Rann utsav at Kutcht

In a desolate corner of Gujarath lies the barren stretch of salt lands, the Rann of Kutch. Formed in the arid months every year by the evaporation of the flooded waters from the Arabian sea post monsoon, this rann lasts for four months from november to february and while it lasts, it forms one of the most sought tourist attractions of our country.

   The picturesque beauty of white desert as it spreads through kilometeres of flat land, offers a rare spectacle for the visitors and to boost the tourist inflow, an elaborate uthsav is organised every year by the government of Gujarath, called the Rann Uthsav.. 

 Beginning from mid November, the small village of Dhordolying adjacent to the Rann, transforms into a spectacular tent city. Hundreds of tents are erected in this dry land, miraculously turning it into a luxury resort. Two to four day packages are offered to tourists, which includes stay at the tent cottages, food and visit to the Rann.

   Last season, we booked the three days package to discover this spectacular uthsav. 

  We alighted at Bhuj, located 80 kms away from Dhordowhich was the scheduled reporting point. Small reception areas installed at the Bhuj railway station welcomed us from where we were ferried to the tent city in an AC bus. The journey of one and half hours through the dry and dusty lanes was made comfortable by the small snack box and water bottle offered to every tourist availing the package.

  At the tent city, a large artistic entrance greeted us. As we posed for selfies in front of it, an elaborate group of folk artistes began our formal welcome beating drums and trumpets. Dancing along we reached the reception area where we were explained about the three day program and wereallotted a cottage in one of the several conglomerate of tents. Our luggage was tagged with our room number and was sent directly to our cottage while we were comfortably driven in electric cars. As we passed through the tent city, we could see a hoard of shops lined up, selling colourful clothes and handicrafts. Beautiful folk dolls, sculptures, children’s play areas were the added attractions seen around. 

 The cottage was an elegantly erected white tent with all the amenities exquisitely packed in it. It offered the much needed respite from the outdoor heat. Sitting on the easy chair placed just outside our cottage gave a serene view of the central open area which was said to host a bonfire a

  That evening, we set out for the much awaited visit to the Rann. We were taken in camel carts to the place which looked like a never ending stretch of white rock salt. It was a truly one-of its kind experience to walk across the salt land as the sun set beautifully in the horizon, giving myriad colors to the clear sky. There were activities like paragliding and folk dances arranged on the rann. We also had an opportunity to dress ourselves in the local attire and take pictures.

We visited the rann again the next morning to witness the sunrise. If sunset was blissful, the view of the bright Sun rising over the massive white land was simply phenomenal. We sat on the rann for sometime soaking the bright rays of the sun before heading back for breakfast.

 The food served at the uthsav definitely needs a special mention . Massive dining hall, fully air-conditioned and beautifully decorated,formed our most favourite place to hang out, three times a day. Hygienic and mouth wateringvegetarian food offered there made our stay all the more joyous. The buffet spread each day was elaborate and had mostly local cuisines with even jain food offered separately. Light music  often accompanied the dinner.

 

The uthsav also provides a major platform for the local folk artistes to showcase their art. Every evening there were extravagant cultural programs organised in the tent city. The nights ended with us humming the songs and dancing to theirbeats after gazing the stars through the telescope installed nearby.

 

Rann uthsav is an excellent initiative by the Gujarathgovernment that not only provides a unique holiday experience to the tourists but also boosts the local economy by providing employment to thousands of locals and at the same time promotes the indigenous art and folk culture.  

 We will forever cherish the awesome time spent at the white desert.

*******

 

How to reach : 80kms from Bhuj . Bhuj can be reached by air/ rail/by land.

Cost of packages: Ranges from 6000 per person for a two day package to 17500 per person for a four day package. Package includes accommodation, food and local sight seeing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trek to tiger nest monastery…

One old 8 th century temple wedged on a cliff . A narrow, serpentine , rough trail up the mountain. A moody middle aged lady fast approaching her birthday that is threateneing to push her closer to the forties. And a story around it ….

It was a day in early may. Spring had given way to harsh summer and to beat the heat we had escaped to a land, miles away from all the misery of urban life. To a land that promised to be the happiest place on earth- fresh, green and mountainously happy- Bhutan .
This small country lining the northern border of India is known for its positive ecological balance and high happiness quotient . We had indeed been happy visiting the place, bowing to every Buddha at the shrines, clicking every mountain that was green and buying every painting that was artistic .  Till we ventured on the trek to tiger nest monastery on the last day of our trip when every iota of happiness was drained out of us . Literally .
On the night before the trek,at our hotel in Paro, we 14, eager-to-be-happy people in our group, sat in the lobby expectantly. Our, already-happy Bhutanese guide, Sherint had promised to brief us about the trek. I hadn’t researched the place much and so I sat there all ears.  Given that I am already hard of hearing, that little extra effort was indeed needed.


The name Tiger-nest had always made me visualise a cave whose entrance was the shape of a tiger’s mouth. The one with fangs growing down its roof . And I had imagined the trek to be a walk up a stony hill, with a near straight path. It was after all hyped up walking, I had presumed.
But when Sherint seriously explained the trek I was left panting. Here was the plan. The entire trek up and down the mountain was of 11 kms . The path, he mentioned in absolutely clear terms , was rugged and ruthless . Midway up the mountain was a cafeteria which was to be our resting place, after which the trek would get easier but for the 750 odd steps that would lead to the final shrine . And then we would have to walk down, the same way as we climbed .

After the briefing, Sherint paused for a while and scanned all our faces to see how well we were taking in. And when he saw most faces bright with enthusiasm, he slowly continued. The trek up to the cafeteria he mentioned,was very steep and rough and hence was often done on a horse back. He did continue to tell other details of the trek after that but the word ‘horse’ kind of muted everything for me. The only bell it rang in my head was of fear. The idea of the wobbly feeling of waddling on a horse’s back, 7 ft above the rough ground, treading along the edge of a cliff…. made me nauseous. My past experiences with these domesticated means of transports , the horse and the camel had not been so pleasant.I had resolved the last time I sat on their skin that I would never climb onto them ever . Heights and more so, moving heights were totally not my cup of tea .
That night I tried to sleep on it. But the fear lingered on. I dreamt myself falling several ft down the cliff from the horse’s back and dangling on one of the trees. And then people narrating my ordeal to other tourists for weeks. I woke up next morning, sure of one thing. I was not going to be a fodder for any future gossip about mishaps on the trek.
I declared to my family that I would be walking up the hill instead of riding on horse back. And also did a little emotional blackmail jig and made sure that my husband and kid would walk along with me . Watching them fall off the horse would have been more disastrous.

When we reached the base of the tiger-hill , as I put it, there were a dozen horses waiting for us. Some shiny black, some brown and some dirty white in colour . Their thick silky tails dangled beautifully from their behind. But it was their saddle that scared me.

Our guide was waiting for us, dressed in the traditional Bhutanese attire Gho- a frock like dress stitched using pant material with long black socks to cover the bare legs till the knee. Sherint stood perplexed on learning about  our decision to walk.
While the rest of our group members began to climb onto the equines, we set off on the trek on foot, holding the thick sticks provided to us. My little girl was all enthusiastic seeing the sturdy sticks which were painted artistically . She little knew that the trek was going to be one hell of a walk .

The path initially, till we reached the ascent was quite flat though a bit rugged . Equipped with tough sports shoes we marched along comfortably . A large group of people were walking ahead of us. They looked peculiarly  similar to us in colour,stature and features. And a little while later , when they opened their mouths, we realised they were similar in their language too. A huge Kannada speaking family was trekking ahead of us. There wouldn’t have been a better start.


Just before the accent began , the path became more undulated. As we struggled over the muddy lumps and crevices, a troop of horses marched up to us majestically . Perched on them were our group mates . We looked like cautious fools in front of them. The horses were walking slowly and carefully and they had covered the same distance that we had done in 10 minutes in a little over two minutes.

My husband and daughter gave me look loaded with self pity.

“Look what you are putting us through ! For no reason!” Their eyes seemed to scream . But they did not dare utter it.

Strangely though, I suddenly felt all energetic about the trek. I moved aside to let the horses walk ahead and began the ascent with renewed vigour. My daughter who was till then accompanying me, let go of my hand and ran to join my husband who was trailing behind reluctantly. She had changed teams. Leaving them behind together,I began walking up all by myself.

The path twisted and turned up the mountain. The ascent was steep and the Sun was blazing. Sweat started trickling down my forehead effortlessly.Every few steps later, I slowed down breathlessly.  Resting on some boulder along the edge of the path for a while, I resumed the walk. The stick was very handy. It helped me bear a bit of my weight, helping out as a third leg.

The horses had left behind the impressions of their hooves. They appeared to have walked exactly on the edge of the cliff. I peeped a little to look how deep the ravine actually was. It was deep enough to not find even the bones if someone fell. I patted myself for the decision to walk and laboured on.

