The Welcome


The sudden darkness in the sky surprised her. After two months of summer sunshine, the blue sky had become an ally. She’d been occupied with work and seldom got to see the sky in element. Sometimes it surprised her with its vivid colours and always seemed to acknowledge her presence. The quiet gray was disconcerting.

She shrugged and pulled her bag closer. It looked as if she was a visitor, with her black bag and white sneakers. The crowd pushed her trying to make their way, in time to reach work. She leaned against the railing and watched the sky, curious. The more she saw it, the calmer she felt. The canvas above was in monotones of grey and white. It somehow seemed to colour the buildings around as well. Everything looked centred and in tranquil despite the obvious rush in front of a railway station.

Suddenly there was a breeze. She couldn’t help but smile. The breeze turned to droplets soon after. The first showers!!! There were screams as people rushed to protect themselves from the rain and mud. The earth rejoiced, and leaves danced.

She looked at the watch annoyed. It was time for her to go. A new day in office awaited her. Pulling her bag closer, she walked. It seemed that a hand was pulling her back. She’d always enjoyed the rains. A part of her ached to let go of all the trials and pressures and just spread her arms for a while.

Try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the feeling. Leaving her bag with a guard, she went and faced the sky. Little droplets scattered here and there welcoming her. The winds blew at her wet face sending shivers down her spine. She spread her arms out and gave the widest of smiles. She felt as large as the sky. Somehow she’d been waiting for this moment. At some deep level she felt healed. As if the raindrops and the gentle breeze were welcoming her back. From a frenzy of deadlines to a peaceful world. From being preoccupied to noticing the sky and smiling in pleasure. From holding back to spreading her arms out to give out all the love she could. Oh she could feel the sky spreading too, responding to her smile. She’d not felt this way for long.

After what seemed like an eternity, she turned and took her bag. There was a spring in her step and a wide grin on her face. What a welcome this was. What a celebration it was!

We are always in too much of a rush. Running to complete deadlines, holding the load of the world on our shoulders. We never realise there’s nature calling us, welcoming us back from that stressful part to the part where we just spread our arms, smile and rejoice with nature. This is who we are, celebration is a part of us. Look out of the window the next time, it might be your calling to rejoice, your welcome waiting!!!

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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!!

Bangalore Masti-Lalbag and Around


20th April 2010: Bangalore, India
The day dawned bright and clear. We decided to roam about today and also visit a few relatives and friends. We started the day with breakfast at MTR’s. This is the famous one which has the amazing Badaam milk and all the super ready to eat mixes. We did not explore Bangalore in our Civi, instead opting for an Innova because a Metro was being constructed in Bangalore too as a result of which a lot of roads were blocked or closed and we didn’t know all the small lanes which couldn’t be navigated using a scale map.
It was a good idea because traffic in Bangalore is messy and unregulated with people driving like maniacs without adequate signals. It takes a trip to other cities to see that our relentless criticism about Mumbai is unwarranted and the city does fare well on a lot of indicators especially traffic discipline.
MTR looks like a shabby place from the outside, not some place you would notice while driving past anyway. The inside is like a typical small town hotel teleported to a big metro. But despite its appearance, a lot of people frequent it and morning breakfasts are enjoyed with friends and a regular camaraderie with the waiters and staff.
Finally Breakfast:We settled for some tasty rava idli and some upma and kesari bhat(=typical menu). After all that, we decided to have some delicious fruit salad. The waiter who waited on our table was a smiley guy who made us feel jolly and nice. Often we rate a restaurant on the overall experience of which interaction with staff and ambiance forms a major part. If the waiter is smiley then it makes our day even without us realising it. So on this waiter(=his name was Sundar, like how he way all smiley and jolly) This fruit salad was a lot of fruits, custard, the all famous badaam milk, dry fruits and jelly!! Pure delight!!! Plus the rava idlis came along with fragrant ghee. It’s astonishing to see that in South India most of the dishes come along with ghee which improves the taste of the dish and gives satiety to the person. After a super delicious breakfast we left for LalBag

LalBag: Lalbag Botanical Gardens are spread over 240 acres of land This huge space has so many different varieties of plants in it. It has a bonsai display, a horticultural section, an indoor plants section , a decorative plants section, a lake…..!!! But most of the displays and exhibits were closed because it was not the best season to visit. If you really want to visit Bangalore then the ideal time would be January or August because then you can see all the exhibits at the Botanical Gardens.

