Journeysmatter

A blog on journeys, great destinations and fantastic travel experiences

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 1

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The Indian Tri color

People are excited about #Jantacurfew, a one day #lockdown initiated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister as India’s fight against the #Coronavirus.

While normal people are stocking up based on what is missing in their pantry, there are many who are stocking up based on what has never been in their pantry. A family who never brought more than a kilogram of flour was seen buying four kilograms of it. Suddenly, shopkeepers whose shelves were always flush with stock keeping units, were seeing their wares fly off the shelves. Anything, virtually anything was up for grabs.

Bhelpuri, the quintessential #Mumbai snack was not to be missed on a Sunday evening. This was our only indulgence at the grocery shop.

The cook and household help were unsure of coming over on the day of #Jantacurfew. Switching off to what will turn out to be a turning point in the history of #India.

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 2

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The Indian Tri color

Two days to the #Jantacurfew.

A final trip to the workplace which was already seeing measures like limited meal varieties, sandwiches and other snacks being removed, even buttermilk & lassi coming off the menu.

Picking up the utilitarian Thermos, found my way out of the workplace and headed home to face uncertain times. No time or opportunity to bid goodbyes.

There was an air of discontent among young associates who were being asked to come to work as they did not possess laptops. The company did not have any means/preparedness to ship desktops to their residences.

All the BCP manuals were practically rendered useless in these times. Emergency response teams were now facing a real life emergency and not a drill like it is always.

Back home, the cook and domestic help were both around but were not sure of their attendance on the #Jantacurfew. Groceries, vegetables, essentials were at hand to deal with a day of complete shutdown.

Working from home #WFH was usually reserved for unusual days – days of continuous calls, a utility service company coming over, someone taking ill, lack of transportation and of course weather.

A few days before the lockdown, had invested in a conference speakerphone to get over the always in ear phones. Tinnitus and loss of hearing was staring in the face and hence the arrangement provided much needed relief.

That set up the Home office really nice and could move around without the wires getting tangled.

Everyone at home getting used to working from within the confines of a 1000 sq ft space. The daughter getting a e-classroom schedule from school portrayed a face of gloom. The wife being a travel professional, thought nature had given her a break after a gruelling season.

Interesting times ahead!

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 3

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The Indian Tri color

We are going through stunning times. Unbelievable that one would have started the month of March planning their summer breaks and here we are, holed up within our homes trying to save our lives.

The attention shifted from #Wuhan to #Japan where the Diamond Princess was anchored to #Singapore as the virus snaked its way across to Europe. Who would have thought that the #Juventus vs #Valencia would be one of the last sporting events in some time to come. #Italy, #Spain, #Germany and many more start reporting aggressive spreads, hospitalization, and finally spiralling death counts.

Indian students, devout and stranded labourers were flown back in to India and quarantined.

19th March should go down as an important day in India’s history. The PM took a bold decision to declare a day of #Jantacurfew on the 22nd of March. This was to be a test bed for what was to come subsequently.

Decisiveness has been a hallmark of Shri. Narendra Modi ever since he took charge in 2014. There is a sense of agility in the way of functioning and it is visible with the way the government re-orients itself with every feedback and suggestion. This is a tremendous achievement for a bureaucracy which has not exactly been a forward looking one.

The preparation for #Jantacurfew and the days to follow was on everyone’s horizon.

Companies were getting their work from home and business continuity plans prepared (dusted off in some cases)

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – Ghats of Prayagraj

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This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.

Part 1 saw us driving down from Varanasi to Prayagraj. We visited Kumbh as it drew to a close but nevertheless it did give us a glimpse of what the place would have looked like at its peak. The government of the day at the centre and the state were led by the same political party and hence co-ordination and co-operation were in order. On the second day of our #Kumbh experience, post the Triveni Sangam bathing experience, we planned to explore the Ghats where the space for conducting the #Kumbh was prepared.

Ghats of Prayagraj

An estimated 250 million people (25 crores) would have participated in the Kumbh this year and that is about the entire population of #Indonesia. The entire area covering the Kumbh was estimated to be about 3,200 hectares which is equivalent to 3,200 rugby fields. The Ghats and the main Kumbh area consists of spaces provided to Akharas from across the country. Akharas (Equivalent of Satras in Assam) or a place for the teacher – disciple relationship to flourish. The disciple is usually a religious renunciate and trains on the scriptures.

