‘My father used to tell me this – the more the number of creases at the corner of your eyes(crow feet) the happier you are! Because when you smile your skin is thrown into folds near your eyes! I’m almost always happy and smiling. I have a loving family. Maybe that’s why :)’
Meet this ever smiling and cheerful man from Batman, Turkey. He works as a manager in a public school and is one truly happy soul we have met!
We spent almost an hour searching for this restaurant. Just when we were about to give up, a kind stranger enquired with us and pointed into a small alley next to the main road. We finally found the famous ‘Jarchi Bashi’ restaurant in Isfahan, Iran.
It is a nicely renovated old hamam with great interiors. Just as we entered the restaurant we were greeted by him. He had a twinkle in his eyes and a sweet smile spread on his face. We returned his greeting of ‘Salaam’ and he led us inside. We were taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. He quickly briefed us about the history and significance of the hotel in flawless English.
After learning that we are from India, he disappeared into a room and brought an Indian flag and placed it on our table! When we asked him if he actually knew which was Indian flag or if he checked it somewhere, he confidently told us that he knew all the flags of the world! 🙂
He also helped us order vegetarian food and made us so comfortable!
Meet this lively and smart 14 year old kid from Isfahan, Iran who works as an English translator in the famous restaurant.
We made our way to the mystical village of Kandovan in the northwest of Iran. It was a short taxi ride away from Tabriz. We were completely in awe with the unique village – it looked like one big termite colony! Houses carved inside volcanic rocks were so peculiar.
As we were walking in the street, he approached us with a smile and greeting – ‘Salaam.’ He told us that he lived in one of the houses and offered to take us there if we were interested. We readily agreed.
‘I was born here and have lived all my life in this house. I learnt to speak English from my friend who lives in Tehran. Life here is quite simple. We have long periods of winter during which the entire village is covered with snow!
My children study in the school here. I want them to go to the city and have a better life.’
Meet this friendly stranger from Kandovan, Iran who owns a grocery store and gave us a lovely tour of the village. We even bought some juicy apricots from him 🙂
Here is a picture of the queer little village of Kandovan –
It was a bright and sunny day. We had walked a lot to reach the upper town and got into the most popular church in town – The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was very nice and cozy inside. We decided to sit for a while and appreciate the gothic architecture. All of a sudden, from nowhere, he appeared and approached us with a smile on his face. He asked us if we were from India. Upon getting a positive reply he said – ‘Kaise ho?’ We were taken aback. We just assumed that he may have traveled to India or has friends from India and continued talking. What followed in the next couple of hours completely took us by surprise!
He started talking about Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit, Hindi, Hinduism amongst other things! Here was a Croatian who had never been to India, who had no friends from India but knew so much about our country including the language which probably some of the Indians themselves do not know.
We were awestruck and asked him how he knew all this! He simply smiled and said that he likes to learn about different countries and their history. He was a history professor and had an in depth knowledge about Indian culture and he spoke Hindi along with 8 other European languages! What astonished us some more was that he was able to write in Hindi! He wrote his name in Hindi without a single mistake! Now, that’s something!!!
He also spoke to us in Bengali but we could not understand much as we did not know the language. There we were, listening to an European speaking to us in an Indian language and not able to understand it 😉
He took us around the whole church and explained in detail about the history of the church and Christianity. He was also a priest in a church! When we were finished with the church he asked us, ‘How much free time do you have?’ We were free for the next three hours before we had to catch up with our host at a music concert. He said, ‘Would you like if I showed you my city? The city where I grew up and spent most of my life’. We were simply amazed! He was an elderly and scholarly looking man offering to take us around his city! By this time we were very sure that he was very knowledgeable and is not a random person offering to help us.
For the next two hours we walked, talked and walked all around the old town of Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. He took us to the upper and lower towns, showed all the important places and narrated scores of interesting stories from his life!
He made us laugh a lot too! As a last stop he took us to his church and told us about a young martyr in Croatia, Ivan Merz, who had inspired thousands of young people to get into social work. We felt so lucky that he found us and decided to spend a few hours with us!
Meet Zlatko Lukez, a professor of history, a priest in a Catholic church, also heading a movement for young Christians in Zagreb, Croatia and more than anything else, who bid us goodbye saying, ‘Shukriya, phir milenge 🙂 ’.
PS: Later that night we found out that this man was the history professor of our host, Seka, and that he was a favorite amongst the students for his witty and interesting classes. 🙂
By the way our professor has also met Mother Theresa thrice, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict 🙂
We got into the elevator with a hope that the rain might stop soon. We wanted to visit some of the mosques in Shiraz but it was raining.
We were living on the 13th floor. He got into the elevator on the 7th floor and we exchanged smiles. We wished him ‘Salaam’. The three of us got out in the ground floor. We got out of the apartment block wondering how to go out in that bad weather. He came to us asking in Farsi if we needed any help. We hesitated a bit and showed him the names of the mosques that we had written down in Farsi. He smiled and asked us to get into his car and drove us all the way to the Nasr ol Molk mosque. We were so touched by his gesture but wait there was a lot more in store for us.
On the way we tried telling him our names and that we are from Hindistan(India) and that we are very grateful to him. After a while, he called someone on his phone, spoke in Farsi for a while and handed it to us. To our surprise there was an Indian on the other end! She was his colleague’s wife, Heera, who had moved to Iran after her wedding and had settled there. It felt great speaking to her!
We reached the mosque. To our disappointment, the main entrance was closed! But this man didn’t give up! He knocked the small wooden door and spoke to someone and let us in! It was a very beautiful mosque with colored glass all over the windows!
