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Friday, November 16, 2012


A guest post by:
P.N. Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Ship Yard, Kochi (India)

Not very long ago, in our villages, when farming used to be our main vocation, there lived a kind of livestock, Buffalo.

This lazy looking cattle, unlike its cousins, a cow or a deer, doesn’t converse with you with its eyes and erected ears. It has a skin that matches much with the muddy waters where it always desired to be in. The set of hones conveyed that it is always on an ‘attack’ mode.

No wonder, Yama, the god of death, chose him to be his vehicle. Devi Durga (Mahishasura Mardhini) is portrayed as the killer of “Mashisha Asura” (A devil in the guise of a Buffalo). In Kerala, Lord Ayyappa is said to have killed ‘Mahishi’, the buffalo demon, who distracted the Rishis from their rituals.

Its milk is avoided for religious rituals and in ayurvedic formulations. Local dialects have many examples of abusive phrases synonymous with Buffalo, to address someone who is lazy and insensitive.

Somewhere, man tamed him to work in the farm to plough and subsequently for milk. Possibly taming them happened much later than the Cow. Initially those who domesticated it would have been comparatively uncivilised and hence possibly this animal continued to be the paraya livestock.

Pakistan has a considerable amount of Buffalo wealth. Those days, down south, “Ravuthars”, a group of Tamil speaking Muslim community, travelled across the remote villages in Kerala, engaged in trading buffalos amongst other things and popularised it in the villages. The divinity associated with cow among Hindus would have prompted Muslims to take up Buffalo rearing.
With all these taboos associated with this animal, it too formed part of festivities in some parts of our country. During one of those ONAM days, in central Kerala, just before the muddy paddy fields are prepared for planting, Pothottam (buffalo race) is celebrated, though on a low key basis now a days.

For a farmer, working in the field, this is an important day. The rituals are held outside the house where the animal is tied to a tree after it is washed and garlanded applying sandalwood and other decorations. After the short prayers and other offerings including alcohol to the gods, the animal is fed with the food items including alcohol. The rituals are well supported by drum beats.

Once lunch is finished, it is time for the buffalo to be taken to the village ground. It is a huge task to untie the animal and guide it to the venue. It needs five six people on either side of the big rope to manage and guide the already hyped animal. The rituals would be reminding it of its feral origin.
There are at least half a dozen such groups assembling at the grounds. The community heads meet there, exchange pleasantries and reaffirm the leadership of the chieftain, who subsequently sits on the top of a tall stone seat, a throne and conducts durbar.

In the evening they come back in a procession dancing to their traditional tunes. It is difficult to make out whether they are elevating the animal or reducing themselves to the animal. Whichever way, it is recognition to the friend ‘Buffalo’ who partnered with them in the field.

When milk started selling in big cans, house to house, and cow’s milk became scarce, people in towns opted for buffalo milk. Its rich fat content made it an instant hit amongst the tea shop owners, the main consumers of milk in a town, and buffalo milk started selling at premium though the by-products, mainly butter, was often sold at a discount.

When bullock carts were ruling our roads, buffalos enjoyed better status elsewhere. In East and South East Asia, it was used only as propulsion in carts and for ploughing farmland.

Veterinarians classify them into two types, the ‘riverine’ and ‘swamp’. Riverine is the lactating breed found throughout Indian sub continent whereas the swamp variety, dominant in the East Asia and south East Asia is a power house to propel and till the farms.

The water buffalos that we would have encountered in our childhood would have been the low yielding swamp varieties which always loved to be submerged in mud. The black and white photo albums of yester years by any photographer would be incomplete without having in it a photograph of a herd of water buffalos led by a peasant boy on the back of one of them with a long stick in his hand. No visitor to a village those days would have missed the sight of village boys travelling on the back of a buffalo.