Now because LalBag is so big, it has 4 gates so that you can enter from any direction,(=i agree its a great route for a morning walk bt not so for a tourist). Sensing this difficulty, the Gardens have arranged for a small van(=electronic van, no pollution) and a guide who’ll take us around all the locations in about an hour so what would take you days to explore on your own by foot is covered in an hour. Smart!!


Our first stop was the LalBag Glasshouse. This is the place where they hold all the flower shows. After that, we made our way to the Lake which had a lot of birds circling it. The gulmohar trees on one side of the lake were in full bloom. Opposite the lake there were black bamboo trees specially imported from Japan. The best feature of LalBag was that they imported internationally known varieties of plants and were constantly pruning the plants and maintaining the park. Also there were many dustbins around all which looked like tree stumps and animals so that there was no littering. One thing i could observe was that this park was maintained superbly and that people did not litter it as they did in parks and roads in Mumbai.
After that, we saw the specially trimmed bushes so that they looked like birds. Also there were birds who were drinking water from an open pipe which was great because the weather was absolutely beastly and hot. We also saw trees which were 100,150 and 200 years old which surprised us because it must have been excellent foresight and planning that they planted so many trees and made gardens long time back. Research yielded that this garden was commissioned during the reign of Tipu Sultan, one of India’s greatest kings.

Then we drove past the indoor plants section and also the horticultural section. There were so many departments and research labs which showed that research personnel were very much-needed for essential jobs like maintaining and the upkeep of gardens.

After that, we ended our tour with the final destination, the Kempegowda temple on top of a hill there. It is said that you can view the entire city of bangalore from here. All in all our trip to LalBag showed su how plants and trees are important for cities and also are a sight for sore eyes. Superbly maintained plants and flowering trees make good viewing!!!!

Coming up Next: Relative visits, our apartment and Art of Living Ashram

 

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

Welcome Mysore-Vrindavan Gardens


17th April 2010: Karnataka Hinterland, India


Mysore was like a breath of fresh air for us. We’d not expected Mysore to be how it was.For us Mumbaikars, we’re used to polluted, congested areas and absurd traffic with horrendous roads. Mysore is called the ‘City of Palaces’ and so true. At every corner we could see palaces which were used as offices for the Municipality or as hospitals and they were maintained superbly. Also Mysore is a small city so navigation was not difficult (=not taking credit from the planners, its amazingly well planned with lots of trees).

After the rest at the hotel and some snacks, we set out to the Vrindavan Gardens which is built on the sides of the Krishnasagar Dam. It is also famous for its Magical Dancing fountains which dance when a song is played (=kind of like what we had seen in Madikeri except on a larger scale). There was a lot of rush in and around the gardens. Plus it was a weekend and they only have the fountain show on weekends. So the greater crowds. Also there was this real funny scene which happened when we were going. My dad was parking the car and at the same time there was a Santro who was parking in the lane where i was standing. Now this car had 3 ppl who were sitting in it,1 sitting behind. And while reversing, the guy sitting behind didn’t even look out to see where the car was going and they crashed into the steps. And the person sitting in front was giving me a look as if i should have warned when i was not paying attention to them. It was so funny.

The Vrindavan Gardens play the musical fountains only on weekends which draws in a lot of crowd. At about 5:30 when we entered there were about 5000-10000 people in the garden, roaming and going to the place where the fountains were located. I’d never seen such a crowd before. This was really huge. In college festivals and other events, we often exaggerate the footfalls but here i actually experienced what it was like to be in a crowded place (believe me the Mumbai crowds are nothing compared to the crowds here). The garden is beautifully maintained, whatever little we saw of it. Everywhere we looked we could only see people. The garden has different levels and is divided into 2 halves by a stream of water. Near the steps, the water flows like a waterfall. Its beautiful. Plus the water was always spraying off and if you got close by then you could get wet. But this made the weather very pleasant. There wasn’t much we could do because there were so many people and we couldn’t risk getting lost.
We asked one of the guards directions to the musical fountains and got a picture clicked with him.