  • River Ganges, boats docked and the well lit bridge
  • The well lit bridge viewed from the banks of the Ganges at Prayagraj
  • Boats and people on the banks of Ganges
  • People basking in the sun on the banks of the ganges
  • Sellers of water cans and coconuts on the banks of Ganges
  • Vendor selling vermillion, personal effects and care items

Citizen Facilitation services

India has seen cleanliness set in to its national consciousness since 2014. The National cleanliness mission has been driven on every available platform and has largely contributed to disease prevention. The drive was at the forefront of Kumbh 2019 as previous Kumbh Mela’s did not pay adequate attention to the sanitation needs of 250 million people. Apart from makeshift toilet grounds, cubicles with privacy were set up for people to change clothes and even for nursing mothers. Safety and cleanliness were reflected in the kind of arrangements that were made.

  1. 122,500 toilets
  2. 15,000 sanitation workers to support operations
  3. 1,500 volunteers spreading the message of cleanliness
  4. 20,000 waste bins with one every 50 metres
  5. 20,000 security personnel supported by over 100 police cabins
  6. 1000 cameras watching the proceedings and sending them to an integrated command center
  7. A lost and found center for re-uniting children / elderly who have lost their way
  • Toilets at the Kumbh venue
  • Change rooms
  • The lost and found center at Kumbh

Brands in Action

When 250 million people are expected, how can the brands stay away. They found their unique ways to blend in to the atmosphere of the Kumbh and engage with the millions. Nothing seemed like in your face but more became like a discovery.

  • Tea stall with ponds branding
  • Ponds brand standee
  • Banner with Kumbh logo and Fair and Lovely message
  • A water dispenser sponsored by LG
  • Kumbh mela notice featuring All india radio

Food

Beginning with a cup of tea, Fried stuff like bread pakoras and Samosas and even some sprouts to keep the energy going, visitors to the Kumbh can always find a low cost option for themselves and their families so that no one goes hungry. There were also camps which were serving free food for those who could not afford. Fruits were being sold in plenty along with tender coconut water and sugarcane juice.

  • Tea seller cart
  • A Bread pakoda vendor
  • Sprouts seller
  • A bhel thelawala

This Kumbh was one of the most successfully conducted, accident free and clean Kumbh in living memory. The Prime Minister made it a point to honor the sanitation workers who played a key role in ensuring a clean and disease free Kumbh. As it is emphasized, cleanliness is equal to godliness.

THe Prime Minister washing feet of sanitation workers as a mark of respect for their contribution.

The next Kumbh Mela is scheduled to be held in 2022 in the holy city of Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand. Any Kumbh is a once in a life time opportunity to visit and understand what India truly stands for. Come and fall in love with India

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – 1

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One of the boats on the banks of the Ganges ready to transport devotees to the Triveni Sangam

Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years. The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimages on four sacred rivers as listed below:

  • Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand
  • Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh
  • Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra
  • Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh

The twelth year of a cycle sees the Kumbh happening in Prayagraj. The last grand gathering happened in the year 2013. Six years since, Prayagraj becomes the site for an Ardh Kumbh or the mid way in the new 12 year cycle. One can read more about Kumbh 2019 and its significance here.

The 2013 Maha Kumbh and 2019 Ardh Kumbh have happened during different ruling dispensations and hence were expected to be handled differently. This two day travel experience to the Kumbh was to get a bath in the confluence and experience how the grand event was handled.

The Kumbh Tent City

  • The Tent city with a green carpet, tents and fire fighting equipment
  • A sit out to relax and grab a bit of sunshine
  • Two Beds, a Fan in the tent and a Caravan music player

Heading to the Triveni Sangam

  • Gulls warming up on water barricades as the sun comes up lighting up the Sangam
  • A simple Boat ride for Rs 1500 for an hour and half to travel to the Sangam (confluence) and return after bathing. Absolutely warm boatmen with proper safety equipment
  • This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.
  • There was adequate police presence on the waters and the invisible eye to watch over the crowds
  • Passenger traffic on the Ganges transporting devotees and workers headed towards the Ghats.

The Bath at Triveni Sangam OR Confluence of Three rivers

  • The Kumbh Sangam or confluence
  • Boats parked at the confluence/sangam
  • Faithfuls smeared with vermillion paste by priests who conduct prayers at the sangam
  • Man sleeping on the boat on the lap of his wife

Getting to Prayagraj

Prayagraj is about 120 kms from Varanasi, the closest international airport. Prayagraj airport too has now been brought on India’s aviation map with services getting launched from May 2019. All of India’s major airlines like Air India, Indigo, Vistara and SpiceJet have excellent connectivity to Prayagraj and Varanasi. If one enters and exits via Varanasi, the added benefit of experiencing the oldest city in the universe can be realized.