I had worn black jeans and white cotton top. The one with tiny humans printed on it , the kind seen in Worli art. I had stuck my mobile and money into the pant pocket and had intentionally done away with any bag. The back pack with water and snacks was dumped on my husband’s shoulder, while I walked on comfortably.

Step after step I began to feel more drained out. I had no idea how far up the destination was. I couldn’t see my husband and kid anywhere along till the last curve. There was no one around. It was just me, my panting lungs and the cliff. For the first time I looked up from the ground that I was scaling. A grand landscape unfurled in front of my eyes. Green and spectacularly grand. Huge mountains stood wedged against eachother. Where one ended and the other began couldn’t be deciphered. Trees crowded every inch of land on those mountains. Deep blue sky lingered in the background and white cottony clouds lazily swam around in it. The houses in the valleys appeared like small Lilliputian colonies. I realised how far and far above the ground I was. All those days while driving on the serpentine roads of Bhutan, I had admired the huge mountains and to think that I was actually walking up on one of them was overwhelming. I clicked a few awful selfies in that background and slowly drudged along. Walking instead of riding on the horse had been totally worth it.


A little ahead, I saw two well built young boys struggling to walk. With them, coaxing them to climb on were two personal Bhutanese guides, evident from their Gho. The guides were pushing and pumping them but the boys were pathetically tired. While I had indigenous wooden stick with me, the boys had black, sleek sticks that appeared more like skeing sticks. The pampering they were receiving kind of made me jealous. While my group had rode ahead of me, my family was way behind unseen. Our guide had long abondoned, allowing me to walk up all by myself while these two kids were being showered with all the attention. Longing for some visibility , I asked one of the guides as to how far the cafetaria was. The local guide who till then was sweeter than cotton candy , suddenly turned indifferent. Not caring to even drop a glance towards me , he said,  it was close by. Disgruntled I hastily walked ahead crossing the two aristocratic kids to only end up panting badly at the next turn. I sat on a nearby stone to catch my breath when a beautiful lady appeared before me. She was clad in tight black pants and trendy red tops. She was no doubt pretty but looked all the more so by her goggles which covered nearly half her face. Her figure was perfect and her skin glew brighter than sunshine. She had tied her hair into a bun high up on her head and had the exact same kind of walking sticks as the boys did. Even as I was wondering who could possibly be so pretty, the two kids struggled up to her whining a big “mommy.” It was a rexona moment.

The pretty lady and her prosperous family, walked nearly side by side with me all along. The Gho clad personal guides treaded with them offering water and biscuits to the kids every now and then. She sure was a daughter in law of some Ambani, I thought. At some rock when I rested , she happened to walk right towards me, hoping for a conversation. Her dark shades didn’t allow me to assess her gaze and thinking that she was eyeing my rock to sit, I vacated it just in time and moved on. I had steeper path ahead to scale; conversation with pretty, pimple-free woman was nowhere on my list of priorities.

Perspiring , I stumbled up one more curve and two more sharp ascents to finally emerge up a flat land where all horses were parked. Hurray , I had done it. I had reached the cafeteria, the half way mark up the trek.
I rushed to the cafeteria longing for some rest and refreshment. But none felt endearing without my family. I walked back till the horse parking area to look for them. After a good 10 minutes my daughter and husband emerged up the path smiling. Our guide Sherint had been with them all along and he had even carried the back pack himself. But none of them were in a mood to acknowledge my welcome. I hugged them dearly and apologised for having made them walk.

“What were the odds that the horse would trip ? Or we could break our bones? None. Look, all our group members survived.” Their eyes were screaming. But they did not dare utter a word.

We settled in the cafeteria to loosen our hamstrings and drank the 250 ml coffee that they gave for 300 rupees. After visiting the loo as a precaution to make space for the coffee that was to get filtered down the kidney shortly, we began our next half of the trek- the trek to the tiger nest monastery.

Before we could begin, we paused to admire the beautiful view of the monastery from near the cafeteria. Resting on the narrow edge of a huge cliff was a small structure built in the classic Buddhist architecture, the one with curved and layered wooden roof, ending with a sharp dome on top. The thought of ever being able to trek till the monastery was exhilarating. I had never dreamt that I would indulge in any such adventure in my life. This was no less than scaling the mount everest for me.Often when I had heard of such expeditions, I had wondered how crazy those people should have been to walk up a dangerous hill for no avail. Here I was, being exactly as crazy as they were, only that here it wasn’t exactly by choice. I was being driven crazy by the package trip that I had chosen.


The next half was said to be relatively less steep and hence easier. And we were to now have our group mates with us till the monastery as the horses did not go farther than that point. This time resolving to stay with my family, I began the next half.

Walking with family and friends appeared to be more enjoyable. We talked, laughed, joked and fought, all along. And now I had more hands to click pictures for me than settling for horrifying selfies. Though I missed listening to my own heart beats or feeling my breath all the way down the airways ; though I no longer observed the vegetation around or the foot prints on the ground ; though I was no longer aware of myself or the nature around, I was immensely happy that I had lost myself in the company of loving people. Becoming a saintly Buddha or rather a Buddhi was not a priority now or anytime in the  near future. I realised that living through the joys and challenges of a mortal life was more rewarding than knowing the supreme truth. For now, I was just eager to visit the monastery where a old monk was said have meditated and done miracles. Legend had it that the said monk called, Guru Rinpoche had come to this cave hidden on top of a treacherous mountain by riding on a tiger which was actually a disguised goddess.


We had covered the entire path of the trek effortlessly. We were now just a stones throw away from the monastery. The only little hurdle being the steps that led to it. there were 750 odd steps in all. Half of them led down the cliff and the other half led up the adjacent cliff. There was to be a long waterfall at the intersection of the two stony edges.
At the summit just before the descent down the first set of stairs, there was a phenomenal view that was uncovered. We were literally on the absolute top of a mountain range. The scenery from up above the world so high,  brought a twinkle in my eyes. It was out of this goddam world. large range of green mountains, valleys, vast sky and fresh air, the view made me wince with joy. It was truly breathtaking Bhutan.


We managed to walk down the stairs but when we reached the ascent, the steps appeared huge, steep and narrow. My little girl struggled to  even lift her leg and she was way too heavy to be carried up the stairs. I started singing a silly jingle that I instantly created for her.
“Last ten steps to climb….last ten steps to climb…

last ten steps, last ten steps, last ten steps to climb.

Last nine steps to climb; last nice steps to climb….

last nine steps,last nine steps, last nine steps to climb.

Last eight…………………………………………………………………..”

I sang each of those lines, slowly in a dragging tune so as to pull each count through 4 to 5 steps. My poor girl got conned by the little counting trick and we managed to finally climb up to the Tiger Nest Monastery by late afternoon. we slammed onto the nearest stone slab that we found in front of the monastery. Our feet were sore and stomachs hollow. It had begun to drizzle and we didnt bother to cover ourselves as sweat had already drenched us. Sherint helped us through the security check, mobile lockers and the entry fees which was a whooping 500 rupees per head.

When inside the monastery, we experienced a vast calmness. As vast as the valleys below, as vast as the sky above and as vast as the mountain holding that monastery on it. We sat silently in front of the idol of the monk Guru Rinpoche. Sherint explained that the idol was a miraculous one. It had apparently spoken on three elaborate occasions earlier and also it was supposedly a wish granting idol. Blame it on the hypoglycemia or whatever, how much ever I tried to think, I couldnt come up with a decent wish to ask for. Asking Him to shower all his blessings on my little girl, I closed my eyes for a quick nap.

After spending half an hour at the summit, it was time to descend. We jumped down and then up the steps painfully and walked back till the cafeteria in one piece. There we hogged on the yuk tasting oily noodles and red rice with dirty looking dal. Given the pitiful state of energy stores in our body that day, we would have eaten even our walking sticks. Thankfully we just ate the supposedly edible things and relaxed.

The calves had already begun to throb. We were experiencing a powerful pull along the legs, a cry let out by the poor tendons and the bones holding them. Eager to reach the base as quickly as possible, we pulled ourselves onto our feet and began trekking down. It was literally a cake walk. The path was sloping down and we just sailed smoothly on our weary legs. Strangely though after running down 5 kms to the base, we realised that our knees were aching unbearably. If climbing had licked our thighs, the descent had clearly bitten our knees.
Standing at the base we looked back at the mountain that we had conquered. Sherint had told that the mountain actually resembles the face of the Guru. I couldnt appreciate that but it did resemble a nightmare. Thankfully all bones were intact unlike in my dream.

It was already dark when we reached the hotel. Our legs were numb and stomachs hypersensitive and remained so for next few days.

