Ankalagi Caves (Chandravali)

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80ft below the surface, a thought that can send shivers and goosebumps.. many channels to one room can confuse but at the same time, can also be a safe bet.

The Ankalagi caves, at Chandravali is a delight to be. We had driven all the way from Chennai and reached there by 2.30 in the afternoon. The sun was bright enough even on a winter afternoon. Wondered how hot this place would be in summers.

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The place was ambiguous as we parked our car and walked. All the sign boards were in Kannada and it was a struggle for a stranger like us. We asked people here and there who directed us towards the caves. As we reached the spot saying Ankalagi caves, we were not sure if the caves were the same as Chandravali, only to realize later that this place has a relation to the saints of Belgaum from Ankali Mutt. A flight of stairs under construction took us to an opening of the well structured rock place.

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A team of so-called guides seated there suggested they could help us and the moment we stepped into the cave we realized why. One could get lost in the darkness and the many chambers without a guide.

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Salutations as you enter the cave

Chandravalli caves have a huge significance as they seem to have covered times from Pre-historic to the Hoysala dynasty. These caves have been known for the sages who had visited this place for meditation.

From a Geography point of view, these caves are in the valley between three mountains, the Kirabanakallu, Chitradurga and Chollagudda. There is a lake right before you enter the caves that adds to a beautiful sight. There are rock structures that would make you feel like you are looking at Elephants at the water body.

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Elephant drinking

Now, as the guide took us in our biggest challenge was that of language. Most of the guides are Kanada speaking and they speak in broken Hindi. Our guide got inside and went on a ramble. We had to stop her many a times and reiterate what we understood. There is so many more things that one needs to soak in the darkness down there. The only that helps is the torch lights.

As one steps in one does realize that, the place is airy and not stifling at all. The heights of the passages are quite short may be around 3.5 ft so one has to be watchful. With the clean shaven head, I had to be more careful. ūüôā

Secrecy and escape routes were of paramount importance. As we entered down a flight of stairs, the space opened up into a meditation center with the entrance being adorned by two elephant like structures. Then we moved into the sleeping and the bath chambers of the caves. Even though we were in the cave, the bathing chambers had a space for rain water harvesting and ensuring that the water was let out properly. There were spaces for keeping the Diyas which was the only source for light in the caves in those times.

We also happened to walk through smaller passages to reach a space where the king and his key members along with the sages had discussions. That space was so dark when the lights were off that, if there was any emergency they could escape quickly without anyone knowing. There is also a belief that there were underground passages connected to the Chitradurga fort. These caves also were used to store the treasures of the kings (It is so believed).

What really was breath taking to observe was the carvings and sculptures that were created and still available for us to see after thousands of years. Just imagine, how those fine artisans would have sculpted just using the light of diyas. What a craftmanship it was during those times. The walls are adored with creepers, designs and idols. A treat to the eyes even in such darkness.

Lord Shiva seems to have been a prominent deity to be prayed to. There were too many a sculptures and graphic images that adorned the walls too.

As we came out it took time for the eyes to adjust to the light. Once out, you could see the other structures that were built on top of the caves, though mostly in broken condition.

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After we left the guide, we took time to just soak in the feeling of a history that was not only mysterious, historic but also architecturally brilliant. As we left the place, it felt there is much more than what we saw and the place needs more time for art and architecture lovers.

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The lake in front of the caves

Few points definitely to note.

  1. The road leading to caves is not that great.
  2. Ample parking space to park your vehicles.
  3. Do take a guide as you step in or else you would get lost inside.
  4. If you are not from Karnataka, negotiate well with the guide before getting in.
  5. Torches are the best, not cell phone ones. Carry them. (We missed to get ours ready).
  6. Take your time, if you like something. The guide would ask you to hurry up all the time as they are running their own agenda.
  7. Stay at the place before you leave, breath in the freshness of the place.

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Soulful Baul!!!

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A regular Saturday afternoon on the banks of Khoai river, near Shantiniketan is a beautiful setting of the Khoai Hatt every Saturday.¬† Those tall “Sonajhuri” trees adorned every meter of the ground. Under these lovely trees and as the sun shines right above your head the khoai market gets into a shape. The expanses gets filling up fast with the tribal and the local sellers unpacking and setting up their shops in the regular places. Listening to the argument between two adjacent stalls, I got reminded of the school days when we used to draw a line on the table to say that my neighbour should not cross the border. I laughed as I walked around seeing the various hawkers set up their establishments.

