Going Slow in a Fast Train: A Mumbai Perspective


Time is such a fascinating concept. We keep thinking about it all the time.If you chance to  hear a regular train traveller  their talks will fascinate. “I couldn’t catch the 6:15 today and look at how crowded the 6:20 is! No you should take the 9:35 and not the 9:48”. It sounds absurd but we’re so ruled by time and micro managing. I’ve been suspect to that too, reading the paper or a book or catching up with friends.

Well yesterday was different. In what way?? Read on.

By the time I usually leave my client in Fort its dark. And the city looks the same everyday, nothing changes is what I thought. I happened to leave early yesterday, when there was light and people slowly started winding up their work. The breeze was still blowing. I could see the golden sun make its descent in the horizon. The waters gleamed yellow.

I took out the paper to go on with my customary routine of reading the happenings in the Business world. At that moment the sun’s rays came streaming into my face. And for a moment I was lost. It seemed magical and there was this urge to just stand still and watch. And I decided on impulse to take this journey off.

Something about watching the city change from a sunny dress to a dark and sparkling robe captured my attention. And suddenly the paper didn’t look so interesting anymore. I’d not seen the sunset at Marine Drive for a long time now.

The train seemed to guess my sentiments and slowly chugged along instead of pulling me across the city in 40 minutes. I’ve always felt that trains had feelings and they could somehow sense yours. And they made you introspect.

The wind blew against my hair as I saw stations pass by, some we stopped on and some we passed. Yet it felt like every station represented something unique. From the Marine Drive façade at Marine Lines and Charni Road to offices at Bombay Central, the ruins near Parel, the churches near Elphinstone, the Chaos near Dadar and Andheri. From the beautiful victorian remains at Bandra to the beginning of the buildings in the suburbs to the cars whizzing by on the Highway. Even the mangroves and the creek looked beautiful as the lights cast their shadows on it. It was beautiful. This city was beautiful. It was chaotic, unplanned, messy but it was beautiful

We often are amazed when we see a city abroad, those wide roads and the parks and those tall buildings looking so similar. But here, it was like you had different, entirely different parts sewn together somehow functioning like a whole. I only did the western but I am sure the Central and Harbour with their numerous stations, some crossing farm lands and mountains while some on elevated platforms have their own charm.

There was also the beauty of seeing the light sky replaced by a dark blanket and see the lights come on in homes. For a city dweller it is disorienting to see no lights when you look out. Everywhere we passed, slowly lights were coming on, people were home. That sense of comfort that wherever you are you will reach home, was trememdous. And I think its something this city provides in abundance.

Through this whole journey the one thing I could draw comfort from was movement. There was movement all around me. People going home. Its one of the reasons why I love the name of my blog. The grace still amazes me that something so beautiful is the name of my blog. (=iamhomewardbound.wordpress.com). however far we go there is always that one place where we’re who we really are, without the pretenses and the masks. Its where our hearts belong –  ‘Home’

It was as if the crowded train echoed my sentiments. People all eager to go home. As I got off my station to make my way home it struck me how beautiful this journey was.  Going slow in a fast train was definitely one of the best journeys I’d made in a long time.

Cheers!!!

Gir: The Temple Tour


Day 3: 18th January 2011 After a beautiful Morning Safari, we decided to do a Temple Tour of Somnath. There is a point in Somanth from where there is unobstructed sea till Antarctica. And guess what, i checked Google Maps. Right it was 🙂  This is a map of the route from Gir Forest to Somnath Somnath is one of the most beautiful temples of India which stands testimony to the fact that plunderers may come and go but what has to remain will remain. Somanth is a Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva also known as the Destroyer in Hindu Mythology. He is regarded as the most powerful god in Hinduism. Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power, he lives a life of a sage at Mount Kailash. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God and has five important works: creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer (to bless).

Quoting from the Somnath Temple Trust website,

“The Somnath temple stands at the shore of the Arabian ocean on the western corner of Indian subcontinent in Gujarat State. Somnath is in Prabhas Patan very close to Veraval.   The Moon God is said to have been relieved from the curse of his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati by the blessings of Bhagvan Somnath.  In  the Shiva  Purana  and Nandi  Upapurana, Shiva  said, `I  am  always present everywhere  but  specially  in  12  forms  and places as  the  jyotirlingas`. Somnath is one of  these 12 holy places. This is the first among the twelve holy Shiva Jyotirlings.  It has withstood the six-repeated desecration by the Muslim invaders. The very existence of this temple is symbol of reconstructive spirit and cultural unity of our society. The seventh existing temple is built in the Kailas Mahameru Prasad style. The Iron man of India Sardar Shri Vallabhbhai Patel is the pioneer of the existing temple.”

India is a land of temples. So its a given that when we do go to any place, there is always a temple tour involved. It was always on the cards to do a temple tour of Gujarat.

There is Dwarka and Somanth and when we were coming to Sasan, there was Virpur, which again is believed to be a very powerful temple. Then there is a place of Jain pilgrims, Palitana. So Gujarat has its fair bit of divine destinations.

So we started off on our last evening in Gir, to visit Somanth. On the way, we drove through small villages and hutments. When i was small, there were some cottages near my grandparents’ building. There was a thin road connecting the road to my grandparents with the main road. So we had to cross over the thin stone layered road through the packed cottages. There was always a stream of water flowing beside the stone road. It was very quaint. Our first stop was a Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. There was a round of women who were singing and chanting. The temple wasn’t very clean or big.

The First Stop and the Chanting Women

It is an extraordinary feeling that you get when you drive through villages. The children look at you with such wide and surprised eyes. Also the cattle, they are everywhere!! The fields during the winter look brilliant because the winter crop is in bloom. The fields look green or white and flowers fill the air with their fragrance. Our next stop was Somnath. But before we actually went to Somnath for the evening Aarti, we went to a smaller Krishna and Shiva Temple close by. We went through a gate and a host of small mandaps made out of stone which were at the banks of the Arabian Sea. The sun was just setting then. It was idyllic.

