Travel Tales

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Wheels within wheels

Of the several inflection points in the evolution of man, the invention of the wheel has occupied a place of prominence that is unrivaled   Wheels have powered mankind’s evolution. Wheels within wheels have taken it to a different level. For now, we’ll stick to wheels!  

 
The wheel, once upon a time it was plain functional. It lent itself well for the making of pots and utensils or for a slightly more glamorous utilitarian attachment to carts, wagons et al for transport. 
 
Wikipedia will lead you to the information that it wasn’t until 1839 that someone thought of ‘balance’ and invented the bicycle. God bless his soul.  Man obviously didn’t stop with bicycle and two wheels. While four wheels have become de rigueur in most urban homes, the ordinary man on the street has to be content with a couple of wheels less. Or atleast one less! 
 
This post celebrates the ‘cycle’ in India! 
 
There can be no instrument that is as grossly under rated as this humble piece of engineering! We could put a man on the moon, but to an average Indian, we would have truly arrived on any planet only when a bicycle ride is possible. 
 
Around the world, the bicycle is synonymous with calorie burning or as contraption to save the planet. For many in India and other nations though, it is a basic means to livelihood. Here are a few examples.  



 

Ask the laundry guy. The clothes of an entire neighbourhood (which can get as big as a small country), gets rolled into bigger bed sheets, and carefully bundled on to become big lumps that helped balance. Taken for a wash and a press.  An entire industry survives. A neighbourhood walks fresh and sprightly! 

 




The rickshaw and the tricycle continue to be lynchpins in transporting people in many parts of rural India. The power of bulging human calfs, heaving biceps and ballooning invisible lungs doing the work that infinitely more powerful inanimate engines do around the world.  



While this can seem to be all romantic and such else, the bicycles last mile connect to the business world can be missed only at the cost of being comfortable with the idea that this blog is operating beyond the outer limits of its mental capabilities. 

The refills, the trips for money collections, the market visits to the local corner store, all happen more often than not on a bicycle. Equipped with specially designed carry cases that could teach design studios a thing or two about innovation. 


The list is long. Newspaper delivery. Cooking Gas. Courier services. Groceries. And so on.  The bicycle has often proven that putting all eggs into one carrier is often not a bad idea, but a necessary pre-requisite for business. 

Stories abound about how bicycles have been used for generating electricity to the Mysore palace  and similar stories that would flare your ears and stretch your imagination when you try answering the question : ‘What else?”

 

News when nestled within the columns of a newspaper take a different shape and hue when something similar is spotted in real life. For instance, a bicycle that can transport and help sharpen knives when stationary. A contraption that comes alive by pedaling a stationary bicycle thereby getting a different stone wheel to rotate! Which sharpens knives!  
 
Wheels within wheels and sharpening of knives could well sound like tales of palace intrigue and politics. But if this ingenuity and spirit of making it possible, shapes our lives, our collective futures will take to a different height by a factor that can be too high to compute.

The Great Indian Thali !

There are many things unique about India. Amongst the chief elements is the variety of the food palette that can cater to every single pore on your tongue. 

With the coming of the McDonalds, KFCs, Pizza stores and a variety of others the degree of standardization across the country is no joke! The walls are of the same hue. The uniforms are of the same colour. Even how they greet you is scripted. So much so, if you have been regular at a particular fast food chains outlet, you would exactly know what they are going to say next !  So much for ‘standardization of user experience’.

But ofcourse, you go to a junk food joint ( ok, fast food joint ) to fill the stomach. If there is an itch to satiate a travel bug, well, you eat only partly to fill stomach.  The other portion is to soak up a culture and fill the soul.

Take for instance the Thali. The great Indian Thali, is different in different places.  Its called the Thali and is an assortment of permutations and combinations of main courses and side dishes that will kick up an awesome taste that lasts far beyond the big burp at the end of the meal.

For instance, a Gujarati Thali is served in what seems like a necklace of small containers  which sit inside a large plate, with some space for ghee laden rotis and rice are a part of Gujarati Thali.  

