Exploring Istanbul – Galata Bridge


Day 2: 11th April

After the huge and well documented (=:P :P) Half Day Tour (=spanning over 4 notes!!) we made our way back to the room (=202 and 203 of course)….We decided to explore Istanbul on a high (=:P No alcohol, just from a tower called Galata Tower!)

When we had gone on the Half Day Tour, we’d seen the Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus. But to get to the Galata Tower was a tricky job and so we consulted the Reception at the ‘Golden Horn’. They had a map of Istanbul where the Manager pointed out the route to my dad. We also purchased a copy of the map. (=Good to have in Istanbul with all the lanes and by lanes)

Istanbul is also famous for its trams. The main road which bordered the Topkapi Palace had a tram line. Every 5 minutes a tram would pass to or fro. To go to the Galata Bridge, we had to pass through a side lane (=Remember the lane we had to go thru to reach Ozler??) So one of those lanes got us to the main road. A little further on the main road brought us to the Istanbul Gare. Its a beautiful building designed by Mustafa Hamdi Pasha. The “Orient Express” made famous by Agatha Christie’s namesake thriller, terminates here.

We finally took a chance and purchased some ‘Kestane’ (=Shingada in India) which the seller roasts on coals. (=What kind of a seller was he, hauling some kestane to the coals :P)

The road opens up to the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is a strait that separates the European and Asian side of Turkey.It is the world’s most narrow strait and is also the most navigated (=Istanbul’s waters are pretty busy you know). It connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. 

Most of Turkey happens to be located in Asia but the Turks prefer not to be associated with the “poorer” continent. Whereas Europe constantly snubs its “poorer” fan.

Yea so back to the Bosphorus. Since there is a lot of activity on the European side, there is a constant exchange of traffic both people and cars (Photo1). It was fun to see a boat bring in cars from the Asian side.

Since this opened to the sea, it was quite windy. There were carts at a small distance of each other selling Kestane, Corn, Samit (=Bread with sesame). There were also stalls selling coffee(=Kahve to you), fish sandwiches in which the fish was grilled with mustard oil it smelt but i really can’t be sure. Anyway it didnt look very tasty so we skipped that.

But we did succumb to buying some Corn. I’m warning you, NEVER buy corn from Istanbul, the ones on the road. The corn tastes rubbery and totally kills the mood. (=Of course we had a fun time trying to force some seagulls to eat it, guess they knew it was bad too!!)

We walked along the road until we reached the Galata Bridge. Now this is an important bridge because

1. A tram way runs through it

2. It connects the Historical Peninsula with the ‘Suburbs’ and Work Places at Istanbul.

3.The underside of the bridge is filled with restaurants speciality ‘SeaFood’

Also we had to constantly duck because of the whiffs of cigarette smoke (=They all Smoke!!). Also If your ‘Road Crossing’ Instincts come alive and you want to explore the other side of the bridge then I’d advise you not to put a foot out of the pavement because you would certainly be run over by a car or a tram. There is a subway which can be used to cross.

It seems that the bridge was built 5 times and at one point during the reign of Emperor Justinian toll was also collected from the people. It is one of the few bridges in the world to carry electrified rail tracks. All daily city tours in Istanbul include this bridge as it is the passageway to the Old City of Constantinople.

I Spy…: When we started walking across the bridge, we noticed a peculiar sight. There seemed to be a lot of people fishing.(Photo 7) Literally fishing, baiting with some small fry or worms, they reeled in their lines waiting for the fish to be caught. Some of them had freezers and other manual equipment that could guarantee you a solid entertainment.

It was quite fascinating to watch. The people just stood there waiting for the fish to fall for the bait and looked around at all the activity around them. A nice way to spend some time i’d say chilling out in the sun (=Not very harsh at that time of the year)

Also you’ve got to carry a sweater or a muffler of sorts because it gets very windy and chilly as the evening progresses.

So we walked ahead joking about everything under the sun, looking at the people who were fishing. When we crossed the bridge, we saw this vendor selling “Churos”. Now when we’d visited California back in 2001 Churos were fried bread dipped lavishly in cinnamon sugar (=Yummm). So we got some of that labouring under the impression that it was the same thing. But, it turned out to be fried bread in sugar syrup making it like a crispy ‘Gulab Jamun’ (=:P). It was enjoyable nonetheless.