There were people strolling around, dogs lazing and crows cawing. It was a very peaceful scene. I don’t know what it is about temples and the temple surroundings, but they are always very calm. It centers you when you’re there, quietens your mind and allows you to think. The funny thing here, was the large number of crows sitting on one of the stone structures. It seemed like they were having a parliament of their own. It was amusing to watch.

There was a Radha-Krishna temple which was our last stop before we went to Somnath. We’re usually not allowed to take pictures in temples, but this one was a really small one with not a lot of people coming. Also it was getting a little dark by then and we could see the moon. It was nice to go to a small temple. Sometimes you find serenity in small places, in corners where you least expect it. The crowd usually goes one way and it helps to go the other way. It throws up unexpected results!!

And finally we made our way to Somnath. There was a huge crowd there as it always comes during the evening aarti. And where a large number of tourists go, there are stalls selling wares. We got two books about Somnath and the 12 Jyotirlingas from an old man selling those. There were people selling shells and clips made of shells. I saw cowries with alphabets and promptly started searching for an ‘N’ in vain. There were hair clips and bracelets made with shells in addition to regular key-chains and other wares. There were also photographers who asked people to pose and then clicked photos. You have to stand and they click a photo with Somnath in the background. Then in half an hour, they develop the photo and bring it to you. So we decided to give this guy a chance and stood for a photo. The fellow charged some Rs. 30 and asked us to pay later when we got the photo. And then we went inside.

Its said that the Somnath was plundered time and again 6 times and each time a king built it, bringing funds from not only his kingdom but also the adjoining kingdoms. It shows a resilience which is an outstanding feature. Most plundered temples lay in ruin till date.

When we went inside, we were put in two lines, one for the ladies and one for the men. It is a good practice because it means men and women are not huddled together in the crowd. There was a wait after which the aarti started. Everyone leaned in forward to take blessings. There isn’t much time you can spend in the temple when there are crowds because security works in to slowly clear out the people. It was a short darshan but a nice one.

We’re not allowed to take photos inside the temple. There is a security deposit where you can keep electronics. When we were done with the darshan we collected the camera. The process was smooth. We went into the Temple Courtyard and there was a batch of school kids who had come. There was a sound and light show that was happening there that night which would tell us the history of the Somanth. So we decided to stay and watch that.

There isn’t a screen where anything can be projected and neither was the light rearranged to look like people. The projections were made on the temple and a sound boomed telling us all about the kings who ruled and made Somnath every time it was plundered. The current temple was pioneered by Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel, the Iron Man of India.

I felt proud that there was a Temple that kept coming up even though it was plundered for its riches. Shows the amazing grace we are surrounded with and the faith of the devotees which kept the Temple alive even under threat of invasion. We left after buying some key- chains.

And i figure we left so late that the photo fellow didn’t come. Usually they come and are prompt when money is involved. But by the time we left, it was late. I think we searched for him after our darshan too, but we couldn’t find him!! Case of the Missing Photo!!!

We retired, ready to pack and leave Gir after a short power packed trip!!!

Gir: The Travellers Risk a Morning Safari


When we were in the Gir forest, Abu bhai (=our tour guide) spoke volumes about how nice a morning safari is. Its also said that a morning safari is a good time to catch the lion especially the cubs because they made their way into the forest and to the ponds inside to drink water. Generally the morning is a good time to see any animal or bird because the weather is extremely pleasant.

Although the morning safari did come with its own T&Cs, the cold temperatures and the prospect of waking up in the wee hours on a vacation. Abu Bhai sold us the idea of the Morning Safari though. He said seeing the safari looking hot and dusty in the afternoon was a common thing but the real grind was in seeing the day unfold right there in the midst of nature.

So the next thing we knew, we’d signed up for a morning safari.

Abu Bhai in a Jacket. It was quite a chilly morning

At 5AM we reached the Gir sanctuary and booked tickets for another safari. And my dad asked for Abu Bhai to be our guide again. When Abu Bhai came to us he was surprised that the authorities allowed that. Its not common for the authorities to assign the same guide to a tour. The process of assigning a guide is random so as to eliminate bias.

And might i say, this was far too much an adventurous step we’d taken. Usually we read up about a place, research, ask the locals and then go. This was the first time we’d actually decided on the spot that we’d go for the morning safari and actually got to doing it.

The whole world around us looked deep in slumber. It was dark all around save the Sanctuary Booking Office. Once we were allotted a vehicle, driver and a route, we set off.

The Lake looking smoky with energy balls called ‘orbs’. We believe these are angels or positive energy that we sometimes get lucky to capture in our photos

We got allotted Route 6 which is the opposite of the Route 2 we got the last time. So we had hopes of seeing some lions or cubs coming out to have a drink at the pond.

When we drove inside the Forest, the first thing that struck us is the silence. It is incredibly silent in the Forest. Our old and clattering jeep sounded so loud that we were worried for a moment that all the birds and animals would hear us and run away. Dawn’s rays were breaking into the Forest, painting the leaves a beautiful golden and ushering in a new day. It was a beautiful moment. The Forest was so cold, we had to wear a jacket and a woolen cap over our ears to stay warm. Our fingers were frozen though.

The Golden leaves

There was a point where we stopped. There was another jeep which was stuck because its motor wasn’t working. There was nothing we could do. While we waited for a patrol jeep, we stood hearing the cicadas and other insects welcoming dawn.

If you go into a forest just before dawn and wait until the sun’s first rays paint the world spectacular, you’d notice how Nature celebrates the arrival of another day. Animals wake and smile, insects buzz, birds chirp. There is celebration and gratitude for the new day. Its a subtle habit that we need to pick up too, celebrating every moment!!

