Red Hills, Blue Mountains…

This year we spent Easter weekend in the Blue Mountains in Ooty. The Nilgiris (Neel = blue, Giri = mountain) are part of the UNESCOย World Network of Biosphere Reservesย and a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since we moved down South. Don’t get you’re hopes up – I didn’t go trekking in the Mountains or discover a new species but I did have a wonderful time soaking up the atmosphere at Red Hills Nature Resort, nestled in the valley ๐Ÿ™‚

But first things first…getting to Ooty from Bangalore involvedย an 8-hour long drive during which we passed through two adjacent National Parks – Bandipur and Madumalai and negotiated 36 hairpin bends! Exhausting yet exciting ๐Ÿ™‚ especially when a mother Elephant with her baby charged us in Madumalai! That was awesomely scary ๐Ÿ˜› They were just off the road that runs through the park and we thought they were chained, just like the ones we’d seen in Bandipur. Boy were we wrong! There’s not much scarier than an angry Mama Jumbo I can tell ya! We were shaking and screaming but it was supercool! The cars that were headed in her direction stopped dead in their tracks while we speeded off. I wish we could have stayed to see what happened, coz she was right in the middle of that road – all Queen-like – when we left her, but we were too chicken to hang around ๐Ÿ˜›

After that exhilarating experience and the 36 bends up the mountain, followed by countless bumps on a mud trackย that passed for a road,ย we finally made it to Red Hills, tired and ravenous! It was worth every jolt ๐Ÿ˜‰ Lunch was great and there was fish which was a welcomeย happenstance ๐Ÿ™‚ When we were rested, we were able to take in the idyllic setting of this cozyย family-run resort. Flowers everywhere and birdsong, a cool breeze and stunning vistas of the Nilgiris and Emerald Lake…really…a small slice of Paradise right here on Earth. Add to the mix friendly fellow travellers, warm hosts and their extremely friendly and fun-loving pooches, 8-yr-old Moby, an ageing German Shepherd with the gentlest manner ever and playful puppy Mikah – a Golden Lab who stole our hearts – and you have the makings of a pretty special holiday ๐Ÿ˜€

I spent every moment I could bird-watching ๐Ÿ™‚ There were so many of them…Sparrows, Sunbirds, Shrikes, Bulbuls, Great Tits and my favourite – a flock of Oriental White-Eyes. I saw a few other brightly coloured birds fleetingly that I unfortunately could not identify and a lovely black one that I can’t either. The property is surrounded by tea plantations that belong to the owners and even has a little temple of it’s own next to the campsite. And the flowers…oh so many, oh so beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m no expert but I took pictures so you guys can exercise those ‘little grey cells’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

Now for the birds!

And now for the beautiful Blue Mountains, so called because they glisten blue in the morning mists ๐Ÿ™‚ I have no words to describe how stunning they are, how serene, how uplifting. The fact that beauty like this continues to exist on our Planet, despite us and our destructive ways, gives me hope, and reminds me of Nature’s tenacity. It’s a comforting thought. I drank in the beauty of those Mountains, etched them in my memory so that now, when I’m back in the bustle of the city, I can close my eyes and be transported in a magical instant. Like Narnia โค Whileย we were there, I watched the most stunning sunrises I’d ever seen! If every day began thus, all would be right with the World n’est pas? ๐Ÿ™‚

And so, after an idyllic 3 days, we returned to the chaos that is Home. I cannot wait to revisit and explore those mesmerising Mountains! Junior too is enamoured…more with Moby & Mikah than with them mountains I admit, but I’m not complaining. Hubby would still prefer a TV in the room (city boy that he is :P), but they do have wifi (works pretty well too), and even his urban soul cannot help but be moved in the presence of such awe-inspiring surroundings ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope it will be soon ๐Ÿ˜€

Lisbon – 10 Things!

This post is long overdue and as my friend Heather said, “It’s cruel to say you’re back and then not actually be back!” So without much further ado, let me tell you that this post is going to be largely pictorial coz my brain is still too scrambled for coherent thought ๐Ÿ˜› and because if I don’t get this down now, I fear I never will! So here they are – 10 things that made me fall in love with Lisbon ๐Ÿ™‚

The Architecture – so familiar from seeing it back home in Goa and yet uniquely special in the way an original is from its copy. Robert Langdon would love it here ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Tiles – vintage, hand-painted, exquisite! I stopped several times just to touch them and feel their history speak. Also the iron-work and masonry wastonishing to say the least!

The Tagus Riverfront – a wonderful promenade by the banks of the river Tagus where local fisherman try their luck, while locals and tourists alike stroll around breathing in the crisp air, taking in the many sights in the area – an old brick lighthouse, the Pont de Vasco de Gama, the Tower of Belem, the grand, imposing beauty that is the Monastery of San Jeronimo, a war memorial that serves as an observation tower offering spectacular views – there’s a veritable feast of stimuli for the senses here!

The quaint charm of Lisbon’s hip and happening neighbourhoods – The Chiado, Rossio, Bairro Alto – yes I know they’re everywhere in Europe and no that doesn’t make them any less miraculous here! Their impossibly tiny cobblestoned streets, quaint boutiques, and profusion of cafes and restaurants made them well nigh irresistible to the romantic in me ๐Ÿ˜‰ Although I confess with a 5-yr-old in tow, we didn’t really do them justice! Still there’s always next year ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Gardens &the Roses – Lisbon has gardens galore! Little ones and grand ones, places where families can picnic and children can play and us visitors can prowl with our cameras on the look out for whatever might catch our fancy ๐Ÿ˜› I remember my delight on spying the gigantic roses! I can’t remember ever seeing such large ones! Blood red, dainty pink, pretty salmon…luscious blooms!

