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Shantesh Patil

Game Designer, Writer, Traveller

Gardens of Kashmir

It was the day that we were finally visiting the gardens of Kashmir. After having some poha that was spelled as puha in our hotel menu we headed out early. While I love gardens of all kinds, my wife is not a big fan. Since we were to spend the entire day exclusively visiting gardens she wasn’t the most excited as we headed out.

Parimahal

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Our first stop was a ride to Parimahal a terraced garden that offered spectacular views of Dal Lake as well as the city. Situated on a hillock we had a great time walking across it’s multiple levels each offering different views of Srinagar. The crowds were moderate and a gentle breeze accompanied us everywhere.

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While I had initially imagined Kashmir to be a conservative place with couples not tending to show their affection in public this place completely surprised me. There were young couples everywhere and it seemed like this was one of those places where they were truly free to just be themselves and enjoy each other’s company.

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While there are lovers names scratched into the walls at some places thankfully it wasn’t so much that it became an eye sore.

Chasmeshahi

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Chasmeshahi falls on the way to Parimahal at the top but we chose to go here on the way back from Parimahal.

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It has a point of fresh water whose source is not known. Our driver told us that Nehru’s water came from here. While it’s upto you if choose to believe in this I think a story whether true or made up always adds to the charm of any place you may visit.

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Nishat Baug

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Next up was Nishat Baug a 12 step terrace garden built in 1634 A.D. Overlooking the Dal lake from the first terrace onwards and extending to a great distance upto the uppermost terrace it’s a vast garden lined with fountains water channels and chinnar trees.

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Once we went upto the last terrace we stopped midway to just lie down in the grass and listen to some soft music. With the perfect weather that day it was a sublime experience.

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Shalimar

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Built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Noor Jahan this was the last of the mughal style gardens we saw before heading to the Tulip Gardens

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Tulip Garden

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The Tulip Garden is open only for 1 – 1.5 months in the year when the tulips are in full bloom so were lucky to see them. Late evening is the best time to see them as the afternoon sun makes it hard to see them for a longer stretch of time.

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Botanical Gardens

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We still had some time to to spare after visiting the Tulip Gardens so we ended the day with a silent peaceful pedal boat ride at the neighbouring botanical garden. Most people tend to give it a skip but I highly reccomend it.

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Betab Valley & Chandanwari

The first part of this series can be found here.

The second part of this series can be found here.

The third part of this series can be found here.

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After waking up a little early to this amazing view, we checked out of the hotel and headed into town for our trip into Betab valley. We couldn’t take our private car here so we needed to hire a local car from the stand to take us there. You pay them based on the number of points you wish to see.

Betab Valley

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Betab valley got it’s name from the movie Betaab starring Sunny Deol, that was released in 1983. It had several scenes shot here and subsequently it has regularly been used as a location for movies. The day that we were here, filming for a Tollywood movie was in progress.

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A view of Betab Valley from the top

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Our Little Guide

While we don’t usually hire guides, there was an enthusiastic little guy who offered to guide us for a small fee. He told us that he was studying in Std 8th. With so few tourists around, it really looked like he could do with some money so we let him accompany us.

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No one but us

Betab for me was a place of desolate beauty. Besides us there were just 5 -6 tourists walking about. While that is a sad thing for the locals it really let us appreciate it’s beauty with nothing else to distract us.

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Our rather poor attempt at building a snowman

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Chandanwari

After spending about an hour at Betaab Valley we headed towards the Chandanwari glacier.  These are a few photos taken while were driving towards it.

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Once you reach Chandanwari you can do a small trek up. Most people don’t go right up to the top as it can be a little strenous. But we chose to go up higher than most.

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It was a fun climb upto the top. The view from up there was worth it. Our boots would often sink into the snow right upto our knees. Having snow get into your boots can be quite an unpleasant experience and I had to stop a couple of times so our guide pull out my shoes and empty it of the snow. Neverthless slipping and sliding down the glacier was a fun experience.