There was a point where we waited for a while. The spot overlooked a pond and there was a pug mark just before we went. But Lady Luck didn’t favour us that day and we didn’t spot a lion/ lioness/ cubs. But what we did spot were a lot of birds. It was a bird lover’s paradise. We could see so many birds, few of which we were lucky to capture. Some birds were enjoying a morning meal while some storks played in the pond. It was beautiful to watch.

A Crested Serpent Eagle

Our guide Abu bhai could rattle off the names of ALL the birds we saw. It was amazing. I wondered how life would be for these guides. Spending their time with nature in the Forest every single day except the monsoons when the park was closed to visitors. People from the Cities are so ambitious and in so much of a hurry to climb ladders, while some people in the villages in pockets of India have already climbed their ladders and are at peace with what they do. It is nice looking at such people. Plus Abu Bhai knew the ways of the Forest and the flora and fauna there, which was no mean feat let me tell you.

There was a spot where we saw a Kingfisher Bird waiting to catch a small fish for breakfast. It was fascinating. We just had to stop and watch. The thing is, none of these birds flew when we stopped to see them. They say birds and animals flee and react only when they feel threatened. I guess the birds are used to jeeps coming and stopping, making no sound or an attempt to harm them.

An unidentified bird

Its actually quite disappointing to come to a Lion Safari and not see any. But the birds are a delight to watch too.

A Rare Brown Fish Owl. Was a task hunting for this geezer!!

There were of course deer which were sauntering around. The spotted deer always make good watching. The way they move around in groups for everything they do was nice to watch. The sun made their spotted hide look golden. It was beautiful. We hardly realised when time was up. Most of the journey was looking for any sign of animal activity which we weren’t blessed to see.

Even though we didn’t get a lion spotting, there were so many birds we saw and we saw fog lifting off a lake which looked like there was steam rising off the lake. Also the beautiful morning which we experienced in the quiet and cool Forest was far better than the one we’d be experiencing waking up late in our beds!!

Stay Tuned for More Gir Travails!!

Gir Afternoon Safari – Through the Sanctuary with the lions (finally!!!)


DAY 2: 17th January 2011

The Gir Forest Reserve has one of the most dynamic teams which is dedicated to make the lion survive and also ensure that the flora and fauna alongside is intact if not increasing. There are so many initiatives and a constant check is kept on the health of the lions and their movement across the park.

Fact: 1. Although the Gir Sanctuary is 1412 sq km reserve, only a small part is open for tourists.

2. Ever since Amitabh Bacchan advertised for Sasan Gir, the footfalls have gone up tremendously. The local economy

makes 5 times in the peak season than what they do otherwise!! 😀 😀

It is also said that the best time to visit the Gir Sanctuary is in the summer months of April and May. But one would question this.

Q: Why should you go to Gujarat of all places and go on a safari in the sweltering heat of the Indian Summer??

A: The summer is the best time to see as many animals as you can because they all come out to drink water at various spots. Also, the summer is where lion spotting is at a peak.

Now your hotel probably reserves you the spot at the sanctuary for an ‘Afternoon Safari’ but they will definitely add their own charges along with it so if you have your own vehicle or are close to the Park, then I’d suggest you book your own safari.

The Safari charges are nominal (=Rs 1750) and it also include a guide who is sent with you to help you identify the various species that you manage to see. Often (=as we found out, always) the guide spots fauna for you, which are things that you wouldn’t even notice.

The guides are employed by the State Forest Department and are paid a fixed salary. (=which is minuscule). Also there are 6 routes that a jeep can take. Its 3 routes used back and forth. (=route 2 is also route 6 backwards)

The guides have their own code of letting the fellow guides know that a lion’s on their way so It is essential that you DO NOT tell people you meet about lions that you saw because it gets your guide in trouble.

So we decided to go on the afternoon safari on 17th Jan. The afternoon safari starts at 3:30 and you are out by 6. The park is shut in the evenings and nights and entry is prohibited with harsh punishments.

So by and by we were allotted Route 2 which is supposed to be the best route as far as lion sightings are concerned. Our guide was Abu Bhai (who tuned out to be a good friend). At 3:30 we set out for our Afternoon Safari.

At the gate, the guide is required to get the receipt and the vehicle permit checked so that no unauthorised vehicle goes into the Sanctuary.

As soon as we entered, we saw a peacock as if it was waiting to welcome us. The old jeeps we were travelling in made  quite a noise. All around us, there were trees covered with dust, with brown prevailing more than green.

Suddenly the guide, (=Abu Bhai) asked the driver to stop the jeep. We were quite puzzled as we couldn’t see any animal or bird. Then we saw a couple of paw prints in the dirt. Looking at the paw prints, Abu Bhai reckoned that a lioness with cubs had been on this way some while back which increased our chances of sighting a lion. The guides and the other forest officials do their best to make your safari worthwhile by showing you lions.

The Forest Department, in order to keep a strict watch on the lion population, sends trackers who play on their lives and follow the lions to check their movements and also keep a watch on their general health. If during your Safari, you run into a Tracker (like We Did 😛 :P) it means there is a lion/lioness/cubs nearby!!

We did see a lot of spotted deer, the ones that we saw in the Devaliya Interpretation Centre.  We also spotted a green bird and we drove through a small pond.

Then we noticed a basti (=settlement) of tribals called Maldharis. The Maldharis are tribal people who live inside the Gir Forest. They have been there for decades and they live in harmonious co-existance with nature. The Forest Department allows only the Maldharis to settle in the Sanctuary, this being their home for decades and does not allow others. Maldharis are mostly uneducated and work in menial jobs earning a pittance. But they have intimate knowledge about the forest and its functioning and are a valuable asset to the forest department. Yet, because of increasing population and the spread into deeper areas of the forest, the Department has a problem at its hand.