After spending sometime there he took us to another mosque – Shah Cherag which was one of the most dazzling mosques we have seen till now. We exchanged our numbers and bid him goodbye with gratitude in our heart.
Do you think we didn’t see him again? No, we did 🙂
In the afternoon he made his niece, Aana, who could speak English, call us and invite us for lunch! We went to his house, met his big family, had a very delicious meal.
And then they decided to take us for a picnic with them! All of us went to Namak Daryache (Salt lake) in the outskirts of Shiraz. It was very cold. We had piping hot Iranian chai and some snacks.
It was actually the 13th day after Nowruz. It’s called Sizdah Bedar. Families all over Iran go out into the woods and have a great time. They also have a ritual of gathering around the fire and making a wish, singing traditional folk songs and dancing.
We had to leave to Ahvaz the same night and our bus was to leave at 8 PM. This man offered to drop us off to the bus station! We were totally bowled over by his hospitality! He picked us up from our host’s place, dropped us at the bus station, waited till the bus left!!
Meet Shahrom from Shiraz, one of the most friendly and hospitable persons we met in Iran! We hardly spoke to each other due to the language barrier but we are sure he knows what we feel about him and that there is a strong friendship built between us 🙂
PS: He even called us the next day to know if we are safe 🙂
The epic journey from Manali to Leh needs no introduction! Words fall short to explain the magic of this route.
Twenty of us (four Indians and rest foreigners) started from Manali early in the morning in a Tempo Traveler. Our driver seemed to be an enthusiastic guy, at least initially. It was only after we crossed Rohtang that we realized the danger of that enthusiasm! He would disappear at most of the pit-stops along the way, only to reappear after a while looking more happy and energetic! We kept wondering what he was up to all the time!
This journey is not the most comfortable drive in the world – spectacular, yes, comfortable, no way. This is not helped by the fact that some of the roads have drops to the side of a good few hundred metres. And yes, you can find those unlucky crashed vehicles covered with rust down the slope somewhere. To top all of this we had a rash driver who scared the hell out of us!
I somehow managed to make friends with him and tried chatting with him through the whole journey, nudging him to drive more carefully and preventing him from falling asleep!
I clearly remember a moment when his drooping eyelids closed while we were at a dangerous curve on the road! I was lucky enough to wake him up at the nick of the moment.
During our casual talks on the road I learnt that he was originally from Mandi village in Himachal. He had a loving family back at home and was making a living out of driving between Manali and Leh in summers, only to be jobless for the rest of the year. He would drive on these dangerous roads every day for four months!
At one of the pit-stops he opened up and shared with us the reason which kept him going – ‘smoking up’. He needed the constant stimulation to be on the road, enduring the treacherous journey-day after day!
Meet Manohar from Mandi, Himachal, our crazy driver during the epic trip.
After the mind-blowing bike ride from Leh to Pangong we checked into a cozy homestay by the lake, refreshed ourselves and went for a stroll along the lake. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in India. I’ve never seen a more peaceful and heavenly lake!
I left VJ with some of our new found friends and started walking by the lake all by myself, enjoying the peace and solitude. I was suddenly brought back from the trance by a pleasant voice asking me if I could take a picture of her by the lake. The photographer in me woke up with a startle! And for the next couple of minutes I took some of her portrait shots with the beautiful backdrop!
We chatted for a while, most of the time talking about the pristine beauty of the place! I found her to be a cheerful and happy person who wants to live her life to the fullest. A budding fashion designer, she is a free-spirited person.
Meet Mallika from Chandigarh whom I met while walking along Pangong.
The blissful walk along the lake continued after bidding Mallika a goodbye. I saw three kids immersed in a stone skipping game. I was reminded of 3 idiots 😉
Suddenly my attention was caught by a young lady who was sitting by the lake on a rock with a diary in her hand on which she was occasionally writing something. She looked like a poetess from the modern period and had a calm and serene expression on her face. I couldn’t resist talking to her though I didn’t want to disturb her work. She responded with a sweet smile. It turned out that she was indeed writing a poem about the surreal place in front of us! Writing was her hobby and it was mostly for her own self. When I told her about the 100 strangers project she got excited and readily agreed to be one of my strangers!
Meet Saachi Dhillon, a marketer by profession and a budding writer from Chandigarh.
The lady who made the most delicious thukpa
The last pit-stop for the day arrived and we stumbled out of our cab. It was at an altitude of whopping 4500 metres(~15,280 feet)! We had arrived at Pang, the world’s highest transit camp.
At such an altitude and very low oxygen levels, walking for even a few metres can be a herculean task! Such is altitude sickness!
Needless to say, our bodies were tired and minds numb with mountain sickness but we were also constantly mesmerised by the surreal landscape. Being suckers for a good cup of chai (tea) we decided to enter a small, dingy hotel by the road. It was named after its owner. After having an amazing cup of chai and relaxing on the beds provided we decided to order a thukpa. It’s a Tibetan noodle soup, inspired from China. After about ten minutes, the owner of the hotel herself came out with a bowl of steaming hot thukpa in her hands. And it was one of the most delicious soups we have had till now! The taste still lingers in our mouths 🙂
The lady seemed to be satisfied looking at us enjoying her simple dish. We thanked her immensely for rejuvenating our taste buds!
After a short conversation with her, I realised what a hard-working lady she was! She was originally from a village near Leh called Choglamsar which is around 100 kms from Pang. She travels to Pang during the summers to set up her hotel for the travellers. With an ever-smiling face she serves the tired and wasted travellers! She has a son who studies in Delhi and is proud of him. She says life in the mountains is not easy. Still, people have found a way to live in these harsh surroundings.
Meet Sonam Pangri who runs a small and cozy hotel in Pang.