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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CONSILIENCE: Geology, History, Cultures and Evolution


Some people have asked me that, being a geologist, how did I end up writing a book on history? To me, geology is an extension of history and the two subjects are more inter-related than we think. 

Geology deals with two different aspects: the living and the non-living. The rocks, mountains, minerals, plate-tectonics, etc, are the non-living part of geology that closely relate to geography. The living aspect, ironically, deals with the dead. Fossils and evolution to be precise. It is closely related to biology.

It is history that connects the two extreme aspects of geology. How? The short answer is: Geology influence history, history influence culture, and culture influence evolution. Let me explain.

Rifting in Africa is considered by many as the reason for the evolution of Homo sapiens. Plate tectonics created mountains that acted as barriers and thus natural boundaries of human civilisations. The rivers that came down from the mountains created fertile plains that became the nucleus for the growth of civilisations.  Indian civilisation would not have been born without the fertile plain created by the rivers that exist because of the Himalayas. The melting of glaciers had a profound effect in starting the agricultural revolution. The long east-west axis of Eurasian plate, a result of plate tectonics, was the reason for the rapid growth of civilisation in the fertile crescent (read J. Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel). The mineral deposits, coals and petroleum has influenced the geopolitics of the world. The mountains and passes have influenced the outcome of many battles. Geology, thus, played a big role in guiding the path human history took.

History’s influence on culture is more easily understood. Arts, languages, religions, nationalism and politics are outcomes of history that define cultures. Culture is unique to human beings if you define it, in a less minimalist way, as a complex social organisation where people learn shared way of life transmitted through symbolic forms of communication, like language. Unlike animals, culture binds a large group of people together through an idea that does not exist in reality.  Languages are random vibrations whose pattern we associate with a certain meaning. The sounds are abstract as it does not have any real universal meaning. It’s meaning only exist in our mind once we are trained to do so. Language, however, creates bonds between a large group of people that defines a culture. Same is true for religion. It is an abstract concept that binds people together. It is a myth that exists only in our mind (read Sapiens by Y.N. Harari). It helps create an identity, a sense of unity, which has historically helped tribes to survive. Nationalism is also same as religion. Instead of an imaginary faith we now have imaginary borders that only exists in the human mind. Politics is no different. The leaders who create history, most often than not, are people who were able to incept any such mythical ideas in the minds of a large group of individuals. Individuals who were ready to fight and die for that idea. Ideas that resulted in numerous battles and bloodshed, ideas that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ideas that now breed terrorism. We can say with some confidence that history and culture are intricately interlinked.

The link between culture and evolution is a bit more complex. Human beings accumulate ideas and technologies over generations and the culture evolves. Inventions like fire, or stone tools gave few groups of individuals advantage of survival. The groups that did not learn the new inventions perished, while the genes of those that survived dominated. Control of fire gave us the ability to cook food that became easier to digest. As a consequence our stomach, teeth and mouth became smaller and the intestine shortened. That might have helped us focus more energy towards the brain. There was a time when humans could not digest cow milk. Once we started domesticating cows our digestive system evolved in a way that it became easier to digest milk, or milk products. Cow milk became an easy source of protein and fat that gave the animal herders better chance of survival compared to hunters and gatherers. Thus, culture guides our evolution and decides which genes will spread.

Genes, in turn, control our behaviour, and thus culture. When I started having thyroid problems I noticed that I lost my temper very easily. I became a different person. It made me realise that a lot of what we are depends on the hormones that flow in our body. Those hormones, in turn, depend on our brain and thus our genes. How brains affect behaviour is well documented by the case of Phineas P. Gage (read Consilience by Edward O. Wilson). In 1848, Gage suffered a major accident in which he lost a part of his brain. The loss of that particular part of the brain, prefrontal lobe to be exact, turned a cheerful well-mannered gentleman into a self-destructive habitual liar. Similar cases have been observed with other people who lost that part of the brain. Prefrontal lobe, we now know, controls our emotions. When we judge people we often forget that most of the time they cannot help. Our culture, guided by our behaviour, is the result of our biochemistry.