We took a turn at a point where you could see the hills and it was a beautiful sight. And there was a person who came out and spoke to Abu Bhai and to our delight it was a tracker which meant there were Asiatic Lions nearby. So we waited patiently. Also we noticed that there was a Forest Patrol Officer in the bushes. These officers patrol the tourist paths to make sure that the tourists do not stray and wander or litter. If you’re caught, then a strict procedure is followed I’ve heard.

Along with us there were a few others who were waiting, 2 other jeeps to be precise. And we had to wait there patiently for our turn as we tried out our new Sony camera

While we were waiting we ate a few chocolates (=Power Munchies) being careful not to throw the wrappers anywhere.

Even though it was around 4:00 it wasnt hot in the forest. The forest is densely packed with trees. shrubs and undergrowth of grass and other flora. So those act as natural temperature monitors. There was a time when we drove through a thicket of forest and the temperature drop inside the glade was almost 3-4 degrees.

well back to the lions. So we waited our turn and drove through to see a lioness playing with her cub, well it actually wasnt like that. The lioness simply looked bored while the cub poked, lazed and played with her. I guess the heat was bothering the mummy along with the cub because once she just grabbed a bite off the cub telling it to mind its own business.

The cub had a lazy stretch after which it playfully jumped at the mother again when the mother started playing with it too, biting and licking the cub. It was a real treat to watch. We were simply awestruck. I guess even among animals the relationship between the mother and child is same as us humans, (= remember our mothers playfully attacking us after we bugged them, see the same!!)

We could have stayed there forever watching this exchange but our driver took us ahead where a teen cub (=duh she was a little grown up, looked moody n didn’t indulge in games with the cub!!) Also she was hidden amongst some dry grass so we couldn’t get her picture properly and i know it was a she because she didn’t have a mane growing!!

After our lion fantasy, (=we were darn lucky few people get to see what we saw, lions playing with each other, a cub, etc etc) we drove on ahead. To our surprise (=and Super luck) there was another lioness ahead. But she was surrounded by jeeps with many people chattering as usual.

What I don’t understand is the need to converse and gossip among yourselves as if the animal u see is a model i mean you’re in the jungle so doesn’t it seem right to shut your trap for a while?? Amartya Sen rightly calls Indians argumentative, we feel the need to talk always even without reason.

Finally our guide got others to shut up. It wasnt a picnic at a zoo really. I urge tourists who have plans to go to Gir to please respect the place you are at, spare the jungle and save the chatter for afterwards.

We would have had a chance to see a third lion but the tracker said that the lioness (=in this case) was hidden and could move anytime so it wasn’t worth the drive. So we went on ahead.

As we drove on, we noticed a weird parrot like bird, i think it was called ‘Plum headed Parakeet’ or the like (=Sorry if i got the name wrong!) which Abu Bhai said was a rare sight. We also spotted a boar, (=which we found out was the lion’s dessert, a choosy pick over the deer or sambar that is preferred usually)  Also we saw an eagle (=A Lesser spotted Eagle as Google Images reveals)

We also spotted the ‘Ghost Tree’ (=Ooh Spooky).  It’s supposed to be a native to Australia but survives here because of migratory birds bringing seeds in their droppings.

We drove through a thicket of trees, also called as the ‘Dark Forest’ (=Aww quit it it was nothing like the Forbidden Forest)  and through red muddy tracks (=as opposed to brown tracks before) to make our way out of the Safari. On the way we also crossed a railway line, from i think Rajkot to Somnath that passes through the Sanctuary borders. It’s a narrow guage railway line and there was a station called Sasan, Gir \. That must make good watching, passing through the Sanctuary.

Thus ends our AFternoon Safari, First Lion(ess) Sighting and Encounter with Nature

Coming Up ASAP: Morning Safari, Drive to Somnath and others

Also notes on Turkey 😀 😀

The forest patrol bikes!! Pretty cool i’d think

a peacock at the entrance to greet us

The Road Ahead

Naughty Cub Poking Bored Mum

Mummy n Baby

Bored Model.

Lioness wid Pillu (=Cub)

Gir Travels- Is that a lion i see??


Alright, alright…I sense that I should bring the lions into picture somewhere.

Since its traveler’s luck that brings a successful lion sighting, the Gujarat Government has an Interpretation Centre (=I don’t know why it’s called the Interpretation Centre….we didnt decode any lion language anyway).

This Interpretation Centre is at a place called Devaliya. This place is about 7 kms from an intersection. This interpretation centre is open for few hours in the day. The whole intersection turning to go to Devaliya is closed from after sunset to sunrise

      

Most of the places were very sensitive to Lion lifestyles and did all they could to adjust to the lion’s way of life. A proper integration of Nature’s Way and the Human Way leads to rich dividends!!

Alright back to point. SO after a huge breakfast at Club Mahindra we made our way to the Devaliya Interpretation Centre. One bad thing about the whole Gir Sanctuary is that a road runs through it. There is a State Highway running parallel to the Interpretation Centre and a Railway line running through Gir (=Junagad to Somnath).But this doesn’t seem to have disturbed the lions who according to forest officials are flourishing in the Last Home to the Asiatic Lion.

Ya so back to the point!!

We were up (=ya ya tents!!! we wanted to laze forever!! who doesn’t) when we realised we’d better move if we wanted to see the Centre. So we packed up and went driving. Along the way, we noticed deer. The whole patch is a dry forest and is very dusty. But the deer are unperturbed as we drive through they probably being used to having cars zoom by. There are resorts and even a restaurant on our way there.

P.S” All resorts will be named after the Lion and having some derivative of the Majestic Pride. So there will be lots of places like “Lions Den” or “Lion Safari Camp” or having the word “Sher” in their name. I guess being located in a region which is the last haven for the Asiatic Lion is bound to have some ripple effect.

