70,000-year history of Indian sub-continent


Unraveling the mystery of our roots to understand the present and predict the future.


Do we have it in us to give the fairer sex the place they deserve?.


Change of world order. Religious Terrorism. Where are we heading?.


Wanderlust Hodophiles.

Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


A small talk to the young employees of my office on my journey  towards writing my first book 'The Journey of Survivors'. The aim was to emphasise on 'deliberate practice' to achieve what you want.

Only after I listened to this recording that I realised that I have a funny accent.

Good Morning young people!

And when I say young that includes our CEO. Mayank looks young, doesn’t he?

You must be wondering what I am doing here.
Well…I am also wondering about the same thing more than you.

Devika requested me to speak about my own experiences and how with the help of deliberate practice I managed to end up writing a 476 page book.
She hoped that I would be able to inspire you young professionals.
When I heard that I was like … Really? Me? Inspiring people?
I would end up in the stage revealing my close guarded secret - that I am an idiot.
Now, none of you are telling that to anybody. Right?

Then I realized …. nobody can actually inspire anybody.
Virat Kolhi might consider Sachin as his inspiration….but which young cricketer doesn’t? Not everybody ends up becoming Kolhi.
At the end of the day, it is you who have to inspire yourself. Have faith in yourself, stretch yourself, get out of the comfort zone.
That’s what I did when Devika called me. I felt uncomfortable speaking infront of so many people. I have never done that. I felt so uncomfortable that I said that I am going to do it.

So, let us get back to my book.
A year back when I told my parents that I was going to publish a book they became very excited.
They asked me, ‘What are you writing on?’
I said, ‘History.'
They looked at me, surprised, as said, ‘Have you started taking drugs?’

I don’t blame them. When I was in school I used to run away from history. Before the history exam my brother used to read the history book to me.
I just used to listen to him and give the exam. That’s how afraid I was of history.
Forget history, I was afraid of reading in general. My brother used to give me books to read. I used to turn over the cover and keep it back in the shelf.
That changed when I was in class 10. My brother gave me a book called Illusions by Richard Bach. I don’t know why, but it started liking it. One thing helped – the book was thin. After that I slowly started getting addicted to reading.

Reading is like drinking whiskey. The first time you take the sip you are like ‘yak. You don’t like it. The second time, you feel OK. Soon, after few free drinks, you end up buying your own bottle. It usually ends up with you buying a bar cabinet. For books it is not bar cabinet but book shelf.

So I got addicted to reading. Why?

As we grow we learn from our family, our school, our close people. What we do is we start building walls. We build walls of good-bad, do-don’t, right-wrongs. They create walls of prejudice.
The more walls we build, the more our vision gets narrowed. We look at the world through our narrow prism of prejudice. What book does is help you break those walls. The addiction that I had was not really to reading.
The actual addiction was of breaking those walls of prejudice.

Why am I telling you about this? Because this phase of my life is important; without it I would have never been able to write a book.
How did I end up writing about history?
I was excited about the colour, the diversity and the chaos of India. I was curious to know how we came to be what we are. So I started reading. But unfortunately I was born with a very small floppy-like memory disc.
I forget things very easily.
So instead of just studying I started writing the important points. I realized that writing actually helped me understand things better. I was reading things from different places, I was traveling (I travel a lot), and I was getting a lot of information. When I wrote things down, summed it up, it helped me understand the past in a much better way. I could co-relate things better.

The next step was writing blogs. It was a challenge. I am not very good with grammars. Blogging also meant that I was exposing my ideas to public scrutiny, at the risk of exposing my close guarded secret. The was uncomfortable. It was so uncomfortable that I said I must do it. I started writing blogs. When I wrote enough posts I began to think of a book. Book was a bigger challenge. Writing a book without being an expert on it? That was uncomfortable. I enjoy that stretch. I said to myself, ‘Why not?’ And I ended up writing this book.

At the end there are two things: stretch yourself, and get out of the comfort zone. Those are the two things I deliberately practice doing. Now, this is not a success story because my book is not a best seller…yet. But it is a personal success for me. I gave myself a stretch goal and I achieved it. And more than success, it is a personal satisfaction.

Those are the two things I did deliberately, over and over again. Whenever someone asks me or my boss tells me to do something I am not an expert in, that I feel I might not be able to do, I say I will do it.
If there is one thing you take out of this talk, that one thing is: GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.  It may sound contradictory, but, be comfortable outside your comfort zone.

