CS Sharada Prasad | Travel
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Kuttundi, a Kannada podcast series

It is my eighth year in USA. Though I have spent good portion of those eight years in India doing my PhD research, I have spent enough time in US and have interacted with good number of Americans to have developed a unique understanding of this country. I want to share those observations of this land. Hence, I am starting a podcast series in Kannada. I am calling it as Kuttundi.

Kuttundi is a candy like concoction of tamarind, jaggery, red chilli, and cumin powder. A well made Kuttundi – with a balance of sweetness, sourness, and hotness – is a delight to the senses. My life experiences here is US have been of similar mix. Hence the name.

To subscribe, search for ‘kuttundi’ on your favorite podcast app or add this rss to your podcast app. It is also listed on SoundCloudiTunes, Google Play, and here, on my blog. I will be uploading a new episode on 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month.

Download the first episode here or listen to it via SoundCloud

BTW, Nallikayi hosts good set of Kannada podcasts. You might want to check that out too!

Is routine the killer?

Please watch the video before you read further.

The journey is inspiring. The video communicates the charm of the experience quite well. The take away message of the video is emphasized in multiple times – routine is the enemy of time and it has to be disrupted. For the life to be called “well lived”, the brain should be turned on, all the time. The way to turn the brain on is to travel, to provide the brain with an external stimulation. I have some concerns regarding such an approach to life.

Routine is life to many of us. Many people have jobs that don’t pay well to save and travel, many have families that they cannot leave and go. A well lived life need not be a life where one is well traveled.

I love motorcycles. But I also understand the importance of doing journeys on a bicycle. Certain places are so beautiful that the only way to experience the cultural and natural landscape is to take more time to immerse ourselves. Cycling provides a great opportunity to do so. But doing long trips on bicycle is not everyone’s cup of tea. I admire and appreciate Jedidiah Jenkins effort in doing the whole trip on a bicycle. But one should also remember that travel is a new industry heavily promoted by capitalistic forces. The video urges people to travel but it does not take into consideration the damage such a travel can do to the environment. Not everyone has the time and stamina to bicycle.

What I prefer instead is developing a sense of gratitude for all that I already have. The brain can be conditioned through meditation and other spiritual practices to be constantly alert and stimulated. The mind can be trained to imagine and experience good things. Below is the video I recommend

GPX file – Kalindi Khal pass trek

Kalindi - the fiery mountain

Kalindi – the fiery mountain

I completed this trek last month. Online, I could not find any GPX or any other GPS supported files related to this trek. Here is the link to the GPX file logged by my GPS during our trek.

Day 1: Gangotri to Chirbasa

Day 2: Chirbasa to Bhojwassa

Day 3: Bhojwassa to Tapovan

Day 4: Tapovan to Nandanvan

Day 5: Nandanvan to Vasuki Tal

Day 6: Vasuki Tal to Khara Pattar

Day 7: Khara Pattar to Shweta Glacier

Day 8: Shweta Glaciet to Kalindi Base

Day 9: Kalindi base to Raj Parav

Day 10: Raj Parav to Ghastoli

Day 11: Ghastoli to Badrinath

All the photographs were geotagged and here is a link to some of them.

I belong to the roads!

I started my fieldwork in January 2014 and I halfway through. Since then I have travelled to two countries and more than 25 cities, close to 12,000km. The best part is, all of this is by road. Not even a single flight.

Yes, travelling by road takes time but gives you back a unique experience. Time allows to absorb the landscape around you, observe your fellow passengers, see the world where you really belong to, up close!

I prefer waiting on a railway platform to waiting in an airport. In an airport, I am surrounded by snobs who are upset with flight delays, long check-in lines, and cumbersome security checks. In an airport I am surrounded by disappointment. But on a train platform, I see hope, I see support. When I travel by road, I see how 90% of India really lives. On an aircraft, people wear earphones to avoid conversations with fellow passengers. On a train, people share food and tea with fellow passengers.

Trains - The lifeline of India

Trains – The lifeline of India

I usually travel alone. That pushes me to trust people. I leave bags with strangers when I go to use restrooms or buy something to eat. There are still trustworthy people out there. World has always been bad and cunning. In the recent days, media is more focussed than ever on highlighting crime. This has made every traveller suspicious in in the eyes of other travellers. As long as we can trust people, there is joy left in living, and there is peace left is breathing.