The trip had ended abruptly. The exhaustion from the trek had surpassed the happiness that we had gathered over the first few days of the trip. Yes I had successfully conquered Tiger’s Nest, the joy did stay hidden within but I always kept wondering if I should have gone on an horse back after all. Atleast my family would have been spared all the trouble. Thus thinking, I bid adieu to the beautiful mountains and the fresh air, to the spotless clear skies and the smiling faces.


On our way to the airport, Sherint informed that on the very same day that we had been for the trek, a famous telugu heroine had come with the her two sons and had walked all along up the mountain. It immediately rang a bell in my otherwise clouded mind. Was it that pretty aristrocatic lady with the plump kids?

” Hey I had walked all the way with her…” I wanted to announce. But neither did I have the energy to shout nor did I have any selfie with her to prove my point. she had herself walked towards me to talk but I had run away from her. what a missed opportunity to stardom? I winced. The Bhutanese guide didnt know her name and all along through security check and immigration I kept recalling her face behind the shades and kept exclaiming to my husband, “Was it Jyothika?’  ” or tamanna?”  ” or Bhoomika..” and for all, he only gave a look,

“U walked with a pretty heroine. What did I get by going on foot all the way? Nobody fell from the horse after all. My legs are aching worse than after a fracture now…” his eyes were screaming but before he could dare to utter a word, a wheel chair strode next to us while boarding. And perched on it was a familiar lady with freshly plastered leg and brand new crutches next to her. Our eyes met and she gave a faint smile. She wasn’t the heroine but yes she was one of the tourists at the trek who had gone on horse back. I immediately turned to my husband and daughter.

“Now you know why I took you walking? It could have been us! ” my eyes howled this time.

And they dared to say , ” Thanks !”

( Now I must shower you with special thanks if you have managed to read all the way till here. You must be a huge trekking fan or you must be my mom. Either ways thanks for reading. And if you want to read more of such dumb- boring-everyday anecdotes of my life,….. wait for my soon to be released book ….

‘30+ EVERYTHING.’

Please leave a feedback in the comments section if you would like to read the book? )

Ghats on the Ganges….

Of all the great cities that are nestled on the banks of the river Ganga, Varanasi receives the highest acclaim. Known popularly as the city of deaths, it is the most sacred of all the pilgrimage places of the Hindus. A visit to this holy place is said to rid one of all their sins and assure moksha after death. 

     Lured by this two-in-one offer, I set off to Varanasi to prebook a place in heaven. Apart from the greed for moksha, one other thing that drove me into visiting this place was perhaps the curiosity to see how far our PM had succeeded in cleaning up the Ganga. So with quite a few ulterior motives,I began my Kashi yathra.
    Located in one of the most arid regions of India, Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi was at it’s burning best when we landed in early March. The summers I heard were going to be worse. We safely chose late evening to visit the main deity of the city, lord Vishwanath. Being one of the 12 Jyothirlings, the shivalinga at Kashi was said to be the most significant of all Hindu deities in the entire world and I was more than excited to be visiting Him.
    The main roads of Varanasi were narrow and  congested, thanks to the flyover constructions happening all over. But the lanes to the temple, that were to follow, were about to redefine ‘narrow’ for me. 
     No sooner did our taxi driver drop us at the crowded street leading to the temple,than a priest miraculously appeared before us. Claiming to be a government appointed priest at the Viswanath temple, he handed a laminated ID card reinforcing his claim. Standing abandoned in the middle of a crowded street, in an unknown North Indian city, we had no choice but to accept the hospitality of whoever was ready to offer it. We followed him submissively. 

     The priest wore a neatly pressed grey khadi kurta and white bottom. He had a small bunch of hair tied into a knot, dangling from near his occiput.That day I realised how much a right attire works as a marketing stratergy. Had he walked into us in a shirt and trouser, there was no way we would have trusted him. But in the classic priestly get up, we had no reason to suspect. As slick as his dress, were his words, which fell like soothing water on our parched ears. We soaked in his gentle talk and walked along hypnotised, biting his bait. He had offered to guide us through the darshan of the main God and His supporting Goddesses and also lead us through the Ganga Aarthi before dropping us back to our taxi. He appeared like a God sent angel to us. But before I could almost prostate in front him, he quickly added that for all his godly services he wouldn’t refuse a decent fee, as much as a generous devotee could offer. 

     After we nodded our head to his tricky demand, the agent priest led us through the serpentine lanes of Benaras. The truly and unbelievably narrow lanes were laden with stone slabs and were garnished with fresh dung all along. If on one side there were small drains flowing recklessly, just adjacent to it were food stalls selling jalebis, pooris and butter milk. And while we were struggling to even stand on our two legs on that undulated land, few super humans came on their two wheelers into the small crevices of that lane. Thus competing with the bikes and the bulls and the dogs that inhabited the narrow path, we finally reached the temple entrance in one piece. 

   The priest then led us to a store that sold flowers. The store was to double up as a locker for our valuables and a stand for our chappals and mind you, he said it was all free. The only condition being that we had to buy his consumables, the cost of which was a little over quarter of a thousand. For 250 rupees, he offered us a dried marigold garland, a jar of diluted white liquid which he swore was milk and a box of dry fruits along with the usual vermilion and turmeric combo. Growing wise over the years, with all the rude lessons that life had mercilessly taught me, I was beginning to turn into an atheist and situations like these only hastened that process. Having no inclination in indulging in any of the rituals, I politely declined to buy the stuff. But the seasoned storekeeper tricked me into me buying a subsidised pooja combo for 120 rupees.
    At the entrance there were elaborate security arrangements. Almost half a dozen people in khaki awaited to screen us. The female security in-charge meticulously opened my small wallet and checked for whatever on earth she was supposed to. And, after the metal detector failed to beep anywhere around me, she touched every possible curve of my body with her own two hands, to make sure I had no explosives on me other than my exploding tummy. While on the men’s section, the guards were extra smart and even threw away my husband’s pocket comb, lest he used it as a weapon ! Baffled, we entered the temple premises.
    The gopuram of the temple, the priest told us, was made of several kilograms of gold, being next only to the temple at Amritsar. He then told the little stories about the history of the lord before ushering us into the main sanctum from a short-cut route. In the sanctum, was a beautiful Linga, lord Viswanath of Kashi. Surprisingly the priests there had no qualms about letting devotees close to the lord, unlike in most South Indian temples where we are made to peep at the God, standing seven doors away. Here, we were allowed to even pour milk over the linga ourselves and place flowers. There were no special tickets for special queues and no costly poojas. But as though to compensate for it,there were informal fees demanded at every step. 

    At shri Annapurna’s shrine next door, the local priest allowed us to touch the feet of the Goddess and voluntarily performed an archana on our behalf, only to demand a generous offering in the end. Giving as much as we could,we moved on. 

    The next priest who poured teertha for us, also said special prayers and forcibly thumped holy sticks onto our bent heads. He too coaxed us into getting more punya into our kitty by offering some more. Tired, we moved on to the goddess vishalakshi temple nearby. The priests there went a step ahead and demanded offering in pure Telugu probably presuming that all dark people are from south India, more so from Andhra or for that matter Telangana. I replied to them in chaste Kannada and left without offering anything. 

  In the midst of the rituals and the demands, I was left with just a few seconds to connect with the warehouse of energy that these deities actually were. I longed for a silent priest-less temple where I could get to sit and immerse in the ecstasy of devotion. Thus longing, as I trailed behind our agent through more tedious lanes, in a little while arrived a spectacle I least expected. The narrow path suddenly opened into a miraculously vast area of freshness. The Ganga stood in front of us in all her glory, flowing robustly with unmatchable enthusiasm. Swift yet calm, rough yet cool, She flowed single mindedly, focused on just moving forward.

     Negotiating with the guy who agreed to ferry us down the Ganges for 1500 rupees, we jumped into the motor boat. No sooner did we begin floating in the Ganga , a strange spell of tranquility blew over us. We became silent as though instinctively and sat overwhelmed, as our boat sailed past the several ghats of Benaras. The Ganesh ghat, Ram ghat ,Bhonsle ghat, Assi Ghat, panchganga ghat and the like. Ghats were mere river banks with steps, each named distinctly. Ganga remained the same at all those ghats, taking in the sins of those who dipped into her and washing away to heaven, the souls of those who were burnt on them. 

    The manikarnika ghat and the Harishchandra ghats, the exclusive cremation sites, had burning pyres rousing high flames into the sky. They seemed to be proclaiming to the crazy humans, that life was indeed temporary on this earth. The Ganges was ruthless, washing away flowers and small lamps with same vigour as she did the remnants of the burnt bodies.


    But when I bent down to get a closer look at the greatest river of our country, I was surprised to see that the water was rather clean. I filled her into a bottle and could see through her clearly. Ganga-cleaning, as promised by Modi, was actually happening. We sprinkled three servings of the water onto our heads and finished the mini sin-washing bath. 

