Monday, December 15, 2008

Meeting Indian Ocean at Marine Drive !!

(In the photo: View of the fathomless Ocean from Free Press Bulding at Nariman Point)

I love beaches and sea shores for several reasons. I can completely identify with the moods of the ocean, the certain calm, the violent outbursts, the storming, the ebb and fall of waves and the whiff that emnates from it. I love everything about it.

My mom tells me that when I was a kid, growing up as a toddler in Cochin, they took me to the beach for the first time. Assuming I'd be scared of the water, they were being extra-careful with me. But realising I was comfortable when the waves touched my feet and the breeze played with my short wavy fair, they let me be. Me and the Ocean. Perhaps that was my first bonding with the ocean.


(In the photo: Indian Ocean and its hues in the lunch hours)

I used to sit for hours in my trademark wooden baby-chair in my balcony in Cochin and look at the ocean. Later on in Karanja, the ocean was a stone's throw away and it saw me grow up.

Moving to Vizag, the bond strengthened and later weekened as there was no seashore in the landlocked New Delhi, capital of India. Returning to my place of birth, Mumbai, I rekindled the liking for the ocean. The bond continues still....

I've had some of my best memories and some of the worst memories at Marine Drive.


(In the photo: A flower seller with a friendly smile at Marine Drive)

Seen in the above picture is one of the many kids selling flowers at Marine Drive. This little girl came to me when I was sitting with a friend from classes. She asked him to buy me flowers....Both me and my friend smiled :) I took the flowers from her, smelled them and handing her a Rupee ten note, I said keep the flowers as well! She was delighted. Returning a few moments later, she showed me the flowers again. This time I clicked her picture and she was thrilled!! That's the small pleasures that you get by the sea shore.

I've even sat there alone a couple of times thinking about nothing at all. I've walked from my hostel to marine Drive in pouring rain just to take one look at it.


(In the photo : Heading off for a walk from the hostel to Marine drive in puring rain!!- Rekha, Devina and Moi!)

I've got off my bus randomly just to sit and ponder by the sea shore.I'm fortunate enough to be working at Nariman Point where the Ocean stays with me.


(In the photo: Nandeep, a fellow article in the backdrop of a Beautiful Tree on the boundary of Free Press Building that looks over the Indian Ocean)


(In the photo: The tree that I find mysterious at Free Press Building)


(In the photo: A coincidence picture. I randomly asked Anuj to pose fore am image while Nikul was taking a picture of the Ocean and the result is this studding image taken at Free Press Building)

We go for walk during lunchtime to catch a glimpse of the ocean and to feel the sea breeze and the sun. Look how galant the Ocean looks at 1:30 PM in the images below-


(In the photo: Views from Free Press Building)


(In the photo: The ocean in the afternoon sun)


(In the photo: The buildings that stand tall at Nariman Point)


(In the photo: Another view of the Buildings and the majestic Ocean)

I can go to Marine Drive anytime, even if its 4:00 PM and the sun is too hot to handle, like I did on saturday when i even stayed on till sunset :D cause it makes me happy and brings me peace after a fruitful day....


(In the photo: At marine Drive on a hot saturday afternoon)


(In the photo: Enjoying the sunset)


(In the photo: Good-bye sun)


(In the photo: Let the night fall upon the Island City)

However, the sea has also brought with it a wild terror in the form of Mumbai Bombings at Taj, Oberoi, Trident and Nariman House. Man's first discoveries were though the ocean, so were several wars, but this new war of terror is not just a question on our lack of oceanic patrolling, it is the newest scare! Seen below is Taj Hotel bang opposite gateway of India. The Old building is magnificent. Despite the severe damage it still stands tal, much like the unflenching spirit of Mumbai and Mumbaikars. A salute to all of you!


(In the photo: New Taj Building)


(In the photo: Old Taj Bulding, still standing tall and proud)


(In the photo: With a little help, Taj will be the Taj of Mumbai again!)

Here's me signing off from Marine Drive raving about my Oceanic Tales. Until next time....miss me.........but who knows, you might see me at Marine Drive!!!


(In the photo: Anant, why so shy...?!)



(In the photo: Having a good time at Marine Drive with Anant who also loves Marine Drive as much as I do!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

NARARA ISLANDS – a living museum

The fog hangs low, the salty breeze whispers secrets – the waves carry them to miles on end. The veil is lifted as the first sunrays reveal the unspoilt beauty. The sun, sand and the waves invite you to discover treasures that the living museum of Narara holds. Islands accessible by Road.

Located west of Jamnagar, Gujarat, Narara Islands are one of the 45 protected islands that comprise this Marine National Park. Barely 2 hours (60 kms) from Jamnagar city, Narara islands are sandwiched between two oil giants namely Essar and Reliance. Researchers’ abode and tourists’ fascination, Narara maybe the only islands accessible by road as well! (Yes, you read it right! - no boat needed, just your good old car would do!)

Overview
Ordinarily one would need complicated scuba diving gear, or at least snorkeling gear to take in the breathtaking (quite literally!) views of the marine flora and fauna; not at Narara though. Here one has to wade through shallow water and set off on an unearthing.

How the hell can one wade through the water and not stand the risk of drowning, especially the non-swimmers? - Easy, Narara is accessible only when the tide ebbs. You’d be surprised to know that the very coral reef that you’d been walking on would be drowned in nearly 15-17 feet of water when the tide surges!

The best time to visit Narara is from October to March when the weather is cool. It is prudent to check on the tide timings, either online or with the Forest Department. But as informed by our guide, usually from 12th of a month to the 6th of the next month, low tide is at 7 am and from 6th of a month to 12th of the same month it is from 2 pm.

Being a Marine National park-and hence a protected area- prior permission from the Forest Department is a must. Also, securing a guide (while tying up for the permits) makes the trip worthwhile and obviously more educational.

A Minor Hitch



Remember, the earlier you reach the better it is. We were excited and ready to hit the water at 7 am sharp, but Hasanbhai, our guide for the day caused us a minor delay. Luckily it was a week day and we were the perhaps the only tourist, thereby making the reef exclusively ours for a few hours.

The first thing that Hasanbhai noticed was my footwear! I was wearing slip-ons (luckily with thick soles) and mom’s footwear was no better – conventional ladies sandals. For a minute I feared the end of the marine excursion that never even began due to the lack of proper footwear, read sports shoes or thick-soled floaters. He asked us if we would be able to walk on the reef with such footwear. “Yes!” we replied instantly. If we were cool with it, Hasanbhai had no issues.

A Walk to Remember


The sun had begun peeking out of the comfort of the puffy clouds. The air was chilly and one look at the water ahead of us was enough to spread warmth of anticipation in my body. As we walked over the soft beach sand, the mangrove forest planted fairly recently by the researchers marked sort of a green revolution for the islands. The type of mangroves found here is called Aurisia Marina. I found the mangroves very cute especially because they reminded me of miniature banyan trees!



Crabbing it!

As we walked towards the shallow water, we saw sand crabs and Ring plougher. Sand crab spits out any sand-that it accidentally swallows-in the form of small round balls. These balls can usually be found in clusters of several hundred balls and form a unique pattern on the dry sand! Walking further we saw a hermit crab in a shell. If you’ve come across painted/decorated shells, they’re most probably shells of a hermit crab! We then saw a Ring plougher which is a marine creature that feeds exclusively on crabs and shells.


Crabs are yum to eat, but scary to be around. Sadly for me there were so many species of crabs! Nonetheless, the little terror of ghost crab, the peak-a-boo of the coral - crab stuck to bottoms of live corals, the vivid colors of the Neptune crab (most handsomely earning exported variety of crab), the creepy tentacles of the wolf crab, each specie marveled us.
Water-o-Phorm, not chloroform

When our feet touched the cool waters, the real treat for the eyes began. Imagine a plastic coated plant! We found just that – the padeira, more commonly known as plastic plant is brownish in colour and plasticky to touch.


There were other flora types as well, the fascinating one’s being - the Feather plant (leaves shaped like feathers) and Sea grapes (miniature version of a bunch of grapes.

Coral reef under our feet

In my family everyone loves corals. We have several decorate corals at home thanks to dad adventures to Andaman and of course South East Asia. But here we saw corals lying on the sand. Imagine picking up a coral and using that to decorate your home. But sadly, most corals were brown and dirty. Our guide told us that corals should be washed and scrubbed and left to dry in the sun to make them as good as new! Finger coral/barnacles was the specie that we got back home as a souvenir.

