This prayer wheel was located in a small room just outside the monastery at Chakung Village, Sikkim. The light peeping in through the window to the right was brilliant, as if it was specifically planned for making a good photograph. The red paint and the array of lamps helped in adding a touch of brightness to the room. The place was empty when I reached here, and I distinctly felt a need for some life to portray the prayer wheels at its best. I found this young chap playing outside his house, eager to make friends with us strangers and happy to pose for the camera. I pulled him in to the room of the prayer wheel and asked him to turn the wheel for me.
Posted by Arun Bhat on September 11, 2012
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Posted by Arun Bhat on July 10, 2012
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WordWeb defines ‘conference’ as “A prearranged meeting for consultation or exchange of information or discussion.” How does one go about unconferencing? The name appears unintutive when you try to bring people together to ‘unfonference’.
When I was invited along with a bunch of bloggers for an unconference, titled ConCLAY, to Club Mahindra Resort at Baiguney, Sikkim, I was unsure of what we do there. It was going to be a prearranged meeting; it was likely to be exchange of information and perhaps a discussion. In that case, what is it about unconference that makes it not a conference? Do we just get there and talk at will without anything specific in mind? How does that really serve a purpose? The friendly folks at Club Mahindra tried to ease the questions, but the answers did not entirely assure me. In any case, I went ahead, decided what I will talk about. But to make it an ‘unconference-style’, I did not work on a tightly prepared presentation and nor did I put my ideas into a powerpoint slideshow. Finally when we were gathered out there, the doubts vanished quickly. It turned out I was with a bunch of people who were doing odd and interesting things because they enjoyed doing it, and the unconference happened to be a wonderful platform to share those odd and interesting things.
There was Mridula, for example, who taught in a university in Delhi and lived to travel. She shared her experiences from her recent trek to Everest Base Camp, narrating her what seemed to be a life-changing experience. ‘Nepal did something to me,’ she said, probably a hundred times in the two days we were there and made me strongly consider a visit to Nepal very soon.
Nepal is not faraway and a trip to Everest Base Camp is perhaps a low hanging fruit that I just have to decide to pluck. But Priya Venkatesh‘s narration of her journey to Antarctica with Sir Robert Swan was something that made me wish I was in her shoes. Priya’s journey was with an important intent, trying to spread awareness on a moratorium to keep the frozen continent unexploited, which will expire in 2041.
Monica Manchanda spoke about her love for food and travel, which made her quit her desk-job in the information technology industry, take timeout to travel and eventually start her own baking business. She showcased images of her preparations, which were tempting enough that we decided to break for lunch soon after her presentation.
And there was Rakhee, an Australian, who once decided to take time off from her work to wander around India and could not leave. Her six months backpacking trip extended to nine, and now she has set up base in Mumbai which may offer her more opportunities to explore the country. Rakhee showcased her images from her travels across the country.
The last presentation was from yet another person who quit his desk job in favour of something else. Vishal Sabharwal bid adieu to his day job to pursue photography and has been spending a lot of time capturing the faces of North East India. He took us through his brilliant collection of portraits of tribes from North East India, which he has been compiling for many years.
I happened to be the first in line to talk during the unconference, thanks to an arbitrary decision to sequence the talks by alphabetical order of names. A decision collectively made by all those people whose names do not begin with ‘a’. I showcased my images from across the Himalayas, which I have been compiling in the last few years.
By the end of the unconference, it was fairly clear to me why it was called an unconference. The atmosphere was not stiff. Each person spoke about a topic he or she liked and there wasn’t any binding common thread. We broke into related and random discussions anytime in the middle, without worrying about any protocols. We went on telling stories without worrying too much about sticking to a crisp agenda. There were no goals to be achieved or targets to be met, except just to share information and have a healthy discussion. And despite this free-talk, we all came out wiser at the end.
The unconference was one of the few gatherings where I truly enjoyed being part of. It was a gathering of good people who were working on interesting things, and were keen to spread awareness of what they were doing. The whole day of the unconference seemed too quick and too short; we could have continued this forever. The Club Mahindra team of Arun, Akshat and Saurabh did an exceptional job in conceiving and organizing the program.
