‘Hopping Across Cultures’ goes live on Facebook!

When I first made this blog, I had only one mission. To share all my travel stories first-hand, along with pictures and spread the beauty and magic of different cultures by removing the boundaries and stigmas between people, cultures, colour and creed and show how beautiful and amazing the world really is. I tried my best in maintaining all the details, which would make the reader feel as if he/she is experiencing the beauty of those amazing cultures. I don’t know how much I may have succeeded until now.

But, keeping in mind the ‘travel’ theme of this website and to showcase the dynamic diaspora, I started to research more about links and articles, which would help any reader to travel with a more degree of knowledge. But, what I was skeptical about was if the links would really work out, had I posted them here. And, so I decided to make a Facebook page for you all.

Click above to connect to the Facebook page!

Click on the above picture and login with your credentials and ‘Like’ the page to keep yourself updated. Alternatively, you can click here to connect to the Facebook page. I know you all love Hopping Across Cultures very much and would definitely love to get updated with every tidbit pieces of information and also some more pictures and behind-the-scene photos that I’ll post there. Thank you so much once again for the love and affection you have shown. Ebullient cheers to everyone!

See you there!   🙂

The Miracle

Before I start this post, I have some questions for you. When was the last time you think a miracle occurred in your life? Another question that I would ask, at times when you are highly annoyed by this or that in life, which is that place you go to? In other words, what do you really do to cool off your head? The terrace-top has always been one of my favourite places that makes me feel comfortable and feel free. Maybe because there’s only the open sky above my head and it reminds me of free thinking and freedom, or maybe because there’s always air blowing there, and the feeling of air hissing on my hair with my eyes closed gives me a Zen feeling about life.

Now, let’s travel back to the summers of 2010 when a small incident took place. I had gone home on one of the semester breaks after my Engineering studies. My grades in one of the subjects hadn’t come out very well. Not that, that I was a topper whole of my life, 😛  but parents have heavy hopes from their children (and I think it’s true all over the World, isn’t it?), and so I got a good scolding from my mom and in the process I had lost my temper and I badly needed to go somewhere away to cool my head off. A cultural cue here: In India, youngsters have deep respect for their parents and so, it’s very unlikely that someone will shout back at his/her parents. As the terrace was the only place I could go and have some free thoughts, I went away. I sat there for about an hour, when suddenly a “Miracle” happened.

Beautiful dragonflies started circling over my head and gradually the terrace was filled with hundreds of them. For all those people who might have read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist“, will surely understand what I am about to say. All these beautiful, tiny creatures seemed to be good “omens” to me. I was more surprised because dragonflies, which otherwise are skittish and fly away the moment you try to make a connect, had started playing with me. And in the process, I had forgotten everything about my altercations with my mom. I quickly ran downstairs and brought my sister’s DSLR. These jittery angels were still there, although quite curious about the newbie, the black-bodied instrument on my other hand. I finally managed to make a wonderful connect with one of them and get this shot.

And as they say, patience and timing are two key things you need to get good shots, I tried my best to give my best. You will be quite amazed, or maybe even shocked to know that I was on my toes for a continuous 8 minutes to get the above shot. More-so, I was standing on the top of a stack of shaky bricks, which would at any moment send me to the hospital with a fractured leg. I am sure, I somehow acquired the tenacity of a Yogi during those 8 minutes. 😀 But, as they say, some things are just worth it!! I just hope my mom doesn’t read this because I am sure, this time it will be her who will want to send me to the hospital, if she gets to know the behind-the-scene story 😀

For all those still wondering why I named this post, “The Miracle“, I think a day that was so worse and it changing to a day where you felt bright sunshine come into your life, I think that definitely has all the ingredients for it to be called a miracle. Moreover, you must have noticed in all my posts until now, I try to throw-in a cultural cue. Hehe, maybe today I would like to end by saying that most of the Indian moms are very strict (and, you definitely have to score some really good marks to keep them happy all the time. Damn!) 😀

Projekt Generosity: Do you really need Watermarks on your photos?