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Avantipura

While we were on our way back to Srinagar we stopped at the Avantipura ruins. It was most recently where the song Bismil from the movie Haider was shot.

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Plastic

We stopped once again at the dry fruit shop from the previous day as our driver had to pick up a larger quantity of Kesar for a previous customer worth almost Rs 15000 to courier back to him. As it was the 4th day into our trip I noticed that there were signboards  proclaiming a polythene bag ban at several places. When I thought about it I realised that while Kashmir wasn’t a perfectly clean state it was much cleaner than you might expect. It may be hard to say if this can be attributed to the plastic ban or due to it’s nature as a tourist state but I hope that things continue to get better.

Pahalgam

The first part of this series can be found here.

The second part of this series can be found here.

On the way to Pahalgam we stopped at a dry fruit shop that sold almonds, walnuts and saffron. The almonds that we tried here were different from the ones we are used to. They could almost be described as juicy, oily and really fresh. We ended up buying way too many expensive and tasty dry fruits. By the time we paid up and were ready to leave the total weight of them worried me a bit. I’m the kind of guy who is always worried about his luggage getting tagged as overweight at check in. We also tried some authentic Kehwa tea that is a Kashmir specialty. It might not be to everyone’s like but don’t leave Kashmir without trying it atleast once.

Bat Factory

Though me and my wife have absolutely zero interest in cricket, another couple in a car tagging along with us wanted to buy a bat. So we made what is considered an essential stop on any trip to Kashmir. This particular road had scores of shops lined up on either side of them. The Kashmir willow tree, whose wood is used to craft these bats is what makes them special.

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To Pahalgam

The district of Anantnag that falls on the way to Pahalgam was once known as Islamabad. As with our previous ride to Sonmarg we had another river the Lidder to keep us company along the way.

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On reaching Pahalgam we checked into a small hotel with a beautiful view of the same river. While there are other better hotels available in the main town area we preferred this one one which was right inside a little village.

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Pahalgam has two different sections that you typically visit from there. The first one takes you uphill and after another negotiation for a pair of horses we set off again. This particular ride is a tough one for the horses as well as their guides. It was hard not to feel a little guilty riding these gentle creatures as they slowly and made their way up some pretty steep slopes.

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The ride consists of a few designated points along the route and we stopped here for a bit of Bhajji by the river.

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When you reach the top most point you can enjoy some truly stunning views. We took a break here to do a small photo session in traditional clothes that you can simply wear over your regular clothes.

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One of the last points is up at the top where you can find a large flat piece of land. This serves as a skiing start off point for tourists when it is covered with snow in the winter months.

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There were some points during the ride that our guide would point out locations where scenes from some famous classic Bollywood movies were shot. Me personally not being too familiar with these movies made it hard to relate.

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The entire ride can take easily take 2 -3 hours which gave us plenty of time to chat with our guide who was a fairly young guy who had just started college. We learnt that horses names were Dharam and Veer. One was a little older and always took a longer and carefully calculated route while the other one always took the shortest one possible. Descending the slopes while on your horses can seem a little scary initially. It requires that you put complete faith in the horses and their guide.

He also asked me about my profession. When I told him that I worked as a game designer he responded by telling me they love playing Teen Patti on their mobile phones to pass time during the cold winter months.

When we made our way back to the village below one of the locals casually asked us where we were from. When we mentioned Pune he immediately said Keshavnagar Mundhwa which is the exact area where we stay. He said that he loves that place and it’s people and invited us to his home for tea. We were too tired and just a little bit sceptical to accept his offer.

In a tourist driven city when a local mentions that he knows the city you came from it’s easy to assume that he is only saying that to entice you to spend some money on his wares or some other experience. However in this case we had to assume that he was telling the truth because it was highly unlikely that he could have guessed correctly the exact area that we stay at in the vast city of Pune.