The light was fading fast. We learnt from the guard that even though walking on the dam is very scenic but they had to stop it after a string of suicides. The top of the dam had pretty lamps with intricate carvings. The sky was darkening and there were lot of nice patterns. We slowly made our way towards the food stalls. All of us had sugarcane juice (=nothing like ganna juice to refresh you) and Sachi had a mango milkshake. After that we had some gobhi manchurian and then made our way to the fountains. There is a bridge which connects the fountains and the main gardens. The water there was very dirty with a lot of garbage in it, I don’t understand people’s mentalities when they throw garbage here and not anywhere at their houses or in foreign countries. Simply infuriating.


Through the crowd, we made our way, through some more poorly maintained gardens and through a maze of people. It was like we didn’t have to walk, we were simply pushed there. We could hear music coming from somewhere and we walked in the direction of the sound. and then we saw the fountains. Huge and swirling, these were big. There was an amphitheatre where ppl were sitting and watching the spectacle. Since we’d seen the fountains at Madikeri with a lot lesser crowd, we were not spectacularly impressed. Although some of the swirls were fabulous the rest was pretty ordinary, I guess the law of diminishing marginal utility played its role.
Once the crowd lessened, we went and sat on the seats they had made. Since it was windy that day, the fountain was tilted because of the wind. Each song plays for 15 mins with a 5 min break ad they play 6 songs in total, So even if you’re late, you still get to watch it. After watching 2 songs, we left. We had to leave from a different route. This was a route through a canopy of trees. During this time we witnessed a super spectacle, lightning in the sky. I’ve never seen flashes of lightning before like this, we were so stunned. Bright red copper streaks in the sky!! It was sheer delight. We just paused and watched, waiting for more. This time it was easier crossing the bridge as there were fewer people. There were also ppl throwing garbage into the water which struck me as being immensely immature. We even reprimanded 2 girls. There was 1 guy who tried to defend them but his arguments lost steam.
We got into the car and left for our hotel. The sky was lit up by the occasional flashes of lightning and the winds indicated rain that night. The drive back was uneventful. We decided to have dinner at a Pizza Place and had delicious pizza. We even saw the person make the pizza. It was great fun.
We were tired and slept soundly.

Coming up next: Mysore Explorers
A weird formation in the sky

Coorgi Tales- Madikeri and beyond!


15th April 2010: Karnataka Hinterland, India

Continuation to the Dubare note. After Dubare, we were plenty exhausted and not to mention dirty!! After reaching the resort, we freshened up and had lunch. We decided to spend the remainder of the day in the town of Madikeri. We had lunch at ‘Arabica’ and then went to the room (i must mention that one of the days we had a mint and melon mousse for dessert and it was amazing. One day it was strawberry and white chocolate mousse which was lip-smacking!! No wonder they say Club Mahindra pampers you)
We spent the afternoon resting and then drove down to Madikeri. By now, i knew the route to the market and back so it was no problem. Once you take a turn to go to Club Mahindra, there is a school, 2 parks and a temple. we decided to explore the park and the temple. .
One of the parks had a mini train. it was amazingly cute!! It reminded me of the time we used to go to a park in Santacruz where there used to be a similar train and we used to ride it till the park closed. So it was a trip down the memory lane for me!!

The ride itself was only for 3-4 minutes but it was fun. We grabbed seats in the extreme front just after the engine. And a guy first came and checked our tickets (you have to buy tickets for the ride, different tickets for kids and adults!!)
There were even boards for stations and a small tunnel. And this ride attracted a lot of the crowd. I guess in a small town you would find this very much fun, people in smaller towns have more fun than city dwellers anyway!!
After that we made our way to the other park which was more like a ‘Joggers Park’. It was so well maintained with broad lanes, lot of dustbins in the shape of cute animals and pretty flowers. There were many people walking and many playing.