It’s been a really long time since I wrote the last post. I had kept you all waiting and I must admit, I missed the joys of expressing myself and my stories through pictures. My deepest and heartfelt apologies for that 😦 but some other works had left me no time to think freely, and as you know when I write these stories, I put all my emotions and want to express how it really felt when I took the photo. But you see, when the mind is preoccupied with the daily stress, it is hard to give your best shot. Thankfully, I am a bit settled now. And I think, I will use this opportunity to rise from the ashes and start again 😉 (LOL, was that poetic or did it sound like a scene from a war? 😀 ) But, today’s post is not going to be like what I write about normally. There’s a thing that has been boggling my mind for the last couple of months. And, that’s exactly what I am gonna write about today. Let’s call it : Projekt Generosity (hehe 🙂 I know the name sounds as if it was taken straight from a Linkin Park album, but naah … it really is very simple!)


But, before I even begin talking about this so called Projekt Generosity, I have some subtle questions for you. What comes to your mind when you think of the word Freedom? What comes to your mind when suppose, you are sitting somewhere far away from the madness of the world and you close your eyes and feel the gentle breeze hissing through your hair and think you are free? I know, different people will have different stories of how they think and feel when they are free. Now, as I write I just can’t help but chuckle at one of my sweet-toothed friend who once told me, he thought he was free every time he had an ice-cream 😀 That’s quite funny, isn’t it? But I digress. To get back to what I was saying, what do you think can Projekt Generosity be all about? Well, to keep it straight and simple, its about being generous. Its about being free and seeing more people enjoy and smile from your work. But how do I achieve that? I definitely don’t know if there’s a hard and fast formula to make people happy. But as I earlier said, what boggled me from quite a time was if I should really be using watermarks on photos. For all these years, I had been watermarking my images whenever I uploaded them online. But now as I think of the past, I admit that watermarking is a way of living in fear that someone would steal your picture. Just before making a decision, I asked some of my Photographer friends what their view was about using watermarks. To my surprise, each one of them still insisted on using watermarks. When I asked them, “But why?“. They said, “someone will steal your pictures and say that to be theirs’.” Maybe they still lived in a fear, or maybe I didn’t care. Whatever it was, I am happy to be making this decision. I have a small story to tell you, which further made me think how a photo could really connect with someone.

Some days ago, my internet connection wasn’t working. And since I had some emergency work that really needed an internet connection, I had to go to an Internet cafe outside. (Internet Cafes, as they are called here in India, are shops where you can access the internet for a valid time by paying an amount of money. I think they exist everywhere, maybe with a different name.) As I was almost done with my work, I remembered that I had to download some of my pictures from my gallery. Just when I was about to be finished, I browsed through those pictures one last time. It was then that the young kid, the owner of the internet cafe stood beside me and glanced at the pictures from a safe distance. On one instance, he asked me to stop. I wondered what happened to him. It was a picture of a dog that I had taken on one of my trips to Shimla. I asked him what happened. He then told me his story. He had lost his parents in an accident when he was mere 3-years old. And he told me that he didn’t have many friends, but he had a best friend, a faithful dog that strikingly resembled to the one in the pic. From a 5-year kid to an almost 17-year old young lad, he had that dog as his only friend, and it was only recently, a year ago that the dog passed away. I could sense the happiness in his eyes as he looked at the picture on the monitor. His eyes glistened with the small tears that had rolled up his eyes. I just wondered how one could connect to a picture so well. Photographs surely had the power to move and thread hearts together. He hesitatingly asked if he could have the picture as a wallpaper on all the computers. He would want to treasure the pic forever. It was then for the first time, that I thought about the wall that a watermark could create between these tender connects. As I didn’t have the non-watermark picture with me at that time, I had to apologise. I asked if he wanted the one that I had at that very moment, and he happily agreed. As a goodwill gesture, I got the non-watermarked image printed on a A4 sized photographic paper and went to the same cafe the next day to gift him. This time it was my turn to wet my eyes when I found all the 14 computers had the wallpapers of the image I gave him the day before. Wow! It really meant so much to him. I gifted him the photograph and even till today, he probably treasures the picture.