Thanks to the white revolution. Cross breeding of local varieties with high yielding ‘Jaffarabadi’ and ‘Murrah’ varieties produced a new genesis of a hybrid variety, resulting in increased milk production. 60% of total milk produced in India and around 70% in Pakistan are from Buffalos. It will be surprising to know that India is the highest producer of buffalo milk constituting about 65% and together with Pakistan, it constitutes more than 85% of world production. We earn considerable money from dairy products. Yet, it is pity that we are unable to develop an international brand for our Paneer (cottage cheese) and Kowa.

Italy is the only country outside Asia, which boasts of their water buffalo rearing tradition. Their pride, the Italian mozzarella cheese, available world over, is made of water buffalo milk. It is another surprise that they have less than 1% share of the total buffalo milk production in the world. Italians are said to have set high standards for the genetics, breeding and hygiene in buffalo rearing. But it is doubtful if our buffalos can stand the so called ‘hygiene’.

But the problem with cross breeding is that it created a generation of cattle without a genetic identity having low immunity level and inability to cope up with the extreme climatic conditions. Their maintenance became a burden to the farmers whereas the traditional low yielding variety produced high quality products with lesser care, though lower in volume. Farmers attempting to milk the water buffalos with the assistance of dummy calves made of straw and stuff like that has been a regular sight in our villages. The calves have high mortality rate when domesticated.

As in any other sphere, technology eliminated these living tractors from the fields and roads. But occasionally, during our long train journeys, we get as a surprise, visuals of a farmer ploughing the fields with a set of water buffalos, singing a song, often coupled with the rich smell of fermented mud, ready to take seeds and saplings into its womb. We jump out of ecstasy. The poor farmer would not have heard the proverb in Malayalam meaning “it is useless to chant ‘veda’ into the ears of a Buffalo”. He believes that buffalos enjoy his song?

It was interesting to note a cultural tip given to the visitors to Thailand in one of the tourist websites as follows:

“Water buffalo are called “kwai” in Thai. It is extremely rude to refer to a person as a ‘kwai’ because water buffalo have a reputation for being stupid and stubborn.”

Painfully, we still maintain the same primitive attitude towards this very useful animal across different cultures.

He deserves some more dignity.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


During our childhood we used to run after butterflies. Occasionally we used to succeed catching them (without the net). At that time we learnt that the patterns/colours in their wings would get transferred on to our finger tips instantly when caught. However their sheen would also vanish. Since we were too young, we were not into collecting them and it was simply for fun. After some time our attention was drawn towards a different kind of flying creature which was equally beautiful. They were dragonflies/damselflies and  were easier to catch. When caught we used to have a weight lifting competition. Each one of us would make one’s dragonfly sit on a small pebble. When lifted up, the dragonfly would have the pebble underneath. We will snatch the small pebble and make it to sit over a larger one. Every one of us would do the same with the fly in their hands. This goes on and at the end we decide as to which one lifted the heaviest pebble. That one will be the winner and then it is freed to fly away. Other dragon flies undergo a second phase of torture. A 5 feet thread is tied to the tail of each one of them.  They are released to fly keeping the other end in our hands.  The one which  flies higher is declared the winner. They remain suspended in air for not being able to move forward and after some time they seek the ground, fully exhausted. We used to release them thereafter either by untying the thread or cutting it close to the tail. 

Certainly we were very cruel to those harmless creatures but at that time our pleasure seemed to be more paramount than the pains the creature were subjected to. Today while I was roaming about in our village home, I came across many dragon flies of various hues flying around. That enabled me to live in the past for a while remembering the childhood days. When the trance was over, I picked up my small camera and went after them.

Similar to Butterflies, the Dragonflies too have a life cycle, Egg, Nymph and the Adult stage. Eggs are dropped in still water bodies where they hatch and turn to a Nymph. The Nymph sustains itself by eating smaller insects etc. and said to live up to four years in that stage and then the metamorphosis takes place. The dragon fly emerges and flies away in search of food in the open. Many of us could have observed Dragonflies hovering over water bodies. Factually they are endeavoring to find a suitable locale to lay their eggs.

Here is a chart which depicts the life cycle of a Dragonfly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Masala Dosa - an Indian Cusine

A guest post by:
P.N. Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Ship Yard, Kochi (India)

What is the most favoured Tiffin across the world? I wrote my answer in one of the questionnaires supplied to me through some magazine as ‘Dosa’.

