The unfathomable Grand Canyon.

Let me be frank. I don’t get it when people say what’s in Grand Canyon except for the rock. Personally, I get very philosophical every time I visit it or think about it. May be it’s just me, as it is said ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder‘. So, here is my little ode to this magnificent natural wonder that awe-inspires me every single time I visit it.

Standing royal, the Grand Canyon reiterates the power of nature to us. Every glance at its dimensions takes our breath away and each attempt to peruse it reminds us how tiny we are in this Universe. It inspires us to be undeterred by the trivial problems of life and to stand sentinel to protect ourselves and those who trust in us. Here is my Grand Salute, to The Grand Canyon!

This photograph was taken by me a few years ago when we visited the Canyon during winter time. Isn’t it more stunning to see it dotted with snow, and don’t you agree that no camera can beat the naked eye’s view! 🙂

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Do share links of your blogs on Grand Canyon, I would love to read!

 

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Dochu La & Chele La – Bhutan’s sacred mountain passes!

Hello! Welcome to the third and final post on my Bhutan tour experiences. If you haven’t already read the previous two posts, please read them here at

Bhutan’s Thimpu and Bhutan’s Paro.

In this post, I am going to brief about our trip to Bhutan’s sacred mountain passes, Dochu La and Chele La.

When mountains call you, there are no excuses. There is a reason behind it, a purpose behind it. And what do the mountains tell us? To stand still and strong against the blustering winds. Mountains are unyielding protectors, they show us the righteous way of life. They inspire us with their patience and perseverance. They are unconquerable, but they leave the passes for us, humans to go closer to them, and reach them for the fillip. I witnessed the same kind of spirit going closer to the holy Himalayas during our Bhutan trip! We visited Dochu La and Chele La, the two mountains passes in the Himalayas of Bhutan.

Dochu La Pass

Located at an elevation of 3,100 metres, Dochu La is located on the road from Thimpu to Punakha. To the east of the pass, the snow clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas are seen prominently and among them is the Mt. Masanggang at 7,158 metres (23,484 ft) which is the highest peak in Bhutan, known in local language as the Mt. Gangkar Puensum. The road further runs into the scenic Punakha valley.

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Druk Wangyal Lhakhang
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Druk Wangyal Chortens

The environment is calm and religious, with 108 memorial chortens called the Druk Wangyal Chortens built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. There is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honor of the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Also, there is the country’s first Royal Botanical Park located adjacent to the chortens. While this whole scene on the pass is a colorful feast to the eyes, the backdrop is often claded with a moving blanket of fog obscuring and revealing the Himalayas along with the near-by verdant greens leaving your mind and soul in tranquility.

It is an indelible experience for me to meditate inside and outside the Lhakhang overlooking the Himalayas.

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Chele La Pass

Chele La Pass is one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. It is the highest point with an altitude of 3988 metres. The road to Chele La is flanked by dense forests, and the trip to reach the pass takes you on a non-stop jaunt. Chele La, unlike Dochu La is very jagged and is surrounded by hilly terrains covered with vegetation that changes colors with seasons. The pass roughened by the cold gusts signifies a different side of Mother nature. Colorful prayer flags can be seen fluttering on the rough slopes making the view bright and pleasant. On a clear day, there are spectacular views of Mt. Jumolhari, Jichu Drake and adjoining peaks to the North West, as well as the view of the beautiful Haa and Paro valley.

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‘The best dreams happen when you are awake’! And yes, my dream to feel closer to the Himalayas came true this way. I will await to witness this heavenly experience once again in my lifetime.

So, did the mountains ever call you? If yes, please leave a comment and tell me all about it. I would love to connect with like-minds. 

Thank you for reading. More on our interactions and conversations with folks in Bhutan, and why I think Bhutan qualifies for a happy country in the upcoming posts. Stay tuned, and stay connected. See you later!

Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness. (Part 2) In and around Paro!

Welcome back!

I hope you have read about our Bhutan travel experiences in my previous blog here. Now, I am going to share with you more details of our itinerary.

