An underground palace in Ahmedabad - Adalaj step well

This site touched me emotionally- for its architecture, for its many stories of intrigue and drama, for the wonderful foresight that was available to the people centuries ago and so on.

Why have we forgotten the good old methods of conservation of water in modern times!! Today water is fast deplenishing, and no one seems bothered about saving this vital resource so long as your home and office taps spew and gush water. Ask those people who have seen water shortages, ask the people living in rain starved villages and you realize the importance or the lack of safe drinking water and its lack of availability

The Adalaj step is an architectural marvel steeped in history that I did not have the foggiest about. This is an intricately carved well that descends seven floors downwards into the earth (very different from the wells we have seen in our life time) Infact the lower you climb the temperature drops to surround you with cool air inside this giant well. Built entirely of sandstone, one can enter this step-well from three sides – the octagonal landings have carved colonnades and intricately carved niches. Openings in the ceilings above the landing have been provided to allow light and air to enter the well. Natural air conditioning! Each landing has wide space suggesting that people, especially travelers, rested here while on their journeys – to quench their thirst with the cool waters before resuming their journeys. Glorious yesteryears indeed! As we walked about exploring the architecture, marveling at the steps carved out of stone ( the steps are made of slabs of stones that inter lock into each other), discovering the various levels to this inner side of the well – the view captured by my camera got even more joyous. The many questions surrounding this beautiful discovery got answered on coming back home by my friends and their family elders who have lived in Ahmedabad for a very long time.

History has it that Rana Veer Singh ruled the area around Adalaj. He started the construction of the step-well, which he wanted to be the most beautiful one around. Unfortunately he was killed in battle by Mohammed Begda, who coveted the widowed queen, Rani Ruba. Mohammed Begda proposed marriage to the Rani. The Queen agreed on one condition; that he complete the 7-storeyed step–well at Adalaj first.

Complete it he did in 1499–and he came back to the queen with his proposal. The next day, Rani Ruba flung herself into the water and drowned.

One of the well kept secrets of some of the step wells was that it also had hidden doors and chambers that led royal people, specially the queens to escape from being captured. They would simply fall into the well and pretend to be drowned but in reality, they would open hidden chambers and escape elsewhere . Wonder if Rani Ruba survived the plunge and escaped to live?

I walked around the exquisitely carved chambers, slightly perturbed. What about the 3 graves that were found near the well? It is believed that when Mohammed Begda asked the artisans if it were possible to build another step-well like the one at Adalaj they replied in the affirmative. This proved to be their undoing and they were instantly put to death. Shah Jahan-esqe isn’t it? Perhaps that is why the Adalaj step-well stands unrivaled till today. Beauty, romance and tragedy – well, every well has a story to tell!

On a more logical note- I wish our Government or Private public partnerships could look at reinventing such models to capture water for multi-purposes, while being earth friendly and non intrusive to not cause any further imbalances in our climate.

I hope this post renews the zest in us, similar to what our ancestors felt, to ensure deliverance (water relief for the weary sun burnt traveler) without any wastage's ( collection and restorage points)


The name “Pondicherry” is a Westernized version of the Tamil “puducherry” meaning “small hamlet

This city is divided into French and Tamil localities with both sections displaying architectural details peculiar to each culture. In the French Town, the streets are lined by imposing colonial buildings with stately gates and huge compound walls. The facades are usually painted cream or light pink. In the Tamil Town, houses are typically painted green, blue and brown and have large, expansive verandahs ideal for a quick chat with passers by or even to be used as an impromptu guest room for unexpected travelers

Our travel to Pondicherry revolved around the Aurobindo Ashram, the Auroville, a nearby corner street for water or snacks replenishment, and the local diner - café which we frequented often for lunch and dinner. This diner place was called Le Club that retains much of that old world grandeur even today. Am not sure if it is a new place built to look like from olden times, or a genuinely olden place. The restaurant tastefully lights up at night in the garden of the old French villa. Located on Dumas Street very close to where we were staying it had some very authentic French food that had us returning regularly.

Auroville was the other place we found ourselves gravitating towards - conceived as a utopian city where people of different nationalities from all over the world could live in harmony. Around 1900 people, most of them non Indians live here in communes. During the inauguration of this community, soil from 124 countries was poured into an urn symbolizing the oneness of humanity. One can buy beautiful hand crafted arts in here. From perfumed candles, to hand made chappals, to necklaces, exotic silver ware, lamps, ceramic pottery and hand made paper, to antiques from Tamilnad and Kerala- this place became another destination for us to visit regularly during our stay there with the hope of shopping real ‘finds’ here

Although not in the same league as Goa, Pondicherry has its share of small, uncrowded beaches. The small promenade by evening finds many strollers largely tourists , taking in the salty sea breeze. The beach is relatively free of mankind, rather rocky and unsafe for swimming.

The impressive French architecture living alongside Indian culture in harmony is a prime example of how everybody gets along in this tiny town. The serenity and relative quiet of Pondicherry is worth having a sample of – don’t go there expecting action, else you will be disappointed.


The Golden Temple Amritsar.

