The Buddhist Prayer Flags


Buddhist worship places (monasteries) as also homes are characterized by the presence of Prayer flags found tied to rooftops. They bear the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ written on them, and are considered to bring good luck, peace, health and harmony. These appear extensively in photographs and movies. The sight of these colourful flags fluttering against a clear blue sky, always makes for a very soothing and positivism inducing photograph. I have had a fascination for these since a long period of time.

I always wanted to hang these at home for all the positive vibes and good luck that they bring; and of course for the beautiful colour filled sight they create. There are several Buddhist regions in and around India and many of my friends who have visited these places have gifted me these prayer flags as souvenirs from their trips. However, something always stopped me from putting these up at home. I always felt that I needed to experience the sight of these flags in person to really bring back a part of it home. And so, despite having many sets of these flags, I decided that I ll hang them up at home only when I get an opportunity to truly experience the sight of these and have a memory to go back to, upon looking at these at home.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh earlier this year. Spiti Valley is a cold desert area in the Himalayas, composed of small Buddhist villages. The place is home to some of the highest villages in the world and has very old monasteries that have tremendous historical significance in the Buddhist culture. And thus I finally got to witness many pretty sights of the prayer flags at the Buddhist villages in Spiti! Through discussions with the local people, I learnt a lot more about these flags and the Buddhist prayers on this visit, making it one of the memorable aspects of this trip.

To briefly update on the prayer flags and the mantra written on them, these flags are in groups of 5 flags; with either the format Om Ma Ni Padme Hum or Om Mani Pae Me Hum. Each alphabet is written on one flag and bears one of the fixed colours blue, white, red, green, yellow (symbolizing the five elements of Nature). Some flags may have more elaborate descriptions written as well. These sets of 5 flags appear in repeats along the string which is used for hanging/tying these to doors or roof tops. Sometimes these are also present in a vertical way, arranged one below the other along a rod/stick. These vertical kind of prayer flags are often found at monasteries, stupas and places of worship.

The mantra written on these flags symbolizes a way of transformation of one’s impure self to the pure self of Buddha. I love this underlying philosophy of the Buddhist way which acknowledges that no person is born without any flaws. Every person has his or her own impurities and flaws. All good qualities are also contained within us itself; which can be emphasized upon and built up to attain the pure self of Buddha. Chanting these prayers is a way of invoking our inner compassionate self, overcoming our impurities and connecting to Buddha.

The literal meanings of the mantra is as follows:

Om        :Body, speech, mind of self and of Buddha

Mani     : Literal meaning ‘jewel’. Represent a method of connection, of enlightenment

Padme  : Literal meaning ‘Lotus’. Represents wisdom required to rise above self

Hum    : Representation of invisibility. Signifies union of methods and wisdom for self enlightenment.

With this amazing philosophical message attached, the Buddhist prayer flags attain a special significance in these villages.  In my visit to the Spitian villages, I noticed that these prayer flags were a prominent feature. You see them adorning the rooftops of almost all houses, shops, and commercial buildings in this area. The composition of the village and settlement in general, has a very soothing and positive look due to these flags. It’s as if the prayer flags are caretakers of that region. With their positive vibes, good luck, and a command over the forces of nature, they make for a security force of the village. For me personally, this was the first experience of looking at so many prayer flags, full and rich with colour, all around me. And I experienced a serenity and peace like never before.  As these flags flutter with the wind, they seem to spread a beautiful sort of positivism towards you. They represent good luck, optimism and above all a path of enlightenment that you may have been searching for or were stuck at.

There are times during travel when all you want to do is pause, look around and soak in the place, close your eyes and make a memory. I call it the creation of a mind photograph. Generally, I end up getting this feeling primarily while being amidst nature. But with the prayer flags, it probably is the first man-made thing that made me stare at it for hours and build up a memory so quiet, so peaceful, almost meditative.

