Road to London # 8 – The Influential Hidden Character

In continuation of earlier blog RTL # 7 – The Route Across India

It is not the first time that she influenced me to take on an adventure. She has supported all my crazy endeavours. She may not initiate the trips. But if I proposed one, she would be enthusiastic about the tour, even for the most complicated and risky ones.  Pushpa, the wife, is not my better half, she is the first half!

In fact, she just might be better qualified to undertake adventure and risky trips. She takes over the gadgetry, which I have never understood.  It is a family joke, particularly by Anand, that it is  because of her I can handle my mobile.

Pushpa Sliding on Australian Sand Dunes 2011

She maintains her cool during testing times of the tours. She accepts that adventure trips have inbuilt calculated risks.  There were times when we had no shelter, but she had no problems. No food, it hardly made a difference to her. She has understood and adjusted to the whatever the situation has demanded.   There have been occasions in our trips together when we had no water to drink, but she didn’t complain.  She prefers tap water to bottled, mineral water wherever she is.  You and I fall ill, not her!

Once when we were in Tibet, our vehicle stalled in a murky place.  It was the dark hour of midnight.   There were no villages for 20 kilometers in any direction. The temperature was minus 10-15 degrees Celsius. And there was a slight drizzle. Every drop of rain felt like a needle piercing your skin.  Boots were getting stuck in mud with every step. And here she was helping me push the vehicle out of the muck.   Ultimately,  we had to walk cold and wet for about a km, in complete darkness. We rested in a road side godown (if we could call it that!) where even a beast would be scared.  The place had a strong stink. It was badly maintained alcohol den, full of beer and was scattered with used cans and bottles.  She has never tasted onion or garlic, let alone alcohol.  But she didn’t even wrinkle her nose when she had to lie down there for a couple of hours of much needed rest.

And oh! That place was owned by a man in his 80s or so. He looked like he was straight out of a western movie, a cowboy, only with horrible, excessive make-up.  He had a spear in his left hand, instead of a gun. Long salt-and-pepper hair and beard – probably unwashed for a long time. He covered it with a cowboy hat.   He was probably wearing new clothes, only that they were bought years ago. His face showed his age in wrinkles. He had extra skin hanging from his cheeks, large red eyes set just above them. Sharp long grey eye-brows.  The place had no lights, it was almost all dark. Just a small dim lamp gave the scene a horror movie feel.  I was outside, in that freezing rain with a driver-guide to see if the car could get on the road. When I returned, the face of the owner, with extra wide eyes, was almost a foot from Pushpa’s face. She was speechless. I dropped in and engaged our host in slow motion, sign language. Pushpa did not complain even about that day ever.

The moment I ask her opinion about a trip, she always has a positive answer. To the extent that some times I take her for granted and forget to even take her consent. Ghar ki murgi daal barabar!

Once in 2012, on a flight to London I mentioned to her that I wanted to drive one day from home to London. She just replied with a “hmmm”, that too forcibly, knowing that it was one of those improbable dreams. However, I knew it is not unachievable, particularly since she would be with me.  She used to drive way back in the 80s when we lived in the Middle East.Quad Driving in Tangalooma Island 2011 With Pushpa as Co-driver


A few months ago, she was travelling elsewhere, I called her, “we have a chance to drive to London. Are you interested?”  Her reply was the as quickest as it can be “Grab it”.  It is all through now to make the dream come true.   She is not my better half, she my best half,  Pushpa!  I am really lucky to have such a lady as my companion for these exotic journeys.  She would be my co-driver for “Road To London”!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited : Meeta Kabra

                                                                                                To be continued …………………

How Reliable is Horoscope Compatibility For Wedding

My dad’s older brother called, “we have reference for a boy from a well-reputed family in Sangli-Madhavnagar.  Bhageerathi’s horoscope matches his, 35 out of the maximum possible 36 aspects (gunas) match.” Bhageerathi was my most beloved younger sister.

The practice of matching horoscope, called ‘kundli milan’,  before marriage has been a very integral part of a Hindu marriage.

For kundlis (horoscopes) to match, parents consult an astrologer to assess the zodiac compatibility even before the boy and girl meet each other.  A match of atleast 26 aspects/points is considered essential.  It is believed, that this matching indicates how well the couple would get along together.  Obviously therefore, higher the match count, better and longer are prospects of their happy lives together.