Before

During

After 

The refills for every container will keep flowing endlessly.

I swear, I have wiped off every morsel much to the embarrassment of the missus and anyone else that eats alongside.  


A trip down south to Tamil Nadu will get you a very different version of a Thali. On a banana leaf. All partitions need to be created by the one who eats.

‘When good food is gorged down, of what use is a partition’ ! That was a good friends mom, when, I asked her for a bowl to house my payasam !

Such delights!  

The after effects can be good sidestory though. That warrants a separate blogpost.  

Wah Taj !

Many call emperor Shah Jahan a mad man. To have built such wonderous a monument like the Taj.  And I would agree.  Not only did he build such a monument of magnificence, for several years he has had families like mine, visiting this place in the dead heat of summer!

And still left shaking their heads with disbelief at the scale, splendour and the sheer magnificence of the place.  The fact that it is still standing after some 380 odd years ( and earrning money for the government and many others, is another aspect altogether). 

His love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal and her death (while bearing his 14th child) brought him to build this monument.  As far as I can recall, my history books didn’t talk of his post Mumtaz marriages. But apparently he did and was still a disappointed man. 

Bollywood, tollywood, kollywood and such other ‘woods’ have woven the mystique of love into countless songs . Poets have sighed over its splendour while crafting wily lines of love, longing and such else.  

Presidents of the world, some of them after signing arms deals with the government, have had photographs of themselves and their companions taken at the Taj. Striking poignant poses , sitting on whats come to be known as ‘Lady Di’s chair’ named after Princess Diana ( sitting alone) !


Our guide told us of Shah Jehans plans to build a replica of the Taj adjacent to the current one, in black marble. He told us as though the Mughal emperor had summoned him to his private chambers and whispered his desire in his ear.   


Going on to narrate a story of Aurangazebs cruelty and Shah Jehan’s forlorn lost last days.  It was happening in real time : melodrama spiking history big time in present continuous tense ! 

I digress. 

The Taj itself is a fantastic monument. We visited in blinding daylight. The moonlit Taj we were told was far more resplendent.  As an afterthought, it was mentioned, the fees for moonlit viewing were different

Obviously it’s a ‘must see’. It’s a place teeming with security and a global melting pot of people. All trudging in to see the’ monument of love’.  

Every visitor has lasting memories of this place. Every visit has left me with a memory or two. This one was when about half a dozen people at varying lengths in time, walked upto me, seeing the camera, the camera bag et al, and asked, ‘how much do you charge for a photograph’.

I seem to have arrived as a photographer. At the Taj ! 🙂
   

India Gate

Familiarity breeds contempt. In people. And in places too. Often times, it is only when someone new talks in awe about a place that is seen or talked about daily, there is a pause to ponder ! 
India Gate was one such experience for me. 



The streets of India are paved with many thousands of years of history. Worth their weight in gold. ( Perhaps thats one good reason as to why the streets are so often dug up. Ok thats a joke that didnt take of. Please ignore). 


Delhi especially so, oozes history through its pores !  


Having seen India Gate as a standard fixture on TV, whenever any reference to New Delhi was made, it was only natural to approach it as yet another of those ‘fixtures’ to be seen. 


On a Sunday evening, it can be particularly busy. With ice cream vendors competing with trinket peddlers who were arguing with sellers of maps who were attempting to be louder than some other set of people. 


Amidst all this din, the muscular arches of India Gate stood gritty and steady. With enough light and just about some space amidst all the jostle to get a click or two in. 


Heres some history that Wikipedia threw at me. Post the visit. Which I obviously wished I had read up before I went there. In anycase, you can read it here


It commemorates 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost the life fighting for the British Raj in many battles in distant lands during the times of the World War 1. Since independence it has become the Indian Army’s ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’.


Quite obviously, when any famous dignitary, turns up, he or she places wreaths here. Even if they have come in for signing an arms deal. 


The inverted rifle & the soldiers helmet, the three services represented by their flags and the eternal flame thats on, can perhaps be a solemn sight. But on a Sunday night, I wonder significance of such a monument, melts in the frenzy of lapping up one more ice-cream ! 


