Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment

I wanted to share this incredibly well-written article by a writer named Jonathan Stern, published in The New Yorker. Aptly titled 'The Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment', it displays intelligent humour and subtle sarcasm at its best. Read it here

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Kanatal - a spiritual sojourn in Uttarakhand

Almost two years ago I discovered a nondescript little hill station that quite literally was hidden from the over-populated claws of this country. After a fair amount of searching, what I found was more valuable than I was expecting...

I woke up at the break of dawn, stretched my arms, got out of my comfy bed and drew the curtains. Deep in the horizon the snowy Himayalan peaks glistened in the delicate rays of the sun, the trees turned into lighter shades of green, birds chattered away and colourful flowers smiled as dew drops tickled them…it wasn’t a dream, it was the beauty of Kanatal.

My search for a place where I could have a peaceful and undisturbed conversation with nature led me to Kanatal. Hidden from prying tourist eyes, this tiny haven is situated in Uttranchal at a height of 8,500 feet. Driving up from Delhi, I saw no signboards or milestones indicating the location or distance of Kanatal, the only medium of recognition was a resort called The Terraces. When I reached the resort I realised why this place was veiled from the outside world. I have never witnessed a place so surreal, so secluded; completely untouched by the vices of the world.

I’d wake up early each morning and share my morning tea with the mighty mountains, subtle sounds of nature, the absence of chaotic crowds and the warmth of the cool breeze; it was the most wondrous escape. The hustle bustle and stress of city life had left my mind immensely cluttered. But as I sat there in complete silence, my mind felt lighter, my scattered thoughts settled down like the filth in a purifier system and let the serenity seep in. Silence never felt so comforting.

A few days later a group of foreigners came to Kanatal for a yoga and meditation workshop. Needless to say, we instantly bonded. In the evening we all got together around a bonfire -- keeping us warm from the chilly weather -- and each of us shared our journey of life. After several funny and interesting stories of our travels throughout India and our search for a tranquil space, we finally decided to hit the sack and promised to wake up at 6 am to practice yoga and meditation amid the great outdoors.

As my alarm rang my body resisted and my innate laziness garnered immense reluctance to wake up and start the day with a dose of yoga. Finally I decided to give it a shot, just this once. The location was spellbinding. We were facing the splendid mountainside with a cloudy blue sky above us. The air was so pure and the landscape unspoiled; I had never enjoyed yoga as much as I did today. I’d always tried to avoid yoga in Mumbai, but here the environment changed everything. Even my foreign friends agreed. Monica says, “Kanatal emanates this astonishing silence, which I haven’t seen in any other place I have ever visited. There are no distractions, only calm and tranquillity, which makes the body feel lighter to move in synchrony with the sounds of nature. It’s like a sacred sanctuary; nothing stops you from being one with the environment.”

After the session I felt super energetic and bouncily went back to my room, put on my shoes, gobbled my breakfast and headed out for a trek in the forest nearby. Treading along the narrow path, I climbed my way towards a small Shiva temple atop the hill. The secluded temple was a simple construction with an idol of the deity inside and a little copper bell hanging outside. The view from the top was spectacular; soft mist shrouded the valley below and clouds came down to rest on the mountain’ shoulders, I just sat there and stared for hours.

I spent the rest of the day imbibing the precious gift of silence, penning my thoughts, thinking about my life for which I didn’t seem to have time before. I plucked apples from the tree outside my room, I took a walk in the garden and smelled the fragrance of the flowers and then I lay back and gazed at the clouds passing by. I realised in every individual’s life comes as awakening, a chance to peek into your soul and find out the answer to who you truly are and what makes your presence so valuable to this world…I knew I had found mine.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, April 2010.