The Interpretation Centre is a 412 hectare of chain link fenced lion area which is Gir in a nutshell, covering all habitat types and wildlife of Gir (so i copy from a tourist booklet but facts are facts!!). It also has a feeding-cum living cage for carnivores and a double gate entry point. This Centre at present has 1400-1500 spotted deer, 200-250 blue bulls (a spectacular sight), 100-120 wild boar, 15-20 blackbucks (stunning sight), a few chinkaras and sambars aong with other mammals and reptiles. Not to forget the Lions.

After booking our tickets  (=Charges Rs 75 only per Indian and $20 per firangi), we made our way to the bus. There is a bus (=Eco-friendly, Runs on Jatropha Bio-diesel) which takes you on a tour of the Centre. Just as we entered after a while we saw some Sambar deer. This is the main animal that the lion feeds on (=70-80 kgs of sheer delight I’ve heard enough to knock the lion for 20 hrs). They are more majestic than the easily “spotted” deer (:P) and make wonderful watching. There we passed a few Nilgai (=Blue Bulls) These are extremely shy and canter off whenever they come into public eye. The whole landscape is yellow, criss-crossed with myriad hues of brown, streaked with a random green. I’ve got some wonderful snaps of the dust rising up because of our bus running over a dirt track.

After a good deal of driving through the bushes (=it literally looks like that although there are trees and shrubs there), the Lion came into sight. Actually there were 3 of them! Lazing! In the Sun! As we waited to grab them on camera, they Lazed! and Slept! Oblivious of their fans waiting for a picture to show back home! Nonetheless we got a shot of them snoozing and one Lion looked up the other way as if he was snubbing us (=How dare he!! I have a good mind to set Rajni on him!! pun intended)

Ah the Black Bucks are a sight to see!! Their horns curving gracefully with hard rims and the majestic sweep of white along their eyes!!! Mindblowing!! The Sambar and Spotted Deer pale in comparison!! I am uploading a picture!!

We were also treated to a pack of deer drinking water at a pool nearby. A simple sight it is to see animals drink but yet it is so calming. I could just sit and stare at that sight for a long long time

The trail ended soon and we made our way to the Interpretation Centre where there was a small TV playing a video made on the Gir Forest and the lion habitat there. There was also a display spanning 2 rooms about the History og Gir, The Fauna of Gir, Birds, Reptiles and other Interesting Facts that made Gir special. It also shed light on the importance of Gir to the local ecosystem and how essential it was to the ecological balance and survival of the adjoining areas. It was very well done.

Following that, we went to the Souvenir shop and got some T-Shirts, Honey (=Yummy), Some Caps and the Book with photos and Information about Gir (=ya i copied the facts out of this little one!)

After we went outside, we saw uhh..A scoo-cart!! Its a scooter which pulls a cart behind it!! Innovative. It functions as a rickshaw and they ply between towns. It also takes your harvest to the market. So presenting Rural Gujarat’s eccentric and indigenous reply to the Tractor. Presenting the “Scoo-Cart” (=I made the name up its not what its called there)

We clicked a few photos with the scoo-cart. After that we had some tea at a restaurant which also had a farm behind it as well as tents. Then we made our way to Club Mahindra.

Coming Up: The Actual Gir Safari-To see or not to see..Its not in my hand anyway

Stay Tuned

The Spotted Deer…we “Spotted” them most often

Board at the entrance

A Sambar

A shy Blue Bull

One of the pics

Gir Forest beckons:-Part 1


What was a booking by compulsion turned out to be a short, power packed trip filled with tons and I mean tons of Wildlife n fun!!!

We never intended to actually go to Gir, we’d just booked 2 TENTS, yes tents at Club Mahindra, Gir because our days were scheduled to lapse. By chance we decided not to cancel the booking and make a trip out of it.

So this follows, the notes are BACK!!!

Day 1: 16th Jan, 2011 6:30 am

Our flight earlier scheduled for 5:30 am take off was delayed to 8:00 am (whew, more time for zzzzs). So early we woke and went to the airport for our JetLite not without a couple of donuts (M.O.D rocks!!)

Rajkot, a super small airport you’d probably not think of, was our destination. It’s funny to think of how the revolution and spread of airports and air connectivity has put small cities and towns on the national radar making them so much more easily accessible and reachable!!

Back to point, Rajkot is an hour from Bombay (I still like calling it Bombay,!!) and it being morning was chilly.

Outside the airport we met our driver and companion for the next 4 days, Sanjay, a gem to travel with, filled with many many anecdotes about life in a village and also very good knowledge about farming and crops (he could name every crop they grew there by just looking out of the corner of his eye)

Ha so we loaded the luggage and then found an authentic Gujju (read Gujarati) place that would serve us Sunday breakfast Rajkot style. We ended up having puris, fafda (excuse the spellings), gathia and some awesome cold carrot salad (=MasterChef Aus fans read coleslaw) and cold green chillies rubbed with salt. A classic way to start the day.

Now our destination was not Rajkot but a village called Sasan, which held the famous Gir Lion reserve being the only reserve in Asia to house the Asiatic Lion. Which happened to be about 4 hours drive I think.

On the way we could see the rural landscape transformed because of industry which had spread to even small villages. Nothing had been spared in the spread of industry and investment. There were areas which had developed into auto hubs, cotton ginning and spinning hubs and sugar hubs. Small pockets worked on their USPs and became industrial hubs bringing in higher incomes and consequently a better standard of life. All this was also helped by Amitabh Bacchan’s endorsement of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ inviting people to explore the state. Whatever people across the country may think about Gujarat the fact still remains that the men at the top (read Modi) have done a brilliant job to leverage on their unique features, use their capabilities to bring Gujarat on the global map (My Gosh, reading Business Standard is having an effect on me, I write like those people in the Opinion page lol)

Our first stop, Virpur, a place famous for the temple of Jalaram Bapu. The temple itself was pristine and small but the aura of the place was marred by many commercial establishments outside and beggars who’d follow you everywhere. I’d have to say the things on sale were interesting (=lots of trinkets, utensils, devotional items)

It is said that a devotee with a true heart who prays at this temple does not return disappointed. This explains the number of people who flock to the temple.It is also said that a person who visits the temple has to have the Prasad that they gave there. So we made our way to the place where devotees were given Prasad which turned out to be some Sweet Boondi, Sev and a Potato bhaji on the side.

