the unthinkable happened. Our car did not start! It had choked up in the weather. Well, the two superwomen got into action, and then began  a harrowing tale of drivers and other tourists pushing the car, to trying to reach Volkswagen help service, which happened only to be in Chandigarh. After coordinating for hours with various tow companies, and taxi drivers, by afternoon we were on our way back. We had to stop over one more day in Chandigarh. But even as we headed back admist the rain and fog, we could not help but feel that we would be back.





Zara and the Culottes

I first spotted a Culotte (or I think it was one) in Inglorious Basterds, the classic Quentin Tarantino movie. I love Tarantino, his humour, his vision and his intelligence. So going back to the Culotte and Tarantino: in walks the fearless heroine in grey culottes, black high boots and a grey sweater. And I was floored. No, I didn’t watch this movie yesterday, but in 2009 when it got released and I have never stopped fantasising about it.

I searched stores, kept my eyes open when I travelled abroad and then slowly gave up. Though forgot about it? No. I don’t know if it was the actor who impressed me, by the way she carried it, or the look itself.

Imagine my surprise then, when I walk into the Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, headed towards my all time favourite store, Zara, and see the Culotte hanging on the mannequin. It was a dream come true. In I rushed, happy to finally see “the look” materialise, and bought everything else but that.

I simply forgot. Zara does that to you. I could sound very shallow eulogising a brand. But how I love their styles. If I could, I would marry the store!

And then I saw it on the App that I have on my phone. Yes, I am obsessed.  Being the curious researcher that I am, oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that by this time I did Continue reading “Zara and the Culottes”

Haider, Hamlet, War and Common Man

To be or not to be…

Hamlet:  one of my favourite plays. I love the existential angst of the protagonist. The dilemma of a man, caught in a web, not of his making. The price someone, who is sensitive, intelligent, and ahead of his times, can end up paying for being in a role he doesn’t want to play. Trying to fulfil it to the best of his ability though his heart is not in it.

It was with much trepidation and excitement that I looked forward to watching Haider. What I like about classics are their eternal themes. Each successive generation can interpret it in its own way, and still stay true to the story. I love Vishal Bhardwaj’s body of work. The intelligence, creativity and boldness, evident his cinema. However, I was warned that this movie is brutal and violent. So I stayed away when it was released. Till it came on the cable (or whatever its called these days!)  After all I was studying literature, how could I miss it!

And I was not disappointed. I could never imagine how a politically sensitive issue could be handled so brilliantly. How this timeless story could come alive and be relevant even today. As I watched the closing credits, my mind wandered back a few years. It was 2003, my father was insisting on a pilgrimage to Amarnath, and though I am not much for temples and crowds, I couldn’t let him go alone. Thus, we found ourselves packing and preparing for the long trek. The only time I had visited Kashmir was as a toddler. My cousins lived in Srinagar. In later years their stories of brooks near homes and apple orchards, would leave me envious and in awe, that a place could be that beautiful. Over the years Kashmir was destroyed by a war which not only seems unending but makes me wonder if the people fighting it, and making sure it never gets over, even remember why it started!

Going back to 2003, our plane landed in Srinagar. I can never forget my first impression. The clean pristine air, the beautiful mountains, and the slight chill. It all reminded me of nothing less than London! Where I had travelled as a 19 year old. So this was Kashmir, the beauty left me stunned. I remember thinking how can people be turning this heaven into hell? Alternatively, so this is why all the quarrel. I can write a whole story of how the trip went: of the hospitality, the amazing food, the almost orchards, the empty homes, the villages, the half open shops, the weather, the desolation and the security. However, what haunts me the most were the common people. All protecting us, guiding us, telling us, “see our lives are almost over, the livelihood gone. When you go back to Delhi please tell people, we would love to have them visit here. It will be fine. We want tourism to be back. Please tell them it is not so bad.” Yes, that year terrible things did happen. But as I read the rolling credits of Haider and the line, “tourism is back and the crew didn’t face anything”. My mind couldn’t help wander back in time.

This is where I thought lay the beauty of the movie. Yes, there are ideologies, yes war is on, yes there are real challenges. But in the middle of all this who suffers? It is the common people. The mothers who lose sons. The wives who lose husbands. The families that are torn apart. As I look at conflicts across the world. I cannot believe that the story would be any different. I wonder that if the trees and mountains could talk, what would they say? They would speculate “what is with this human race? Why do they do this to each other?” Yes survival of the fittest, but they are an overkill.”

What is the purpose of war: religion? ideology? territory? politics? economics? crime? In the end Haider ended differently than Hamlet. But it proved its point: Revenge begets revenge. And raised a pertinent question: when will this cycle of hatred and subjugation end? Yes there is no ideal world or man (for that matter woman!), but I refuse to believe that the highest potential a human can show is nothing but murder.

14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray

I picked up this book on a whim. I am a fan of Satyajit Ray but more than that I believe in the classics. Timeless stories, be they be from anywhere in the world always speak to the heart. And he was one of the most well-known filmmakers: a true storyteller. However, I was a but apprehensive, will the stories be like scripts or too serious or too real. After all fiction should take us away from reality sometimes.