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We had a nice dinner at a place called Nathus in the center of the town. There were only 3 -4 other tables occupied in an otherwise fairly vast restaurant. To truly understand how much tourism has fallen in Kashmir, Bilal our driver told us that there was a time that you had to wait an hour to get a table in this very same restaurant.

As we settled into the silence of the night the only sound that lulled us into sleep was the Lidder river.

Sonmarg Kashmir

The first part of this series is available here.

Dal Everywhere

On our 2nd day in Kashmir we headed to Sonmarg which, along with Pahalgam and Gulmarg is one of the 3 main tourist areas in Kashmir. It’s a one and half hours’ drive from Srinagar. One of the the first things we realised on our drive there is how huge and pervasive Dal lake truly is. It felt like we could see a part of it no matter where we were in Srinagar.

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Kashmir & Politics

While I’m not much of a follower of the political situation in our country our driver was fairly chatty and informative about it. He was a big fan of our former Prime Minister Mr Vajpayee. According to him at the time that he was in office most of the people of Kashmir believed he was heading down the path that would have bought much needed peace to the beleaugured citizens of the state. He said a greater threat to Kashmir actually comes from China. All the squabbling between India and Pakistan seeks to benefit them the most.

The Sind River

We took a pit stop at nice open air cafe by the Sindh river on the way to Sonmarg. The river remainined beside us all the way to our destination.

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Bargaining Skills

The process the government has in place, to ensure that the locals in all areas can make a living from tourism means, that we couldn’t take our own private vehicles beyond a certain point on reaching Sonmarg. So we needed to hire local vehicles or horses for the rest of the journey. Dozens of locals hounded us as soon as we got out of the car. Our driver had given us some preliminary advice on negotiating the best prices and an agreed upon gesture from his side to indicate that we had settled for a reasonable final value. We used that system everywhere from then on.

The Gentle Pace of a Horse

After negoitiating horse rides they remained our gentle companions for the better part of 4 hours. While hiring a vehicle would have saved us time, the easy, gentle pace of these creatures let us appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the river beside us in the most relaxed and enjoyable way possible.

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As we trodded gently up the road we saw several sections where an avalanche had come through and then been cleared away. We have seen the ferocity of avalanches on TV and here we were moving calmly through the aftermath of one.

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The Sind river continued to keep us company

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The sheer beauty of this region gives you a sense of why India, Pakistan and China fight over it.

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Sonmarg Picnic Point

At the end of the horse ride while they remain tethered outside you can spend some time at a small enclosed area where you can participate in some snow activities like a sledging and skiing. We did neither preferring to just walk around in the snow.

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Who is God?

On the way back we had a fascinating discussion on the concept of belief and religion. I am not a religious person but I am always fascinated by others perspectives on it. Our driver while a believer in God was completely against false prophets or men who are treated as gods. He said if you don’t believe in the traditional concept of God just consider your parents as your gods.

Hazratbal Masjid

On our way back from Sonamrg we stopped at the beautiful Hazratbal Masjid.

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As beautiful as the structure is, the gardens and the overlooking lake and mountains in the background make it a perfect place for those who wish to pray or just enjoy a few moments of peace.

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Late Night Walks

While our hotel had excellent food the menu was a little limited so we thought of trying dinner elsewhere for the night. We weren’t sure if it was safe to go out at night, but our hotel guy assured us that it was completely safe no matter when we went and came back. So we tried South Indian for dinner and ended the night with a walk by the Dal Lake which was only a few meters from our Hotel.

The next post covering the 2 days we spent in Pahalgam is here

Into Kashmir

Apprehension

When we first decided that we would celebrate our 3rd anniversary in Kashmir it was a decision driven by budgetary constraints. The unrest in the region was never at the forefront of my mind until we actually started telling people we were planning to go there. Most people only asked us questions that fell into the category “But is it safe to go there?” It gave me some unease and I did begin to go online and look up news. There had been a violent incident just a couple of days back and an unexpected bout of rain and snowfall. To put my mind at ease, I called our driver in Kashmir who was going to take care of things. He assured us that, as tourists we would not be affected by these things.

