Madurai, India - Meenakshi Temple

Madurai is a temple town, with scores of temples. But the only one for me was the Meenakshi temple. A significant temple, not merely for its sheer architectural magnificence, but also for the fact that my parents were so inspired by this gorgeous colorful abode of the Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati), they decided to name their first born after her

Meenakshi also means the eye of a fish which is beautiful indeed. But a vegetarian like me would never understand the true potential of this meaning:)

This spectacular temple Meenakshi is adorned with gopurams (dome like structures), huge gateways of space, pillared hallways and a Sanctum Sanctorum. The etching on stone within, the mastery of art and craft on its exterior leaves one breathless, wondering how on earth this marvel was created.

The surface is a pulsating mass of masonry, covered all over with figures of deities, their incarnations and semi-divine characters freely drawn and painted from the inexhaustible treasure-house of Hindu mythology. I could stand and stare for hours together absorbing the various tales. Or happily shoot pictures day after day for the innumerable discoveries the artistry of the temple affords.

The divine marriage of Goddess Meenakshi is the most important festival celebrated in the month of April/May every year for 12days. This wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar, for the onlooker is a feast of reverence and inspiration.

Since dawn the garland-makers get supremely busy, busloads of pilgrims roll in with their faces dusted with tamarind powder to keep cool, the hot morning certainly requires one to dig in ones heels and not lose one’s own cool.

At about 9.55am, the conch's are blown announcing the wedding inside the vast temple, to a guest list running into 1000’s of people. The temple courtyard is a vibrant sea of silk and cotton saris and garlanded hair with jasmine. Bare-chested men wave huge peacock fans, picking their way through the seated throng. The proceedings are shown on cctv’s in the courtyard while an ear-splitting commentary in Tamil details, at maximum volume, the history, myths and miracles of the day's events.

The stage is set, the deities arrive and at the most crucial moment the cctv konks out. A noisy response from the crowd quickly restores vision just as the priest ties the mangalsutra around the idol of the goddess and the celestial marriage is "consummated" behind a silken sheet. The women, orange strings at the ready, knot them around their necks, fervently wishing for marital happiness and peaceful homes during the coming year.

I feel hugely blessed to have witnessed this celestial wedding, and feel equally blessed knowing the Goddess is showering her blessings every second on her namesake:)


A sea side town Mahabalipuram - South India

The city of Mahabalipuram is famous for its seashore which has an interesting group of ancient rock temples displaying the Dravidian style of architecture. The shore temples give a more ancient look and feel, older than they actually are, perhaps because of the wear and tear caused by the sea and brine.

This coastal town - is hot, humid round the year, but a treat to the eyes, mind and the shopper in you. If you are looking for a great photography expedition this is the place to get picture perfect shots. The shopper in you can revel in the multitude carvings and statutes. The main road is dotted with tiny tiny shops in a long row on either side of the road offering antiques in wood, stone and clay. Some pieces I came upon were truly heart stopping stunning! And indeed bought some too. Splendid sculptures. Beautiful statues made of granite stones. Handicrafts made of soapstone, sea-shell articles and jewelry to pine for. One needs time to explore, mull and decide on what one must buy. Time was a luxury I did not have this trip unfortunately.

It was during the rule of the Pallavas, many poets, dramatists, artists, artisans, scholars and saints emerged making the Pallavas the pioneers of new styles both in art and architecture. These creative energies reside to date in this small temple town especially when you see the multitude paintings on sale.

The spectacular beach of Mahabalipuram attracts thousands of tourists all through the year. The beach forever is crowded and packed with families literally lined shoulder to shoulder along the shores in their daily clothes as they wait for the water to rush up their legs while others escape the waves only to return for another bout. Either way, there is no end to the laughter as the sun sets and the ebb and flow draws nearer, it takes with it the memories of those who had enjoyed it as they part ways. There are other things to do while in Mahabs - a crocodile farm, snake venom extracting center, a school of art and sculpture, the annual dance festival among the many attractions for the tourists and travelers alongside the beach. Not surprising hence why tourists flock to Mahabs.

I was equally amazed to discover this place being a popular dating destination for many lovebirds. Most of them were in their private world of love and passion in corners, behind the rocks, in the trenches, and inside the caves declaring their undying commitment for each other. One such couple even approached me to take a picture of theirs on their mobile camera phone-while they melted into each others eyes.

The combination of beach and rocks AND the awesome monolithic structures makes Mahabalipuram very special. A day is simply not enough to explore this historical site. A return journey hence becomes a must. Mahabalipuram is barely an hour from Chennai, very very doable .