I distinctly recall our car was not allowed to drive through the barricades, the driver furiously negotiating with the cops, we waiting patiently inside the car knowing it will all sort out and eventually we did drive through to reach The Golden Temple

It was a very hot and humid day. Amidst much noise and so many people and the bustle of the narrow street, my head had begun to call out for help! I drove past the site of Jallianvala Baug and my heart felt for all those that died here.

With these emotions churning within I stepped out of the car covered my head as tradition demanded and entered Shri Harmandir Sahib/The Golden Temple. We first stopped to leave behind our shoes in safe keeping. And then walked on the hot marble to climb down the steps towards the Sarovar.

Everything suddenly stopped.

The only sound I could hear was the religious songs being sung in the temple. I was immediately overwhelmed by what I saw and felt. The nearest thing I can describe was a feeling of calm quietude descending on me. A coming home kind of feeling. I felt like I was meant to be there. I walked around struggling to ensure my chunni stayed atop my head, trying to absorb as many views as I could of this magnificent place. There has to be something in it. My senses couldn’t comprehend it but my soul could.

A holy place packed to capacity with the weekend crowd. We did our parikrama of the sarovar (water pond in the center) twice over – to a feeling of satisfaction.

The white marble we walked on was burning hot reminding me of how in the old days people may have had to walk over coals to seek atonement. With an utter feeling of a high, when the prasad of kada got handed out I was simply felt blessed. The Golden Temple. This place was all that I had heard about and more.

Large, bustling with activity, crowded! Yet everything had a sense of peace and calm. The shabad kirtan had a soothing effect and after pausing to take in the beauty of the Harmandir Sahib, we joined the queue to enter the inner sanctorum. I am always pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and discipline exhibited at Sikh gurudwaras. The marble flooring was spotlessly clean and irrespective of the size of the crowd nobody pushes or tries to get ahead – quite unlike some of the temples that I have visited. I was quite impressed with the intricate carvings and detail on the walls and with the fact that everybody tries to do some seva (selfless service) here.

I had initially planned to taste the famous langar but the humid weather and the morning breakfast made me pass it this once, but will give it a try another time.

Darbar Sahib also called The Golden Temple or Temple of God is culturally the most significant place of worship of the Sikhs & one of the oldest Sikh Gurudwaras located in Amritsar which was established by Guru Ram Das the 4th guru of the Sikhs

In here nobody goes away hungry. For pilgrims and the poor, there's the divine langar. For the souls seeking more there is indeed more. And for the tourists and the locals, there's the ubiquitous dhaba

I find myself ill equipped to close this post, deep inside me I know I will definitely return to The Golden Temple soon.


Wagah Border.

I had heard a lot about the retreat ceremony at the Atari-Wagah border, some 28 kms from Amritsar, the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan.

While we did our best to reach before time and just about made it on time, we had not factored in the weekend crowd and just about managed to squeeze into a crowded stand which only had a partial view of the gates. The mood was soon set by a large group of school girls dancing to Hindi film patriotic songs. Some foreigners too jumped in with much dancing and waving of arms and legs. It was a great setting – the evening sunset, a few Indian flags in the crowd, smartly turned out BSF soldiers who looked so tall like the Pathans of Afghanisthan and amidst a lot of patriotic sloganeering – I couldn't help but feel very proud as an Indian, proud as never before.

Be prepared for an assault on the senses. We were surrounded by smelly wet perspiration soaked Mango People who despite the mad mad rush allowed us some room to stand without being felt over! People were on a high here, suddenly it seemed that all standing in the Indian side of the balconies were feeling a tremendous rush of pride and honour in being there watching and participating in the retreat. I was keen to get started on some ‘forever etched in memory kinda shots’ with my camera, but trying to find a comfortable spot, balance myself, not tip over and yet not come in the way of someone else, was a gigantic task! We pushed through the crowd and managed to reach as close we could to the balcony railing. I could see the other side of the border – the Pakistani Rangers in their black Pathani suits and a quiet audience that sat very orderly in the audience galleries on the other side of the border.

The ceremony started with some smart drill and marching by the BSF. The jawans kicking their heels incredibly high and putting on a show of mock face-off with the Pak rangers, much to the delight of the crowd. A white line that came along with the partition in 1947 by the British demarcates the border between India and Pakistan about a yard apart. The soldiers drill with pounding long strides on the grounds as the two iron gates are shut with a final handshake. The ceremony invokes nostalgia among the visitors and offers something that one cannot afford to miss as a short excursion from Amritsar.

After a while I found myself being repulsed by this show as I found it to be too threatening in stance and too combative and confrontationalist! All this fervour was drummed and beaten up by an orchestraor (DJ if you wish) who signaled the crowds to cheer and boo according to his commands! My initial feeling of patriotism gave way to a feeling of sadness, a feeling of being let down. Perhaps because I have always had the highest regard for our army. So when they do these public theatres like at the Wagah border it felt so staged! The entire ceremony became repetitive and farfetched.