Needless to say, I was completely in love with these flags on this trip. I ended up clicking lots of pictures of these as they sat on every home, every stupa, every monastery, every construction site, every bridge. What will follow here is a photo series of these flags as I captured them at different locations in the villages. I hope through these pictures, I can manage to convey to you at least a fraction of the peace and excitement that I witnessed by looking at these.  I wish you all an opportunity to witness the fluttering of these flags in a native land!!


En route to Spiti Valley, Kinnaur Kailash range, Kalpa



Spitian home, Tabo


A stupa at the Dhankar Lake, Dhankar


Spitian home, Kaza, Spiti


The Old Monastery, Dhankar


A random click while driving through Spitian villages


A bridge near Pin Valley


A bridge near a contruction site


Prayer flags at the Stupa at Langza


Fluttering high above our heads! Komik, Spiti




Travel – and what I seek from it


Travel is undoubtedly one of the most talked about things today. Any gathering of friends, relatives, and cousins sees these discussions springing up about some ‘fantastic group place for our kind of group that my friend recommended’. At the start of the year, every employee marks the long weekends of the year and starts to plan with family or friends as to which places can be visited around that time of the year. Then there are the solo travelers who also make sure they have their long weekends invested in going to good places. And then of course, there are the wannabes who want to go to new places simply to flood their Instagram accounts!

We primarily see young people engaged in these discussions and plans, but essentially people from other ages are also no exception. Regardless of the purpose that each one has in this activity, travel is definitely on everyone’s mind. My grandmother likes to call it the drug of this decade that everyone is addicted to 😛 We hear the words ‘restless feet’ ‘wanderlust’ ‘nomad’ ‘vagabond’ ‘backpacker’ so much more often these days than say, 10 years ago.

There are reasons to this increased travel interest and awareness though. One important reason is the remarkable ease of travel and bookings. With online bookings on the rise, gone are the days when ticket bookings meant contacting agents or standing in long queues in the wee hours of the morning. We may all curse and swear at the IRCTC website every now and then; but we have to admit that its existence has made bookings so much easier for us. And then comes stuff like Makemytrip and Goibibo. Planning a trip is just a click away. The second reason for this increased awareness is intense documentation and availability of a plethora of information on travelling through a variety of websites. Besides, the popularization of travel on social media is tremendous. People have begun to communicate their travel experiences on the web with so much detail; and accessing these is also easy (I would assume 80% of people from our generation have at least one travel blogger among their friends!). In the earlier days, travelogues and some articles in magazines were all that people could lay their hands on to read about places to visit. But that’s not the case anymore. Social media sites are also full of pictures of destinations that people have visited, giving you not just information but also stirring all your travel desires to go and see these places yourself.  The third one is the evolution of work structures these days that allows people to have some degree of flexibility in planning their work. When we were little kids for example, a typical Indian middle class home could afford a vacation only once a year – and that too with intense planning centered on which part of the year was suitable for our parents to take a break; and when our schools also had vacations. Planning of work such that work shifts are suitable, working remotely, working in advance and taking compensatory breaks later is possible with some ease now than earlier. Which makes you give travel a little more priority when needed.

Different people seek different things from a travel experience. Some are the conscious travelers planning to every detail; while some will just not plan and let the day decide what their schedule is going to be like. Some are adventurous and will pick the toughest terrain in the most challenging season; while others are the play safe ones. For some people, visiting civilizations and new cities is fun, while for some others it’s purely being amidst the wild with Mother Nature that is priority. Then there are photographers of each kind who also often have their preference of travel place (sometimes dictated by the availability of their camera lenses :P). To each man his own, every traveler is unique.

I am no exception to this new age travel bug. Visiting new places has been an interest since long; and like I said earlier; it is now complemented very well by the ease of traveling. My range of travel interests is quite wide; and I have listed here top 12 things that I seek to gain from my travel experiences. I would love to hear from you all, what you seek from your travel experiences.

  1. Travel – the excitement of the concept

Yes the very first thing I gain from travels is daydreams and excitement. Seriously. Once the trip is planned, I spend a significant amount of time in imagining how the visit is going to be, and I find that very exciting!!! I daydream a lot, and the concept of going to a different place is enough to give me a pre-trip high 😛 Packing, making to-do and to-pack lists, splurging in the name of ‘trip essentials’ all contribute to this pre-trip high. And I so love it!