Haridwar, India - Gateway to the abode of Gods

The topmost memories from Haridwar are of food and food smells. Small dinky places that dish up some delicious tasty food. The fare – simple and non fussy. “Heavenly food’ is an ingestible experience after all. I admit food took on a new meaning in this town of priests and saints and holiness and piety. Aloo poori, dal katchori-chutney, hot samosas-channa, bhatti ki roti with saag and achaar, aloo paranthas and dahi, hot jalaebis made in ghee, kheer-maal pooa dipped in sugar syrup-crispy and soft, hot pakoras of potato and cottage cheese - the feast was endless. Not once did any of us suffer from any tummy trouble. We gorged happily

There is much to do if you like to look at temples and tramp through the extensive alleys, checking out a mass of trinkets in Haridwar. For us the summer heat was unbearable so trudging out time was really mornings and evenings and afternoon time was for lazing, chatting, napping, reading and ipodding.

Haridwar is a mixture of religious pilgrims and industry. We met some people from Holland who were helping to set up a lathe machine at one of the factories. They had interesting stories to narrate of some of the places they had visited in India and how they attracted locals who wanted to buy dollars from them or sell gaanja or charas to them. They found the Hindi movies good time pass and enjoyed the local chai at the small shops

We stayed at a dharamshala –which was clean, hygienic and very hospitable. Dad used to donate money towards this place’s upkeep over the years so we decided to go check and trace this dharamshala and see for ourselves if the money donated was being put to good use. It was gratifying to see the place being run like clockwork – very welcoming to pilgrims from all over the country, providing clean comfortable rooms and facilities. We were very impressed by this very upscale dharamshala in white marble that shone and sparkled in the sunlight, where service was always with a smile and people had the time to chat and narrate interesting stories of the holy Ganga or of other visitors and their experiences. No food is allowed within the premises here, as a result keeps the 4 legged monkeys at bay

We also meet a pandit in Haridwar who owned archives of revelations in these large, leather bound books with pages and pages of Sanskrit script. The archives dated back to the 17th Century (thereabouts) and every time a member of our clan visited this pandit an entry was always made. Events such as births and deaths are also marked in these records. We too were requested by this saintly man to make some remarks - Dad obliged, in his brilliant handwriting. As a result we all too, are now, part of this documentation, recorded for posterity.

Evenings would see us at Har-ki-Pauri ghat - a transformed landscape from daytime- into this - magical spiritual experience – all set for the Ganga aarti. This experience cannot be missed under no circumstances. Haridwar visit would be a waste if Ganga aarti is not participated in. The feeling of being part of the aarti being performed, the chants, the temple bells, the dark river waters amidst which are little lit lamps surrounded by flowers floating gently in its wake, the hymns and the collective crowds all pulsating in one energy revering the goddess Ganges – all of this, is an enchanting experience of sound and colour. Breathtaking. Makes one marvel at our rich tradition and culture all over again.

Har Ki Pauri is believed to be the exit point of the Ganges from the mountains and entry into the plains. Also known as the Brahm Kund, this ghat was built by King Vikramaditya in memory of his brother Brithari who often meditated on the banks of the river Ganga. History records an imprint of Lord Vishnu’s foot on one of the stones present on the ghat, which is indicative of the name.

At Haridwar, the mighty daughter of the mountains becomes the mother of the land – Ganga Ma


Glorious drive: The Sahyadri roads

Bombay Nasik Highway

Here we are, on an absolutely gorgeous monsoon morning in our pride of possession the 4x4 Black beast (beauteous tho I admit) armed with Coffee Bean take aways thinking about absolutely nothing, music streaming from the radio adding to the light happy feeling. Wonder what triggers the brain to become obsessed about some certain songs, you can’t stop humming it, or thinking about it, or playing it or singing it.

Just yesterday I got soaked to the skin standing under a tree, watching the rain fall for a while. After my initial bothered state I actually felt very nice. Standing there and observing the world slow down. With so much digging happening in the city I saw some workmen duck into the dug pit, open their classic black umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain water. I stood there under a large peepal tree amused by how different people react to a typical ‘Under A Mumbai Sky’ shower. It felt strangely magical and very unique. And there was music streaming from a nearby chai shop reminding me once again of how closely woven is an Indians relationship with the cinemas

OK back to this highway journey: through the flat plains, the ghats and the mountains. When the monsoon rain lashes the open highways, it has a kind of fresh and fragrant beauty that makes you wish that you had been a poet and not some lowly blogger. In the rains, the roads and the ghats burst into myriad shades of green that can be glimpsed through gray and white clouds that drift through the valley. As the clouds and the mist clear just long enough for you to catch a glimpse of a dense green paradise the wind whips more rain that stings your face, in this case the Black beast’s body.

