Single Jingle: Only Not Lonely


Travel we all. Except that some enjoy it alone. The strange thing about going solo is that one is never really quite alone. You are single, by yourself; not alone. As for fears of getting lonely, don’t even think of it. There is no such thing.

Wandering off on your own allows freedom ‘to be’ – completely & honestly yourself. Nobody knows you. Nobody judges you. Which is to say that, you are not carrying any extra ‘baggage’. Meet people at will or shun them. Talk if you must. Walk the streets or join a local tour. The choice is yours. There is no one to be humoured, pandered to or make compromises with. You are the master.

All I ever need is a room with a view, a journal to scribble upon & a book, related to the place – no matter how remotely. Preferably, a work of fiction.

After months of research, sifting through facts & details & sorting out travel nitty-gritty it is well to loosen up & relax. Therefore fiction. A book of your choice. Always the perfect companion.

My trip to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia would not have been the same without Tan Twan Eng & ‘The Garden of Evening Mists.’ Tan turned out the perfect soulmate & that greatly enhanced the experience.



Take F Fitzgerald Scott & ‘Tender is the Night.’ A light, frivolous companion to anyone traversing the playgrounds of the rich & famous – the French Riviera. It was amusing to hear two characters argue the merits & demerits of Paris vs Rome. Which was more crime infested? The story plays out in the first decades of the last century & here am I  – France 2015 – robbed & taken to the cleaners over a 100 years later.  Clearly some things never change.

At another, more sober level is Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’. A novel set in French Indo-China. A different matter altogether that modern day Vietnam (2016) cares two hoots about wars past & forgotten. Zen like. Talk of living in the present!

Closer home, if visiting Kerala, I would suggest taking along Arundhati Roy, if you can stomach her or Salman Rushdie. ‘God of small things’ & ‘The Moor’s last sigh’ are both excellent reads & will give that extra zing & flavour.

As Amitav Ghosh did to Gangasagar – Sunderbans – 2013.

His ‘The Hungry Tide:’  Boy O Buoy, did it shore up EQ! (emotion quotient)

Where to next? You may ask. And, with whom?

Italy this Fall. With Buzzati.

Dino Buzzati & his “strange & haunting novel” ‘The Tartar Steppe’ that has been described as “an eccentric classic”.

Eccentric?  I’ll read it first, then decide.

Note: Russia is in the pipeline for 2018. There is a Russian tale about a man who collects water from the major rivers of the world & stores them in tiny bottles, kept in a row. Book, author, story writer – unfortunately unknown. ( But he could well be Pavstovsky who has woven tales around the Limpopo river)

It is what I will take along to read cruising down the Volga river.

Help! Anyone? Would be ever so grateful.


# Russia 2018. And it will be ‘Mission to Volga’

Down in a Valley

IMG_3445Lambadi tribesman

IMG_3428IMG_3461IMG_3460Maniappan : Tribal King


IMG_3455Karpanna : Black brother temple

Sittilingi is approachable by train, bus & car from both Chennai & Bangalore. It is 220 kms from Bangalore & takes about 5 hours via Hosur, Krishnagiri, (take a left from the highway here) Kariamangalam, Morappur, Harur,Theerthamala & Kotapatti, the closest town, a mere 8 km away, where a last hot cup of stimulating coffee may be had. The forest begins soon after, a 5 – 6 km stretch of parched jungle. Enter & drive right through giant bamboo whodunits of mind boggling scale & size – mile after withering mile. Tall, sapped & dying stalks interspersed with bushes of keekar & lantana.The very forest seems asleep. Or dead. There is not a living creature anywhere around. Still & soundless the forest suddenly vanishes & makes way for a valley. Green, as far as the eye can see. Emerald green & wedged between low, blue hills – the Kalrayan range.

It has been a therapeutic drive in many different ways. Past little towns & tiny hamlets with tongue twister names, temples to powerful tribal kings, small ornate churches, an abundance of roadside mango stalls, elephant crossings, swaying palms, outlandish outcrops of rock & boulder.