This circular magical recipe made of fermented batter prepared with rice, split black gram and fenugreek seeds in some proportion, made on a flat iron pan, has been the lifeline of people south of the Vindhyas. No mother in this region could be said to have not perfected the art of making dosas. No child in these regions could be said to have not had it as part of their regular menu. No wonder the moon like Dosa found its role in many a lullabies and stories.

Its first cousin, the Masala Dosa should have been the invention of some creative hotelier less than a century ago. Often semi circular in size, pregnant with potato curry stuffing in the middle, served with steam hot sambar and coconut chutney is the first choice of any south Indian foodie.

Masala dosas are not generally cooked at homes, unlike ordinary dosa. I am certain that no house wife in this world has ever perfected the art of making masala dosa. The testimony of it is the high demand for masala dosas in restaurants.

Somehow, the name Mysore is associated with masala dosa (as Mysore Masala Dosa) to show its superiority and also suggesting Karnataka as the birth place of this recipe. Similar is the case with Mysore Rasam and Mysore Bonda. The state of Mysore, which had been a very strong princely state with connoisseur kings, had attracted to it, several intellectuals, artistes, musicians and along with it, great cooks too. The Shivali Brahmins, basically from Udipi, Karnataka, who had the monopoly of south Indian Vegetarian restaurants across the world, would have spread this connotation. The credit for popularising masala dosa (along with filter coffee) throughout north India should go to the Indian Coffee House restaurant chains.

As Children, the word masala dosa always rejuvenated our taste buds. Those were the days when a visit to a restaurant was considered to be a luxury. My first adventure to a restaurant to have masala dosa happened when I was in 8th class. I often skipped the last period in my school and reached home late to give company to my classmate so that he can skip his tuition class which he never wanted to attend. The bribe offered to me was a masala dosa in the Krishna Bhavan Restaurant near the school. And that was the best masala dosa that I have ever had in my life. The aroma it had was awesome.

One has to begin with a piece of dosa from the corner, dipped in the chutney. The ecstasy ascends while approaching slowly towards the middle where the spicy potato masala is hidden. Then the potato curry starts getting invitingly revealing. By the time you finish the last mouth with whatever chutney and sambar left in the plate, it was like conquering the Everest or listening to a musical concert with a grand finale.

The aroma of the mixture of the masala, sambar and chutney stayed in my hand for hours and I often refused to take the regular boring evening dinner at home to keep the fragrance. I continued this friendship for want of Masala Dosa often risking myself getting caught at home. At last Masala Dosa won and I failed in studies.

The physical properties and chemical characteristics have been clearly sounded in the unwritten Masala Dosa Manual in vogue with south Indian hoteliers. It should be crispy and of size 15 to 18 Inch dia. Unlike ordinary dosa, Masala dosa is not reversed while cooking.

As regards the chemistry, dosa’s presence should be felt from a distance by mere fragrance of fried batter particles in butter oil coupled with the flavour of the potato curry escaping through the pores of dosa. Sambar, made of small local onion with asafoetida in it adds to the overall flavour of the cuisine. The prescribed overall colour is ‘golden’ with more thicker golden colour towards the centre of the circle.

The process is highly professional. Slightly fermented batter is spread on a large flat hot pan that can take 6-8 dosas at a time, with the bottom of a bowl, which is also used to measure and also to pour 2) By the time the cook spreads the eighth dosa, the first one would have been ready to take the stuffing 3) Place stuffing made of a secret combination of potato, onion, ginger, green chilly, turmeric powder and curry leaves and 4) By the time stuffing is placed in the eighth dosa, it is time to start folding the first dosa, into a half circle and serve with hot sambar and coconut chutney. More creative cooks have changed its physical property by presenting it in the form of flat cylinder, a cone, etc, depending upon their artistic fervour.