Right in front of India Gate is a canopy which originally housed King George V’s statue. After independence the statue was suitably accommodated elsewhere and the canopy now lends itself well to the camera. 


First you fight wars. Then splendid monuments are erected to remember those that died in wars. And then on Sunday nights, people come to such monuments and have ice cream. 


How does just going about building monuments and feeding ice cream, without any war, sound to you ? 


R for Rashtrapati

Pre monsoon showers have been lashing against the window sill.  The green tea that was simmering hot has now gone seething cold. I have been lost in thought.  An assortment of odd words on the computer screen is the only other evidence of time that has run away. 

Having just returned from Delhi last week, I began typing about Delhi and its accouterments and my thoughts have strayed. Fantastic architecture, fabulous people, frayed tempers, streets paved with history, the multitude of red beacon lead cars indicating its stature as the Capital of India !  











For purposes of beginning all over again, I choose a topic that has been on all news channels and probably on most of India’s mind as well : Rashtrapati http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/anti-fungal/ Bhavan. 


Before you rush to think that this is one more commentary on the Presidential Poll or Mulayam Singhs wrestling skills or Pranab Mukherjhee’s success as a Finance Minister or for that matter of his sister, well, let me disappoint you. ( Or give you some ‘relief’, depending on how much TV you’ve been watching) 

This is about a piece of real estate that goes by the name of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

It was Sunday evening. Last Sunday evening. 

When a motley crew of visitors kept moving at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Clicking  pictures. Most of them were tourists like us. The babble of different languages from different parts of the country was only matched by the steady solid bearing of metal in the gates and the vapid look on the faces of the gaurds!

For many of the tourists like me, it was the sheer scale of the grandeur of Rashtrapati Bhavan that perhaps brought meaning to the monumental sparring that’s on to get there.  You cant blame us. Used to figuring out a living in 2-BHK / 3-BHK, running to the bank to check the status of EMIs and such else, seeing this opulence is bound to get anybody unsettled. 






“You mean, she lives here. This is her house?  What a luck ‘lady’”.  That was a young man telling his friend in chaste English.  [Disclosure : Suitable modifications have been made to delectable adjectives used ]  And so on. You get the drift don’t you. 

It may be different in reality. Or maybe not. But on that summer evening, it was apparent that the post of the President of the country was best understood through the lens of real estate.   

A quick look up of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wikipedia will tell you that its got 360 rooms and sprawls over 4000 acres. Over 300 families were evicted in Raisina and Malcha villages between 1911 and 1916 for its construction!  It took some 19 odd years to build and has some Its opulence was so mind blowing that C Rajagopalachari, the first india Governor General chose to live in the ‘Guest Wing’ and subsequent Indian presidents are supposed to have done the same. 

Ofcourse, the opulence will come along with ‘gardens’, ‘horses’ and a vast horde of staff that must serve the President. One look at building will convince anybody that a small economy can run with the expenditure that’s required to finance the day-to-day maintenance of the building.  

Oh. Economy & finance did I say? 

Zoning in !

“You can never zone out” here, she shrieked.

While in the US, it was a treat to be on the road. Almost everybody observed traffic signals. Their economy may be growing at 2-4% but the traffic signals work. In true American style the minimum gap between vehicles in the USA, would seem like the distance between Sun and Saturn for the average Mumbai motorist.



Although I was there in American soil for only a few weeks, I can hold court like a well entrenched native with impunity, especially if the topic was a comparative narrative on the difference between driving in Mumbai and driving over there.

So, this friend from the USA, sat next to me as I drove, on roads that sported less than normal traffic on that particular day. Within five minutes of her first ride on Indian roads, I saw her hands shiver. In the seventh minute beads of sweat began to appear. In the eight minute, from the corner of my eye, I saw her hold on to the inside of the door handle. In eight and a half, her face was buried in her palms.

It was obvious it was about the road. For my hands were firmly on the wheel and I hadn’t spoken a word, other than professional conversation. My mind was racing at a faster speed than the motorbike that held an aunty, uncle and two kids that hung out of the bike rather precariously, and were looking into the window.

