Tag Archives: mountains

From Leh To Lamayuru

Maitreya Buddha at Deskit MonasteryHere in the valley of the Indus, the sharp peaks of the Ladakh and Zanskar Ranges pierce the sky like jagged swords. The Indus River flows through the high Ladakhi plateau swiftly, sculpting the greater Himalayan landscape.

Fifty million years ago, the Indian plate surged across the Tethys Sea to collide with the stationary Eurasian plate. This dramatic impact resulted in a colossal pileup as sediment from the bottom of the sea was thrown up to form some of the Earth’s highest plateaus and mountain ranges. Today, the high desert landscape of Ladakh looks sepia toned in the unfiltered light of the mid-morning sun. Mountains of limestone, red sandstone and shale dominate the horizon. We follow the Indus River from Leh to Lamayuru in a SUV as it curves along the mountain ridges; the foamy white water rapids catching the sun now and then.

Several Himalayan villages dot the water’s edge like welcome desert oases. The valley at Nimmu village is stunning. Here the Indus meets its tributary Zanskar in an eddying confluence. Small green farms grow wheat, barley, vegetables, apples and juicy apricots. Poplar trees shimmer in the wind. Further down river, Basgo village is shaped like a cow’s head. Traditional Ladakhi women walk uphill, their hair in two long pigtails; their top hats decorated with rows of bright turquoise; their faces creased like weathered mountain ridges.

Confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers      Basgo Village is characterized by a Buddhist monastery (or Gompa) that is built into the mountain sitting precariously at the edge of a high ridge like a fortress, overlooking the fertile valley below. Like the quintessential churches that one finds in English villages, these Himalayan monasteries are the sites for social gatherings and cultural events for the local village folk.

We veer left on a bridge towards Alchi Gompa. Prayer flags—blue, white, red, green and yellow line the edge of the bridge, and flutter wildly in the wind while the brimming Indus flows rapidly below. Chortens, the little white mounds that house the relics and offerings, sit like meditating Buddhas along the roads and on the mountainsides.

       Alchi Gompa is unique in that it is situated downriver; we walk downhill in the shade of the poplars and willows past the stalls selling Tibetan wares, to the crumbling monastic complex or chos-‘khor. The enclave is attributed to the great Tibetan scholar Rinchen Zangpo, a visionary. When he sought to incorporate Tibetan Buddhism into the local culture around the 11th century, he employed Kashmiri artists in the area to create murals and sculptures to adorn the temples in the chos-‘khor.

The Alchi Sumsteg is a three-storied building within the enclave with elegant columns and ornate Kashmiri woodwork. We walk though to the main ceremonial hall, the Dukhang, where the monks assemble for worship and meals. Colorful mandalas and thangkhas hang down from the ceiling like prayer confetti. It is dark inside the inner sanctum, where the bejeweled miniature idol of Maitreya sits in eternal meditation. The chos-‘khor has a central courtyard with short apricot trees and faded prayer flags in the center and little shrines lining the perimeter.
The temple of Manjushri dedicated to Buddha’s disciple of the same name, has a very small, ornate entryway with a cave like interior. Once inside, we are awed by four gigantic figures of Manjushri sitting back to back on a common brightly colored pedestal. A naked bulb hangs from the ceiling, lighting up Manjushri’s red effeminate body adorned with bright jewelry—gold, green and turquoise.

The murals of the meditating Buddha are repetitive, like Warhol’s screen paintings. They line the walls of the temples and also the interior of the chortens in the temple complex.
It is noon by the time we leave Alchi. The sky is a limitless blue; a blazing sun sears the barren peaks to purples and reds. The scenery at Lamayuru is like a desolate moonscape. The wind has weathered the mountains here to form conical rocks. We are at once bathed in a golden light.

We part with the Indus at Khalste. The river snakes away from us towards the border town of Kargil, then past the border into Pakistan. The bucolic Ladakhi village houses have given way to military barracks. The Indian Army fought a war not far from here in 1999. Soldiers perform their exercises; long convoys of green trucks carry supplies, choking the road. On the hill above us, a soldier rests his gun on a pole bearing prayer flags. It is paradoxical: prayer flags blow mantras in the wind, promoting peace, compassion, strength and wisdom against the harsh backdrop of war and unrest.