Cruising along the highway to the strains of old Bollywood numbers the 5 hours have gone by in a flash.

‘You understand any of this’? I ask in shocked surprise.

‘Yes’ replies Murugesh.

‘I must congratulate you then. This is poetry. Ek dum high brow”.

Never imagined I would live to see a young Tamil, a driver, rock to Zafar & Azmi – “ na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon……../   yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai?”

Sittilingi valley, is greenest of things green. Rural, pastoral, agrarian. It is idyllic. (17 villages in all, 1 Dalit, 2 Lambadi, rest tribal)

Dr Regi George & his gynecologist wife Lalitha moved here in 1992 & set up ‘Tribal Health Initiatives’ an organization that promotes tribal health & addresses societal & environmental concerns. This dedicated duo have over the years given fully of themselves, with positive results while, managing to keep their work both secular & apolitical.

The ‘Farmers Initiative’ introduced farmers to organic methods of farming, the crops being several varieties of rice, ragi, lentils, corn, millet, turmeric & vegetables. This is marketed under the brand name SVAD, mainly in the south.

There is a fully equipped medical facility with trained staff where every contingency involving in/out patients is attended to. Everything from surgery, to ICU, to Lab tests, to medicines & health care. Even yoga & meditation. Not only that, THI trains & employs nursing & support staff from the general area. As for the sprawling hospital complex – it is like none other in that it is aesthetically designed using local material, keeping tradition in mind. Man & nature in harmony.

I quiz Lalitha about ‘Porgai’ the pet project she manages after hospital hours. ( ‘Porgai’ translates to ‘pride’ in the Lambadi dialect.) How does she reconcile the two? Her medical profession with managing an art & design store.

“Isn’t it one & the same,” she avers with a smile. “The sick & ailing have to be healed so there is a hospital. The healthy require sustenance & work to stay healthy & happy. So we have ‘Porgai’. Creative work is health/preventive care – you will agree”

Centuries ago the Lambadis came here from north west India, bringing with them their distinct culture, language & art. Lifestyles changed over time and with it was lost the elusive ‘stitch,’ a heritage of Harappan origin. Caught in the whirlpool of daily toil there was no time for beauty or art, hence the craft began to die a slow natural death.

Until it was revived by the Regis with the help of older Lambadi women who remembered a stitch or two from their childhood. Collective memory took over, the endeavor paid off & ‘Porgai’ is a witness. It not only provides sustenance but empowers the women folk, restoring dignity & pride in their craft. It keeps families together preventing forced migrations to ugly urban centers. Above all, it keeps them healthy for in the valley the air is pure & clean with no shortage of either food or water.

(Sittilingi boasts excellent roads, school, health facilities, electricity, connectivity – you name it.

And ‘Porgai’ sells exquisite clothes & linen woven with organic cotton & embellished with Lambadi embroidery. It has a tie up with a young designer from Bangalore who incorporates the traditional to create the modern & trendy.)

Murugesh, makes a keen observation.

“ You must be bored” I console him. “ Bear with me for just another day”

“ No”, says he. “Not bored.

How clean everyone looks. How happy.

Also. No religion. No politics”.

That’s it. No religion. No politics.

No wonder!

(The entire valley had only one church & a temple.)






IMG_3449PorgaiIMG_3453IMG_3426IMG_3435IMG_3441Down the village street

IMG_3454Clean air  longevity

Instant Haiku


ripples, quiet mirth

stolen glances


spirit soars,

plummets, takes flight

swoops down again.


All turnings

new beginnings.



dewdrops, smiles

tears, glisten in

winter rain.


snapdragon, fireflies

crackles and –

pop goes the corn.


10830644_10204533984803999_4058154318518532604_ofreedom’s ways

love’s  goodbye

death,  mere nothingness.


number crunching

democracy, marches



171805_1682378773703_8375429_ocalendar days

dawn of childhood

noontime manhood

supper in the evening

goodnight, tune off


Old age

a race

to the finishing line.



morning doom, positives fly

in the face.


traveler hear

the distant roar and wander ………….