Flying Quick

It was the first time I had booked a flight with only 40 mins between connecting flights. I was a little worried when the first flight from Pune to Delhi was a little late getting in. Luckily it turned out the same airplane was going on our onward flight to Srinagar. So we just had to wait outside the plane for a while as it under went maintenance.

While long haul flights can be uncomfortable experiences, short ones are a breeze and this one afforded us some additional pleasures like the view of snow capped mountains as we began to descend into Kashmir.

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The view of snow capped mountains from our airplane window

Flora and Food

After we were picked up at the airport by Mr Bilal our driver and semi guide for the rest of our trip we started towards our hotel. We saw scores of Chinar trees along the way. The Chinar (maple) a tree with a lifespan of 500 to 600 years was once unique to Kashmir in India. Numbers have fallen in the last few decades.

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It was about lunch time once we had checked into the hotel and we decided to order Dum Aloo Kashmiri which is a dish that is available almost everywhere in Pune. We were curious about how it might taste here. Turns out, quite different and much better than the version we get back home. Our local version tends to be on the sweet side while the Kashmir version was bursting with flavour.

The First Temple

Post lunch we headed to the Shankaracharya temple where photography was not permitted. Below is an photo from Wikipedia.

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The Ancient Shankaracharya Temple – Srinagar – Wikipedia

Roughly 250 steps lead up to the main temple. After arriving from 38 C temperatures in Pune the cold breeze blowing at the top, the amazing view of Srinagar and the silence offered us some much needed respite and peace.

Dal Lake

Taking a Shikhara ride across the massive Dal lake is an essential experience. After negotiating a good price with the owner we set out on our ride at about 5 in the evening. As soon as your boat begins to float away the first thing you will experience is vendors on their own boats trying to sell you various items like jewellery, souveniers and saffron. With tourism having dropped so drastically in the state it can feel a bit cruel to wave them away. However once you are clear of them is when you truly enjoy the beauty of the lake.

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You can easily spend 2 -3 hrs on the ride revelling in the views and the silence of the lake. The Shikhara ride covers a few designated points spread over the lake. We took our time at each.

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We stopped at this floating cafe to pick up some tea and pakodas. Having both while floating gently across the lake was a great experience.

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A floating cafe

One of the other interesting points is the floating market. Consisting of a handul of stores selling mostly garments and handicrafts your Shikhara stops beside the one your wish to go to and you can step off for a while to do a bit of shopping.

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The floating market

Lining the side away from the land are scores of houseboats where you can choose to spend a night. Surprisingly, most people, including our driver advised us against staying in a houseboat owing to the smell and general hygiene issues you are likely to face.

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Houseboats

Before heading back to the road we chilled out for a while at a point called Nehru Park which is a small park in the middle of the lake. It also houses a small book store /coffee shop in a small building.

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Nehru Park

While we started the ride in daylight towards the end of darkness has set in completely. With the lights from houseboats and the edges of lake surrounding us it felt different yet as nice as the day time. Drifting slowly towards land as it went dark, with nothing but religious chants to break the silence, was a truly sublime experience

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I intentionally included this blurry picture but it seems to perfectly capture the surreal nature of our ride as the night set in.

The next post covering our day spent in Sonmarg is here

 

Remembering Grandfather

For most children who grew up in India in the 20th century, their grandparents were always a huge part of their lives. Since women move to their husband’s place after marriage, in most cases it is the father’s side grandparents that children interact with the most.

My situation was the opposite. As the only child of divorced parents I moved when I was only two ,back to my Mom’s parents house. At that tender age it was both innocent obliviousness and my Mom’s tireless sacrifices that kept me shielded from the worst aspects of the separation. From that point on the only father figure in my house was my grandfather.