As I walked around, I heard an ektara play, and my head turned as I walked to the direction of the soulful music that played.

It was a hoarse tone to start off with but then the jingling sound of “gungroo” and the UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f6edhol sound mesmerized me as I seem to float towards him. As the man came into view, I was delighted to see the saffron kurta clad man in his own world playing the ektara and singing on…

It did not seem to matter if there were people sitting or listening to him. It did not matter who clapped or not. He seemed to go on with his song, the beautiful baul songs.

As he finished one, he paused adjusted his Gungroo, tightened the ektara sting to the tune he wanted, played with his hairs and beard and clearing his throat went on to sing the next song. I was simply stuck at the simplicity.

As I got up to leave, he did not even bother to acknowledge the only one intently listening leaving. I kept some money and moved on.

It felt as if he was the master here with no strings. I am here to give and do not expect any in return. If you feel like giving, give or else move on.

img_20180428_165439.jpgAs the afternoon moved to evening, had many other Baul singers who IMG_20180428_165521went on with their presentations. One of the them seemed to be slightly modern with CDs of their songs displayed as they kept playing. These artists were more playful with one a banjo like instrument and the second one on the flute while the third one was on the dhol and another couple of them who were busy playing the gungroo. As the tempo went on, I could not stop myself from swinging and dancing along with them. They were so mesmerizing that you will forget where you are. It is one that can only be experienced as it steers your soul.

While their singing was soulful, their dressing sense was equally swag. I just fell in love with their representation and deep connect with the roots.

These songs are mostly from what they see life as and are not written down. It is the Guru-Sishya Parampara that enables the knowledge move from the guru to his disciples. While today, you do have CDs and music available to pick up and listen to them but the ambiance and their presence adds to the overall soulfulness to the baul music. Folksongs at its best and pristine form.

It is an experience not to be missed at all if you happened to be there at Shantiniketan on a Saturday.

As I left the hatt, even though I am a distant relative to the language, the music kept playing on my lips and my hands dancing to the tune.

It is Soulful!!!!

Cursed Palace!!

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It was really an eire morning when we finally conjured our thoughts to make it to one of the scariest places in India.

Bhangarh!!! A place that was never on our tourist map and when one hears that it is one of the scariest places on earth it certainly deserves a visit. So what, you hear that you are not allowed post 5 pm to step in.. One leads to another and a simple search to find out about the scariest places in India would certainly through up “Bhangarh’s –
Ajabghar” in Alwar district of Rajasthan on the top of the list.

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Build in 1631 AD by Man Singh-I. The fort has been build at the picturesque Aravali Mountain ranges today bordering the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The curse of the “Black Magician”who wanted to marry the princess Ratnavati, seems to have brought the end of once a thriving palace. Trying to find more about the palace, one hears about the scary stories and deaths that have taken place in that palace.

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Anyway, loaded with all the excitement and suspense we headed off to Bhangarh. The sun shone bright with its heat beating down as we headed on the Jaipur – Delhi highway. The roads are really amazing and one could literally zip through. We stopped in between at a regular local dhaba for some lovely parathas and curd before heading on to our destination. That day the sun went on beating down, at 10 am it was really hot and we could feel energy zapping away. Loaded with my camera bag, bottles of water, hand kerchief and caps..

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We headed off on our exploration. As we entered through the Hanuman gate we were wondering as to where is the palace?? You are welcomed by vast expanses of broken walls, which should have been once a thriving market place and residential places. Once inside you do not have any shop or anything where you could buy water or anything of need. So, it will be great to carry your bottles and anything to munch.

And one thing for sure, that you would be mesmerized by the broken structures that have been well preserved by ASI. The beauty is personified by the rows of market that are all across the pathway. It does say how prosperous that era was.

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As we walked down the path, I felt that I have been here only later to realize that this place has been used for many Hindi Bollywood movies. What ever said and done, it is breathtaking to see and think what this place was at one point of time. It must have

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filled with hustle and bustle of people selling and buying things. So much of life. Some of these houses have a first or mezzanine floor. The city must have had a definite structure and plan. One does feel amazed at how thoughtful and forward thinking India was in its past. There is a lot to learn for us from the past that can certainly have a positive impact on today’s living.