The Tram – Yes I know they are pretty much ubiquitous in Europe, but that for me just adds to their allure! I don’t quite know how to explain it – but the sight of the little box on wheels climbing its way up a steep incline is just exhilarating! Or perhaps I’m just grateful for the ride and the photo-op ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Burnt Custard Tart – A Lisbon staple and rightly so! A perfect balance of bitter-sweet deliciousness! Had too many to count and I don’t even like dessert ๐Ÿ˜‰

Vinho Verde – I was skeptical about trying this ‘Green Wine‘, until I finally did with predictable results – LOVED it and drank nothing else for the rest of the trip except for the Caiprinhas at Cabana Fresca in Albufeira that were just out of this World!! If you get your hands on a bottle of Muralhas, you’ll know what I mean! The light, fresh & fruity flavour is right up my street ๐Ÿ™‚

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My favorite tipple on the trip ๐Ÿ™‚

The Zoo & Oceanarium – Both excellent places to visit even if you don’t have kids along! I love animals and I go dangerously crazy with my lens in Zoos much to the horror and embarrassment of the Hubby! Not that that bothers me ๐Ÿ˜‰ Loved the Zoo – especially the aerial views from a rope way that travels its length, the abundance of peacocks, the Tigers and the Chimps! Refreshingly non-commercial too ๐Ÿ™‚

The Gulls – I fell in love with these gutsy birds! Their squawking calls, yellow beaks and piercing gaze made for some fun bird-watching ๐Ÿ™‚ Another bird to add to my collection!

Johnathan Livingstone Seagull!
Johnathan Livingstone Seagull!

Lisbon charmed me with its relaxed vibe, quaint neighbourhoods and warm people ๐Ÿ™‚ There is an enchanting blend of ancient history and modernity here and a refreshing lack of the overt commercialism that runs rampant elsewhere in the world. Many of the sights are free for children and Junior had a blast playing cricket in every park we visited! That’s a LOT of cricket ๐Ÿ˜‰ There’s a sense of underlying whimsy and a languidness that permeates; aย ‘je ne sais quois’ that is endearing. Visiting Lisbon allowed me to understand the idiosyncrasies of my own tiny state of Goa better! About time too ๐Ÿ˜‰ I will certainly be visiting again – that’s a given!

P. S. This one’s for you Heather! Hope you liked it and THANK YOU for the much needed nudge ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m Back!

I’m back!! Hopefully some of you have missed me ๐Ÿ˜‰ while I have been having the time of my life on vacation ๐Ÿ˜› No really! I missed you too!

There’s good news and bad news (isn’t there always?) – lets just get the bad news out of the way first shall we? My laptop has died on me ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Yup. It’s dead, and although I will be able to retrieve my hard disk and hopefully recover my data…I’m going to be without one for the first time in nearly a decade. Not easy and certainly not very nice. Still, thanks to the iPad, I don’t have to be cut off from my virtual world entirely. That would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions indeed! That’s the good news, sort of.

What irritates most is the fact that I’m stuck in Goa with a hard disk full of vacation pictures that I had planned to edit and sort while here, to go with my blog posts. Now that will just have to wait until the new laptop arrives, which will take a while ๐Ÿ˜ฆ so until then, I’m afraid I’ll just have to make do with the few pics I have on my phone…or not.

But I don’t want to put off posting any longer, so here goes! This May, we visited Lisbon, Albufeira and other towns in Portugal‘s Algarve region, and London. We own a holiday home in Albufeira, a compact 2-BHK on the Marina that my son and I had never visited before! What a wonderful time we had! Portugal is such a throwback to the Golden Age of Goa ๐Ÿ™‚ From the beautiful, elegant vibe of Lisbon to the relaxed yet hip vibe of Albufeira; From the mingling of Oceans at Sagres to the fruit-laden citrus orchards on the way to Faro; every moment was exciting – full of discovery, wonder and fun ๐Ÿ™‚ What I loved so much about Portugal was its simplicity – the warm and friendly people, the lack of obvious consumerism, the leisurely pace of life, the pristine beaches of The Algarve, the stunning pottery, vinho verde, the utterly enchanting Tagus riverfront, the wild flowers dotting the countryside, the pretty white cottages and villas with colourful gardens, the gigantic yet fragrant roses, the fabulous food, the formidable history, the juicy local strawberries, the hip vibe of Bairo Alto, Rossio and Chiado, the stunning tile work that is famous the world over…the list is never ending ๐Ÿ˜‰ In a nutshell, it felt familiar and comfortable – it felt like Home ๐Ÿ™‚

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Blue all around!
Albufeira Beach as Sunset approaches...
Albufeira Beach at Sunset

Every morning I would walk down the Marina to the Ocean inhaling the crisp sea-scented breeze and sit staring at the waves and watching the gulls play. Never tired of the sight – the vast expanse of turquoise ‘neath an azure sky and the morning silence punctuated only by the squawking of gulls. It energised and soothed me at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚ I knew that first morning, that I could do this for the rest of my days and never tire. Here is what I wrote after sitting on the edge of the Ocean on that first day!

“Walked along the Marina to the fisher men’s dock…such beauty and quietitude ๐Ÿ™‚ I sat and watched the occasional humans walking, jogging and cycling past, I watched the noisy gulls skim the water surface looking for fishy remains?! But mostly I just stared out at the mesmerising blue-green…watching the deceptively gentle flow of the water as it flowed endlessly. Water has such constant motion doesn’t it? It’s never the same from one moment to the next, always a state of flux and yet so seemingly at peace with itself. I sat on the edge of the world or that’s how it seemed, and thought about how it was the perfect setting for contemplating life and then thought immediately about how in such a setting…there is no need for thought or contemplation at all! Everything pales in significance to the vastness and depth of oceans. No problem can compete, and one gets the feeling that a solution will ride in on the turn of the tide! Such is the ocean. You have to feel it to understand. I did. How strange that I thought of myself as a mountain girl while in my heart – the Ocean sings.”