Now to find our way to the Galata Tower, we’d have to cross the road which was no mean job let me tell you. But luckily for us there were people who crossed like how everyone crosses back home (=Phew, lucky break) so we did manage to get across. After that, a few directions and an uphill road were the only things that kept us from reaching there.

There are many lanes and by-lanes that oft lead to the same place so you can be sure that the route you took would lead you somewhere close to where you want to be. The road that we took to go to Galata Tower was an uphill one with a lot of climbing en route. There were a series of steps first and then a curved road lined with some apartments and Couture Clothes Shops. We were quite out of breath when we finally reached the Tower.

The lane we took opened out to a square where 4 paths met and where the tower was situated. This tower would give a panoramic view of the whole city. (=Timings 9-7, also has a restaurant..very haute unless you have the cards to pay)

It seems the Tower at one point was crumbling but speedy restoration led to the Tower being in its present state. When we reached the square, we had a seat on a bench and munched on some chocolates (=Power Boosters!!) while we watched some dogs play.

We did explore the Tower and saw a super Panoramic view of the city but that makes yet another story 😀 😀

 

Stay Tuned

 

Cars shipped across the Bosphorus

 

Kestane!!

 

Yucky Corn!!

 

TP

 

Bosphorus

 

New Mosque!

 

Fishing off the Bridge

 

The Bosphorus

 

The Other Side

 

A Panorama

 

The Tower

All in a Day’s Work – Istanbul in a Rush


Day 2 – 11th April 2011

As per our travel agent’s plans, we were taking a half day tour of Istanbul today. We were actually supposed to take it on the 13th and it included a tour of the Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya. So we called the Travel Agency in Istanbul that was handling the tours we’d booked and got it interchanged. So the tour on 13th became the Tour on 11th because we’d already covered one of the items in the tour. (=The tours are flexible that way and always include a pick up and a drop)

Oh a thing i’d forgotten to mention, Our hotel stay included breakfast so we had to go to the breakfast room which was on the top of the hotel. It was a terrace with large windows. It was beautiful to go in the morning and see the Bosphorus and Istanbul looking sleepy with mist around.

Our breakfast was always some cereal, eggs in varieties, aubergine with potatoes and youghurt, cut vegetables, some noodles, bread, cold cuts, jams and preserves. There was the customary tea and coffee and canned juice. If you wanted fresh juice they would make it live (=in front of your eyes, give u a straw with decorations on it) but charge you 7 TL for it (=Rs 210 for some juice?? Ridiculous)

But the menu would remain same for all the days with slight variations in the yoghurt dishes (=with or without aubergine)

So, at about 8:30am our pick up van came to take us for our “Half Day Istanbul Tour”. There were a lot of people to be picked up from the adjoining hotels (=In the area where we stayed, there were many hotels in the by lanes)

Like wayward sheep, we were all collected and driven towards the Dolmabache Palace where people were again shepherded into different buses as per the tour they had opted for. But there was no problem for us we stayed in the same bus. Along with us were some people who were German and needed a German guide. The English people included us, some people who were from a cruise that was taking a halt at Istanbul and some people who had opted for the Full Day Tour.

Info Snippets:

Our Guide Aziz was telling us stories about

1. Our driver (=He thought driving in Istanbul was tough during the rush hours. Apparently he hasn’t heard of Bombay Oops Mumbai and its traffic!!)

2. The Aqueducts that used to bring water from the Belgrade Forest to Istanbul, built during the Roman Times

3. The fact how every Turkish Man has to serve a year in the Armed Forces in any capacity

4. How he had to pay 1300 Euros for his wife’s wedding gown(= She had to pay 250 Euros to which a passenger remarked that it was a fair bargain 😛 :P)

5. Hotel Paradise which was the first hotel in Istanbul (=Reportedly, they spent $220 million for its interior decoration last year- Here Agatha Christie had stayed with Prime Minister of Turkey)

6. How Tulips Originated from Turkey and when the people from the Netherlands came, they saw and they took to claim their own. (=However we heard that they say the Tulips came from somewhere else in Netherlands not mentioning Turkey from another traveler)

7.The Orient Express –

First Stop: Chora Church and Museum also called Kariye Muzessi

This Church happens to be situated in a place which needs the driver to drive through narrow lanes. Squiggling through the narrow lanes we reached the Church. The guide Aziz had already got us tickets.