  • A Dhaba and seating space
  • Two vegetable curries - One of Cauliflower with Peas and another with potatoes and spinach. Accompanying it is sumptuous dhal / pulses, salad and chapatis with Rice
  • A Tea shop iwth tea being served in disposable mud cups. Tea is prepared on a coal stove

We will explore the Ghats of Prayagraj in our next blog piece

Majuli Island #Assam – Visit it before it disappears

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Twilight over the Brahmaputra as we leave Majuli Island to Nemati Ghat

Majuli (Land between two rivers) is a river island on the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam. While getting in and out requires a lot of effort, not going there is not an option. With closer observation, it is infact the cultural capital of Assam. The island is now a District and covers a total of 441 square kilometers and has over 144 villages, schools, colleges and all the amenities required to lead a decent life.

To reach Majuli, travel around 300 kms from Guwahati, reach Jorhat from where you land up at Nemati Ghat which is on the banks of the Brahmaputra. There are about 7 ferry services at various times of the day plying between Nemati Ghat and Majuli with the last service around 330 PM from either sides. We spent 5 hours which was more like an orientation session to Majuli. That was however good to get us back in the future. Savor some of the main sights of this picturesque island

Auniati Satra

Entrance of the Auniati Satra
The entrance of the Auniati Satra. Satras are the Assamese Vaishnavite monasteries for religious practices. These great Vaishnava monasteries were founded at the initiative of the Ahom Kings of Assam in the middle of the 17th century.
Jaya and Vijaya Guarding the entrance to the shrine of Krishna at the Auniati Satra
Jaya and Vijaya Guarding the entrance to the shrine of Krishna at the Auniati Satra. They are places where the Vaishnavs dedicate themselves to serve God and also preach the followers for devotion towards God. They are also the centre of art and culture in Assam.
The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra
The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra. The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra. They make use of various ritual and devotional performances to help people understand and practice the doctrine of the Vaishnavism and realize belief in one God and the means of the ultimate eternal peace. Raas Leela is a powerful and a beautiful way of conveying the essence of vaishnavism

Samaguri Satra

Entrance board to Samaguri Satra
The Samaguri Satra – Mask making is a special craft not just of Majuli, but also of the entire state of Assam. Srimanta Sankardeva first used them in the enactment of his Bhaonas. He created this craft to capture expressions which otherwise was not possible to enact in a regular face. The Samaguri Satra preserves this tradition (Notes Credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Guru Hemchandra Goswami at work on a wooden scultpture
Shri Hemchandra Goswami, the Guru at Samaguri Satra trains 10 – 12 boys in the craft every year (Notes Credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Master Hemchandra Goswami at work in his Samaguri Satra
Artist of the Samaguri Satra
Ahom king Chakradhwaj Singha built this Satra in 1663 A.D, and since then it has showed immense deftness in this craft and for generations trained young artisans to pass on the heritage and give it a momentum vis-à-vis the present. Two other Satras— Bor Elangi Satra (which moved from Salmora Mouza in Majuli to Titabar in Jorhat district) and Khatpaar Satra in Sivasagar, are notable practitioners of this craft and they have kept the tradition moving. (Notes credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Masks at Samaguri Satra
The earlier masks were restricted to portraying just a single expression where the eyes and the lips were not shown. Now the masks are built in a manner so as to facilitate the movement of the eyes and the lips. Again in some other characters artifices are employed, making the removal of the head or the nose during the play seem real. This adds a dramatic character to the story, enhancing it in the process and also lending an aesthetic appeal to it. The atmosphere thus becomes more animated and energetic. Materials used for the masks include bamboo, cane, cow dung, jute, potter’s clay, and muslin cloth (https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)

Uttar Kamalabari Satra

The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is an influential religious and cultural monastery of Majuli established in the year 1673.
The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is an influential religious and cultural monastery of Majuli established in the year 1673.
A residence of one of the students of the Satra. This Satra is famous for performing art like Gayan bayan, Sutra Naas, Ankia Bhaona (dramas of Sankardev and Madhabdev).
A residence of one of the students of the Satra. This Satra is famous for performing art like Gayan bayan, Sutra Naas, Ankia Bhaona (dramas of Sankardev and Madhabdev).
The residential quarters of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. In this Satra both the Satradhikar and the Bhakats (disciples) spend their life in celibacy. The Bhagavad Gita is the central deity to whom prayers are held everyday.
The residential quarters of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. In this Satra both the Satradhikar and the Bhakats (disciples) spend their life in celibacy. The Bhagavad Gita is the central deity to whom prayers are held everyday.