I have six more months left. More travelling and bonding with the earth and its people. I am grateful that my fieldwork has given me ample opportunities to travel by road and interact with people who keep this country going. Every mile I travel, I get to know India a little better.

India, I LOVE you!

Kalindi Khal – Elevation Profile

Below is an approximate elevation profile of Kalindi Khal trek from Gangotri to Badrinath. A group of 15 of my friends and myself attempted this in May 2007. We had to retreat because of a snow storm.

Using paper maps, I have created a google map and an elevation profile For the people who are curious about the path of this trek.

If Google Maps interest you, here is the link.

If you wish to view the below profiler in a separate page, click here.

Practice makes us perfect

From my Dibrugarh diary:

I received the final confirmation of my ticket at 5:30 pm via an SMS; I had been wait-listed in the AC coach. A wait-listed ticket booked online gets cancelled automatically. Hence I had to buy a new ticket standing in the line. That meant that I had to reach the train station at least two hours before the departure time, 11:45 pm, of my train.

I called my auto driver and asked him to pick me up at 9:30pm from the hotel. thinking that the 7 km ride to the train station should not take more than 20 minutes. The auto driver was punctual and arrived with company, his brother. I loaded my heavy backpack and boarded the auto with a feeling of uneasiness. En route to the train station, a police constable flagged us near a junction. But our auto driver brazenly ignored him and continued.

“Wow! I would never do that to a police constable!” I said with all the surprise I could muster.

“Oh, he tries to flag vehicles every night,” said the driver’s brother.

“Yes, that’s what they do in Bangalore too. They check whether the drivers are drunk,”

“Yes, we are drunk. But not much, you know. We split a 375 ml whiskey bottle between us. We exercise moderation,” replied the brother in a voice filled with honesty.

“Whoa! You guys would have been in trouble had that policeman caught you!” I said with amazement.

“Yeah. But that police guy himself was drunk. He was trying to stop us to get a free ride home. He does it every night and begs people to drop him home. Didn’t you see him wobbling?” the driver asked me.

“No. It was too dark. And it is still too dark,” I cleared my throat. “Please drive carefully. The road is full of potholes!”

“Don’t worry sir. We drink every night and drive. We have practice,” replied the brother confidently.

Terrified by the situation I was in, I shifted to a less terrifying subject to distract myself. “What do you guys think about Modi and BJP coming to power?” I asked, staring at the darkness ahead of me.

FAQs in Bangladesh

If you are a foreigner travelling in Bangladesh, please be ready to answer the following questions:

  1.  Which country?
  2. Are you married?
  3. What is your religion?

Third question was the most ubiquitous in Bangladesh. I did not experience this in Nepal. But in Kenya, it was a different story.

In Chittagong, near Sitakund, I met with a group of 8 to 12-year-old children playing cricket in the back alleys.

From a distance a kid hollered, “Which country?”

“India”

The kids stopped playing cricket and approached me to ask a more important question, “Which religion?”

“Humanity,” I replied with a smile.

“No, I am not asking about how you look. I am asking what religion you follow,” blurted a kid in the group.

“I don’t have any religion,” I reassured them.

“One always has a religion”

“See, you are wrong. I don’t have one and I am alive, so far”

“You are lying!”

No meat, please!

My family does not eat meat for religious reasons. Now that I have disowned my religion, I can eat meat. But I don’t do so as to continue patronising my friends who eat meat.

Today, on a ferry, I met a Bangladeshi who was kind enough to befriend me and join me for lunch. In my broken Bengali Hindi hybrid language, I explained him that I don’t eat meat. He told waiter something and a plate with what looked like meat was placed in front of me by the waiter.

“I said I don’t eat meat, only vegetables”

“But this is not meat. This is chicken”, said my friend.

“I don’t eat chicken”, I said pushing the plate aside. The waiter went in and got me another dish. Even that had a flaky bone in it.

“Is this fish?”, I asked with all the calmness.

“Yes”, said my new friend with the “how can you not recognize fish?” look.