Planning, listing, packing. The travel high!

  1. Journey

I like traveling in all modes of transport – walking, cycling, bikes, cars, trains, aeroplanes (not including a ship here since haven’t really traveled in a ship yet :P). Fortunately for me I don’t have motion sickness so any mode of travel maintains the comfort of the journey, and I don’t really have a preference here. Or maybe I guess I love trains the most!!

As we cross various other parts of the roads/tracks, we leave behind something and look forward to something. This journey part is where my retrospective self is at its peak of activity. I often get the most needed introspective thoughts in journeys. I also sub consciously get answers to a lot of questions that I am stuck at during a journey.

On the non retrospective side, I also enjoy noisy journeys with friends and family; with a lot of games, leg-pulling, unveiling of secrets and random (non) sense chatter!!


The route is often more beautiful than the destination (Ranikhet, Uttarakhand, India)

  1. Nature – its beauty and adventures

My first choice towards a travel place is quite often dictated by the geography of the place. I love to experience different geographical terrains, as also structures that have been created by nature. Needless to say, mountains, rivers, beaches, valleys, forests have a special place in my heart. Trekking my way up on mountains or even casual mountain walking are equally enjoyable. And so are barefoot walks on the beach. I think walking amidst nature is the best way to ‘breathe in’ the place 🙂 I love the way the grandeur of nature reduces you to insignificance. One of the best reality-check feelings you can get in your life.


Mountain walking in the monsoon greens, and the views from the top of a mountain (Rohida, Maharashtra, India)

  1. Adventure activities

An adrenaline kick is essential. The way it gives you a ‘zing’ up your head is just awesome. It sort of functions like the (Ctrl+ F5 = refresh) function on my life!!  Something whose mere memory as well can make you feel good later. And so rock climbing, rappelling, rafting, para gliding, snorkeling trips are important for me.


Equipment for snorkeling!!

  1. New animals and birds

This is almost a follow up of the different geographical terrain category. Because with differences in geography and climate conditions, the animals and birds found in different regions also differ. One of my favourite interests is to observe these local variants of animals and birds and how they have had adaptive changes due to surroundings. And of course these are incredibly cute!! Their colours, fur and skin texture, food habits, level of domestication make for interesting self-study projects!


Furry Himalayan sheep were superb posers for pictures!! (Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India)

  1. Quality time with family / friends

I seek this aspect over and over from my travels. Because with our present day lifestyles, we are so swept off with work and home commitments through the days, that casual conversations are often left behind. Even while living in the same house, we struggle to find time. Catching up with friends over lunch after many months often leaves you with a ‘we should at least get to spend a day together man! 3 hours are not enough’ feeling!! My better half and I have also been a part of this struggle for spending enough time with each other. And travel provides the perfect solution. I have seen traveling with friends or family lets you spend substantially more quality time with each other since you are free from other time commitments.


Conversations and quality time 🙂 (Lavassa, Maharashtra, India)

  1. Food

One of the most important parts of any trip for me is to get acquainted with new kinds of food and the local produce of the place. Like they say, ‘you are what you eat’, food gets us a fantastic introduction to how the local people are. The life of any place and the hardships that people face is reflected very well in the food you get there. Gastronomical delights from different locations are a must. Trying out crazy cuisines and drinks is indeed a top priority in any travel.


For the love of seafood! Calamari masala (Goa, India)

  1. Photography!

Photography or documentation of places is something that I really enjoy. Now  I am not your friend with the DSLR who carries his/her big camera and lenses everywhere though. I have a small basic digital camera and reasonably well equipped phone camera. And my photography interests are mainly capturing different elements of a place in a frame, and capturing colours.


A simple camera is all I need for capturing memories!