After spending in and around the charming Capital city of Bhutan, Thimpu, we moved to Paro for a two day tour. Along with being a picturesque city, Paro is a historic town with structures with traditional architecture. It is also home for Bhutan’s only international airport, Paro Airport.

The main attractions in the city tour of Paro are Rinpung Dzong, Paro Taktsang, Kyichu Lhakhang, National Museum of Bhutan, Paro Airport bird’s eye view and the shopping streets of Paro.

Rinpung Dzong

With history beginning in the 15th century, Rinpung Dzong is a large Buddhist Monastery and a fortress that now has various administrative offices of Paro within it. Outside of the Dzong is the Deyangkha Temple and inside are fourteen shrines and chapels. It is quite interesting to go around the Dzong and to soak in all the historical and cultural significance. Below are a few photographs taken in the Dzong.

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Paro Taktsang/Tiger’s Nest

Paro Taktsang, the very famous Himalayan sacred monastery is perched on the cliffs of upper Paro Valley. It can be reached either through a trek, or a horseback ride. Guru Padmasambhava who brought Buddhism to Bhutan is believed to have meditated there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. The monastery has a rich and very significant history related to Bhutan and Buddhism. Read more about the world famous heritage site here.

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Kyichu Lhakhang

The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsän Gampo. Read more about it on wiki here.

National Museum of Bhutan

The museum of Bhutan documents the cultural dances, flora and fauna, and other historical facts of Bhutan. There is a video played in the museum showcasing the different Bhutanese dances and festivals and their significance. It is quite fascinating to go round the museum. Aerial view of Paro valley from the museum offers breath-taking vistas. Photograph below.

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Paro Airport bird’s eye view

Paro Airport is undoubtedly one of the world’s very scenic airports. Nestled in a gorgeous panorama and in a deep valley is the airport adjacent to the banks of River Paro Chhu. The whole scene is fabulous and it stays with you forever.

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Last but not the least, shopping! What fun is it when you do world travel and not collect souvenirs? Here is my Bhutan travel haul. I bought most of these things on the street bazaar of Paro. They are going to keep all the memories alive to me.

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So far, I have covered Thimpu and Paro cities in my blogs. They are two fascinating places with a blend of cultural significance and nature’s heavenly beauty, thus making travel experience ethereal and memorable. I will be continuing on the sacred mountain passes of Chele La and Dochu La in my last and third blog. I hope you will await it. See you later! 🙂

Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness (Part 1). In and around Thimpu!

A few years ago, the topics during a tea-time confab were Gross Happiness Index, Bhutan, Himalayas and Taktsang Monastery. Like a seed planted grows into a tree, this discussion intrigued me a lot and my fascination to witness the Bhutanese way of living increased by the day. All the enthralling aspects of Bhutan and my all time obsession with nature, and mountains in particular, I added Bhutan travel to my bucket list.

Come 2016, life showed a direction towards pursuing my travel dream. And yes, I visited Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness.

Pristine landscapes, spectacular views, amicable people and their spiritual way of life, rich heritage, comforting food, and everything else so heavenly qualify Bhutan for a Utopia. Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is full of never-ending range of hills, verdant plains, meandering perennial rivers, meditative sounds of the Buddhist chants and colorful prayer flags tied everywhere reminding us that nature and spirituality are inseparable.

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Though the pictures don’t do justice to the real beauty of this paradise, and my words can’t describe the magical experience, I shall try my best to give a brief of how and what it was. Our tour was of four days covering the two major cities of Bhutan, Thimpu and Paro. A further long stay will give you much time and opportunity to explore the country better.

First two days in Thimpu

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The Memorial Chorten

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The Memorial Chorten or Memorial Stupa was built in the honor of the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It does not contain human remains, but just a photograph of the King. It is circumambulated in clockwise direction like other religious structures. We spent about an hour in the Chorten witnessing the annual recitation of ‘Seven Line Prayer’ to Guru Rinpochhe. The whole milieu was sacred and ingenuous.

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Buddhists chanting peace mantras. Prayer wheels with “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on them

We later visited the Great Buddha Dordenma, a 169ft gigantic Buddha statue and the Takin Preserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan.