Monastery at Lamayuru       Centuries ago, the Buddha looked eastward to spread his teachings. In Deskit Gompa, a gigantic golden sculpture of the Maitreya Buddha dominates the barren landscape of the Nubra Valley. In Thiksey Gompa, the statue of the Maitreya is 3 stories high. Also revered in this land of monasteries is the 14th Dalai Lama. He traveled westward as a young boy, across this unforgiving terrain to escape the Chinese invasion, to preserve the teachings of the Buddha. We encounter many monks in these monasteries. Some are Tibetan refugees, some are pariahs ostracized by their families.

Clad in maroon and yellow robes, their guttural chants rise and fall like spiritual waves. Some monks lead very simple lives, detached from the material pleasures of the world below them.

The hard life of the Ladakhi people is tied to the seasons. In the ephemeral days of summer, they earn a living by cultivating crops, driving tourists around and doing business in town. Markets are bustling, cattle graze on the banks of the Indus and children go to school in packed school buses. Then winter comes quickly, harshly. The cattle hurry into the sheds, their fodder is stored on the rooftops. Schools, shops and mountain passes close, shutting the mountains from the plains, bringing life to a halt.

Prayer flags with Chortens        We are touched by the warmth and openness of the mountain people. We learn from the Indus River, which knows no boundaries. Originating in China, the Indus, like Alfred Tennyson’s Brook chatters as it slips and slides through India before winding into Pakistan and finally curving and flowing into the Arabian Sea. Men may come and men may go, but the Indus seems to go on. Forever.

Rama Shivakumar’s travel writing has been published in India Currents, InTravel Magazine and Coldnoon Diaries. Her short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Hailing from Bangalore, Rama now lives in the Washington DC area and works as a scientist in a biotechnology firm.
This article first appeared in inTravel magazine.

How to Get there
Leh is most accessible from New Delhi or Mumbai. There are direct 90-minute flights that take off from New Delhi or Mumbai to Leh every morning at 6 am. You need to arrange for a reliable car and  driver once you land at Leh to navigate the difficult mountain roads and high passes. Our trip was organized by Odati Adventure Tours and Travels. We had a Ladakhi driver Sonam, who drove his own SUV. Whilst driving us around, he also gave us insights into the Ladakhi life, which is incorporated into the essay.

Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Leh is August, when the weather is dry and there is plenty of sunshine. The trip duration should be a minimum of 8 days to allow a day or two to acclimatize to the high altitude. We stayed in a resort in the village of Saboo.

What to Buy
The market at Leh is bustling with Himalayan wares—pashmina shawls, Kashmiri carpets, prayer flags and figurines of Tara Devi and the Maitreya Buddha. There are a number of restaurants featuring the local cuisine.

Other Sights
The article follows the Indus, a day trip that we took during our extended stay there. There are many sights to see in Leh like the Shanti Stupa, Thiksey Gompa, Hemis Gompa and the Army museum. Nubra Valley is a lovely overnight trip from Leh. The journey here is spectacular as we drive through the highest motorable pass, KhardungLa. Pangog Tso (lake) is another much-visited tourist destination. I chose to omit the more touristy sights from the travelogue and covered the day trip along the banks of the Indus, as it was a more  poignant drive in many ways. The Indus Valley and the backdrop of an ongoing conflict also was personally more interesting to me from a literary perspective.

A Birthday Trek in the Himalayas

When I turned 60 in January 2016, the thought crossed my mind: what did I want to do with the rest of my life? My father and mother were recently deceased; I had more time than before for reflection. I had left India at 23 to study and eventually settle in the United States. Subsequent visits to India had been centered around family and friends. As a result, I had not seen much of the country where I was born and raised. My family comes from the plains of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but even as a child I was fascinated by the mountains, by the greenery and crisp air, by the perspectives that can only be had from some altitude. Little else could bring me more joy than exploring the Himalayas, the greatest mountain range in the world, with the time I had left.

But could I do it? As a young man, I had backpacked the Annapurna trail with friends, starting from Pokhara and getting as far as Tatopani before running out of time and money. Exhilarating as that was, that trek had taxed my body to the limit. Now, 40 years later, with the onset of arthritis and marginally high cholesterol, could I still do it? I was in reasonably good shape, I thought. My regimen includes an hour in the gym 5 times a week. But after a couple of self-arranged day hikes to Tungnath and Deoria Tal last year, I realized I needed endurance training.