Bombay, its trains, its traffic choked roads, the muck- all vanishes and you know you are probably as close to heaven as you'll ever get to in this life.

The drive is beautiful. Once you cross Bombay make your way through small towns and villages you start anticipating a treat. The road is bordered by rice fields on either side and then sugarcane ahead, occasionally a brisk brook runs parallel to the road you are driving along, to suddenly vanish and give way to lush green that begs to be captured in the mind. Red tiled traditional homes are visible through the bamboo thickets. It is the kind of drive that prompts you to go easy on the accelerator and drink it all in with your eyes and soul. We switched off the ac, rolled down those windows, and let the sights and the crisp fresh air work their magic on our senses. Till the rains lashed at us again

The wind velocity in the peaceful valleys here is an unforgettable experience. The far stretching mountain view is unique and the treescape outstanding. I read somewhere there is a semicircular spot overlooking the mountains offering a fascinating sight of a coin defying the law of gravity by swirling upward when flung into the air, because of high wind velocity. Puzzling? But true am told.

There's no need to ask for directions to Shirdi. The road from Bombay goes straight into the Ghats. Just at the base of the Ghats is a beautiful inn called Midtown Café- we always stop there to have hot breakfast (idlis /kande pohe). This sets us up for the journey ahead.

After the road takes an upward gradient and the rice fields gradually make way for the hills and ravines on either side, above the treetops you catch the first glimpse of the mountains and the waterfalls. The aerial view of the landscape below gets even more stunning. Before you know it, you are already abreast the first waterfall and the first crowd of revelers soaking up all the water they can. We did a complete 180 degree turn inside the car to capture the scenery but it had swooshed past too quickly. The waterfalls cascade down on the road itself. Many people stop their car to get out, soak for a bit and then make their way to the edge of the road to see the water disappearing down into the deep valley below. The dangerous part is there are some who think this highway is a picnic spot - so they open a couple of beers and then leave the cans / bottles strewn around:(

A gust of wind brings thick rolling clouds into the valley and all around you. For the next 10-15 minutes it is as dark as early evening. Visibility is reduced to a few feet. The wind eventually carries the clouds away till once again we can see the green forests in the valleys and the mountain peaks. In the distance you see a new batch of clouds entering the valley to soon envelop you with more rain. On a good day, the highway plays this kind of a game over and over and you never tire of it.

From an environment perspective these topographies and its jungles, waterfalls, the green carpet on either sides of the highway provide the excitement of adventure. The well preserved forest and plains form our jungle wealth where a variety of birds and animals flourish in peace and security. Experiencing nature in its full glory, appreciating what we have today is a joy, let’s ensure we safe guard it and leave it intact for generations ahead. The great outdoors showed us the wonders of nature to take back memories of awe, magic, purity, even fear as nature is so over whelming when it shrouds you in its mist when you cannot see much beyond. You know then, what fury nature can cause, if havoc is what it intends. Let’s respect what we have. And maintain Harmony.

PS: Today's incessant rains made it urgent for me, to write this post. Am sorry I have no pics, the camera got rained out, and must be given for servicing


Simla a summer retreat hill station

Up in the mountains city
Rudy complexioned people
Crisp fresh cherry apples
Snow. Cold
Smoky breath because of the cold
Heaters and fire places
Monkey caps

I had all these romantic visions of Simla - and my learning started immediately on entering Simla –Impressive! The road starts to hug the mountain side and houses appear nestled far above and below the road. The traffic was terrible - it seems like there's only one main road for vehicles in and out. I soon discovered people call it ‘Shimla’ – they indeed are all rosy pinked cheeked people here- the children look delightful with their chubby red cheeks and one is very tempted to go up close and feel those rudy cheeks of the lil children on the street

Mall road in Shimla is "maal" road and is the so-called fashion street of Shimla. Everybody hangs out here- and I mean everybody. It’s a crowded street for shoppers, sellers, tourists, locals, lovers, grandparents and all. A happy buzzing place this main street of this colonial town. Mind you all this I am witnessing from afar. I have yet to venture into the crowds and am not sure am in Simla for that. The novelty of Simla's layout still excites me - the main area, a pedestrian-only road full of shops and eateries, is about 10 floors higher than the vehicle access to the city, connected by many lifts, stairways and steep lane-ways

The place we stayed in was an Oberoi property – Cecil, looked humble from the outside but is a haven inside. All wood and classy. The interiors echo of the Raj with modern day refinement – I instantly fell in love with this gorgeous place which was to be home for the next week.