Soon after we were driving across various towns and villages to our destination, Gir!!

*Sheepishly* I napped while we drove through Junagarh and I missed the stories our driver told everyone about the fort and the history of the place. I was up when we were very close to Sasan and where we’d left the National Highway and come into the lanes that would carry us to Club Mahindra.

But I did catch fields of wheat, tur dal, cotton and carrot!!. A special mention about carrot fields, carrot flowers are white, small and when in a field it looks like a white carpet!! Awesome!!! Also wheat fields look like a green carpet. And because we saw fields in patches that were sown at different points of time, they were in different hues of green. This monochromatic arrangement was a sight to see as well.

Our Tent Room

Ah finally we entered Sasan as the pic below shows. And drove quickly to Club Mahindra. I and Sachi grabbed a quick bite and made our way to the tents.

Now our tent wasn’t a typical tent (=it had an A/C, a proper bathroom, tiles and a bed….i was hoping for something more authentic but nonetheless)…Yeah, the tent didn’t have a door, we just had to zip it!!

So we settled into the tent pretty soon and then decided to explore the Fun Activities Centre. Club Mahindra always has a set of Fun Activities and this time they had cycles which we could ride on their property. CM Gir wasn’t a big property but it made a good ride.

 

Considering it was ages since I’d cycled, I was apprehensive but it turned out to be quite fun. After some initial bloopers, I had a fun time driving across the property. Sachi and my Dad also had a fun time with the cycles.

The Fun Activities centre also had a carom table, an ice hockey table, a TT table, and Chess. There was badminton and a Zorb thru which we could Zorb on water!!

While playing TT, my dad and sister were totally engrossed and one of the table legs was getting loose, so when my dad leaned across to play a shot, the TT table collapsed!! We were too surprised to react let alone capture the moment through the camera lens. We did have a lot of laughs after that!!!

We also walked across the property and outside. It becomes pitch dark after 6:45-7:00 and the air becomes chilly. The chilly walk was a lot of fun. We followed that up with badminton and then dinner (Club Mahindra style) and then retired with awesome plans for the next 3 days.

Coming Up: Gir Interpretation Centre, Devaliya

                      Afternoon Safari: Rendezvous with the Lions

Stay Tuned!!

Our Tent from outside

The Road Trip Continues: Amazed at the HAL Museum


One of things that a traveller should do is to always ask what are the unimportant things to see when you visit a place? I’ve often noticed that we have wonderful experiences going to places which locals think are insignificant or unimportant.

One such place near the new Bangalore airport happens to be Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. India historically has never been renowned for excellence in defence and defensive/ protective equipment. Or fighter planes for that matter. Still we have to be lauded for making an effort.

And the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Aerospace Museum is just about that. Bringing to a country’s notice that while it had worried about growth and political economics of deficits and quotas, HAL has manufactured over 3658 Aircraft/Helicopters, 4178 Engines, Upgraded 272 Aircraft and overhauled over 9643 Aircraft and 29775 Engines.

While I was not someone who was interested in aeronautics unless it was mentioned in a work of fiction, my dad was and still is an enthusiast for any new technology especially aerospace and robotics. So this was a wonderful experience for all of us.

When we were dropped off to the door, I was surprised. I didn’t expect a museum to have large gardens, contemporary colours and wide paths.

There is a main building and also some models which have been displayed out in the gardens. These include models that the HAL has indigenously developed and also those which have been manufactured from Russian blueprints under technology transfers.

Most of the aircrafts are displayed outside the museum except HUL-26 Pushpak and the HAL Basant. The photo gallery of the museum contains pictures of Vengeance bombers under construction in the 40s, Dakotas being overhauled, Tempests, Devons, under overhaul in the 50s, Vampires, Gnats, and Maruts under construction in the 60s. An air control building is also available in the museum. there was also the Sea King MK 42 helicopter on display. Air Traffic Radio Antenna and Radars dot the landscape.

Models of GSLV and PSLV Satellite launch vehicles are also exhibited. The Museum also houses a small souvenir shop that sells mementos, postcards and posters. There are also aircraft simulators, air traffic control towers and an aero-modeling club. (=www.bangaloreorbit.com)

Every model that is displayed has information at the side about the features like Period of Production, length, span, height, speed, rate of climb, range etc. it was interesting to read all these details. In the building there are also models of the HUL Pushpak and HAL Basant along with pictures of everyone who visited the Museum. it was heartening to see the way everything had been preserved. It is said that pictures always have their own story to say.

It was a really proud moment  for us when we saw the indigenously developed models like Kiran. It made me proud to know about all this because when you read the papers, it is almost always a regulatory fault or a collapse of systems and every blasphemous articles berating India.

Another thing worth mentioning is the Aircraft simulators. Priced very cheap (Rs 50 per person for half an hour) you get to sit inside an aircraft and modulate controls and there is a screen that shows you the aircraft. In a way it resembles a video game with controls. But who are we to have a first class experience at piloting, so we did it, and I crashed my aircraft two times ;).

The best part is the Aviation Traffic Control or the ATC. Photography is not allowed so I don’t have any to show. But the ATC there opens to the Bangalore Airport where you can watch the planes take off and land. There is a simulation of an actual ATC with the controls and everything. A security guard explains everything to you about the controls. it was fascinating to see the number of controls that one person needed to man.