Touch-me-not

Wading further ahead in the cool water of Arabian Sea, we saw a bright green, carpet like roundel. The guide told us to wade softly through the water (as it generates vibrations in the water as well as forces the sand and mud to rise and turn the water brownish, until it settles again thus blocking our view of the flora and fauna) as he’d just spotted a sea anemone. Sea anemone is a creature with tentacles (both long and short) which stays close to the ground and sucks in its body and into the sand as a defense mechanism.


The green anemone has shot-trim tentacles, almost like the threads of a carpet. The moment I touched it, it shrunk and eventually disappeared into the sand. The next anemone we spotted was bright-red, with longish tentacles. The prettier among the two, it was even the more sensitive one disappearing into the sand at the slightest touch.

Hold your breath

Imagine a fish that knows how to hold its breath, bloating up its tiny body to do so. Puffer fish fascinates by doing that and more. The puffer fish is a small fish and the second most poisonous vertebrae. It gives tough competition to Shankar Madavedan’s breathless by using its ability to inflate itself rapidly as a defense mechanism. It does so by filling its elastic stomach with water and hence saving itself from predators who get intimidated by the increased size and of course to stay alive when out of water for a short span of time.


Initially I was very scared of the puffer fish, refusing to even hold it in my hand. But seeing my dad and brother do so, I gathered courage and asked the guide to gently place the bloated fish on the palm of my hand. It was woobly and not as slimy as it looked. As it held on to its breath with eyes wide open, I also held my breath in anticipation. It just sat there and the moment I placed her back in the salty water, it swam away to glory! The guide then chased the poor fish until she got so tired that she flipped her body to float on the water, back-down, like how we normally sleep on the bed. She lay playing dead for a while, then swam again as the tiredness subsided.

Six-legged wonder

I’m not particularly fond of slimy, six-legged creatures….but octopus and its defense bowled me over. All through the walk, I was cribbing about not having seen any octopus yet, which mind you is the star attraction. But the cribbing ended and wonderment settled as we got to see not one, but maybe 7-8 octopuses.


The first two octopuses that we spotted seemed to be a couple, for when the guide tried to catch hold of one of them (we presumed a female), the second one came near her and left a blackish dye, thus blocking the guide’s vision and protecting his queen of hearts! Love blossoms even in deep sea!

Further, the octopus is chameleon of water! If it’s swimming over sand, it turns brownish; if swims over rocks, it becomes grey and spotty and so on. The change of colour and pattern of its skin makes it all the more harder to spot. In my fear, I did not hold the octopus in my hand, but I did touch it.

Baby Star-fish, Sea slug and more…


We also spotted two baby star fish and the guide placed them both in my hand. I wondered how beautiful they’d look on growing in size by January. The bight-orange, almost paper-thin sea slug, sea cucumber (brownish-cucumber shaped creature from which gum is extracted by certain African tribes) and tape worms were also fortunate enough to meet us! *winks*

Count the colours…


How many colours can you name? Don’t worry, this is not a quiz. I just asked the question to tell you that Sponges are found in colours that varied colours that you’ve hardly seen or heard about- 92 colours to be precise! They’re mostly found under rocks and never fail to bedazzle the tourist with their sheer variety of colour scheme.

A Happy and Fishy Ending!

By the time we were done with the oceanic adventure, the sun was glaring down with us and we were badly tanned. The hunger pangs were setting in and the walk back to the starting point seemed to take eons. However that did not deter our curiosity when we saw a dark guy shooting the marine birds with professional camera.

The guy, as we found out after our conversation was Arpit Deomurari, a naturalist, currently working with Forest Department and well known for his nature photographer, particularly birds. He spoke to us about his work, his adventures and his hi-tech camera. He even invited us to come for a session of marine bird photography, but sadly we had to decline due to prior commitments on diwali. After our brief farewell and exchange of numbers, we our tired legs traversed us back through water and onto solid land, where finally, we felt like home - more so because there was home-made pasta waiting to be devoured.

Hasanbhai mentioned-sometime during our walk-that even though he shows several marine plants and animals to the tourists, they’re never satisfied and happy until they get to see the puffer fish, octopus and sea anemones! To conclude, we were satisfied and certainly very very happy!!
I thank Picasa for helping me create the collages and saving me the task of uploading each image.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

AU 001 - Outdshoorn, S. Africa (Ride ostrich, dive with crocs....etc)

What are we doing weorking our ass off!! If I had a choice I'd leave the work, the studies and head out on an adventure!

AU i.e. Adventure Unlimited will talk about the places I stumbled upon on the internet that offererd unlimited scope for adventure!

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This post talks about 'OUDTSHOORN', South Africa. It is a heaven for adventure and wildlife enthusiats! See you there ... (sometime in future!)

PS - This post is a jist, check oyt the official websites with a lot of patience to know what you're missing!

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CANGO WILDLIFE RANCH
http://www.cango.co.za/

THINGS TO DO
Temple Ruins
Vulture Cliffs
Giant Flying Foxes
Walk on the Snapper Gorge
Pygmy Hippo village
Otter waterfalls
Crocodile exhibits - jumping jaws

RATES
Cheetah Encounter : R 145 / Rs. 712
Tiger Cub Adventure : R 300 / Rs. 1474
Croc Cage Diving : R 240 / Rs. 1179

CANGO OSTRICH FARM
http://www.cangoostrich.co.za

THINGS TO DO

Get ostrich information
Hug & kiss the ostrich
Feed striches
Ride the ostriches

RATES
Adults R. 50/ Rs. 245
Children R. 25 / Rs. 122

CANGO CAVES

A wonderfull limestone cave! The heighetend humidity and tempetaure is worth it for the stalactites and stalagtites are beautiful!!

RATES
90 min (adventure) R. 70 / Rs. 344
60 min (standard) R. 55 / Rs. 270

OTHER ACTIVITIES IN OUDTSHOORN
http://www.oudtshoorninfo.com/index.php

Quad Biking
Abseiling
Caving
Kayaking
Hiking
Mountain Biking

Stumbled upon this South African Heaven while reading an article by Carly Blatt travelogues at gonomad.com

Ostrich Farms, South Africa - http://www.gonomad.com/features/0810/south-africa-oudtshoorn.html
Antarctica - http://www.gonomad.com/destinations/0507/antarctica.html
Colorado adventures - http://www.gonomad.com/features/0609/colorado-adventure.html

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wat-a-board!

Ok. I've been too lazy to update this blog despite the recent trip to Chennai. So here's a warding-off-the-guilt-post.

Check out this sign-board that I saw in Madras Crocodile Bank, ECR, Tamil Nadu.



I LOLed at the sight of the board!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dream Itinerary - Ladakh

DREAM ITINERARY is just what the name reflects. It is a destination itinerary that I dream to visit and is born out of backgrowund research that I carry out on the dream destination. I do not know if this will be a regular feature on my blog, but even if it is not, I have no doubt that my dreams of traveling will and are rather regular.

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Ladakh

General

I. How to reach

1. Fly from New Delhi
2. New Delhi to Manali by Bus (12 hours) + Bus/hired car from Manali to Leh (allows you to take pit-stops as and when the scenery turns breath-taking!) Buses begin plying from June 15 to September 15.
OR
Hire a car in Manali and drive to Leh. Take a stop at Keylong and Sarchu making it a three day travel. Alternatively, some people stop only at Sarchu or Pang. Tour operators usually stop at Jispa which has a modern hotel. Try tented restraints for food and stay(stay only if you have a good winter sleeping bag!)

II. Eating out in Leh

1. La Terrace
2. Summer harvest
3. Tibetan Kitchen (momos)
4. Kokonoor (better momos than Tibetian Kitchen)
5. Badshah
6. Mentokling Bar
7. Zen

III. Staying in Leh

1. Best hotels – Spic & Span, Lotus, Lharimo
2. Guesthouses (an extension of family houses usually serving tea and breakfast and making it a homely experience)
3. Guesthouse at Lamayuru monastery
4. Old guesthouses have rooms for Rs. 150- Rs. 400
5. Newer one’s having attached toilet are between Rs. 400 – Rs. 800
6. Some popular guesthouses – Ti-sei, Delux, Padma all three near Fort road) and rainbow, Oriental and wisdom are other popular ones.
7. Sarchu and Pang have tented accommodation usually advertised as Swiss cottage deluxe tents (but they hardly offer any luxury!) (on the way to Manali)

IV. Other Attractions

1. Polo match on 15th August is very exciting
2. Leh has world’s highest golf course
3. Check out local archery at Oracle and local Amchi (doctor, not the witch doctors!) to learn about zen, meditation and usual tourist traps
4. Ladakh Festival known as Hemis festival, from 1-15 September is very popular among tourists.
5. Good tourist books to refer to – Trailblazer by Charlie Loram and the local book Reach Ladakh are popular.