9. Civilizations and lifestyles

I love to look at life and its variation all around me. Every place visited differs from your native place in several aspects of its civilization, lifestyle, people, local arts, town structure etc.  These are heavily influenced by the geography of the place. Every place in this world witnesses a different ‘everyday’ from another one and has had it’s own spectrum of evolution. Studying these variations, cultural differences, local artists and craftsmen gives you a greater insight into the personality of different regions.


Local artists (Udaipur, Rajasthan, India)

  1. Monuments and history

This is one of the typical tourist-like interests that I have. Along with natural beauties, monuments, man made structures of grandeur, buildings that have survived and through years of human civilizations are an element of tremendous curiosity for me. It gives me goosebumps while stepping on places which have witnessed history. Since I like reading about history in general; I end up looking up a city’s past before visiting it; and going to man-made places of historical importance.


The Charminar (Hyderabad, Telangana, India)

  1. Religion

Yes religion. But not ‘a’ religion. I am always curious about studying different religions, their places of origin, their predominant beliefs, ways of worshiping and so on. And that’s why looking at the religious sentiments and religious history of any place is of interest. I find it really fascinating to be at a place which has been implicated in religious scripts and is worshiped by people.


The mesmerizing Ganga aarti (Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India)

12. Relaxations, a wee bit of luxury

Now who doesn’t love this? A little bit of relaxation is fun. Though this isn’t the top priority for most of our trips, some amount of grandeur and luxury is always appreciated 🙂 Just spending some time at a new place doing nothing in particular, just soaking up the place and the sun!


Luxury resort islands (Maldives)


These are of course just the top 12 things that I seek from travel. But the real deeper impact that it has on you as a person is much deeper. Regardless of your age, travel is an enriching investment, and adds to your life a dimension that nothing else can. And hence I hereby wish all readers a fulfillment of all the travel desires in their lives 🙂 Bon voyage!

The charm of the picture postcards


My first memory with picture postcards goes way back in 1992-93. I was in early primary school then. My father would have work postings in Japan for long periods of time and would often end up missing being around for my birthdays and report card days at school. And whenever he missed any of these special occasions, he would send me a picture postcard from Japan. A beautiful scene of a village, or school, or mountain or flower gardens or Pagoda on one side, and a hand written message from my father on the other side. In the corner there would sometimes be a colourful stamp, which found it’s way into my brother’s stamp collection. It would feel superb. In a time when there was no internet, this postcard was my only way of seeing what Baba was seeing at that time in a foreign land. Now the message or the letter could have as well been sent as a regular letter or post card. But when it came as a picture postcard, it was more special and more fun. Because through that photo on the card, we were getting to picture what my father was seeing and experiencing at that time. It was by far my first experience of ‘sharing’ photos; which we so easily do over the internet these days.

My next set of picture postcard fun experiences came when I had penfriends in secondary school. I don’t think kids these days would even know the concept of a penfriend. Simply put, it was someone living in a different city or country from yours and would connect with you through letters. I had made 3 penfriends through registration in a forum in a magazine and one of them had an interesting way of writing her letters. She would send me picture postcards from the places that they visited as a part of their family trips and I remember the first picture of the Grand Canyon National Park that I saw was on a postcard that she had sent! I remember imagining streets and places in USA as I received her letters and being really fascinated thinking of the different country that my penfriend was living in.

Picture postcards were like the old day Snapchat or Instagram-like sharing mechanisms. Except that they came about 15 days to a month later 😀 We would send them to relatives and friends while traveling to different places; and like-wise would receive some when they visited a new place.

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Examples of typical picture postcards (

Whenever I think of picture postcards, there is a beautiful warmth and happiness that the memories bring to me. Receiving a picture postcard meant that your friends or family members were thinking about you at that time and that always made me feel very secure and special. Not only did they convey the safety and general state of the person sending it, the sharing of the pictures also made us feel like being a part of the travel experience itself. Admittedly photo quality those days may not have been as great as what today’s age photography is; but I always feel those depictions were very ‘real’. In the absence of major photo editing tools, they made a very realistic depiction of places. It really didn’t matter if there were imperfections of shadows or slightly tilted frames for capturing the buildings. No; all that mattered was that it was a tulip garden in Netherlands, or that it was the Niagara Falls, or even our own Taj Mahal in the picture. Of course in those days, sending a lot of picture postcards was also not affordable for most families like mine. So we would often receive/send a single handpicked card depicting a particular part of the trip. And that one card would leave a long lingering and tickling curiosity about how the rest of that place could be. It invoked a long imagination filled trail of thoughts in me, and is probably the earliest of my travel motivations that I can remember.