We’ve decided to go back again next year for obvious reasons! Can’t hardly wait ๐Ÿ™‚

Northern Exposure – Bhopal

My reading got in the way of my little Trilogy, and I apologize for any of you that might have been waiting for this third and final instalment of my Northern adventures with bated breath ๐Ÿ˜‰ (I can wish can’t I? :P) So without further ado, here goesโ€ฆ

After our busy Sunday in Agra, we take the AP express to Bhopal. Again not the best of timings (given that we leave Agra at 8.30 pm and will reach Bhopal at 3.30 am. Yes! You heard right!), but a very comfortable First Class AC coupe ๐Ÿ™‚ย Ishaan is thrilled when we show him how the seats become beds and laughs his head off at the sight of Mom grasping at the overhead bunk and heaving herself up awkwardly, trying to avoid butting heads with the rusty ceiling fan ๐Ÿ˜€ Ishaan & Hubby share a ‘thali’ for dinner, while I read and then it’s lights off, alarms set as we try to catch some shut-eye. The alarms go of at 3 am but Hubby and I are already awake and as we approach Bhopal, Ishaan is awake too. We get to our Hotel, The Residency and sleep comes the instant our heads hit the pillows. Welcome to Bhopal ๐Ÿ™‚

The last time I was in Bhopal, it was 1996 and Hubby had been posted for 6 months to Mandideep to gain work-experience at the P & G factory there. I joined him a couple of months later and stayed in the guest-house at Arera Colony for 3 adventurous months! Adventurous because, at the time, I hadn’t ever been north of Mumbai and also because the guest-house hosted rats alongside humans ๐Ÿ˜‰ I even saw a badger pass through the garden once! So this Bhopal visit is steeped in Nostalgia, a trip back in time as it were for me. A simpler time of fond memories ๐Ÿ™‚ย Hubby has work though (doesn’t he always?), and so Ishaan and I have the days pretty much to ourselves. This is the first city where we have no sight-seeing agenda. The only place that I think Ishaan will be interested in is ‘Van Vihar‘, a sanctuary of sorts along the banks of Bhopal’s famous ‘Bada Talaab‘ or the Big Lake. It has a few animals in large enclosures and dozens of birds on the shores of the Lake. The best part, no crowds and cars are allowed ๐Ÿ™‚ย So that’s what we do, on our first morning, but first a word about our hotel, The Residency. It’s not our first choice, but The Jehan Numa, a heritage hotel (that we saved for special occasions way back when), recently renovated, is apparently booked to its gills, and so we have to settle. The Residency is very average and not nearly as good as I remember it from all those years ago when we went there for meals. Hotel Nisarg and Hotel Amar Palace, both of which I remember from years ago are still around. Our room will do and the bathroom is clean but old. Morning breakfast is atrocious and service non-existent. I decide instantly to have all meals at the Jehanuman for the rest of the visit and that’s what we do ๐Ÿ™‚ย Those were some of the best meals we had during our trip!

So back to Van Vihar. Our driver for the duration is the best of the lot so far, quiet, polite and not eager to whisk us off on inane shopping sprees, which is a boon, considering there’s absolutely nothing I need nor want to buy here. The entry fees are Rs. 200 for the car and Rs. 20 for every person. It’s a beautiful place, even better than I remember or perhaps it’s because I’m now so much more into Nature than I was 16 years ago. Again I lament the absence of my zoom lens ๐Ÿ™‚ย The birds along the lake and in the park are gorgeous, but it’s hard to get a decent picture without the zoom. Still, there’s a cool breeze blowing and Ishaan’s constant excited chatter for company as we alight from the car at every enclosure and try to catch a glimpse of the animal within. There are a couple of hyenas, a trio of restless leopards, some bears that are barely visible, a single male lion and a couple of tigers. Ishaan is thrilled with the tigers as am I and we spend a happy morning before heading off to La Kuchina, an adorable restaurant at the Jehan Numa for a quick lunch and then on to Mandideep to meet Hubby.

The Lake and its denizens.

Hubby’s work involves a visit to a Government office, and boy, are we in for a rude shock! The office (if one can call a dilapidated room full of crumbling files that!) is located on the first floor of a shabby concrete building that stinks to high heaven of urine. As we reach the first floor, there appears to be a minor flood in progress. The muddy floors are in the process of being washed by an old woman who looks quite blind to me, given the size of her glasses. We pick our way gingerly across the mess and step backwards in time. I don’t quite know how to react to the room and the people in it. All I know is I’ve never felt so out of place in my life! I stare at the plastic sheets that hang from a part of the roof, a futile attempt to stop indoor showers in the monsoons; at the mouldy files that are heaped on open shelves all around the room and I wonder how many centuries it will take before progress finally arrives here. Yet the people that work here don’t seem to think much of it, which makes me feel even worse. They’re so used to these awful conditions, they’ve stopped reacting to them ๐Ÿ™‚ย I can’t wait to leave the place, busy as I am trying to stop Ishaan from touching any surface, wishing he didn’t have to breathe the foul air, wishing my signature weren’t needed so I could have stayed away, wishing I could just wave a magic wand and make everything better, cleaner, healthier. Wishing, wishingโ€ฆ

Isn't he gorgeous?!

The next day, Hubby comes along and we go to Van Vihar again. It’s a relief to be able to breathe again of the pure, clean air here. Ishaan has a ball again and is over the moon that Papa’s around ๐Ÿ™‚ย The tigers are active and one of them obliges us with a display of territorial gestures, spraying a tree and then standing up to his full height and scratching the bark. An awesome sight ๐Ÿ™‚ย Then we run into a troop of monkeys that are quite aggressive and at one point it seems like we’re going to have a problem getting back to the car! Scary! Ishaan chooses this moment to walk nonchalantly forward saying “Go Away! Go Away!” with me screaming to Hubby to get him away! A monkey mother bares her fangs at me and I have no clue why, until I see that I’m standing near a tree where her baby is and she thinks I might do him harm. I move away and she runs up the tree to cuddle her little one. How similar mothers are, no matter their species ๐Ÿ™‚