What I also believe is that there is no one path to success. We all are different and our ancestors understood it. They wrote down paths to achieve salvation. I equate that to success. For the people who are emotional, people of heart, there is Bhakti yoga. With complete devotion to something you believe in you can achieve success. An example would be – Sachin Tendulkar. He devoted his entire life to cricket and he is successful. For people of mind the path proposed was Raj Yoga, or Gyan Yoga. It is about achieving success through sheer knowledge and thinking. Einstein is an example. There is Karma yoga for those in-between heart and mind. They achieve success by following their duties sincerely and honestly. Rahul Dravid is an example. He was not a born talent. He practiced hard and sincerely , but did not devote his entire life to cricket like Sachin Tendulkar. He too achieved success. And finally, Tantra yoga for the eccentric people. These are crazy and creative people, like Michael Jackson. They can do stupid things but still achieve success.

So different people are different and there is no single path to achieve success. But one thing is common in all those who become successful: They stretch themselves and get out of the comfort zone.

Remember, not everybody become successful, but a successful person can come from anybody. It does not matter where you are today. If you stretch yourself you will become successful.

Thank You.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

How I Got Leh'ed: Day 3 & 4 To Dah and Back

Day1: LEH - Do Nothing
Day2: LEH-Around
Day8: LEH

Day-3 & 4

It was day 3 and we were ready for more activities. Climbing steps was an indicator of acclimatisation, and it was getting easier. However, since we had a 5 minus and a 70 plus traveller with us we planned day 3 and 4 such that we do not gain altitude.

The plan was to travel to Dah (182 kms from Leh) and Lamayuru (108 kms from Leh)  having similar altitude to Leh (3510m/11520ft). We started at 9am after breakfast. Our car drove through the Indus-suture zone (containing Indus group of rocks). Indus Group is a marine to terrestrial sedimentary deposit that formed in fore-arc set-up as the neo-Thethys closed because of collision between Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Towards our north were the Ladakh Batholiths (on which Leh is located) emplaced (102-50Ma) during island-arc magmatism as Indian place subducted below the Eurasian plate. On the way we stopped at Gurudwara Sri Pathar Sahib Ka, 25 kms from Leh. If you are in time you can have awesome roti-sabji (Indian bread and curry) there for free. The gurudwara is maintained by Sikh regiment of Indian Army.

Guru Nanak arrived here in 1517 (his second journey). According to the legends a wicked demon lived here who terrorised the villagers. On hearing about the demon Guru Nanak started meditating. The angry demon threw a big boulder at Guru ji. On touching Guru ji the stone turned into wax. His back got imprinted into the boulder. Seeing Guru Nanak alive the demon kicked the boulder with his right foot, which also sank into the boulder. The demon realised that the man infant of him was no ordinary man but a holy disciple of God. He fell at his feet and begged for mercy. Guru Nanak opened his eyes and asked him to give away his evil habits and serve people instead. The demon did as asked and lived happily ever after.

Imprint of Guru Nanak

Our next stop, magnetic hill, was not far away. Check out the video to see the mystery magic of this place.

From Magnetic hills we drove to the Indus-Zanskar Sangam (confluence) near Nimmu. Indus is green while Zanskar is muddy. Zanskar river gets frozen in winter and this is the starting point for the popular Chander trek up the frozen river.

Looking East. Indus towards left and Zanskar on the right.

One can visit Basgo Gompa & Fort and Likit Monastery on the way to Alchi if there is time. We went directly to Alchi Monastery (60 kms from Leh). It is one of the oldest and finest monasteries of the region, now under ASI protection. It has many Thangkas (Tibeto-Buddhist religious paintings on cloth) dating back to 11th-12th century. 

One if them is the famous Wheel of Life. The wheel is hold by Yama, the god of death. The circle at the centre of the wheel contains a pig (ignorance), a snake (anger/hate) and a cock (desire/lust). They are the root of all evil that keeps the wheel turning. The middle circle is divided into six segments depicting six segments of existence: Devas on the top, followed clock-wise by Asuras, and ghosts. Hell is in the bottom after which there are animals and then humans between animals and Devas.  In the outer circle on the left the monks and lay-folks are moving up on their way to happy rebirth, while on the right the naked figures are being dragged down to woeful rebirths. Outside the circle on the leftist are the twelve casual stated of individuals based on Buddha’s ‘law of dependent origination’ (ignorance, constructing activities, consciousness, name and form, six sensory organs, contact, feeling, desire, clinging, becoming, birth and death). 

There are five temples, each holding beautiful murals. Sumtseg has idols of Avlokiteshwara (bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas), Mayetryee (future Buddha representing hope), Manjushri (goddess of wisdom). The deities wear beautiful ‘Dhotis’. Mayetryee’s dhoti depicts the life of Buddha, the Avlokiteshwara's dhoti shows holy places and royal palaces and Manjushri's dhoti has adepts printed on it. Avlokiteshwara is red, and holds a lotus. He helps suffering beings. Vairocana Temple has the main celestial Buddha representing the Dharma body of historical Buddha. The walls are painted with the five dhyani Buddhas (explained in last post). Lo-Tsawa represents the Tibetan Buddhist texts. Manjushri temple (built in 1225) contains four images of Manjushri. All the four-armed Manjushris holds a sword, a book on top of a lotus, a bow and an arrow. Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of wisdom. He is a white boy wielding a flaming sword that cuts down delusion. Apart from the temples there are amy Chortens. Don't forget to check out the view of the river behind the temple. 