This was never truer than when my Mom told me about a little incident from my childhood. In kindergarten a teacher once asked me ‘What does your father do?’. I promptly replied “He sits at home and reads the newspaper”.

Ajja as we used to call him in Kannada was a voracious reader and a big tennis fan. He spent hours poring over every page of The Times of India and I spent hours watching tennis matches with him in front of the television. He was a pretty big history buff too regaling me with stories of a different time. It always fascinated me to think that my grandfather was born 25 years before our country gained independence. We only read about that time in our history books while he actually lived through that time.

He was also a rather straight forward man. Discipline and integrity were of utmost importance to him. When my Mom and uncles were younger, grandfather was an extremely strict father. As the years went by and the responsibility of taking care of part of my life also fell to him, his demeanor towards people had changed almost completely.

He never denied me anything in life. From books to my very first computer he never said no to anything. While computers are a part of every child’s life right from school it wasn’t the case back then. In the year 2000 when I got my first computer, Rs 50000 was a huge sum. He got me a spanking new Pentium 3 no questions asked. All because he thought it would help me. While the educational aspects of owning a computer quickly fell by the wayside it’s what got me into video games something I am lucky to now call a career.

Somebody once called my grandfather a very stoic man. Since he was from a time before gyms became fashionable, his secret to good health was a combination of good genes and regular physical activity. That meant, him running at least 5 km every morning for as long as his age permitted him to. He was also headstrong when it came to anything that required even thinking about a doctor. I remember him, once coming home from his morning jog with a bleeding leg from a dog bite. No matter how hard we insisted that he get an injection from a doctor he simply refused to go.

The only time he finally relented was towards the end of his life. Nothing on earth could bring him down. He was the strongest man I ever knew. A habit that he had quit 10 years previously had come back to haunt him. It was painful to watch a man who had never known weakness all his life, wither away from the inside. He weathered the sessions of radiotherapy without exhibiting any outwards signs of discomfort. It was only when the cancer had progressed to a point where he was unable to speak and bear the pain, did I see any signs of him having given up on life.

He passed away at the age of 82 silently into the night. I always believe, how one leaves this earth is of little consequence as compared to how one lives when he is on earth.

Grandfather was honest to a fault, stubborn as hell, well read like no one else I knew, disciplined but fair, strong as an ox, gentle as a lamb, more caring towards me than his own children and the closest I ever had to a father in my life.

Swami & Friends

R.K. Narayan has always been one of my favorite Indian authors along with Ruskin Bond. When I tend to casually ask around friends and family if they have heard of him, sadly many simply shake their heads. However, many are very familiar with the fictional town of Malgudi that he created thanks to the TV series Malgudi Days that ran on Doordarshan in the 80s. Several people have also watched the movie Guide starring Dev Anand. Few know that the original novel that the movie was based on was written by R.K Narayan in 1958. The other fascinating fact that I only recently discovered was that R.K Narayan was the brother of none other than R.K. Laxman one of India’s most famous cartoonists, the creator of The Common Man

While I had read several of Narayan’s previous works and novels I only got around to reading his very first novel Swami & Friends over a vacation break. It was this book, where he laid the foundations for the fictional town of Malgudi that was the setting for several of his stories that were to come.

If you read up on the author, one of the things he was sometimes criticized for was the simplicity of his prose. I had read several of his later novels before reading this one and they are extremenly well written. Coming later in his career, one may assume that he got better over the years since his first effort. While this is a subjective opinion, I personally never felt this way about Swami & Friends. A book’s appeal sometimes lies in the quality of it’s prose, at other times in the quality of it’s characters.

Characters is where Narayan excels and Swami the titular character is a fascinating examination of school going boy’s pschye. Other than the fact that Swami is a child in village from a different generation than now, every adventure, every observation, every thought and every action that Swami takes in the book is never less than entertaining, thought provoking and timeless. Through every incident Narayan opens up windows into the mind of a child. A child that everyone of us was at some point in our lives.