Talking about Photography and how it connects us, I was watching a video on TED by David Griffin, the photo Director for National Geographic. The video moved me. It showed how photographs can really make a connect with people, and also how unique a story can be which otherwise can never be explained. I would recommend you watch this video. On a closing note, here are just a few things that crossed my mind when I think of not watermarking my images. There maybe people who may like an image so much that rather than asking me for a print, they may print it themselves. I say, “Go ahead !!” Maybe they have very little money to ask for a large sized print. Or maybe, they are just fans who appreciate the work so much. On a personal note, I had even earlier stated that I take Photography as an art. And every artist would want his/her work to be shared and enjoyed. So go ahead and feel free to share and/or use my images as wallpapers, on your blogs or wherever you want. You can download them in high-resolution from my DeviantArt Gallery. Its just a small wish that you link to Hopping Across Cultures. I believe the world is full of people who will respect the time, effort and finances to produce an image. I would just like to state that all images that were taken prior to 2012 may contain the watermarks (although, I will try to find and upload the original non-watermarked images.) Once again, thank you so much for supporting me with your wonderful messages and comments. Enjoy and make the world a better place. Peace!

Hanuman : The Monkey God

It’s the weekend, you haven’t planned out anything and all you’re doing is idly sitting in your crib, bored and uninterested. What would you do? I walk 😛 Yeah, you heard me right. I walk. But hey, you don’t just go anyyyy-where. You at least plan out before you go somewhere, right? Nope, I just keep walking! Unplanned and clueless 😀 I like to walk, and I like to travel to new directions and explore new places. By the way fellas, what do you do? I am sure, you don’t just WALK or graze away somewhere unknown! {like a cow does 😀 }

So last weekend, I started in the direction of the main road hoping to find an interesting place. Everyday I come through this same road, but due to the hustle-bustle of the daily life, its quite humane to miss out on interesting things along the way. So after walking for about half an hour, I saw this really beautiful and colourful temple. I knew, it was my day to explore this place of beauty. By the way, I had also added this picture in my very first post.

When I reached the gates of the temple, I found some ice-cream wallahs sitting beside a big banyan tree sheltering from the heat of the late afternoon. For all those who don’t know, ‘ice-cream wallahs’ is the Indian derivative of the coloured Popsicle vendors. I was dismayed to hear from them that the temple gates opened only at 1900 hrs in the early evening, and that meant I had to wait for about two and half hours [which obviously I wouldn’t do 😛 ]. I found another small gate, which probably was meant for only staff members of the temple. I found no one to object me, and so I took my chance and sneaked in. Wow! It was beautiful. It was a Hanuman temple. Hanuman is the Indian monkey God. I took a close picture of Lord Hanuman doodled on the wall.

Many of you might be wondering who are those two people in his chest. Well, they aren’t people, they are Gods too – Lord Ram and Sita. Sounds funny, ehh? Gods inside Gods! 😀 Kinda like the Hollywood movie Inception, huh? 😀 Yeah man! India is full of these beautiful stories, and I personally believe it has tremendous potential of inspiring Hollywood with many of its legends 😉 Jokes apart, let me tell you this wonderful story. But, before I quote the story, I am certain it would be quintessential to also tell you who Ram and Sita are, isn’t it? So look, Ram or Rama is this Indian Superstar, the equivalent to Chuck Norris 😀  … whoa … whoa … whoa … are you kiddin’ me??  … C’mon! Are you serious, you think I will be able to explain to you the whole world of the Indian legends?? No way!! Ahh anyway, for the records Ram is the avatar of the Indian God Vishnu {Now stop complaining, I already warned you there are thousands of Indian Gods 😉 } and Sita is his wife. Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen …. please welcome another God … Hanuman!! 😀 And, so Hanuman is an incarnation of the divine and a disciple of Lord Ram. Below I exactly quote the story of Hanuman tearing his chest.