There was also a café where we stopped for tea. The HAL Museum was eye opening. I never knew that India had done so much in aerospace. Like all the books I’ve been reading, I thought that India used to have a treasure cove of intelligence but that drained over the years. I used to always think that Museums are boring and for the bookworm types. But that opinion has been changing lately

After this wonderful experience in the HAL Museum, we went to meet my cousin and her baby!! After a morning in marvel, it was time for an afternoon of fun!!

Journey to Bangalore-Fast Forward Now!!!


19th April 2010: Karnataka Hinterland, India
So here i continue from where i left off. The journey was totally uninteresting because the road was straight stretched ahead of you and this made it boring to look out. In contrast to the fantastic views when we were driving across coastal Karnataka, the central part was flat and didn’t have much for us to see. There were also many signs so that made navigation a piece of cake. We kept driving in and out of small towns and villages which we could see as dots in the Map we had.
 
We were out to find out the place where Satya Sai Baba would reincarnate somewhere in Srirangapatnam which is a few kms off Bangalore. But while going, we saw a board which said Sri Satya Sai Baba orphanage so we decided to stop there. It was a small serene place. There were some slides and swings in a corner and close to the swings sat 2 calves. There were a few people who were sitting near the entrance. We approached them and went inside. There were a lot of pictures of Baba and even Guruji(=H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ) out there. The second room was like a prayer room. It was filled with hundreds of pictures of Baba when he was young and recent pictures. The room exuded serenity and peace. we sat and meditated for a while. The place had symbols denoting all religions showing neutrality towards one and all.
While we prayed, a lady came and gave us some honey and some vibhuti. There was a picture of Baba which was filled with Vibhuti and this honey i’m sure must have also fallen on its own from the pictures. Such amazing grace!!! And the honey was so delicious, it wasn’t like any other honey i’ve ever tasted.
After that, we went to the courtyard where there were some boys playing with a ball. There was also an idol of Baba’s feet. If you rubbed your hand or handkerchief there, it would smell of incense. We also went up and saw their meditation hall. All in all this was a refreshing break for us because the road journeys were really wearisome.
We made our way towards Bangalore. We were supposed to stop at Kamath’s for lunch but we were so hungry and we couldn’t find it so we stopped at a Mc Donalds on the way. Burgers were good to eat after a long time. We got some sweets and water from a nearby general store. There, they were also selling wooden toys. There is a village which makes wooden toys, Channapatna which we passed through.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There was a huge golden ganpati that we drove past. Also there was a huge arch with an upper road which led to the Satellite Town and the lower road leading to Bangalore. So we took the upper road by mistake and had to turn back. Apart from this, we reached Bangalore without a hitch. After going through Ring roads and various other roads, we made our way to my Dad’s office. We were staying in a service apartment which was fully furnished with a cooking range etc etc so that we could cook whenever we want. This booking was done through my Dad’s office. So we got going there and then checked into our room and then rested.For dinner we were going to my aunt’s place which was at the other extreme end of town. We had
specially told her to prepare simply ‘Aamchi’ food because we missed it so much. The food was amazing and delicious(=song and daali always does the trick). We also had a fun time chatting with Sankalp and Vishal who came late from work. There was also a Mumbai Indians Match that day which kept everyone entertained. For dessert,we had ‘Chocolate sheera’ yummy!!!!
I also got some Korean currency for our coin collection!!!

After this super amazing end to a tiring day, we slept, waiting to explore Bangalore!!
Some Rocky Terrain on the wayBaba’s photos.Baba’s feet

the Golden Ganpati

Goodbye Mysore-But we’ve only just arrived!!!!


19th April 2010, Mysore, Karnataka India.
The day dawned bright and clear when we were to leave from Mysore and proceed towards Bangalore. I guess there was a transition when we started out with villages and then made our way to towns and to cities and finally landed to Mumbai. Well we started our day with some Saree shopping. Mysore is famous for its sarees. Since we were to leave early when we went to search for the shops, none of them were open. I guess Mumbaiites are so used to the fast paced life, that w expect shops open as early as 8 and open till 11 at night or even later.So consequently any small city is a slow and sleepy place for us. But it feels very nice not having to rush against the crowd to catch that 9:36 Ladies Special or run for that irregular bus. Finally we found one shop which was open. So we went inside and asked the shopkeeper for something ‘different’ which was not very loud and audacious. After lots of sarees and rejections later we settled for a few and then bargained our way to get a good deal. The shopkeeper had a lot of currency notes which he had framed near the entrance. I really felt like negotiating and taking some of the notes. After that we made our way to the Government silk factory. Here you could also go into the factory and see how the sarees were made. There was also a shop where you could buy sarees. But the sarees here were extremely pricey (=silk sarees authentic and govt recognised=sky high prices) i’m sure the sarees must have been nice but since we(=me,mum n my sister) don’t have many occasions to wear sarees, spending so much was out of question.

Next we decided to pick up some sweets. Mysore is also famous for its sweets. We knew this from prior knowledge. There was this shop we’d seen in the show ‘Highway on My Plate’ hosted by ‘Rocky and Mayur’. I absolutely love watching that show i mean whenever i’m watching it i’m envying their job. Eating and only Eating!!! But the best part is that they give very honest opinions about the food and the ‘Must Haves’ plus they look like foodies not like those half starved models that come and pretend to eat and take minuscule bites.
A word of caution, there are as many as 3-4 Bombay Tiffany’s in the boulevard where these shops are located. But finally we found one which Rocky n Mayur visited. We also asked them about this and they said they had just opened shop when they came along camera et al. Without any prior warning!!! So we left with a lot of Mysore Paa which is besan and sugar mixed in Pure Ghee. You can make the difference when you eat, pure ghee has a satiety no other substitute has, We also picked up a mithai that tasted like chocolate fudge. During that time, my dad was busy solving the rubix that we picked up when we went to the Chamundeshwari temple. He got one side right. After that we left for Bnagalore. We’d heard that the next roop of Satya Sai Baba was going to be born somewhere in Srirangapatnam a few kms off Bangalore. So we decided to stop there.
There was one place where they had put up a sign with Baba’s picture on it but it turned out that it was only a school managed by the trust.

