#MyGrationSW : Why This Brave Woman Lives Alone In A Forest in Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand?

THE DENSE FORESTS OF ADJOINING villages of Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in

Terraced Farm of Kamla ji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar

Mukteshwar look deserted and lonely from a distance. Once you start to see through the dense foliage, you discover it is teaming with life. It is populated with birds, butterflies, reptiles, wild animals and humans who chose to call it home. As I took an evening walk in the forest with Manvendra, who runs the Leela Orchards, Sonapani home-stay in Mukteshwar, he educated me about a brave lady who lives all by herself in the middle of a dense, dark forest. Engrossed in his tales, I kept my eyes and ears alert for any sign of wildlife around the trail. After few minutes, we arrived at a makeshift gate to a lone white building in the distance. The gate was nothing but horizontal wooden logs loosely hooked on to vertical wooden poles. It was not meant to ward off humans but animals. The animals who rob her kitchen garden of fruits and vegetables she so painstakingly grows with help of laborers. This is apparently a big deterrent to most farmers in the Mukteshwar and nearby Ramgarh area. The white house was locked when we entered the lawns. Its architecture was a mix of modern architecture and traditional architecture of the region. In Uttarakhand, ‘Bakuli’ refers to the group of house, mostly of the same family. As the family grows, more addition to the existing building is done generation wise. Cattle are always tied in the ground floor room. This particular house was not a Bakuli since the next generation chose to stay in the glitzy capital of India, New Delhi.

A Mix of modern and traditional architecture of Uttarakhand, isolated home of Kamlaji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar.

Himalayan Spangle, a beautiful butterfly, clung fiercely to its pupa on a tree in front of the house. Much like the lady we had come to meet. She refuses to leave this place despite all the adversity. I would soon know why she still clings to this house in the middle of nowhere.

Himalayan Spangle holding on to a pupa. In Front of Kamlaji’s house. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

जड़ाऊ को अभी भगाया, बंदरो ने भी परेशान कर रखा है…..” (I have just shooed away the Swamp Deers aka Barasingha. The monkeys have been troubling me too.) The meditation of the Himalayan Spangle was disturbed by her coarse voice, unadulterated and unmeasured. Her name is Mrs. Kamla Pandey. She was delighted to see Manvendra, who is also a family friend. Kamlaji and Manvendra are neighbours and co- owned a dog. The dog lived upto an astonishing age of 18 years.

Ever since her husband, Late Shri Narayan Dutt Pandey, former sub inspector in New Delhi police breathed his last, she has resolved to stay all by herself at this isolated house in the middle of a dense forest, rife with wild animals. Danger from wildlife, lack of human interactions, irregular electricity supply and the challenges in keeping the soil of her farm fertile and grow organic vegetables and fruits has not deterred her. She has been living here alone since past 7 years. Sometimes her brother, who lives in a village nearby, pays her a visit.

Natural Water Spring used for irrigation and daily use of Kamlaji. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

She cooks food by herself. She has to walk for 3 plus kilometers to catch sporadic public transport to main town near the Sathkol Ashram. She sources grocery supplies from village vendor who sometime visits her and from a shop near the Ashram gate.

बस ऐसे ही बगीचे में घूमना फिरना….मजदूरो को देखना…चाय पानी देना…यहाँ पे बगीचा है….मकान है मेरा….मैं कैसे रहूँ यहाँ…..?” (Just roaming around my garden, checking up on the laborers, giving them tea and snacks…..Here is where is my house, my garden….How can I leave this place?), She replied with a sunshine smile when I asked, “What do you do here all day?”

She showed me around her sprawling terraced farm which she called bageecha (garden). It was abundant with pink and white flowers. In March the hills of Uttarakhand burst with a riot of colours, thanks to the flowering season.  From Mid May to July, these flowers will give way to abundant fruits like khubani (Apricot), aadu (peach), plum, apple, pear. Nearby a tree was drooping with the weight of tens of jamer. It looked like an Orange, but I was told it is so bitter that its consumption harms teeth. It is used like a lemon, in chutneys and pickles. The apples trees were pruned to encourage new growth which is good for the health of the tree and the fruits. The dark brown, leafless branches of the tree made it look like it is dead. In reality, the tree was just gearing up for the upcoming fruiting season. I uncovered a plastic sheet to see spring water flowing under the ground. This is the natural irrigation source for farming in the area. Some of the beds in the farm were dug up. She told us, she pays laborers to dig up the soil.  It helps in keeping the soil fertile otherwise it becomes hard and unfit for farming.