Celestial Buddha

River behind the temples

This is a good place for lunch. Lots of restaurant. We hopped into the Zimskhang Restuarant. It serves mostly vegetarian dishes. They may have egg and canned tuna as well. Veg buffet is expensive. A-la-carts a cheaper and better option, unless you came down after trekking and is really really hungry. If you do not have your lunch here you have to go to Khaltsi market, on the way to Dah-Hanu . There are smaller shops and mostly thali system.

After having lunch we started our long drive towards Dah to meet Alexander’s kin. Our luck ran out and we were stopped 5 kilometres from Dah. The heat from the scorching sun has melted too much snow increasing the water in the river. Indus has overflowed and blocked the road to Dah. However, we came to know from the locals that we are already into the region where the so called ‘Pure Aryans’ live. We took a difficult curvy road, up the mountain, to reach the village of Sanith. The village consists of 24 houses where the people look and speak a language different from the Ladakis. They are Caucasians and not Mongolians.

These Western Ladakhi people belong to Brokpas or Minaro (native) tribe. They speak archaic Shina language and are identified by their flowery head-dress. They prefer to call themselves ‘pure Aryan’, while some people have claimed that they are Alexander’s lost army. Genetic studies show only a faint Greek connection. ‘Aryan’ is also not a race, rather a linguistic division. Whatever their origin is, the mystery and our romanticism with fair skin and ‘Aryans’ helps them with tourism. Being ‘pure Aryans’ did not attract tourists, rather the tourists made them ‘pure Aryans’.

My driver insisted that they speak Aryan language that is a mixture of Hindi and English. Interestingly, though he understands both English and Hindi, he cannot decipher their language. The good thing is that the villagers know Ladaki, Hindi and English. Which meant that they could explain to us the direction to the pre-historic rock-art. The road block was actually a boon in disguise. If we had gone to Dah we would have never found the rock-art, one of the reason why we traveled so far in the first place.

The rock art happened to be right beside the road for where we took the sharp turn for Sanith village. There is a man made wall of boulders on the side of the road. Climb it and go towards the extreme end towards west. That's where the paintings are. Look for smooth polished surfaces, a sign that the rock surface survived thousands of years since some pre historic artist drew their emotions. Pre-historic hunters and gatherers flourished along the banks of Indus. They have left their mark as petroglyphs over a 150 kms stretch along the Indus bed. It is not just painting, but work of art etched on the rocks. The figures includes Ibex hunting, dancing, caravan scenes etc. 

From there we went back to Nurla for the night stay. We stayed at Faryork Resort (2500INR/night including food) which had cottages right beside Indus river. The resort had good food and friendly staff. Actually one super active staff, while the rest just relaxed.

Next morning we started late at 10 am and headed towards Lamayuru. In-between we stopped at Moonland, which appeared like a miracle of Geology. These strange looking rocks are actually paleo-lake deposits. The water of the lake has been uplifted and drained out.

Lamayuru is probably the oldest monastic site in Central Ladakh. This place was a holy site for the Bon-chos religion long before Buddhist influence spread along the valley. The monastery originally had five buildings, now mostly in ruins. The surrounding view is awesome. The weathered rugged typography, with houses constructed defying gravity is a special sight. 

On our way back we had lunch at Nimmo. We ate at a special mutton and veg restaurant named 'Jigmat'. Mutton thuppa and mutton momos were awesome. 

Our next stop was at Hall of fame war museum. It consists a bit of Ladakh history and culture, and a lot of military heroics and sacrifices.

By the time we were back at Leh it was evening. It was still brightly lit. The light stays here till 8 pm at this time of the year.

Click for Day 5-6-7

Sunday, June 26, 2016

HOW I GOT LEH'ED: Day 2 Around Leh

Day1: LEH - Do Nothing
Day2: LEH-Around
Day8: LEH

Julley! It is the magic word of Ladakh which is used to greet people. That would be the first, and probably the only native word you will learn, apart from ‘tso' that means ‘lake’ and ‘la’ meaning ‘pass’. It is day two and finally we can get out of our rooms.

The second day was kept for half a day sight seeing around Leh. We were still getting acclimatised to the altitude. Climbing one floor felt like climbing three. It is common to feel breathless after even light physical activities. 