Obviously a ‘phoren’ woman, face buried in her hands with a chap that sported furtive looks can be fertile feeding ground even for the dull variety. All four of them were peering into the car, waiting for action.

In a brief while, it was but obvious, that every eye atop any moving object on Western Express Highway was trained on our car. Not wanting to run the risk of being featured on some news starved news channel with a silly ‘breaking news’, I pulled over. And hesitatingly asked my friend if everything was ok?!?

‘The cars are coming too close here’. She said. In some sense, I was relieved that she didn’t get to see the aunty+Uncle + one kid + another kid precariously http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/arthritis/ hanging, all peering into the car. I was certain she wouldn’t have seen a circus act of that order!

We struck a deal. I would keep the car to the extreme left, that would come close to eliminate the possibility of a Ferrari hopeful overtaking on the left. Where she was sitting. After all of this, she offered “I’ll keep my eyes closed”. An offer, that was readily and graciously accepted.

Peace returned. She turned blind. I steered through what was ‘sub-normal’ traffic. Until we came across, a case of a ‘mild’ traffic jam. She opened her eyes, squirmed in her seat, but was far more comfortable than before.



After some agnonising moments, we discovered the root cause. A broken down truck, laden with steel rods. Sprouting a few twigs amidst all the steel. The twigs, any average Indian motorist would know, is a sign that warns other motorists of a broken down vehicle!

She went from ‘awe’ to ‘open-mouthed awe’ to ‘insanely open mouthed awe’ to ‘shaking heads in disbelief insanely open mouthed awe’.

Where in the world did we think of tying up a twig and a clutch of leaves onto a vehicle that had a breakdown ! Whatever happened to ‘hazard lights’ and the ‘hazard triangle’ to warn other motorist. Questions fired in quick succession.

I replied calmly. It was simple. Common sensical. Isnt it. I wouldn’t expect twigs to sprout from a lorry loaded with steel rods. That is abnormal. An obvious implication that something is amiss here and therefore the vehicle is stationary.

So, the minute your car breaks down, you don’t run you battery down with hazard lights and such else. You just reach for the nearest twig or a clutch of leaves and append it to some part of your car that is visible to others.

Which left her in a state of mild sedation, occasionally mumbling about Indian innovation and such else. I presume its going to take her a while to recover.

Until then, ofcourse, if you are travelling to India, a vehicle sprouting twigs is not a symbolic protest about global warming or something. This is a different kind of a breakdown. Ok ?

walk on

Somewhere in Dec-Jan evey year, devotees of Lord Murugan ( a.k.a Karthikeya ) will walk to his abode in Palani and several other places in Tamil Nadu.

Although that sounds like a sleepy airy walk in the park, it isn’t so. It actually translates to several days of walking 30 odd kilometers daily.

It is the annual pilgrimage. Walking with their bare feet carousing the tar of hot roads, on which see some reinforced steel radials with hot speeds, more often than not. They walk. Carrying their belongings and all else that they would require on the journey atop their heads or slung across their shoulders

Unmindful of approaching traffic that could consist of whizzing buses or wheezing bullet carts, they walk. They are easy to spot. Dressed in a radiant yellow or an ensemble of green, roads in rural TN close to the foothills of Palani see them walk on.


I am told that they walk early in the morning. And late in the evening. Together making for almost 30 KM every day. They chant the holy name of Lord Karthikeya. And walk on.

The same happens in Maharashtra chanting the name of Sai Baba.

In Kerela they walk in the name of Lord Aiyappa.

The Amarnath Yatra up in the Himalayas.

And so we walk in the name of every God that we call out to. Mother Mary. Allah. Krishna. Shiva. Buddha. Mahavir. And ofcourse, Karthikeya. All over the country. And around the world too.

We walk many many miles over many many days. In penance. In celebration. In thanks or asking for something dear. I presume all the time that the mind is active while the legs plough on will provide for some reflection and reordering of thoughts. As well.