Kamlaji showed us around with a big smile and vivaciousness which is difficult to match up to. Her enthusiasm for life and positivity belied the challenges that she faces in her routine life. Before shifting here, she lived in Delhi for many years with her husband and kids. Her kids still live in New Delhi and following the footsteps of their father, they serve in police too. Her kids visit her at this place in summer.

“Do you ever miss New Delhi?” I ask

“याद आती है पर क्या करें ? मजबूरी है…यहाँ छोड़ दें तो फिर बर्बादी है न…..क्यूँ? ” (Yes, at times I do miss Mumbai. But if I abandon this land, it will all be destroyed. No?)

Whenever she misses her former life in New Delhi, she visits her children and live with them for around 3 months.

“पर अब अच्छा लगता है यहाँ भी……परदूशन नहीं है …हवा अच्छी है…अक्टूबर में फिर जाउंगी दिल्ली तीन महीने के लिए…..” (Now I like it here…There is no pollution….the air is fresh…In October I will visit New Delhi again for 3 months.)

Note: It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGrationSW series on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

The view from my #SoulWindow is BRAVO!

Kamlaji at her isolated home in a forest. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

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TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!


Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh


#MyGration Story: What is this young Delhi girl doing in the remote village of Madhya Pradesh?

Random meeting with a local Bhagchand Singh ji in roadways buses

The Back Story- I met her way back in September 2012 in the wedding reception of my friend in Modinagar near Delhi. It was a unique reception since my desi Friend Chandni Mittal had recently married an Austrian Abi. You can follow fun updates from Chandni on instagram here. I am friends with Chandni’s mother Punam aunty, a school principal. Young at heart, she is friends with many young people. Sanjana was one of the ‘friends’ and student of Punam aunty who was invited to the reception.

Sanjana was carefree, innocent, happy go lucky and was like any other girl her age. I had not met her in all these years. Circa October 2016. I see a matured girl, poised, balanced, still innocent but not really acting like the girls of her age. A Mohan Bhargav (Swades) like composure and focus characterized her face.


Sanjana educating the local women during SHG (Selh Help Group) meetings.

I am moved by her story and that’s why I decided to extend my Press Trip to Madhya Pradesh and make a detour to the dusty village Sehore. I was jealous of her because I always wanted to do the work she is doing but was afraid to leave my comfort zone (Metro City life) for a long time. It takes guts to do the work she is doing.


Sanjana doing follow up meetings with students in school

Here is why she left her cool life in Modinagar and Delhi to find meaning in torn cots, organic food cooked in earthen ovens and the many underprivileged school kids who run to greet her every time she visits the school.

 1) Tell us something about your background. Where were you raised and what did you study?

I hail from the small town Modinagar, in Ghaziabad District, U.P. My schooling started in a fancy school but later I was shifted to a modest one due to economical reasons. Due to a cash crunch at home, I have missed out on many co-curricular activities at school. Never mind, my parents did their best and never put any pressure on me to chase money. Later, I did BSc from Delhi University but found it meaningless. Disillusioned, I joined NSS (National Social Service Scheme). It gave me the opportunities to volunteer in many organisations. I used to bunk classes to attend the seminars and classes of 3HS (Social Leadership Forum) initiated by my mentor Mr. Gopikrishna Bali Sir in my third year of college. It was then when I realized my true calling in life. I understood that I am not going to continue in Sciences, but I have to start something in social sector. Without any prior experience, Social sector is the toughest sector to get into.

Early mornings for Sanjana be like this. From her ODF follow up sessions in Pipalner village.

2) Tell us about the work you are doing in Sehore. What is your routine?

I joined the NGO Samarthan as a ‘fellow’ from ‘India Fellow Social Leadership Programme’. I work in a project which is “School Education and Sanitation”. This project has components like Health, Sanitation and Education. I work here with the child cabinet and SHGs (Self Help Groups) in 10 villages. Strengthening of the bodies like child cabinet and SMC (School Management Committee) is to ensure the other activities in the school development activities apart from the school annual curriculum. I live in one of my field area named “Uljhawan” in Sehore District.  It is located around 7 kms away from the highway to bigger cities. It is 20-25 kms away from Bhopal in MP.

SHG (Self Help Group) meetings headed by Sanjana.

I usually get up in the morning by 6 am. Daily chores keep me busy and by 7:30 – 8 am. Then I go for the ‘morning follow up’ where team Samarthan educates the locals why they should not defecate in the open fields. It is one of the missions of Samarthan to make Sehore an ODF, viz. Open Defecation Free zone.