The Monkey Troop at Van Vihar

That’s about all we do in Bhopal. It’s a good restful two days as compared to all the running around we’ve done in Delhi and Agra. I’m glad that although much has changed, in essence Bhopal still remains a small town. There’s not much traffic (although we have stayed away from the crowded, narrow lanes of Old Bhopal and New Market), there’s greenery and I can still recognize my old haunts of Arera Colony, the Shalimar Enclave where my friend A used to live. My oldest and first friend in the company and one of my closest friends to this day ๐Ÿ™‚ย So its been a happy visit. But I can feel Ishaan’s restlessness to get back home and it’s rubbing off on me too. Tuesday night we drive to the new airport, which is large, airy & bright with steel and chrome, for our flight back to Delhi. We have a day and a half in Delhi, before Ishaan and I head back to Goa. On our last night of the trip, we head to Gurgaon, to The Kingdom of Dreams, a theme park (for want of a better phrase), where I am much impressed with their culture displays and cleanliness, and the Bollywood Musical, Zangoora, a must watch for its production values which are comparable to the West and the fine dancing by its lead actor Hussain Kuwajeriwala, who is extremely talented with an endearingly delightful stage presence! Ishaan enjoys it too and by the time we get back to our hotel, it’s midnight.

La Kuchina @ The Jehan Numa

And so ends our 10-day sojourn in the North. During these ten days, I’ve been exposed to a new culture, a different way of life โ€“ more aggressive and perhaps more expansive. From the craziness of Delhi to the history of Agra, to the relative quietness of Bhopal, it’s been a study in contrasts, informative, evocative and thankfully for the most part โ€“ enjoyable ๐Ÿ™‚ย The only thing I need to do now is visit all three places again on a photography trip, minus Ishaan so I can take pictures in peace ๐Ÿ˜› Wonder when that will be?

Until thenโ€ฆthere are happy memories!

Northern Exposure โ€“ Agra

On Sunday morning, at the unearthly hour of 4.30 am, I’m bleary-eyed, smearing toothpaste over my teeth and cursing Hubby, as I attempt to get decent for our two-hour train journey to Agra to see the Taj. I’m not feeling very benevolent towards the Taj at the moment as you can well imagine, nor towards Hubby for booking the earliest train on the planet, but that’s usual ๐Ÿ˜‰ I brave the chilliness in the air and pull on my various woollen layers, before waking up Ishaan. Contrary to your expectations dear reader, this is much easier than you think! My son is a light sleeper and an early riser. Two qualities that will undoubtedly be long gone by the time they become desirable and necessary! But for now, he rolls over and sits up immediately, rubbing sleepy eyes and asking in that adorable baby-voice, “Mamma! Where we going?” And so I bundle him up in his woollens and we make our way to the waiting taxi. Twenty minutes later we are at the New Delhi Railway Station, where it could just as easily have been ‘lunch-hour’, what with the bright lights and throngs of people.

Anyone who has ever experienced an Indian Railway Station will know exactly what I’m talking about! They’re like microcosms of a bustling Metropolis, with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things, on the long platform strips that become their home while they wait between journeys. So you have families huddled around a little kerosene stove, cooking a meal, their luggage walling them off from prying strangers; people sleeping on their ‘chatais’, blankets drawn over their heads in a vain attempt to shut out the constant drone of human conversation and regular chugging of approaching trains; groups of students playing card games; porters pretending to be busy; lost dogs and beggars going about doing whatever it is they do; the irritating static-ridden announcements that are always either too loud or too soft to make any sense; and pervading everything and everyone โ€“ the hallmark stench of urine! Welcome to the Great Indian Railroad Circus! Entry’s free ๐Ÿ˜‰ Entertainment guaranteed ๐Ÿ˜› But I digress!

We’re on Platform 1, which is thankfully the first platform upon entry. I walk through a rusty looking metal detector frame with Ishaan while Hubby lugs our two handbags onto the screening belt. There is much jostling, because this is India and the concept of queuing up is alien ๐Ÿ˜‰ Ishaan trips and falls, but thankfully decides not to bawl and I lead him through the chaos until I find a space where the ammoniacal odour is bearable. Miraculously, the train is on time J It’s the Bhopal Shatabdi and it will travel the 700 odd km from Delhi to Bhopal in about 8 hours. We get in and immediately find ourselves in a seat dilemma, also a staple of train travel in India! I have no clue what the Railway authorities have against families travelling together but they don’t seem to take too kindly to it and so parents and children, husbands and wives routinely find themselves assigned to seats that are far apart. Again, this is India, and nobody’s about to let a tiny seat number get in their way ๐Ÿ˜‰ We arrange ourselves in our seats, after an agreeable compromise has been reached with all concerned, and settle in for the short journey. Ishaan falls asleep stretched out between us, while we consider breakfast options. I’m impressed with the train โ€“ the mineral water bottles they give each one of us and the breakfast they serve are included in our fare which is just Rs. 300! A pittance! They offer three breakfast options, a non-veg option of an omelette, a veg option of ‘poha’ and a south-indian option of ‘upma’ and ‘wadai’ which is what I settle for. It’s hot and fresh and it does me good J When we pull into Agra, right on schedule at 8.30, I’m refreshed, eager and ready to see the Taj at last.