Along an Eastern Seaboard




Going by bucket lists this was a long time coming. My Lai, Gulf of Tonkin & a terrified little girl running naked under a shower of napalm bombs. Remember? And, Bob Dylan singing ‘Blowin’ in the wind’?

So, to the land of the Dragon, the Tortoise, Unicorn & Phoenix.

Sen Chiao Vietnam. Hello, how do you do?

It is a casual, rhetorical greeting that need not be answered. But what follows in rapid, quick fire succession does & must be answered. Namely –

How old are you?

Are you married?

Yes? Do you have children? How many?

If not. Why not? And, Holy of Holies –

How much do you earn?



Poor language skills can be a hindrance anywhere but can never deter a keen, avid traveler. Communication therefore never really breaks down, for the Vietnamese are a friendly chatting people. Engage in banter and conversation that is in any case going nowhere, dissolves in laughter. There is no Vietnamese script, yet reading road signs is simple & easy – not only because of ‘Translate’. Mind your words though for each takes on a different meaning depending upon the scale – high, low, flat.

My ‘Umbrella Hat’ is an instant hit, inviting friendly smiles & stares. The reason I am certain, is to do with the traditional concept of beauty where girls must be very fair (Yellow race?) & have long black hair. Which is why you see so many peering eyes from beneath the body,hands & face ,all swaddled up against the sun.

A typical Vietnamese home will have one large bed in every room. It is used both for eating & sleeping. The toilet is the ‘happy’ place. Ask me why? Because, everyone goes in unhappy & come out relieved.


Local Beauty


World heritage site, Halong Bay.Volcanic outcrops rising 250 meters above sea level


Elephant Eye Fish

One can survive on the great variety of tropical fruits but this is a food paradise. Vietnamese eat everything that walks, crawls, flies or swims. The menu at ‘Diem Phuong’ a restaurant on the Mekong had – among other things – a rice paper wrap with filling of Elephant Eye Fish, pineapple, salad & dip. The pancake had duck eggs & pork. Not much of a Foodie I was the only one asking probing questions until someone shut me up with a ‘ never mind. Just eat’. And  I did & it was delicious.


railway platform, Hue

An overnight journey by train is highly recommended. I did Hanoi – Hue/ Hue – Saigon with a halt at Hue, most charming of medieval cities, steeped in culture & history.

Train stations/ GA are clean & orderly. There is a waiting area as gates to the platform open half an hour before the train arrives. You simply show your ticket & board. No rush, no porters, no fuss. I didn’t know what to expect & ended up having a great time. A food trolley would come by every now & then laden with everything from meat, chicken & fish to beer & wine. And there was 24 hour cold/ hot water for coffee, tea, instant noodles.

The two & half-hour ride from Hue to Danang  is stunning & can be ranked among the most spectacular in the world especially, the 21 km segment where the train goes through seven long tunnels & crosses the Hai Van or the Ocean Cloud pass. So named as it evokes the mist that rises from the sea. The landscape alternates between mountain & sea, at times both on either side, mountain on the right, ocean to the left. It is magical.

Low hills & rolling plains with men & women in non lai, (traditional conical hat) working fields & vegetable patches. Dense forests, orchards, picturesque homesteads, paddy fields,  family tombs whiz by. There’s  never a dull moment. Gazing long hours out of the window has never been such a real & simple pleasure.

The train arrives at Ho Chi Minh City early next morning – to the strains of loud revolutionary music. A rude wake up call that is in itself an experience.


Entrance, District Halong


French era bridge across the Red river, Hanoi

Vietnam has moved on after the ravage of war. It has world class infrastructure, super highways, roads, water & electricity. There are coffee shops, bars, massage parlors, gardens & parks with varied gym equipment for free public use.