This property dates back to 1884, so there is much history and stories to soak here which I did partake in most delightfully. The other great attraction for me was the delightful indoor heated swimming pool, steam and sauna facilities, fitness center and the spa. The stay got very promising indeed.

One late evening we went for a drive around Simla and landed at the Wildflower Hotel, one of the other grand Oberoi hotels. The hotel is perched on a hill with a lovely view, the hotel itself looked a bit like a Swiss chalet. We had a brief tour of the ground floor, including the massive child-size gingerbread house, and had hot chocolate and muffins in the warm lobby.

Besides soaking in the gorgeous Himalayas from the room, we went horse riding, played in the snow and got all mucky, walked in the ‘maal’ and shopped for curios. Also went to the ‘lakaddi market’ to see some beautiful hand crafted precious things. Overall preferred to stay in and around the hotel during the day and stepped out late at night when the world was sleeping to walk the streets in quiet; absorbing the peace surrounding us. My only ‘want’ was I wish we had come to Shimla in off peak season – summer sees plane loads of tourists thronging here for the cooler climes - it's easy to see why it's a popular place for everyone - the cool, refreshing air. And for us it was the clean, car-less streets that were good for a change. But perhaps the next trip will be better planned.


Chandigarh: A Garden? Or a junk house?

As we drove into this planned city (by architect Le Corbusier) I looked for the aha moment knowing it was the 1st planned city in the country et al. That feeling eluded me. My first impressions were army, cantonment, green, wide roads, lack of traffic, clean, lots of trees, lots of big cars (hmmm capitalist city). As we drove further inwards into the city we realized ‘planned’ was a bit confusing! Localities and markets looked identical! And everybody asked for a sector number-I mean is that enough to find an address?!

To be fair to Chandigarh the traffic is disciplined, nobody jumps lights or parks at zebra crossings. The city has many parks, rose gardens, (the University itself has one) the famous rock garden, lakes, making quality of life distinctly a cut above the rest of the country. Wow I wonder aloud ‘is this Hamara Bharat mahan’ Why does Bombay suck so:(

Talking about the famous(?) rock gardens many consider it to be a marvel, a great work of art, very well designed and fits into the surroundings of "the best planned city in India". I must admit that I was at sea in my lack of appreciation - I was stunned at the rubbish they call art! Agreed modern art is beyond me, it has many expressions most of which I do not understand, the rock garden certainly falls in that criteria – it was a concrete monstrosity, a park made up of debris with the mandatory water fall. Such a deflation for such high expectations! Wham went the aha moment!

My summary of this planned city- it lacks soul! Nothing stood out for me. No no I’d be lying the air is fresh, one sees a cleaner environment, sexy roads to drive on, no rush or peak hour, buzzing sector 22, inadequate (good or bad?) public transport, BUT it still lacks soul! I simply could not connect with Chandigarh! Thank God for the extended family I visited, it took the edge off the bite for me. Good food, family gossip, met the cousins etc – 2days were enough time spent to get back on the road on way to Delhi!


How do I feel about Kashmir

My mum and Dad went for their honeymoon to Kashmir- I see those pictures often and wish for one day when I can safely visit Kashmir and experience its pristine world. And feel the magic called Kashmir for myself

As a school going girl I remember a Kashmiri gentleman visiting us 3-4months in a year, every year, (being peak winter months in Kashmir) to sell things uniquely Kashmiri- we’d love to rummage through the colorful warm shawls, stoles, ornate jewelry boxes in paper-mâché, mufflers, shoes, embroidered bed spreads, and what not! We used to love speaking with him for his genteelness and unique Hindi accent- he was full of warmth despite walking for hours in the sun trying to make a sale happen. The only thing he would ever ask for was a cold glass of water when he’d reach our doorstep- and then on drinking the water he would regale us with stories about the people of Kashmir, the shikaras, the Dal lake, the children, the weather - his janat

And today his vatan Kashmir is simmering for the nth time. With curfew imposed in Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Sopore, the angry stone-pelters are in stand off mode, even in hiding till the army retracts. Tourism is slipping and sliding, children’s education and examinations are indefinitely postponed.

For how long one wonders will the valley take this beating, this abuse, this injustice? Is it the fault of the people in the valley that they are Muslims? Or the fault of those who are Hindu Brahmins and still surviving? The question that begs an answer is what will it take and when we will see peace return to the valley? When will that state truly return to becoming a paradise on earth again?