I had had enough of the hot humid weather and the milling crowd and the harsh sun and I just wanted to get back to the air conditioned comfort of the hotel room. But there was no way out from the jam packed stands, so we waited some more and finally all of us just decided to make our way despite the milling crowds who magically allowed us a path out, we left before the ceremony was completed. As I walked back to the parking after the ceremony I could not help wondering about what the soldiers would do once the crowds had melted away. Would some of them casually saunter off across the border and share a drink with their counterparts? Or, perhaps share some jokes with each other on the way the crowds behaved today vis a vis the previous weekend. What if the border had actually been drawn a few more kms north. Wouldn’t some of the soldiers guarding the frontier, be probably guarding it from the other side? What choice does an individual have in choosing his Nationality?


Playing glutton in the land of milk and ghee -Amritsar

I was told by friends that often the locals prefer to send out for food rather than cook in their kitchens, now I know why:) The food is not only hot and tasty, its also fresh and clean. Despite my fears of the water they served to drink and the watery chutney and the not so fresh looking diced onions given as accompaniment with the kulchas not once did I suffer any tummy problems.

I have never eaten kulchas like this ever before in my life! Crunchy, tasty, mouth watering, so yummy that I could not desist from having more than I should have had! The Amritsari kulcha I devoured with relish, its for those who may not know much about a kuclcha- a flaky crisp white flour bread stuffed with potatoes, spiced onions chilly and pepper, jeera and anardana on the inside and roasted in generous dollops of butter to give that crunch. This kinda kulcha cannot be found anywhere beyond Amritsar I swear to you . A tiny ramshackle place in a side street off the main road dished up this tasty meal which I ate with tasty chole (albeit a bit watery) and green chutney which I washed down with a brass tumbler full of cool lassi. It was no over exaggeration that the best bread is available on the streets of Amritsar

This journey of food exploration from the streets of Amritsar certainly made me believe all I had heard thus far about how tasty food is in this city! Amritsaris do indeed dish up the most flavoursome and fragrant of food at the humblest of prices At dinner time I ordered straightforward simple food and given how ravenous I was, I downed most of it but must acknowledge that Lonely Planet probably is not the best judge of good north Indian food

At first glance Amritsar belies of prosperity, wealth and a certain influx of internationalism. The more I looked around and observed the more I detected a certain humbleness, a quality that many who were selling would not compromise on, a certain respect allowed to the women despite the hot bloodedness of the males from these parts of north India or the over crowded streets where congestion word was probably discovered.

My observations - chaos is not a bad thing, am sure there is definite method to any madness. However does chaos have to mean mess? Chaotic traffic? Dilapidated buildings? Guess the Govt doesn’t care but do we stop caring? Our cities look equally bad so not once am I passing any judgment here- all I am seeking is some of us need to wake up and stop accepting this degeneration quietly . We live in a sorry state and we shouldn’t be. We need to change things – we need to reflect care for things, we need to demand better things for ourselves from ourselves. And not allow it to get from bad to worse. And this observation is true for most of pilgrim cities I have visited in India

All too soon, it was time to head back home, while I was keen to get back to Pooch I also wished I had some extra time in hand to stop and buy Amritsari papads and Pinni’s and gur halwa for family and friends. I sat a tad wistful in the plane that it was all over too soon, but promised myself I would come back here with family and take in the sounds and smells and everything Amritsari slowly and joyfully and savour it. I remember seeing this little kulfi shop, the name of which I cannot recollect. I wanted to stop and sample its wares but could not, I know their malai kulfi is to die for! I wanted to have the Paneer pakoras and the kachauris and the desi ghee jalebis and the phirni and the bhaturas and the ma ki dal and the aam papar - all of this the next trip for sure! I know the patiala suits are gorgeous and awaiting me for the next trip. This is the land of senses alright- creamy yet textured, I promise to get back to this wonderful land soon


Ale or Lager? Delhi has come a long way baby!

Last weekend in Delhi was not just a rich sports filled day with Monte Carlo becoming a good hunting ground for the prancing horse (Ferrari yes!) who finally made it to a 3rd on the podium closely followed by Massa at 4, but also the T20 finals between Hyderabad and Bangalore giving enough respite to what could have been an otherwise tension filled evening between old rivals Delhi and Bombay were they to come face to face in this seasons IPL.

I found myself in Delhi's cool(!) Sports Bar enjoying the race with friends amidst lively conversation. And soon after the race we moved to a Bavarian beer bar where we were joined by more friends given the popularity of IPL and the finals. This place promised very fresh beer…and the music blasting from within was enough to set us all on our feet!

And so pitcher after pitcher, the evening had begun in true earnest. The beer was indeed fresh. Retaining the original taste from the tap right till the serving mug reached the halfway mark. Unlike the bottled or canned beer which loses much of its original character. There’s this issue of varying temperatures and a host of other factors like the quantity produced and the way in which it is transported etc. so is my guess. Which is why the bar was thronging with ex-pats and Indians alike all rubbing shoulders and exchanging smiles with strangers as the beer went down smoothly and the music was electric! And by now Kumble’s men had restricted Gillys boys for inside 150!