Rest of city tour had viewing gorgeous vistas and visiting the important places of interest like Changlimithing multi-purpose national stadium, National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Arts and Crafts school), Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar, National Library of Bhutan etc.

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National Institute for Zorig Chusum trains the Bhutanese youth in 13 native and traditional Bhutanese arts like wood carving, statue-making, painting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery etc. Some of the finished products are also sold for good prices.

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Authentic Bhutanese Arts and Crafts Bazaar, Thimpu

The shops had a unique collection of handcrafted house decors, clothes, book marks, key chains, Bhutanese masks, Bhutanese musical instruments, hand bags, jewelry and many more. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors.

Tashichho Dzong

Tashichhoedzong build by the first Dharma Raja, is a Buddhist monastery and fortress on the banks of Wang Chu River. There are thirty temples, chapels and shrines within it. It is the office of Bhutan’s civil government and Kingship together. A few kms near the Dzong is the King’s palace, the Dechencholing Palace. The photograph below is an aerial view of the Dzong and its surroundings.

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Bhutanese Cuisine

Coming to cuisine, red rice and buckwheat are Bhutan’s two main foods. Red rice in Bhutan has an earthy flavor. The Bhutanese make soups and stews out of various vegetables and meats (yak meat being a specialty).  Ema datshi, which is their national dish, is spicy made with large, green chili peppers in a cheesy sauce. It is one of their major comforting and widely made dishes. Momos (dumplings) are also quite famous. Butter Tea (also called Suja) is made of the Bhutanese Tea Leaves, Water, Butter and salt. The Bhutanese also include various spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, caraway etc in their cooking.

Dha/Archery and Traditional Dresses Gho & Kira

The National game of Bhutan is Dha or Archery. We made sure we wore the traditional dresses of Bhutan (Gho for men and Kira for women) and played archery amidst the serene hilly terrains.

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The Kira
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Playing Dha or Archery wearing a Gho
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Making of the arrows

Bhutanese Architecture

Traditional Architecture remains prevalent in Bhutan. Throughout its history, Bhutan has mainly followed the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture. Any new structure construction is supposed to abide the rules. Read more on the Architecture of Bhutan in wiki here.

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Touring Bhutan is not only a way to escape in the tranquility of nature, but also a fun trip getting to know their unique culture and tradition. It opens your heart to simplicity, variety and spirituality.

Revive your body and awaken your soul, go visit this magical Kingdom.

More on the remaining itinerary in next blogs. I will take through our Paro city tour and the sacred mountainous passes.

So..have you ever been to Bhutan? Please share your experiences, and blog links. Thanks for reading. 🙂

What rain brings.

Monsoons remind me of Visakhaptnam aka Vizag, my home town. I have lived all my childhood waking up to a kaleidoscope of greens, thanks to my dad, an ardent nature lover who thought we should live as close to nature as possible.

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I am being a little biased by mentioning only the rosy things here, else I should also go on about the rainy season woes 🙂

Monsoons in Vizag bring a burst of vibrancy and a splash of lush green to an already verdant view. Our home being at foot hill of the Eastern Ghats and a bit sloped, we experience lovely and fresh water streams gushing on a heavy rainfall day. The sight of monsoon clouds hovering over the majestic hills shrouding and revealing them is in deed salubrious.

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And oh, not to forget the tiny pools of water collected on our terrace top, I remember jumping into them and splashing water all over myself. All those little birdies singing at the top of their voice and, freshest flowers and leaves with rain droplets raise your spirits high and make you live in the moment.

Over time I have captured these scenes in my camera and though they don’t do justice to the beauty of this rainy paradise, they keep these special memories alive. So well, I have a lot of rainy tales to tell, but for now please enjoy viewing these photographs.

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So, will you tell me what you love about rains, apart from petrichor? 🙂

Remembering the woods of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
                                    – Robert Frost
It is a humbling experience to live in the placid woods – the crisp weather, the forest sounds, the sun peeking through the tall trees, the howling of the gentle wind and all that ambiance coming alive straight out of a fairy tale. One such remarkable experience is what we had living in a quaint little cottage in the deep woods of Pinetop-Lakeside, a popular summer resort in Arizona.