The charges for the tour include (usually)

  • The entry tickets (=A fancy affair in themselves)
  • Lunch (=If opted for full day tour)
  • Transfer from one place to another, Pick up from Hotel and Drop Off to hotel/any other place desired which is within the route

Chora Church/ Kariye Muzesi/Kariye Camii was

1st- Greek Orthodox Church

2nd – A Neighborhood Mosque

3rd- A Museum

 

Fact: You can tell the Status of the Mosque by counting the number of Minarets that the Mosque has (=Status meaning, the type of visitors or purpose)

If the Mosque has 1 Minaret: Neighborhood Mosque : For the locals of the area

2 Minarets: Imperial Mosque : For the Clergy and Other Nobles

 >2 Minarets: Super Special, Huge, Famous Mosque used to Commemorate an occasion or for Crowning a New Emperor/ Marriage of the Emperor etc

Back to the Church eh Museum…

The Chora Church was originally built outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn. Literally translated, the church’s full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country: (=Wikipedia ki Jai!!)

The Church is famous for its Frescos and Mosaics depicting the life of Virgin Mary and Christ. There are 4 parts of the Museum

  • Exonarthex (=North)
  • Esonarthex (=South)
  • Naos (=Main body of Church)
  • Parecclesion (=Side Chappel)

There were a lot of people from South Korea and Japan as well as from Germany because they had translators with them.

The church is beautifully decorated with frescos. The Museum Rules forbid a person from using flash while clicking pictures of the frescos lest they cause damage to the frescos. Some frescos were in a bad shape but that was done during the Iconoplastic Age when any painting/mosaic of a human was considered as a form of idol worship

The mosaics in this Church had 3 layers which we discovered when we saw a damaged mosaic of Christ. Also, the people during the Greek civilisation had used a technique to split up a piece of marble so that there was an exact mirror image in a tile. So there were 2 marble pieces which had the same pattern looking like a mirror image. It seemed that this technique took them 2-3months to do.

Charity with a Heart:

We found out that in these mosques, there was always a SOUP KITCHEN. In these kitchens, food was served to the poor and hungry.

But, but and but this place had NO WINDOWS which meant that people outside could not see who was getting free food inside. Thats really nice and thoughtful

Verdict for Chora Church:

Unless you are an art lover or a historian, this place can easily be skipped. Its a neighbourhood mosque that has been preserved extremely well. Every little bit of history has been kept intact and made it a place of tourist interest

(=Imagine having every small temple with its history and stories documented and properly preserved!!! How nice that would be but what a Mammoth task!!)

I’ll continue the rest in another note

Keep tuned in for : Roman Hippodrome- Chariot into the past, Blue..blue and blue..A mosque lies ahead, Kalins and Magical Carpets, Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, Galata Tower n Fishy Dinner all on Day 2

 

Apple Cai, A note late but nonetheless

Turkish Delights – Where are we heading off to this time??


Notes are BaCK Again (=with a vengeance of course!!! 😛 :P)

 

After a string of domestic tours (=notes of which have not been fully uploaded, my apologies, hey wait why am i apologising, blame those exams!!!) an international tour was being thought of (=thought of?? it was a unanimous demand)

 

Initially it was HONG kONG that we were to visit, but the March 11 Tsunami, “tsunamied” our chances of getting to HK and China atleast in the near term horizon (=damn damn!!)

 

After whirlwind planning and 3 weeks to get bookings and visa formalities in place, the trip was put together for us and i will put it for u (=Wow sounds so formal!!!) Well i would generally advise you to travel by yourself to get a hang of the place you are visiting and you generally look out for good options but, But and BUT..no time so the travel agents made a dime (=marks of Turkey!!! i’m becoming a poet!! :P)

 

Skip the details…..(=the ride to the airport, the food we had, the rush at the Terminal, cranky babies etc etc)

 

9th April : Finished with Exams (=TY University, i do seem to be all “growed up”)

9th April : 11:30pm

last minute packing, locking the suitcase with little time for sleep

9th April : 5:15 am

Seat Belt on, pilot ready and we take off!!!