The evening was setting firmly in place for all of us, amidst loud chatter, food plates being passed around, with difficulty being able to hear ones own voice forget hearing the others we still were chatting with one another and communicating with the giant screens pushing the adrenalin even higher ball after ball , and all this was taken farenhites further with the romance of beer ... at that a fresh one right at the source:)

There was lots to experience - endless variety of brews made from just four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. One could choose from a selection of draft beers (made from rice or wheat or germ flour) or even a glass of ale or lager or dark beer or wine or mixed drink of your choice We were nicely settled at a vantage point to view the screen and the game, and the taste of pumped up music and the microbreweries, craft beer or brewpubs all added the right dosage of magic to an evening which was anyways glorious given the high of betting on the right team or the right score or the right batsman! Nothing can replace a great live performance – and we all loved the great show that Gillys boys put up in the second innings!

From the frosty mug to the dark long-necked glass different folks were enjoying the most tasteful journey of this sunset yellow or dark brewed indulgence. But naturally, it occurs to me, to popularize a new concept such as fresh beer brew the beerbar management rightly combined cricket frenzy with the merriment of beer. It generated a lot of buzz in this outsourcing and software hub, dotted by malls and shopping plazas.

Kumbles men crumbled, the DJ went many notches louder on his music rack, the beer was smooth and quite tasty. The calorie content, I’m told, was lower than bottled beer. The ambience was great. The friends were a riot to be with. What else could one ask for after the grunge of a work filled week?


I love Paris

I will try and recollect my first images of Paris here, because those images vary to a very large extent, now that I have been a regular to Paris.

Paris is a pretty small city compared to many other European capitals. The Govt had mooted an idea of extending its boundaries to the suburbs in order to make a “Greater Paris” area, aka London, but this seems to be stuck in the pipeline despite President Sarkozy taking this on himself and making it a priority!

We reached Paris on a warm sunny day. The trees were alive with new leaves, people were seated on sidewalk cafes chatting amicably, and drinking in outdoor terraces – window gazing and ambling lazily on the streets – it’s easy to love spring in Paris. I absolutely love this city. A thriving megapolis Paris also has many hidden treasures. We discovered this cute little village like lane where we strolled along under blossoming trees and a canal cris-crossing at intervals never once being cut off by any vehicular traffic. Now that is never possible in a Bombay:)

The slight nip in the air saw the evenings receive light showers. That made it comfortable if you are snug in a jacket to walk about with pleasure. I was warned well in advance that I was not likely to find any food (veg) to my liking, so I was so well prepared to last out on bread and cheese that when I stumbled on eateries I was so gloriously delighted to find great tasting veg food! Minus the French onion soup though!

On a wintry afternoon I discovered the crepes guy making hot crepes that melted in the mouth with maple syrup – o so so so yum! Meethinks the French spend more time eating compared to any other country including Italy. Not surprising, giving the gourmet foods on display and the glorious cheeses and wines! But the one thing that stood out for me was the formal attitude of the waiters and waitress in the patisseries and cafes and lounges and restobars. I've never come across one with an attitude that could be described as remotely 'casual'. Always propah, always formal stiff and starched- a sunny smile could do wonders in the winter chill am sure:)

I was also warned about the rude French folks who would neither be helpful nor polite. And of course that they wouldn’t speak English no matter what! And once again I was so pleasantly surprised. They spoke English, they were courteous, charming and above all very helpful. Wonder why the Parisians have earned themselves such a -ve brand equity.

Anyway moving to what is an absolute must in case you are visiting for the very first time, take in this gorgeous city at face value. It is indeed the land of romance and love – and you will find young and old smooching, hugging, holding hands, in a tight clinch anywhere and everywhere. Lovely isn’t it!:)

Ok coming to the sites and sounds- of course the Eiffel Tower, is a must see, this colossal landmark, although initially hated by many Parisians, is now a famous symbol of French civic pride. It looks beautiful at night when lit

Notre Dame Cathedral, this famous cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture (12th century marvel), stands on the Île de la Cité is the symbolic heart of the city.

Luxembourg Gardens, are a beautiful 25 hectares green oasis on Paris’s fashionable left bank showing off many statues, fountains and flowers, it is one of the most popular destinations for relaxation.

Louvre Palace-Museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The Louvre is more than simply the largest museum in the world. The stones of the building are a collective symbol of French identity. It has an unparalleled collection of items covering the full spectrum of art through the ages of 800 years of history. There is much to see here, please wear sensible shoes for the immense lengths you will be walking here.

Arc de Triomphe, This world-famous landmark structure has served ever since the days of Napoleon as a symbol of victory for triumphant French troops returning home.

Pantheon, this ancient church is the resting place for many of France's greatest heroes.

If you like some expensive entertainment, the Lido on the Champs Elysées is a good choice. We went to the show Bonheur, which is still playing. I guess you can compare it with the Moulin Rouge, but it's better actually.

I've been to both and the Lido is more glamorous and there are more dancers. You really can't compare the show - it's just different. In the Lido the stage moves all the time. They have great dancers, clothing, light, water and even a real horse in their show.

It costs a lot of money, but for the Lido is more worth it than the Moulin Rouge.