As a grown up, during my visits to the Town (Trichur), I always ventured to visit few of the famous restaurants that served good Masala Dosas. Prominent among them were Pathans, Ambadi, Dwaraka and Bharat. Bharat is still going strong. The other names have vanished over a period of time and new names appeared. I have heard my senior college mates talking about one Modern Swami’s café in Trichur which was more popular among masala dosa enthusiasts. By the time I reached college, this restaurant was closed for ever.

This healthy, very affordably priced food had/ has fans like Raj Kapoor and Khushwant Singh. Krishnaswami Sunderji, one of our yester year army Generals remembers in his memoirs, his younger days in Kashmir where they used to eat Masala dosa with mutton curry as stuffing in it in one of the roadside eateries regularly. Such is the transformation this wonderful dish has undergone over the years. Masala Dosa has travelled all over the world. We are hearing about Masala Dosa being served at White house on special occasions. I am sure that no town in the world which does not have a restaurant that serves Masala Dosa in some form or other.

But when I asked my son of his choice of something to be ordered to eat, his immediate answer was Pizza. I am wrong when I rated Masala Dosa as the most favoured in the beginning. My son’s taste buds charge up when he thinks of cutting out a piece from a medium pizza having abundant amount of sticky cheese spread on it, often flowing out, decorated with pieces of capsicum and tomato over it and seasoned with salt, pepper and red chilly flakes. The name masala dosa never evoked such a feeling in him.

But I am not disappointed. Though my town Cochin cannot boast of a great dosa tradition, there are a couple of places where only ‘Dosas’ are served. The ‘Pai Dosa Centre’ at MG road is one which serves 36 varieties of dosas. A recently started one near my home at Tripunithura, named ‘Dosa Corner’ too specialises only in Dosas, having 50 variants including chocolate dosas.
And at last the newspaper has come out with their results rating masala dosa as one of the 10 delicacies one should have in India.

A number of recipes are available in the net to attempt cooking Masala Dosa at home. But I wont’ suggest any as I do not want any of you to attempt it at home. This delicacy is meant to be relished while eating out.

Photo source: Wikimedia

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bio-diversity - After the Rains

Fortunately I was at my village home in Kerala during this Onam. Incessant rains were downing my spirits. Later the rains went on a casual leave and there was bright sunshine for a day or two. Finally rains departed. The climate was soothing. I could see wild growth of vegetation everywhere. Tubers, bulbs and seeds of various plants which were in hibernation,  under the soil, ran havoc. There were plenty of flowers everywhere and they come handy during this festival season for decorating the courtyards with beautiful patterns using the petals of flowers. Boys and girls start collecting flowers in the wee hours well before Sun Rise. My village happens to be at the North Western end of the village. There is a road in the front which runs through the village and opens up on the Highway.

My own home compound affords me an opportunity of moving around seeking appointments with various plants and flowers they bear. Since the land area is a little larger, I need to take several rounds everyday. Many of the species happen to be known ones but there were many others hitherto unknown or un noticed. Apart from flowers there is an abundance of other life forms like colourful flying or creeping  insects. I regret for not having studied botany, insect science etc.

One day while strolling around I found a beautiful sparkling green beetle resting on a leaf. My mother was telling me the other day that green grass hoppers were not to be seen these days. Incidentally they were very much there. Probably they are not entering our house enabling mom to sight them . She seldom moves out because of her poor eyesight. Two more grass hoppers bent upwards and one over the other were also sighted. When I went closer to them they got separated. They looked a little peculiar for they were a little bent and their stomach portion had red dots. Instinctively I thought of catching them for some careful examination of their belly but something prevented me and I walked past them.

Beautiful butterflies were flying over my head and one was too large. Although they  sat on the tender leaves, they never allowed me to photograph them. They flew away even before I could focus my camera. Thus I was denied the opportunity of photographing some thing extraordinarily beautiful. It could have been an endangered specie and I could have won laurels for their discovery! Then there occurred a hairy  larvae which was also beautiful but can not say if it was something special.