It is not “peace” that ordinary people want; they stress they want a “resolution” to the Kashmir question. They want development and jobs, yes, but they also want a political solution. These are not mutually exclusive. Sitting far removed from Kashmir’s existential problems I wonder why have we since decades now, not resolved Kashmir? Does it suit the many governments of India to allow the pot boiler to simmer? Who are the interested parties that are benefiting the most by dragging this dispute for ever and this long?

The power struggle is beating the local Kashmiri further into his/her grave. They are mired in problems of everyday existence and to top it a political, social and cultural binder that has shackled them so badly they do not know any way out other than rebellion and open confrontations. What is the issue behind Kashmir’s pot boiler? Maybe I am being naive -but to me it is an issue of weak or no governance. As long as individual coffers are getting filled, as long as individual motivations are being accomplished, nobody cares for what happens to the locals there.

I honestly don’t give a rats ass about what Nehru agreed to at Partition time or what Jinnah did or the divisionsit Brits did! What is the current Government in India doing to resolve Kashmir TODAY? Bring out the army? Will peace be restored thus? What are the long term goals and what is the strategy to achieve it for Kashmir?

Do the people of Kashmir have a forum to air their grievances? Do they have a mechanism to address their problems? Maybe if there were enough college or university debates, youth bodies that could influence, National harmony makers from varied streams of life from Bombay, Delhi, Aurangabad or Jaisalmer who could interact with the Kashmiris and bring about an osmosis - we may still have a chance to restore peace and harmony back in the state

Kashmir is a proud state. Lets not break its back to such a state that we cripple it forever. That it can never stand on its 2 feet again. We living outside Kashmir want to feel as proud about our cities as Kashmiris do about Kashmir. I miss my Kashmiri friend from childhood - I miss his easy warmth, his open welcoming smile, his undying spirit which I see reflected in a zillion of us too- weather beaten hands and feet that never stop for tiredness but only to greet a customer or help pick up another’s basket to put it on the head and walk on towards the next sale. I sincerely want to see peace and equanimity restored to Kashmir. I wish Kashmir safety and wellness soon.


We all have the travel bug in us

Last night at a fascinating dinner do (defined by food) I got branded the person with the travel bug! Amidst ex-colleagues, bosses and a few friends they traded many a remark in good humour about my frequent travel breaks. I wasn't sure if they were complaining, or envious or plain unhappy about it. And then I reasoned did it matter?!:)

Mulling over 'the travel bug' remark this morning, the light rains helped resolve it nicely for me. What is the travel bug? Dont we all have it?

For the past few months I’ve been working on serious stuff, high voltage stuff - taken up all attention and energy and in turn has left me pining for some break time. Every time I see a plane take off…I am a wee bit nostalgic of those travelers on board who are onto a journey of sorts. I can’t help but wish I were on that plane heading to a new destination for new discoveries. Its like I have an inbuilt 'auto button' which trips every time the heart and mind demand time out.

My mum would say to me the travel bug is most present in me because I have moles on my feet and calf! Hence there will be lots of travel in my destiny:) Simplified? Guess the truth is one needs to crave discoveries and exploration and always be hungry to know and feel more. There is a world out there I want to know. I have this deep desire to travel to destinations unknown (even if it were to a remote small town outside my city - I would be as excited- as I would if I were traveling to Ibiza) - What is this longing for unknown and new destinations? Why does my pulse start to race when I think about autumn in the States, or the way the sun sparkles on the great mountains in Bhutan or the sense of history hanging over the Pyramids in Egypt? If I could, I would pack my bags this instant and jump on a plane headed anywhere but here for the sheer pleasure of getting a new stamp in my passport. O the thrill of something awaiting ahead, races through me. Or perhaps it’s the break from everyday discipline of life that has me transformed to top gear.

Kevin Costner said something very profound in the movie Rumor Has It - “Life has to be a little nuts sometimes. Otherwise it's just a bunch of Thursdays strung together.” I want to be able to travel to distances far and near, explore and discover, feel joyous and alive with new knowledge, new feelings, new discoveries, new interpretations - so that every time I look back I won’t be looking back on a collection of Thursdays, but on memories made in faraway places.


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Mawlynnong and Cherrapunjee: Fascinating Root bridges

Within 2 ½ hours we made our way to Mawlynnong - touted as the cleanest village in Asia, on the border of Bangladesh. Of course you notice –how impeccably clean – the village is. The cement pathways and bamboo bins are common and justify the truth that Mawlynnong indeed is India’s and Asia’s cleanest village. Honestly it didn’t feel like a village at all -more like a park with flowers! They even had a bamboo cottage on top of a tree to offer a ‘view’ of Bangladesh from afar. This was my second experience of a border town with a neighboring country! We were warned not to stray close to the border area as it could be risky

We tasted local fruits here - Meghalaya has abundant flora fauna and the fruits were naturally nectar like - large red grapes, pineapples, sweet oranges, sweet blue berries - all very yummy. Some of the locals we met spoke fluent English - our driver informed us that people in this village were all literate and had a high awareness about environment. Sweet place.