Once Sita, the wife of Lord Rama gave Hanuman a necklace of pearls. After a while, the residents of the city observed him breaking the necklace and inspecting each pearl minutely. Intrigued, they asked him the reason. “I am looking for Rama and Sita”, replied Hanuman. Laughing at his apparent naivety the spectators pointed out to him that the royal couple was at the moment seated on the imperial throne. “But Rama and Sita are everywhere, including my heart” wondered aloud the true bhakta. Not understanding the depth of his devotion, they further teased him : “So Sita and Rama live in your heart, can you show them to us ?” Unhesitatingly, Hanuman stood up and with his sharp talons tore upon his chest. There, within his throbbing heart, the astonished audience were taken aback to find enshrined an image of Rama and Sita. Never again did anyone make fun of Hanuman’s devotion.

So that was the brilliant story of devotion of Lord Hanuman. I wonder, what would happen if I did the same. Certainly a heart and the aorta and some veins maybe, I can guarantee that, haha 😀 So that was the story of Lord Hanuman. In case, you are interested to read more amazing stories about Hanuman, you can click here. And for all those of you very religiously-hearted, you know I was kiddin’ all along. So just in case, you’re offended, I whole-heartedly apologise for that!

And finally, I had my day and after sitting in the beautiful garden beside the temple for some time, I strolled back to home hoping that Lord Hanuman didn’t come and punish me at night! 😀

The Alchemist

When was the last time you read a story or watched a movie, and after some time you experienced something exactly like that? In other words, when was the last time you had a feeling of Déjà vu?

And so it happened, that I was travelling from Shimla to Manali in the winters of 2010. Shimla is a beautiful hill-station in India, similar to Manali. In fact, it is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. And hence, it attracts lots of tourists, and you can find the hustle-bustle of the city almost throughout the year. Also, the Englishmen who ruled India during the British rule, made Shimla their summer capital. That’s a reason you will find many ancient cottages and houses of British architecture. But, let’s not talk about Shimla now, because if I start expressing the beauty and colours of this pristine land, am pretty sure the Sun would already be shining again, and Neil Armstrong would have made his second attempt on the Moon 😀

In order to reach Manali, we had to take the Indian National Highway – 21 (NH-21). It is my personal preference to normally travel by road or rail because, you get to meet a lot of people in your journey, and that gives you some good opportunities to know the culture better and also to see a lot many things of the locals. True to that, that an air travel is much faster, but that is what it is. Moreover, its costlier too, man! My suggestion to you if you are travelling in India will be to either travel by train or the road (for short distances.) Am pretty sure, you would love to see so many new things. Also, cultures in India change around every 500 kilometers, so it will be that you won’t even have had the time to soak-in a new culture, that another will await you the next 5 minutes 😉 So, while on my road journey, which was about 273 kilometers (170 miles approx.), I came across so many different cultures. It was really hard to soak in all at one time. Somewhere, the women would have these big-big nose-rings, with a heavily coloured cloth on their head, and then only after a 5-minute drive, the rings would exchange places to the ears 😀 I was lucky enough that the car driver kept reiterating all the stories of these locales. Suddenly, after about half an hour of round and round travel through  those narrow mountainous roads, I came across this BIG flock of sheep.

It was almost sunset, the Sun was sinking and there was a bit of dust in the air, and guess what …. the car was surrounded by a huge flock of sheep. All that I could hear was the “Baaaa…..baaaa…baaa” …. sheeps bleating all around the car. We were covered all around. Seemed to me that probably the sheeps were telling the car-driver to get out, so that they could drive and give Michael Schumacher a run for his money 😀 Hehe, finally I spotted the shepherd a few metres away, and he helped the sheep move back away from the car. As our car stopped, I turned around. Wow! What a view!! It was as if the World stopped in front of me!