And once you have done all these- make sure you eat in the sidewalk cafes, sip wine in the evenings at restobars, lounge about in some cozy cafes and bars, explore the cuisine and try your hand at new foods, get yourself going on the Parisian culture of etiquette and fine living:)

Its always au revoir for Paris for me – goodbye till we meet again:)


Window seat blues

Do you carry your fave soft toy or fave jeans or fave perfumes when you travel? Well I have always carried my music for any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. My collection is a rather eclectic one, those who know me disregard my playlist and those who don’t, find new music they’d like to know more on.

Thank God for music portability in today’s age. As am not sure how I would have passed my most idyllic moments on a beach or walking in the greens! Music is not just a passing fancy with me, but has been a constant companion during my travels and bedtime. I have to date lost 3 i-pods in transit due to tiredness and sleepiness, but that does not deter me from buying the 4th i-pod or a scandisk as a back up to ensure I have music at all times when traveling.

I remember traveling on a holiday from Bangalore during early days on a scanty budget. Accompanied by a bag loaded with treasured cassettes, I found myself on a bus heading to Goa. I realized if I am not listening to music (I was never big on boy bands but always heavy on rock!! Floyd, Muddy waters, Doors!) the journey (bus drive) would become torturous and unending misery for me. And that’s dangerous as I can so easily spoil my fellow travelers joy! Left alone to myself with my music and my window seat I was happy to take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful coastal drive.

Many a conversations during travel have begun with music. Learning from a fellow traveler on jazz and its origins, to playing my music in shacks in Goa because the shack owner is running low on ‘rock music’, helps befriends strangers and start easy friendly conversations on holidays. Many a times I have voluntarily shared music on my travels. And sometime when lyrics are translated for my benefit (because I don’t understand the language) it does not deter me from appreciating the pain in the music. Blues can embrace and envelop you because of a common understood message.

Essentially music goes wherever I go. It maybe the naughty voice of Sunidhi Chauhan or the dancing vocals of Shakin Stevens or Shakira, or the calming voice of A R Rahman or the vibrant rhythms of Buddha Bar, Jamiroquai or Enigma –music always comes in handy on travel, and helps me relate to people, especially when I am miles away from home


Paharganj with a purpose!

The reason we traveled many kilometers to Paharganj was for the famous Sitaram choley-bhaturey. Soft and delicious, it sure is the enemy of one's arteries but so yummy for the taste buds:) The bhatureys are one of a kind, stuffed with lightly salted paneer and aromatic greens, the authentic north Indian choley is topped and garnished with carrot pickle and green chutney and chopped onions - delectable! And my God is it heavy and filling – keeps you away from any other food all day long! My brother insists that ever since he has had the chholey-bhaturey at Sitaram's, there is no other place in India that compares and I grudgingly agree with him . Sitaram also serves khattae aloo (potato gravy) which is too sour for me but is an equal hit with his patrons! A tiny non descript place in the middle of a narrow 2 way street called chunagali which is invariably always caught in traffic snarls, you got to be single minded and focused when heading to Sitarams!

On a full stomach, and all of a sudden sleepy eyes I trudge out of Sitarams, shielding myself from the harsh sun, and come out to the end of this street into a flea market of sorts. Very similar in look and feel to Goa minus the beaches! Similar kind of stuff on sale. Similar kind of grunge on the street. Similar beckoning of shopkeepers thinking us to be foreigners to come and check the wares. And the similarity ends there.

Paharganj was delightful for me, as I discovered, its delight, on foot. Dhaaba and European restaurants nestle in this quaint street next to each other, Jalebee’s and Lassi’s are a hungry mans pick-me-up, fashion street kinda clothing and street side shoes shops are dime a dozen, and even many more souvenir shops, tiny as they seem, once you step in, are like a long non ending corridor of more things to be discovered within!

The people selling in these shops have a friendly demeanor ( starkly in contrast to the aggression of Delhi). The inner streets of this old world called Paharganj are unique, charming, mystical and happy. Many of the shops in there sell one category of goods, like silver jewelry or wire screens or beads and necklaces, or old antique pieces or shoes- reflecting decades and decades of traditional cultural Indianess.

This market boasts of 2 types of clientele, the locals and hordes of foreign visitors. The foreigners needs and requirements, help sprout, travel agencies-coffee houses-backpacker hotels and stylish fusion restaurants, which make them a lot more profitable:)

Paharganj allows you to devour the local moods rather happily. One thing is sure: A Street devoted to a particular product can almost overnight turn into the home of trendy restaurants. On one short block, I walked past a Conti bar, a Mediterranean restaurant, a patisserie and two upscale coffee houses. This mood of Delhi was most definitely a new exploration for me.

On the other hand on day 2 when I walked the streets of Paharganj really ravenous, I came across single-item restaurants, places where you perch on low stools and for very little have a sumptuous snacks – katchori, samosa, malai lassi, noodles, plain coffee, brun maska pao!! May not be a large variety to chose from, but delectable, economical, Indian and fresh!

The streets are teeming with foreigners of various hues and purposes, many of them looked like they did not belong to the present, and many who looked bright and vivacious searching a good bargain! I loved the easy pace as I shopped with glee and found myself much trivia and trinkets as souvenirs for friends back home.