And so we walk on. For many miles over many days. In a strange quest for discovering love. Compassion. Peace. And well being.

Incase you cant imagine doing this with this level of an intensity, here is a suggestion. The battery of good Lords will agree, we have traversed an almost similar distance when we walk half way down the street and smile at our neighbour, help someone, do our duties with diligence and spread some cheer.

Walk on people. Walk with hope. Walk with joy. Walk with belief that life can and will be better for all of us.

By the way, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. All doctors. Walk on.

Life has to go on !


This is Peddar Road. A road on which I frequent more for running than for anything else. Once a week, and this road and its incline is a nemesis of sorts for inept runners like me. A Sunday morning on this road, looks like this.

On weekdays, this road holds more wheels than legs. Definitely more expensive wheels than most districts of Mumbai. Quite naturally, there are innumerable number of hours that you could be forced to spend stuck in a signal. Not knowing what else to do, but for twiddling your thumb and swearing at how ineffective our governments are and how fundamentally vacuous our democracy is.

The government has been proposing a construction of a flyover. Eminent residents living the area have resisted this. For a number of reasons that must be patently obvious to them, but cant seem to make sense to the rest of Mumbai, let alone the rest of the word.

So we see a logjam. Everyday, cars pile up. Inconceivable number of motorists hurl the choicest of abuses. Ofcourse, I don’t know for sure. But given the propensity of several motorists to heap abuse for anything starting from following traffic lights when no one is around, this is more than just probable.

Now its become a political issue. With parties taking a stance for or against. No one wants to give an inch. Life goes on.

——-



Somewhere in rural Maharashtra. One of the roadside stalls had this to offer. Now, red guava is a personal favourite. Naturally, the foot came off the accelerator and the car came to an instantaneous magical halt.

Drooling with vivid pictures in the mind of red guavas, we went in and chose a few guavas.

Only to find just a while later, just as the teeth were sinking into what looked like one heck of a luscious red guava, that it wasn’t red inside after all.

The vendor, without bating an eyelid, informs that the ‘red’ in the ‘red gauvas’ kept on display were ‘painted’ guavas. The only guavas he had were all white !

I am livid. I ask him if he is right in doing this. He shrugs his shoulders and says, ‘Life has to go on sir’!

——-



Theres this store in the corner. Which sells short eats through a window. It was a village sometime back. Now, it’s a well respected suburb of big city Mumbai. In the neighborhood tall buildings scrape clouds. Cars zip in and out of the building and life reeks of a certain ‘busy’ness.

Amidst all this hustle bustle, somehow, this store has survived.

The genial Maharastrian gentleman who runs this store, is usually very warm and receptive. So is he today. He smiles at me and asks ‘2 packs’ ? I smile and nod. Two packs of chewing gum get placed on a bottle.

There is no one today. So I chat up. What does he think of Foreign Direct Investment in Retail I ask. Filled with the usual city-dweller arrogance perhaps, half thinking the old man that he is, there isn’t going to be any answer. Leave alone, a cogent one.

‘Let them come sir’. He says. ‘

They can never be me. I can never be them. We all have our roles’.

With a pause and a smile he says, ‘Life has to go on’ !


Have a lovely week ahead people !

Poovar in pictures


River commerce

The closest I had come to this word was an ‘actuary’. The actuaries that I knew were brilliant folks working on subjects which only they and their ilk could comprehend. I mean, I didn’t understand much of what they did and consequently was perpetually perplexed at the big bucks that they were rumoured to take home at the end of every month.

But this was called an ‘Estuary’. An estuary, I learnt, is an area where there is inflow of both river and sea water. In Poovar, the river Neyyar flows freely. Beyond which is a strip of beach. Beyond which is the mighty Arabian sea !

It was sight to savour. Ofcourse, it is not so often that the only avenue of commute to a place that I stay in, is by boat ! Nor do I come across such verdant green interspersed with fervent blue of a quiet river bordered by clean yellow sand holding a restive sea at bay !


Floating cottages on a river. Do you see the wisp of a beach afar ?