    Sailing along, we reached the dasashwamedh ghat where grand arrangements for the evening Ganga Aarathi were on. Hoards of boats were already parked by the ghat, with thousands of people eagerly waiting for the spectacle to unfold. I waited with baited breath. Ganga Aarathi, I was told, was one of the most invigorating events to witness. It was said to evoke high levels of energy which could easily lead one to hightened levels of consciousness.

   The sun had set and darkness had fully engulfed the horizon . The ghat was sparking with serial lights and floral decorations. There were festivities all around. Seven priests dressed in uniform saffron robes stood at the edge of the ghat, facing the Ganga. Singing in chorus, they offered incense sticks and dhoop  to mother Ganges with great reverence. Next in line was the aarthi with the huge stand of lamps, arranged in stacks of circles one above the other. The priests performed the aarthi synchronously in a background of resonating bells, cheers and prayers. It was an ecstatic moment. A grand tribute to mother Nature by us mortals. 

    Ganga flowed humbly, as if smiling at the little token of love and respect offered by this great clan of people called Indians. A little crazy, a little greedy and a lot unclean, but people who considered rivers as mothers, as goddesses and bowed before them. Ganga-ji or Ganga-Rani as the people here fondly addressed her as, flowed away, feeling fortunate to be nourishing a sacred land like ours.

   I got off the boat still awestruck and walked back in the same dirty lanes feeling less uncomfortable. It was after all my country. A country where people struggled with hunger and poverty but continued to cling onto the ancient knowledge of the vedas and followed all rituals. A country where people were corrupt and unjust but did not forget to take their mother’s blessing before heading out on work. A country where priests became agents to earn money but gave blessings and hence peace of mind in plenty. A country of paradoxes and of unbelievable  miracles.
    As our agent dropped us back at the taxi stand as promised, we paid him generously and took his blessings. We came back, feeling lighter, with our sins washed away and minds cleared of the biases. 

Tranquility next door ….

It was our anniversary trip. The 12 th one , to be precise. Those 12 yrs together had been the fastest of my life. With me transforming from a young and bubbly 24yr old to a weary ,middle-aged , working mother, my life had rushed down a roller coaster of sorts and here I was , at 36, tired and toasted, in bad need of a break.

Anniversary being good enough a reason to escape the routine, I booked a resort to chill out for two days. Away from the city, in the lap of nature, I planned to unwind till I was floppy. With house keeping and restaurant services  promised at the resort, I resolved to stay away from all kinds of chores and relax. It was a fool proof plan.

Loading all the essentials and the man and the kid, I reached the resort , located near Hassan . True to the reviews, the resort was a haven of peace. Studded with loads of lush green vegetation, the place appeared like a tiny forest in itself.

Right at the entrance, a lady clad in traditional silk saree stopped us to decorate our foreheads with vermillion and heads with garlands . The security guard nearby, the one with prosperous upturned mustache was quick to offer to click a picture of us-looking like sheep, waiting to be sacrificed. Of course I had  done an advance wire transfer for the rooms and hence had had my head already shaved much before the formal sacrifice rituals.

The resort as such, with its ethnic carvings, interesting antiques, and wooden structures, had a hoysalistic touch, true to its name- the hoysala resort.

After the check in formalities, the friendly guest manager led us through a stone laden path , lined with bamboo sticks on either side. The bamboos strangely had inverted coconut shells covering their hollow open tops. Trees, bushes and creepers grew all along the sides of the path and the branches often bent down, low enough to tickle us with the twigs. We walked and walked through the serpentine path till we reached a cosy cottage.

The interiors of the cottage were artistically done and the bed had a beautiful flower decoration atop. The room smelt irresistibly fresh by the lime flavoured room freshners liberally sprayed all around. The entire ambience switched on a strange feel-good  button within me.


The guest relation officer sweetly described the facilities in the room and the resort and for a while I dreamt of switching my maid with him. No sooner did he leave the room , I slammed on the bed with ecstasy.

Having spent that many years together, me and my man had blended beyond imagination. There was no need of conversations between us anymore. No, we did not read each other’s eyes, we read the minds. It was telepathy. As soon as I fell on the bed,  he knew instantly that for the next two days he was in charge of the kid and that I would have to be left alone.

He silently slipped out of the room with the kid, on the pretext of swimming, and I got some space to indulge in myself. I stay in bed , staring at the beautiful wooden roof of the cottage. The vintage fan swirling slowly , blowing fresh streams of air with each turn-around, soothed my senses. There was no next-meal to plan, no home work to help with. No uniforms to press, no milk coupons to juggle with. It was sheer tranquility.


Before I could plunge further into the bliss, it was lunch time. At the buffet , I was spoilt for choices. If at one end , there was dosa, akki roti, mudde and bas saaru, at the other , there were Russian salads, pastas, manchurian and curries. It was multicusine in the truest sense. After munching on each one of them to my hearts content, when I slurped the desert and gulped down the butter milk , I was as happy as mugambo. Tossing some flavoured arecanut and desi mouth freshners into my mouth, I walked back to the cottage as majestically as a sleepy but happy lioness. The lion and the cub, slowly followed behind, careful, not to disturb my peace.

When at the cottage , I slammed on the bed a second time , this time planning to sleep deep till I was hungry for the next meal .The kid got busy entertaining herself in the new place and the man fell asleep.

Yes it was our anniversary but we didn’t really hold hands or look into the eyes. Neither did we ever proclaim our love overtly nor did we need to wish eachother on face book. We were just two loving friends with benefits. Benefit of raising a beautiful kid together and benefit of owning property jointly though only he paid the EMI s.

As the best man of my life slept , I gazed at the wonderful family that he had given me and thanked God for all the nice things . It was now time for nicer things to follow. My much awaited afternoon nap.

Just as I was about to slip into a sweet slumber , I casually happened to feel something stuck in between my teeth. Tongue I believe is one of the most sensitive organs of all in the body. Like a pea beneath 20 mattresses, there was one tiny string of fibre stuck somewhere between my real and capped teeth in the right upper jaw. And my ultra sensitive tongue was smart enough to locate it . Not only did my dear tongue nail the fibre, it even autonomously decided to spend the whole afternoon trying to free it from the clutches of my teeth.

Twisting and turning , my tongue struggled till it’s tip became sore and the fibre got further entangled. I realised it was no longer in the purview of the tongue to free the fibre and brought in the tooth pick to continue the battle. The man had passed deep into snory sleep and I was yet to close my lids. Obsessed  with the stuck fibre, I sat up in bed, determined to not rest till I pulled it out. The tooth pick , unlike the tongue had no sensation and failed miserably to even isolate the fibre. After randomly bumping in between every pair of teeth, the tooth pick lost all its sharpness and became just a piece of worn out stick.


I now brought out the next weapon in order, my quientessential safety pin. All my dresses invariably had at least half a dozen safety pins peeping from within. Though I no longer pinned my duppattas , they often helped me pin down these unruly pieces of stringy food from in between my teeth. The safety pin , though did not sense the fibre , was sharp enough to dig in between all the teeth sequentially. No doubt it only  widened the gaps, making way for some more stuck issues in future. At the end of almost an hour , I was only left with painful tongue, bleeding gums, and a worn out tooth pick.

The more I failed to drive it out, the more determined I became to waste the rest of my holiday working on it. I got up from the cosy bed on that beautiful afternoon, only to enter the cold bathroom to brush my teeth. The soft and criss cross brissles of my dentist recommended brush was sure to drive out all the trouble or so I thought. But at the end of the brushing exercise , I was only left confused about the actual location of the stuck food and no longer knew if it was out of my teeth or not.

The fibre string was stuck in my mind. Like some old, rigid, useless thought that often clouds our consciousness and compels us to waste precious time brooding on it, this small piece of string had drained out all my peace. I wondered at the power of the tiny bit of food that had mercilessly screwed all my hibernation plans. I finally decided to no longer bother about it. I resolved to coexist peacefully with my stuck string.

By the time I had learnt another valuable lesson of life, the lesson to ignore negativities ,accept the flaws and live with it,  it was time to wake up . The man and the kid had already begun to dress up for the anniversary night. Though short of sleep, I slipped into my new dress without safety pins within.

After the evening coffee and a stroll in the garden, the husband and the kid insisted on going back to the cottage, citing some urgent bathroom business. And as we entered the room, to my utter surprise , there was a beautiful cake waiting for me.


The man had silently planned a surprise cake cutting while I stay stuck with my toothy problems. I embraced my dear family as I delicately worked the sharp knife into the pastry and smiled for the selfies .


After I ignored it,the stuck food had unknowingly slipped out,  both from my teeth and my mind.