Sets one wondering on the significance of the lotus in  national psyche. It is found abundantly & has a Buddhist connect, but the reason for it holding prime importance in local culture is because it motivates. Mired in slime & muck it inspires to rise above circumstance.



Flower Seller, on a Cyclo

The young are not religious. Mammon is God & most homes have altars where incense is lit, for prosperity. The government, no less, runs ‘Humanity’ Centers that are located  along the tourist trail. These showcase hand made weaves, arts & crafts created by the physically & mentally challenged – victims of American aggression, chemical warfare that maimed & killed over 3 million. The products are beautiful but smacks of rank commercialization. One comes away feeling sad at the crass milking of human misery.

A bus ride into the countryside has us gawking at a church like structure with a Swastika on top. It turns out to be a Cay Di place of worship. Cay Di, being a new faith that purports to combine the best from all religions.



The Museum

And what of the ugly war that continues to fascinate & attract? There is little talk about it for though it belongs to the recent past, the past is history. The world however loves to remember, the only country to have defeated three super powers. Is it now gearing up for another round, in the South China Sea, perhaps. “That’s not what we call it”, says an official correcting me. “It is our Eastern Sea”

A motorcycle ride through the broad, tree lined streets of Saigon brings us to the war museum. It is on three floors & is an unabashed no – holds- barred display of the futility & ugliness of war. Heavy duty, full on stuff with documentation that makes one cringe. Unspeakably moving, there is pathos, real politic, heroism, tragedy, crime & bestiality. Along with lessons – on patriotism, the necessity of peace & respect for the tradition of war (when an absolute must)


Cu Chi tunnels

And so, to the Cu Chi tunnels. In the middle of thick green woods it owes its inventiveness to the inhabitants of Cu Chi itself & to the genius of Ho Chi Minh. Constructed at three levels, underground, it is an over 200 km labyrinthine. A network of design both intricate & simple, like a spider web. Only the puny can enter; which is what an average Vietnamese in any case is. (Also noticed: puny bees that do not sting & a historic obsession with Bonsai)

The day ends with a drink at the ‘Gecko’ a backpacker favorite in the Old Quarter. I order ‘Sorrows of the War’ – a cocktail of Cointreau, gin, lemon, sugar, cinnamon, aniseed, cardamom – that is priced at a whopping 88,000 Dong. (Don’t be aghast, works out to very little.)

Maggie loves it all. I encounter her in the back lanes of a Saigon alley, sitting on an armchair, reading a novel, unmindful of the hurly burly surrounding her. At 70 plus, this old lady from New Zealand has been here for 5 years.

How did she like it?

“ Love it”

Learn Vietnamese?

“No need to. A snap of the fingers & everything’s there”



Eastern Sea/ South China Sea: view from the train



Punky Funky Monk: Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue

Hajipir 1965


We proudly celebrated 50 years of the 1965 war this year. It is therefore befitting to recall the valour & sacrifice of those who made the victory possible.


Some reminiscences then, of the capture of Hajipir – Pt 13620, straight – as it were – from the horses’ mouth.


Code named Operation Bakshi, 68 Infantry Brigade was tasked with the execution. The orders went out on Aug 15,1965 & Hajipir was in Indian hands by August 28.


There were casualties, feats of endurance & bravery but the hero undoubtedly was Gen RS Dyal MVC, PVSM.


I have had the honour & the pleasure of meeting the General & distinctly recall a misty November morning, 4 years ago when veterans got together at Nahan for yet another Hajipir Day celebration.


A small close knit group had collected around their former Commanding Officer & one of them was heard saying “chalo Saab, assi phir Hajipir chalein

This has been the general lament. A constant refrain heard over & over again, of veterans wanting to know why Hajipir was returned.

But that is another story.


On August 28 this year, there was chai & pakoras, joy & bonhomie as Mrs Dayal inaugurated the auditorium named after her late husband. Former comrades in arm reunited. Some limping, some hard of hearing, they back slapped, joked & talked, graphically recalling tales of glory & of their ‘famous’ victory.