After breakfast we headed straight to Hemis monastery. Surrounding us was the rusty wrinkled mountains in their 50 shades of brown. Ladakh lies in trans-himalayan region, and is bounded by the great Himalayan range and the Karakoram Range. While the lifelessness was brutal, there is a dark beauty that is sensuous. That is what makes you fall in love with Ladakh. That’s how I got Leh’ed!

Ladakh is not just about the mountains, but also about the rich history, culture and the fusion of religions. One can still hear the echoes of the hymns of ancient buddhist saints, the footsteps of traders along the silk route, and the screams of the battles between the great kings. Buddhism is the dominant religion. Influence of Dalai Lama is all around Leh, not just in the monasteries. You can see his photo in the shops hanged on the walls along with the Bollywood heroines. Seeing his popularity in this sensitive part of India one can understand why Dalai Lama is politically so important to us. 

Hemis Gompa is 48 km away from Leh. It was built in 1630, with help from King Singge Namgyal. It is one of the largest and oldest monasteries of the region. There are three temples, two on the ground floor and one one upstairs. Don’t be surprised and shocked by the idol of Goddess tara who has been offered alcohol inside the monastery. Buddhism in Ladakh is different from the Buddhism that one generally relates to. Ladakh is influenced by Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayana, like Tibet and many other places in the hills. Tantric Buddhism became popular in India under the Palas of Bengal in 8th century where it incorporated rituals and idols from Tantric Hinduism. Tantric Buddhism probably spread to Tibet from Bengal. Ladakh came under the influence of Tantric Buddhism when Tibetan Buddhist monk Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) laid the foundation of 108 monastic elements in Western Tibet, Ladakh and Spiti.

Do not forget to visit the museum, for which you bought the tickets from outside. You have to cross the souvenir shop reach the museum entrance. It is a big museum having good collection of rare artefacts related to Buddhist cultural history of the region.

There is a restaurant in Hemis Monastery. It has lots of options, including eggs. Only here I came to know that some Buddhist monks eat egg omelette. But then, egg is probably veg here!

Our next stop was Thicksey Monastery. It is not a big as Hemis, but still pretty neat. It is 21 kms from Leh. There are 10 temples and a nunnery. This  twelve-storeyed building was built in 15th century. There is an interesting story about how the location of the monastery was decided. Jangsem Sherab Zangpo and his disciple Palden Sherab were performing for holy ritual in which they had to throw a Torma offering down to the valley. A crow suddenly appear and fly away with the Torma. The Torma was found on the top of a hillock in perfectly undisturbed condition. It was taken as a diving message and the Thicksey monastery was constructed over that sacred location.

We had our lunch in Chamba restaurant in Thicksey. It has similar menu and price like the one in Hemis, but better ambience.

Mani Stone...Mantras etched on rock...They are dedicated to local spirits, and are found all around Ladakh

Our next stop was Shey Palace, 15 kms from Leh. On the way we stopped at Rancho’s School, made famous by the movie 3-idiots. The special attraction is the place where Chatoor did mutra-visharjan and got the shock of his life. 

Shey Palace was actually a royal residence of Namgyals. Both the palace and the monastery was built in 1665. In 1842, when the Dogras of Jammu attacked Ladakh, the Namgyals fled to Stok. The palace was left to ruins. It has a large three storied copper and brass statue of Buddha. 

However, as you walk down towards your car do not get into the car. walk few steps on the main road towards Leh. Just before the dangerous u-turn, there is a sculpture of five dhyani Buddhas of Vajrayana (Consort/Direction/Element/Season): Akshobhya (Locana/East/Water/Winter), Amoghasiddhi (Green Tara/ Air/ Autumn), Ratnasambhava (Mamaki/Earth/Spring), Amitabha (Pandara/Fire/Summer), and Vairocana (White Tara/Space/NA). These are the five qualities of Buddha. Do not miss it. Vairocana is the key figure in the center. He represents Shakyamuni Buddha or the illuminator. Akshobhya, in the east, is the Unshakable. Ratnasambhava, in the South, is the jewel-born who transforms pride into equanimity. Red Amitabha is in the west, and represents infinite light. He is the Buddha of love and compassion. Green Amoghasiddhi, in the north, grants fearlessness.

After Shey we drove back to Leh, and went to the market. It is a busy place and is being renovated. 

We had mutton kabab from a street vendor. It tasted awesome, like most street foods. has fresh refreshing juices in Dzomsa, a small shop near Apple Tree restaurant.  No local can tell you the location. 

DIRECTION: Find SBI ATM, take right, t-point, cross road, right, keep looking for a small shavy shop.
The shop has trekking maps, old books, dry apple, tomato, mint tea and other souvenirs….

If you are in mood for authentic Kashmiri food, try Budshah Inn Restaurant near old Tibetan refugee market.