That would mean something very interesting.  The type of behaviour that would dominate the human race in the future would be guided by the genes that would spread. The genes that would spread would be the ones that control particular physical or behavioural traits in individuals that are preferred by the dominant culture at a particular time. These traits could be entirely imaginary bias/prejudice, like skin colour. Development of such prejudice is governed by historical events. An example would make things clear.

History of colonial rule can create a racist mindset that makes individuals prefer white skin. If the people in power, who had a better chance of survival, had white skin then a society like India can develop a preference towards that skin colour. In such a biassed society people having darker complexion would have less chance of getting married and thus spreading their genes. If the biassed culture continues long enough, soon that society would start getting fairer. For natural selection to be effective a cultural preference should persist for a long time. Thus, a historical event can create a biassed culture that, by the process of natural selection, directs the line of evolution. Lest we forget, the British colonised India because it had enough wealth that could make them rich. That wealth was a product of India's fertility and natural resource governed by the geology of India.

We tend to think of geology, history, biology, sociology, anthropology, genetics etc as entirely different subjects. When we think about it, these subjects are very much related. Being a geologist, it was only natural for me to get attracted to history. My current interest is in Dual inheritance theory (DIT), also known as gene–culture coevolution. And geology has a role to play there too.

Monday, July 11, 2016

LADAKH TRIP: All you need to know

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

If Kerala is god’s own country then Ladakh is the god of all countries. 

Either you go their by flight or road you will enjoy all the same. Just make sure you have enough time. 10 days is good.

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. This place is so high up in the mountains and still it was not shielded from the influence of Indian culture and Tantric Buddhism. At the same time the difficult geography acted, not as a barrier, but a filter to the influence of Turks, Mughals, British and modernisation. Only recently has tourism began to loosen the filter. 

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’.



There are 4 different routes from Leh:

1 night 2 days in Lamayuru: Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Magnetic Hill, Indus-Zanskar Confluence, Alchi, Nurla, Lamayuru Monastery, Dah, meet the ‘Aryans’, Pre-historic rock art.

1 night 2 days in Nubra Valley: Khardung La, Diskit Monastery, Hunder Dunes, Bactrian Camel ride

1 night 2 days in Pangong: Pangong Tso,  Chang la, Horse/Yak ride, can reach directly from Nubra (preferred). Some so it in a day (5 hrs one way drive) from Leh (only if you do not have time).

1 night 2 days in Tso Moriri: Chumathang Hot-spring, Kyagar Tso, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar, Taglang La, Nomads.

2+ nights in Leh: This is your base for all travels. It is here that you will spend most nights, plus one full day rest. It is a good thing because this is where you get the best food. Places to see: Hemis Monastery, Thicksey Monastery, Shey Palace, Stok Palace, Spituk Monastery, Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, Leh Market, Jama Masjid

‘Don’t be Gama in the land of Lama’ - A signboard in Leh
  1. Rest in the hotel for at least 24 hours, if not 36hrs. Make sure you carry something to keep yourself entertained (Don’t depend on internet), because it is going to be a boring start to your exciting trip. Sleeping is not an option. You are not supposed to sleep in the afternoons! 
  2. No smoking of drinking alcohol.
  3. Do not do a lot of physical activities on the first couple of days, which I was told includes sex. If you are travelling with kids, make sure they do not jump around a lot during the first day.
  4. Drink 2-3 litres of water a day. Not less, not more.
  5. Eat lots of carbohydrates. Forget KETO diet.
  6. If you are traveling with heart patients, old persons or small kids it is advisable to consult the family physician before hand.
  7. DIAMOX tablet helps fool the body to take more oxygen. Two tablets a day for 7-days starting one day before the date of travel. Again, consult a doctor.


Unless you are driving your own car, you have to hire taxi from locals only. It is a monopoly of local taxi union, which makes it expensive too. However, it is a short 4-5 months season. That is the only time these guys earn money, that helps them survive the rest of the harsh winters. When you think about it, it is not that unfair.