Finally! A Parrot ๐Ÿ™‚

The whole world and his uncle have turned photographers and there’s a crazy amount of clicking going on around us. There are government approved photographers that take pictures for a fee, the usual onesโ€ฆsitting on Lady Diana’s bench, the illusion of picking up the Monument in a finger-pinchโ€ฆthe usual suspects! We get our own photographer and take the requisite pictures before heading off towards the Taj, where I promptly go into photographic overdrive! And yet, although the Taj has a sombre beauty to it, for me the whole is more beautiful than its parts. Without the history and the tragedy associated with it, it’s just another tomb, just another example of fine Moghul architecture of which India has more than her fair share! I stare at the trickle behind the Taj, all that remains of what was once a major Indian river, the hallowed Yamuna. It looks sad and lost and forlorn, rather like the Taj itself, even with all the throngs that surround it. I wonder what the Taj would say if it could speak? We wander around the buildings, from the dark, musty enclosed tombs where husband Shah Jahan, and beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal lie interred to the bright sunshine outside and suddenly it sinks in โ€“ ‘There! I’ve done it! I’ve seen the Taj Mahal!’ And oddly enough despite my many reservations, the thought makes me happy ๐Ÿ™‚ Perhaps there is something about this edifice, an aura of sorts that’s making me feel this way. Maybe it’s the great love that the Emperor felt for his wife that still lingers in the smooth marble walls, permeates the coloured inlays, soars through the towering minarets. Yes that must be itโ€ฆthis attempt at coaxing the intangible into solid form that warms my heart. I raise an invisible salute to the majestic dome and to the love that birthed it. Wah Taj!ย 

The Taj Mahal in all its somber Glory!

We stay until lunchtime and after a brief rest at the Hotel, we’re on our way to The Red Fort! Now this is a Monument I’ve been longing to see. I must confess that I know nothing about its history other than the fact that Shah Jahan was imprisoned here in the last years of his life by his son Aurangzeb, and he watched his beloved’s tomb the Taj, from a tiny window in the room that served as his prison cell. I had caught a glimpse of the Fort from the Taj, but nothing prepares me for the grandeur and sheer size of this massive structure. I must warn you that I’m likely to gush here, coz I fell in love with the Fort completely and utterly! It made me sit up and take notice, as if it were actually speaking to me and saying, “Look! Look at me! See who I am. Know me. Here I stand indestructible, proud and eternal, home and prison to kings and emperors. Look at me!” We enter through a massive doorway and climb the slope into the Fort grounds. They are huge, as are its solid double ramparts that seem to go on forever.

Massive gateways! This is just the top-half and I was fascinated by the Star of David emblems on it!!

The Fort is more like a city really, in the way Forts were meant to be. It has several palaces and structures within, each with their own unique style. It has two enormous gates, The Delhi Gate and the Lahore Gate that stand tall like two sentinels guarding the ancient roads to Delhi and Lahore. In one courtyard, there’s a massive brass bath, which was apparently hauled along whenever Jehangir travelled so he could bathe in royal comfort! On the day, it was squirrels and children scurrying over this relic from the past. The intricate inlay work, the stone carvings, the seemingly endless passageways, the massive doors, the sprawling terraces, the painted and engraved ceilings, all steal my heart and make me shutter-crazy! If I were a beloved queen, I would want someone to build me a Fort like this one ๐Ÿ˜‰

Passage to Infinity!

Later I read about the Fort and discover that it’s older than I thought, built in the 11th Century by Rajputs and then lived in by several Sultans of Delhi from Ibrahim Lodi to Akbar. It was in Shah Jahan’s time however that it took on its present incarnation. The guy was a ‘builder’ if ever there was one! I love the contrasting styles of the older red sandstone structures of Akbar’s era with the typical white marbled structures that Shah Jahan favored. I prefer the red sandstone myself. It seems fitting somehow and more alive.

The stone-sculpted doorways!

I could easily have spent many more hours happily wandering the Fort grounds, but of course Ishaan has other ideas. He’s tired and sleepy and we head back, reluctantly to our Hotel. I know as we leave for the railway station to take out train to Bhopal, which of the two Monuments is my favourite ๐Ÿ™‚ย I know I will come again to the Fort and let it reveal new secrets!

The Emperor's Darbar!

As you can imagine I took a lot of pictures, but both these buildings are way beyond mere visuals. They are special and precious not only for what they are physically, which is undoubtedly overwhelming, but for what they representโ€ฆa glorious if violent past and the superb craftsmanship of India’s artisans in days bygone.

Onwards to Bhopal!

Northern Exposure – Capital City

Here I go again!

Am just back from a 10-day sojourn in North Indiaย ๐Ÿ™‚ย Only 3 cities โ€“ Delhi, Agra and Bhopal but a host of interestingly varied experiences! This was my first trip to both Delhi and Agra and I was excited about finally being able to visit the Capital. The Taj Mahal in Agra, I must confess, didn’t have me jumping over the moon! I just don’t know how to be over the moon for a tomb I guessโ€ฆno matter how beautifully built with infinite love! Macabre! But I was prepared to be impressed by the architecture even if I wasn’t moved by the sentiment ๐Ÿ˜‰ I took Ishaan with me and although I was nervous about being together 24/7 for 10 straight days (how many hours is that??!!)โ€ฆI was equally thrilled to be sharing this adventure with him ๐Ÿ™‚

We arrived in Delhi at night and on our way to the hotel, I was immediately impressed by her broad, deserted, tree-lined avenues and scared silly by the crazy driving and incessant honking of her drivers! And I’m from Goa โ€“ ‘Rash-driving’ Capital of the World ๐Ÿ˜› Why, I ask you is it necessary to honk like there’s no tomorrow at 10.30 pm on roads where there’s minimal traffic? I wish I had had the guts to ask our driver, but they are a species apart in the Capital and one that should NOT be messed with! Be that as it may, I love the city that is New Delhi. It might as well be called the ‘City of Circles’, there are so many of them. One after every block! There is (to the delight of our politicians I’m sure), an endless supply of roads that can be named and renamed until kingdom come! There are overhead bridges across the broad streets for pedestrians to use with escalators on either side. I don’t know whether they actually work ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I was suitably impressed. There are plenty of open spaces, excellent shopping, the weather was wonderfully pleasant and the greenery warmed my heart. What really clinched it for me though was the profusion of birds โ€“ flocks of parrots and hawks that had made the city their ownย ๐Ÿ™‚ย How I missed my beloved zoom ๐Ÿ˜ฆย There’s no mistaking Delhi for what it isโ€ฆthe hotbed of our country’s politics. Every building here is a ‘Bhavan’, a ‘Sadan’ an ‘Embassy’ or an ‘Enclave’! Those that aren’t are National Monuments or belong to our Defence forces.