Some times SHG (Self Help Group) meetings have to be held in night because women are busy in household chores and fields all day.

Then, I go out in the village to conduct some meetings with the SHGs (as women will be available at that time or in the evenings after 6pm). After that I visit the government school to monitor the activities done by my students in child cabinet along with the other students in village. Frequently we organized awareness rally and various other activities like training and completions with the child cabinet. The objectives is to make each child cabinet self sufficient and capable of running various activities for their school development and make them an independent body. Child Cabinet is an interesting concept where a team of school kids is formed and individual child is assigned a cabinet such as Health/Sports/Sanitation. It is much like the national cabinets. This concept in rural areas of India helps kids gain confidence and a civic sense.

3) Why did you decide to leave your comfortable life and move to a village? Did you have any doubts before doing it?

What defines comfort? I had a comfortable material world but my mind was not settled. I was doing things which I never wanted to do. Here I am comfortable because that’s what I like to do. Here I travel the roads less travelled, meet the people who are unseen and are unknown to the mainstream world.  I get the chance to understand my country India on a deeper level. Working at the grass roots level has helped me understand the real problems of India. Before coming here I was mentally prepared about the work I will have to do here. It was tough in the initial days to adjust to a village life but I love this life now. The life of an engineer is uncomfortable for me, as I can’t sit throughout a day in front of computers for coding. Never mind, to each his/her own. I chose this life and I stand by my decision.

Sanjana addressing school kids. That’s how you make real change at grass roots level.

5) What are the personal and professional challenges that you faced while working in Sehore?

Personally you have to be positive in every aspect of the field. Ignoring small obstacles will help you reach your final goal. Blame the lack of human resource in this sector, one ends up multi tasking. Laziness is not even an option here. One needs to keep a tabs on many activities at a time.

Focus is really important, if you don’t understand the concept clearly, I would recommend you not to poke your nose in it. It will only cause more trouble to the community. Proper mentorship is a must before you get into this field. This message is especially for those urban people who have romantic delusions about rural life. It’s not hunky dory here. One needs to be ready to face the challenges of a village life.


Child Cabinet Training sessions.

6) Tell us some interesting anecdotes from your experience in Sehore. Maybe, something related to your relationship with school kids.

The great bond I share with the students of the schools, is like one of my dreams turning into reality. Every single time, I arrive at the school, students run to me and greet me with a hug. There are many students who share a personal bond with me, they always stay around me. There is a girl named Swati Vishwakarma, who makes lemon tea for me every time I visit her. I casually told her once that I like to drink lemon tea and I don’t get it anywhere in village. She learnt it from somewhere and now religiously makes it for me. Then there is the unconditional love I receive from the people of the village. I celebrated Diwali with a local in her hut.

Sanjana celebrated Diwali with this family in their hut. One of her best Diwali, she said.

It was one of my best Diwali celebrated with simplicity and love. When not working, I also love to cook with the local girls. I share a deep bond with the elderly women of the village. They are fondly called bau by the locals. In my free time, I spend hours chatting with them sipping tea in their huts. They also make delicious food for me. At other times, I decorate my room, roam around in fields with the kids and attend keertan and sangeet (Devotional music) events of village. I know I am changing as a person!

7) What do you miss about the city life?

One thing I miss about Delhi specifically is the accessibility to the lively places like Connaught Place in night. Sometimes, I miss the night life of Delhi in the sleepy villages. The day ends here by 8 pm and you can’t even sit with the girls in village just to chit chat because that is not a part of the culture.

Sanjana’s simple austere room in Uljhawan Village where she lives currently.

8) How do you focus on your work when you know all your friends are busy partying and pubbing in city? Do you feel like quitting?

No I never felt like quitting, I am very positive and excited about what I am doing! I know I am not earning that much money which my friends will start earning once they will complete their masters. I am not against partying but my happiness is focused on the work I have dedicated my life to. I find my work to be more meaningful and satisfying than partying. For me the idea of wasting an evening in a pub is less exciting. The satisfaction I get here is something which I will cherish throughout my life and that will change me as a human being. The positive changes within me have already started.

Sanjana grinding dal (lentil) along with a local girl. What she does in leisure!

9) What are your future plans? What next after this?

I will continue working in this field, enriching myself with more experience. Eventually, I would like to gravitate towards the field of Education. My aim is to impart my knowledge to the future generation and help build a better India and a better world. My ultimate goal is to expose the youth of India to different career options at the school level. I want to help the young minds to find the true calling of their life and make informed choices. They should not be bound to lead a life which they are not meant for.