 

Although i never really sleep in flights and generally have a motion sickness problem, i slept like a log. I barely remember the breakfast i had (=Oh No!! Wait i do, it was mushrooms fried in butter n pepper, a weird layered pastry, cake, fruits n bread)

Although we had a  screen with lots of good movies, the Stewards (=yes we had good looking smiley stewards!!) gave us the head phones probably when we were nodding off so i don’t remember. Also the movies didnt work that well. So we played a game called “Word Traveler” which helps you to build up a vocab so we tried Turkish but i dont remember anything!!.

 

Alright, i dont have photos but the first view when we were closing in on Turkey, Istanbul actually was amazing. There were blue seas (=which we learnt were the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara actually), green patches and villas with red roofs, it was like a fairy tale. i dont have a picture to post but it was very scenic.

 

After the usual rush to get out of the airplane and get luggage, we made our way through all the duty free to find our transfer van. The first thing that struck my girly senses was that, Turkish people are an eye candy (lol). Second, they are fair and incredibly beautiful. We found the person who was supposed to transfer us to the hotel. His name happened to be something funny, like Tootsie or Tootles or something. The driver’s name was Arjan (=the easy ones we remember)

 

And Wow, Istanbul shocked us!! It was beautiful. Wide roads, lots of plants especially tulips, really really beautiful as the pictures show. We were not finished looking at the flowers when the road wound us up to the sea. Beautiful..i really don’t have the words. There were old buildings on our left and parks, boats, gulls and the sea on the right, with the smooth traffic free road ahead.

 

There’s not a lot known about India in Turkey and vice versa, we don’t know a lot about the country despite there being lot of similarities between the cultures. But i’ll comment on the culture and the city later. Our first impressions were Dumbstruck.Amazed.Wow.Super Weather!!!!

 

Our Hotel was located in the ‘Historical Peninsula’ which is the place where all the monuments and travel spots are within close reach. So to our surprise, instead of keeping a straight road, we took a left and went up a winding road taking turns through a lot of hotels to find ours, ‘The Golden Horn, Serkeci, Istanbul’ (=Thats pronounced Sir-Ke-Chi).

 

We checked out our rooms, (=2 separate ones, we’re quite grown up now!!) which didn’t have much of a view but that doesn’t matter. We checked out some of the flight magazines. The ‘Istanbul Shopping Festival’ was on at that time. Also there were articles about how Istanbul was a “Global City’ and a ‘Melting Pot of Cultures’ (=Very 12th std french textbook like) also about Istanbul as a shopping destination. People will remember Istanbul as the city that kept changing the name from ‘Byzantium’ to ‘Constantinople’ to ‘Istanbul’.

Most of the magazine articles were in Turkish, with English translations by the side. Also i read about Turkish brands and about a place to visit in Turkey which has amazing waterfalls.

Also to our surprise, the TV in my parents room (=very ICAI style, the kids room hereinafterreferred to as 202 and the parents room as 203)

Ya back to the TV,(got lost in the brackets!!) There were channels with Turkish soaps (=US soaps dubbed in Turkish) other Turkish channels and BBC (=1 channel, for Christ’s sake, English anyone!!) So effectively we were cut off from the English speaking world and media (=Quite nice actually)

 

Turkey is 2.5 hours behind Indian.Standard.Time (=I say they r ahead but whatever!) so by that time which was about 12:30 -1 Turkey Time, we were all ready to eat a horse (=not literally, i guess we could eat a few chicken maybe and a whole vegetable patch)

 

So we went to the Reception and asked for places where we could have Authentic Turkish Food. The Bell Boy, Bell Man actually (=well he was old and had a salt n pepper head, what can i say) recommended this place called Ozler just opposite our hotel. So we made our way to Ozler.

 

Fact: Like in all European Countries, Turkey Restaurants keep a copy of their Menu Cards outside the restaurants. When a curious bystander comes looking at the dishes or the prices, an appointed waiter, salesguy actually, comes and sweet talks you into having a meal there.