Although we spent less time in Mysore, the city made an everlasting impact on our minds. The canopy of trees on every road, the ease of travel, the many palaces so very well maintained, definitely made us want to come again!!!!

Coming Up Next: Srirangapatnam and Sights on the Way
Where we were staying in Mysore.Wodeyar Circle..that dome is made of real gold.The perfect Rubix

Exploring Mysore-The Mysore Palace


18th April 2010, Mysore, Karnataka, India
We decided to explore the famous Mysore Palace that day after our lunch with Swaroop. There was some festival going on that day because we saw ladies wearing their best and carrying pots and flowers on their head. That took up traffic for a while. But much to our chagrin, there was a huge line waiting to get into the Mysore Palace, it being a huge attraction for people pouring into Mysore. Papa went and stood in the line while mum tried to get a ticket from the counter and surprisingly, the man at the counter gave her tickets without asking her why she was cutting into the line. I guess people who sell tickets are so used to people cutting in the line that they don’t bother with asking. Also one advantage of the crowd was that many people were getting into the palace without buying tickets which meant that that guards at the entrance weren’t doing their job properly. So we mentioned that to the guards who seemed embarrassed and started checking tickets after we passed. Photography in the Mysore Palace is not allowed so the camera had to be kept in a special locker. But we carried it with us nonetheless and asked the guards special permission to keep it with us promising not to click photos inside. People are not allowed to wear shoes into the Palace. This would make it easier to clean it.
Also there are audio tapes in 20 languages here. We’d seen audio tapes in Palaces abroad like Hampton Court which was the summer residence of King Henry VIII. Its a nice way to make people aware of the history behind all the paintings and what each room is and its significance. It also explained about the times when kings used to stay in the Palace describing the various festivals, marriage and the routine of the king. It also shed light on the ways of living and elaborately spoke on the crest of the dynasty. In this case, the crest/coat of arms of the Wodeyar Dynasty which has ruled Mysore for many years.
A little bit about the Wadiyars and how they came to rule, (from the Official Virtual Tour Website of the Mysore Palace, http://www.mysorepalace.gov.in)

As the story goes, two young men, Vijaya and Krishna of the Yadu dynasty hailing from Dwaraka in Gujarat came to Mysore, after visiting Melkote on their pilgrimage. The two royal princes took shelter at the Kodi Bhyraveswara Temple, which was close to the Doddakere, from where people of then small city of Mysore fetched water for drinking and daily chore. At dawn, they heard some women, while washing closes discussing the distress situation of the young Princess Devajammanni. The death of her father, Chamaraja, the local ruler, had landed her and her mother, the queen, in trouble. Taking advantage of the situation, the neighbouring Chief of Karugahalli, Maranayaka, began demanding the kingdom and the princess in marriage. Taking the help of a Jangama Odeya, a Shaivite religious man, the two chivalrous brothers came to the rescue of the distressed Maharani and the Princess. Mobilising troops, they killed the Karugahalli Chief and his men and saved the Mysore royal family and their kingdom. A happy princess married the elder brother, Vijaya, and he became the first ruler of the Yadu dynasty. He assumed the name Yaduraya. Thus the traditional founding of the Wadiyar dynasty took place in 1399 with Yaduraya. Since then, 24 rulers have succeeded in the dynasty, the last being Jayachamaraja Wadiyar. It is during his period, India won freedom and later monarchy was abolished. With that ended the reign of the Mysore Maharajas.


The audio tape was the best part of the trip because it was so informative. But i would have to add its a rich man’s tool, because one audio tape comes for Rs. 200/- which the common man would not be bothered with.
The Palace was beautifully maintained and the paintings were beautifully kept. The rooms were exquisite and were beautifully detailed in the audio tapes. I mused on the Palaces i’d seen in Rajasthan and this and the difference was there for all to see. There were no spit markings here, no broken glass, no people treating the Palace like a park. The people were fascinated with the Palace and it still had its aura.


The Palaces of the West were in disrepair and the people there needed serious training in how to manage it. Also the history about the Palaces was not documented properly and guides were only out to make money they weren’t people who were genuinely interested in the history of the place. The difference in attitudes was the reason the Mysore Palace looked the way it did. Plus the paintings by Raja Ravi Varma made history come alive.
After going through all the rooms including the King’s conference chamber, the Diwaan-e-Aam(=courtyard where the king could address all the commoners) and through other chambers, we came out. There we had to give up the audio tapes and we could buy photos of the Mysore Palace (=authorised people selling the photos) and books on the Palace. These funds would be used for the upkeep of the palace. The way the Palace was maintained made me happy that somewhere efforts were being taken to preserve our monuments. After getting our shoes, we left for the hotel. We had some sugarcane juice. Outside the Palace, there were many sellers selling stuff like incense sticks(=agqarbatti) and carpets, curios. We got pictures of the West Gate in the setting sun.

After that we visited Swaroop’s place and then visited the Palace to see the illumination.


Nothing and i mean Nothing prepared us for the sight we were to see. The Palace looked so brilliant lit up that we couldn’t imagine looking at it in any other way. Stunning is what i can say. We had no words to express it. We could only stare. There were many people who came to see the palace illuminated. There were a lot of travellers and foreigners who came along with big backpacks. I dont have much to say except you must go and see the Palace once atleast. Pick up your bags and go!!!

Coming Up Next:Goodbye Mysore, Journey to Bangalore
The Illuminated Palace at nightThe Western Gate to the palace in the setting sunthe festive ladiesThe illuminated PalaceWow