Himalayan Heights !

the Bhaktapur valley

This blog is almost a becoming a travel blog of sorts ! Truth be told, travel inspires me like none else. New sights, people and cultures that are different than the ones that I am familiar with hold a certain intangible temptation that wafts in and stays put.

So much so, several readers write in to ask, if I travel for a living! How I wish. I am indebted to all those readers, for it is that precise question that helped in the hastening of the realisation that my writing flows with ease when I write on my travels. A certain sense of indefatigable urge to share of the places that are looked at with a new set of eyes and hoping perhaps that it could kindle a possible reader to set sights on a new land.

sunset beyond the wavy mountains

To cut all the blah aside, I have been traveling. Work, took me to Nepal. Spectacular sights awaited my packed schedule with such perfect imperfection, that it resulted in perhaps the heaviest sighs mankind has heard.

However, a couple of hours wrenched from nowhere, waking up when the clock struck three and it was still as dark as middle of the night, shivering in the cold, snatching the camera, sipping green tea with perfect strangers and clicking odd pictures brings you this post.

By now you would know, this post is a fact assortment interspersed with some pictures.
the sunrise at Nagarkot ( which deseves far more than a separate post dedicated to it)

Nepal is a rather unique country. For starters, if you are an Indian, you don’t need a passport. A voter ID is enough for the officer at immigrations to wave you in. A lovely country balanced with the most snarl prone roads that makes Mumbai appear juvenile. This snarl prone recklessness despite some outrageously obtuse pricing for cars ( A Santro, I am told costs 18 lakh Nepali Rupees).

They have a 15 minute time difference with India. 15 minutes! Longitudinally speaking I couldn’t piece it together, given that Bengal and Assam that are further to the East, yet maintain IST. But hey, they are a free country and have the freedom to do as their watches will.

If that wasn’t this wasn’t tall enough, well the next difference indeed was. The calendar that’s followed is called Bikram Samwat and by that standard, the current year is 2067 ! While you could be waving in 2011, the Nepal is in 2067 folks!

And the one statistic though that made me not just jump out of a chair, but shoot straight to the moon was that they have 550 + members of parliament. For a country of that size, i imagined having a 100 was a truckload. But i am no geo-politic expert that answers stray questions on national television and fair to say that the Nepalese have their own strong mind.

I must only hasten to submit though that all of the above are empty statistics. The facts that perhaps must hold your attention aren’t really the facts but pictures. Pictures of the great Himalayan peaks as they catch an unfamiliar crimson even while the plains that you stand in are yet to say hello to the sun. And such else.

There is one other ‘fact’ that will keep me going back to Nepal again for sure. (Not counting the fact that the missus has issued an ultimatum that the next trip will be in her grand company, which like every dutiful husband would do : has been agreed to).

That fact..yes the fact… is the people! Ah the people! Absolutely delightful and beautiful people! An accent that drips concern, oozes love coupled with a genuine warmth and that goes the extra mile to lessen the Himalayan chill.

It was enchanting. Plan a trip people. Pristine beauty guaranteed.

Ellora diary !

Straight to the point : The magnificence of Ellora must be seen to be experienced.

Just imagine carving a huge temple out of sheer rock and mountain. Built in the 5th / 6th century ! When there was no 3D animation, double certified architects, safety standards or hopeless bureaucracy in the name of standard operating procedures!

The Kailash Temple. With Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Double the size of the Greek Pantheons.
The entire structure was carved out of one rock. Top down. Over 5-6 generations.
Would you want more proof to believe that we have indeed regressed ?
The ‘Glory Post’. The solidity of the lines, the curves and the majesticity against the blue backdrop.
Indeed a glorious post !

The structure that was created back then, stands the test of time. Till date. There are so many photographs that sit in the confines of the hard disk that ‘a tough time selecting the ones to post’ is a statement reeking of modesty or falsehood or idiocy !

The Ramayana told in sculpted forms. Perhaps the earliest forerunners of cartoon channels !

Amazing is not the word ! What else would you say if the tourist guide almost had to nudge once in 5 minutes to close mouths. Mouths that often veered to a state of perpetual open mouthed gaze !

Buddha and the beauty of the carving ! Blood numbing !