Global hand washing day in rural Sehore, the village I visited.

10) Any message to the youth of your age?

I have a simple message: “Don’t let yourself down under any circumstance of life and follow you heart. Despite the initial struggles, if you persevere through the odds, it will give you the happiness you always chased. It will take time but the results will be the ones which you will always cherish. All the pain and efforts you made to achieve that happiness will one day be worth it.


SHG training with Krishna SHG in Uljhawan

Sanjana has indeed grown faster than her contemporaries. I am proud to visit her and know about her experiences. It was a humbling experience. Rural India needs the brains from Urban India for sustainable development. I wish I could do the work she is doing but I am still not mentally prepared to live in a village for long term. Hopefully, one day I will muster the courage. A sequel to this blog will be up soon. In those blogs I will write about how Samarthan is helping in making clean toilets in Sehore, how it is affecting the attendance in village schools and how the locals of Sehore won my heart in the few hours I spent there.

All the pictures are by Sanjana and Samarthan.

She posts about her journey online. You can follow her heart warming stories on social media here- Twitter  Facebook , Instagram , Blog 


It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGration story on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

Do you have it in you to make changes at grass roots level? Sanjana sure has it!

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Got any question/comments, ask in the comment section below so that it can benefit other readers.

Email me for collaboration : abhinav21@yahoo.com

Friends of Sanjana: She loves spending time with them when she is free.

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Night Chaupal (Village meetings): Can you spot Sanjana.


My stay at the wild ass sanctuary was nothing less than a misadventure. I didn’t know that my troubles were far from being over. I stood blankly on the crossroads in the dusty village for half an hour to find a suitable vehicle to reach Sanand, from where I would reach the Nal Sarovar sanctuary. Due to low frequencies, buses were hard to come by and all the ‘Chakadis’ and autorickshaws were already packed like sardines.

I had a premonition that my Gujarat adventure is going to the next level. Desperate, I prepared my mind to stand afoot on the rear of a jam packed jeep. Many such jeeps were passing by and I finally succumbed to the idea.


However, the rear gate of the jeep I climbed was non existent, perhaps broken on purpose to accommodate more people and luggage. There was a ‘jugaad’ metallic extension jutting out of the base surface of the passenger’s seats. 181220101080-2

The metal extension was hanging in the air, bouncing every time the jeep moved. I had to stand there and hold on to dear life and the metal bar on the jeep roof. Once the driver vroomed, I had the best adventure ride, sans any security measures in place. The wind just blew on my open head and body as I struggled hard to stand straight on this super fast bumpy ride. I was smiling throughout the ride at my foolishness. It was the first time I was pushing my limits and abandoning my comfort zone throughout the Gujarat trip and that’s why it will always be memorable. It prepared me for more reckless adventures in future. img_5756

I was unceremonious181220101082-2ly dumped at a nondescript ‘Gayatri hotel’ in the middle of nowhere. I was told that the bus to Sanand will stop here and then I can board it. ‘Bus to Sanand’ be damned, I was dying with hunger as I had still not had my breakfast and it was already 2:00 p.m. I feasted on a filling ‘Gujrati Thali’ for a throw away Rs.40 (Roti, rice, lentils, mixed sprouts veggie, potato curry , roughly cut onions, popaddums and a trademark sweet and sour Gujrati curry with chass) It was very basic and the food was nothing to write home about but when you have not eaten since morning, every morsel seems Ambrosia, no matter how it actually is! Time to burp merrily!


My bus had also arrived just in time in the hotel premises. After an hour of a sleepy ride (The bus was empty, yayy yayy!), I had arrived at Sanand. Chucking the chakadis, I boarded a ‘doodh wali gaadi’ and had a memorable evening at Nal Sarovar Sanctuary. Read about it here.

Post the breathtaking boat ride, I was dropped on bike at the crossroads outside the sanctuary. I was standing there, smiling romantically181220101086-2 just thinking of what all I had just seen. But my stupor broke in no time and within 10 minutes I realised that, I was stranded in pitch dark and no vehicle was ready to go to Ahmedabad, just an easy 100 kms away. The romance vanished in a jiffy!

Its moment like these I thank my stars that I was born a 6 feet plus, brown male in India. It was just 6:45 p.m. and it seemed like midnight. There were just 4-5 more people apart from me, all of them waiting to pick someone. There was no buildings (barring the run down sanctuary office in the distance), no huts, no street lights, no shops (I was hungry as hell and had no food!), no civilisation. There were some huts afar but I chose not to go there and miss a passing vehicle. To make it worse the two dogs whom I could barely see in the pitch dark were fighting over some petty issues (Girlfriends? Food? Territory? Whatever!).