My partner Ashok shares my interest in nature and the outdoors, and he was up for exploring the Himalayas with me. This time we wanted to go on a professionally organized trek. Last year another self-arranged day hike in the hills near Darap, Sikkim, had ended disastrously: the trail vanished, the leeches found us, and when it got dark, we were miles from civilization. It took many phone calls and three search parties to rescue us. That’s not the sort of adventure we sought.

Websurfing one evening, youtube pointed me to some videos. In them, a young woman by the name of Swathi was offering helpful advice on trekking in the Himalaya: how to train, what to take, how to pack, how to prevent acute mountain sickness and how to recover from it. She seemed to know her stuff, as did the people she interviewed: Arjun and Sandhya. What’s more, she was covering topics most people would studiously avoid: encouraging women to go trekking, no matter what time of month and gave information on how to use Himalayan portable potties! Did we grow up in the same country?! These short, succinct videos were professionally produced, disarmingly honest, and non-commercial. I was intrigued.

Digging deeper, we found that her company IndiaHikes bills itself as a trekking community rather than a company. It offers many treks through the Himalayas. It has a zero-alcohol policy. Food served is lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Best of all, they are successful, taking as many as 10,000 people to the mountains each year. The company’s approach to trekking seemed to embody the best aspects of being outdoors – seeking adventure on nature’s terms – and promoting environmental conservation at the same time. It struck a chord; we had to check it out.

From the IndiaHikes website — professionally designed, packed with information, easy to use — we identified a trek of easy/moderate difficulty: Sandakphu. The trail goes through the Singalila National Park, which includes red panda habitat. Registration was simple and straightforward. We went through all of Swathi’s videos, following every instruction and checklist — they were practical and helpful. Periodic emails from the ground coordinator Sandeep helped us prepare.

From then on, training took on a special meaning; every session on the elliptical machine seemed imbued with a higher purpose, you might say, with thoughts of the Himalayas. The months flew by. I could now do 10 km each day 5 days a week (in a climate-controlled gym, no doubt, but still way above my normal capacity) — without injury. By the time we landed at Bagdogra airport, I felt confident and well-prepared. A shared SUV picked us up and after a 4-hour scenic ride, dropped us off at base camp, Jaubari, 7,000 feet, just outside the town of Manebhanjyang.

It was dark when we arrived. Guided by flashlights, we walked down a slope to our quarters: a large building with dorm-style rooms, a dining room, spartan but clean toilets, recycling bins for bottles and cans, paper and cardboard, and plastic.

We gathered in the dining room and introduced ourselves. We were a motley crew. Most people were from India (a good sign) with a wide spread of ages (21 to 47), sexes, and backgrounds. Some were seasoned trekkers — one on his third trek to Sandakphu — and for some this was their very first trek. One person came from Holland, another from Israel, and three were from the U.S. of Indian descent.

Trek leader Dushyant and assistant trek leader Geet performed what was to become a daily ritual – a medical checkup: blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and pulse readings. Each of us received a health card in which these statistics were recorded. I had nothing to worry about, I thought; my recent checkups in San Jose had been A-OK. But the sphygmomanometer in Jaubari read an abnormally high 180/100, that too twice in a row! I was puzzled.

Dinner followed: a simple but delicious Nepali meal of roti, rice, dal, vegetables, and crisp papad. Afterwards, we retired to our respective dorm rooms, three to a bed, six to a room. In spite of the warm covers, I knew it was a very cold night outside.

We woke at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise over the valley — it was overcast. Time for another health check. Now my systolic BP had fallen to 160, but still high. The trek leader pulled me aside: it was not advisable, he said, for me to proceed to higher altitudes in this condition. My heart sank. To come all this way and find out that my body wouldn’t cooperate! He offered a ray of hope: stay back in Jaubari for an extra day; trek leader Indrajit would monitor my BP; if my body acclimatized, I could join the group on the second day at Kuakata.