While reaching our front gate I found few bright red beetle like insects examining a bud of a wild climber. On closer look they were quite like ants but differed in their body structure. I wondered as to why Nature has given such an attractive colour for they would be susceptible to being picked up by birds. I discovered later that these ants were in fact waiting for the Pub to open. The bud blossoms into a beautiful flower and  the ants would then have the nectar in it.

I happened to walk out of the main gate and turn towards the right when I saw several buds, flowers and fruits clinging to the fence of my uncles house. They belonged to the same family.  Buds turn flowers and when they wither a fruit comes into being. Yes they are the phases I murmured. The ripe fruit is yellow in colour of the size of a berry. I remember to have seen them in the past too. Let me consult mom I thought as all my childhood learning are attributable to her. I plucked those fruits and went straight to my mom. She felt happy for I still valued her knowledge about such things. She informed me that the fruit is not normally eaten. Some poor children do eat them. It tastes like one’s mucus coming out of the nostrils. Immediately images of small children with a running nose licking their upper lips came to my mind.

That evening was spent at our backyard which also had its share of some wild growth. There were plants around four to five feet high and the leaves resembled that of  ginger or turmeric. Many of them had beautiful white flowers while some others of the same kind had dark pink flowers which appeared to be much more beautiful. They are supposed to be distantly related to Ginger plants and have use in traditional medicines. I was told that the Ayurvedic practitioners send their people out hunting for the roots of these plants.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Avantipur (Kashmir)

We were actually heading to Pahalgam but as we had instructed, our driver stopped the vehicle in front of the Avantipur temple ruins which were on the way. In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned about a visit to this place which is around 30 kilometres South East of Srinagar and the attraction being the ruins of a 9th century temple. My friends were intrigued for they had known about one Avanti in central India, sometimes misunderstood as being the ancient name of Ujjain. On the lines of the Greek city states, India during its classical age had 16 republics known as Mahajanapadas known to us through ancient literature and religious texts. Avanti or Avantika was one such region. One of its capitals was Ujjain or Ujjaini.  Avantipur on the other hand was once a capital of Kashmir.

The imposing ruined structure was before us. A watchman posted there advised to procure tickets from the counter at the left. We obeyed the instructions and found a Sardarji (Sikh gentleman) sitting there. There was a notice board which contained the entry fee payable. Additional levies were prescribed for  still cameras and video cameras. Before I could tender the cash, Sardarji enquired “yes sir, where are you from”. We told them that we are tourists and are interested in taking some photographs. His next anxiety was to learn about me as to my vocation and if I am employed. I said I am no more in service and casually (or may be to establish my credibility) told him that I am an amateur archaeologist. Perhaps my words were music to him as he instantly said Sir, you need not buy any tickets. For you it is free. I apprised him that we are in all 10 to which he countered, so what?. My next query was what about the cameras we are carrying. He said in a typical Punjabi tone “who prevents you”. Thereafter I called in all the people who were still tied to their seats in the vehicles.

During the 12th century there lived a highly learned sanskrit scholar and poet in Kashmir whose name was Kalhan. He was the author of a work known as Rajatarangini (a history of ruling dynasties). He states that Raja Avantivarman (855 – 883 AD) of the Utpala dynasty founded the city of Avantipura in an area known as Vishwaiksara  where Hindus performed religious rites for the salvation of their dead. The jhelam river (ancient name Vitasta)  was also nearby. Such a presence of a water body is not only ideal, is also necessary for the religious rites. We could infer that the place was considered to be a holy one much before the establishment of a City named Avantipura. Avantivarman, the King, was a follower of Vaishnava cult ( a Vaishnavite – worshippers of Lord Vishnu) and he continued to be so till his death. It was he who got a grand temple constructed for his Lord  during the 9th century. The central deity installed in the Sanctum Sanctorum was christened as Avantiswamin. The King had a minister named Sura who was very dear to him but Sura was a worshipper of Lord Shiva. Therefore Avantivarman got another equally grand temple constructed for Lord Shiva just a kilometre away. The temple is known as Avanteeswara which is also in ruins. Unfortunately we were not aware of its existence at such a short distance and we missed it.