Col Bindra

Col JCM Rao

Brig AS Baicher

etc etc etc the roll of honour rolls on.


All, young 19-20- 21 year olds then & mostly without a clue except, for their inspiring Company Commander Maj RS Dyal who urged his men on, displaying outstanding leadership for which he was awarded the MVC.


While Col Bindra gave a presentation with complete military details the others talked of lighter moments like playing volleyball with the enemy prior to hostilities or of engaging him in fierce hand to hand combat when it came to the crunch. They had shared ONE toothbrush & had eaten half cooked meat sans salt or spice – the taste, still lingering in the mouth. The same old war stories ad nauseam but quite different when hearing it from them.

Minor details: On the final assault the soldiers walked 4000’ on foot.

Their field rations were soggy ‘shakarparas’ & biscuits. Soggy, because there had been unexpected showers the night before.

Hajipir was captured at 1100 hrs on August 28,1965. The enemy thereafter, made repeated attempts to recapture the pass, but was successfully thwarted. In recognition of its indomitable spirit & gallantry 1Para earned one MVC, one VRC, 2 SM & 4 Mention in Despatches, along with Battle Honour Hajipir & Theatre Honour Jammu & Kashmir.


Major RS Dyal


The Tricolour atop Hajipir

Post Script


One may well ask, what manner of men are these? The following story narrated by Maj Gen VB Batra may just provide an inkling.


“Two years later, in 1967, the Indian army conducted Exercise ‘Betwa’ in Central India

It was a 45 day affair intended to test new methodologies in mechanized warfare.

1 Para – then part of 50 Para Brigade – was commanded by Lt Col RS Dyal.

I, was a Capt, a Battery Commander then & was affiliated to him. Watching him operate at close quarters, was for me a learning experience. There were lessons pertaining not only to military training but life as well. He’d explain Infantry tactics over a drink……. I still have a book he presented -The battle of Dien Bien Phu’ “


Gen Batra also mentioned a 3 day training capsule they were part of.

In a loud booming voice he had heard CO 1 Para exhort his men to go hungry, to stay without sleep & to march, move & dig from position to position.

Most importantly he led by example. Baton in hand, Lt Col Dyal would make the rounds, checking each detail every night. If anyone were caught napping he’d poke & shove the fellow in the rib, startling him out of sleep.

The Capt asked, “ Sir, how do these chaps let you do this to them? what if someone were to snatch the baton or stall you. Would it not be an embarrassment? “


mein kabhi kisi ka pate nahin kaat taa” replied the man. Meaning that he neither meant, nor ever did anybody any ‘real’ harm. That was his philosophy. Earthy & elementary. Like the man himself. He was a simple, self contained person, much loved & respected by the soldiers he commanded.


Add to that the formidable reputation he had acquired post 1965.


His only indulgence it turns out, was the pleasure of good quality Scotch. He liked his drink & the story goes that Chokharam, the barman had remembered to carry it right up to Hajipir that day.


Mrs Indira Gandhi with troops


The indomitables Continue reading





Thottapallay Kerala: August16,2014DSC00887 DSC00888 DSC00890

Kala’s coffee service

DSC00893 IMG_0240

Off NH 47, 22 kms from Aleppy, towards Quilon & Kottayam is a charming little hamlet where all the colors & shades of the rainbow contribute to the building of homes & cottages. Giant – pink, blue, green, yellow, purple – garish mansions along side simple thatched huts line the waterfront of Kerala’s legendary backwaters. Almost every family has a working member in the Gulf, hence the glow of technicolor in cash.

I am with Kala & her sister at Omkaram, one of the many homestays that dot the lush green countryside. At Rs 1500 a night one has the luxury of a large sea facing room with a terrace –  no less. It is clean & airy & has marble floors & state of the art fittings. Kala’s prawn curry/ rice combo is to die for. As is the Egg roast, a local specialty. And strong freshly brewed coffee to round it off.