V. Day by day itinerary

Day 1: Leh

o Acclimatize
o Roam around the sundry markets
o Eat at food-joints at Chang-pa (Israeli part of Leh)
o Get inner-line for Nubra valley, Pangong Tso, Moriri Tso permit from DM’s office (near parade ground). Also keep 7-8 photocopies of the same to be given at various check points.
o Visit Shanti Stupa in the evening
o Watch the sunset

PS – for any travel help, meet ‘Dilli’ at Dragon Tours & Travel, fort road, Leh.

Day 2: Nubra Valley

o Drive to Nubra valley in Karakoram range (Leh is in Himalayan range)
o Nubra valley is Y’ shaped with Sumur and Panamik on the North and Diskit and Handar on the South.
o Stop at Sumur and see the Samsta-ling Monastery.
o Drive all the way to Panamik which has hot sulphur springs (till here no permit is needed)
o Head back to Diskit. You may visit the monastery if you’re interested.
o Stay the night in some Hotel in Hander.
o Hander has two-humped Bactrian Camels resting in the sand dunes amidst the snow-covered peaks. This was the part of ancient trade route to Tibet. It’s an amazing sight.

Day 3: Leh and around Leh

o Check out the camels in Handar if you could not spot them the previous night.
o Head back to Leh via Khardung La where you can interact with BRO guys. (this road is closed every Monday as the BRO guys do the servicing)
o When at Leh, head to Thikshey & Hemis Monasteries and Shey palace in the afternoon.
o The lucky one’s can spot monks in procession around the huge Buddha statues in different incarnations.
o Spend the night at Leh.

Day 4: Phey-Nimoo

o Try rafting in Indus River if you’re adventure inclined. Book yourself with a rafting tour operator, best one being Splash Adventure Tours located in Leh Bazaar.
o If you go in for rafting, request rafting in Phey-Nimoo rafting stretch where Indus and Zanskar meet. The rafting crew give you lunch and drop you off at Leh bazaar in the afternoon,
o You could also drive all the way to Nimoo and watch the confluence of Zanskar and Indus.

Day 5: Pangong Tso OR Moriri Tso OR Lamayuru

o Can be visited only if the army has opened the high passes
o Pangong Tso is the highest salt water lake in the world.
o It is a full day trip to the lake and its recommended that you spend the night here.
OR
o Moriri Tso, another lake south-east of Leh.
OR
o A picture-perfect town set on a cliff on Srinagar home to Yung-Drung swastika (Lamayuru Monastery)
o Stop over al Alchi, the cultural heart of Leh and famous for its caves, paintings and the oldest Gompa of the region.

The above three are in three different directions, so make a wise choice or do all three if you have time. You may also trek to near-by monasteries, esp. Spituk (near Leh). Don’t forget to try the salted butter tea.

Day 6: Likir and Rizdong Monastery

o Drive to Rizdong and see the Rizdong Monastery. It is the only Nunnery Monastery in Ladakh.
o Lekir monastery is set on a low-hill.
o Drive back to Leh.

Day 7: Sabu & Stok


o Drive to Sabu village after breakfast
o Visit the local Buddhist house to see private chapels and traditional kitchen
o Also get demonstration of preparing gur gur tea (local tea)(butter tea)
o Sabu can be seen by afternoon.. You can club Stok village with Sabu.
o Visit the Stok palace, museum with royal family heirloom, tibetian handicraft centre/school and then drive to Choglamsar (largest tibetian refugee village).
o Alternatively, you can also visit Stok and Choglamsar on the next day depending upon the time you have.

VI. Other

1. For non-trekkers, Nubra, Alchi and Moriri Tso are the best!
2. If you’re a pop music lover, check out local pop music termed as cherry pop in Ladakh and Spiti.

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NOTE: The information given above is a consolidation of the text and opinions by other travellers that I've read. I take no responsibility fir the accuracy of the information stated above, nor do I claim that the day-wise itinerary will actually work. But this is possibly what I'd follow when I go there! :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 3 - 'White arrival'

Day 3 – “White arrival”
(26th January 2006, Thursday)


On the morning of India’s Republic day we woke up to the sights of icy trees and frozen crops – we were nearing Kullu. The views opened our eyes completely, sucking out each ounce of sleep. The curving road was lined on one side with tall coniferous trees, each sprinkled with a unique pattern of snow. The other side dropped into the valley where the River Beas gushed. Only if it were also frozen, the scene would have been straight out of Antarctica with trees!

The houses that we passed by were wooden, with sloping roofs. As we neared Kullu, the road narrowed down. We saw several local kids – chinky, fair and rosy- running around and playing apart from getting a sneak peak into the local market and an occasional peak into a house.

Finally at around 8:00 AM we reached Kullu, our next mini halt. We got off the bus in the 10 minute break to stretch our limbs and breath free. We also explored the area, some of the local artifacts and fruits and juices. Boarding the bus we set off towards Manali. This time the bus conductor did not bore us with some random movie, instead he put on video CD with random songs! – Like it was any better. This time instead of cribbing and dozing off, I looked out of the huge window of the Volvo. It offered me a giant view of nature’s white wonder.

Manali and Kullu are about 50-60 Kms apart. The ride wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d expected due to a sudden spurt in traffic and extremely narrow roads. We reached manali at 10:50 AM. The Volvo dropped us off at the bus stop. The roads were slippery due to the melting ice. The sun was partly out-perhaps wondering whether to shine today or not.

Loading our luggage in a 4X4, we trekked to our Base camp in Manali. Our base camp was DMAS (Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports) just about 2.5kms from the Manali bus station. It felt like we owned this land, this nature’s splendor for apart from the occasional vehicle that passed us by, the place was tranquil thanks to the off-season. The weather was perfect, very romantic and lazy!

45 minutes of trekking and we had arrived at the base camp. The camp wasn’t too big. It composed of 4 buildings-one housing the rooms, one the kitchenette-cum-dining area, one housing the museum and the last that had some more rooms and all the trekking and skiing gear. We were all allotted rooms in the main residential building which also housed a small gym. I and Tanya shared room no. 12 on the 1st floor while Pop and Pradhan uncle occupied room no. 16 again on 1st floor. We were relieved to have running water and electricity. Freshening up we ran down the stairs to explore the camp area.

The camp area was again covered with snow. It was hard to walk over so much snow. Just beside the camp was the valley where a river roared. Coniferous trees covered most of the area between the river and the buildings. The Base Camp was home to many dogs, all huge and ready to bite and cats. A brown-cum-dirty grey haired dog had followed us from the bus station to the base camp. His hair was Poofy, and so we named him ‘Poofy!’ But poor Poofy was shooed away by the massive dogs of the base camp.

By then it was time for lunch. We headed back to the town centre on foot to explore the market, eat and chill-out. We lip-snacked a choicest meal at Sher-e-Punjab hotel. (there are two Sher-e-Punjabs in Manali, but this one was the first one on the left when you walk from bus station to Manali chowk) I bought a pair of glares for myself, ate vanilla and black currant 2-in-1 softy (despite fear of catching a cold that very night). We then soaked up the sun at the mini-park that surrounded the Town Chowk.

Since it was 26th January, there was a Republic Day show being put up in the stage at the Town Chowk by the local school kids. We saw most of the show. It was immensely enjoyable, and a colorful welcome to Manali. There were traditional songs (the high-pitch voice one’s), dances in traditional costumes, skits depicting local life and celebrating mountain life. Over all a good experience and a mode to know the locals a little better.

After the show was over, we explored another part of town on foot, ate rum balls and walked back to our Base camp. We had the evening to ourselves. We took a long bath, lazed around and read books. A bell rung at 8:00 PM, it was dinnertime. The dinner was very basic- daal, chawal, roti, sabzi-and very filling. But most fun was the ‘chuhe-billi’ fight we had as we fought to warm our hands at the bukhara (furnace where wood/coal is burnt to keep the room warm).

It was getting cold rapidly. The cold and the snow all around was taking its toll and depleting our energy. 9:30 PM and we were fast sleep.

About DMAS:
Established in 1971, Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports have their Base camp at Aleo, Manali and a permanent Ski camp at Solang valley, Manali. The base camp can accommodate about 300 people. They have dorms as well as double-bed rooms. It opens up into wilderness, coniferous trees, the river Beas and offers plenty of inspiration.

Check out their official website: www.dmas.gov.in

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 2 - 'Old memories and New!'