Sultan Sikandar Butshikan, the 14th century ruler of Kashmir hailed from Afghanistan. To appease a spiritual leader Syed Ali Hamadani in that country, Sultan Sikandar engaged himself in a crusade and ended up in the massacre of Kashmiri people and destroying their holy places ruthlessly. All kinds of stage plays including music and folk songs, folk dances etc. were banned. Consumption of wine/liquor was made an offence. People were compelled to embrace Islam for fear of life. It is said that in the entire Kashmir only some 11 Hindu families escaped. We could perhaps draw a parallel with the Talibans of Afghanistan. Along with other temples, the Avantipur Vishnu temple was also not spared. However, it is said that the construction was so strong that it took over a year to have it demolished,  part of which still remains to tell us its past glory. Sultan Sikandar’s title “Butshikan” itself means a destroyer of Idols. Incidentally his second son Jain-ul-Abidin (1423 – 1474) was tolerant and considerate towards Hindus. He came to power after his brother proceeded to Mecca for a pilgrimage. However by the time Jain-ul-Abidin came to the scene, none of the Hindu temple structures had survived.

There was a well laid out pathway leading to the main entrance. The huge door,  made of lime stone blocks approachable through a flight of stairs stood majestically. The upper portions were in a broken condition together with the tall massive columns with ornamentation. The intricately carved main entrance would have been a sight to behold. Apart from the destruction it was subjected to, weathering has also played its due role. Many of the sculptures are now difficult to be recognised. The temple is rectangular with a huge courtyard measuring 170.6 x 147.6 feet. After entering through the main entrance we need to go down for being in the courtyard. There is yet another elevated structure at the middle with stairs leading to the sanctum sanctorum. There is an array of cells arranged around the periphery of the paved courtyard similar to Buddhist Viharas. We are not certain as to the purpose of those small rooms/cells. Could only presume that either they were used for meditation facing the central shrine or for placing large sculptures.There are remains of four smaller shrines at the four corners of the courtyard. 

During the  early part of twentieth century excavations were carried out by a team headed by D.R. Sahni resulting in the reclamation of the temple ruins up to the floor level. The excavation yielded a rich crop of antiquities including 121 coins issued by Toramana, Sultans of the Shah Miri dynasty, Durrani Afghan rulers etc. Sahni also excavated the quadrangle of the Avantisvara temple and brought to light a small earthen jar having 108 copper coins issued by various rulers, fragments of birch manuscripts containing accounts of articles of worship, inscribed earthen jar etc. The sculptures from this site are presently displayed at Srinagar Museum.

Temple architecture is supposed to have reached its zenith during that period with some sprinklings of Gandhara and Greek styles.

The Avanteeswara temple, a kilometre away and the Martand Sun Temple 8 kilometres away from Anantanag (Islamabad) built by Lalitaditya in the 8th century, though in ruins, are similar in style and construction. However, we were not fortunate enough to visit them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Around Pahalgam (Kashmir)

11th June 2012

We got shifted to a new hotel closer to the main market early in the morning. Soon thereafter there was a call from the reception asking us to proceed to the dining hall for the complimentary breakfast. We had our fill and asked our driver to call for two local taxies to take us around.  Strangely you are not allowed to take the taxies brought from Srinagar. The rates to various packages are predetermined and are prominently displayed at the Taxi Stand. The taxies need to line up at the stand after getting a token/number. Any body desirous of a taxi shall go to the booth for booking. The person manning the booth will in turn summon the waitlisted drivers in order of seniority. The rates prescribed are exorbitant compared to what prevails elsewhere in the Country. The gullible tourists have no other option but to get exploited. The important and most visited places around Pahalgam are Betab Valley, Chandanwari and Aru Valley. All of them fall within a radius of 16 kilometres and get covered in about 4 hours for which the minimum charges are Rs.1,500/-. The taxies arrived in due course of time and we were on the move.