The Shepherd and his flock of sheep

The Sun shone high, once again. All that I could think at that moment was of Santiago. All of you who must have read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist  will surely know what I am talking about. I went towards the shepherd, smiled and said a soft hello. We conversed for about 5 minutes. I asked him, where his home was. Everything of what he said, seemed exactly as what I had read in the book. The feeling of Déjà vu. He had no home. He had only one purpose in his life. Travel. Travelling was all that he knew, and these sheep were all that he had. Maybe he was following his dream. Or, maybe seeking an unearthly treasure. He didn’t talk much, but occasionally smiled. Finally, it was time for me to leave. I waved and said good bye. “Wow!! That surely was an amazing feeling“, I thought to myself. I had met the alchemist. While returning to the car, I saw this wild dog and clicked a few shots.

The mountain dog

Back in the car, the driver told me that these wild dogs are even meaner than wolves. They know only their masters and their only purpose is to protect the sheep and not let them get away. And that they got threatened when any stranger would come near them. “Thank God, I am in one-piece”, I thought 😀 I had gone way too close to take a shot. But anyway, c’mon it doesn’t look like a Tiger, ehh? Finally, as the dusk was falling, we sped fast to reach Manali, and in all that time thinking only about one thing — I had met The Alchemist.

The Silent Whispers …

In the December of 2010, I got this wonderful opportunity to visit the ‘beauuuutiful‘ hill-station town of Manali. Manali is a small town in the Northern part of India, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It’s a famous tourist place and a hill station with really peaceful and beautiful people. I call them ‘beautiful’ especially because, apart from having very warm hearts, most of the people there have these appealing ‘rosy cheeks’ 😀 Don’t get me wrong, but maybe its because of the climate, or their cheeky genes! Or maybe because they chew on a lot of apples all fresh from their orchards there 😀 (Would be wrong to make it a generalization, though)  And, I am sure everyone will be mesmerized by their helping and down-to-earth attitude.

Talking about climate, I bet you India has a lot of extremes all around. You maybe shivering {or, maybe also on the verge of dying 😀 } when you’re in Kashmir. It hits -30 degs below zero sometimes. And, in the same day at the same time your friend down in South India might be ‘sweating’ profusely, like a pig 😀  And, I am telling you, I have an experience of both. So its always better to do some research before going to places.

Back to Manali now. You will find a lot many Buddhist monasteries, and also some ancient temples. One day, while walking on the street for about an hour, I stopped inside a makeshift restaurant. The chilly wind, did little to keep me warm and so I ordered a cup of Chai. Chai is the Indian name for Tea. I stroke up a conversation with a man sitting across me. I got to know from him that Manali was also known as the ‘Valley of Gods‘. According to Indian mythology, there was a sage named Manu who had stepped from his ship into Manali after whole of the Human race was destroyed due to the Great floods. It was after the sage that this place was named. His story sounded similar to the Hollywood movie 2012. I was pretty confused as to whether this man was mocking me with his own made-up story 😀 I couldn’t stop myself from asking him,  “Hey man, are you kiddin’ me? You must be talking about the movie, right? and cooking up this story. Also, I believe 2012 has surely inspired you way too much” 😀 He gave me a gentle smile, and then said “Son! That’s the story of Manali. We heard it from our fathers and fore-fathers and that’s how it passes from one generation to the next”. He gave this innocent look, and I could do little to not believe him. At times, I really feel so foolish, either Hollywood is making a mockery of the mythological stories or the locals are 😀 But, naah I had to agree to what he said. He seemed to be a good man. And thus we chatted for about half an hour more.

Finally, when I thought it was time, and stood up to leave, I could hear the gongs of bells coming from somewhere nearby. I sat again and asked him, what these sounds were. He told me that just 100 metres from here, there was a Buddhist monastery. The smell of the incense sticks livened up the atmosphere. Wow! what more can you expect apart from a cup of hot tea in this chilly atmosphere and the smell of the fresh incense sticks. The feeling was awesome. I thanked him for his time and started walking. I was pretty excited as I could feel the hymns as I came nearer. Finally, I entered the huge gates. Just outside the pagoda, there was a woman sitting alone. I was curious what she was doing.