We were lucky to have a polite driver named Rigzin. He has more than 12 years experience, and knows every road in Ladakh by heart. He is also a very skilful driver. His number: +91 95-96-604991. 10 days cost us ~40,000 INR


LEH: The Auspicious Hotel
contact: Mr Robin +91 94-19-177864
review: Comfortable hotel with very friendly staff.
Rooms are nice clean and big.
While away from the noise and pollution of the main market, it is just 2-3 minute walk to the market.
Food is good. Non-veg is limited. They serve buffet. Breakfast is complimentary.
Free Wifi (slow connectivity).
Book in advance. They are mostly full in peak seasons.

NURLA: Faryork Resort (2500INR/night including food)
Cottages right beside Indus river. The resort had good food and friendly staff. Actually one super active staff, while the rest just relaxed. THERE ARE HOME STAYS IN DAH AND ALSO PLENTY OF HOTELS IN LAMAYURU.

HUNDER: The Snow Leopard
It is a nice hotel. It is big, clean and has spacious rooms. The bathroom is also neat and big. Do not expect to find any mobile towers in this place. We spent our night in the comfortable rooms overlooking the hills.
Contact Dawa Norbu
phone;01980-221097/200289, 09469176759
Bank details,
Hotel snowleopard 0152010100000666
IFSC code Jaka0diskit
Branch J&K bank Diskit
Nubra Ladakh J&k.

PANGONG TSO: New Wonderland Tents
For booking contact Norbu at 9469085995. This is amongst the few accommodations that is right beside the lake. On the back of the tents are the snow capped mountains. The price was 4000 including food. We got some discount. Electricity comes only between 7:30 to 11 pm through the generators. No room heater is available for safety reasons. Not that we required it. The tent was pretty warm. Use the toilet waters economically. Water is scanty, and water bottles are trucked from Leh. Per bottle here costs 50INR. The dinner was good. Tawa fry with dal was very good.

TSO MORIRI: Hotel Lake View
There aren’t many hotels in this place. It would be a good idea to book before hand. Reach early to get view rooms. Water is available from 7:30 to 9 pm and 7 to 8:30am, and electricity from 7:30 to 11pm. That’s the time for you to charge your camera, mobiles or any other necessary gadgets you have.
Contact Skarma: 9419299673
A/C holder name : SKARMA TUNDUP
A/C Number  :31747390557
Branch     :Mc Loed Ganj
IFSC :   SBIN0004250

Leh is where the good foods are. 
Top Choices: Budshah Inn, Chopsticks, Summer Harvest. All in the market.


Ladakh is sandwiched between the Himalayas and Karakoram Range. It is a part of two fore-arc complex. In the north is the Shyok Suture Zone. Shyok Formation (Nubra Valley) is not continuous, but occurs as thrust slices and lenses. It is described as an ophiolitic melange and it consists of serpentinises and ultrabasic rocks intercalated with volcanoclastics and sedimentary rocks.  In the south lies the Indus Suture zone (on the way to Lamayuru). Both Indus and Shyok suture zones represents two northward dipping subduction zones of Cretaceous age. Ladakh Batholith is situated north of Indus Suture Zone, while north of the Shyok suture zone is the Karakoram Batholith. Khardung volcanics lies just south of the Shyok Suture zone. Shyok ocean closed when Ladakh arc and Karakoram block collided forming Shyok forearc ophiolite (between 74 Ma and 97 Ma). Later the Indian plate collided with Ladakh arc (50-60 Ma) forming the Indus suture.

Phone connection will be an issue. Only BSNL and Airtel post paid connections work, that also mostly in Leh. Plan accordingly. Forget 4G, even 2G is very very slow. You are here to enjoy nature, forget internet for few days. 

Though the outside temperature was around 15C, out in the sun it felt like 40C. Once the sun was down it became cold again very fast. So, pack for both winter and summer. Good idea to take Shades, hats and or umbrellas, sunscreen, few summer clothes.

Carry cash (Lack of ATMS) and water (very expensive) from Leh to Nubra, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. 

For any questions or suggestions you can email me at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How I got Leh'ed: Day 8-9 Leh - Tso Moriri - Tso Kar

God took rest on the 7th day, and we on the 8th. At least it was rest day for my father and daughter. We stayed in Leh for that day. Woke up late, had late breakfast, and relaxed the entire morning. Few of us went on a half day sight-seeing after lunch. 