 

Of course this didn’t work the first time because we were already going there. The restaurant apart from a few starters which are vegetarian (=aubergine, olives, salads and other stuff), the main course was Non Vegetarian.

 

Discovery: Istanbul Sensation  ‘AYRAN’ = Youghurt + Salt. This drink is a sensation. Its available everywhere and is refreshing, cool and awesome (=Only for a price of 3 Lira in restaurants, and 1 Lira in the SuperMarkets)

 

Ayran was our constant companion till we left Turkey.

Ok so our lunch was some Yummy Lamb Kebabs, Chicken Sheesh and Bread

We also had some Cut Fruit on the House (=yipee!!) which was delicious, i mean huge pieces of juicy oranges,,,,wow

 

Daily Info Bits: Restaurants serve you unlimited amount of bread if you dine there. So for all the hoggers – Eat, Munch n Bite

 

The One who took our order was nice enough to let us see the kitchen and introduce us. We saw their big ovens (=no pictures sorry)

 

Also before we entered, my dad and i were seeing the prices and my mom and sis were chatting with one of the sales-guys called ‘George Clooney’ lolz and he thought my mom n my sis were MY KIDS…yea yea not funny i dont look that old!!!! So he was trying to cheer me up while i fake cried!! (=OK Stop Laughing!!)

 

So in the end we got a pic with him too!!

 

After the lunch, we made our way to the hotel room 203..and decided about our day. We decided to spend the day walking around and exploring the area. We had a 2 tours around the city looking at the attractions. We’d landed on Sunday and the Tours were on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

Coming Up: Exploring Around, Istanbul Everywhere, Hagia Sophia, Yerebatin Cistern, Galata Bridge, Galata Tower all on Day 1

 

Keep Tuned

 

 

 

 

Turkey…Our Transfer Van

 

Sights off Turkish Airport

 

Ataturk Airport

 

The hotel

 

gEORGE cLOONEY

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 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

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

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

Exploring Mysore-BLog World Meets Real World.


18th April 2010: Mysore, Karnataka, India
My father is an active blogger and one of his friends from bloggerspace is Mr Swaroop Kagli. We made plans to meet him and take him out to lunch. After exploring the Lalita Mahal, we met him somewhere near his place and he took us to a restaurant called Olive Garden. There was a private party going on there so we had to go from another way. I wished we could sit in the private party after all we were dressed for it(=coz everyone in the party was wearing a sari n i and mum had worn some nice indian dresses). We got a nice seat and ordered some tasty starters and some yummy food. For dessert we had fried ice cream. I was not feeling well, a little drained out but the ice cream made me feel good. We ordered another one.

After lunch, we clicked photos. There were monkeys hopping here and there and creeping to see if they could get any food. There was one naughty monkey who was drinking water from the water pump on top of the kitchen. Inquiries yielded that the tank was used to supply water to the toilets and for washing utensils which was alright. Atleast it did not make it to the food.

After that we dropped Swaroop outside his building which looked swank, and then we made our way to the hotel. From Swaroop we learnt a lot about Mysore and about what he does. Swaroop has a photo blog you see so we were very interested.
Also a fact is that we take whichever place we live in for granted, because whenever anyone comes and asks us what we have to see, we usually can’t think of anything. But for visitors its a whole new experience. Through visitors eyes you see your locality or city in an entirely different view.We also visited Swaroop’s House which was a very cosy home in this fastly expanding city. There we met his mother and sister and one of his relatives who had come over. His mother had made excellent juice for us. It was nice meeting them and we enjoyed there. Sachi learnt that monkeys used to visit Swaroop’s veranda and made a request to keep one for her. She loves monkeys and wanted to keep one as a pet.
It was really nice to see that a friendship which sprung up in bloggerspace translated into a meeting and a friendship that is bound to last for years to come. Through blogs a lot of people get to know each other and its a great way to project your ideas and have discussions. Now that i have my own blog i can really relate. I’d want to travel to some place and meet up a friend from the Blog world too 😀 😀

Coming Up Next: They Mysore Palace,Goodbye Mysore

Fried Ice Cream.My dad and Swaroop.