After breakfast and orientation, the team took off for Tumling. Three of us stayed back, two due to high BP, and one for love. We walked up and down the hillside to explore and acclimatize. Later in the afternoon, Indrajit took us on a short walk to Manebhanjyang for another BP reading. It had fallen further, to 140/80, but was it good enough? I would not find out until the next day, but I had already learned an important lesson: next time, arrive a day earlier to acclimatize.

Walking back to Jaubari, we got caught in a rain shower. It didn’t take long for my jacket and hoodie to get wet, and I learned my second important lesson. Don’t leave home without your poncho; keep it close at hand and be ready to whip it out the moment the rain shower hits. When trekking, you are only carrying the essentials, and you can’t afford to put any piece of clothing out of commission.

A gorgeous sunrise awaited us the next day, and I got the good news: it was safe for me to join the trek. I was thankful that I got to go, but even more thankful for the IndiaHikes medical protocol which detected my health issue in the first place.


Jaubari sunrise

Ashok and I rode an aging Landrover up the mountain over a bumpy road, stopping briefly at Chitre and Meghma, entering Singalila National Park at Gairibas, then on to Kaiakata to rendezvous with the rest of the team. After a light lunch at a tea house, we set off together, and our hike truly began.

By then the weather had changed. It was now cool and overcast and the hilltops were shrouded in mist. The trail climbed gently up, past hillsides thick with rhododendron trees. I could only imagine how brilliant it must look in spring, the entire slope aflame with crimson, scarlet, pink.


To plant enthusiasts like us, seeing Himalayan plants in their native habitat was deeply meaningful. From diminutive strawberry to ferns to fragrant wintergreen, sycamore, whitebeam, and layered acorn oak, every plant tells a story of survival and of symbiosis with native fauna.

The final stretch brought us to Kalipokhri pond, festooned with prayer flags, and just beyond it was the ridge top.


Kalipokhri (“Black Pond”)

We took in a spectacular sunset. Anirudh assumed the sheershasana pose. Vishal clicked away. Devina and Darshan shared a quiet moment, looking out at the setting sun.


Kalipokhri panorama

We made our way to the tea house for the night, cramming into the dining hall, seeking warmth, food, and company. The night’s accommodations — dorm-style beds — were warm and comfortable. The shared bathroom had running water (it was ice cold).

The sun shone brightly the following morning but the frost on the plants told a different story. Sandakphu, our destination, was in sight, at the very top of a huge mountain before us. My endurance was about to be put to the test.


Sandakphu, our destination, is in sight

The trail went up gradually at first, but got steeper the closer we got to the top. My fellow trek mates were like-minded individuals who loved nature with fascinating stories of their own. When you are in good company, the climb doesn’t seem so daunting. There was always a reason to stop: beautiful moss, Indian tortoiseshell butterfly sipping at a seep, Himalayan primrose still in bloom.

A brief stop at Bikhebhanjyang, and then we continued uphill. The clouds moved in and the trees gave way to low shrubs. One in particular looked familiar: a handsome groundcover, 2 feet tall, with tightly knit branches, small leaves reddened by the frost, and red berries. It colonized entire slopes at this altitude. I had seen it on the Devariya Tal trail last year, in bloom, and covered with butterflies. This was rockspray cotoneaster, also used as a landscape plant in the West.

The climb was unrelenting, and we made frequent stops. Dushyant kept us company, recounting his remarkable transition from an office worker to a mountaineer and trek leader. At one point, I felt mild nausea coming on, and chose to exercise an abundance of caution by downing a Diamox tablet.

We crossed a high meadow and continued the ascent. Before we knew it, we were at Sandakphu, 11,929 feet, the highest point in the state of West Bengal. After sampling the refreshments at the local tea shop, we made our way to the camp site, some distance from the village.


Our first view from Sandakphu, the highest point in West Bengal state

By the time we got there, the entire camp site was fogged over. With help from the supporting staff, we pitched our tents and set up mats and sleeping bags. Raman produced a ball; everybody joined in a game of catch. And people learned quickly that there was a steep price to pay for taking the ball away from Devina. When summoned, we made our way to the tea house dining hall. We warmed our hands around the charcoal fire, played games of deception and treachery, and wolfed dinner down when it arrived.

One of the nice aspects of the Sandakphu trail is how it weaves between India and Nepal. There is no barbed wire, no sentries, just the occasional marker. A mostly friction less flow of people between two friendly nations. One hopes this becomes the norm in all corners of the world. Nepali people are predominant in this part of the Himalayas: gentle, kind, friendly, smiling, and strong as hell.