Our next halt in the day was Cherrapunjee, the ever present mist continued to waft across this town making us feel like we were passing through dream like vistas. Dominated by colours green (ravines, forests) and white (the mist, the clouds, the waterfalls) – It is touted as the ‘wettest place on earth’. Soon the mist gave way to a sunny hot day with no cloud cover whatsoever! No rain either. Btw the reason Cherra receives so much rain is because the rain laden clouds travel unhindered for 100’s of kilometers before they crash into the Khasi hills. The topography (funnel like shape) captures the rain and keeps Meghalaya so lush! The sad part is once the rain water is captured- it needs to find the earth eventually –so the waters move into the stupendous looking plains of Bangladesh below - which is why we hear of floods in Bangla-land often.

The day was getting warmer, equipped with good walking shoes we had a 7-8km walk ahead. Steep steps looked daunting and I nearly turned away not sure if I would ever be able to climb back on return. With some nudging and motivation from others and even in parts had to go barefoot on the slippery granite places – I overcame my inhibition and (as much as I hate walking) with much anticipation moved ahead- almost as if something were calling out to me. Full of excitement not knowing what lay ahead, I walked onwards, sweat trickling down the forehead and back, legs quivering with the climb up and down, we heard the water from a nearby river, heart beats accelerated! Sure enough a little distance ahead stood the first of many living root bridges that dotted a hamlet deep inside the forest.

Since their discovery in the Cherrapunjee region, Living Root Bridges seem to have become quite an attraction. What a mechanism to cross a stream flowing beneath. Fichus or rubber trees are planted on both the banks, as their roots grow, they are entwined around bamboos to shape them up like a bridge. It is a very slow process taking hundred years or more but the end result is an amazingly sturdy bridge.

We were abuzz and borderline ecstatic when we saw this mammoth Living Roots Bridge. A 200 year old rubber tree whose roots had been trained to grow across the stream -gushing water underneath the bridge - as I gingerly walked over it, testing its strength!! The roots hold strong in a glorious organic network. What an experience! There are plenty of root tree bridges in this part of the world. We even saw the 'double deck' living root bridge that is unique (the only known double decker in the world - another record for India).

A tip for those who may venture into these parts at some point: Remember, there are people living here in the forests. If they can climb up and down those steps, cross the waters on this living roots bridge so can you...enjoy it, respect it and love it!


Impossibly green and alive - Meghalaya

The beauty of Meghalaya lies in its rolling mists in the valley, the undulating rivers, waterfalls, sparkling mountain streams, emerald green lakes, precipitous ravines, the massive hills, the vast expanse of skies, the deep forests – all of natures elements surrounded us, shielding us from the crazy urban jungle we had escaped from

Meghalaya is overwhelmingly beautiful, where everything is impossibly green and alive. Another thing that fascinated me were these giant group of trees standing together majestically at many places we drove past. These are called – law kyntangs- dedicated to forest spirits, along-with several monoliths (our resort had many too) that supposedly serve as memorials – are symbols of good energy.

Added to this natural magic is the culture of the state contributed by the Khasis who are a matriarchal tribe. They can be identified by their beautiful smiles and the cloth tied over their left shoulder called - jainsem- covers them from head to toe, in a graceful sweep.

With their infants tied on their backs, covered by the checkered cloth, mother and child look like a single entity. The women are independent and always busy. Drying clothes, caring for children, working around the agriculture produce, running business and shops – they are the bread earners for their families.

Lest I forget , the Khasi women do not like being photographed - they are an extremely private people. I always requested for a picture – and only some would oblige.

Gambling. You thought it is a vice? Think again - its legal in Meghalaya! And how novel is their gambling! Promoting a sport and motivating the archer! Wow! Lottery by archery - dozens of archers form an arc and shoot at a haystack for 4 exact minutes. The number of arrows is counted and the last 2 digits are announced. Bets are placed daily on what the day’s number may be. One could bet as little as 1buck which could earn 8bucks in turn, if you are a good guesser. There is no upper limit so bets can go as high as the individual demands. We placed moderate bets for the thrill and infectious banter, on the last day, but did not hit no jack pot

Days were merging and gliding into an amorphous state of time – we lost sight of the calendar, nearly missed the date of our flight as we were badly mixed up on the days and dates! Sometimes it felt like my o-my-God have we over estimated the time we need to spend here, and sometimes it felt we had very little time and needed to extract every bit from this vacation:)


Meghalaya: The home of clouds-for endless delights

We were excited and nervous about Ri Kynjai: the resort where we were booked for the next many days. (a) We didn’t know anyone who had been to this resort or even the state of Meghalaya! (barring one colleague who absolutely loved Meghalaya) (b) Were very nervous about the service and expectations at the resort if the online reviews were anything to go by. On the other hand we were very excited and looking forward to being far away from the city chaos, in mysterious Meghalaya which is also known as Scotland of India – in the lap of cool climes.