‘Floating cottages’ that are moored to land, that get mildly rocked by ripples from every passing boat. A mild sort of a rocking, that could make you think of a giant rocking chair !

Ripples in the river


faraway fishermen, pulling their net from the Arabian sea, while their shadows dance in the river

The scene and surrounding gives many an opportunity for picture postcards clicks. These obviously aren’t the best of pictures. The professionals were at it. These were the best I could manage.


boat jetty

Of the several places that were there, the boat jetty was the picturesque. In my humble opinion. Regular readers perhaps notice that for some odd reason I find these transitory places very attractive. Railway stations. Airports. Bus stands. Now, boat jetties. Perhaps its got something to hop on and hop off.


This place is, as a colleague put it, “is ‘infested’ with honey mooners!” I recall a couple which kept staring at me. They would, wouldn’t they. Who wouldn’t. If they see a madcap photographing the bench at the boat jetty for half an hour!

For all you may care, they wouldn’t have noticed me nor the boat jetty nor the river beyond, the Arabian sea or whatever. For they were absorbed in each other. Rightfully so. I think.


All that is besides the point. If you need some peace and quiet, well, head to Poovar. Its a small coastal place close to Thiruvananthapuram. If not for anything else, you’ll learn a new word : estuary !

I promise you, the word does not convey a fraction of the beauty the place holds.


Earlier post on this trip is here

K for…

Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera. This moment was one such.

Kalarippayattu. That’s an ancient martial art form of the south. Kerala to be specific. It’s a fetching sight to see these fighters with bodies of gymnasts move with such agility and panache. With just a dash of imagination and a sprinkling of a story, any onlooker could well imagine how revered and soakingly absorbing a duel would have been just a few hundred years ago.

Oh, not to say a modern duel isn’t a sight to stop, hold your breath and stare in semi open mouthed awe, long enough for a few large mosquitoes to conduct a few sorties down the alimentary canal. More often than not, such goose bump causing art forms remain in the obscure confines of the past.

A trip to Kerala and a stay in a hotel at ‘attractive prices per night’ (which would be equivalent to what your father would have paid to buy the entire property, when he was your age), usually throw in a cultural performance or two.

Even better when the Company that pays your salary also pays for the trip and the room, in the name of a conference, harbouring extravagant hopes that such investments will pay off. In such cases, a hotel gladly throwing in ‘exposure to culture’ performances is de rigueur.

Kalari quite a popular performance. There are jumps. Fights with bare hands. Sticks. Fire. And several else. These are new techniques for the coporate types who are used to used to one martial art form called ‘Powerpoint’. Which ofcourse comes loaded with ‘bullet’ points! If the bullets don’t get you, boredom will.

In such Kalari performances though, young men spar on stage. Synchronised movement, overflowing with synergy. With swords, shields, some kind of a flexible sword, sticks, daggers and such else, with seamless movement. Like in the snap above, a fire bush at the end of the a rope fastened to the chest is used as weapon. Artfully swinging and moving about.

The corporate types usually look half in awe. Cheer in slightly inebriated delusion. Bite into the chicken with new found gusto and take a few more swigs of whatever drink their hands reach out to.

The really skilled photographers amongst them find the perfect spot to click. Additionaly, the morose ones aim their cameras from different corners snaps, click vapid snaps and write blogposts beginning ‘Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera..’

Ofcourse there is the mandatory crowd of American tourists. Their skin standing out amongst the crowd and their hair standing out on their skin. Staring. If I were them, I would wonder what all this fuss with Kalarippayattu and sparring with swords and building bodies and muscles was about. When all it took was a walk down the store and buy a .32 magnum and blow the brains off every living form in the locality.

Incase you are yet to look up Kalari, here is the link.

Incase you still haven’t, it is a martial art form that’s been around for ages.It was banned by the British. At one point in history, it was as common as ‘reading and writing’ and everybody in society was proficient in it.

Incase you are still wondering, what brings this post up now, I am back from another trip to a place that I have been in love with for ages : Kerala. Ofcourse, more posts & pictures follow.

But, boy, am I pleased with this snap!