Paharganj is hectic! All day a rush hour of traffic, people, complete with cows and stray dogs aimlessly roaming the streets and laying down where they please. Incense smoke and delicious food scent the air. This place is friendly and welcoming. The surrounding buildings are rather forlorn looking and ruptured, every street corner has a small cosy cafe – guess the basic needs of a traveler do get fulfilled with these:)

Some foreigners have come here in search of religion, some others in search of yoga and some are merely vacationing!

Paharganj almost feels like is caught in a time warp! It's an oasis of old culture in Delhi, a still-beautiful city of colonial villas, gardens and lakes that nonetheless is dotted with new high-rise projects, with massive lung space and is now getting transformed into suburban malls too. Some of it is exactly like it was when some old timers recall Paharganj of the yore, and some rue the loss of the old Paharganj that was tree lined and fantastic and sacred. A 100ft tall Hanuman keeps an eye on all that transpires here so beware all!:)

I found Paharganj to be forward and cheeky like our new age India.


Chandini Chowk- Timeless Lure

A man holds up a fake chandelier the size of 40feet, and that is the entrance to Bhagirath Palace known for its unique down to earth prices for exotic lampshades. A nearby lane showcases a variety of electronics, locks, phones, rotating fans etc; if you are indeed looking for a steal this is the market to visit!

Anyone who walks these crowded streets opposite Jama Masjid in Old Delhi could be forgiven for doing a double take. On the right side of the road is this gigantic monumental pride of India the Red Fort, and on the left side is this manic, crowded, teeming with boundless energy in its tiny streets and shops offering bargain deals.

Here you see aam janta rubbing shoulders with the sophisticates, realism & practicality rubbing shoulders with urbane energy. All hunting for great bargains. I even saw a shop displaying stacks of paper money – fake dollars, euros and rupees—to attract customers:)

Just before Chandini Chowk we passed by a street named Daryaganj , where most items for sale on this block, were either ‘seconds’ or stolen. It was indeed a Sunday flea market that had families with limited spending power come out in hordes to shop.

Walk down the traditional street of CC, and the smell of food (samosas, kachoris, bhatura channa and jalebis) overwhelms the exhaust fumes from the car and motorbike traffic jockeying for space with the rickshaws and the ubiquitous human driven bicycle taxis. All cursing each other with the harsh sun beating down the weary traveler and the shopper alike.

These quaint streets didn't even consist of streets in the initial times, but were more a collection of little communities, separated from each other by gates and bamboo hedges, according to the book "Old Delhi -- Streets of Chandini Chowk". Over time urbanization and development have given rise to many road blockades and one way streets or no way street as the case maybe, to avoid humans being trampled. Humans jostle with each other, with non existent pavements and black smoke laden traffic, to find some space to exist!

From streets devoted to grains, bottles, charcoal, paint, to todays streets – that sell herbs, dry fruits, antique silver and gold to fancy clothing and wedding attire, to silk and paintings and statues and glassware, you will find everything you need here, provided you have the patience for crowds and no fuss attitude.

Enterprising merchants have started repairing and selling computers in here. The car driver educated us on the advantages of trading old laptops for new machines in this street! I did see a young man bring in his aging IBM ThinkPad where one of the screen's hinges had snapped in half. He was asked to leave behind his Thinkpad for 4 days as the shopkeeper had to wait for parts to arrive, but the deal was struck for a mere Rs 200/- So much for laptops being too expensive to be repaired!

Chandini Chowks popularity has soared once again with movies being themed around this locale & fashionistas making it trendy to visit. The real estate has soared in value here. The shop owners who live above their stores wouldn't consider any other sort of life. They like the ease of stepping out on the street buying whatever they need, talking with friends over walls, and hate the concept of shifting out of here into apartments in other localities as that would mean no meeting neighbors for days together!

The flip side to this pride of community is when you glance upwards you tend to see a lot of loosely hung cables which looked alarming, reflecting utter neglect and callousness. Thickly congested roads and intense traffic pollution could not be conducive to health. To my mind this is indeed a heavy price to pay for a flourishing business.

What would I wish for to change in this bustling street? Actually, not much. Chandini Chowk derives its character from the myriad things sold, the myriad diversity of people and languages that merge here…I only wish for an enchanting body of water surrounded by trees and featuring some quiet and peace. This should allow the weary shopper and the traveler alike some lung space, to catch ones breath and resume the feverish journey with gusto again.


Have a good trip ahead!

How do you describe the feeling that you get before traveling? The much anticipation, the much excitement, the waiting to get that ride to the destination, the things one will do when one reaches the destination…all of this adds much zing and happiness because one is looking ahead, a clean canvas that will eventually get splashed with vibrant energetic colours. You will get to paint your art. Liberating isn’t it?

But if the journey ahead is full of dread, anguish, sadness, non stop tears, pain, memories, even this experience leaves one anxious, wishing the journey would be long over and done with, because one is looking ahead at a canvas that is already painted and waiting for you to be picked up. You will not be allowed to choose your art here.

What a marked difference when purposes of travels can be so different, right? Leisure travel, holiday, meeting friends and relatives, meeting loved ones, work travel all have a note of positivism and good excitement associated with it. Travel when it is to do with a heavy heart- loss of a dear one, moving cities after marriage, being unwell, air sickness and a long haul ahead, all these have a baggage of sadness, loss, a vacuum of sorts that leads to no purpose, the unfamiliar , hence the dread and unhappiness.