Arrangements for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage, which will commence by 28th June, were in full swing. Pahalgam plays an important role in this pilgrimage (Yatra), it being the base camp. Tents were being erected at numerous locations for the purpose. We were heading to Chandanwari and the road runs parallel to Lidder river (aka Lambodari) for quite some distance. Several families were picnicking on its banks.  Vehicles were either parked on the road side or taken down, may be for reasons of safety. The gushing waters of the river, the meadows, pine/Devdar tree on the mountain slopes and snow covered peaks were lending a heavenly grace to the topography.

The road further ahead was winding through mountain ranges/passes at a higher elevation and by the time we were around 6/7 kilometres from Pahalgam, we came across a very quiet beautiful valley with a river  which had  masonry  embankments. There was a pucca walkway   by its side for a long distance enabling people to stroll along. The area has been developed as a picnic spot by the local authorities with certain basic amenities. A bollywood film was shot here in the 1980’s titled Betab. “Jab ham jawan honge, jaane kahan honge” a song from that film was a hit and is still liked for its lyrics and music.  From that time onwards the valley is being referred to as Betab Valley while its original name was Hajan Ghati (Valley).

Though there was a separate road diversion leading to the valley, our driver seemed to be in no mood to take us there. Instead he started explaining to us that the view from above is quite satisfying and that if we go down we need to pay Rs.150/- per head in addition to parking charges. The later part made some sense and we refrained from climbing down. We clicked our cameras to capture whatever was visible and continued our journey.

Once again we were travelling through lush green hilly terrain with devdar/pine trees lending their own charm. On reaching Chandanwari, the vehicles got parked appropriately and we walked down. Finally when the spot came under view, it appeared more like what we had seen at Sonmarg. However, the glacier was not there instead we see waters flowing from the hill  frozen for a very long stretch.  People enjoy frolicking on its bed. Whenever there a fresh snow fall people get more jubilant for the fun it affords. There was quite a number of families with their kids enjoying at the spot. The snow was a little brownish as there had been no fresh snow fall for a day or two. A pathway exists to the left which goes to Amarnath. The actual trekking for the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine starts from this point i.e. Chandanwari covering a distance of around 30 kilometres.

After having enjoyed Chandanwari for over an hour, we decided to leave and proceed to Aru valley. As usual the road to Aru was also winding through the mountains. By and large the road was OK but it was narrower than what we had experienced so far. It started raining when we reached at the Bus stop. It appeared to be a little town depending on tourists for its survival. We could get into a covered space to shelter ourselves from the rains. Within moments an old man arrived with few umbrellas. He was making a livelihood by renting out his umbrellas when it rained. We perceived this as an innovative service which was not capital intensive. But then the rentals quoted appeared to be more than the cost of an umbrella!. However every day is not a rainy day. He demanded Rs.100 for one which made us to ask him whether he is selling them or lending them. He blushed and came down to Rs.70/-. When he understood that the rains may stop any time, he agreed to take Rs.150/- for all the five he had. This enabled us to come out of the shed and follow others who were going in one direction. The road was lined up with small shops and restaurants. We had a glimpse of the meadows ahead. There were horses/ponies available to take you round but we preferred to walk. Even before coming here we were advised to walk around to enjoy the surrounding beauty. We had a divine experience looking at the meadows, streams, snow capped mountains, devdar trees all in one place. There was a Lavender Farm with a medium sized nursery and a hotel (Alpine hotel) run by the tourism department at a distance.

There was not much to do here unless one chooses to opt far trekking to several points in the vicinity. Kolahoi glacier is one where some people prefer to go. We also came across a hoarding regarding guided tours to various destinations from here. There is also a wild life sanctuary deep inside. These visits need to be pre arranged with advance bookings.

We started feeling hungry and decided to return. The rains had vanished by then. The owner of the umbrellas came to us all the way to collect them back. Finally we landed at a way side hotel and were fortunate to get good food. We were told that the cook was from Gujarat. While coming out of the hotel, we could meet the cook as well and thanked him for the nice preparations.

We were back at Pahalgam by evening and many of us spent time roaming about in the market area.