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˜€

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™‚

image
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™‚

NaPoWriMo – Day 26

My trusty shoes! Old now, but it’s like wine with shoes isn’t it? The older the vintage – the better the fit, that kind of thing?! No? Is it just me with my weird feet that take their own sweet time to get friendly with their footwear?! But once they do…Oh the JOY ๐Ÿ˜€ The comfort of a well-fitted shoe is one of the best feelings in the world! They slide on and off your feet like a second skin – cushioning, painless and easy. They make you feel like you could walk to the Moon and back and be none the worse for wear ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh well, to the Market down the road then ๐Ÿ˜›

This well worn pair has traveled with me on many journeys and walked down many exciting roads! They’ve stepped in puddles and worse, been stamped on, drenched in the rain, splattered with mud, served as bug-home on occasion – and survived! They’ve jumped for joy and danced to music and on occasion have caused painful blisters (but that was when they were young and immature ;)) – rather like the feet in them ๐Ÿ˜› Today, almost 5 years after I first bought them – they are still my favorite, trusted travel shoes. I have others, (Of course I do! Girls and shoes – you get the picture ;)), but none that fit or feel quite like these – good, solid, with a rubber sole and a steady grip, they make me feel like I could walk forever. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better companion on my journeys! So a trip around the world or a walk in the park – I say…Bring it On!

20130426-155611.jpg

Monkton Mondays!

As the 2nd of May approaches, Travel is taking over my Life ๐Ÿ˜‰ Are you like that too?

I LOVE traveling and so spend many happy hours dreaming of the journey ahead – the sights I’ll see, the food I’ll eat, the pictures I’ll take, the long hours of relaxation with a book and a drink ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a dream – so I skip over the longs lines at immigration, the hyperactive 5-yr-old boy traveling with, the jet lag, the exhaustion from sight-seeing, the one toy forgotten, which is the only one that will do…you get the picture? ๐Ÿ˜›

The key word here is ‘dream’! I’m not a very organized person (which is why I married one ;)), and packing is usually a last minute frantic exercise in gathering everything I think I need and piling it into the suitcase! I’ve gotten better at it over the years and this time I’m determined to be calm and collected and so have started getting stuff together and making piles well in advance ๐Ÿ˜› I’ve made list of the medicines we need to take along, although of course I cannot now find it ๐Ÿ˜‰ Still, I know we’ll be OK!! We always are in the end – and sometimes I think all my chaos just adds to the spirit of adventure! I’m sure Hubby doesn’t share my feelings but it’s not like he has a choice ๐Ÿ˜›

And now lets see what the inimitable Mr. Monkton has to say on the subject of Travel shall we?!

Where are we goingย 

LOL…that sounds so familiar ๐Ÿ˜‰

Happy a Happy Week ahead People ๐Ÿ˜€ Use Maps 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™‚

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!

…and I’m back!

Hello People!

Just another short post to say I’m back from my week-long trip to Pune and Bombay. It was a great trip although I now feel like I need to take another holiday to get over this one…you know what I mean?!

Have come back to a very busy time since my helper Pushpa is away on her own break with her family and will be back (fingers crossed!!) after a month. So it’s Ishaan & I for the next 4 weeks, and please don’t hate me when I say that scares the ‘you-know-what’ out of me!!ย Channelingย all the positive energy I can and hoping for the best – that’s my strategy for the moment!

Still, we had a fabulous time and Ishaan was his best toddler-self for the most part – bright, happy and darling ๐Ÿ™‚ Will post trip details just as soon as I can get organized and establish a semblance of routine. Ishaan starts school on Monday and that should allow me time away from feeding, playing and general supervision! He’s pretty clingy right now, with Pushpa away and had a good long howl when hubby left for work…sigh…that’s pretty much the pattern of my days to come, I see.

So that’s it for now…and I’ll be back soon ๐Ÿ™‚

Missed writing more than I thought I would. It really is the best therapy ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s a shot from our trip…hope you like!

 

The Star of our trip ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Drive. Dinner. Mr.Tickles!

The gist of my Saturday!

A glimpse of the Reis Magos fort...

The morning started out with a drive, its been a while since we’ve been on one…and the weather was perfect! Misty, crisp, breezy and a light drizzle. We set of in the direction of Coco Beach…we were in the vicinity for a family gathering on Monday last, and loved the surrounds ๐Ÿ™‚ On the way, we stopped at the Reis Magos Fort (Goa has more forts than I had imagined. Apparently the Portuguese were keen fort-builders!), although we didn’t go up and explore it. That’s for another day.

Sea. Sand. Stone.

We did however stop by the road side and feel the breeze in our faces while taking in vistas of a heaving, choppy, Arabian Sea and the Panjim shoreline. At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum…I must say that Goa in the monsoons is enchantingly beautiful and the air you breathe…words fail me…suffice it to say…I feel ALIVE and it’s a good feeling ๐Ÿ™‚

Colorful Sentinel!

We wandered on until we got to Coco beach and there stopped on a narrow road that ran along the bank of the Sinquerim river. It’s an idyllic spot…paddy fields stretching green all around, a temple in the midst of them, standing colorful guard, exuberant greenery bordering the road with tiny yellow and purple wildflowers that seemed to have attracted every butterfly and bee in the neighborhood, a pair of black ducks diving for fish and the river flowing smooth, it’s surface disturbed only by the soft pattering of random raindrops, providing safe harbor for resting fishing boats. Calm. Peaceful. Soothing. I could have stayed there forever…well for a few hours at least…urban soul that I am ๐Ÿ˜‰ Ishaan enjoyed too and ran around yelling ‘Butata‘ (his word for Butterfly), trying hard to catch one! All in all…a fabulous morning ๐Ÿ™‚

A typical Goan fishing village scene...

In the evening, we had dinner with family @ The Pan Asian Bowl, a restaurant that specializes in South-Asianย cuisine, which means it’s got a great Indian-Chinese menu, of which most of my family (those who have good taste ;-)) are die-hard fans! Stuffed ourselves on Malaysian Chicken, which came with delicate rice noodles, fried (heaven!); Shrimp in chilli garlic sauce; Thai-style barbecue chicken; Fish Phoenix (I half expected the fish to rise from it’s sticky, red-brown sauce!); Burnt garlic rice and that old favorite American chopsuey!! Great food and company, a very decent Mojito to go with and an old favorite, a glass of Bailey’s on ice to finish of a fabulous evening ๐Ÿ™‚ I wish I had pictures of the food (it was pretty too!), but it disappeared soon enough and I didn’t want any distractions while eating. So maybe next time! We didn’t take Ishaan along, leaving him at home with my Grandma and his Nanny, which brings me to Mr.Tickles ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoying the breeze ๐Ÿ™‚

We were back home at 10.30 pm and all seemed quite within. I am disappointed…I hate it when I don’t get to tuck Ishaan in and say goodnight. It leaves me incomplete. I tip-toe to Granny’s room and the lights are out…further sinkage…I nudge the door open an inch and instantly hear, “Mama?” In a flash, he’s in my arms and all is well with the world!! In that moment, I remember Maura’s tag and the question about best compliments received…and I think…this is it,right here! My son gives me my best compliment every time he says Mama ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of kisses and hugs later, the scene shifts upstairs to our bed…and that’s when the tickling starts…he loves being tickled and it’s become part of our bed-time routine ๐Ÿ™‚ Then the giggling begins and the sound of his laughter surrounds us. For a good 20 minutes we’re all lost in an orgy of tickling and laughter, until finally, spent, cheeks flushed and eyes shining bright…I hush him and crooning softly, coax him to sleep.

Oh Happy Day ๐Ÿ™‚