That night, I had a lovely dinner and went to bed without trying to look for any new stuck bits and pieces anywhere. I let go of the strings that tucked me. I had learnt to let it all go ….

***********
The resort : Hoysala village resort hoysalavillageresorts.com

Location :    Outskirts of Hassan

Distance from Bangalore :         194 Kms

Attractions :   Bird watching,

walk through local village

Cultural shows

Star factor  :    Good food

Courteous staff

Calm surroundings.

Nearby tourist destinations: Belur , Halebidu, Shravanabelagola, chikmangalore

Delhi by night….

  Delhi , the magnificent capital of our country is a city worth visiting. If the numerous historical monuments and the pretty gardens are mesmerising, the architecturally marvellous temples are simply majestic. 


Apart from the usual monumental wonders, Delhi as a city is also known for its numerous market places and shopping streets. One such street in old delhi caught my attention more than anything else.

   Having roamed around the remnants of the moghuls palace, the Red Fort, I stumbled upon  this incredibly overcrowded lane, exactly perpendicular to the fort. The Chandni Chowk. Appearing  like a local market place in the first look, I would have easily given it a miss if not for the minor Bollywood connect. 

    Bollywood has been the source of most of my historical and geographical knowledge. If sanjay Bhansali  taught me the history of Bajirao Mastani, yash Chopra  familiarised me with the landscapes of Switzerland and the whole of Europe. Browsing thru the trusted filmy encyclopaedia in my brain, I realised that Chandni Chowk was very much the place referred to in the super flop of last decade -delhi 6. The only other reference being in the Akshay starrer brainless comedy, CCTC ( Chandni Chowk to china) . 

    I was inquisitive to know what prompted Om Prakash Mehra to craft an entire 3hr of boredom named after this part of delhi and pulled along my reluctant husband for a walk through chandini chowk. 

  Night walks are often pleasurable experiences specially when undertaken with a trusted companion. But in the middle of a crowded and chaotic old delhi with google maps off the radar due to low battery, the walk was akin to sailing in an unchartered sea. But from what I recalled from the countless reviews that I had viewed on trip advisor, I knew one thing for sure that Chandni Chowk was singularly popular for its local delicacies and I couldn’t help but barge into it even if blindfolded. 

    The entry into the street was almost blocked by the scores of bike rickshaws offering a ride till fatehpuri. Fatehpuri masjid is a 17th century mosque located at the western end of Chandni Chowk and most people ride across the street till the mosque on these heritage rickshaws.As I intended to explore the street more closely, I decided to walk down it, though there was barely enough space to land one feet at a time and squeeze through. Holding my husband’s hand passionately after 11 long years, ( the last and the only other time being as a newly wedded couple on honeymoon) lest he is lost in the crowd along with his heavy wallet, and I am left with nowhere to go in the dreaded Delhi, I cautiously treaded through the clumsy street. 

  With shops flashing their existence from the 19th century, some even older, it truly was a vintage place of Delhi. From clothing shops to zari works , silver ware, bridal wears and the like, the street had hoards of wholesale shops.

   A little ahead on the street , arrived the shops of my interest , the food joints!  The first one to bring a sparkle in my eye was the juicy, ghee-laden , sugary jalebis of the old famous jalebi wala. The jalebis of this shop were of XXL size and undoubtedly appeared to have the ability to transform anyone to fit into one too. True to its size, it cost a whooping 50 rupees per piece. But a bite into it was simply out of this world and was worth every penny. The sweet jalebis were complimented by the spicy samosa , some laden with aloo and some with green peas and vegetables. 


     Walking on , we next stopped at the Kanwarji Bhagirathmal Dalbijiwala known for his confectioneries. Unlike the last shop, he had 6 varieties of samosas and other exotic sweet dishes . Trying a few of them and packing a few others, we moved on. 


   Another food joint at a corner served variety of chats where I chose to bury my teeth into Khaman dhokla , the Gujrati version of our own idlis . Looking like yummy pieces of sponge , the dhokla had a tangy flavour with a spicy mustard seasoning on top and a fried green chilli to go with it.I must confess that the green chilli had never tasted so good in the whole of my life. 

  A small turn at that corner led us into the well know parathe wala gali . Smaller than the smallest of roads in our own Chickpet area, this gali had innumerable shops, all having live counters of parathas. The parathas were distinct for the fact that they were deep fried in oil . Never having heard of deep fried parathas I Jumped to try a few despite witnessing the potentially infectious hands of the cook. Beginning with the hall mark aloo parathas , I worked through methi, paneer , Gobi and pudina parathas. With 4 different side dishes to go with it , the parathas tasted truly distinct. Not bothering to ponder over the pathogens and the bad cholesterols that I had possibly devoured, I moved on with my gustatory adventure. 

The chef at work in Chandni Chowk…. undoubtedly a lifetime carrier of salmonella !!


  The next stop was a lassi stall which served quarter litre of thick sweet lassi in earthen pots. After the oily and spicy paratha feat, the lassi gave the much needed relief. 

Before ending our little night walk in Chandni Chowk , we painted our lips red by chewing on the local sweet pan that promised to digest all that I had dumped into my intestines. 

    Though I skipped visiting the gurudwara and the masjid in the street, I managed to shower all my devotion on the trademark dishes of Chandni Chowk and it gave me a bliss of its own kind. 

   The real joy of exploring a city lies in walking through its historical lanes , without a guide or a map book . Also, I strongly believe that no tour is really complete unless we indulge in the local foods  and  traditional dishes unique to that part of the world. This delhi night walk of ours,  gave us some yummy surprises and an insight into the age old business culture of old delhi. 

   Henceforth Delhi will always be remembered by me for its parathas and jalebis than for anything else. Looking forward to exploring more such local streets on my next visit,I bid adieu to our capital .
  

Avare mania….

   If you are Bangalorean, a person living in Bangalore for 2 consecutive years by the current definition, you will very much be aware of the green, kidney shaped beans lying in piles on all footpaths and markets during winter.Sold at 30 to 40 rupees per kg during its season, starting from November till march, this dicot, Avarekai is a trademark favourite of all people in this part of the world. So much so that for these few months, every dish of a kannadiga household will sport the bean in one form or the other, simultaneously ensuring good sales for room freshners . 

    Called as flat beans in English (courtesy google) these tiny wonders are lodged in dark green pods and have a characteristic flavour, specially when fresh and tender. Consumed as a whole or by squeezing off the thin layer of skin around it , the bean emanates a typical aroma that drives many a people like me crazy for more. And come the avarekai season , there arrives the Avare bele mela  organised by vasavi condiments on the V V Puram food street. Like every year , I rushed to the mela at the earliest to hog on some exotic thindis , all stuffed with liberal amounts of avarekai. 

     Unlike last year , the place lacked an elaborate enclosure but the grandeur was nevertheless the same. As I alighted at the entrance of the street,from an auto, along with two other friends , I thanked heavens that I didn’t get my personal vehicle, for the parking woes of last year were still fresh in my mind. And was doubly thankful that I left behind my anti- Avarekai spouse too as the the woes of managing an unwilling husband through a food fair is more cumbersome than parking the car. So, without the car and the car owner, I was as free as an untied bull to barge at any dish, any number of times I wanted. 


    There were roughly 50 different varieties of dishes made with the bean and I  was determined to not miss out on any. We began with the attractive dosa , akkirotti , bili holige and holige , of course all of them mixed with and hence prefixed with an “Avarebele”

  The avarekai dosa looked like a variant of onion dosa , with the ithkida avare substituting the onions. The cook who crafted the amazing dosas was amused to pose for the photo and obliged to share the secrets of the recipe too. 


   The akkiroti was unbearably hot, being just out of the tava and was at its crispiest best. The bili holige , called so probably for its white colour , was a dish from the holige family , only the stuffing being replaced by a rice flour based filling. It felt soft and tasted wonderful with the ithkida avarekalu saaru , the yum gravy made from deskinned flat beans, to go with it. 


     With the hot dishes served in ecofriendly adake pattu , the arecanut plates with a banana leaf on top, the joy and the taste only doubled. Irrespective of the dish ordered, all of them were served with a cup full of ithkida bele saru. For the few food- crazy souls like me , they even sold the saaru or the gravy in litres, to be packed and taken home, though I preferred to satisfy my buds there and then, going strictly by  Kabir’s words “Kaal kare so aaj kar , aaj Kare so ab..” and packed it all in my gut instead.

 
   The first four dishes filled me beyond my capacity with the beans probably bloating the stomach with their gaseous virtue. Though I longed to taste the avarekai paddu, the Ragi rotti , the Ragi ball and the avarekai khali dosa , I pacified myself with their pictures alone, as there was not an ounce of space left within. 

Paddu


    We decided to squeez in some light, sweet-dishes instead and went for the avarekai jilebi, Jamoon and the payasa ordering some avarekai masala vada , bondas and kodubale to go with it . 