To top it, one of them was playing Bollywood song on full volume ‘Munni badnaam hui, darling tere liye’ on his cell. I tried to strike a conversation with an older man. He said a ‘Doodh waali gaadi’ passes by at 8:30 p.m. If I am lucky I can get that. But I need to be attentive, lest I miss it. Soon the biker guy who took me inside the sanctuary also whizzed by. He refused to drop me at Ahmedabad but instead also suggested the 8:30p.m. jeep. I was running out of patience. What I feared was that people could mug me for as less as Rs.100/- or maybe my camera.


I just wished and prayed this was the last of my Gujrat misadventures. I have already had many weird experiences for the past 2 days and prayed that this one should be the grand finale. I would hesitantly ask for lifts to every vehicle passing by. Some stopped but none were ready to go to Ahmedabad. After sometime a truck halted. He asked me for a whopping Rs.800/- I thought about it for a minute and refused. Once the truck left, I cursed myself for refusing it.  Long after it had gone, I was still standing there begging for lift. The fault was mine. I had not done my homework properly. I took it for granted that I will get some vehicle easily. Leave alone vehicle, there was not even decent accommodation available in the vicinity. I even asked a chakadi driver to drop me but he too refused.


After an excruciating wait of 2 hours, one God sent jeep driver came to rescue. He peeped out of his window and looked at me hesitantly. I was sure he would refuse the way he was studying me. But to my delight, he let me in. Concealing me delirious state of mind, I hopped in without wasting a second. In that jungle, we had no option , but to trust each other. 10 minutes into the travel, he told me. ‘Aap shareef lage to maine rok diya, nahi to rokta nahi hoon.’(You look decent so I stopped, or else I wouldn’t)  Thank heavens for my superstar looks!

This was the only time we talked; rest of the journey we stayed awkward and quiet. After a ride of 45 minutes in dense dark forests, he asked for a paltry Rs.20/- I was taken aback at his honesty. We didn’t discuss money earlier.


I thanked him and gave him Rs.500/- saying, ‘Bhai bura mat mano, but aapne bahut help ki, please take Rs.500 /- (Brother, please don’t take it otherwise, but you have been of immense help, please accept Rs.500/-) He was surprised and happy!!! And never before was I so relieved to see the city lights! Phew! After this incidence I have time and again put myself in silly dangerous situations and rescued by the kindness of people. Now all I wished was a Rs. 200 room near the railway or bus station!  My wish was granted as I slept in a cheap yet cozy Ahmedabad hotel room that night!

P.S.: The next morning, I was supposed to take a heritage walk in the ‘pols’ of Old Ahmedabad. I was horrified to wake up to a dysfunctional camera battery charger. I had left a guava in the same bag and forgot about it. The guava had rotten and……….But then, that’s just me being me!


Disclaimer: This blog is based upon my personal experience. I do not want my readers to repeat the same mistakes. It was my foolishness and a lack of research which led to this situation. You might not get as lucky as I did. And I am not sure if you have the ‘superstar’ looks and a 6 feet plus height, lol.


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6 reasons to do your research before travelling

Pic above : Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Pre travel research helped me in locating the hidden gem of destinations around it.

Travelling requires bravery, commitment and a decent budget. My experience has taught me that it’s worth doing your research before setting off. It will help you make the most of what’s sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ever since my first trip, I have always researched on the destination before stepping foot on it.

So, before you board the plane, consider these reasons for dedicating at least some time to browsing the web for advice:

You don’t go to Jordan often. Do you know about the ‘Little Petra’ near the more famous Petra. (That’s me posing in Little Petra)
  1. You can prioritise

Having a look at where other people have visited, the places the loved and the attractions they hated will help you decide where to prioritise. Travel blogs are a great starting place to get honest opinions from which you can determine whether somewhere will be to your taste or not. It’s better to know these things beforehand, rather than waste your time. I often look up in Instagram to check out how a place actually looks like.

My Everest Base Camp trek cost me a bomb! Pre travel research helped me save a lot!
  1. You’ll save money


Checking discount sites, being able to haggle, choosing the discounted flights, and being able to ditch the travel agent – all are named as top tips for saving money, but require you to do research. You’ll thank yourself, though, as it will pay off in the long run. Before I traveled to Ladakh I did a research which helped me save money. I planned my days in such a way so that waste is minimised.