After staying in Ladakh for so many days I realised one thing. This place is so high up in the mountains and still it was not shielded from the influence of Indian culture and Tantric Buddhism. At the same time the difficult geography acted, not as a barrier, but a filter to the influence of Turks, Mughals, British and modernisation. Only recently has tourism began to put some holes in the filter.

The first spot in our short list was Stok palace. This palace is known for antique Thankas - handmade painting of gods and religious bodies on cloth using natural rock colour, including gold. Some of them are the oldest paintings in the region. Apart from that there is a royal palanquin, kings armoury (which was very primitive, like wooden bow and arrow), king and queen’s crown, wooden royal throne and jewelries.  Some of the jewelries are studded with turquoises- a precious stone from Tibet. Turquoises are more expensive than gold, and as per Ladakhi custom it is given by bride's family to the bride during marriage. There is a Chorten or stupa, made in the memory of someone from the royal family. The museum also has 500 year old measuring instruments, locks etc. Apart from the museum there is a temple containing lots of idols - Hayagriva, White Tara, Green Tara and Amitavus. Hiyagriva literally means 'having neck of a horse'. He is the yaksha attendant of Avalokiteshvara . His special ability is to cure skin diseases. Tara is born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara as he saw the sufferings of the universe . Green Tara protects devotees from danger while White Tara gives longevity, merit and wisdom. There are other small sections as well, like the royal kitchen, etc. The Royal family still stays here. In case you wonder, they are in no mood to meet you.

Stok Palace

View from Stok Palace

One can see the fusion of Buddhism with the local sacrificial cult. Bonism was the religion that predated Buddhism in Ladakh and Tibet. It originated from ancient shamanastic rituals and beliefs. Buddhism and Bonism fused into this exciting culture of Tibet and Ladakh. An amazing filtered blend.

Outside Stok Palace

After Stok we went to the Spituk monastery, a 11th century monastery that overlooks the Spituk village. It is the first Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, Monastery (as opposed to the more traditional red hats from the red cap that the Buddhists of Nalanda used to wear). There is a chapel devoted to Tara and has 21 images of her in different manifestations. The upper temple is the older one. It has big idols of Vajra Bhairava, Begtse, Vaishravana, White Chintamani, Upasika, Chamundi and Shri-devi. This gompa specifically mentions that alcohol cannot be offered. If I was the god I would be offended by such restrictions!

The next stop was Leh Palace. An eager dog greeted us at the doors. It is a nine-storeyed, 17th century palace, built by King Sengge Namgyal. This imposing palace, inspired by the Poatala palace of Tibet, was destroyed by the invading Dogra forces in 1936. The royal family took shelter in nearby Stok village. There are idols of Guru lhatin deh-gyed, Sitata Patra Bodhisartva-one who protects from harm, Shakyamani Buddha and Guru Padma Sambawa. The palace is a bhool bhulayia having small dark corridors. You will get a good view of Leh from the top. There is also a museum. Next to the Leh Palace is the Tsemo castle and gompa. It was built in 1430. The monastery has statues of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushree. We had some snacks at Castle Cuisine. Good thing is that they serve non-veg dishes, fresh juices, shakes and even mutton biryani. We had chilli chicken dry and tea.

In the evening we went to Shanti Stupa. This recent construction is a good place to sit and mediate. It was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985.

In the main market of Leh there is a Jama Masjid built in 1666-67. It was built by Raja Deldan Namgail after an agreement of protection with Emperor Aurangzeb.

We had our dinner at Budshah Inn restaurant. Because of puja it was dry day everywhere. No meat was available in Leh. But after some desparate requests we got boneless chicken butter masala and mutton kebab. After the good meal we went back to our rooms and slept early.

It was an early start the next morning. Our long drive started at 8:30 am. We picked up a crate of water at less than 20 per bottle. It is going to be expensive in Tso Moriri. At Upshi we submitted the ILP form. Road conditions are poor. At places Indus river have taken over the roads. You could see the electric lines drowned in the river bed. New temporary road was constructed by the army. Despite the road conditions the drive is less hilly and the roads are straight. Most of the road is along the northern bank of Indus river. There are green trees on the banks that is contrasting with the naked rugged mountains that surrounds it. The river cut section exposes the conglomerate beds. 