Now the hard part. Ashok and I had been nursing a cold and flu for a couple of days (runny nose, mild fever), but by late evening my condition got significantly worse. I could not continue trekking for three more days, and reluctantly decided to head back the following day. It was hard to walk away from our trek mates and trek staff because we had formed a bond. That night in the tent was a cold one.


Sandakphu panorama

The mist had lifted by morning but it was still overcast. We could not see Kanchenjunga or Everest — that’s mountain weather for you. The view we did have was grand nonetheless: mountain ranges below us floating in an ocean of clouds.


Obscured by clouds: Sandakphu sunrise

After breakfast, we wished our trek mates good luck as they headed to Phalut; we boarded a Jeep to return to Manebhanjyang. Vishal was returning with us due to unforeseen work responsibilities. A quick transfer to another taxi and we were in Bagdogra by 6 pm. Along the way we learned about Vishal’s car journeys through the country and the continent: the stories he could tell, the pictures he showed us!

It took two more weeks to recover from the cold and flu, so we made the right call in cutting our trip short. But the memory of this trek will stay with me. I saw not only extraordinary places but also met many special people who shared an abiding love for the outdoors. We are still in touch and I hope that our paths will cross again.

This trek — my first with IndiaHikes — lived up to all my expectations and more. I proved to myself that I could do it, that age was no barrier to trekking in the Himalayas. I have come away with photographs, memories, gratitude, and inspiration. I now feel part of a community of mountain lovers. I will soon be celebrating my 61st birthday. Experiencing the Himalayas through this trek was the best birthday gift ever, and I look forward to more — the mountains are still calling.


A Glimpse of Heaven–Kashmir

As soon as our flight begins its descent into Srinagar, I see a glimpse of heaven as snow-capped mountains, flowing rivulets, and Chinar trees appear and take shape below.

The Dal lake in Kashmir

This is a family holiday and in the next eight days, I will see many more sights that will make me realize what the poet Hazrat Amir Khusro is said to have penned about Kashmir—“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast” translating as, “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”

The rush at the airport and the conveyor belt makes me wonder whether the whole country has made a beeline for Kashmir. With tourism opening up in the last couple of years, it seems to be a popular destination for travelers. But the road blocks and the re-routes that our driver is forced to make gives us an idea of what the average Kashmiri has to live with every day—a state of uncertainty. Yet, when I look around, I see peaceful faces, perhaps even resigned faces. One driver, seeing our bewildered look, leans and yells out, “This is Kashmir!” The only frustration that is visible is the constant tooting of horns, making one wish for a set of ear plugs.

At Bloomingdale Cottage, our home-stay, we are greeted with the rich Kashmiri tea called kahwa and cookies and the warm welcome of one of the best hoteliers that I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Firdaus Saheb is the quintessential gentleman host who takes us sightseeing in his car on our first evening in Srinagar (and shopping on our last one), when we have our first sighting of the Dal Lake and the famous houseboats.

Bloomingdale turns out to be our home away from home, thanks to Firdaus Saheb’s familial warmth and the care of his two Man Fridays, both of whom see to all our comforts and needs.

A visit to Srinagar is incomplete without a visit to the Mughal Gardens. As the name suggests these tastefully landscaped spaces were set up during the era of the Mughals and reveal their love for natural beauty. Chashme Shahi, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar and the Botanical Gardens play host to a variety of flowers, fountains and waterfalls, which are a feast for the eyes. Kashmir ki Kali and many other Hindi films of the ’60s and ’70s made use of the valley’s scenic sights for the romantic duets of the leading pairs.

At Chasme Shahi we scoop fresh water from mountain springs and enjoy the feel of the ice cold water going down our throats.

A visit to the Shankaracharya Hill reveals a bird’s eye view of Srinagar from the ramparts of the temple.
There are crowds milling everywhere except perhaps at the Hazratbal Mosque, where there is a strict dress code for men. Women can only have a view from the outside.