Life is a journey people say. I sincerely wish all of you a journey of discovery and exploration always, whatever be the purpose.


Budget airline charges

An Irish budget airline Ryanair has said it is considering charging passengers for using the toilet while flying.

Chief executive Michael O'Leary told the BBC that the Dublin-based carrier was looking at maybe installing a "coin slot on the toilet door".

Ryanair aims to offer low basic ticket prices, and then charge extra for items such as checking in at the airport or for additional luggage.

Bon Voyage. Courtesy FM:)


Princely Jaisalmer

Imagine a bustling, alive, castle-like habitat, on a gorgeous yellow hill, surrounded and encapsulated in its own world? It’s beautiful, magical, enthralling - Rising from the heart of the Thar Desert like a golden mirage - the city of Jaisalmer. One with nature, harmonious in its blending, so complete in its dwelling and narration, enchanting in its tales and folklore - it took my breath away.

At times I was an out an out tourist there gawking at the colours, the marvel of the havelis and the ghagra cholis and the silver jewelry; at times I felt at home with the generosity of the people treating me so kindly to their hearth and reflecting such warm hearts when sharing their bajra rotis and green chilies and ghee for dinner under the open skies of their thatched roof home courtyards; and there were times I felt like the fairy princess so at peace with the magic of this land that I felt I was living in the fairy tales of Arabian lands. Jaisalmer weaves an undeniable magic on the traveler with its simplicity, mystic and magical way of life.

I was there on a film shoot and spent a beautiful 11days in the desert land surrounded by the army of India (incidentally we were shooting with them) - a hospitable warm kind hearted world of people who with equal ease could take apart any enemy threatening their world. We lived in this once upon a time gigantic palace turned hotel today with remnants of the palatial days with beautiful linen and 4 poster beds, large rooms that engulfed me with its high ceilings and cold walls.
On the first morning here, I walked out keeping an eye on the tall fort visible from everywhere in town, and found its gates without having to ask anyone while on a recce. The Fort is a town by itself packed with people and life. It has roof top restaurants that serve world cuisines, art shops that sell wares of the state, locals playing musical instruments everywhere especially little children with such adeptness and ease that had me transfixed and rooted to the spot, mesmerized and transported into another magical world. And boy can they sing! They are gifted with vocal chords so deep and beautiful; they create magic with their songs. Moved by the melody of their music, I bought a lot of local music and even a local musical instrument.

The fortress is an impressive structure. The thick fort walls built on a tall mound are visible from far away. Jaisalmer is a remote land that is unlikely to come in an enemy's path, but king Rawal Jaisal was cautious enough to build something infallible. Sadly today, it is not well looked after and with the pillage and nature causing its own havoc part of this fortress has crumbled and people say more likely to be eroded. A pity. These forts need to be preserved as part of our heritage for an eternity I should think!

Right outside the fort, is Patwon Ki Haveli, an edifice that stands taller than the Royal Palace in the fort. A magnificent structure that is resplendent in yesteryears royalty and magnificence of art- it is breathtaking. A photographer’s delight.

And the next day we moved like a caravan into the deserts. I was spell bound. Rolling sand dunes, Picture perfect settings. Cool breeze lifting the sand ever so slightly. Could nature be so beautiful? So artistic? So pure so magnificent, so… I was at a loss of words. I felt Jaisalmer in every pore of my being. I felt the fine sand under my feet, the dunes were absorbed by my senses as if I was starved for Gods creation, the blue feathery skies, the yellow rolling sand dunes, the camels with their brightly coloured turbaned owners riding them into the horizon- all made Jaisalmer so very eternal for me.

The sights en route the next 10days captivated me so completely, they are part of my most treasured memories. The sea of yellow shimmering sands ,herds of cattle and sheep roaming around purposelessly ,the children trotting off to school, while their mothers dressed in the most gorgeous colours of clothing prepare their afternoon meal on a dung-fire. Underneath the star-studded sky, you feel the cool desert breeze and wonder about life in the untamed countryside of this fascinating desert.

The proud local tribes--- Bishnois, Bhils, shepherds, potters, weavers etc in their natural surroundings. The various varieties of desert wildlife-the bluebulls, gazelles, foxes, peacocks, partridges - a trip to this land of exotic ethnicity, the soil of the maharajas and the valiant Rajputs is guaranteed to leave an indelible impression in life forever. From the sand dunes to the massive forts, Jaisalmer,Rajasthan is a land of magical fantasies that remain a lifetime memory within the heart of a traveler for sure.


Dadar Flower Market

If you are up even before dawn in Bombay, you may want to do something different for change. Skip the jog for one morning in the sparse green belts and head out to THE flower market. If you pay a visit to Bombay’s flower market in Dadar, you will soon realize besides the riot of colours and freshness of petals and dew how much money you land up paying for a nicely packaged bouquet of flowers viz a vis flowers brought straight off the road and creatively packaged yourself!:)

This phul market in Dadar is a temporary market that comes alive at 4 am and disappears by 9 am. Traders display their offerings during this time when retailers and decorators, and some customers who want flowers for their personal use, come to stock up for their own customers. There are times I've seen the municipality officials arriving with those large ugly grey vans and the street vendors fleeing with their wares and flowers.