Handicrafts from the Mising Tribe

  • Rengam Cooperative
  • Weaving centre
  • The Cooperative has been helping the Mising tribe further its skill.

The Majuli Brand Mustard Oil Project

Majuli Brand Mustard Oil Project is a contineous project being run- by IMPACT-NE since 2005. It is a kind of project for socio-economic development of Majuli through agricultural processing and rural industrialization. The main objective of the project is to ensure benefit to the farming community by providing them direct market linkage to sale their mustard seeds at actual market rate. As mustard is the major agricultural products of Majuli so it requires a competitive market for the benefit of the farmers.

  • The Majuli Mustard Project. An avenue to provide employment locally.
  • Mustard placed out for Drying. Mustard is the largest agricultural product of Majuli in terms of output
  • Oil tins for Mustard ready to be pumped in to Oil extraction machine. A log has been used to serve as a makeshift handle
  • The Mustard is poured in from the top and the extracted oil filters down while the cake is thrown out. The residue is added back in to the machine to ensure that the oil is fully extracted before being discarded as fodder.
  • Lord Vishwakarma is the resident deity of the Mustard Oil Mill
The Majuli Island Mustard Oil Project

A Simple Lunch before Departure

The Ferry Service

Heading to Majuli Island

All major airlines fly in to Guwahati from where one can either take a train or drive about 315 kms (7 hours) to reach Nemati Ghat from where one can board a Ferry to Majuli. Majuli does not have any chain hotels but provides a number of home stays. For more questions write – response@narmadaholidays.com.

Sights and Sounds of Yangon – The Circular Railway

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The Yangon Circular Railway May

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day. Later, in the second part, we had the opportunity of visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda and Temple of the Reclining Buddha. As we prepared to bid goodbye to this wonderful and energetic country, we took a ride on The Circular Railway and it was a perfect way to bring the curtains down on this lovely travel experience.

The Circular train is a remnant and a reminder of its colonial days. Yet, it continues to selflessly serve its citizens. Spanning 46 km and 39 stations, the Yangon circular rail forms a loop around Yangon. Built by the British, the 72-year-old commuter service network connects Yangon’s suburbs and satellite towns. The first service leaves Yangon Central at 3.45 am. The last train leaves at 10.15 pm. A ticket on the Circular train costs about 200 kyats or about 15 cents. One must set aside about an hour to experience this journey which gives a glimpse in to the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

Trains on the circular railway, Yangon central
Wide open windows, Japanese instructions as coaches are from old Japanese trains, advertising for mobility services and easy to access platforms with no need for foot over bridges – All characterstic of the Circular railway. The Yangon central station will look like a UNESCO world heritage site if given a facelift
Insein station, mud pots serving water, clean platforms, Buddhist prayer stall and the station masters' office
We boarded the train at Insein up to Yangon Central. The station platforms are wide, relatively clean, have mud pots with water for passengers to sustain in sweltering heat and of course prayer stations where Monks set up bowls for offerings.

The circular run takes 3 hours in all and no one will go hungry with the amount of perishable goods that are transported and the number of vendors hawking their wares on board.

Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
The making of a tangy and spicy raw mango and raw papaya salad

Along the way, we met very interesting and friendly fellow passengers. It just wants you to get to know them and their country more. Why do you chew betel leaves? Answer – Because every one else does ! 

An everyday scene - a office worker, casual labourer and a monk
The everyday people on the circular railway. Monks usually travel for free.
Well dressed gentleman and students on board
The Journey never ends on the circular railway – Young and old alike
Bananas ready for ripening, shacks selling food items on platforms and alongside tracks
Life just happens along the tracks of the circular railway
Station platforms and waiting area of Yangon central
The railways will be the way they are. It is a way of life for the people of the city.

Recent news reports suggest that Myanmar is readying for a major upgrade of the Circular line by signing agreements for funding and technical support with Japan and South Korea. We wish these projects huge success thereby improving the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

The Myanmar Journey concludes here for now