This collection of short stories is priceless. From Rabindranath Tagore to Satyajit Ray’s own stories to Rajshekhar Basu. It’s true: books and stories open up a whole new world. I had heard so much about Goopy Gayne and Bagha Byne. But had not been able to watch this movie and then there was the all favourite Shatranj ke Khiladi, a much loved movie. It was amazing to read the stories in original. And be taken to another world, timeless. To see fiction bring out values and good win in the end. Or simply to enjoy a beautiful story.

Edited and superbly translated by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, one does not feel the loss in translation. Infact it brings out the best essence of the stories. Published by Harper Perennial.

This is a must read. A priceless jewel filled with timeless classics.

If You Leave

What an interesting thought? Just when I was looking at my life and wondering how I was again at a place where one does not want to be. And this is what I realised. If I leave I would love to leave chasing people in my head. Of not being forced into the game again. Its funny, you think of person A as good, as someone who feels the right one and next thing you know the spoken, unspoken have done their bit and you are at the receiving end. They are now giving the looks, in your face, to someone else. And the first instinct is- I can win this. And then the obsessing begins.

This is when I decided not anymore. I stop. STOP this now, no chasing, no being in the game. Life is not a game so I leave the chase behind. Despite the reality that there is nothing ahead, the prospect of chasing phantoms is worse and losing one’s own self-respect. So walk away.

I leave the attitude that anything goes and welcome my self home. I leave old habits and thinking and raise my head high and say no to this behaviour. Yes, I slip. And stand up again. Wait for that right time and person. Is it scarier? maybe. Is it right? absolutely.

So how about yes to oneself and one’s own life. Like my mentor always says, phantom is a phantom and reality a reality. You are you nothing more or less, being caught up in momentary superficial things and losing sight of the purpose of life will not help. Adopting a bigger purpose, that is more critical.

Makes sense doesn’t it.

Books, Writing and the Weather

Well, maybe it is the weather. Delhi has been enveloped in this fog, is freezing cold, and is slightly windy today. It is very chilly and just the weather for a good book, a cup of coffee and a warm bed. But duty calls.

By sheer chance I came across this uncanny book yesterday, called ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’. I am still trying to figure out how I got there. One thing lead to another and the next thing I know I was reading this book. As often happens on the net, I followed one link and then another and then here I was. I took no time in buying the book and then started reading it. And could not put it down. It is a masterpiece. I had a feeling I had seen the photos before. Maybe I had read about the book when it came out. Anyway the parallel world the author creates and the mix of mediums in a novel is sheer creativity and brilliance. It’s a book which could easily have been a horror novel but its suspense just does not let you down. You are sucked into the madness with Jacob the young hero and intrigued by Miss Peregrine. The plot is taut and the story interesting.

But then I think I started to review it rather than read it. It is really an unputdownable and for the umpteenth time I was intrigued by someone’s creativity. How did he think up of this or write that?

As I reflected on that I remembered a fellow blogger’s post on writing and not giving up. I loved reading it, and started to think, why is it that I write? I was having a tough day yesterday, and after a long time, I just started to write on a topic like law. Because I wanted to. And next thing I knew, all the disturbance, the pain, the anger and frustration were forgotten and I was in my element. Yes, it was a dry subject but as I re-read the words, I was amazed with how I came up with it at all. Where did I think of this or that? I seemed to be flowing. Yes, writing is art, it is life, it makes sense of all that is non-sense and in the end it is therapeutic, It creates worlds, inspires and maybe gives us an identity, we do not know we have.

Kathmandu on a Bike

The Journey

It all started a few weeks back. In the middle of a usual work day I was suddenly asked to go to Nepal. The only catch was that it was in the middle of December. Though I had been to Kathmandu before, my only memory consisted of a winding road connecting India and Nepal and the steep stairs of the famous Buddhist temple in Kathmandu.

With much apprehension and a lot of excitement I found myself preparing for the trip. Travelling from India to Nepal is fairly simple, especially if you are an Indian. You don’t need a visa and there are frequent flights. It was almost like going to another city in India. However, all this I found out in the course of my preparations. Each bit of news surprising as well as a bit of relief. Though a lot of confusion prevailed: INR can be used but only in 100s; Visa is not required but immigration is; it is a domestic flight but baggage allowance is that of an international sector and so on.

The other concern was the weather. Delhi has been mild this winter, and I am not one for chilly weather. Frequent mails with my colleagues in Nepal revealed that it was very cold there and I had to be prepared. Internet search threw up facts like, some hotels have no central heating, fortunately I was booked in a good hotel.

Finally the day of departure came. It was heartening to see a packed flight: something I hadn’t expected, after all it was winters, but we Indians love to travel. And some of my friends were in Nepal at the same time: working! So it wasn’t just me.

The Arrival

I stepped out of the airport and it was like an anti climax. The sun was shining brightly and my dear host who had come to pick me up spoke Hindi. Since I had been tipped off by my friend, who was already there, to buy a local sim. I bought one at exit of the airport itself. These were easily available and not too expensive. After a pleasant car ride, chatting with my host I finally reached the Hotel. The roads were narrow or under-construction, reminding me of the hills in India. In fact the markets, the people, everything was so familiar that I had to remind myself, that technically I was in another country.