There was, however, much more to the visit to Sikkim besides the unconference. Chef Gagan kept us craving for his delicacies all the time. We spent a morning on a beautiful walking trail at nearby Chakung Village, and an afternoon at Pelling. The pictures above tell much about those places, so I will let the words be. The location of Club Mahindra Baiguney, Sikkim, by itself was charming, next to a river in a green valley. I spent a full morning sitting by Rangeet River next to the campus, and watching a thin strip of fog dancing over the flow.
Posted by Arun Bhat on November 29, 2010
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Continued from Sikkim – I: Changu Lake and Nathula
As I write this, I am trying to think how Gangtok is different from any other hill stations. Like its other counterparts, Gangtok too has its share of some great views, a large number of hotels and a dedicated shopping area. The local travel agents have perfected the process of herding the tourists with three-point, seven-point and nine-point tours. I am unable to find anything to set Gangtok apart, except that it is yet to become a big fat dot in the tourist map. The number of people arriving here is probably much less than what you see in Shimla, Manali or Ooty and the number of hotels here are also not as many. But Gangtok is catching up, and catching up fast. The Government of Sikkim is doing everything possible to increase inflow of tourists year after year.
Yet, there is a feel good about Gangtok that you don’t necessarily see in other hill stations. You are less likely to see touts rushing after you the moment you arrive, trying to squeeze every bit of your money. You don’t see any kind of solicitors troubling you as you walk on the roads. People here are still nice and friendly. The hills around the town are still green and are not littered with hotels and resorts. Even the shopping street is so well managed that I don’t feel the claustrophobia that I tend to feel in other such places. Gangtok is still beautiful.
And the most beautiful part of the town is perhaps the zoo spread over a large area. When we started planning our first day in the town, I suggested that we go to Gangtok Zoo first.
‘Would you really like to see the zoo?’ some one responded immediately.
In return, two of us who had been here earlier said quickly in unison – ‘it is a beautiful place.’ It is an open-air zoo spread across a large area on a hill with plenty of space for each of its inhabitants. A zoo is indeed a confined space, but the sloth bears, snow leopards, pandas, civets and wolves living here still have plenty of space to walk around in their large enclosures. Sometimes these enclosures are so large that you won’t be able to see them without waiting for them to emerge from the woods. A family of pandas, a family of bears and a bunch of civets living here seemed happy, considering that they live in confined spaces, but a leopard and a Tibetan wolf looked lonely and brooding.
The paths that connect these enclosures go through thick woods and bamboo groves running for several kilometers. The cool weather of Gangtok has allowed a large number of flowers to bloom along these paths, forming bright yellow and purple dots in the woods.
A Tibetan Wolf
A video on Red Pandas in Gangtok Zoo by Sankara.
Lingdum Monastery is located in a quite place in the middle of woods – the kind of place perfectly suited for spiritual pursuits. The facade of the monastery is a long two-story structure with large windows. A long wall of prayer wheels stands on the open area in front of the monastery. The monastery looked large, but I wasn’t prepared for what is inside.
As I walked through the front door, I was taken away by what I saw. Standing in the center of the monastery, surrounded by thick woods on all sides was a superb seven-story building adorned with Buddhist symbols all along its walls. In front of it was a wide open space where several young monks were on a learning session. The maroon-robed kids were dancing gently to the sound of drums in small groups, swaying their hands and occasionally jumping back and forth. Behind them, the tall tower rose high, superbly decorated with vibrant colours and beautiful paintings. In the next minute or two I took a few pictures of the monastery, but soon realized that in the short evening I was to spend here, I would rather sit quiet and take in the peace of the atmosphere than go on a clicking frenzy. I put away my camera and walked alone quietly along the monastery, feeling a sense of peace growing within me. As I write this, I realized that the experience of being in the monastery was beyond words and stopped making further attempts to describe the inner joy of being in the place and experiencing a feeling of nothingness, a feeling that nothing else but being there really mattered.
A video of monks practicing their steps by Sankara.
As the sun made his way beyond the ridges and the last rays of light kissed tower of the monastery, we retreated to our resort walking away unwillingly from the monastery. As we drove into Gangtok town and walked amidst revelling tourists at the shopping center, I wondered if these monastic retreats played a significant role in keeping the people of Sikkim friendly and in keeping Gangtok a hill station that is a lot more charming than its counterparts.
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