Yes! This is a city steeped in history, peopled with humans full of their own importance and not afraid to flaunt it. The smooth-talking, subtle arrogance of manner that seems prevalent here came as a surprise to my rather bourgeois sensibilities, even though I had been warned by friends who are natives. As a rule, I hate making comparisons, but if I have to compare Delhi to the other two metro cities I have visited โ€“ Mumbai & Calcutta, although Delhi would be architecturally and perhaps infra-structurally the best city, it lacks the warmth that makes Mumbai so special to me. Also, it’s a rather unsafe city for women from what I’ve heard and sadly I saw nothing during my trip that caused me to change that opinion. Our driver was a slick, smooth-talking Haryanvi, who did his best to talk us into going to places we had no interest in, by the most circuitous routes possible (easy enough to do in The Circular City!) and seemed more concerned about where he would park his car rather than what was most convenient for us. Honestly, there were times, when I wanted to reach across and slap him, just to shut him up! We hired a rickshaw one morning to escape his incessant lip, and had a slightly better experience, although this guy too couldn’t stop talking and offering suggestions for shopping, eating and sight-seeing, even when we lied and said this wasn’t our first trip! What is it with the continuous jabber? The next time, I’m going to stick to the Metro!

Another disappointment was the food, although I think that’s our fault, coz we didn’t make an effort to go to the places recommended by some. We did eat at Nirula’s and Haldiram’s but missed out on Karim’s. Ishaan had a tough time, being the true-blue Goan that he is. Surviving ten days on fish fingers and sliced cucumber can’t have been pleasant! All-in-all, I think Bombay and perhaps even Goa (now that I’ve discovered such fabulous restaurants here!), hold the edge over Delhi in terms of food, for me. Shopping however is an entirely different ballpark!! Khan Market has my undying devotion and I will go back there anytime I can, to wander the shops and discover hidden treasures. South-Ex and the Lajpat Nagar market seem promising too, although I didn’t get to really explore them well with Ishaan and Hubby in tow. The same goes for Janpath, Karol Bagh etc. I’ve already told my friend that I want to do an exclusive shopping trip in the near future ๐Ÿ™‚ย The sight-seeing too was awesome. Because we were there during the Republic day holiday, the City was decked out in all her Nationalistic finery. Every building was lit up and there were flags & flowers everywhere. We didn’t of course have time to see every Monument, but I enjoyed the ones we did manage. My favourite was the Jantar Mantar, simply for its geometry. India Gate and the Red Fort were wonderful too. Standing at India Gate in front of the ‘Amar Jawan‘ memorial, it’s hard not to let the inherent patriotism of the place affect you. Despite the crazy crowds, it still feels like the hallowed ground that it is. It made me proud to be Indian and it brought a tear to my eye. The Red Fort is a marvel of Mughal architecture (although I must confess the one in Agra is my favourite), and although the sound and light show is average, its often violent & chequered history more than make up for it. I wanted so much to explore Chandni Chowk just in front of the Fort, but with Ishaan cranky and tired, we skipped it. So that’s another place on my ‘to-do’ list for next time J as is the Qutab Minar. The Delhi Zoo was unsurprisingly Ishaan’s favorite outing! Although we had to wait an hour for the tram to take us around, he enjoyed the ride and the animals. I was also impressed by how clean the city is. Even with throngs of people at the Monument sites, there was minimal littering. And the houses in Lodhi Estate, Kasturba Gandhi Margโ€ฆspectacular! There’s money here and it shows! The elite here are fashionable and quietly elegant in a classical style so unlike the over-the-top Bollywood fashions of Mumbai. The men in suits or jackets, older women draped in elegant silks, wrapped in warm, expensive pashminas, and the younger women styish in their muted winter colors of tan, black and beige, designer coats and Vuitton bags. Part of why I enjoyed the Khan Market experience so much, was undoubtedly the fact that it was full of these well dressed elegant shoppers! Made me want to take that extra effort about my appearance, which is nothing short of a miracle ๐Ÿ˜›

We stayed for three days before leaving for Agra on the Bhopal Shatabdi, a short train journey of just a couple of hours.

And then it was time for the Taj!

Next post!

Happy Monday, People ๐Ÿ™‚

A Peacock @ the Top of the World…

This morning we took Lady for a spin. If you’re a regular reader, you’re familiar with Lady.

A couple of months ago, I described our visit to Vagator beach. Here’s a recap for the interested. ย I had mentioned then the fact that we would ‘do’ the Chapora Fort in another trip, preferably on a dry and sunny day. Today is the day.

The Fort is perched atop a hill and overlooks the confluence of the Chapora river and the Arabian Sea. A strategic location and one guaranteeingย stunning vistas all around ๐Ÿ™‚ We arrive at the base of the hill-fort and the first thing we come across, much to our delight is this chap…

Peacock on the Hill!

I try to get as close as I possibly can while trying to be as silent as I possibly can. I’m also trying to whisper to Ishaan so he doesn’t miss the sight. Hubby shushes my racket as the peacock wanders off downhill and disappears into the shrubbery. I’m convinced he’s part of a flock of 8 or 10 peacocks we saw one morning on another hill – Aguada. Hubby thinks I’m a nut, but that’s of no consequence. He’s not the naturalist in this family!

We make our way up the hill with its deceptive gradient that serves only to remind us how out of shape we are. A couple of minutes and we’re panting like thirsty dogs (No really! Not a pretty picture.). Hats off to Hubby here…he’s carrying Ishaan, who in his infinite child-like wisdom has chosen the best way up ๐Ÿ˜‰ We rest ever so often on the way up, taking in the resplendent view of the Sea each time. It’s like a hike to the top of the World, figuratively speaking (And yet the way my body still feels, 3 hours after the climb, the tiny hill may as well have been Mt. Everest!).