The first thing I did on reaching the hotel was to tear off my layers: my first mistake. But that was to come later. At the hotel I was met with my colleague with whom I was to work along with for the next few days. The first question she asked me, after the general introductions was: “are you scared of bikes?” After a heart beat of silence I almost grinned and said “no”. And thus began my 3 day adventure.

It turned out that the fastest way to get around the city was on these two-wheelers, a mix between a bike and a scooter. Most of my women friends that I met there, happily drove these, exuding confidence and with a complete disregard for the cold. It was exhilarating to sit pillion in the winters and travel in the bylanes of Kathmandu. I got to know the city like I never would have otherwise. I also got to know how scary it is to maneuver a steep hill on a bike and what a balancing act it is. The first time round I thought I would be asked to get off and walk, but my friend skillfully adjusted our weights and off we went.

I finally figured why did my huge overcoat have a double zip 😉

The Weather

The people who live there locally told me that though winters can be freezing but its worse if the sun is not out. Thankfully I was treated to warm sunshine all 3 days. But its still a good precaution to wear the layers and not be fooled by the sunlight. There were a lot of power cuts during the day due to which, though the offices had acs, they could become freezing, forcing one to wear the jackets even indoors. Also, the moment the sun set, the chill would just hit you.

The first day, after I made the mistake of being overconfident of facing the cold, I was frozen. So much so that despite layers of blankets and central heating back in the hotel, I had to wear all my woolens and  sleep. The second day I made sure the temperature of the heating was increased and I wore enough and more clothes throughout the day.

The City

I did not have much time to visit the touristy spots, however travelling round the city for work, I got to see quite a bit. Despite all the construction work, I found the city to be neat and clean. Though the weather was cold, I saw a steady stream of visitors and tourists from all over the world, not only in my hotel but in the city. I wanted to try the Nepalese cuisine, but my hotel served continental, throwing my plans awry.

My hotel was in a good area, which had a lot of tourist shops as well as other hotels. The room I stayed in had no kettle or water but ingeniously, right outside the hotel gate were these small shops selling biscuits, water as well as phone recharge coupons. I even saw waiting taxi cabs right outside the gate. However, my hosts mentioned that they are not the safest way to travel unless your travel company has booked one. Even the hotel did not provide any such services.

On my last evening in the city, my hosts took me to the heart of Kathmandu, called a New Road. It was a beautiful place with cobbled streets and a small square surrounded by ancient structures, very well maintained. One was the residence of the living goddess and there were other structures which I was informed were part of the Royal Palace earlier. Now they had been opened to the public. The whole area had narrow bylanes with small shops selling everything from mementos to local sweets and woolens. There were some neat coffee shops. I managed to buy some local Nepalese tea (I am a connoisseur) and boots! Yes, the youngsters in Nepal only wore boots in this weather and my young friends took me to this mall which sold only shoes and cheap! It was pure heaven.

The square was teeming with youngsters. It was one of the most popular hangouts in the city and one could see it. Despite the chill there was a crowd. But not overwhelming. I bought a local sweet called Laakha-Mari  which reminded me of a sweet in India and cheap rudraksha beads which are easily found in Nepal. I even got to eat hot-momos, something that you do not get in India. The spice was truly mind-blowing.

A lot of people were also travelling to neighbouring cities by local planes either to hike or for snow sports.

My Ride!
Durbar Square Lalitpur Nepal
Tea Shop at the Top! But couldn’t get a place

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Parts of the old palace
Parts of the old palace

The End

After a fruitful 3 days it was finally time to go back. The sun was shinning brightly. Precisely at 10:30 am my colleague came to drop me to the airport but my heart was in a pair of boots I hadn’t bought last night. With a smile and in true Bollywood style we zoomed on her bike (my last ride) to the New Road, ran to the shop, and were out with my coveted boots within 1/2 hour. And in the next 1/2 hour were at the airport much to the amusement of everyone.

My India city brain which always calculates 1 hour travel time to anywhere was reeling with joy and shock.

Finally, the airport. After heartfelt goodbyes I was welcomed with a long queue at the immigration. There were people from all over the world. As our time to departure neared, the Indians were separated and sent off fast while others stood in line. After a bit of confusion (the airport is a bit confusing you don’t know which flight is at which gate) we were off.

As I glanced out of my window, or tried to since I had a newly wed couple busy clicking each other’s photos next to me, I could see the Himalayas. They seemed to be the same height as our plane, even taller. Serene, calm, immovable, overlooking all and glistening in the sun. My mind wandered back to my arrival in Kathmandu. I remember glancing out of the window even then and mistaking the mountains for the clouds. Till I looked closer and realised what I was looking at. My trip seemed to have come full circle. They had welcomed me, and now were seeing me off. I bid good-bye to the Kingdom of Nepal.

Himalayas as seen from the plane
Himalayas as seen from the plane

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