Mist shrouding Sonamarg

Abdul Majeed, our well-informed driver who ferries us around, becomes our friend, philosopher and guide for the rest of our stay in Kashmir. Our first stop is Gulmarg, where a steep trek by foot to the ticketing counter is followed by a long wait for a cable car—a gondola that operates in two phases. It has to be mentioned here that though Kashmir thrives on tourism, there is complete mismanagement in several places. In Gulmarg, we see touts running the whole show and allowing people who have paid speed money, to jump the queue. The ride on the gondola affords scenic views and we decide to get off at the second phase, which is higher than the first. I’m excited to be walking on snow, for the first time, a task easier achieved with a pair of rubber boots (compulsory and available on hire) as also a ride on a sled.

Pahalgam is the next stop on our itinerary. En-route, we get off at the Avantipura Ruins, where the Pandavas are said to have stopped by. It is a beautiful place for photographs and we click away to our heart’s content. We stop by some apple orchards, where a few green apples are making their appearance. Our driver also shows us almond, walnut, chinar and pine trees.

flowing waters at Kokernag

The Himalaya Discover Resort at Pahalgam turns out to be a great shock, as what we booked on the Internet is different from what we actually find. We are fortunate enough to find an alternative and use the rest of the day to take rides through the Aru and Betaab valleys and Chandanwadi, from where the Amarnath yatris start their pilgrimage. These journeys are compulsorily done with the use of a local car and driver and we stare spellbound at the sights of the lakes and springs and snowy mountain tops, as he drives us up and down the valleys. One can only say that in Kashmir the journeys can be as pleasurable as the destinations and we request the driver to stop so that we can sit on the rocks and dip our feet in ice-cold streams we encounter along the way.

Pahalgam turns out to be memorable in more ways than one because here is where I take a toss along with a mountain horse whilst heading up to Baisaran Valley, also known as mini Switzerland because of the hill and dale view. Luckily my wounds are superficial but what is disturbing is the lack of first aid for such possibilities. Nevertheless, I sit back on the horse again and enjoy the rest of the journey, opting for first aid at a civil hospital in Pahalgam town. The doctors tell me that I am fortunate, as they have seen much worse.

There is a saying that wherever you throw a stone in Kashmir, you will find a beautiful sight to behold. We realize this again en-route to Hotel Paradise Resort in Daksum. The hotel is luxury personified and my room has a small sitting area overlooking the mountains, where I spend some happy moments just gazing out at nature’s bounties.View from the aircraft

After breakfast the next morning, we climb approximately 14,500 feet to the snowy Sinthan Top. As always, the views along the way are enthralling. At the top, the stream waters slide down and drench the road so the driver has to be proficient. On account of a sprained foot, I climb only a portion of the mountain and spend the rest of the time just enjoying and photographing the wondrous sights around me.

The fountains of Chashme Shahi

At our next halt in Kokarnag, we stay at a quaint cottage run by Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. The service here is passable but the staff is friendly and the greatest attraction is its location, which is inside a park. After the tourist crowd leaves, it is like having the park to oneself whilst walking past the waterfalls and stopping to smell the multi-hued roses, which are huge in size and blooming in gay profusion.

One cannot visit Kashmir without picking up dried fruits, the famed Kashmiri chillies and saffron. We do this in a place called Paunpur and are surprised to find the driver pointing out bullet pockmarked buildings along the way; battlegrounds between security forces and militants. In many of the tourist spots, it seems a little eerie to see uniformed police keeping guard—a reminder of the insecurities that beset this valley.The ruins of Avantipura

Farah’s Homestay on the way up to Sonamarg is the saving grace for this part of our journey. It is a charming little place run by a Kashmiri and French couple, who have named it after their perky four and a half year-old daughter, Farah, who barges into our room, demanding chocolates.

This part of our journey is marred by bad weather and the climb up to Sonamarg is dark and dreary. The sky is overcast and the mountains are out of sight.

Near Farah's Nest at Sonamarg

Now, that I am back and writing this piece, I wonder if those were portents for what was to follow. Everywhere we went, people spoke of the lack of security and the breakdown of systems. One young lad said, “Please offer dua that peace is restored in the valley.” Having seen the beauty of the Heaven on earth that is Kashmir, what else can I do but pray for peace there.

Melanie Kumar is a Bangalore-based writer and literary fiction reviewer who has been freelancing for more than 15 years now. She holds degrees in English and mass communications.