Kick-off in Kesroli

I’m often asked, on my return from India, what the highlight of my trip was. More often than not the answer is far from easy. But picture this if you will and you’ll realise how effortless the answer was this time around. 19 people spanning 3 generations from 7 cities in 5 countries congregating for 3 fantastic days in 1 amazing location in India – priceless!

The venue: Kesroli. A relatively unknown hamlet in Rajasthan set amongst lush mustard fields and surrounded by the lower reaches of the Aravali range. Its only claim to fame – a charming little fort perched on a hill with commanding views of the tiny village below and fields stretching out for miles on end.

The Neemrana Group runs this heritage hotel and with a 14th century build date to its credit, Kesroli is the oldest of their 12 (on last count!) heritage properties across India. Our first family reunion was held 2 winters ago in their flagship property, the Neemrana Palace Hotel. Our experience at both venues has been more than pleasing and as a result I am determined to visit each and every one of their properties some day.

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Morning at the Masjid

I have always been partial to Delhi during the winter months because I believe that is simply the most enjoyable time to visit there. Ok so our homes might not be the best insulated on the planet and we shudder at the thought of a morning bath. Flights are forever delayed and we all hate the fog. But all of that is more than made up by the feeling one gets every morning in the warm snugness of a razai (quilt) with the sun’s first rays filtering through the window…

…edging us on to make best the hours of sun light that lie ahead. Those lazy afternoons in the garden, enjoying the warmth, sipping on beer and munching on mouth watering ‘mooli’ (raddish / daikon) garnished with lemon and spice..ah, what I’d give to enjoy another spell of the Delhi winter..

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D5 – Terai Wonder

I awoke sunday morning to find that I had a heavy head and nasal congestion. The cold had finally taken it’s toll on me. It was all downhill from here on in more ways than one. I would head for the plains in a bit, descend a steep road and my physical condition would deteriorate as the day unfolded. Worse still Roshan had decided to ditch, sending in a replacement in the form of Sushil Sherpa and a larger vehicle for company! I wouldn’t have minded so much had it been a Land Rover!

9:30 and we were on our way..leaving behind homely Alice Villa and her friendly staff.

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D4 – The Gloom in Ghum

It looked promising that morning and I hoped it would remain a bright clear day. Going by the luck we had during our monsoon visit – seeing Kanchenjunga in all her glory – I was pretty sure I would have similar luck this time. Batasia had been visited umpteen times by now and today it had to be different – I just had to see that marvelous train set against the backdrop of the Himalayas. So on a hunch I rode the ‘joy train’ to Ghum that morning and was informed by yet another inebriated member of the railway staff that we would have a ten minute stoppage at Batasia. Great! I thought – this would be that elusive dramatic opening shot I was looking for. But my luck had begun to run out by then..

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D3 – The chase begins

My winter production kicked off in full earnest today – at 0530 in the morning to be precise. For a change I was on time while Roshan lay fast asleep in the comforts of his ‘razai’ and just as we were about to leave he realised he couldn’t find the car keys – great start to the day I thought. Made it to Kurseong station minutes before the departure of the 6 am ‘school train’ to Darjeeling. After much hesitation, I set up tripod at the station and to my surprise no one realy gave a shit which is another reason why I love this part of the country – people don’t object to the use of cameras or crowd around someone filming. Anywhere else in the country and I would have instantly been greeted with the all to familiar, “hanji, permit hae aapka?? ” with a good 7000 spectators watching the proceedings by then.

If my computing skills are anything to go by, we stopped at no less than 22 locations en route to shoot the train from and contrary to what I had imagined, we were always playing catch up. Almost lost the chase on more than a few occasions. That steamer was going great guns this morning and was only 20 minutes late at Darjeeling. I say ‘only’ cause it’s no surprise if it turns up a couple of hours late on most mornings. Managed to goof up a lot of my shots but overall the experience was more than gratifying..

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D2 – Darjeeling Delights

Welcome again and thanks to all of you who had a look at day 1 and posted comments. Apologies for short changing you with that lone photo which was incidentally taken from the aircraft itself – look closely and you might even be able to spot good ol’ Everest in that formation!!

A leisurely start on day 2 thanks in no small measure to the cold which kept me from emerging from my many layers of cover. You can be rest assured the morning shower was even more painfull. The mission today was to location scout for day 3’s train chase. First stop was Darjeeling station.

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D1 – The lights from Pankhabari

Cold is an understatement. My feet are numb. This internet connection sucks. That said though, I’m more than happy to be back here – back in the Darjeeling Hills.

I sit in a lively internet cafe set unsuspectingly in the middle of a subzi mandi (vegetable market) in Kurseong. Music ranges from Pink Floyd to Himesh Reshamiya and the friendly folk in the booths adjacent to mine sing along regardless. This is the end of Day 2 of 5 of my Darjeeling trip and as you can see I’m a day late in blogging. Let’s pretend though that this is still day 1. Hopefully I’ll get to a faster internet cafe tomorrow and will be able to update 2 and 3 together. Till then, a very warm welcome to Darjeeling!

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