A row of pillars. For decoration rather than support ! Decoration ! hmm !

Egyptian / Chinese images ! Thousands of years ago, the Chinese had landed ! Trade flourished.
How must life have been ?

Just imagine !

Imagine a temple like this 1500 years ago ! Imagine it being built over six generations. With the barest of the tools ! Picture it being revered. Think of it being vandalised by invaders galore. Visualise it being left to be a resting place for shepherds and other grazers to tie their cattle for a couple of centuries ! And then of course becoming a world heritage sight !

A pillar ! With carving.

Now of course tourists gather in hordes. Clicking snaps amidst endless chatter. Some of them loudly giving out their versions of history. Yet others sitting on the laps of ‘Gods’ for photographs on new digital cameras. Yet others running behind other foreign tourists.

A minority just staring in open mouthed awe. The caves don’t seem to care. They seem just grin and bear. They have done so for hundreds of centuries.

Its a must go place people. Aurangabad is a must visit city. Phew.

More coming.

Click power !

Have been away travelling. That explains the silence. Will catch up !

By the way, the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, offers some wonderful sights. Of great architecture. Today, we sit here watching a dozen weddings getting solemnised.

It doesn’t take long to realise that one breed seems to be calling all the shots. They seem to have more power than the high priests and the low grooms ! For everybody is acting at the call of the …….wedding photographer.

‘Slow’ he shouts. And everything slows down. ‘Once more’ he shouts. And dutifully the groom garlands all over again, to ensure that this moment is captured for posterity.

Today, the pillars of this ancient temple reverberates with their command. Add to that, the fact that each marriage seems to be sporting a couple of photographers. Well, you have divine commotion !

The typical scenes play out.

The groom garlands. The bride garlands. The in-laws garland. Suddenly everybody garlands. He clicks every sub event. Sometimes re-clicks sideshows that are carefully re-enacted !

Everybody who is somebody walks in with a gift and upon reaching the bride & groom, freeze like kids playing ‘statue’. Perhaps wanting to extend that moment much longer than the worth of the gift itself ! All captured on camera.

Such sundry stuff, is often punctuated with shooting ‘special effect’ shots. ‘Protait ‘ ( thats the prounciation) shot : Of just the bride. Just the groom. Just the bride and groom. Just the front. Just the back. Just the hands.

Presumably all to be remixed and rolled into a big fat album later with a fluorescent spiral binding, which will have images of the bride looking longingly from the grooms palm. And vice-verca. For sure.

Ofcourse, other yogic postures would be present as well. Like the groom feeding the bride. And the bride feeding the groom !

Sitting there, the mind races to wonder what goes on in the minds of such photographers at each wedding. These folks are privy to intimate moments that the bride and groom share, like feeding each other ! Of course, in the presence of everyone who has come there. Perhaps they compare mental notes….

Of the difference in saree colour. The bridal make up. The sullen faces. The dour groom. The relatives who gift and pose for eternity. The jewelery that makes the flash on the camera redundant.

Perhaps they compare the whiteness coefficient of bridal teeth. The rings on the grooms fingers and the kilos of gold that hang from the neck! Perhaps they think of the spice in the food and the length of the decoration.

‘Smile’ He says today. Actually, he thunders. With a start and sputter, the groom lets go a smile. A trifle terrified and knowing fully well, who is in charge !

Perhaps he gets the greatest kick in teaching the first lessons in obedience. To the groom (of course) !!

Ah ! That explains it ! Not too bad for a profession ! hmm.

Pune Residues

Pune. That was where the car nosed to. The reasons were simple and straightforward.

1. There were kind souls who offered to host. Providing us with bed, food and some love. There needn’t be any other reason.

2. Add in an expressway that’s smooth as silk at Rs.140/- one way, some scenic mountains and blue skies as freebies.

3. To that concoction throw in some ‘huge’ curiosity around Pune and it being spoken of as the ‘culture capital of Maharashtra’ and the like.

4. To that solution, sprinkle some details about the awesome weather.

5. If all that were not enough, look at the long weekend and spending time between fixing a broken computer and a run down body frame !

Of we went. To Pune. And loved every minute of it. And here is the first residue. Residual feelings ! More will follow.