Payasa


       The jilebi had a subtle greenish hue to it along with an unbelievable avarekai flavor. The avarekai payasa , had split avare beans suspended in a coconut and jaggery gravy and faintly tasted like the Hesarubele payasa , a similar sweet dish made from green gram dal. 

    The Jamoon, though looked like the usual ones , tasted extra sweet that day as we stuffed it into our mouth amidst the crowd of like minded foodies. It was a celebration of taste , a festival of flavours and a congregation of people, whose common religion was food . 
  Going ahead with the description of the rest of the dishes… the avarekai masala vada was the crispiest ever , transferred piping hot, directly from the pan to the plate. While the avarekai bonda tasted like a close cousin of aloo bonda , the avarekai mosarukodubale was simply out of this world, crispy on the exterior and soft within, sour on the first bite and yummy as it sunk in. 

Avarebele mosarukodubale


   It was now the turn of some solid avarekai stuffs…. the uppit , shavigebath, usli and pulao . Already over satiated by the avarekai adventure , I dared not try any one of them and hence cannot describe either . Though I must confess that with fast filing stomach , the dishes began to look less attractive .

Usli

Shavige bath

Pulao

   We decided to explore further and walked along the food street only to encounter more exotic variants of avarekai dishes. There were avarekai burger, momos and perhaps noodles too. And there were some more paddu, dosa and the avarekai masala idlis. 

      The heat , the excess of beans and the crowd on that sunny afternoon had such an ill spell on me that by the time I reached avarekai pani puri , I was on the verge of either fainting or puking out all the devoured beans. 

   A glass of sweet lassi from a nearby shop saved the day with its soothing effect and helped me move on with renowned vigour. 

    It was time for some fried beans now . The deskinned flat bean was deep fried directly in oil and was flavoured with different masala . There were salt, garlic, chilli, pudina and half a dozen other mouth watering flavours.



 

   As though I was less awestruck for the day, there was a line up of n number of sweet dishes, all made from avarekai. There was avarekai rave unde , halva , badushah, Soanpapdi, burfi , dry fruit halwa and many more, whose names, my middle-aged brain fails to remember now. The only dish possibly missing in the mela was avarekai mosaranna !! 

   Though I enjoyed relishing the dishes, the after effect on my intestines brimming with beans was rather discomforting.

     Overwhelmed but partly disgusted from the overdose of avarekai , I secretly pledged to stay away from the bean till the next season. 

    As I rode back with bag full of avarekai dishes packed for my family and friends, I reminisced on the saying “too much of anything good can be wonderful …” but not in case of flat beans and dearly missed my husband who would have curtailed my eating sprees and saved the agonising ordeal for me. 

                               ***********

Disclaimer: All dishes to be read with a “Avarekai” prefix. 

* the avarebele mela at v v Puram concluded on 15th Jan but it will be on at two other places shortly – 

Malleshwaram grounds- 18/1/17 to 22/1/17

Nagarbhavi – 25/1/17 to 29/1/17

Do visit and get your tummies deliciously upset . 
   
   

A little bit of India everywhere ….

  “Why are you posting pictures of singapore visit on fb? that is so cliched,” shouts my sis on WhatsApp call. “Is it? Why so?” I demand. 

    “It is a place full of Indians and visited mainly by Indians. It is too common to be special. Too stereotypical to be shared,” she assertains her stand .

 
  And I sit in the sixth floor room of our Singapore hotel, in the middle of the night,  thinking about it. Cliche, it is… 


       A little point country on the edge of a small strip of Land in south east Asia , Singapore has grown to become synonymous with tourism. Being one of the most affordable and compatible foreign trips to embark on, it has come to be a must visit destination for many, more so for us Indians.

     On our maiden visit to this wonderland, we found 90% of tourists to be Indians , more so Bangaloreans ,with one family hailing from the nearby malleshwaram. The familiarity reached its heights when we got to meet an old college-mate ,after 11 years , miles away, over there in singapore. And I must say I met more Kannada speaking people there than I could probably find in Bangalore. 

     All tourist groups invariably had Indians running behind a local guide. The guides were apparently so confused with the mad rush that they had devised ideas like using a flag or a tag to identify their groups.  Our guide jimmy (lee)  went a step ahead and gave us stickers to stick on ourselves, leaving us feeling like marked sheep before mass culling. Surprisingly, he confessed that, to him, all Indians looked similar , much like all south East Asians appearing like Jackie chans to us.
     Familiarity aside , I was awestruck at the vast technical advancement that this little country with just over 6 million population had done . Every place we visited was a spectacular man-made wonder. Sky scrapers with amazing architecture , a lion head with a fish body for a monument , some mind blowing rides, museums and aquariums in a nearby island and lo behold , an entire landscape of gardens with vegetation from all over the world ,created by simulating a cloud forest weather , it was every bit a human wonder. Even the much sought after night safari turned out to be a ride through artificially modified jungle and it left me wondering if the animals were artificial too as they looked suspicuously unnatural with the deers standing silently beside the running tram and the hippopotamus looking like a painting from out of an animal book. 

The Merlion …

Man-made Cloud forest with the waterfalls…


But,Singapore in all its artificiality, gave us some superb experiences. It was mind blowing to stand atop sky park observatory,on the 56th floor of the amazing building, Marina Bay Sands, an architectural wonder.

Marina bay sands with the sky park observatory on top


   The Transformers ride at the universal studios stood out as a technical marvel. A must-experience ride , this one was a simulation of a robotic fight and for a while it imperceptibly transformed me into a gigantic machine , fighting the evil, facing explosions, falling from heights and crashing into buildings.

The transformer …


  The giant roller coaster was unbelievably hair raising , to see . It would have no doubt been a heart-stopping experience to ride, if only I had not cleverly refrained from getting on it, citing the reason of the already booked return flight tickets. 

The intricate roller coaster path…

  If universal studios and sentosa island gave such adrenaline rush , the night safari and the Jurong bird park stimulated our wild senses. Exotic birds like the peach coloured Flemingos , hornbills ,colourful macaws, and talking parrots which even sang and counted numbers , blew away my wits. And the extraordinary animals at the safari made me crave for more . Ever heard of an animal , the Malayan Tapir? Appearing like a hybrid of pig and polar bear , the Tapir only left me speculating how the two could have ever mated? 

The elegant flamingos..

The emperor penguins..

A google image of the Malayan tapir ….


    The botanical wonders at the gardens by the bay were all the more high profiled. The carnivorous plant , the pitcher plant , which I remember reading about in high school had bloomed to glory in hundreds and the varieties of orchids, Singapore’s national flower only outdid eachother in charm and beauty. 

Orchids at garden by the bay..

Rarest of the rare, pitcher plant.


  I  realised that the Singaporeans were not just advanced in technology , they were, in terms of discipline too. If “Following rules” is a ROFL range of joke in India , Singaporeans were unbelievably serious about it. I got a taste of their earnestness when I saw our guide getting petrified on seeing us eat inside our coach . He said it was banned and made us hurriedly gulp our ice cream standing out of the coach. Littering was banned, and spitting was like something extraterrestrial .Cabs refused to stop anywhere on roadside except at taxi stands and did not allow even an ounce of flesh more than 4 adults. And the funniest of all, everyone followed traffic signals !

     I must mention here that in all their amazing tourist spots , there was free wifi, of course, along with long queues. As we stood at the queues, closely brushing shoulders with the fellow Indian tourists , I observed that none of them , left or right wing supporters, ever once complained , unlike when they stood for the ATM queues back home, a few weeks ago. The older Indian bhaiyon and beheno only franaticlly compared the cost of each other’s tourist packages and unanimously cursed the breakfast menu at their respective hotels, while the younger lot stood glued to their smart phones, scrolling through meaningless shares and forwards. Insanely excited by the free wifi , they appeared to be reluctant to even get onto the ride and seemed to enjoy the queuing more . If only Modiji had used this trick of installing free wifi in all banks and ATMs before demonetising , there wouldn’t have been the huge hue and cry ever. 

Queue for the rides at the universal studios…


  Discovering more about the Indian connect with Singapore , it was interesting to know that 30% of singapore’s population were Indian Tamils and Tamil was one of the 4 compulsory languages to be learnt in school. 

     All local Tamilians were mostly congregated in one small locality of Singapore – the little India . As the name suggested, it looked like just another lane in south India . With even the shops named in Tamil scripts and Murugan adorning their entrances, it was overwhelmingly cosy to walk in those lanes.

A little bit of India in Singapore …


  And not to forget the beautiful South Indian vegetarian restaurants in every street of little India, which was a feast for the eyes as much as for the stomach. With the waiters conversing in sweet Telugu and lovely Kannada along with incomprehensible Tamil, while serving Iyengari sambar, the place felt tearjerkingly homely. Dining in any one of those restaurants, instantly transported one back to India, without an immigration seal.