Day 2 – “Old memories and New!”
(25th January 2006, Wednesday)


Rajdhani caused us a minor discomfort by reaching 45 minutes late. But we can’t blame the railway authorities, for they were simply sticking to Indian Standard Time!

Reaching Delhi I couldn’t contain my excitement. We got a royal pick-up courtesy Sukul uncle’s car. We dropped dad off at Naval Head Quarters. I got off at SP Marg and headed for Tanwars’ residence while Tanya headed to Arjun Vihar to Sukuls’ residence.

Meeting Sheetal, Aarti and aunty after 10 months was superb! It felt familiar, it felt like old times. Once I settled down, I tried calling up loads of my pals- Neha, Anmol, Shikkar, and Ishan…but no one seemed to be home. It angered me a bit for I had informed them much in advance about my trip. I then called up Sharanya and to my relief she did answer my call. We talked barely for 2 minutes before she cut the call as she was in some class.

My last hope was Aanchal; and she didn’t disappoint me. She promptly answered my call and we talked as if nothing had changed. The phone went dead at the peak of our exciting conversation. I sighed and retorted, ‘great!’ in a sarcastic tone. While I waited for the phone to come back to life, I contemplated whether to go to school-alone-to meet my teachers, now that my friends had ditched me. (I completed my 12th grade in Delhi before moving to Mumbai for college) My contemplation was broken by the ring of the phone. It had resurrected!

I was at it again- making calls-this time with a positive result. I got through to Ishan, only he wasn’t at home but right outside the colony where Tanwars stayed. I rushed to the gate and met both Ishan and Anmol. Boy, were we excited?! For sure- at least I was. We talked for a while, fought as usual, teased each other, remembered old times, caught up with new developments in each others lives and at last-after much debate- concluded that however much we ourselves may think we’ve changed, we hadn’t changed one bit, just the circumstances had.

The three of us then headed to school. I met my Maths teacher, Mr. Ramaswamy who was happily married, Nidhi Soni ma’am who asked me the full form of H.R. College (don’t even ask, its too weird-period), Librarian (How’s the Sweet Valley fan doings?!) and finally Parul Jain (PJ), Vaishali Das (VD) and Nidhi Soni ma’am. They were genuinely pleased and surprised to find me in New Delhi! I shared their surprise for till the very last minute this ski trip was uncertain, mostly because in just 3 months I had my PE-1 exam to appear for. I did not get to talk to all my teachers for more than 10 minutes, but the 10 minutes were fantastic and enough to pay my gratitude.

Heading back to Tanwar’s residence I had lunch and along came a surprise. Anamika and Shefali (we were a trio!) had come over to Tanwars’ house looking for me. Anamika had even left a gift for me – a silver chain with four small stars and one big star in the centre, the typical ‘bling bling stuff’! Adoring the neckpiece, I longed to meet Anamika for she was almost like a sister that I never had. The very next minute she called and I rushed to meet her. Oh! It was just like old times. Thereafter I accompanied by Naveen, went to meet Shefali. She’d thinned down and looked prettier. The day, so far, had been rocking! I relived some old memories and it felt like home!

I headed back to Tanwars’ residence. Taking a long hot water bath I tried to calm my anxious nervous. Skiing, it seemed so alien, almost scary. The meal that followed-gajar ka halwa and some snacks-helped my cause. Getting into my jeans and lots of warm clothes, I was ready for the bus ride from Delhi to Manali.
In the meantime dad collected our bus tickets, brought gloves, scarves and inners to bear the cold up at Solang. Dad, Tanya and I headed to ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus) in our Chauffeur driven car (Sukul uncle again!).

We were booked on the so called luxury Volvo. Taking the name for GOD, we prayed for a safe and exciting journey. The seats were soft and I could drown in them. The push-back gave the feel of a bed that was inclined 20 degree upward from centre on. The comfort and tranquility in the Volvo was broken by the sound of the speakers. The TV screen lit up and to my disgust the movie we’d have to bear for the next 3.5 hours (Yash Raj’s usual!) was Neil & Neil. That’s not all; they ended my ordeal within an hour, simply to make it worse by playing James. (Mohit Mathew’s acting is as cold as he is hot!) I preferred sleeping.

In between my occasional naps, I breathed in the scenery. The landscape varied from flat road to steep climbs and hair-pin bends. On the way, we say a marriage banquet hall dressed up in lights. Even the decoration of fake palm trees was covered with strings of light. It seemed like a magical city. What a treat for the eyes, and imagination!

Our first halt was at 10:30 PM at a place called haveli, somewhere on the highway. We ate some tit-bits and resumed our bus journey. Then we ate some chips and bread pakora and went off to sleep. Despite the comfortable ride, my back and neck were getting strained. I hope I’d wake up and not have a nagging pain.

Friday, May 30, 2008

KUTCH - Day 4 (continued...) & Day 5 (the return)

(.....continued)

Day 4
13 November, 2007
Tuesday


Route: Bhuj (sight-seeing) – Siv paras-Koday-Mandvi-Bhuj

A unqiue Thali Meal

The book written by Aina Mahal curator recommended Hotel Annapurna for savoring Kutchi food. This Hotel Annapurna is on the main road near the bus station. The hotel has been running for years. The look and ambience is very run down. The crowd isn't too good either. But the USP is the pay-for-what-you-want-in-your-thali concept!

Let me elaborate!

Every time I'd go to eat a thali meal (be it punjabi thali, gujarati thali or just uncategorised thali)I always crib about the amount of food and the variety of items on the menu and the inability to finish it all and doing justice to the heavy price paid. I always yearned for a thali meal that'd let me choose, eat and pay for just the items that I want. Lo, Behold! Here was a hotel that let me do just that!

The hotel had a general area and an A/C area (Family room). I'd suggest you sit in the family room for you'll be put off by the crowd in the general room apart from the heat and the noise. The menu card comes with a list of items in the thali meal and their individual prices. Each day there is a special vegetable and sweet dish. You can choose the items that you want and pay just for it.

We chose the typical kutchi dishes - sev tamato, baingan, bajra roti, kachori and sweet dish. We ended up paying about 400 bucks. The meal was good-not as good as we had expected-but it was extremely spicy. If you have a weak stomach or tender taste buds, kindly eat at some other place.

Art with Mud

Lunch was followed by the search for mud art and pottery sellers. The search landed us across the street from Hotel Annapurna. We were told that there is a pottery seller who sells his ware. We ended up at a shoddy little house. The old man smiled at us, while the children and the lady gave us curious glance.

We enquired about buying copper tinted-pottery. The guy was spinning the Potter's wheel and creating a beauty out of a lump of mud/clay. He was an award winning potter having won the National Award twice over. He humbly told us that all his wares were sold off (the decorative one's) and he was creating pottery for the next season. All he could offer us now was basic pots. We hung around admiring his skills and humbly bid adieu.

Next on our agenda was buying mud paintings and seeing how they're made. We drove to the old Bhuj area, predominantly Muslim area. We had a hard time finding the Mud art shack and the little kids running to the masjid for namaj or simply hanging around(despite the scorching sun) directed us to the right man!

We had seen mud art at Bhujaudi and here we were standing in front of the shack where the wonders were made! We had to duck down to enter the dimly lit work area. The array of paintings just lying everywhere, the paint on the floor and the creativity hit us right away. We started talking to the artists.

Mud art mainly involves creating pattern on plywood with mud, colouring the mud mounds that create patterns and using mirrors and painting to enhance the work of art. On further conversation we were told that mud art and mud paintings are two different things. Mud art is just use of mud/paints and mirror in traditional patterns and modern patterns if the client so expresses. A mud painting is painting people, places or abstract and using mud and mirror just to enhance the look of the painting.



(Mud art : Picture by Pranay)

We flipped through several books of paintings and placed order for 4 mud art paintings. One, a vertical panel with traditional designs of animals and the other three were poses of Ganesha in traditional black, orange and red colour along with mirror embellishments. These guys take anywhere between 15 days to 2 months to finish and deliver your paintings. Courier charges are of course extra.

They are the only famous mud art makers. Apparently the ar is dying, or maybe these guys just don't want to teach too many others the art, almost like don't let the competition suffer. Despite it, the paintings are moderately priced, a little bit negotiable. The charge firstly depends upon the size of the plywood on which the artist will work, the intricacy of the design and lastly your negotiation ability. They do have some ready paintings which you could buy, but it’s nice to choose a pattern and get it delivered to your house. This one art sure isn't to be missed!

The only mistake we made was not to pay any advance. We did ask the artist about the amount of advance to be paid, but he refused on the grounds of trust; you see these guys deliver amply to the naval and Air Force bases in Jamnagar. We also tried following up, but sadly the paintings haven't been delivered. If you do place an order please pay an advance and keep following up. It's worth the extra trouble, trust me!

Breezy Drive to Mandvi

By then we were tired and head back to the mess for an hour nap. The spicy food was getting to us (at least me) and I began feeling uneasy. I popped in a Pudin hara, smiled at the thought of feeling the sea breeze playing with my hair, and sat in the car. Mandvi was our next stop! Water at last, after so much heat, desert like vegetation and everything seeming historic, a beach would be the perfect hang-out!

The drive to Mandvi was an experience in itself. The road was two lane, lined at first with desert vegetation, but as we got closer to Mandvi we could see the endless palm trees, and coconut trees swaying to the breeze. Yes, the breeze was refreshing! The road surface was smooth and the traffic was bearable.

As we neared Mandvi, we could spot tourists in shorts and flowery shirts. But we spotted something more magnificent and rare. We spotted a white structure with flags flapping in the gentle breeze. The structure was a temple. We knew what we had to do on our way back to Bhuj.

Mandvi is a quaint little place. It has the charm of Goa (dad mentioned this for he's been to Goa). The roads are narrow and traffic is sparse. The occasional traffic is of course the tourists shuttling between the Beach and the Palace. The Mandvi Palace is about 15 minutes drive from the main stretch of beach where the tourists hang out.

Mandvi Palace

The Palace is a relatively new one (in terms of age of historic monuments). It was the Palace of Raja of Kutch. It is also a very small palace (compared to the gigantic palaces I've seen) and houses a museum. More than the beauty of the palace what appealed to me more was the palace rules that they had advocated. The palace is a pollution-free zone, and noise free zone. Honking is banned, so is disturbing the sparse animal and bird life that it houses.

You all must've seen Aishwarya Rai against the backdrop of her haveli in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, or perhaps sitting on the swing on some terrace. This is the palace where it was shot. From the top of the Mahal one can see the endless beach, the swaying tress of and the sun. Adjoining the palace complex is the Mandvi Beach Resort offering luxury stay in cottages on a private beach, five star style. But be ready to shell out those extra bucks.

We decided against denting my dad's wallet and taking one last look at the foot-road that divides the Palace from the Beach Resort, we drove back towards the more bustling part of Mandvi, the Beach! The moment we parked at the beach parking area, my eyes were set, not on the beach but on the windmills. There were about 10-odd windmills spinning their blades to the tune of the wind.



(Windmills on mandvi Beach : Picture by me)

They must generate a lot of electricity here!

Water's edge - the Beach

The beach wasn't magnificent. It was just, a beach! The crowd was mainly families making the best of the diwali break. We sat on the sand and watch the sunset. I and Pranay played in the water and pretended to eat sea weeds as if it was a delicacy!



(Me, trying to hold the sun in the palm of my hand : Picture by Pranay)

We even had photo sessions trying to capture me holding or seating the sun which were highly successful thanks to a knowledgeable photographer, Pranay and a co-operating mode, me of course! The castles were made and broken. The night had set in.



(Sun-set : Picture by Pranay)

Night driving gets difficult, so we headed back for Bhuj at around 7 PM. On the way back we went to 72 Jinalaya's (around 10 km from Mandvi). It was a Jain temple, spic and span, very peaceful and lit up only with candles. Photography and videograhy is strictly prohibited. We happened to meet a family who spoke fluent marathi. They were from a town near Bhuj, but have been living in Mumbai for years. It was a nice conversation. The temple won me over and sub consciously i began comparing a Jain temple with a Hindu one. I preferred the former.

We arrived late at the mess. The food was almost over. But by then most of our stomachs were upset and we had a light dinner, popped a pill, prayed for better stomach and let the pleasant surroundings lull us to sleep.

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Day 5
14 November, 2007
Wednesday


Route: Bhuj– Morbi - Jamnagar (HOME!)

Goodbyeee...Bhuj

Next day was our uneventful journey back home to Jamnagar. This time we drove via Morbi. My mother had stayed here for two years. She had fond memories of the city, the ships and the merchant navy officers’ looking smart in their uniforms. Now we know one reason for mom being smitten by dad, the uniform! (Dad's in Indian Navy)

A flirt with Morbi

At Morbi we got had glimpse of Palace and 'Jhulta Pul'- Wire Stay bridge somewhat like the Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh. We skipped lunch due to upset stomach and feasted on fruits! We had heard of the numerous watch companies and factories along this road. We tested our luck at the Titan factory hoping to get a glimpse of how our time-keepers are made. No look here, diwali vacations to be blamed!

The Place I call HOME

We were home by afternoon. Donna was elated to have us back. The mithais were happy too - they'd now end up where they were meant to be, and it'd certainly be much more comfortable that waiting for five days in the refrigerator :P

Apart from the upset stomach, the Bhuj circuit was a great 5-day tour. Perfect to unwind, perfect surprise for me and a perfect destination for our annual family trip.

-----------

Kutchi mud art - www.kutchimudart.com
Specialist in ourdoor and indoor clay work and makers of kutchi bunga.
Contact - info@kutchimudart.com
Address-
c/o abdul s mara
nr. camp masjid
camp area
bhuj-kutch
ph- 02832258101

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Update

One of dad's junior toured Bhuj in January/February 2008. They had to look only as far as my blog for itinerary and travel information. I smiled brightly in response to the compliment. It's good to know that my travel documentation is of some utility to a keen traveler!

If you, the reader has any queries or needs some Bhuj advice, feel free to read my travelogue and drop in your query by way of a comment :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 1 - 'Heading North'

Skiing Extravaganza
Solang valley (Manali)
(24 January 2006 to 12 February 2006)


This is a journal of the skiing camp that dad and me attanded in beginning of 2006, nearly two years back!
----------------

Day 1 – “Heading North”
(In the Train)
(24th January 2006, Tuesday)


We left home at 3:30 PM and reached Bombay Central at 4:15 PM. We were booked on Rajdhani which takes perhaps the shortest time and promises the most comfortable travel to New Delhi. At the station we met our co-skiers. Most of them were at least 10 years older than me! We checked our seats. Our (Tanya and me) were seat numbers 33 and 36 in compartment AS-1. Dad’s berth was in the royal AC first class compartment and he had an old man to share the cabin with.

Our fellow-passengers were a weird bunch. Most of them were nearing 40. We debated throughout the journey. The hot topics ranged from ‘the use of taking up NCC for getting admission into the desired college/job’ to the bizarre ‘why we bother locking our luggage even in a safe train like Rajdhani!’ (inspired by my act of locking my bags with a solid lock and a heavy chain) I wanted to back answer saying, ‘locking my luggage ensures I get a good night sleep. Further if my luggage gets stolen, will you guys who advocate the safety of Rajdhani own up and reimburse me for it?’, but my dad hinted me to not debate further and I’m glad I obliged.

Overall it was a comfortable journey- if it’s Rajdhani it better be so! I stayed awake till 9:30 PM which in itself is a mini-achievement for someone like me who dozes off as the train gains momentum. Dad was sitting in our compartment till I and Tanya tucked into our beds. He then resigned to his cabin to give company to the old man traveling with him.

Lights out!
Good night.

(PS: Didn’t sleep too well due to the nagging worry about the cash and luggage that I was to look after)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Two Bizzare Temples

Bizzare Temple #1 : Karni Mata Temple

In hindu religion animals are sacred. But a temple full of rats was more of freaky rather than a divine experience for me! Yes, you read it right - a temple full of rats! Big, fat, thin, black, white, furry, smooth shaven, you'll find them all in the Karni Mata temple courtyard.


(rats, rats, everywhere...not a place to hide!, picture from karnimata.com)

This temple is located in Deshnok, Rajasthan (30 kms from Bikaner by road). According to folklore, Karni Mata announced that no one from her tribe would fall into yamraj's hands (after she had rescued a devotee's dead child back to life from Yamraj)and hence on their death, they're inherit the body of a rat(temperorily) before being re-born.

Watch the video of this Bizarre temple here

I visited this temple in December of 2005. I was shit scared to step inside the temple premises. Once inside, the terror rose simply because I not only had to keep my composure should a rat run over my foot(it's considered lucky, especially if the rat is white!) but also avoid crushing the rats under my weight (and assuring a place in hell!)A black rat scurried over my foot and left me feeling ticklish and frozen at the same time!


(Karni Mata Temple - entrance, picture from karmimata.com)

The temple isn't just about these crawling terrors. It's a visual treat for the eyes also! The marble structure, artistic main gate, silver doors with carvings and ample other architectural delights are a photographer's treat!


(silver door with idol carved on it, picture from karnimata.com)

Some people call the temple as the 8th Wonder of the World. I like to call it Ratatemple! (rip off on ratatouille)

Bizzare Temple #2 : Duttatreya Temple, Khavda

Kala Dungar(around Bhuj) is home to the Duttatreya temple.It overlooks spectacular Rann of Kutch where one can spot white foxes. These foxes respond to the call of beats of a steel plate and shouts of 'langa' and to come and eat the food/prasad of rice laid down for them.

We saw atleast 30 foxes converge at a cemented area to eat the food and delight the tourists. The temple Bojanalay prepares food even for the pilgrims, should you decide to stay back for a meal. We decided against it as it was past 7 PM in the evening. Thus after witnessing the aarti at sunset (6:45 PM) and spotting the foxes we headed back to Bhuj.For those who wish to visit this temple, I'd suggest them to see the aarti at 12noon and get a better view of the foxes as during sunset, the foxes are not clearly visible and also because the drive down the kala dungar is narrow.


(Jackals, feasting on sweet rice at Kala Dungar, Kutch, picture from www.indianaturewatch.net)

Another drwaback of going in the evening was inability to click pictures of the jackals. We tried with a digi cam, a still cam and a good camera with zoom and external flash, but nothing worked and all we could capture were the glowing eyes of the jackal!Oh, btw we were elated looking at a particular picture in the digi cam. We'd finally captured a jackal! - the elation was short-lived. We discovered that the seemingly jackal was a cow! :P

Out of the two temples, I was more freaked at the thought of rats than jackals! Size truly doesn't matter!

"Chuk-Chuk Gaadi" - Memorable Train Journeys

Whoever said that all train journeys are the same must've travelled with their senses shut!

I'm not a very train person simply because the toilets are pretty sad and I end up just sleeping. But I've been fortunate enough to have taken some interesting train journeys, both in terms of the trains I've travelled in and the experience of the train journey.

Here are my 5 most memorable train journeys (in random order)

Toy Train

If I'm right, here are just three operational toy trains in the whole of India. One in Assam, one between Neral and Matheran (Maharashtra) and one in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. A toy train isn't one where you'd find mickey, sponge bob, gijeo or barbie (I wish!), it simply is a train that runs on narrow gauge and is propelled by burning coals.

When dad got posted to Ooty, we arrived at Mettupalayan-the last train station at the base of Nilgiri hills-from Vizag. To reach Wellington (housing the Defence base)-13 kms short of Oooty- we choose to take the toy train over the usual bus or hired car that'd set me dizzy on each bend!

As the toy train arrives, there is a mad rush for tickets. People even book their seats with handkerchiefs! We were lucky to get tickets and soon enough set off for Wellington. The toy train runs at its own leisurely pace. A healthy human can match up its speed while jogging! Whisteling, hooting and smokin' through the lush forests, bends, peaks and falls, it finally arrives in Wellington.

The train ride is charming and very old world. Remember Saif Ali Khan singing Kasto Mazaa(Parineeta) in the train? - well that's a toy train, but the Assam one and not the Ooty one!

Remember SRK doing Chaiya Chaiya with Malllaika Arora Khan atop the train? Well, That's the toy train I've been raving about!

Jamnagar-Mumbai (saurashtra mail) - 'Alone in the Train'

When we do something for the first time, we're a little scared of how it would go. I was scared too when I decided to travel by train! (Duh! not because I'd never been in a train before, but because I had never taken a long distance train journey alone!)

This particular journey was perhaps the only one where I did not sleep (even not so soundly at night). This was perhaps the only one where I actually observed the people around me, in minutest detail, simply because there was nothing better to do!

Read the whole article on how I travelled alone in the train here

Defence Special - Wellington, Ooty to New-Delhi

It was the summer of 2000. Dad's 11 month course at DSSC, Wellington has come to a close. The end of a certain heaven was here. Our neighbours, friends everyone was moving, that too to completely different cities. The parting was hard, but unlike any other parting thanks to a noble sounding Defence Special Train.

Every summer-around first week of May-a special train runs from Mettupalayan all the way upto New Delhi. The train charters through 6 states, and after 4 long days reaches Delhi. Dad had booked tickets for the four of us and our beloved Doggie- Donna. We did have an option of air-travel, but we choose the train simply because this was no ordinary train.

Our boogie was perhaps used as a hospital on wheels during some war. Instead of he usual compartments with a narrow gangway and 6 and 2 seats on either side, we just had two seats on each side of the boogie. The whole area between the windows/seats (berths) was the gangway where 3 people could pass each other without having to push and struggle!

Now the fun part. Unlike attached metal ladder to climb to the higher berth, we just had two movable metal ladders, one for the berths on the left and one for those on the right. If you happen to be the unfortunate one on the top berth, with a rising urge to pee, you'd certainly be in for trouble. Two options would be open- either to jump off the berth or to scream till someone else on a lower berth wakes up and carries the ladder to your berth. This particular phenomenon was a cause of a lot of inconvenience along with a lot of laughter!

Not all compartmnets were spacious like ours. Some has a dining table and cushioned seats to seat four people, while the others were the standard one's that we see so often. This compartment was very popular with taash-addicts (card-game lovers) like me, simply for the comfortable seating and the ability to look over the cards' of others.

The food was prepared in the train pantry. No hawkers were allowed inside. But that did not deter the foodie in us for the train had one too many stops!

Donna seemed lost at first, but she began enjoying her hide-out in the gangway that joined another compartment and the toilet to our compartment. Unaware passengers were in for a shock for they heard the sudden bark and jumped! Aside from the lack of hunger and mobility problems, Donna also enjoyed the journey.

As we neared New Delhi, the crowd in the train thinned down. Since we got off at the last stop, we had the opportunity to enjoy every mood of this memorable journey.

On second thoughts, I'd never have liked to trade this journey for air-travel!

Mumbai-Ratlam

There was some far-away-relative's wedding in Ratlam. My parents weren't going, but I insisted and tagged along with my uncle, aunts and cousins. The summer was in full form and we had to do with travelling in sleeper class, simply because the journey was short, the fare over-priced and the event-not so grand!

Food is a big part of Indian weddings. Food poisoning isn't so uncommon either. This uncoomonity hit our stomachs hard. Returning from Ratlam, most of our stomachs were acting weird. The initial pain, loose motions and smelly hiccups gave way to something, grander, more grosier in scale.I refer to it as fountain of vomit!

It was almost night. We tried playing cards, but giving in to the uneasiness I decided to sleep. Climbing the metal stair to the top berth, I fell into a slumber...until a gush of liquid pushed out of my mouth and right in the middle of our three-tier sleeper compartment. Some of the stuff clung to the walls, some to my aunts and uncles.

I cried in embarrassment, fear of being scolded and pain. I wasn't alone.

Shortly after, my cousin followed suit and the whole compartment smelled nothing short of hellish. Poor aunts and uncles had a sleepless night as they cleaned the vomit, while we lay mum on our berths and prayed another fountain would not erupt!

When we remember that summer, that wedding and that train journey, only one word sums up the experience 'ewwww!' (as in 'yuck!')

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who has Crossed the TROPIC OF CANCER?!


- I HAVE!

Don't believe me? Take a look at me down here trying to be as tall as the historic board!-




Now, here's me with one foot below the tropic of cancer and one above it!! :P



When and how?

On 12 November 2007, on the way to Khavda(Bhuj, Gujarat)- in our brand new Indigo LS - we had spotted a board saying 'you are crossing the Tropic of Cancer'. That time we didn't stop to capture a picture of this historic moment. But on our way back we made it a point to spot at this spot and freeze the moment in style through pictures that you just saw up there.

I wonder when I'll get a chnace to cross the equator *in her dreamy mood*

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Maha Maza at Mahabaleshwar - Day 1 - Sight-seeing and fun games...

Magnificent Valley View Resort
The resort was magnificent. It looked very small and low risen at first, but on closer look we realized that we were actually at level 1 and there were 2 levels above it and 2 below it- that made it as tall as a short 5 storey building (if you actually get what i mean :P) We all waiting in the lobby for the other bus people to arrive.
As you enter the resort gate, a slope leads you to the lobby. The slope has plants on both sides and leads you to the parking area and the lobby. The lobby was warmly done up in dark wood. On the right side were the spiral marble stairs leading to the other floors, while in front was the reception and the seating area. Walking down the few stairs to the reception we could see the resort hall on the left, a souvenir shop on the right, a snacks bar, pool/snooker room and finally the dining hall!

Room Partner and room exploration
The names of room partners/room numbers were announced and we were handed the room keys and our identity cards. I was more than happy to have Pallavi as my room-mate. Most people were happy with their roomies, and even if they weren't, there was no choice! After a quick coffee-biscuit snack at the snack bar and a glance through the newspaper, we headed for our rooms.

Our room was room no. 211 which faced the valley and a whole lot of slums (but we learnt to ignore them!) The room was thoughtfully furnished with a double bed, a dresser, a cupboard, colour television, air conditioning, two chairs and a centre table, a foldable sofa cum low bed and the comfort of home. The first thing I did was to sink into the soft bed for my back was sore from the bus ride and a real bed felt, unreally amazing! To avoid dozing off in the comforts of the warmer, I and Pallavi explored the bathroom, got mesmerized by the key system wherein the door key needs to be lodged in a slot inside the room to enable he lights, fan, a/c and TV to operate, settled our luggage and booked the side we wanted to sleep in on the bed.

Breakfast & Chit-chats
Then we freshened up with a hot water bath and joined the other excited colleagues at the dining hall for a sumptuous breakfast. The breakfast was a grand spread with- juices, coffee, tea, bread, sandwiches, and three types of uttapams, cornflakes, fresh fruit and accompaniments like jam, spread, chutneys and pickles to choose from. Stuffed till our throats, we drowned in the exciting chatter until it was decided that we had until lunch to visit the Venna Lake.
In the beginning some non-enthusiasts refused to leave the resort and make good use of recreation facilities like table tennis, carom, billiards, swimming or just catching up on sleep. However with a little convincing, most agreed on the boating, and those who didn’t did what they pleased! The Lake was about an hours walk. We just had 3 hours in hand and decided to take our hired buses instead and save some time and physical strain of walking.
Sparkle and leg exercise at Venna lake


The Lake was like the sparkling diamond amidst the winding roads and masses of green vegetation. The wind was light and just the right temperate to tickle the skin. There was much to do- paddle boat, row boat, horse rides, sit and talk, walk around the lake-but so little time. Without wasting anytime, we all crowded around the lake booking office, trying to divide ourselves in groups of 6 or 8 depending upon the kind boat we were to hire.

I zeroed in on paddle boat for six and ganged up with Meghana Ma’am, Sweta, Shamal, Pooja Chedda and Mrunal! The funny thing was Mrunal was the only guy with 5 girls for company, but he’s known for it! *winks* I and Mrunal decided to paddle, and he wasn’t quite sure if I had the endurance to paddle for half an hour, but poor guy, he didn’t know about my past!

We paddled leisurely at first and then urgently to be able to push our legs and chase fellow colleagues and eventually dash into their boats or save our boat from being dashed. Funnily, Mrunal tired out way before I did and even admitted it despite the male ego; guess tiredness makes you forget everything else!

Aftermath of boating
After the workout of 30 minutes, we docked the boat and began posing for photos! The photos were clicked at the rate of thunder and lighting bolts on a stormy night. They stopped only when we had just enough time to make it back to the Resort for lunch. But, that was not to be.

On boarding the buses, one of them refused to budge! Then what, we all got off the bus and started pushing the bus, while singing, ‘Dum laga, dum laga, laga re dhakka re…’ Even that did not deter our fun and frolic mood. Once the bus started, we cheered and enjoyed the winding road back.

The lunch was another unbelievable spread! The cuisine was Indian, but the variety made it so appealing. We had about 1.5 hours of leisure time before our second course of touristy thing for today. In the leisure time I played TT to the fullest of my desire. The guys wanted to have a full-fledged cricket match, but they were forced to come to Table Mountain with the rest of us! We also had a mini-jam session in our room where me, Pallu, sangita, anuj, ballu, sweta, abhishek, karnav, litesh, kiran, meghana, rupali etc danced like crazy. The best part was Beedi Jalailey and Kajrare (Anuj rocked!). I assumed Anuj was classy, but i chnaged my opinion after the chavanni dance! (angdai steps etc.. :P)

Flat wonder
It took us about 30 minutes by bus and another 20 minutes hike-cum-walk to reach he glorious mountain. On the way we chit-chatted, played antakshari and bet each other at who climbs faster! The table mountain was gorgeous, to say the least! It spread across the sky with the majesty of Aladdin’s carpet, flat and beautiful! There was so much life up there, the flora and fauna, and people enjoying themselves at the rides, some game or just sitting leisurely.

We guys split into random groups and explored the table top at our own pace. I was practically walking alone and Ballu bhaiya noticed this. As a reply to his question, I said ‘I’m walking alone so that I can go where ever I want to and not bank upon someone else.’ After that he stuck with me, and I was glad!

We dodged the monkeys and reached the cave hotel. It was near dark in there and we were bumping into each other and tripping on rocks! We invaded the restaurant like a storm of bees but did not order a thing! After falling around for a while and finding that two caves actually met- Thanks to Ahemdabadi Abhishek Shah-we left the restaurant and headed for fresh air of the open blue skies!
Gaming zone


Back on the table top, we-like true blue photo crazies-clicked more photos. By the time the photo session died down, another frenzy of fun i.e. the game of dog and the bone had erupted! It was fantabulous! There was utter chaos and tons of laughter! Some of the moments worth framing as memories were the Rita-Rima confusion and Kaun si Sweta incident. Avinash even took the videos of these humorous moments, and I’m glad he did!

By the time we were done with the game, our stomachs and cheeks were hurting and it was time to head to the resort for dinner and an evening that promised total entertainment by way of games planned by Fort office articles- Mansi, Ankit, Sweta, and Sneha etc.

Felicitation and Dinner
Back at the resort, we freshened up and assembled in the resort hall. Each employee, article and partner graced the evening with his/her presence. We had a small introduction of all the partners and key employees. Then each of us present were given a huge binded book ‘study material’ and a Swiss knife with G.M. Kapadia engraved on it as a token. The guy from Chennai put up a humorous play, followed by a cake cutting ceremony. Then we were split up into 5 teams, each denoted by a colour viz. green, blue, red, yellow and gold.

After that we gorged on the dinner which unlike the lunch that was served by the resort kitchen staff was buffet. Needless to say, it was again a royal feast! By the time we were done, it was time for games, read 10:30 PM. Most of us were excited about this session, while others who weren’t too enthu, called it a day and departed to their respective rooms, and into sweet slumber!

Fun games
The hall was noisy with a hundred heart beats eager to battle it out for a podium finish! Put a bunch of good-friends in a competitive situation and they change colours! The first game was ‘dress up game’. The rules were simple. 8 members from each team would play. Specific distance was defined and 4 members from each team had to be on either side of it. The first member had to wear the shirt (fully buttoned), wrap round skirt, beads necklace, shades, cap and a bindi and run to the other side. Once there, member one had to undress and member two had to dress up and go to the other side. This goes on until the 8th member is dressed up and crosses over to the other side.

The game, as expected, was utter chaos and guys dressed as women were a hilarious sight! After much cheating, fighting and disagreements, team red won the game. My team, team green also came first, first from behind. The loss did not deter us and we were already planning to have a clean steal in the next game.

It was a rather easy sounding second game. Each team was allowed 8 participants, but the rule was that the team members who were excluded in game one had to be included in this one. The task was to light as many candles as can be and fix them on the glass slab in a time span of 30 seconds. My team made ambitious plans. But we lost, yet again! Not last, but a loss is a loss right?!

Even that did not deter us. The next game was blow the balloon game. 10 members from each team were allowed to participate. There were unlimited number of balloons that had to be tied with a thread and bloated to a size as long as or longer than the mike. The catch was, there was only one bail of thread. Most teams including mine decided to have two or three people cut the threads and rest of them blowing! We came second for a change and saved the grace of our team. One moment none of us can forget was the ratio of body and balloons blown by Ashwin sir and Rajan sir. Contrary to his giant size, Rajan sir’s balloon was tiny and contrary to Ashwin sir’s small framed body, his balloon was gigantic. We even captured this moment in a photo! What picture perfection of an irony!

Three games down, tiredness was catching up. But the competitive spirit remained. The last game tested physical endurance, mainly of the arms. 5 members from each team, including one girl participant were allowed. Bricks had been immersed over night in a bucket of water. The task was to hold this heavy brick with two fingers, keeping the arm extended and as the brick was spilling from the fingers, it had to be passed to the next team mate. The team that holds on to the brick as if it were their dear life wins!

I was gung-ho about the event. It suited my body structure and I was confident of my arm strength. Eventually we won, thanks to the slight confusion when other teams thought that I was the last person from green team, while in reality I was the fourth one and obviously the Marshall Arts background of Narayan Sir! We literally hugged him after the victory and dispersed the hall with head held high!

Calling it a day...
The next day’s events were announced and good-byes were said! But who wanted to sleep? We guys played TT and carom, cricket in corridor, cards in Kiran and Litesh’s room and had a dance party in one of the rooms too! It had been a fun-filled day and finally giving in to sleep; I and Pallavi called it a day at 4 am and set the alarm for 7 am tomorrow.
Read-

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Write the PERFECT Travelogue: This is how...

It is essential to plan and make up your mind before writing the travelogue. The points to be considered are –

a. Travel Notes: Take down notes as you travel about the small details and nitty-gritty's of the places you visited. Eg: - Note down the height of the hill if you've visited one; note down the brief history, timings and fees a museum that you've visited, it's a tall task to recall such details when you sit down to write a travelogue.

b. Outline of places visited: Make a brief outline of places visited and in what order.

c. Purpose and how personal: Be clear what purpose the travelogue is for and subsequently decide how personal you want the travelogue to be. Eg: - say the travelogue is for a magazine. In such a case it does not make sense to include personal information like what souvenirs you bought for whom. It is more apt to mention that you shopped at so-and-so place and some of the things worth shopping for.

Follwing are the stages while writing the travelogue –

a. Introduction: A quote, photograph, postcard or a catchy line should be used to introduce the travelogue. It is this that sets the tone for the travelogue and can win the reader over or discourage them.
Eg: - 'it was a bright day and we decided to hit the beach' Рthis is pass̩ and boring. 'The sun inspired the beach-bum in us and we hit the beach' Рis more trendy and unique.

b. Body: Ideally the travelogue should be in paragraphs, with each new place/ experience talked about in a different paragraph. Keep the paras crisp and ensure that one para flows into the other.
Eg: - Ending a para with 'Our flight landed in Mumbai bang on time and being grounded and walking, rather than flying felt nice. Mumbai is a busy city…..which I discovered as my cab crawled out of the airport.' And beginning the next para with 'Whether it's the taxiwallas, buswallas or pedestrians, everyone is always a whirr of urgency around each of them.'

c. Close: Traditionally travelogues and ended with a promise to visit again, lessons learnt during the travel, emotions felt or the clichéd 'though the travel was fun, there's no place like home.' But it's best to do something different, maybe end with:

* praise for the residents of the area or city that you visited.
Eg: - Despite the modest means, the hospitality of Kashmiris shines through and they're not the one's to let the terrorism break them.??

* A one-liner.
Eg: - Whether you hate Mumbai crowds, or love them, one thing's certain, you just cannot ignore them!

* Refer to something that happened during the journey.
Eg: - I felt free-like the birds that the aviary authorities let free to which we were a proud spectator- when I glided down the hill-side of the marvelous Nashik(place you visited).

* Humorous line.
Nothing works like Humor, so use it to your advantage! J

KUTCH - Day 4 (to be continued...)

Day 4
13 November, 2007
Tuesday

Route: Bhuj (sight-seeing) – Siv paras-Koday-Mandvi-Bhuj

Exploring Bhuj

After the long and exciting yesterday, we decided to explore Bhuj. Funny we'd been in Bhuj for 2 days and hadn't yet toured it. One reason for that was the extended diwali holiday tahat I talked about previously.Our little research told us that it'd take us not more than half a day to enjoy what Bhuj hasto offer. So we headed out at 9:00 AM-the time when most touristy places open-for our first stop, Aina Mahal in Old Bhuj.
Aina Mahal remains open from 9:00AM-12:00 noon and 3:00AM-6:00PM on all days except Saturday. The entry ticket is Rs. 10/person and an extra charge for camera.It was built in the 18th century by Maharao Shri Madansinghji Saheb of Kutch who was the last king of the 18th century for this kingdom. Only one wing and one floor of the Aina Mahal is open to the public for the rest of it is under renovation or been closed down as the damage done by the 2001 quake is irrepairable.

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal's first floor houses a museum. Some of the artifacts that caught m,y attention were-
· An 80 year old weighing machine,
· Gold painted chineses cupboards/jewellery cases,
· Paintings with robes and jewellery done up in real gold,
· Elephant tusk door,
· Glass in shades of green and violet made with Silica from Mandvi beach,
· Sinhasan made of marble,
· Ari work(embroidery) now found only in the museum for the art has died,
· Glass chandeliers etc.

History says that Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who wasthe last viceboy of India and a great friendof Maharaasri Madansinghji Saheb helped Madansinghji in making Kutch a part 'C' state at the time of integartion of Kutch state of India.

The museum has 3 main parts viz. Aina Mahal (mirror palace), Hira Mahal (diamond/precious stone palace) and Fuvara Mahal (fountain palace). Aina Mahal and Hira Mahal both host various artifacts, while Fuvara Mahal is under repair.

Aina Mahal is a 250 year wonder built by Maharoa Shri Lakhpat. It is a large two storey mansion built in 1750. The first floor is an audience hall which is a hall of mirrors whete guests were entertained. It cost near about Rs. 20 lakhs to built at that point of time. The Mahal floor has blue tiles which were made right here in Kutch. Today the mirros in the Aina Mahal are old and have lost their sheen, but juist imagining the grandeur made me feel like a princess in a mirror palace.

Hira Mahal

Hira Mahal which was the state bedroom and has a wooden ceiling with gold inlay work. It has mirrors all over too, so one candle was enough to light up the entire room. (we should use this trick to save electricity! :P) It holds Lakhpatji's bed whioch has gold legs. Also the silver hooka, gold mirrors, diamond studded talwar presented to him by Moughal empror, khadau(footwear) with a lotus placedwhere the thumb and the next toe is which opens and closes as you walk are all awesome!! By far, this wasmy favourite segment of the museum for the sheer grandeur which is so far and between in this Kutchi Kindgom. One piece of advise though, don't expect the grandeur of Rajasthan while visiting Kutch palaces cause then you sure will be disappointed!

Rani Vyas and Prag Mahal

Aina Mahal complex also houses the Rani Vyas as well as the Prag Mahal. Rani Vyas built 350 years ag, was-as the name suggests-the queen's palace. Here the windows are stone carved so that no one can glimpse insidethe palace, but those insidecan look out through the holes in the carving. Leaving asidesome windows, this palace is certainly in poor shape. Prag Mahal was built in 150 yearsago, quite recent considering it's got a place in the history. Afew song sequences of th movie Lagaan, like the ballroom dance sequence and when the firang gils sings the song 'my heart it sings a thousand words i feel eternal bliss...' in the balcony were shot here. The outer structure of the prag mahal is a beauty, while inside it's so poorly maintained that you can save your Rs. 12 entry fee and you won't miss out of anything, for that matter you'll be safe from the stench and pigeon shit! See, this is what I don't like, they collect entry fee from us and yet don't maintain it!

The slight disappointment at the Prag Mahal museum did not dampen our spirits and gulping down a big glass of sugar-cane juice, we drove to the Swami Narayan Temple which is merely 5 minutes from the Aina Mahal. The temple was almost empty and very peaceful despite of it's location at a junction of 2 roads. The complex was colourful- a characteristic of Kutch temples. We took a quick darshan and drove to The Sharad Bag Palace.

Breath of fresh air..Sharad Bag Palace

Sharad Bag palace is no bigger than a bunglow. But the garden surrounding the palace makes it so special! Sharad Bag palace/museum is open from 9:00AM-12Noon and from 3:00AM-6:00PM on all days except fridays. Sharad Bag belongs to Madan Singhji whose ancestors now live in Mumbai. The moment we walked into the palace complex and into the garden, the cool environment welcomed us and the breath of fresh air felt- fresh!

The garden is perfectly mowed, and the palace is small, but beautiful. The main palace is closed down for the quake shook its very foundation, however the dining area cum kitchen complex is open for public and is presently is a museum. Most artefacts in this museum are very recent and very well preserved. The one's that caught my eye were two huge elephants tusks, silver basin, dining table chairs, coffin etc. I think the authorities of Aina Mahal must lear something about preserving artefacts from those of the Sharad Baag one's!

Hunting for Lunch

By the time we were done with Bhuj sight-seeing it was 12:30 PM and the pefect time to shop! We roamed the streets of the old Bhuj area looking in particular for bandhej suits, knives and mud-art paintings. Of the three we bought only a suit-as the other too were out of our sight and we were in a sort-of a hurry to search the market in the FBI way-and proceeded to have lunch.

(day 4...to be continued....)

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