This is essentially a fishing village from where a variety of ‘catch’ is exported. Laze around as you will. Cycle the broad traffic less roads. Join in a game of soccer on the beach. Watch the sun rise or set. Enjoy the cool sea breeze with a morning / evening cuppa to the strains of  classical ragas. A sundowner even. (Kerala Govt I hear is contemplating harakiri with plans for complete state wide prohibition)

Complementing the cool & the laid back ,Thottapallay boasts an old British era culvert of indeterminate vintage. It continues in use, the busy ‘Spillover’ bridge that spans the dark inviting waters swarming with catamarans. Take a walk to the other side . It is equally charming


 The Spillover bridgeIMG_0253

On the culvertIMG_0262 IMG_0268 IMG_0269

  Fisherman’s coveIMG_0270 IMG_0271 IMG_0272

The Spillover

IMG_0273 IMG_0275 IMG_0276 IMG_0278 IMG_0266 IMG_0239

Dagshai Jail Museum



Dagshai Jail Museum

Dagshai Jail Museum


A British era jail used as a  dump yard post independence, was converted into a museum in 2011. It is also unique in that it is only the second of its kind in India, the first being the Cellular jail in the Andamans

Dagshai jail, set up in 1849 has played host to several shades of soldier convicts. Gorkha soldiers of the Nasiri Regt (1857), revolutionaries from the ship ‘Komagatamaru’ (1914), 12 Indian soldier – sympathizers of the Ghadar movement (1915) & Irish Catholic soldiers of the ‘Connaught Rangers ‘who mutinied against their British officers (1920).

James Daly the best known of them all was executed here.

When Mahatma Gandhi visited Dagshai to meet with Irish mutineers he had stayed in a cell inside the jail. Legend has it that his assassin Nathuram Godse too was briefly incarcerated here before being taken for trial to the High Court in Simla.

Bust:Maj.Udai Singh

prototype of the bust

Distinguished Alumni In progress art work.  APS Dagshai

Distinguished Alumni
In progress art work.
APS Dagshai

The museum is the brainchild of its curator Dr. Anand Sethi, a local resident who researched & contributed most of the exhibits including archival photographs from his private collection. A prized display is a pair of bellows that were used by iron smiths to make chains and handcuffs. Its museum value 50,000 pounds today. More material continues to be sourced from Ireland, UK & Nepal.

Dr Sethis’ initiative fortunately, was complemented by the vision & foresight of the then Brigade commander Brig Ananth Narayanan. The army has since been closely involved with the project

Dr & Mrs Sethi

Dr & Mrs Sethi

On a clear bright day we stroll through the two sections of the museum, the Dagshai Jail which contains 54 maximum-security prison cells and an exhibit area that displays archival photographs of the jail and around.

Most of the cells do not have sufficient ventilation or natural light. There is only one VIP cell with the luxury of a fireplace and washroom. This is where the Mahatma had stayed when he came to commiserate with Irish prisoners with whom he felt a especial empathy & bond. Strange as it may sound Ireland & India had much in common, most important being their struggle for freedom against the same colonial master. Making common cause was a subtle political message sent out to the powers that were.

The exhibit area showcases the history of the region. There are photographs of soldiers, forgotten heroes and of the writer Rudyard Kipling, who wrote ‘Plain Tales From the Hills’ here.

APS Dagshai Bust unveiled 29/04/2014

APS Dagshai Udais’Bust  29.04.2014

The newest addition is the picture – citations of late Maj Udai Singh SC, SM, first battalion the Parachute Regt. Udai had spent the formative years of his life as a student of APS (1988 – 1992), the school a stones throw away from the museum.

Today his Bust adorns the main school square & the children have permission to walk to the museum as often as they like.

That being the Principals’ order.


*The museum is located at Dagshai cantonment, less than 2 kms from Dharampur on NH 22 going towards Simla. It is closed on Mondays & opens Tuesday – Sunday 09.30 – 12.30 & 14.30 –  17.30