Wildlife expedition in Dudhwa gone wrong. Had I researched, I would have known it would be a foggy day with no wildlife sighting.
  1. You can ensure a safe adventure

 Turning up somewhere unprepared and expecting to scuba-dive, trek, bungee jump or take on any other adventure is possible. But it’s not the safest way of doing things. Being able to check out reviews beforehand ensures you have an enjoyable experience, rather than a worrying one. I have been in many dangerous situations. For safety advice for adventure travel, check out these tips for avoiding a Darwin Award.


Do you know if the locals of the destinations you are traveling to are friendly? That’s me posing with happy go lucky locals during Hola Mohalla festival.
  1. You might find unexpected opportunities

 Did you know Patagonia isn’t a country – it is a distinct geographical region spanning the lower sections of Argentina and Chile, or that every day in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour there’s a world-famous light and music show? Well, the more you research, the more you’ll find out. For example, I would have missed out on sampling Rhododendron juice on Roopkund trek had I not known about it beforehand. Similarly, researching for my Everest Base Camp trek not only helped me prepare myself mentally and physically but it also made me alert on which things I should not miss eating en route.

My research told me about the least visited temples of Ikkeri and Keladi near the famed Jog falls in Karnataka!
  1. Understanding different cultures

 It’s important to be a good traveler, not one who disregards the local customs. By doing bit of research on the social norms, you’ll endear yourself to the locals. Stunning Places give the example of appropriate clothing in the Middle East, but other instances include the importance of tipping in the US and slurping noodles in Japan. When I was in South India, I was clueless how to drink the famed filter coffee. After having committed faux paux, I seeked help from social media and did it right.


When in Bhutan, be like a Bhutanese. Can you make out who is Indian (me) and who is Bhutanese here?

The view from my #SoulWindow is alert!

What have you learnt by travelling? Share your experiences with us to help others.

Don’t you want to know beforehand where are they serving the best burgers in town. I had this memorable burger in Thamel, Nepal.

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Make new friends as you go. Like I did in Manali!

The content produced here is original and its copyright stays with Abhinav Singh. The same can not be reproduced without permission.


#MyGration Story – Migrants of Ladakh!

Picture above – What you see here are the people from Dha Hanu Village, 160 kms northwest of Leh. They are called Brokpa aka Drokpa and are billed as the last Aryans in the valley. It’s said that their ancestors were once a part of Alexander the Great‘s empire. Look closely and you will see blue or green eyes, brown hair and fairer skin. On special occasions such as this, you can find them wearing a ‘flowerpot’ on their head.

Once an isolated region of India few knew or cared to know about, Ladakh is now a popular destination for many. Tourism since the 1970s has opened up opportunities for people not only from the state of Jammu and Kashmir but also from other parts of country, including far away states like M.P. and Maharashtra. A renewed interest by tourists in the last one decade has kick-started lot of development in the region and it is only going to grow in future. Some of it is bad, some good.

Muslims performers from Turtuk near Indo – Pak border.

Bhojpuri speaking workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar toiling it in construction work and restaurants, Punjabis selling comfort food (Read Chola Bhatura, Kadhi Chawal) to Thukpa weary tourists, Kashmiris selling carpets and oddly, fruits and vegetables and Nepalis working in hospitality industry make Ladakh a polyglot place. Not something which I expected before I visited Leh. Internal Migration is also rampant. Many people within Ladakh region travel to Leh and other touristy places in season to make the most of it. During winters, they either retreat to their villages and “do nothing” or take up seasonal jobs (Driving, cooking etc) with army in inhospitable sub zero conditions.  But then such migrations also took place even before the tourism boom. Many Punjabis and Muslims from Kashmir had settled here mainly for trade. Ladakh was also an important destination when it was the part of ancient ‘Silk Route’

These migrants made my stay in Ladakh interesting. The dark skinned laborer from Bihar who stopped my car en route to Pangong Tso for water and food looked incongruous in the empty; often gloomy landscapes of Ladakh. Happy Singh, a Sikh from Kashmir persuaded me to have ‘langar’ (Community meal) at the Gurudwara with much warmth and a big smile. It could have been any place in Punjab. Another Sikh man sold books and other Ladakh merchandise in Leh at his store ‘Book Worm’(Next to Hotel Lingzi) for the past 20 years. Then there was the Maharashtrian who listened to Marathi songs from the movie Sairat every time I crossed his path. One of the journalists who accompanied me took me to his middle aged uncle’s home who had a second home in Leh (bachelor’s pad?) and was a contactor with the army.

They had all re-created their smaller versions of their hometown in whatever way they could. But they all also blended well with a culture much alien to them, bound together with that thing called Indianness.