View from the Top of the World ๐Ÿ™‚

It takes us a good 15 or 20 minutes to get up to the Fort, with its ancient brick wall, dotted with trees and vines.

The Chapora Fort
The Chapora River...the sun was right in my face though!

We look for a way in but don’t find one and abandoning the search give ourselves up to the splendid vista. On our left stretches the Arabian Sea and far below, down the sheer cliff face is the sandy strip of Vagator Beach dotted with coconut palms and ant-people out for an early morning dip ๐Ÿ™‚ To our right is the Chapora river, also dotted with houses that hug its banks and the ubiquitous coconut palms. There’s no sound except for the occasional buzzing of a scavenging bee and the gentleย whirย of dragonfly wings. Butterflies abound, staging a glorious silent symphony. This right here, I think, in this moment, is what Life is all about. Peace, nature in all her beauty and where if you listen carefully, you can hear the whispers of your soul. It’s a moment. An awesome one ๐Ÿ™‚

We stay for a while taking it all in and resting our aching calves, catching our breath. On our way down, we spy a couple, in what looks like the middle of a tree! They obviously need privacy, but I’m thinking, who do they expect to run into here at the Top of the World…except for an adventurous couple with their inquisitive toddler? But we mean no harm nor I’m sure does the other couple we see making their way up, as we make our way down, no doubt looking for a sanctum of their own! The Fort now is obviously a hangout for lovers, although the gorgeous views are lost on them ๐Ÿ˜‰

On our way down we also see this fellow…

Kingfisher...I think ๐Ÿ˜›

When we’re safely at the base, the Peacock has reappeared and left us a memento (I like to think) in the form of this…

Peacock plume

I pick it up for luck (though there are those who believe it’s unlucky!). I have never found a plume before with its source wandering nearby! And then we’re off, on our way home with Ishaan predictably falling asleep. A wonderful morning and a great beginning to what promises to be a busy weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Weekending Folks!!

Road trip to Mumbai: Omkar to Keshvai

On the 30th of September, we set off on a week-long road trip to Bombay via Pune. Hubby had a day-long training session in Pune and we decided to tag along for a much-needed break. We were on a dual mission – to enjoy ourselves and to drop off my helper Pushpa, who was off for her own holiday with her family after a year apart. I was on my own secret mission, to see if I could manage Ishaan on my own, amongst people who to him were essentially strangers in strange surroundings. It was a test I set myself. A test of patience, creativity and my coping abilities…a test of whether I could look after my boy, on my own, without losing a major chunk of my sanity. I think I passed the test…but I’ll let you decide.

We set off from our home ‘Omkar’ at 9 am, with a fully loaded car and 4 happy people ๐Ÿ™‚ Ishaan has been a greatย travelerย so far by which I mean, he slept peacefully on our previous two road trips to Bombay, getting up at meal-times and dozing off again as soon as the car set off ย ๐Ÿ™‚ He was younger then. This time was a little different. He slept, but was awake much longer and every time we left the car for a break he howled his head off ‘coz he didn’t want to get in again! Don’t blame him, it can be awfully cramped in a car-seat on long journeys and he’s old enough now to register protest! Loudly. And I mean LOUDLY! Still,ย between us, we managed and in general had an interesting journey. We saw a veritable menagerie on the way…herds of cattle & goats, all manner of fowl that streaked across the road in an alarming manner, dogs by their dozen, a few cats, horses, donkeys, bold troops of monkeys and two camels on a road trip of their own!! Ishaan was fascinated by the camels but terrified of them when we stopped to get closer!

 

Trying for the happy-face while camel munches on ๐Ÿ˜›

 

The first pit-stop on our 9 hour-long journey was Amboli, a tiny hill station, in our neighboring state of Maharashtra, discovered by the British (who else?!) and famous for its narrow winding road that hugs the very edge of the Ghats, one largish waterfall, fabulous views,ย hoardsย of brazen monkeys, misty mornings and hot & spicy corn on the cob ๐Ÿ™‚ Ever since we’ve started taking this route to Bombay, Amboli has become a mandatory stop and we never tire of the views, the roar of the waterfall (especially after a good monsoon like this one) or the monkeys, who snatch bananas from your hand and raid open-windowed cars with characteristic monkey-boldness! They are a favorite of Ishaan’s (I wonder why? ;-)) and he would have been happy to spend the day watching their antics! We took pictures and then it was time to move on. One spot was rather frightening – it was the site of a major landslide this Monsoon season, and although the road had been cleared, the ton of debris still piled to one side and the eroded mountainside on the other were pretty scary. It’s a long way down to the valley!

 

Happiness @ Amboli ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Next stop, theย McDonald’s onย NH-4 @ Kolhapur for lunch, again a favorite. It has food that we can rely on and clean loos!! Ishaan of course ate only the French Fries and a spoon of vanilla ice-cream (he’s not into sweet stuff!) and refused even a single bite of our burgers. Tummies sated, we were off again and except for short stops to look at the animals and tea, we didn’t stop again until we got to my aunt’s place on the outskirts of Pune, to a grand welcome I might add ๐Ÿ™‚

 

'Keshvai'...My aunt's dream home ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

Red on Green...The Tulsi Vrindavan in my aunt's garden.

 

 

Lets play cricket! With my aunt and Pushpa.

 

Our stay in Pune was wonderful! My aunt’s home, ‘Keshvai’, is cozy and her garden though small is both restful and exuberant, if you get what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚ The roses were in full bloom and her Chikoo tree was laden with fruit, although not ripe. Her rustic brick-red Tulsi‘ on the tiny patch of green lawn made a pretty picture and the swing outside the back-door offered a shady, calm chilling-spot. Next door, in her neighbor’s garden, grew a Fig, untended and covered with figs! We plucked them off the tree, from her terrace upstairs and munched happily on their juicy sweetness ๐Ÿ™‚ Ishaan took to the house like it had always been his ๐Ÿ™‚ wandering around the lower floor, exploring the kitchen and the ‘Puja’ room, where he would ring the silver bell used during worship, playing cricket with my aunt and Pushpa on the patch of lawn! While there, we visited a ‘Shiva‘ temple, in an ashram, close to my aunt’s house. In the compound were giant statues of Shiva, his consort Parvati and their son and my favoriteย deity, ‘Ganesha‘ with his vehicle the mouse. Ishaan recognized them all and was very excited to see them in such huge avatars!