I went to her and saw her holding a Buddhist Mala or a rosary. A mala or a rosary is used to keep count of the number of times you recite the hymn or the chant, the mantra. The most commonly used mala contains 108 beads made of Tulsi wood, although malas made of many different materials can also be found. Some of the malas also contain more or less beads, but normally are in multiples of 9. I didn’t know why it was only “108”, and so a quick Google search tells me this as the reason . Now, you might be wondering how I know so much about these rosary beads. I have a funny story here.

When I was a really small kid, I was sitting on my mom’s lap in one of the store-rooms. She was delicately cleaning some stuff that she thought, she would put in the living room as ornamental decoration. She opened a box, and inside it were about 7-8 malas that others had gifted her. While she was cleaning, I picked up one with bigger beads and put it in my pocket, without her noticing. I still kept sitting there, and my mom told me how and when these delicate things were used. Earlier the previous day, I had actually lost my ball in the gutter, so I had nothing to play with 😉 Finally, when I was alone, I pulled the mala from my pocket and kept on staring at it for about 5 minutes. The innocent mind in me started thinking, “Wow! I had lost just one ball. Now, I have 108 balls to play with (literally speaking so as to say) 😀 And BOOM !! I pulled apart the string, and one by one all the beads started falling. Fact is, after almost 16 years from when it happened, I still have one bead as a prized possession that reminds me of that innocent and naughty childhood, haha PS ~ I just hope my mom isn’t reading this !! 😀

Okay, so back to the monastery now. I watched as the lady continued her prayers and then she picked up the rosary bead and started with her soft hymns (which I couldn’t hear BTW!) I walked up to her, and asked her what she was doing. She didn’t reply. At first, I thought I was disturbing her. And so I waited for another 2 minutes. As I slowly grew impatient and irritated that she didn’t answer me for so long, I was about to go. Just at that moment, I found what it really was. There are some Buddhist monks and nuns that take their vows very, very seriously! They don’t speak at all!! 😮 All of you who must have watched the movie “Hangover Part 2” will surely know what I am talking about. Immediately, I turned back and she was smiling. Maybe, I had made the connect, or maybe she did 😉 And it was then that I realized that at times, we humans are so full of our own thoughts that we completely forget, that there’s also another side of the story. I signaled to her that I was taking her picture. She didn’t mind. I clicked. Then, I bowed and thanked her. She smiled. I left this beautiful, spiritual lady in her zen world and felt good that she had taught me a lesson for the day. And then, I walked from there hoping that a new story awaited.

The Journey Begins !!

… laces tied … bags packed … and I am ready for the ultimate hop … and as  Neil Armstrong would say “One small step for a Man, a giant leap for Mankind”.

Namaste 🙂 and a very warm welcome to Hopping Across Cultures. I know that my brothers and sisters in Europe and the Americas would be smiling, as my warm’ness  is doing rather too less a thing to prevent the cold waves from hitting, but you get me. 😉 And at the same time, I thank you from the core of my heart for accompanying me in this journey, and I hope you enjoy every moment of it.

This being the first post, let me begin by saying what ‘Namaste’ really is! You will be shocked that most of my fellow-men use the word everyday, but don’t really know its deeper meaning 😀 It goes something like this : “The divinity within me salutes the divinity within you”. In other words, it means  bringing the palms and fingers of your hands together, and bowing to the God in the other. The syllables ‘Na’ and ‘Ma’ means “Not Me” and ‘Te’ means “Thee or God”. So, ‘Na’ and ‘Ma’ refers to the ego that steps back in reverence to the God. So “Namaste” also reminds us that we should all treat each other with love and respect because that same God is in all.

Here, watch this :

Now, that you have watched the funny video by Pastor Smith, I welcome you once again. Namaste!

Being from India, and the World knowing India as a peaceful country with lots of colours and traditions, my first image is of a beautiful temple from Hyderabad. I will talk about it in a later post. Till then, I wish you the very best. Happy Journey!! 🙂