Gulzar and Abdul – Swag mode on!
  • Gulzar Ahmad from Srinagar comes to Leh every year in March or April to sell fruits and vegetables. “Profit in these months is more in Ladakh than in Srinagar. Foreigners mostly buy fruits from the shop but the main clients are the locals.” The shop is rented and so is their accommodation. They share the houses with others from Srinagar. However they keep mingling with the locals and people from the Buddhist society. Every shop had a back up. Abdul Majeed is the backup of Gulzar in this case. The shops close down from December to February. So between March and December, the duo take turns to visit their hometown Srinagar.

2-  Shaikh Ameez from Maharashtra

Shaikh Ameez – There was something so Marathi about him that I couldn’t resist talking to him. I miss Maharashtra and how!

Shaikh Ameez, 19, hails from Aurangabad, Maharashtra. I heard him speak Marathi one night near Leh Main Market. I have been a migrant myself, never settling at one city. My 7 years in Mumbai made me fall in love with all things Maharashtra. The next day, I couldn’t resist asking him where in Maharashtra he belonged to. “I have lived all my life in Aurangabad (Near Mumbai). It is my first visit to Leh. This is actually my chacha‘s (Paternal Uncle) shop. My main agenda to come to Leh this April was not to sell jewelries and precious stones but to see Ladakh.”

 How much of Ladakh have you seen? It has been 5 months that you are here.”

“I have not had time to see Ladakh. Now that end of season October is coming, I will keep some time aside to visit places in Ladakh. I have studied till class 12th and want to pursue medical courses now. Also I am looking forward to meet my parents again. I miss them and my friends.”

Indulging myself, I ask him, “Do you miss vada pao too?”
“No I am not a foodie.”

I took offense and anyways moved on after exchanging some pleasantries in Marathi.

3- Mr. Nazeer and Manjoor from Srinagar

Mr. Nazeer and Mr. Manjoor. He would say hi to me almost daily!
  • A friend of mine bought a nice Kashmiri style Poncho (A steal for Rs. 450) from Nazeer. I happened to accompany her so he used to wave at me every day when I passed his shop in Leh Main Market. We exchanged monosyllabic greetings and went about our business. My 15 days of stay at Leh made me curious of his story. He runs this shop on rented space from May to October, he told me. Shawls, dress material, Kashmiri dress, paintings, silver and gold jewellery, Pashmina sweaters, Thangkas and many metallic handicrafts vied for my attention as he told me, “Business in Leh is not as good as it is in Goa. In October I will move to Majorda in Goa. Here people come for adventure and not so much for leisure. Hence the less inclination for shopping. My family is in Kashmir, so I will visit them for 20 days before I head to Goa in mid November. My cousin Manjoor Ahmad Anchari helps me run this shop.”

Note – I found the products at his shop nice. You can find him in his shop in the season time. Shop name – Tibetan and Zanskar Arts. Phone – 9596568525 (Nazir Ahmad Anchari). Email – tibetan93@gmail.com

4 – My namesake Monty from Satna, Madhya Pradesh

Monty – The Mr. Sunshine smile and a namesake!
  • Story of Monty was similar yet different than Mr. Nazeer (See previous story). His genuine sunshine smile stood out in the erstwhile gloomy Hundar which looked like a ‘Ghost Town’ with not many people visible on streets.

Me, “What’s your name?”


“Waah, my nickname is also Montu. Sometime they call me Monty too.”

“Haha, same here. I have been called Montu by some.”

“So, what is Monty doing in Hundar?” (close to Nubra valley and Pakistan)

“I come here every April and manage Ibex Guest house. In October I move to a bar in Morjim beach in Goa and work there full time till the season is over. But before I move between the two places, I visit my family in Satna (Madhya Pradesh).  I learned, many workers in hospitality industry work like that, even those workers from Nepal who work in small time restaurants in Ladakh”

Ladakhi women wearing a Perak headdress!

I am sure if I had more time (16 days are not enough?), I would have unearthed more such stories from Ladakh. It is always enriching to know the stories of the people behind the smiles you see every day on your travels.

The view from my #SoulWindow is eye opening!

It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGration story on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

I was in Ladakh for 16 days. I was invited as a part of the media team to cover the Naropa Festival, the once in 12 years ‘Kumbh of the Himalayas’. Check out the exclusive pictures and read about it here.

Kashmiri men making Kulcha Bread at one of the many bakeries in the narrow lanes behind Leh Main Market.

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#MyGration Series : Of studying under tree, the bell bottom era and small town stories of 60s and 70s!