Coorg is called ‘Scotland of the East’ and it was not difficult to see why. The view from the park bench was stunning!! Even though it was summer, there was a slight fog in the distance and there was a nice breeze which made it quite pleasant.
After a walk and a lot of photos, we decided to leave and snack on something. We had some ‘Joy’ Ice cream(=chocobar!!) and then to our surprise, the lights came on at the centre of the park and the people were standing around the circle which we later discovered turned out to be a musical fountain. And we slowly made our way towards the gate coz we knew we’d just come out and we couldn’t go in again but the lady sitting at the entrance told us to go right ahead. We went in and were totally awestruck.
They played some song with lyrics we couldn’t understand (=either kannada/tamil/malu) and the fountains danced to the tunes. It was so well done. The colours also changed. I was totally engrossed. We took videos and many pictures. I hear there is a musical fountain at the Vrindavan Gardens at Mysore but this was amazing. And there were very few ppl so that made it better.
The fountains were amazing. They jumped, they danced, we gasped!!! They played 4 songs and for that time, held the audience totally spellbound. They ended with ‘Saare jahan se Accha’ and the people slowly started making their way out.

Thats when i realised how pretty the flowers at the edges of the park looked. They were nice and purple. So got in some pictures of those as well. Then we went to the temple nearby and guess, we were just in time for the evening ‘Aarti’. The co-incidence was amazing!! After the Aarti, we made our way back to the hotel

Oh i forgot to mention that while coming back from Dubare, we stopped at a place and purchased lots of spice. Coorg is known for its spices. We also got some Vanilla to be had with milk. It smells so sweet and delicious. One really wonders why people go in for artificial substitutes when the real one is so much fragrant and better!!For dinner this time, we decided to try the a-la-carte restaurant at Club Mahindra called ‘Coffee Blossoms’ We had some thai curry(red and yellow), steamed rice, kheema paratha and some starter. The red thai curry was so delicious, we really enjoyed and literally licked our plates off. We did have some light dessert and made our way to the room.

This restaurant had another way which led to the swimming pool near our room so but we decided to take the longer route to enjoy the smell of the coffee blossoms. It was a super night and i really kept going back to the stunning Musical Fountains that we found in the small town of Madikeri.

cOMING uP next: Adventure Valley Part2, The town again,Coorg cuisine,Goodbye Coorg
Some of the pretty flowers

Manki (finally!!!)- Respite for the Travellers Part 3


Location:: After Honavar and Idgunji. Close to the coast. Beach close by.

The karnatak hinterland is filled with small rivulets and tributaries which are breathtakingly unspoilt by civilisation. Beautiful!! All around you, there are fields, coconut trees and lot of greenery for the summer. There are lot of boats in the rivers which made me want to chuck the drive and just laze around on one of them.

My father’s college friend stays in Manki and their place was awesome. The bungalow is so large and spacious. (P.S I loved the Asian Paint wall :D). Wow it felt so good to relax after a long drive through the interiors of Karnatak. The jackfruit tree was awesome i’ve never seen jackfruits hang so low that you could pick them at ease.

Here at Manki, in the following week, we did all of those things that we could never do in Mumbai, ate all those tasty dishes we could never get and saw amazing sites, not to mention re-establishing connection with our roots.

Day1 at Manki: Arrival
The first day we arrived was mostly spent in relaxation. We also went up a hill and saw the breathtaking view of Manki beach which stretched for 8 kms from Manki to Murudeshwar. Pure white, powder!! Sheer delight. Also we went cashew picking. There are so many cashew trees growing in the laterite and fortunately there were some cashews which we could pluck. We also had a delightful photo session up in the hills. That was followed up by a visit to the Chikarmane family deity and met the bhatmam, who incidentally happens to be the most proactive and energetic bhatmam i have ever met.

Discovery: Kids in small villages have the most brightest eyes you can ever find. 🙂

We had a nice quiet evening at the beach. We also met fishermen who were sorting their nets in preparation of the next day. The sand at Manki beach was pristine, white and soft.

Next Episode:Chronicles of Manki and Discovery of our roots
the wonderful view