I was almost starting to believe that these picture postcards were on the verge of being non existent now. Till my visit to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh last month, where we visited the world’s highest post office at a small village called Hikkim. And there, inside the dimly lit, weird smelling, really old post office room I saw a stack of picture postcards from Spiti that tourists send back home. Holding the little glossy finish card in my hand brought back all these memories, and needless to say, after about 15 years, I sent a picture postcard home!

For those of us who (are old!) and have seen the transitions in photo sharing from these methods to the more recent extensive sharing over Apps that use the internet, the difference in charm between the two is quite pronounced. Secretly, I am hoping the older methods continue; at least in some parts of the world. In my future travels I am attempting to resume this tradition again; and send picture postcards back home whenever possible. These are one of the things in my mind that simply cannot be replaced; just like in literature the phrase ‘picture postcard’ cannot yet be replaced while describing a picturesque village!



The New York Maple syrup



I had a chance to visit the beautiful New York city during a conference last year in summer. It was the first time that I was visiting the US. For an Indian generation where most of us have either been to the US for work, or studied there, or are living there, or are married to people who live there; my first visit actually happened quite late in life since I don’t fall into any of the above categories. I had somehow heard a lot more stories about the West coast from relatives and friends and my better half, making the eastern side slightly elusive for me. And when I asked my father what I should get from there, his answer was to try to get something that’s original and uniquely made in that region. Indeed for me a bigger element of interest in any city is its traditional practices more than what urbanized modern day routines have done to it. And thus began my quest to look for something ‘Made in USA’ and representative enough of the east coast and New York. A few suggestions by friends led me to the Maple syrup. Over generations it’s made through tapping of Maple trees. The cold and warm weather cycles in this region enable its production. Though originally from Canada I guess, this syrup in made extensively in different parts of this region; and a couple of locals told me about region-wise compositions from different parts of north east America and Canada. The maple syrup is a smooth sweet unique accompaniment to food. It is rich, it is full of substance, and it has a very unique taste that’s unmatched with any other. Mind you it’s loaded with calories and so consuming it definitely comes with a fair share of deposit to your pre (or non) existing fat. Simply put, it has a unique awesomeness that comes with a maintenance price. And that is why this food item completely represents NYC in my mind.


The World Trade Center

The uniqueness of the Maple syrup parallels that of New York. Tall skyscrapers in Manhattan bearing the hundreds and thousands of offices. The busy New York Penn station. The equally busy but more charming Grand Central station. Thousands of ambitious working people thronging to these stations. A fashionable working class in definition. Lots of passionate street artists. The elegantly marked streets and avenues. It is GRAND!  There’s an age independent representation of glamour, fashion and ambition to the working people here. Whether it’s the people or the architecture, the message with NY is clear – You better be awesome enough to fit in here!! Take the efforts to be awesome and full of quality, and the city will shower you with success. And that’s what the Maple syrup also conveys. This syrup adds a beautiful taste to toasts, waffles, desserts, fruits, even salads! But only if you add it to the right kind of ingredients. Do not expect the maple syrup to rectify and beautify any messed up combination of foods – it demands a check on the composition and quality of ingredients before contributing to addition of taste. And just like that you should not expect NY to accept anything less than the most grand and classy!!

We use the Maple syrup often in the kitchen. And every drop of it makes me think of NYC. Among the many souvenirs that I got from there, this is the only one that gives me a feeling of bringing back a part of NYC with me 🙂 In a slightly unconventional use of the phrase, may I say NYC has surely made a way to my heart through the stomach 🙂

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View from the Empire State Building