This is the first in the series of  Instagram series called #MyGration stories where I talk to people and chronicle the circumstances that led to their migration from one place to another. And other emotional nothings! My instagram link given at the end. I share longer version here. Starting the series with my father Mr. Aniruddha Singh, a retired officer from U.P. Electricity Board.

Featured pic : Not a smoker, my dad dressed up like this perhaps under influence of Hippie culture! Its one of my favourite picture.It was shot on 21st march, 1974

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My dad at Shanti Van, New Delhi. 11th November, 1980

My dad was born in Baansgaon, a village known for its Shrinet Rajpoots near Gorakhpur. I thought he lived here for a better part but during the interview I was surprised to discover that he hardly ever lived here. My grandfather (since he already had a job in Basti) moved to Basti soon after my dad was born. He is youngest of all three brothers. He fondly remembers studying under a tree in a school near Kateshwar Park for at least 2 years. Later, the makeshift school got a tin shade to fight nature’s elements till at least for the next 3 years. Gradually, they got a permanent building till 6th to 8th standard, albeit with an unplastered floor. He and his friends often used to sleep on the mud floor of the school waiting for a Guruji (teacher) who used to take their extra classes for free from 9p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Surprised, I asked, “Why free?”

“So that we could perform better.”

Some lesson here, for our money hungry coaching institutes. My dad even gave up a scholarship voluntarily for a lesser privileged child.

Family Old_0004
Me (in lap), my dad, brother and my mother in Baansgaon

Mats made up of ‘taat’ torn rags, ‘sutli’ (rope) etc was used to sit. Some students even brought their own quilt and blanket during the winters. For high school, around the year 1966, he moved to a bigger building, Government Inter College.

He chuckles when I ask, “Did you sleep on mat here too.”

“Haha, No, It was a grand building! A proper one! ”

Later in the fashionable 70s, the family moved to Gorakhpur and he started wearing Bell Bottom pants. He did his B.E. (Electrical) from Madan Mohan Malviya University Of Technology from Gorakhpur. On a 10 month training he moved between Roorkie, Saharanpur and Dehradoon. Then job took him to Varanasi (I was born here), Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Kayamganj, Kannauj, (back to) Lucknow, Sitapur and Mainpuri. He and my mother are now settled in Lucknow. The job spanned 33 years, 1 month (he insists). June 1978 to July 2011, the figures are on his fingertips, no ‘ummm’ here.

Family Old_0002
Me, my mother, elder brother and bell bottoms.

Today, when he looks back, he finds most connected to Basti although it has been decades that he has visited the small town. He yearns to go back to Basti and see his home, meet old neighbours, visit his school and maybe even give a special class. This tops his list of ‘to do’, now that he is retired. After doing this interview, I am planning one such trip in winters this year. With Baansgaon, he has had no real connection as such. This surprised me as I always thought otherwise. He hardly lived there. Thus he is more emotionally attached to Basti, where he spent 15 years during growing up. Our family belongs to Shrinet Rajpoots (aka Kshatriya /Thakur). I was shocked to learn that originally I am a ‘pahadi’ (people from mountains). Our ancestors belonged to Srinagar, Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand (formerly Uttar Pradesh). The entire clan migrated to Baansgaon after a social upheaval. Today Baansgaon is known for its Srinet Rajpoot. There were total of 6 places (called Cheh gawaan), the clan migrated to, including Deoria. The grand migration was led by Shri Madan Maniyaar Singh You can find many schools and colleges after his name in Baansgaon and Gorakhpur.

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Shanti Van. 11th January, 1980

Today, in his comfortable home in Lucknow, he misses his time in Basti. Those were his most carefree days. “I used to return to home only to eat and then vanish again to play outdoors with other kids” Though, his dream place remains Lucknow. He doesn’t want to migrate to any other city now.

“Don’t you want to come to Noida and stay with us?”, I ask

“That would be a forced migration. I love my life in Lucknow!”

Family Old_0001
Me in Benaras

This is based on a telephonic interview with my father. The interview gave me some perspective. It also helped me understand who I am and where I really belong to. It also humbled me and made me grateful for the privileges I have had ever since I was born.

It left me wondering what would have become of me, had my family stayed back in the mountains of Uttarakhand or say, Baansgaon,  a dusty nondescript village.

 Don’t you think you should be asking your father the same questions?

Family Old
Me in Lucknow

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The family looks like this now. (L to R) My Elder brother, father, Nephew, Mother, Sister in law and me, my pet dog. My niece is missing in the picture. Also another pet.