At first look, Pune seems to be kneaded with the fingers of history and baked in the kiln of culture.

The Aga Khan palace stands in majestic stately grandeur, that almost obscures the pieces of history that it holds. Facts of it being a quasi prison for Mahatma Gandhi and the place where he lost his wife gives it a different coat.

Goosebumps pop at frequency of popcorn in a microwave oven, to stand in the very room that must have seen all these events unfold and think of those times. Kastur Ba’s samadhi right there.

Shaniwarwada is the other structure. Magnificent opulence from the 17th century. A building of great magnificence has to be imagined, for whats left is just the periphery wall and and a towering gate !

Its not too difficult for the imagination though. If the ‘compound wall’ is this opulent, the building must sure have been something. To look down at the modern day buses and city bustle through traditional arches was something indeed. And yes. Make no mistake. Look down it is !

The sights of the living times are no less awing. This White tiger at the zoo. Majestic in the stride and magnificent in elegance. Emerging from the undergrowth and just standing there, as the pictures clicked. Imposing in the posing. Moving away with an air that will get a bollywood star give her entire nose for. Plastic surgery and all included.

The essence of our love, seems to course in the city’s living. A city that is soothing yet burgeoning. Where, the divide between the yesteryears and the present day visible by the starkness of the difference. Yet, invisible by their seamless merger.

Its a city where tradition doesnt rub shoulders with modernity, but is infact the other shoulder ! Oh yes. Its a city where people are kind and the kinds that are ‘people’, well, very frequent !

We fell in love with the city. Chomping on what ‘German Bakery’ had to offer. Contrasting it only with Maharashtrian thali. Rounding it off with brun-maska, chai and Shrewsbery biscuits.

But there sure is more. Thats the feeling that permeates. Thats the flavour of the residue.

There definitely is more. A certain indescribable portion of the city that is seen, yet hidden. That seems easily describable yet remains elusive. Perhaps it is do with the understatedness in its existence. Perhaps it is do with a way of life that is free of hurried frenzy. Perhaps it is do with its people : gentle and mannered.

Or perhaps it is because of a certain beauty in its midst. The city that is ! The women are covered.

Perhaps protecting the perfect complection and their texture of their tresses, the missus avers. The helmets seem missing though.

More will be figured. Hopefully. For the car will be headed in that direction. There is much to discover. Pune is plain awesome, you see.

Crazy in Daman !

The entrance to the fort

We got to Daman.

Planned as a weekend night away, we drove into Daman. And got to Moti Daman fort. And asked a chap who vends ice cream, what Daman was famous for. We have always stopped to ask such questions to ordinary folk, and the answers are usually very incisive. And far apart from what tourist guides tell you.

And so we ask this gentleman again. He looks up from what he was doing, and says without a flicker of his eye, ‘Booze. What else. The low taxes means booze is dirt cheap. There is NOTHING else here. NOTHING else”. He thunders. With special Spielberg sound effects on on ‘Nothing’ !

I smile. I am genuinely amused.

There we are. Standing within the precincts of the Moti Daman fort. A fort built by the Portugese, some 400 odd years ago. Yes, 400 odd years ago. Almost the time when Columbus was discovering America. And here it was, still standing. In its majestic splendour.

A view of the fort, the river, the sea and the old lighthouse

A gateway that leads to the boat jetty

Lighthouse. Arches. Columns. Doors. Chapels. Pews. Prisons. Municipal office. And the precincts of the fort. Standing, as it seems, almost in fierce defiance of the Arabian sea and whatever that lies beyond. The fort itself houses this church built in 1603 AD ! And its such a fabulous sight. The camera cant quite tell the complete picture.

The Church of Bom Jesus

Imagination wanders on how life would have been here. 400 years ago. What it must have taken to build a fort, with relatively sparse technology in a foreign land. Kissing sea, river and land.

And to do all this, after sailing the high seas from Europe. There sure must have been something that coursed the veins of those people.

I have my hands on my hips and and smile at this chap. Who tells me that there is nothing but booze here. Standing right here in this fort. And silently mutter ‘you must be crazy’ !