There are flowers everywhere. Marigolds heaped on tarpaulins on the ground and sold by weight, champa in tiny baskets and sold by the number and delicately wrapped in broad leaves, the dazzling orchids and gardenias, as well as the colour co-ordinated gajras of mesmerizing blooms, the cacophony of the sellers and buyers screaming and jostling all contributes to a spectacular audio visual symphony. It is a unique delightful experience for the brave hearted.

The accompanying smiles on the flower sellers faces early morning lingers in the mind. From the woman sitting cross-legged on the ground weaving busily, to the young men weighing the flowers, the older gentleman convincing you to buy the garlands, to the young lady with matted hair selling fragrant lotuses - they all have beaming smiles on their faces.

They probably wakeup very, very early in the morning to be here to sell the flowers (we got there around 7:30 am). Their sales probably determined what they ate for dinner, or if they went hungry. I would cringe whenever I would hear someone bargain for a few rupees. Many a times it appeared, that their whole life belongings were right there in that little jholi by their feet, yet their grace and joy with the world, came through loud and clear. A lovely experience - this market.


North India winters

In Punjab its cold and brrrrr at this time of the year. Very cold.

Open fields. Sarson in full bloom and o boy! It is a sight for sore urban eyes. A town that is bursting at its seams , the bullock cart and the sedan both jostling for space on the same over crowded market road, the havelis almost touching its neighbors walls on its 3 sides. The warm sun trickling into the courtyard in the center of the haveli and the charpais being laid out to sun ourselves. Hot paranthas being served with a tall glass of warm milk and ghee, breakfast and conversations and the entire extended family together over a weekend. Can be heart warming and so very different from my daily city life.

Days later drive into Delhi , struggling with the onslaught of city population and urbanization. Smell of food, and CO2 emissions mixing together to cause nausea. Not withstanding the onslaught, making our way to the tiny lanes of old Delhi to eat Dalebe’s hot ghee soaked jalebis. And Lohrilals aloo rasewala and kulchas. No place for the driver to park the car, so double park it brazenly and invite him to eat along. Or better still have him served in the car while we stand amongst the many others rubbing shoulders with all socio economic classes to get the soul food.

Making our way past Janpath (my mums maternal home), I cant help but reflect on the summer days in Delhi when we used to sleep under the open skies in the garden lawns. We were in class 6, 7, and 8 then. There was no light, sound or other pollution at that time. By 10pm we would be done with dinner and all would move to the well laid out khatayis beckoning us in the gardens. I remember initially as a city slicker I was way too afraid to sleep in the open lawns as my cousin would have my back up with stories of she devils living on those trees that looked down on me as I lay on the cot in the open air. Eyes squeezed tightly shut, having moved my cot closer to mum n dads, I would slowly feel my lids becoming heavy with sleep .The universe was there to comprehend in all it's fairy tale glory. The stars and the moon would create a magical world for us glistening at arms length. I would search for the rabbit inside the moon and spot it without fail every night as I’d lie on the cot in the garden by night.

In those days we would travel as a big family from Bombay by train to Delhi and the journey in itself was a huge holiday. Packed with food and chocolates and water flasks and tea thermos’s. The added zing to the journey was the many stations where the train would stop we'd alight and then jump back on promptly in case the train started and left us behind! And of course my parents delight drinking tea in those beautiful kulhads at some railway stations en route to Delhi, my mum buying Surahi’s by the dozen because she was fascinated with these earthen wares for drinking water that tasted like straight from earth- pure and clean and then lugging it back to Bombay! Simplicity had a different meaning then:)


Well you know you are in Bandra when

--When you are stuck in a jam simply because a vehicle ahead wants to take a U-turn in a galli so narrow, even Adnan Sami would think twice before walking in.

-- When no matter how cold or warm and the traffic snarl up a little beyond Elco market is cramping your ankles, a lady is manning the traffic junction so effortlessly that if you ever try to hoodwink her, her whistle will surely deafen you or partially maim you

--When a 5 rupee brun maska is simply renamed ‘bagel’ and sold for 175 rupees.

-- When you see a random biker clearing the road at bandstand at 2am because Sallu wants to ride his Hayabusa without landing up in court

-- You are standing outside Crepe Station, but feel you have arrived at Baga beach

-- When 2 or more consecutive gallis you want to drive through are either one way or no-entry

-- When the birdy dance music reaches your ears you know a wedding is taking place and the spirits are high in St Josephs cathedral hall or Stanisluaz school.

-- When Bob can mend any of those gorgeous old designer jeans of mine and have me fit back into them, voila!

--When Andoras or Hearsch's are running full house on rum balls and plum cake and mutton patty;s and mince pies & merry songs are jostling for decibel levels with the jam packed bodies in a tiny 5 x 5 space of the bakeries

--When the shoes and the bags and accessory shops are spilling over and the road traffic is reduced to a one lane on the main roads!

Sigh,Bandra! Am not sure, am happy out of it:) or sad out of it:)