  Yes, Singapore felt very Indian and at many instances didn’t feel like a foreign trip, except of course while spending in Singapore dollars. It was cliched and stereotypical and sometimes even appeared like a overhyped amusement park. But it did amuse me in a number of different ways. If the tourist attractions were exotic, the little India was desi. Put together,the tiny wonderland with its wonderful people, gave me a bunch of special memories of its own kind. 

    Past midnight at that singapore hotel with free wifi, I posted some more of our trip photos on facebook and slept peacefully, inspired to pen a blog as soon as I flew back. 

                             **********

Tips for Indians visiting Singapore : 

* If you are particular about Indian food and are a vegetarian , book a hotel close to Little India. 

* Taxis are in plenty and affordable, good to explore the city slowly.

* wait for taxis in a queue at taxi stand. They do not take customers bypassing the queue. 

* weather changes as unpredictably as RBI rules . Carry an umbrella in all seasons. 

* shop at bugis street, the china bazaar of Singapore, unless u have all ur black money converted and are desperate to spend. 

* Do visit the orchard street if you travel around Christmas. The decorations and lighting are marvellous .

* And do extend your stay till New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks, something which I narrowly missed. 
    

Gorukana ….

Picturesque surroundings, lavish vegetation, soothing silence, good food and a bit of a tongue twister ,that’s Gorukana for you . A resort, as unique as its name, Gorukana is a class apart from all the other luxury resorts that claim themselves to be so.

dsc03102

Sitting on nature’s lap…

Literally meaning “web or spinning of a spider web,”  gorukana is a word in the local language of the soliga tribe, inhabiting the BR hill forests. The people of this tribe have been living on the principal of  self sustainability through harmless utilisation of the forest resources and this resort is just another example of their effort towards it.

Located in the Biligiri Rangana hills in Karnataka, built and managed by the local tribe, the resort has a very authentic, desi touch to it, in the true sense. Right from the receptionist to the cook, to the nature guide, or the simple errands boy, all staff at the resort are from the soliga community. And it is deeply inspiring to see them embrace a popular business model to earn for themselves at the same time providing rich cultural experience to its customers. It is a win-win situation for both, more so for us customers who go in search of peace, excitement , freshness and relaxation, all in a short weekend break . Here is a quick account of our stay there….

The resort had the usual services in its package , the cottage,  food,  nature walk and the spa , but what made it stand out was the uniqueness in all that it offered.

The cottages were one of its kind. Each named after a wild animal,the cottage was a cute little duplex structure.A small staircase led to an attic which was adorned by a comfortable bed and a window, in addition to the king size bed with exotic wild life pictures and other room accessories in the ground floor area. The room opened to a airy balcony, facing  tall trees and their canopy , with a stream flowing gracefully somewhere behind them. Perfect to spend a evening with your loved one, sipping on some hot tea , reminiscing on good old memories.

As the sun set, the green surroundings surprisingly transformed into pitch dark wilderness and the chirping of birds was replaced by a deep silence, of course on the background of faint humming of the forest insects. 

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The cosy balcony…

If exotic games like snooker and squash are the highlights of high end resorts , this place had a unique pastime arranged for its guests in the late evening. It was a live program by the tribesmen. They enlightened us about their way of life , of living on the produce of the forest, collecting nuts , fruits, honey and some twigs from the jungle and earning by selling them. Their’s was a system of symbiosis, of interdependence with nature. They co-existed with the jungle and did not destroy it for their comforts unlike the educated, technically sophisticated,urban man.

They sang their folk songs and danced their ritualistic dances which seemed to be more entertaining than any insane rock show. And much to my amusement my own better half danced and drummed along and rocked the show.

The buffet spread deserves a special mention. Food was good and hygienic and the care offered by the staff made it even more appealing . The special item that I wish to highlight is the “bamboo 65 “which I tasted for the first time ever. Made from bamboo shoots , the dish had pieces of bamboo dipped in a yummy batter and sinfully deep fried. It had a strange, crispy yet soft texture and felt more like biting into a sea weed clad in spices. The taste is even hard to explain, being something of a blend of baby corn and mummy chicken. Of course, I have no idea how the latter tastes but going by the strangeness of the flavour, I had to compare it to something I have never tasted.

An ideal setting for a getaway ,it was a night spent with no TV or mobile network in the cottage and hence no Arnab goswamy’s howling on prime time or megalomaniac opinionating on social media. It was peace at its best, at the most interrrupted by the hooting of an owl or the barking of a fox somewhere in the jungle.

The next morning was welcomed by the chirping of unknown birds from amidst the tall trees surrounding the cottage. The freshness in the air was unprecedented. In that misty early morning hour, a young soliga guide took us on a nature walk. Having trained under a professional ornithologist, our nature guide was no less a prodigy. He sighted various birds and named the biological names of all trees, even explaining the delicate balance in the ecosystem like a seasoned environmentalist. We also got to look at the settlement of a few of the tribal population and got a peek into their lives.

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Our guide for the nature walk…

To further aid us relax, the place had a Ayurvedic massage centre and it was a joy to get complimentary foot massage from our own Kannada speaking masseurs. I was so impressed by the soothing treatment that I went ahead to get a face massage, just for the joy of conversing with a non accented Kannada speaking girl, who made the whole experience so enjoyable, unlike the english-speaking, artificially complementing beauticians at branded parlours in Bangalore.

The trip included a wild life safari through the surrounding forest offered by the jungle lodges, which yielded no wild animals or their foot prints to sight. And we did visit the ancient biligiri Ranga temple located nearby and also shopped for some local honey and jackfruit which are a must take-away from here.

Finally we had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Sudarshan, the mentor and the benefactor of the soliga tribes, who has been working in this region for their upliftment since several decades.

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With Dr. Sudarshan , the mentor of the soligas….

We returned with truly overwhelmed hearts.

 I do recommend this resort to all my dear ones. Mainly to experience the joy of living with nature and also to know the importance of coexisting with it, with the remote hope that someday the human community will understand and stop exploiting the natural resources, before it is too late to rectify.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A date with Davanagere Benne dosa….

     Here is a one of its kind romance ,between a foody and her beloved dish , the authentic benne dose, happening right at its place of origin – Davanagere . 

  It has been years since I have relished my ever favourite dish. But I remember every little detail of the last dosa I ate, like it was yesterday. I miss it dearly , specially when I bite into the modified versions of the same in bangalore. So off I go to Davanagere just to indulge in a little bit(e) of romance with my childhood crush , the benne dose! 

    I alight at this ordinary looking , local benne dose hotel in DVG ,along with my family. It is the bright early morning  hour. 10 am on a Sunday morning of course counts as early, specially for a sleep deprived working mother , who treasures a holiday nap.

One of the many benne dose hotels adorning the streets of Davanagere …


   A die hard fan of both benne and dose , I have come well prepared to sooth my senses on one of the most sensuous of all dishes . By well prepared, I mean that I have loaded my stomach with light dinner on the previous night and have taken care to unload the colon fully , first thing in the morning , just to make space for the special dish. And not to mention , the extra work out to balance for the extra calories.

   The classic Davanagere benne dose, being beautifully brown, tenderly crisp and sinfully buttery, sensuous is just an understatement to describe it. The story of my love for the dosa is eternal , the spark being ignited the day I first tasted it as a young girl.  And through all these years, my love for it has remained pure and unadulterated as much as I hope the butter used for it is .

A google image of benne dose


 
    The irresistible aroma of the fried butter as I enter the hotel, arouses my deep hidden desire again. A desire to get a glimpse of the king of all dishes . A desire to soak in the flavour of the buttery delight. It is a craving which only a hungry stomach can understand. 

  The desire is interspersed with an element of anxiety , a subtle restlessness akin to the joyous yet tense feeling while waiting for your loved one on a date. Will she come on time ? Has she seen the message? Did she mention the same restaurant? A million doubts as you wait for her . And as we wait for our order of two plates of benne dose per head to arrive, I fidget with my fingers …. will the two plates arrive together? Has the waiter heard the order properly? Will there be enough chutney? …. myriad doubts occupy my mind. 

    Unable to bear the excitement and the hunger together, I stand up for a stroll, to ease the tension. I walk till the wash basin on the pretext of washing my already clean hands. That way I plan to get a glimpse of my Love . The way a Cupid struck student may  steal a look of his girl from across a library table, I stealthily raise my eyelids to soak in the beauty of the butter laden dosa,sizzling on the tava nearby. It looks irresistably lovable, just like the forbidden girl. The dosa is overturned and it blushes very much like the shy girl when she notices that you are watching her. There is a instant connect . A bell rings in the heart . “I love you ” , I whisper to the dosa being made for me. ” I am all yours” it whispers back. There are no bounds to my joy. I quickly walk back to my seat when I see the waiter arranging the dosa on the plate to serve.