Back in Mumbai. I talk to friends. About the the Moti Daman fort. They listen. As my excitement reaches a crescendo, one of them waves me to stop. And says, “you went all the way to Daman. To look at some fort. And not touch the booze”.

And as i look at him. He smiles. And says. “You must be friggin crazy !”

The yesteryear lighthouse atop the fort

Whizz Theory !

There. I stand close to the door of the train. There is one another gent standing right at the door. A polite request to have some more space to click a few snaps has just been met with a stern silence and a sterner look.
‘What audacity to ask. I came here, first’. The look seems to suggest.

The sun beats down the other side of the train. I keep this door open. And I stay here.

And watch. As everything whizzes by. Everybody whizzes by. Women walking to work. Men lazing around. And the other way. White fences of the Indian railways. An old man standing by a puddle.

Ducks going about whatever they do in water. Still lakes. Lakes that were. Stiller mountains. Far away songs. A revving engine. Old men beneath coconut trees. Children in the green fields. Barren lands. All of them whizz by.

An ‘Abandoned’ railway shed. Fences. Platforms. Station masters. Pictures of Laloo Prasad and a few others. Some green and red flag holding gent. All of them whizz by.

Everything whizzes by. In super speed. I keep clicking.

I wonder at the speed at which life whizzes by. And then, it strikes me. Actually, everything else stays. Its actually the train that i am in, whizzing by ! All else stays put. And just because i am on something that whizzes by, i think of all else as whizzing by !

‘Can this be some grand theory ?’ I wonder. ‘At least a corollary or whatever they call it?’ As i keep clicking. ‘Whizz theory’ I tell myself.. Or may be ‘the theory of the moving train!’

From somewhere, the missus turns up. She has just had her tea. She sights the camera in hand. “you are at it. Already?’

All other thoughts including the whizz theory whizz away! ‘hmm’ I say.

‘Whats on your mind’ she says.

And i think of the Whizz theory. I look at the watch. Its not even 7.00 am. Its way too early to start the day on that note. And tell her….

‘ Actually, i think hmm… actually, you know, i wonder why would the railways want to differentiate by more than 50 % between taking a bath and…’ as i click this picture.

She sees the writing on the wall! Face palms. And gets started. About me. My mind. About water. About conservation. About men. And habits.

I wonder where the conversation would have gone if i had started out with my whizz theory. I know for sure it would have gone somewhere.

I wonder..I wonder what i would do without her.

Drives. Part – II

Read Part – I here

Its morning. Meenakshi temple at Madurai. We stand outside in the queue. There is a puja on, inside. And we are in the queue. And i watch this man, with a giant ‘fan’ made of peacock feathers.

With one sweeping movement of his old frail hands holding the giant fan, he directs some still air onto sweat drenched devotees.

Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Everybody. For a brief, a very brief moment, are comforted with that muscle powered gust. And i watch. As i have been watching him ever since i was a small kid.

His frail frame gives away the fact that he has kept at ‘fanning’ for a long time. And he keeps at it. Even when nobody was watching. Even when nobody specifically asked for it. His body is frailer. The man himself has become older. The fan, though, with peacock feathers et al is the same.

What must drive the likes of this old man? I don’t know. He doesn’t give a clue.

Its another morning. Madurai. And i walk by this sugarcane juice machine. Its too early for the familiar sugarcane juice vendor. But he will be in. Soon.

To stow in the sugarcane, and give that wheel a strong twist, arching every sinew and causing his biceps to bulge. And of course, some there would be some fresh juice for thirsty throats ! My brother has been a regular here. For 20 plus years.

Ever since the price of sugarcane juice was Re. 1/-. In 20 odd years, the price of sugarcane juice has moved by all of 6 rupees. And the chap is still at it. At the same roadside. Sugarcane. With the same Wheel. And all.

He gives you a good glass full. His glasses are clean. He does not overcharge. He adds that dash of ginger and cuts open those giant ice cubes. To be just right for the juice that you are drinking. Every single time, with a perfection of a 6 sigma factory ! For 20 plus years. Modern day corporate world will dub him strange names.

Thats immaterial. For he is a happy man.

What is material to this post is this : What drives this man? I don’t know. The wheel doesn’t give a clue.