While children of today live in a more technologically challenging world than Swami’s they still face the same challenges while growing up. School, examinations, parents, grandparents, friendship and most importantly self discovery. Every tiny chapter examines these challenges in a charming and easy to read manner. Everything is told from Swami’s unique, innocent point of view. Even as an adult in this generation it brought back several memories of school, teachers, examinations, the fear, excitement, anxiety and exhilaration that I ever experienced in my childhood.

More than anything it made me yearn for a time when we lived in simpler world where we weren’t so connected. Perhaps we were more ignorant in that less connected world. But we were a lot more willing to go out there and experience things in the physical world.

For anyone looking for a decent english novel in an Indian setting written by one of our country’s finest authors I highly reccomend Swami & Friends

Firewatch

I recently acquired Firewatch as part of the annual Steam summer sale. It had been on my radar ever since I had stumbled upon their gorgeous website.

The game starts with a lovely text based intro where you make some basic life choices before you emerge into the wilderness, which is the setting for Firewatch. You come here for the job of a fire lookout to get away from your complicated life. What follows is at once a lonely, thrilling and gripping experience all at the same time.

This is not a review of the game but an exploration of the emotions and feelings that the game evokes as you get further into it. The world of Firewatch is a lonely one. Your only human interaction is with your supervisor over a radio walkie talkie. Now you might think that this would make for a boring game. What holds everything together however is the forest, the central story line and the incredible voice acting by both the main characters of the game.

Firewatch is a relatively short experience lasting around 4 hrs. Any longer and it would have probably drawn out the experience unnecessarily. Firewatch can best be described as a exploration narrative. It’s why the game dosen’t offer much of a challenge in the game play area. So players looking for something more, won’t find it here.

What it does have is an incredibly strong sense of place. The unique art style really draws you in. A sense of loneliness pervades throughout the game. Yet the world around you and your simple objectives continually drive you forward. There is a central mystery that kind of strings you along across the world of Firewatch. Your mostly navigating across the world from point to point with the help of a map and compass.

Your only companion on this journey is your supervisor Delilah. Your conversational relationship with her is the central driving force of the game. Every conversation has a set of choices that must be selected within a few moments of them being offered to you. While these choices don’t determine the final denouement what they do is shape the your ongoing relationship with Delilah. It was a very rewarding experience to see how these small but frequent choices affected her responses towards you.

Firewatch takes place over the course of only a few months and during that time you actually experience a relationship over a walkie talkie mature and grow in a way that actually feels real. The most important thing I realised was the game never puts a hard label on the kind of relationship that develops.
In the end it’s all about the connection you as the player make with this place, and the people that traversed it before you. It’s about reconciling a past relationship while exploring the possibility of a new one. It’s about discovering things about oneself in moments of intense solitude.

Go play Firewatch. Or rather go experience Firewatch. It’s a prime example of the magic of video game storytelling.

Onwards to Bhutan

As we settled ourselves into the airplane the first leg of our journey to Bhutan I recollected the TED talk given by the President of Bhutan about what they as a country hope to achieve over the next few years. He spoke about concepts like Gross National Happiness, being carbon negative and several other things. It was a coincidence that I happened to come across the video just a week before my planned trip to Bhutan. I guess all I could say was I would get to experience all this first hand. In the overly cynical world of today, we need to see with our own eyes before we believe.

While I took the tourists route for my trip to Bhutan, the crowds were very bearable and I actually ended up having a very pleasant and relaxed time. From it’s amazing culture to it’s raw natural beauty it’s a place that will take your breath away.