We were all very happy to have found a boy to match 35 out of 36 counts for Bhageerathi. Shortly thereafter, in 1963, they were married.  About 2-3 years into the marriage, they were blessed with a daughter.  The year after, Bhageerathi passed away in an accident.

This raises a question.  Can the tradition of matching horoscopes be trusted?

Sure, in Hindu families reading horoscopes and making decisions based on the radings is a respected and accepted practice. However, the accuracy of the reading depends on exact time of birth. For any reason, if the time of birth is not accurately recorded, the entire horoscope could be incorrect.  Further, it is after all an individual who interprets the horoscope.  The reading depends on the depth of knowledge of the person preparing and interpreting it.

Certainly something had gone wrong in matching Bhageerathi’s horoscope.  Otherwise would she not be able to enjoy a long, married life after a match count of 35 out of 36?

There were instances where a boy and a girl liked and loved each other immensely.  When they were to get married, their horoscopes did not match and they were forced to forget each other. There were cases where priority was given to horoscope compatibility rather than personalities. Isn’t it unfair?

Should we deprive those who love each other just because of horoscope readings? Should this tradition be encouraged?  Certainly not…………I feel.

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra


An Important Place – Ignored

On my first visit to Badrinath about 40 years ago, I was told that  the last Indian village was 3km away from there.  I trekked to get a feel of this village. Manibhadrapuri is the last Indian village on the Indo-Tibet border in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas.   The villagers were shy, innocent, humble and extremely simple.

A few small houses aside, the village had a few caves.  One of them, Vyas Gufa and another closeby, Ganesh Gufa are known as the places where one of the two major epics of ancient India,  Mahabharata was written.  It came as a pleasant surprise to me that I was standing at the spot where Sage Vyasa supposedly narrated Mahabharata and Lord Ganesh wrote it down as it was narrated.

After that visit, whenever I went to Badrinath, I cherished visiting Manibhadrapuri village.

Ganesh Gufa

Ganesh Gufa, Mana Village, Near Badrinath

Vyas Gufa, Village Mana near Badrinath

Vyas Gufa, Village Mana Near Badrinath

Plaque at Vyas Gufa

Plaque at Vyas Gufa, Village Mana

Such an important place is hardly publicized by the tourism department.  It is a pity that this place is not getting recognition it deserves.

If statues of politicians are erected to inspire, why can’t we glorify our ancient epics so that the people get inspired to lead a life these scriptures ultimate teach!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

The Rich Indian Culture

I was outside Athens Railway Station, Greece.  My wife and I were  waiting for our one of our family friends, to pick us up. This was in 1983.

Just then, a 25-30 year old youngster from Netherlands approached us to check whether we need a hotel room.  I said ‘no’.  But, he prolonged the chat.

He: Why sir? Won’t you need a room to stay?

Me: We will be staying with a friend and are waiting for him to pick us up.  Where are you from?

He:  I am from Netherlands.  I just completed my studies.  I have been wandering the world for the last 3-4 years to experience and understand people and places. I earn money by providing services to tourists in the cities I visit. As soon as I earn adequate money, I visit my next  destination.

He continued:  Are you from India?

Me: Yes.  What do you know about India?  (At that time, India was not very well known  to people in Europe)

He: I love Indians more than any one else in the world. I take two vacations every year.  Out of the two, I ensure that I visit India at least once.

He then named about 20-25 small towns from all over India, particularly from Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal that he had visited. He then told us in detail how well the Indians treated him in the small villages and farms on his visit.

Me:  What do you think is the difference between the culture in India and Europe?

He: Pardon Sir ……. , probably I heard you wrong?

Me: In your opinion what is the difference in the culture between India and your country?

He then said: I heard that Sir, but your question is wrong, Sir.   You have an unbelievable rich culture.   When I went to any of the places including towns and villages, even the poorest of poor, whether farmers or petty shop owner, ensured that the food and shelter requirements of the visitors are taken care before they care for their own.  Here, even if a daughter takes a rose flower to her mother’s birthday, she collects the dollar, the cost of the flower.

There is nothing of such culture that exists in Europe.   Comparison can be only if it exists at both the places.  In this case, culture does not exist at all in our region.  Hence there cannot be any comparison.”

Every courtesy we extent to our guests makes our country and culture, more respectable and memorable.  Let us keep it up!
Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa
Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Unbelievable Miracle

It is common practice to offer a coconut and sometimes fruits to the Deities during prayers.  The Deities are of course, flexible enough to accept anything that is offered to them!