Ri Kynjai, the resort which was to be our home away from home, was delightful! Serenity by the Lake - ‘idyllic’. Once we were shown into our cottage we were left alone to enjoy our haven! Ensconced in the beautiful large cottage, sitting out in the spacious balcony overlooking the lake Umiam (also known as Bara Paani) – watching clouds gather, I wished for rains. As if on cue a light rainfall seeped through gently from the clouds at first, soon the sky darkened, and serious unabashed rains took over the evening. We were happy to be bound indoors, enjoying the glorious new experience- the feeling is indescribable –almost spiritual – a peace, calm and stillness had taken over.

BY nightfall we stepped out for dinner to a rain drenched earth. Windows rolled down, moon light in the sky, the air cold, crisp and refreshing! With anticipation we headed towards Centre Point Cloud 9 (central market area of Shillong)

To our delight the 60year old maverick musician Lou Majaw (who is to Meghalaya what Madonna is to America) was in the house and that evening cannot ever be wiped out of our memories. What energy! Not for nothing is Shillong known as the rock capital of the country. Many International and homegrown bands perform here and we now understand why : )

Over the next many days we experienced delightful places. Lady Hydari Park was pretty, Ward Lake was blooming with vivacious colorful flowers, we even spent some time sitting on the well manicured gardens and sipping coffee. Joyous! Cannot remember the last time I must have sat in a park like this in Mumbai- hang on do we even have such parks in Mumbai?!:)

The Elephant Falls were touted as one of ‘the sights’ in Meghalaya! We reached there to realize they were small trickles flowing through ridges, but marketed well by Meghalay- after all tourism makes the world go round! We folks living a tired life in the urban jungles are never mindful or ever appreciative of our natural surroundings. Its people living away from the humdrum of city life who take delight even in the smallest waterfalls ( this was’nt like an ‘o-my god-sight’) they have amidst themselves – but it is most definitely was a tourist spot! Small streams accumulate at the pinnacle of the hill and come trickling down the terrain to rebound again, only to cover a short distance and once again leap into a daunting gorge. It is a natural pandemonium that one witnesses – and the joyous part for me was the surrounding basin sheltered by the sky like green vegetation providing a perfect backdrop to this enchanting picnic spot.

One of the other disappointing views which was touted hugely by the locals was at Lire Kor – a beautiful winding long drive to reach the highest point of Shillong. One gets practically the whole view of Shillong city from here. It was a dump a far as I was concerned. Filled with tourists, buses, cabs etc- if you are looking for serene alone time then please stop short of this touted view. Because the view from many parts of this drive- affords one the whole of Shillong city- panoramic, pretty, nestled in the mountains-minus the crowds.

Shillong the city was a slight surprise by day time. A hill town, with narrow winding roads meeting big city with its buses, choked traffic and teeming office goers. We were delightfully surprised to realize it is a big centre for education (boasts of IIT & IIM) –but the traffic jams are so so so not pleasant! There is no way of avoiding the jams as there is just one road to cut thru to go in and out of the city.

Evenings would see us soaking in the golden sky from our perched balcony above the Umiam lake - bird calls resounded in the natural amphitheatre while butterflies fluttered here and there. We’d be transported to Alice in wonder land; completely lost in our own world once again.

One post is simply not enough to speak on Meghalaya- so the next one coming up soon I promise.


Rhino Country - Kaziranga

From Darjeeling early morning 345am drove to Bagdodra and boarded a flight to Guwahati 830am and were en route to Kaziranga by road thereon. The onwards drive was like a thriller movie, clutching the edge of our seats, we were a mass of jangled nerves free wheeling down the highway at break neck speed. We even had a couple of near misses with stray dogs and hens and a cow. Nobody drives peacefully here- I mean where is the fire?! And if this was not enough to scream the car driver kept receiving calls from some persistent boss of his till finally we barred him to answer his mobile, which made him very upset with us. He drove even more faster now! But talking on the mobile and driving through winding ghats was non negotiable. We reached the national park by 430pm, ate some food and explored the park by jeep – in the evening safari. We were safe and secure (in one piece) in Rhino country!