A glimpse of my loved one sizzling on the tava…


     Waiter arrives with one plate per head to begin with. There are two dosas per plate , complimented with a colourless potato curry and coconut chutney. The surface looks shiny and golden brown. My heart palpitates and my pupils dilate . It is the most beautiful sight ever. Can there be anything more beautiful than your beloved ? Never. Not when you are hungry. The dosa is most beautiful when you are hungry, as much as a girl is, till you make her your wife. 

One dosa down ….


    I tear a piece from the edge. It is the crispest feeling ever. I blow a light wisp of air across to cool it and it crumples shyly much like a ghoongat clad bride of Hindi movies, shying away raising the pallu . A smile lands on my face even as my taste buds crack in anticipation. Dosa lands on my tongue and melts instantly even as the flavour of butter lingers on. I smack my lips and prepare myself for the next bite . This time along with the potato and the chutney. The bland curry perfectly compliments the spicy chutney,  and the two together make the dosa taste heavenly. In no time the first plate is clean. The second plate with two more dosas looks  equally appealing . I decide to accomadate it in my fast filling tummy, conveniently ignoring the growing tyres around it. Bit by bit the stomach fills to the brim and the butter floats atop. I am full. And I am happy . As happy as probably the boy whose proposal is finally accepted by the girl on a date. 

  I burp as I pay the bill . While I leave the place, I look back one last time at the left overs of my steamy romance on the plates . The pieces of potato and the unused chutney  are witness to my affair with the butter kissed dosa. 

  My heart is heavy as I turn around and walk away , promising myself to visit again after burning some more calories in a couple of days. As they say,  “there is no love sincerer than the love for food” and I cannot agree more. 

A pinch of patriotism at the Wagah – Attari border …..

The recent developments of the ghastly attack on army base at Uri and Indian retaliation to it, reminded me of the only close encounter I have had with the army so far or rather the BSF . It was at the Wagah border close to Amritsar .

      Though I have loved my country ,for the sole selfish reason that it is ‘My’ country , I have never been overtly patriotic . But on this trip to the Wagah border, I saw a bunch of humans who defied all standards of comfortable living and worked for the country , so much so that it metamorphosed my view of what patriotism could be . 

     It was a sunny afternoon when we drove on the highway from Amritsar to Attari border. Our  driver stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch . Named as ‘ SARHAD ‘ , the restaurant was supposedly  popular for serving the cross-border cuisine . We treated ourselves to a veg amritsari thali as all the Lahori dishes invariably had a hen or a lamb cooked in it . The ambience reminded one of  the old punjabi interiors and adoring the walls were pictures and paper cuttings from the era of freedom struggle and partition of India . There was a huge painting across an entire wall which depicted the pain inflicted on the people by the partition . It was evident that partition was not something the people of the country asked for but rather a political decision , a cruel repercursion of Britisher’s divide and rule policy . As we left ‘Sarhad’ , the possibility of ‘how would world have been if partition had never happened ?’ ,  kept playing on my mind . 

sarhad – the cross border restaurant

     On reaching the Attari BSF post, I saw that there were already scores of people rushing towards the border which stood  further 1 km away . We joined the race after securing sufficient water bottles and Indian flag coloured -patriotic caps to protect our scorching scalps from evaporating.  The Rush was truly mad . People of all ages , races and ethnicity were running towards the common goal , the border , as if there were free Jio sims being distributed there. 



After quickly being whisked by the security staff , we barged into the border area only to find an infinitely long queue. The queue , initially straight,  began to curve,  as curious people started peeping ahead and the one behind them moved aside to peep further ahead. The chain of events continued till the starlight line changed shapes from I to L to C to V , to finally become H shaped , ending up in two queues , interconnected by few confused people like me who didn’t know which queue to actually join. A BSF jawan walking nearby with an unbelievably real rifle , saw the commotion and charged at us like a shepherd tending to unruly sheep. In no time the people fell in a single line and were allowed to enter the main gallery area. 

      Metres away from the actual border gate is a large gallery with capacity to accommodate close to a thousand people. People rushed to the gallery to block seats as if they were settling there forever . In no time the gallery filled up and people were seen squatting in between the steps as well. It was then that the long wait for the ceremony began. With 2 more hours left for the retreat to begin , I had no clue how to spend it below the scorching sun , sweating .

waiting under the scorching sun …


     It was the quintessential entertainer , Bollywood which came to my rescue . Patriotic Bollywood songs started playing on loudspeaker placed quite close to out seat. It began with the cheesy ” indiawale ” and moved on to hair raising numbers like “vande Mataram”  and “Jai Ho “. Interspersed between them were old desh premi songs … ‘Is desh ki dharti’ , ‘eh mere Watan …’  , ‘ ‘DIL diya hai Jaan bhai denge …’ And many many more . The sun, the sweat and the heat didn’t matter  anymore . People from all parts of the country sat together ,cheering India . A strange feeling of jitteriness crept over me ,finally thudding my heart.  I wondered if this was what patriotism felt like…. Only to realise that it was actually the effect of the loudspeaker and A.R. rahmans grooves on my frail heart. 

      To keep us occupied , a army man arrived in white informal  dress and a Mike. He was a well built, handsome young man and owned a royal moustache . He motivated the crowd into shouting slogans for India . He was so good at his job that given a chance ,he would have inspired even a turtle to fly . He made a few people seated in front, run with the Indian flag in hand as the background score of ‘Jai Ho’ kept playing. He even allowed the kids to dance to a few numbers. He infused patriotic fervour deep into our veins. There was love in the air ,everywhere. Love for the country .I enjoyed the drill , more so for the songs , also for the crowd and the collective celebration of indianness. “I love my India ” kept resonating. 

the motivator with the mustache !



      In between the songs, in the narrow pause , I heard faint unheard songs playing far away . As I searched for the source of this disturbance, I saw the world that existed on the other side of the border. There was a similar gallery with similar people, very similar indeed , shouting slogans , equally fervently. They seemed equally if not more motivated. Only that the  songs being played on the other side echoed, ” I love my Pakistan !! ” . 

       It felt strange. In the midst of all the noise and celebration , my confused mind began ruminating. A line drawn on a map by some political leaders had alienated similar people into two diametrically opposite groups. They too were humans , they too loved their country , they were infact one among us years ago. Then ,why were we divided today ?And divided to an extent that we are always on the verge of a war with each other.  Hurling abuses at one another , killing fellow humans ,boycotting artistes, and waiting to drop nukes. Why all this? Who was to be blamed ? No answer seemed to be forthcoming even as my little girl kept questioning as to how the Pakistani people looked just like us ? 

retreat ceremony in progress .people on the other side of the border.


     As I stood lost in thoughts ,the ceremony began . A soldier dressed in the BSF attire arrived . He first touched the BSF flag post and then touched his eyes and stood in attention with utmost discipline. He was worshiping the flag , his job , his country. I wondered when was the last time I touched my stethoscope or the hospital logo and worshiped. Turned out I had never done such a thing . The rest of the soldier’s team arrived , all with proudly inflated chests and fierce eyes. As they went about the retreat ritual , I saw that there was a an insane earnestness in all their moves. They seemed to be exceptionally proud of their country, their job . Even beyond their duty, they seemed to be taking the entire ritual personally  as evident from the way they stamped their feet ferociously or threateningly raised their arms and rested it on their waists. Country was not just a place they inhabited, it was a matter of pride for them . 

    As I proudly witnessed their moves , I observed that the soldiers on the other side behaved in exactly similar way . They were equally proud of their country and flag , had the same earnestness and fire in their eyes.who was more righteous of the two then? Why should I hate the soldiers on the other side of the border? I was as lost as probably Arjuna was on the battlefield of  Kurukshetra . With no Krishna coming over to recite the Gita for me , I concluded myself that soldiers of both sides were merely doing their duty. And as a citizen of India my duty was to love my country and cheer for it . 


       Returning from the ceremony I came across the same BSF guards still standing where they were 5hrs ago. Through all the heat and wind , I saw them doing their duty without a frown . There were plenty of soldiers around , all handling deadly weapons with utmost ease like they were mere toys . Clad in soiled uniforms , with no food or rest on time , away from their families , they lived an arduous life , truly a life less ordinary . Something that no civilian could even imagine . And yes , we needed to respect them for that. 

Soldiers , emotions and patriotism on either side of the border are very much the same . We are similar people in adjacent lands. Just that the hatred between the two needs to be curbed coz hatred only begets hatred and does no good to either of us . 

    Hope someday the misled people think clearly and stop all the unnecessary infiltrations. Hope some day we can stop sacrificing the precious soldiers’ lives for mindless hatred . May Peace prevail.