 Yummy sweets are of course the favourites.  In fact, sweets in quantity of quintals not uncommon in bigger temples!  But then can it be believed that a Deity, in the form of idol, consume quintals of sweets.   We have often heard, “Man proposes, God disposes.”  In the case of offerings in temples, it is more like “in the name of God, man disposes”, the people around who serve the Deity get rewarded.

Around 1989, we had 11 manufacturing units on lease in Shahpura near Jaipur. They produced granite tiles which we exported.  I was on a follow-up visit to Rajasthan with my business associate, Vishnu Goyal.  In our casual conversation while travelling, we came around to the topic of a Goddess who is offered liquor instead of coconuts and fruits. And what’s more, she gracefully accepts and consumes it on the spot, in the presence of the devotees. This supposedly had been happening for ages.

Incidentally, Vishnuji knew one of the trustees of that temple very well and he had witnessed this himself, from very close proximity.  I expressed my doubts.  He said, “ anyone can visit the temple and witness the act.   But if you are interested, I can arrange a visit where you can get very close to the Goddess’ idol.”  I was interested indeed.   He talked to one of the trustees and we visited the temple together.

I was very excited. Jeenmata temple is situated in a thick forest, about 10 kilometres from a village, Rewasa.  The Goddess had a large number of followers from all over India.

As per Wikipedia, “Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb wanted to raze to the ground the Mandir of Mata (Mother Goddess). Being invoked by Her priests, the Mata let out its army of bhairons (a specie of fly family) which brought the Emperor and his soldiers to their knees. He sought pardon and the kind hearted Mataji excused him from Her anger. Aurangzeb donated akhand (Ever-glowing) oil lamp from his Delhi palace.” This lamp glows in the sacred sanctorium till date.

Off the Shikhar-Jaipur highway, a rough isolated road leads us to the Temple. The villagers with their bullock carts used this road during the day for their regular agricultural needs.   However at night, it was not uncommon to see horse-riders on this road.   I was surprised.

This area had hidden villages.  The residents of those hidden villages were dacoits who used horses.   These bandits were loyal followers of the Goddess.   I was told that the bandits surrender half their loot to the temple to be used to help those in need.   Some mornings, the temple authorities had found many valuable offerings lying at the entrance of the temple.

Close to the temple, rooms were available free of cost to worshippers for overnight stay.  The temple offered free meals too.

I bought a bottle of brandy to offer to the Goddess.  To maintain the purity of the place, the visitors are usually asked to stand about 10 feet away from the idol as the priest performed prayers. He then offered the liquor brought by the devotees.

As a very special case, under the instructions of the trustee, we were taken inside the central sanctum of the temple.  It was semi-dark inside. I was just about two feet away from the idol.  The idol was about 4-5ft in height. The brandy bottle was poured in a deep copper plate of about 8 inches diameter.  The plate had a 2” tall rim and there was no way for the liquid to drain out.

I could smell the alcohol as it was poured out from the bottle to the plate. The priest offered the brandy to the Goddess by moving the plate from left to right in front of the Idol.  After the third round, the priest took the plate to the Goddess’ lip.   Aaah…..!  The liquid vanished and the plate was empty!

I was told that this act was being performed, many times a day, every day of the year,  for hundreds of years.  No outlet could be seen nor any symptoms of trickery. No smell of the liquor either, if the liquor was being thrown away.   Supposedly, there were a lot of investigations and studies by many Indian and overseas institutions, but could not find trickery, nor could they prove how it was done.   The space around the temple was also dug out, but no symptoms of the liquid were found anywhere.

I visited the temple a couple more time later with friends and relatives and found the same thing happened every time.  But, when I visited this place once again about 2 years ago, I was told that the practice of offering liquor has been stopped under advice from the authorities!

However, I am told liquor is being offered even now at another temple in India, Kaal Bhairavnath Temple near Ujjain.

Doesn’t the disappearance of liquor offered to an Idol, within seconds, sound unbelievable? But I had to believe after watching it myself.  Just one of those miracles!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Is Spiritual Power Believable?

Is it to be believed?  Lord Hanuman can make himself 100 time larger, if he sees necessary!  Bhakta Prahalad prays to see Lord Vishnu and finds him next to him, a travel from Vaikunth (the heavens) to Bhooloak (earth)!  Lord Krishna lifts Govardhan Parvat  (a mountain with a 22 kilometers in circumference) on his little finger, for weeks, to shelter people from floods.    Well, we don’t know about these stories, as we were not alive then.