Once inside the reserve we had a good up close look at the Indian one horned rhinos growing healthily in numbers here. Poaching tho continues to be a problem as rhino horn is much sought after in the far east of India, where organized gangs go to great lengths to try and kill for loot.

Our safari driver educated us on the rhino – when a rhino opens its mouth wide enough- it can fit a 4 foot tall child inside! These are aggressive ill tempered towards humans and before the start of the safari we were sensitized to jungle etiquette! The rhinos teeth are 20inches tall! And they use it for tearing apart the enemy; In the distance far away from where we were parked on a lonely trail, we could see a couple of rhinos roaring and lunging at each other- to understand from our safari driver- that was a battle amongst the kin for food- they had a new kill which they needed to divide amongst themselves.

Exhausted from the long journey of the morning we camped the night at Dhansiri Eco owned by Gautam Saikia, the wildlife film maker. His place is in the midst of nowhere (especially by night) - complete wilderness! Solitude took on a new meaning in these surroundings. Moonlit sky and stars, not a vehicle or house in sight, a clear quiet night, with night creatures whirring and nothing much else! Fatigue gave way to dreamless sleep.

The next morning safari we saw a variety of wildlife - wild buffalo, magnificent swamp deer, hog deer, wild boar, hollock gibbon even langurs. No luck with the tigers- we were told not to expect any sightings either as they reside deep in the center of this jungle. We all joked a tiger could always turn up wherever we are – and mentally I did a quick knock on wood, crossed my fingers and had a side chat with God and told him I was joking! :)

This morning experience was one that will live with us forever. We had opted to go via the nearby reserve Nameri National Park and it is here we had a a close shave with a herd of elephants. And to think I was praying to be saved from the tiger! The herd was barely few feet away from our jeep- snorting and blowing lose dust around themselves- having sensed us. Not only were they warning us of their presence, they were fiercely protective of their little baby elephants whom they immediately drew to their inner circle so that they wouldn’t wander away. The safari driver hissed under his breathe to hold still- we all stopped breathing! After an eye to eye battle the gigantic elephants must have realized our knees were knocking and we were about to collapse with fear, they moved past us allowing a rush of air to our lungs!

Back at the Eco camp bound by the misty blue hills of Barail and Karbi Anglong to the south, it was relaxation time – time to mull over the force of nature and the raw power of animals in the wild.


Getting high - Darjeeling

I awoke to light streaming on my face through a heavily tinted car. On drawing the windows down I realized what a stunning drive this was! Crisp cool morning air that steals all remaining sleep, passing through flat rice fields, teak and tea plantations the road starts to climb into the foothills of the Himalaya. The thickly forested land was originally acquired by the British who introduced tea growing to this awesome scenic land and eventually Darjeeling developed into a hill station.

Darjeeling ( from Dorje Ling - The place of the Thunderbolt ) sits pretty with the gigantic Himalayas; a typical hill station, displaying interconnected steep stairways, trails to walk on, Gothic architecture, home to many Tibetans in exile. There is a large and thriving Buddhist community along with the predominant population of Nepalese descendants, Lepchas and refugee Tibetans – all of them sporting smiles brighter than the sun. I felt so poor compared to them. And shamed. Such happiness with so little.

Given we had a very short time here in Darjeeling, we tried to pack in lots. But could not venture to its outer limits -the Shangri-la called Sikkim. These places will always be there and will be kept for a future journey for us to enjoy fully. This trip was a flirtatious tryst with time. Soaking in the splendid views - balm for the city tired spirit.

Some of the world’s best teas are produced here in the East. I was privileged to see quality teas of which one was priced at Rs.55k /kg! Now that was definitely some select picking. The food was typical Tibetan - we munched into soup noodles 'thukpa' and steamed dumplings 'momos'. The only thing I could not bring myself to have was the 'yak butter coffee' - I pined for the very least, an Udipi coffee.

Higher altitude Darjeeling offered a wonderful Himalayan panorama. Mountain views surrounded me with Kanchenjunga at 8580m towering on the horizon. We visited 2 tea gardens, the Dali Monastery, the seat of the Drukchen Rimpoche ( head lama of the Drukpa Kaygu sect) which had a huge Buddha Statue and offered stunning views of the rolling hills. Of course the camera worked over time here. And this visit certainly took me back to the time I was in Bhutan amidst pure untouched nature

Despite not being a mountain person – being high in the hills and mountains brought with it tranquility, balance and a sense of calm. Or perhaps it was the influence of all those deep red robed monks and monasteries:)