Getting into Bhutan

We began our journey from Pune and a couple of flights later ended up at Bagdogra in the state of West Bengal. From there it’s a 4 hour drive to get to Phuentsholing which was the first town on our journey into Bhutan. The drive was quite nice for the most part which also takes you through some tea plantations but also some chaotic areas. One of the strangest things I noticed here was crossing several bridges that looked like they were over vast expanses of water. When we got close though, what looked like water turned out actually be vast stretches of silt or sand. Whether things have always been this way or it’s a result of the current rainfall situation was hard to say.

 

Jaigaon was the last town in India before you cross over into Phuentsholing in Bhutan. The border between the two is just a simple gate with no security check of any sort. You can simply pass through between the 2 cities by driving across the gate. The most striking thing about it is the utter contrast between the two cities as soon as you drive through the gate. It’s almost complete chaos versus calmness. The difference is striking considering that both the towns are literally a stone’s throw away from each other.

Phuentsholing

Phuentsholing is the town where you need to secure a permit to be allowed to travel further into Bhutan. So we stayed overnight at the lovely Park hotel. One of the things my tour guy had mentioned and that I noticed from the very first hotel to the last was that most of the hotel staff comprises of women. It wasn’t just cooking or housekeeping that they took care of. They were also the ones to carry your bags up to the room. Which as a gentleman can be a slightly embarassing revelation.

After that overnight halt we spent almost 3 -4 hrs of the next day in getting our travel permits. This despite a local travel agent helping us out. In retrospect it was probably the most stressful part of the entire trip. Though we spent most of our time in the office just waiting our turn it was a tiny room with too many people and a general feeling of chaos.

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To Thimpu

Once we were on our way to our first destination Thimpu is when Bhutan’s beauty really opened up to us. It’s a 6 hour journey through stunning mountains and valleys but it’s all winding roads and those prone to motion sickness might have a tough time. The temperatures dropped drastically and even we who aren’t usually prone to motion sickness struggled a bit.

We stopped for lunch at Hotel Dam view a much needed pitstop. It was the only restaurant on the way to our destination but it offered a wonderful view and great food. It’s where we tried both dosa and Keva Datsi which is a traditional Bhutanese dish. Both were amazing and we highly recommend this restaurant to any of you who pass this way. To cope with the motion sickness the restaurant owner also recommended something called butter tea which I loved despite not being a tea drinker.

After lunch we felt a lot better and could really begin to appreciate the scenic beauty of the country. The traditional buddhist prayer flags also started appearing at several points along the way.

Th roads weren’t crowded and it was incredibly peaceful. This bridge that we crossed along the way felt like an antidote to all the chaos of India we had left behind and we had to stop for a few moments to let it sink in.

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More about the next part of our trip to Bhutan will come in a series of subsequent posts.

 

 

 

Boyhood

You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.

Richard Linklater is a very different kind of director. If you have seen and liked the Before series of movies you know how heavily focused on dialog they are. Boyhood is different from the those movies because even though it has romantic elements and deals with relationships between people, it is first and foremost a coming of age movie. It also took 12 years to make the film. The reason being that the director wanted to make the movie feel as authentic as possible by using the same actor across the 12 years shown in the movie. To his credit actor Ellar Coltraine who was just 5 when the movie began shooting has done a remarkable job of portraying a boy who is growing up before our eyes over the course of slightly around 3 hrs of film.

The film doesn’t move like a standard drama film like you might expect from it’s premise. It flows naturally from dialog to dialog from one year to the next at a gentle meandering pace. The supporting cast also does a great job and when it reaches it’s conclusion you feel like you have really understood how this particular boy has grown up and all the choices he faced along the way.

While I personally loved the movie it’s also a a difficult movie to recommend. It can be hard to describe what exactly the movie is all about. With the absence of any sort of a traditional plot it might not appeal to those looking for pure entertainment. Then again I had never quite seen a movie like Before Sunrise either and it was one of the most absorbing and unique movies I had the pleasure of watching. Give Boyhood a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

The movie also let me discover the song Hero by Family of the Year and it has now become one of my favorites