But here is a small example of what happened in years ago and can be experienced even today.

About 20 kilometers from Pune, on the way to Satara, there is a durgah (Shrine) at a small town called Khed Shivapuri.  The shrine is built over the grave of a revered religious figure Pir Qamar Ali Shah Darvesh. It can be identified by a huge tree outside which has hundreds of eagles hanging upside down.

Peculiarly, there is also a 250 kilogram stone in front of the shrine.  This stone cannot be lifted or even be moved by any number of people, even the strongest of them.  However, if an odd number of men like 7, 9, 11 come together, get their pointing finger below the stone, chant the name “Pir Qamar Ali Darvesh” while lifting it, the stone can be thrown up – as high as 8 feet or above.   Louder the chant, the higher it goes. No strength need be applied. If the group is short of odd numbers, fakirs standing by are happy to join in.

The surprise element is if one tries with even number of men like 10 or 12, or with a woman in the group or withtout uttering his name, the rock won’t budge.

Dargha 1 Dargha 2 Dargha 3

Logic fails here.

The story goes that a few hundred years ago, Qamar Ali Darvesh was born in a family famous for their wrestling powers.   At a very young age Qamar Ali became the disciple of Sufi saint living in the same area.   His brothers excelled in wrestling and teased him for being physically weak and a good for nothing.

Qamar Ali meditated and by the blessings and power he had, he challenged his brothers to use their muscle strength to lift the said stone.  The wrestlers could not move it without saying Qamar Ali Darvesh’s name.

Is spiritual power stronger than muscular power, then?  I wonder if similar miracles referred to in our Vedas and Puranas (holy books) might not be wrong.  Maybe, we are yet to understand a lot of the technology described in these texts.

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Unique In Its Truest Sense

“Oh! The Sun has risen from the West today” is a proverb used when something most unexpected happens.  But it is true that there is a place where the Sun never rises from the East.  It sounds unbelievable. The place is……

Hold on… … there are more curious characteristics of this place.

It is an accepted fact that Sun rises every morning and the moon every night.  However this is a place where Sun and Moon rise and set only once a year!

Standing here, one can see the stars, sun and moon spinning around one “point” straight over one’s head, in the sky. They appear at different locations in the sky as the day progresses but are visible 24 hours (depending on the season).

Not just that, you can go only South from this place!  How would a compass behave at this place?  It stays confused with the needle going around in circles!

This place is happy with just a latitude as a coordinate, it has no longitude.  The local time of any place on earth is determined by its longitude, such that the time of the day is more-or-less synchronised with the position of the sun in the sky. Since there is no longitude, does this place have no time zone either?  It is not synchronized with GMT and no time zone has been assigned to it.  Use any time zone that is convenient, no questions asked!

At this place, there is no earth underneath but still one can walk along and dance around.   There is no land within a radius of about 700 kilometers and 5,000 meters underneath. “Land” is a sheet of floating ice here.

This unique place is The North Pole, 90°N.

We all have learned that the earth spins on an imaginary axis, once a day.   North Pole is the point where this axis intersects the earth’s northern most surface. The North Pole is the point from which all the meridians begin, thus no longitude!

In this world, where every country is fighting for a chip of land, this is a vast area which is not governed by any one country in the world.  No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. It is surrounded by five countries Norway, Russia, Canada, USA (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland).  Their authority is limited to a 370 km around their coasts.  The area beyond that, up till North Pole is administered by the International Seabed Authority.

It doesn’t even have an official marker for the position, as the ice moves constantly.   The position is detected by a specific compass.

North Pole experiences only night for half the year, and has day time continuously for the other half depending on whether the pole is facing towards or away from the Sun.

The Geographical North Pole at 90 deg N is different from the Magnetic North Pole. The latter is a wandering location and moves about 45km every year.

I visited this place with my wife, Pushpa in 2009 and experienced all of the above.  I stayed there for about a day on the floating ice and was told by the time I left the place, that I have moved a few kilometers since I landed. Unique in its truest sense, the experience is irreplaceable for us!  We were the proud first Indians to land on North Pole, 90°N.

Let us not get restricted to popular travel destinations only, opt for unusual.  Though looks difficult, they give unique knowledge and unique pleasure.

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Family Culture: East is East, West is West

Mid night Sun at Nord Cape 25 July 1983

July 1983. My wife and I were on our first of the three trips so far to the Northern most regions of the earth.   We were on our way to watch the midnight Sun. We were travelling by train from Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway.