“I don’t eat fish.”

With a look full of confusion, my new friend said, “But you said no meat and you don’t eat chicken and fish? “.

“No! No meat, no chicken, no fish. Only vegetables”, I replied with my face beaming with pride.

My friend said something to the waiter in Bengali and the waiter placed a blue plastic mug in front of me. I peered into the mug to find a familiar liquid – dal.

Looking at me pouring the watery dal into my plate of rice when everyone else was enjoying fish and chicken curry, my new friend leaned over to me and whispered in my ears, “do you have any disease that forbids you from eating anything other than dal?”

Without realising who was patronising whom now, I said, “No” and continued eating. The already watery dal seemed even more tasteless.

When can one get married?

Yesterday for the first time I entered a country by road. It was a great experience.

After crossing the border, I took a bus from Satkhira to Khulna, my first bus ride in Bangladesh, and it was full of surprises. The guy next to me told me that he got his daughter married last week. I responded back complimenting him saying, “You look quite young. I would not have guessed that you had a daughter of marriageable age!” (I know I sound as if I am hitting on a woman in a bar!)

“I am forty and my daughter is 16 years old. How old are you?”, he replied with a smile that exposed his brownish teeth.

“34”, I replied.

“Are you married?”, he asked.

I said, “No.”

“Why?”

“Things somehow did not workout”

“One should always get married. You have beautiful women in India. I love Indian women. I dream of them all the time. But I could get married only to a Bangladeshi woman. But you should find an Indian woman and get married soon”, he implored in a way.

“I am an old guy as per Indian family standards. Which family will give me a girl?”, I responded jovially.

He chided me and said, “If you have gold and a good erection, you can get married any time!”

“What?” I asked in shock, not believing what I had just heard

The man this time yelled over the hum of the engine, “I said, if you have gold and a good erection, you can get married any time!”

I did not know how to respond to that statement, “Oh, this bus is going very slow, isn’t it?” I changed the topic and saved myself from some more public embarrassment (or at least I hope to think so).

How to go to Bangladesh by road?

When applying for Bangladeshi VISA, specify that you want to travel by road. One can reach Bangladesh by road from Kolkata either via Benapole or Basirhat crossing. If Dhaka is your destination, there are direct buses from Kolkata and Agartala.

I had to go to Khulna. Khulna has no direct buses from Kolkata and here is how I came to Khulna by road today.

  • 10:25 am – Left my hotel in Salt Lake City, Kolkata. Cost Rs.250
  • 10:45 am – Reached Sealdah Station
  • 11:05 – Bought my ticket to Basirhat (12:12 Hasnabad train). Cost Rs.15
  • 11:35 – Train arrived on platform 6
  • 12:15 – Train departed Sealdah
  • 2:20 – Train reached Basirhat (about 70km from Sealdah)
  • 2:30 – Took a rickshaw from the train station to Bodh ghat (it sounded something like that). About 2km. Rs.7
  • 2:50 – Auto-rickshaw to Bhomra- Gojadanga border. Rs.15 per person or Rs.100 if you want the auto for yourself. 9 km
  • 3:15 – Reached border
  • 3:25 – Done with Emigration
  • 3:35 – Done with Land Customs
  • 3:40 (4:10 Bangldesh Local time) – Crossed the border
  • 4:20 – Done with Bangladesh Immigration
  • 4:30 – Done with Bangladesh Customs
  • 4:40 – Boarded Baby taxi to Satkhira. Tk.25, 15km
  • 5:20 – Reached Satkhira
  • 5:25 – Rickshaw to bus station (Tk.5)
  • 5:35 – Boarded bus to Khulna. 60km, Tk90
  • 8:20 – Reached Khulna

The other option is to take a bus bound to Dhaka from Kolkata (International Bus Terminus, Salt Lake City or Shohagh Paribahan, Madhyamgram) and get down in Jessore and then take a bus to Khulna.

I did not pay anyone to cross the border. People will approach you to help you with filling of forms and then ask you for money. Avoid them all.  It is better to carry a declaration of all the electronic items you are carrying and get it certified by the customs officer.

My entry and exit points are different. I am leaving Bangladesh via Akhaura crossing to Agartala.