The cottage we rented

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We were up to a lot of shenanigans ranging from swinging, playing cricket, singing and yelling near the bonfire and running wild in the woods.

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About the town- Pinetop-Lakeside

Pinetop-Lakeside boasts of its exquisite natural beauty and is surrounded by the White Mountains, the Apache/Sitgreaves National Forest, and the Fort Apache Reservation. Since we were visiting only for a couple of days, the available recreational activities like hiking, biking, fishing etc were not in our to-do list.

Fools Hollow Lake

After spending one whole day goofing around the woods and experiencing life in the cottage, the second day we went to relax by the Fools Hollow Lake. It is a recreation lake park near the city of Show Low, a few miles away from our cabin.

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It was in deed difficult to say good-bye to such a pleasant vacation, a vacation full of life. Like they say “Get lost in nature and you will find yourself”, even if it was only for two days, I did gather enough memories for a lifetime to look back and find myself whenever I get lost. Now, this is what I called Nature Therapy.

Did you ever take a walk in the woods?

In and around my maternal ancestral village, Munganda – In pictures.

Tucked in lush green fields of Konaseema, an area in the Godavari delta of the East Godavari District in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is my maternal ancestral village, called Munganda (Originally, Muni-khanda, The Land of the sages). I left half of my heart there, as most of my childhood memories are associated with it. I get reminded of my Grandma’s heart-warming meals, delightful conversations with my Grandpa, those verdant farm lands, the pristine weather, beautiful breezy evenings, the scenic bank of River Godavari, the dainty local flowers, swaying coconut trees, freshly produced coconuts, pineapples, bananas, jackfruits, toddypalms, and many more.

So, let me go down my memory lane and present to you a few photographs in and around my village, that I have taken over time. This is my humble attempt to let the world know of this picturesque and peaceful small village and its surroundings. I also take the opportunity to reverence my ancestors and their legacy.

Below are photographs of the Godavari River and its bank in the nearby village of Gannavaram. There is an aqueduct over the river connecting the two villages of P.Gannavaram and Lankala Gannavaram, originally constructed by the British, and later a new one was constructed by the Indian Government due to its ageing. It is named after Smt. Dokka Seethamma, a great humanitarian. Please read more about her here.

Below you will see the vast coconut and paddy fields. It is in deed therapeutic to get lost in this peaceful arena and to breathe the fresh air. Imagine the fresh and earthy smell on rainy days…even the fields get lusher.

I will take a moment here to thank the farmers, for I am alive today only because of them. Below is a photograph of my Grandfather with his assisting farmer, who is more like a family for us.

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And below is a photograph taken at Antharvedi, a convergence point of River Godavari and The Bay of Bengal. There is a launch pad that takes you around the waters.

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Here is a photograph of my very own Grandpa, an erudite and a venerated gentleman in his village. And, that is his favourite and a very old Radio Transistor. He is not just a retired Teacher, but an outstanding and inspirational one apart from being warming and amicable.

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He has worked very hard through-out his life and career to keep up the high standards and for the betterment of his family and the village. This is a photograph of his dearest bicycle, that has kept his company through thick and thin. He traveled miles and miles on this and has a lot of memories attached with it. I couldn’t resist capturing it in my camera forever.

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I am really blessed to have him as my Grandfather, for he has really been the light of my life and has given me some of the most memorable and enjoyable childhood days. I will be disrespectful if I don’t mention about my Great Grandfather, Sri Pulya Umamahesawara Sastry garu, who was a great Vedic Scholar,  (Abhinava Pandita Raya, Vaiyyakarana Kesari – 10 titles twice Rastrapathi awardee). Here is a link to his biography, in our mother tongue Telugu.

And..finally is the photograph of my all time favorite Grandma’s Brinjal Curry (Vankaya Kharam kura in Telugu). Nothing can ever come close to tickling my taste buds as this dish, she is a master chef. It is very close to my heart, hence the photograph 🙂

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On a final note, I dedicate this blog to the village most fascinating to me and to my ancestral legacy. May the villages and the farmers in India flourish and prosper. 

You can also read about Munganda on wiki here.