And then these last lines on the memorial rush back to the mind. ‘his love of justice and his kindly heart endeared him to all classes of the community. and thus he bore without abuse, the grand old name of Gentleman’.

There is an elegance in a pioneers work. And theres another elegance in the lives of ordinary men and women. Who go about living this ‘one life’.

And i think. Of that giant peacock fan. And that wheel. And wonder. About life. People. Men. And their drives.

Horses For Courses

Vijay Mallya will be a happy man today. A passerby said. And i would have wondered who this blok is, who understand who or what will make Vijay Mallya happy. But not today. For we were at the Race course.

A couple of weeks back, we went to the Race Course. The Mahalakshmi Race Course in Mumbai. And no, not yet. I am not interested in that kind of jackpot. For it was curiosity and a persistent fitness conscious friend that took me there. Upon reaching there i was told that it was Derby day that day. And activities would commence in the evening !

We went early in the morning. As he sweated out, jogging and working out, i walked around. Looking at the majestic horses, their canter, gallops and neighs. And of course, the jockeys.

And of course, early morning, fitness conscious men and women. Running, jogging, walking, chatting and generally, adding a different dimension to the horse filled arena ! Here are some pictures.

I haven’t stopped wondering the strange highs that men get. Out of seeing animals race each other. For i stood there, and watched many of those horses gallop by. The sheer majesticity was fulfilling. But quite obviously, the likes of Vijay Mallya don’t share my sentiment. That is why they are where they are. And that is also why this blog goes on.

To top it up, there was Melba toast and Cardamon tea from the restaurant there ! The restaurant called ‘Gallops’ ! The members get to sit and talk about the horses in an aristocratic enclave. I am told that the fancy hats that members and their companions sport are a real attraction !

I touched my head and felt the balding plate. And went for the Melba toast & tea. Sitting in what seemed to be the backyard !

Hey who cares. The horses had the first right. All else were secondary here. I would like to imagine, ‘Vijay Mallya included’. For some reason, “all animals are equal some are more equal ” resonated differently.

The next morning, i read that Vijay Mallya went back a not so happy man. I wonder how his horse felt.

Madurai Malli !

clicked outside Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Ok. All those wonderful ladies who asked me to post pictures from Madurai, this post is especially for you !! It would be a error of judgment if i put in four -five posts on Madurai and didn’t get the flowers in ! Madurai Malli ( Malli = Jasmine )

Yes. The legendary Jasmine flowers from Madurai are world famous. I would give two hoots and a half to ‘world famous’. I would give the world to the wonderful and distinct aroma that the Madurai Jasmine permeates.

clicked outside Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

My dad published a book on flower marketing. That was downright confusing. Flowers meant those white nice smelling thing in baskets, and endless bargaining over a few paise!

Of course, there was a wonderful aroma in the air when the flowers were around…but a book was way too much ! Years later, i realised that Jasmine exported world over from Madurai is quite something indeed.

The flowers that you see in Madurai are so neatly knit and so tightly knit too. There just is no space in between two flowers ! Such a contrast from many other parts of the country where there is so much space between two flowers, that if it were a border between India and Pakistan, we would be at war with each other every day !

clicked outside Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Wearing flowers on a daily basis is a very daily thing for women in Tamil heartland ! In certain parts of India, i am told that this is not the practice. But hey, numerous tamil films have indoctrinated in us that to demonstrate love, you give your lady love :Jasmine flowers. Roses were very western !

clicked at a wedding in Madurai
And ah, the very many patterns & designs that such flowers take on the head, that indeed is something! That’s supposed to leave an impact on the eye, after the nose was taken in by the aroma !

For some reason, this post reads like a documentary ! I have scratched my head enough. But today, thinking of the Jasmine aroma… my mind doesn’t work. The fingers seem to have glue coursing in them. So, i leave it that !

Phew ! What a disgrace. To documentaries ! And of course to flowers !

Triple C Dawn !

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.

In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.

The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;

But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.

Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

The snap is mine. Clicked on Eastern Express Highway, Mumbai. The content is written by Kalidasa. Copied and posted shamelessly.

Well, each line made me relive a peaceful and serene dawn on a drive. And my very thinking of that sereneness made a difference to my today ! And prompted me to post.