Green Patches

Indus Taking over the roads


We were south of the Indus Suture Zone when we hit a purple patch - literally. Never thought in my wildest dream that there are purple mountains. Yes you heard me right. Mountains made of purple slates are not uncommon. They can be found in North Wales. But I have never seen those. Another different rock that you might see near Tso Moriri are the eclogites (once part of mantle).
Purple patch

At 12:30 we reached Chumathang hot spring. We had our lunch - Maggie with separate egg fry - in the only restaurant there. Then we went to see the sulphur rich hot-springs bubbling out near the river bed. 
Chumathang Hot Spring

The next stop was at Tso chu or Kyagar Tso. You could see a lot of Changpa nomads have camped on the shores of the small lake. They moved here way back in 8th century BC from Tibet in search of income. Income came from the flourishing trade along the famous route that is now known as the Silk Route. The Changpa nomads once traded salt along the silk route. some of them have settled down permanently in Hanley Valley and are called Fangpa. They move their herds from the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato. Those who still follow the nomadic lifestyle are called Phalpa. They have a very hard life, and move around 8-10 times a year with their sheep, yak, goats and sometimes horses. Most of them have jeeps now. We also saw a ‘Residential School for Nomads’. They move to the lower plains during the harsh winters. Their present source of income comes from the livestocks. In exchange of food and other necessary materials they provide pashmina (expensive very fine quality under wool) and meat, and sometimes milk and butter.

By 3:30 pm we reached Tso Moriri. This beautiful glittering blue lake is at 4,522 m/14,836 ft altitude. It is also a closed  (endorheic basin) salty lake like Pangong. Your driver will take you to a few spots from you can get amazing view. Just relax and enjoy.



Our stay was in hotel Lake View. There aren’t many hotels in this place. It would be a good idea to book before hand. Reach early to get view rooms. Water is available from 7:30 to 9 pm and 7 to 8:30am, and electricity from 7:30 to 11pm. That’s the time for you to charge your camera, mobiles or any other necessary gadgets you have.

Following maps explains the geology around the lake."

Fig. 1. Geographical setting of Tso Moriri Lake. (a) Geological map of the Tso Moriri Lake (modified after Fuchs & Linner 1996, Steck et al. 1998, de Sigyor et al. 2004) and the sampling locations; (b) bathymetric map of the northern part of the Tso Moriri Lake basin; (c) alluvial fan from the lake catchment showing two levels of alluvial terraces.

There is a small monastery just uphill from our hotel. This 300-year old monastery is known as the Korzok Monastery and it belongs to the Drukpa lineage. It has many statues, including one of Buddha. It was built by the nomad kings of the region.

It was an amazing 9 days in this mythical land, but the best view of the trip was yet to come. Tso Moriri was the coldest place we have stayed so far. Only after my wife reminded us that we realised that it was a full moon night. We went out and I recorder one of the best memories of my life. Tso Moriri shining under the bright glowing moon. We felt like we were under a spell. It was the icing on our travel. 

Next day we drove back to Leh.

On the way back we stopped at Tso Kar - The white lake (Kar means White). The road to Tso Kar is a bit tricky. Stick to the main road and do not try to drive on the sands, even if you see faint tire tracks. We saw a car whose tires got stuck in the sand.
The salt deposits around the lake give it the appearance of white colour. It is at a height of 4530m/14860ft. This lake is popular with bird watchers as the marshland that surrounds the lake attracts lots of different species of birds. Tented accommodations are available around the lake.

Marshland around Tso kar
Salts of Tso Kar

Coming from Tso Kar to Leh we have to cross Taglang La, which is at 5328m/17480ft. The board wrongly claims it to be the second highest pass in the world at 5328m.

After Tanlang La the road met the beautiful, curvy, ribbon-like Manali-Leh highway that brought us back to Leh. Leh now felt like our new home. But only for the night. Our flight to real home was next morning.