Mid night Sun at Nord Cape 25 July 1983

Mid night Sun at Nord Cape 25 July 1983

Other than us, there was one more passenger in our train cabin.  He must’ve been around 70 and was from Holland.  He was on a vacation.  He left home by a vanity van, which had all the luxuries one expects in an apartment.  He parked his van at Copenhagen before boarding the train for visiting the various islands in Norway for a 45-day trip.  In the Second World War, he was injured and one of his legs had to be amputated.   He was living with his wife on a decent pension.

In a couple of hours, we became friendly and I asked why his wife was not accompanying him on the vacation.  He said:  “Yes.  That’s how it was planned initially.  But on the day we were to leave, my wife fell ill and I left by myself. “

Look at this unimaginable situation.   Just because his wife fell ill, he left her alone.  Instead of staying back to help his ailing wife, he preferred to go ahead with his long vacation without her.   He could have easily waited for her to recover as it would not have made too much of a difference. He was traveling by road and had his accommodation in his own van.

Though this action was normally acceptable in their society, I am wondering whether we would have done the same thing in our part of the world!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Maayra – Should This Continue?

I am proud of what I did last week.

My niece (brother’s daughter) was getting married.  We have a tradition called ‘Maayra’ in our community where the bride’s maternal uncle  (maama) offers valuable gifts to his sister (bride’s mother) and her daughter (bride).  This basically is with an intention to contribute towards the wedding expenses.

Taking the bride’s mother in confidence, I approached her brother with a request:  “In this marriage, if you approve, we’d like to do away with the tradition of Maayra

After consulting his family members, maama said that they were fine with that. But in turn, would also like to not have related formalities like ‘Bathhisi’ and ‘Saama Levna’. These are small functions where the sister symbolically invites her brother’s family to the wedding.

Since our side of the family was okay with this, the entire Maayra and related programs were eliminated from the wedding.

Now imagine this.  If this maama has 6 sisters and each of the sisters has 2 or 3 children, the maama will have to offer gifts at each of these weddings – let’s say on about 15 occasions. It just does not end there.  He will also be a part of the Maayra, though on a smaller scale, at the weddings of each child of each niece as ‘Bad Maayerdar’.  Some of the maamas will probably spend a good portion of their lifetime-earnings in Mayraas.

Though this tradition is prevailing since ages, it has become irrelevant in the present time, as the disparity between the rich and the poor has increased widely. In cases where the Maama can afford, they can follow this tradition.  But it sets, a keep up with the Joneses syndrome, or an inferiority complex of sorts, for those who cannot afford it financially.

In cases where the Maama cannot afford, he begs, borrows, pledges his jewelry or property just to fulfill this tradition.  Rates of interest for such borrowings are normally so high that he is sure to be doomed under the burden of paying just the interest.

Is this a fair tradition in the present day situation?

I feel proud that all the Maayra formalities were  eliminated atleast in this wedding. I wish others are inspired and follow similar steps for reform in Society.

Writer  : Badri Baldawa

Editor  : Meeta Kabra

Himalayan Positive Attitude

I was on my Mansarovar-Kailash yatra for the second time. I had arranged to take a group of about 100 persons for pilgrimage.   On 21 July 2010, we started driving from an altitude of 4,300 ft in Nepal to Nyalam located at 12,400 ft in Tibet, China. It was too big a climb for one day.   To ensure that everyone is healthy and fit to travel to higher altitudes in next few days, we had to take a day’s rest for acclimatisation at a village called Nyalam.

During acclimatisation, rest is defined as climbing a couple of mountains and return to the base!  In the evening, when the sun was about to set off, I noticed that a little far away, in one of the mountain kasba, about 30-35 persons were sitting together, in a big circle. Though it was far off, I could here them talking loud and laughing and enjoying their time.   It was like a celebration.

One of the Nepalese Sherpa was with me. I checked with him was it a special occasion or festival that people are enjoying so merrily, as if it was some sort of celebration.   The reply was very interesting.

He said: “This particular tribe in Tibet have their dinner early, at sunset and enjoy talking and laughing all the time during dinner. However, they have another very special tradition. During the time of dinner, even if oneperson speak negative about any one in the village or criticise, they just stop eating and quietly disperse away on that day! Probably that tradition keep them laughing all the time. Everyone in their tribe have developed the sanskar (habit) of talking positive about every other person all the time.“

What a rich tradition! We wish we all could do the same!!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra