Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

      

This year, I brought in my birthday in an unusual way. I joined Photography on the Move at the Goa Carnival, and spent the day indulging myself in one of my favourite passtimes – photography. I plan to repeat this every year now, use the day to take off to some place still unexplored.

Each visit of mine to Goa has been different over the years. The first time it was the the sense of abandon that came with my first solo expedition. There would be many more in subsequent years. But that was my first experience of complete independence as a traveller.

The next time I was surrounded by the camaradrie of friends, as I discovered the lesser known Goa, which the tourist rarely discovers.

This time it was the celebration of the Goa Carnival that enveloped me. The carnival held every year in February was first introduced here by the Portuguese. The revelry continues for three days and nights, in a period where King Momo rules. The search for King Momo is a keenly contested event, with selections held every year before the carnival. This is one contest where size definitely matters.

Brightly coloured floats are all part of the carnival procession, each representing a different theme. There are prizes for both the best float and also the best dressed clown and so the competition is quite enthusiatic.

I have attended carnivals in different parts of India before. But in Goa I was swept away by the unabashed joy and the sheer zest of living that made everything else pale in comparison. There are few moments in my life where I have felt happier or safer.

As a single woman making her way through crowds with a camera, I sometimes tend to attract attention. But in Goa there were no strange comments or looks. Neither did I have to bring my hand protectively over any part of my anatomy. In fact many of the participants on many of the floats even gave me their best smiles and poses as my camera just clicked away.

So even in the midst of unrestrained joy, Goa was always graceful. She overcame you in a passionate embrace, just as easily as she always let you be.

If there are two Indian seaside destinations that have always whispered to my soul, they are Goa and Pondicherry. Pondicherry is my favourite of the two, and yet Goa has also always had a charm of its own.

If Pondicherry has been the place that I have visited to find myself, I have always been drawn and then lost in the magic of Goa only to discover myself. So if Pondicherry is my destination when I need to hear my soul speak in a still clear voice, Goa beckons when I need my own touch of magic.

For me, more than any other Indian location, Goa reflects the spirit of endless travel and adventure. For it is here that travellers from around the word congregate, each on a unique path to self discovery, and their stories intermingle into the fabric of a land that is both tolerant and all accepting.

I first visited Goa nine years ago on a solo journey, just after I had turned 24. Today, nine years later, it was a riotous journey made rich by the glory of friendship. In the intervening decade, it was interesting to see that nothing much had changed, except perhaps my perspective.

Spread across these many years, there are lingering memories of adventures and places. As it is with all places, there would certainly be more to Goa than just these remnants of my experience. But these are the places ands things that made my visits to Goa special and will have me returning again. I record them here lest I should forget and also so that my memories may serve as a guide to fellow travellers.

Chapora: I missed Chapora on my first visit to Goa. But this time I did stop by, thanks to my friend UU, who has made Goa her home for the last few months. The Chapora Fort was first made famous for great moments of friendship captured in the film Dil Chahta Hai. But there’s more to Chapora than just that. Truly, you’ve not experienced Goa if you not had a whiff of the special madness of Chapora village, experienced the still tranquility of Chapora Beach, gazed down the heights of Chapora Fort or even possibly caught a Chapora sunset. The last one eluded us and is a strong incentive for me to return yet again.

Old Goa: I first discovered Old Goa on a bike 9 years ago. I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the ride that took me past winding paths set against the sea, finally stopping at St Catherine’s Chapel. Old Goa is better known and has even been declared a world heritage site for its monuments like the the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The later is the first Basilica in India and is also said to house the mortal remains of Francis of Assisi. But St Catherine’s Chapel remains my favourite shrine. Away from the touristy hordes, it carried its own special touch of the stillness of the divine.

Mango tree… May the music live on: It is true that over time, Goa has come to be associated with a large number of intoxicants. It is also true that all these intoxicants abound in Goa in no small measure. Yet, it is also true that the most potent and less talked about intoxicant in Goa is perhaps its music. Jazz and blues, often played by multi-cultural bands, abound in Goa more than in any other Indian destination, playing no small part in the influences that give Goa a beat of its own. For the musically inclined, two must stops are Mango Tree on a Thursday evening and Take 5 for some Saturday night fever.

Candolim, Calangute & Baga Beaches: I literally stumbled upon the Candolim, Calangute and Baga beaches on my first visit to Goa. I remember my surprise at discovering that these three beaches lay adjacent to each other. So you only had to walk in one straight line to cover all of them. Even then, I remember noticing that Calangute took the impact of the tourists, while Baga was quieter.

On this visit, we began with lunch at Brittos, overlooking Baga. Amongst the three beaches I found that it still took the least of the tourist impact and blended the madness of crowds, with a stillness of its own. On our final day here, we also experimented with water sports between Calangute and Baga. While we had our adventure under the morning sky, there’s no time like evening to go parasailing. You could be suspended 100 feet above the ground, with the glorious orange ball that is the sun falling across the horizon to sink into the eager waiting arms of the Arabian Sea. It’s a moment to live for.

Anjuna & Vagator: If Baga taken less of the tourist impact, Anjuna and Vagator are even more remote. While Vagator is spectacular in its own way, Anjuna has its own touch of serenity. On this visit, UU and I sat late into the night eating salmon at Sunset Cafeteria overlooking Anjuna. Bright sparkling lighted shacks stretched as far as the eye could see looking down on the darkly tossing eternal Arabian Sea. The stillness in turbulence and the power of the moment lingers on, and will always remain amongst my unforgettable travel experiences.

The Markets Candolim & Calangute: The road to Calangute Beach and Fort Anjuna takes you past the bargain laden shacks of Candolim and Calangute. Few markets epitomise the magic of the bazaar like they do. All of Indian influences seem to find their confluence here. But be warned that nothing must be bought at face value. Here, more than at any other place, prices are named with the expectation of a good bargain. So you haven’t shopped at Goa, if you haven’t haggled hard and long.

The Saturday night market: But if there is one place where the charm of Candolim and Calangute can possibly be outdone, it is at the Saturday Night market. All of India seems to come together again, but this time sparkling under the night skies. The buzz and atmosphere is to be experienced to be understood. It’s true. The Saturday night market has a life of its own.

Architecture: Few states in India celebrate old European architecture in the way that Goa does. Historic houses and churches dot the countryside. You never quite if you are looking at just another building or a bit of history. Every nook and corner reverberates of yesterday.

The Corjuem Fort at Aldona: It’s a fort in the middle of nowhere and not hyped in tourist guides. So the adventure to this fort lies primarily in discovering it as you cut past Mapusa and the village of Aldona. Once you get past the tangled vines that block the entrance, there is the special feeling of privelege when you discover that you are the only person in the monument that you are visiting. On my return home, I did some research on the fort and discovered that legend has it that “One of the defenders of the fort was Ursula e Lancastre, a Portuguese waif. Determined to succeed in a man’s world, she disguised herself as a man and travelled the world, eventually serving as a soldier. It was not until she was captured and stripped that her secret was discovered. This did not put an end to her military career, and she married the captain of the guard.” It was perhaps fitting then that I discovered this fort with my friend MC on a bike, on our girl’s day out. It was a highpoint amongst my many adventures with my buddy of the last 15 years beginning in high school.

Fort Aguada: A ‘must do’ destination on tourist “to do” lists, this seventeenth-century Portuguese fort set against the Arabian Sea is not as spectacular as the journey to get there that also takes you past the magic of Candolim. It’s reputed to be one of the spots in Goa that give you a beautiful sunrise. But on both instances I visited it during the sunset, and I remember it more for the journey to get there than the location. The fort seems to have been built as a defence against the Dutch and Marathas and was the chief defence of the Portuguese in India. The freshwater spring at the fort was also a source of water supply to Portuguese ships, and so the fort got its name of “aguada” or “water”.

Dona Paula: Another ‘must do’ touristy destination, a visit to Dona Paula usually ends at the Dona Paula jetty. It’s beautiful in a typical touristy way. Yet, this trip was special for my my first Goan bus ride that had a charm of its own. There is also an interesting romance to the story behind Dona Paula. It’s named after the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman who threw herself off the cliffs after she was not allowed to marry a fisherman who she loved.

Miramar Beach: Away from the rhythms of hippies on beaches, it is here that citizens of Panjim make their way every evening for their own special touch of sea and sky. Far removed from the Goa of tourists, this is the beat of normal everyday Goa. I stayed in a hotel opposite the beach on my first visit to Goa, and I remember spending an evening here amongst the wonderful people who make the magic of Goa possible.

So these then are the travel moments that make my memories of Goa… Here’s looking forward to many more.

Pondicherry: The stillness of being

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Travel
Tags: ,

I arrive in Pondicherry again. It must be at least five years since the last time I visited. As in the case of my previous three100_5058 visits, I arrive here once again when my spirit needs reviving.

Amongst other things, my work on my book has taken me through many twists and turns, and I face a writer’s block unlike any that I have ever faced before. Will the stillness of Pondicherry help me find the answers within myself?

Day one
In the early hours of dawn, our bus passes through Auroville. My first impression is that there are many more plastic bags scattered around the place than there were five years ago. What happened here?

Before I have the time to answer that question, we’ve reached the bus stop. A horde of auto drivers descend on us and I make my way to Mother’s House, the asharam guest house where I will be staying.

An introduction to the guest house on the Internet has already told me that that it is located off the sea in rural Vaithikuppam, not too far from Aurobindo Ashram. This particular guest house has 12 single rooms that they let out, often on a long term basis. The rates – just Rs 260 per day!!!!

100_4984We arrive at the guest house even before the clock has reached 7. The watchman lets me in and takes me to my room. Each of the single rooms in the guest house are named after one of the 12 virtues proscribed by the mother. The room that I have been given is Sincerity. A small board in the room defines sincerity in the words of the mother. “Every act of sincerity carries in itself its own reward: the feeling of purification, of soaring upwards, of liberation one gets when one has rejected every one particle of falsehood. Sincerity is the safeguard, the guide and finally the transforming power.”

Is that the answer then? I have often been told that above all other things, sincerity is my defining quality. So must I only proceed with sincerity, in the knowledge that sincerity alone will be both my reward and my protection?

Outside are the fishermen’s tiled houses and the sea calling out to eternity, even as a single boat dots the horizon. I silently plumb through my copy of Mister God, this is Anna., the book that I have brought along with me for some reflection.

At the Mother’s House, managed efficiently by Regina, the day runs to a clockwork routine. After a ‘herbal’ breakfast on schedule, I head back to my room. Then I sit before my laptop and with the sea in front of me, and then mysteriously the words begin to flow. The magic of Pondicherry is clearly already working.

100_4986

In the evening, I walk past the fishermen’s village at Vaithikuppam to the Ashram. This visit has exposed me to the other side of Pondy as well. The rural underbelly that lies alongside the French Pondicherry of cobbled streets.

On the way, I spot a thatched hut, which has as its roof a Congress party banner. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi stare down at me, I find myself wondering when this other India will rise?

For the first time I also visit the Asharam and spend some time in meditation near the Mother’s Samadhi, under a huge ancient tree as the evening sunlight filtered in. A moment that still brings peace within my spirit.

Later, I also meet an Asharam devotee there. The many years that Oshim have spent on this earth have put a walking stick100_5011 in his hand, but he still retains a youthful cheerfulness in his heart.

He takes me around the Asharam, while also narrating how the mother conducted his wedding at the Asharam many years ago.

Later he leaves me with a book called For those who earnestly say to the Divine “I Want Only Thee”. Did I look like one who was earnestly seeking answers? Perhaps I did… For I am 🙂 And if sincerity is a trademark attribute, I probably have the expression of ‘search’ written all over my face.

I stopped at the Ashram bookstore and picked up The Mother. This was a book on Mirra Alfassa, who later came to be known simply as The Mother. She fascinates me… A woman of Turkish Egyptian descent – who spent over 40 summers of her life in different counties across the world over two marriages and even motherhood, before she made Pondicherry her home. How did she come to be Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator, leaving the legacy of Auroville to the world? Later in the evening, I spend some time poring over her story.

But before that, I step into Pondicherry town to pick up an assortment of supplies. The town comes as a bit of a surprise. Typical of any Indian town – brightly coloured shopping establishments selling big modern brands run shoulder to shoulder, along the length of the street for as far as the eye can see. I even stop at Hot Breads to have my dinner.

Yet I can’t help thinking that these trademark symbols of modern consumerism seem slightly incongruous against the Pondicherry of old cobbled streets and French sounding names.

But I guess that is the true spirit of India – an all inclusive country that combines tradition with modernity, where all of us with our different identities still find the space to just be.

Day Two
There is something about Pondicherry that irresistibly draws you to the divine. I return once more in the morning to my100_5055 reading of Mr God, This is Anna.

But by late morning I close my book and head out in search of a motorcycle, guided by the guesthouse watchman Raju.

One hour and several wrong shops and streets later, I find myself hiring my motorcycle from a shop that is entirely different from the one that Raju had recommended 🙂

The motorcycle itself was a decrepit black Sunny, and rattled merrily on my test drive. I wasn’t sure if it would carry me through the dirt roads of Auroville, but I decided to take my chances.

It’s been almost five years since I last visited Auroville, so I wonder whether I would find my way there or need to ask directions. But when I saw that old familiar unmarked turn on the left side of the road, the doubts disappear. I know instinctively that this is it.

As in the past, I ride up to the Visitor’s Centre and the Matra Mandir. Both of them simply excuses to explore the larger 100_5030Auroville.

Once more, the path is green and the air is cool, standing testimony over time to one woman’s madness. Fortunately, I do not see too many of the plastic bags that I thought that I had seen in the morning when my bus turned into Pondicherry.

All of this is a far cry from the parched barren earth on which this township first sprang to life many decades ago. Truly, there is nothing that a group of people deeply committed to working to a common goal cannot achieve.

While for most it is the tranquility of Pondicherry that calms their spirit, for me it has always been the restless search of Auroville that calms my spirit.

Do I then shun the placidity of being for the turbulence of becoming?

There are no sights to see in this township. It is just the experience of living that you carry out with you, if you will open your heart out to it. Oh that I should always live my life with the pioneering spirit of endless adventure of the Aurovillean…

On this visit, I also notice the big banyan tree at the Matra Mandir. Ageless, bountiful abundance, one with the universe. I100_5045 am stilled by wonder for awhile.

For the first time, I also spend some time shopping at the Visitor’s Centre. Some bags and toys for the kids. Then, some tops, a bag and a hat for me… All of these difficult to find in Bangalore. Then, I am off – lighter in the pocket, but happier in the heart.

But on this visit, I miss the friend who has been a constant factor in my previous travels to Auroville. Sowmya – the friend with whom I journeyed towards so many shared dreams, and now in faraway California.

Yet on the way back, I do seek out the beach that Sowmya and I stumbled on during our first visit to Pondicherry. Even this is surprisingly easy enough to find.

At that time, a decade ago, this was an undiscovered beach, and we had fallen on it with the delight of the explorer who chances upon unchartered territory.

Later, when we returned five later, we set out to find our beach again. But this time, we had to turn back quickly. This time, the beach was covered with the lifeless bodies and overpowering stench of countless little dead fish.

So naturally, I am not sure about what to expect this time around.

100_5061

On this visit, I find that the beach has been discovered by others as well. It is not crowded, but neither is it empty. Inevitably, it is also dirtier. Now white thermacol and plastic bottles also merge into what had been pristine soft brown sand scattered with shells.

Yet, the beach is still quiet and clean enough for me to stand still in contemplation for awhile. I recollect a moment 10 years ago when I had walked across the sands, and watched the waves wiping out of my footsteps behind me. I had then written a poem on our futile attempts at greatness that ended with the line, “like mad men writing their names against the sand, it is futile”.

So as I stand there again, once more Pondicherry reminds me that I am an insignificant speck against the vastness of the universe. I feel myself bowing to the splendour of life.

Day three
I wake up at six in the morning, and pull the curtains open to witness the most spectacular sunrise outside. Pondicherry,100_5076 being on the east coast, is not the city for picture postcard sunsets. But it certainly gives you a spectacular sun rise. So here, life starts at the crack of dawn.

I rush out as quickly as I can to get an assortment of morning shots… the morning sun in all its splendour against the sea, fishing rafts against the morning light and fishermen at work.

I realize then that spectacular photographs do not just happen. They also reflect the quality of the life a photographer leads. An exciting life creates exciting photography.

By 6:30 I’ve already exhausted the best light, and I’m back in my room writing. The wise man or woman who thought up the old proverb, “The early bird catches the worm”, probably lived on the east coast 🙂

As I write, I notice sparrows on my balcony, and I smile. After all, we no longer have sparrows in Bangalore. But the eco sphere at Pondicherry at least still survives.

After an afternoon spent on my b100_5144ook, I head to the town in the evening. I stop at the cafe by the pier that I first visited 10 years ago, and then re-visited 5 years ago. A perfect place for contemplation by the sea.

Later, I spend some time on photography – both at the pier and in the old city area.

There is something about old architecture that never fails to draw me in, as nothing else probably ever will. It is as if each building has a soul of its own, and my photograph tries to tell its story. Sometimes it is the lonely symphony of an existence ebbing away into the twilight. At other times, it is the proud magnificence of a life well lived. Each story finds its way into the frame, the aura of the building shaping my telling of the tale. So as I stand before a building that has made me me stand still, it is as if our souls are one for an instant, and then a photograph is born.

100_5185

In this way, after many happy hours spent amongst these dwelling places of another era, I turn back home.

Now I sit once more before my laptop to complete the introduction my book. I hope that the writing of the Introduction will define my purpose and remain an inspiring mission statement in the lonely last leg of my journey.

Day four
Over breakfast, I spend some time talking to Olympia (who’s from Slovenia) and Albania (who’s from Germany). The topic100_5202 on discussion is life under socialism. Both Olympia (who’s originally from Romania) and Albania (who’s originally from Russia) have had their share of experiences that they carry with them. So they share their experiences and we laugh a lot. It’s amazing how life sometimes brings the most wonderful people your way, and your lives just cross for an instant.

Later, I return to my room and complete my work on the Introduction of my book.

In the evening, I ride down to the pier again and spend some time at my seaside cafe. Once more, I look into the sea and am simply with myself.

Later, I do something that I’ve always wanted to – visit the Pondicherry museum. But it turns out to be a small hole in the100_5241 wall, just as my friend Bindu had warned me.

It’s funny how some of the things that you blow up in your mind turn out to be not so big when you finally experience them. But the only way to discover that is to do everything that you’ve ever wanted to do. So, in life, it is important to experience everything.

Then, I am back at the Mother’s House now and packing my things to return to Bangalore. I finally feel a semblance of peace in my heart. Pondicherry has once more renewed my spirit.

This time I leave carrying a quote that I stumbled on in the mother’s biography, “If you can always smile at life, life will always smile at you”.

It’s true. I should know. I have learned to live it over these last few days 🙂

Pondy Mothers House

Among the Christian institutions that received threats yesterday was the St Aloysius College. The threats state that cadres from different states are ready to attack them, besides 80 suicide bombers.

When I visited Mangalore for a wedding in the family a couple of months ago, one of the monuments that moved me with its haunting, ethereal, serene beauty was St Aloysius College. I remember thinking that the architectural style and scale was far superior to the monuments that I had seen in that great university town of Oxford.

It pains me that this 128 year old institution is under attack.

But, they say that a picture speaks more than a 1000 words. So, this one is for St Aloysius College, Mangalore.


And lest I seem alarmist, this one below was from Milagres Church, in the heart of town, and at the centre of the attack last Sunday. Not as striking as St Aloysius (it did not help that it was caught in the heat of the afternoon sun), but with a spiritual beauty of its own.

Finally, here is a glimpse from the wedding that took me to Mangalore in happier times. The next time I saw this church again was in a flash on television of hundreds of parishioners congregating to protect their churches.

I am not even Christian in my beliefs (though most fundamentalists wouldn’t know the difference – laugh!), and yet I find that looking at these pictures moves me to tears. For me, it is about the associations with those monuments and another way of being Indian that are destroyed when these monuments are attacked.

So, what about Manoj’s extended family and others who are Christian in their religious beliefs? How would these attacks that persist unchecked make them feel? I can’t even begin to imagine it.

With the Independence Day giving us a long weekend, a group of friends and I decided to take the rest of the week off and travel. Our destination was the Corbet National Park and Uttaranchal. (That also explains why I have been away for awhile.)

After a brief stop over at Delhi, our gang of girls were soon on our way to Corbett.

Enroute to Corbett
The drive from Delhi to Ramnagar takes you through Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal (now Uttarkhand) and the heart of small town North India.

Under the stifling windless heat of a dry monsoon day, we drove through intense traffic jams (that put Bangalore to shame) over dusty potholed roads that carried us over one ramshackle township after another.

Thanks to the monsoons, the path was also dotted with lush green fields along the way.

Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that there is nothing romantic or beautiful about poverty… And whither India shining???

In the midst of all of that, it was also fascinating to watch the evolution of India’s convoluted love affair with the English language. As we passed a village in Uttar Pradesh, where every shop had boards in Hindi, I noticed “The Good Fashion Shop” and the “Photo Stat Shop” …all written in Hindi 🙂

It didn’t stop there. On our way back, there was the invitation to learn English from Britain’s No 1 institute on a giant sized billboard. Once more, the slightly incongruous invitation was made in Hindi.

Also, along the way, was a glimpse of the Ganga flowing in majesty. Far away from the pollution of Varanasi, she remains a truly beautiful river. Powerful, yet serene.

I almost sensed the magnificent power and beauty that brought the ancients to their knees in mute reverence.

If only we could protect her from annihilation…

Corbett
The Corbett National Park is located off the sleepy little of Ramnagar, an eight hours drive away from Delhi. The interesting part about this reserve is that it’s named after Jim Corbett – not a conservationist, but a gentleman best known for exploits where he hunted the tiger.

We drove down to our resort, the Corbett Hideout, located at the outskirts of the forest. Standing off the banks of the River Kosi, it was built into the forest and had the ambience of an ancient British hunting lodge, giving me plenty of opportunity for some black & white photography.

The plan for our trip went like this…
Day 1 – Chill out time
Day 2 – The Safari, exploring the town
Day 3 – Nainital

So on Day 2, we were up at 3 am for our 5 am safari. As we got ready, there was the first evidence of a drizzle.

Oh no! Were we going to get rained out??? We called up the reception desk hurriedly. But, we were reassured, “Madam, baarish itna bhi to nahi ho raha hai”.

So, with a slight drizzle in the air, we set out at 5:30 am. We stopped at the Forest Officer’s office to pick up our guide, and we were then off. There were no “do’s and don’ts” in the wilds or anything like that… And on the whole, I came away from the experience with the impression that conservation was taken more seriously in South India.

Village hamlet followed village hamlet, and then we entered the forest. Dawn was still early, and the earth had the freshness of a lady who had reveled in a gurgling stream of fresh water, and then shaken the water off her hair.

Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the sanctuary rolled out ahead of us in lush green abundance. While we did not see a tiger, different kinds of deer, wild birds and peacocks were in abundance.

The peacocks were particularly eye catching, strutting on branches strewn amidst the rich green of the forest.

The path was often broken with rivers in spate, and only a sturdy jeep like ours could make it through.

As we looked at deer congregated at a distant water hole, for an instant it seemed like we were at the centre of the universe, and earth, water and sky met before us in the horizon.

It’s true that if you are in Corbett to spot a tiger, the best time to visit is during the summer. But, if you’d just like to simply experience the spectacular beauty of the terrain, there is no season like the monsoons.

Ramnagar
Since the time when Jim Corbett went hunting in this region, the town of Ramnagar has always existed.

With its location on the banks of the River Kosi, nestled amidst the hills, it is dotted with an abundance of nooks and corners of spectacular beauty. Yet, even as the Corbett National Park has grown in fame, development stands still at Ramnagar.

Worse still, people don’t seem to be thinking about entrepreneurship and commerce. The entire town had only two shops that had a very limited supply of Corbett curios!!!

Yet, as we left for Delhi on August 15th, we saw groups of school kids in procession chanting something as they walked through their town’s lanes and by lanes.

It’s then that we remembered that it was Independence Day.

We’d forgotten. But, they hadn’t. It’s true. The true heart of India lies in her villages.

Nainital
My first impression of Nainital was that of a typical North Indian hill station town. There were the typical narrow sloping roads, names of School that sounded like they were out of Enid Blyton and a Mall Road that had all the shops.

But Nainital also has a distinctive feature – its lakes. The Naini Lake, in particular, stands out. It springs up into view as soon as one enters the town, framed on one side by the Mall Road. On the other side, it edges into the green mountains, etching a stunning beautiful outline against the sky.

Also, unlike more popular hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital still has to be devastated by tourists. So here, at the Kumaon foothills, it’s still possible for the traveller to experience the beauty of the beginning of the outer Himalayas.

Delhi
Delhi was the place where we chilled out – before and after our travels. So we made our way into many narrow little gallis, shopping for pickles, sweets, wollens and chaat.

The interesting part of these shopping visits was to see how Delhi culture was now considered to be equivalent to Punjabi culture. The distinction that one had seen on earlier trips – where Delhi was a city of multiple cultures – had merged.

We also managed to catch Bachna Ae Haseeno at one of Delhi’s more recently developed malls. The strange about malls is that whether it’s Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore or Ahmedabad…all malls have an identical, almost factory manufactured experience. For some reason, all malls seem to be eyesores, with an inability to reflect the distinctive flavours of a city.

This time round, I also decided to do some photography in Delhi. So with the morning still young, I set out to photograph Qutub Minar and India Gate.

While I’ve visited both the structures as a tourist on multiple occasions in the past, I had never photographed them before. As I focused my lens on them for the first time, I truly experienced the beauty of the artist’s craftsmanship on sandstone.

And seen under the first light of dawn, on a misty Delhi morning, it’s out of this world.

Special mention
This trip would be incomplete without a special mention of our diver Vakil. Originally from Mathura, he combined the simplicity of small town India with the street smart aggressiveness demanded by big city Delhi.

He drove with the sole intention of breaking every other car in sight, often on the wrong side of the road. And in the one instance, where he succeeded in getting another car to ram into us. He emerged from the car, like a true Dilliwala, to beat the living daylights out of his fellow driver.

Vakil also had the interesting habit of fishing out a 500 rupee note a every toll gate (though he had plenty of change in his pocket). Daunted by the task of finding change on a busy day, the official at the toll gate invariably let him pass without a fee!

Yet, he was also the only one amongst us to stop and enter a wayside temple. He could also be trusted to be extremely punctual and to get us everywhere.

Vakil… An interesting study on how Delhi (or any big city) can take the Mathura out of you 🙂

More pics from the trips are here

A brief trip to Delhi brought along with it some random ramblings on urbanization. I write about it here only so that I may not forget… After all, being a traveler does give you a unique perspective and you notice details that could be missed by more accustomed eyes.

This was of course not the first time that I am visiting Delhi. I’ve been there often during the growing years. But, this was my first since 1999, which makes it close to a decade since I returned.

As the plane hovered over the city, for an instant there was the sense of a city planned, and then I saw it…A big black winding ghastly crater that seemed to wind from one end of the land to another and ended in one big gigantic oil spill. I was later told that this was the river Yamuna. Apparently, a huge drain runs across our capital city, collecting the city’s refuse, and then culminates in a dumping bed in the Yamuna. You just need to peep out of an airplane to realize its impact. When will India start taking pollution seriously? After all, if this is the condition of our national capital, it is slightly worrying to think of smaller cities.

Rambling on…

  • Pollution and loss of green cover is a national and global problem.
  • Global warming is closer than we think it is.
  • Everywhere, cars seem to be getting bigger and emptier. Correspondingly, roads seem to have less space.
  • Traffic is easier to control in places where traffic is uniform – ie, people drive similar types of vehicles (cars, bikes, buses).
  • Traffic is difficult to control in places where people do not respect the law.
  • Buildings in emerging parts of the developing world seem to be getting taller, more similar and glassier.
  • There are certain parts of the country and world, which for historical reasons, will always be cold and crude.
  • There are certain cities in India that will always be more difficult than others for a woman travelling on her own, unless we truly evolve as a nation.

As you can guess, Delhi still does not come out with flying colours in my assessment of what a capital city should be :). I would be happy not to have visit again as well (with due apologies to my good friend N, if he does read this).

Unfortunately, that is not to be. In all probability, two repeat visits that have already been scheduled, will make Delhi my most visited city of 2008. Aah… The ironies of life 🙂

It’s a great thing to meet people who are living out their dreams. So it was on the weekend to Coorg.

We camped at S’s coffee estate in the middle of nowhere. We first caught site of her, a distant trouser clad figure, as we trooped towards our campsite at the slightly outlandish hour of six in the morning.

“Hi”, she said, with a smile. The warmth of her greeting immediately making us feel at home.

S is a young IT professional, working with an MNC out of White Field in Bangalore. But, she is back to her home in Coorg every weekend, working with her father to convert parts of their estate into a suitable camping ground for trekkers.

Once more it was nice to meet someone who did not just spend her time cribbing. Instead, she uses the opportunities offered by Bangalore to build a life of her choice. Rather than sitting back and moaning the loss of a way of life that has accompanied the Itification of Bangalore, she was upholding all the things that were dear to her in another space.

It was also great to watch someone as young as S living out her dreams… And helping others to live theirs too.

S wasn’t the only person on this trek who was living out her dreams. There were others too.

“What do you?” I asked HN. “Nothing”, he told me too.

Sometimes, it’s nice to meet people who are doing “nothing” and not terrified by it.

Then, there was also RPN who had just quit her job to do what she really wanted to do.

It’s not everyday that you meet a person who can so openly admit that she is in the wrong place, and also knows where she would rather be.

Then, of course there was S who runs the show at Getoff Ur Ass (the group that had organized the trek). At a time when Travel was an unfashionable choice, he decided that he would make a living by guiding groups of travellers through the wilds. It’s a career choice that is probably just paying off.

Finally, I also encountered a whole bunch of women (either married or single) who are completely uninhibited about travelling on their own. Whether it’s S, RPN, SP, JJ, N or RH… They must all rate among the spunkiest women that I know.

So, that pretty much sums up the trek to Coorg. While the last two outings with Getoff Ur Ass have been about the adventure and just being out in the wilds… This one was completely about the people.