 

The 'Lingam' - Shiva's symbol and the way he is worshiped.

 

 

Giant-sized avatars visible over the countryside...

 

 

And here, a humble stone revered!

 

 

Hanuman - The Monkey God!

 

We also visited the Pune Zoo, where we saw a white tiger, a normal tiger, two leopards, two elephants, a peacock with several peahens and some owls! It’s a large area that includes a lake where they have boating, but as always in India (sadly), poorly maintained and in need of better administration. Still, Ishaan enjoyed the trip and the animals, although most of them were sleeping off the afternoon heat.

 

Figs! We ate a few of these ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

The Lake @ Pune Zoo

 

 

A rose in the garden...one of many!

 

We left Pune on Sunday morning. I was loath to leave, truth be told, both because once in Bombay, Pushpa would finally leave; because I had such a wonderful time catching up with my aunt who is a true ‘kindred spirit’; and because Ishaan had adjusted so well and I was worried whether he would do so again in Bombay.

Our time in Bombay in the next post. Suffice it to say…I needn’t have worried ๐Ÿ™‚

p.s. A word on Pune city…not very complimentary I’m afraid. It has the worst and I mean the worst traffic I have ever seen and that’s saying something considering I’m from Goa where the driving is atrocious!! Nobody obeys rules and it’s a free-for-all, with no traffic police in sight! The roads in the Katraj-Kondwa area, where my aunt lives are non-existent and one is jolted from one pothole into another! A crying shame!

Punctuality is NOT a strong point either…the ticketing booth for the car-ride through the Zoo, that was due to re-open after a lunch-break (they haven’t heard of shift-work apparently!!) at 1.30 pm, didn’t open until 1.50 when the girl sauntered in, completely unaffected by the long queues of visitors who had forfeited their lunches and braved the afternoon sun to get tickets!

Wedding Tales: Homecoming

Goodbyes are always hard…we leave the wedding after a deluge of hugs and kisses and promises to meet again threatens to drown us, before lurking tears can ruin our mascara!

@ Thiruvalla station: I'm not sure which Gang they mean to shelter ๐Ÿ˜‰

We pack and head to the station and happily, our train, The Chennai Mail (en route to Chennai from Trivandrum) is only 10 minutes late! I’m not hassled though…maybe it’s ‘coz I’m anticipating a comfortable ride in First Class or the thought that at the end of this particular journey, is home & Ishaan! And for once I’m right! We settle ourselves into our comfy cabin and stretch our legs.

Rubber trees @ Kottayam

There’s a bit of fluster at Kottayam, as a porter ushers in a family of obvious NRIs (the huge wheeled suitcases, 4 of them, are a dead giveaway!) and proceeds to squeeze in theย over-sizedย bags under the seats or on them, all in the space of 3 minutes (that’s how long the train stops here)! The family Kurien, consisting of Father, Mother, Daughter and a bright-eyed Granny using a walker, are on their way to Chennai. Father explains the luggage (he must feel it demands explanation!), telling us that since Granny is now at an age where she cannot live alone without causing infinite worry to her family, she’s moving to Chennai and possibly Dubai with them. The bags contain her entire wardrobe ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m impressed! I wonder how many bags it will take to pack my entire wardrobe…100 x 4 seems a more realistic number ๐Ÿ˜› We pass a pleasant two hours with the family, in which I am amazed again at the ease with which personal stories are exchanged with complete strangers on board the Indian Railways! It scares me a little (in my cautious, urban core), but for the most part, relieves me to think that somewhere within, we still think it safe to reach out and share ๐Ÿ™‚

Meals on Wheels in the Rajdhani!

We arrive at Ernakulam (Cochin) Town station at 7 pm and take an auto to Ernakulam Junction (a second station), where our connecting train, the Rajdhani will arrive in three hours. The ride takes us 15 minutes through narrow, dark, winding roads riddled with potholes! As we alight, battered and bruised from our ride, the thought for waiting for 3 hours at the station suddenly makes me nauseous or maybe it’s the stale odor of urine that seems to prevail everywhere!! After a quick glance at the sorry state of the First Class waiting room (why can’t they have a paying lounge, I wonder?), we walk up and down the crowded platform looking for an odor-free zone without much luck and finally settle for seats where we at least have light to read by ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I buy two of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five mysteries, which boosts my mood. Odor or no odor, a book always helps make things better! The 3 hours pass slowly…and we both heave sighs of relief when the Rajdhani rolls up to the platform, a few minutes before its scheduled arrival at 10.30 pm! See, miracles can still happen ๐Ÿ˜›

@ Asnoti, before Karwar.

Again, we have separate berths in two different cabins, but we’re experts now and hubby quickly resolves any issues, in the usual manner (Money! It’s the only way!), with the TC. At the end of the exercise, we are comfortably ensconced for the night, in a First Class coupe cabin (just two berths, so we’re the only occupants!). The staff is all in smart uniforms and wonderfully solicitous. They bring us trays of bread, butter, a banana and some apple juice on being told we’ve not had any dinner. They’re sorry they don’t have any dinner left on board. We awake refreshed after a restful night’s sleep and are now impatient to get home. The surrounding countryside, particularly around Karwar, is pristine & divine. We decide that we have to drive down here with Ishaan soon ๐Ÿ™‚ We are scheduled to arrive at Margao at 11.30 am but do so finally at noon. After that it’s an hour’s drive home.

They’re watching for us…and Ishaan comes bounding to the door…I have no words to describe what follows, except to say…the smile that lights up his face, lights up my life ๐Ÿ™‚ We are both where we belong.