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The Banyan tree add to the ghost quotient

As we walked on, one is welcomed by a huge banyan tree adjacent to the Palace entrance. The palace was still far off. One needs to be ready to walk quite a distance in the hot sun here. And, you will not be disappointed at all.

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The entrance to the palace

That day in particular was a festive day and people were offering food to monkey. If you are more adventerous that us then you could actually feed them too. We being the brave ones ūüėČ moved on towards the palace. Though broken, one would be in awe with the grande’ and the spiritual presence of temples just in front of the palace.

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The architectural work inside the temples are amazing and has a similarity to the temples in the northern part of the country. Also, one does find local flavours of animal sculptures on the walls like that of camel.

Only one of the temples is functional and that too of “Bhairav baba”. People do come in hordes from the villages nearby and pray there. This temple is today inside the palace.
Did you know that People offer “Cigarettes and Bidis” are prasad (Offerings) to the lord.

The ask is for more power and mental stability. On that day, the drums kept playing at a rhythmic pace calling us to meet them.

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Well as we stepped in, we had a nice steep climb on a ramp before we reached the steps of the palace. Well in today’s context, only two floors are available for us to visit. It is said that four floors have gone down into the earth. There are huge holes that are there but the myth of the spirits did give us a scare to even explore in the daylight. Not to be disappointed, the remaining two floors are no less breathtaking. Even in its dilapidated condition it is a great place to photograph.

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Today the place is cleared up well and one could access most of the places and would certainly say at your risk. There is no barricading on the roof and that one needs to be careful while being there. And do not forget to shoot as many pics as possible.

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We spent close to two hours in the hot sun and felt mesmerized at the beauty that this place has to offer.
Well is it spooky?? Maybe, but on the festive day, the presence of so many villagers did not make us feel so. And here must add that while leaving I happened to move down an small paved path just outside the palace area which lead to many other temples. That was very quite and maybe of what all one hears the mind plays. The rustle of the wind does tend to send a chill down the spine.

Whatever said and done, it is worth a visit and am sure it will leave a lasting impact.

Few things that one would certainly need to keep in mind while travelling to Bhangarh:

  • Try to go during festive time, you would get to see the local traditions
  • Carry your water bottles in any season.
  • Hats / caps off-course, if it is summer / hot season.
  • Be ready to walk quite a distance.
  • Avoid the monkeys
  • It is our heritage, do not litter it or spoil it.
  • A lot of photographs apart of selfies. Breath-taking views
  • Be ready to spend two hours minimum to explore and enjoy the place.
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The Map of the palace

My Nahargad

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Mighty, Lavish, Majestic, grandure and adjective would be short and less to describe this magnificent fortified Nahargad palace. The palace built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734. A man who has built some of the finest architectures in the pink city, Jaipur.

MayaOur guides, had stated a sad affair of saying nothing much to see but added that it would be great to see the overall city and that too at evening. Well the last statement did make a good relevance to us and we happened to reach Nahargad by around 4.30 pm exhausted after the fun & exploratory walk at Jaigarh. One thing for sure, that do pick your food pack and bottles of water unless you really want to explore.

Well, hey we were there for some fun and exploring and the fort did not disappoint. Off course like any of the forts in Rajasthan, the entry is through the huge doors and it then opens up to the huge courtyard… wow!! awestruck would be an understatement.The courtyard

The colours of the walls are nostalgic and does take you to the realm of past and the lavishness tagged to it… As you move from the courtyard to the various rooms, we are into the beautiful alleys of rooms and arches. Jaipur-394

The walls are so so smooth that one could see their reflection in it. Must say, the archeological department is doing a great job in maintaining it. Inspite of so many people walking around, you can happily sit down and get some amazing photographs. Now I understand why these places could be a photographers paradise.

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One lead to the other and started climbing the stairs. The most amazing aspect was the roof of the palace. A must place especially in the evenings. The breathtaking view of the whole Jaipur city below to that of the setting sun against the backdrop of the architectural domes.

Do make sure that you spend time on the roof and see the sun setting against the magnificent domes. A good place for some quite time as the breeze hits you along with the last brightness…¬†Jaipur-443

Well I wished that the time never stopped. It had to when we heard the hart whistle of our khakhi dressed policeman man pushing every one to move down as it was almost 6 pm.

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As we stepped down and came back to the courtyard, I waited for all folks to leave and then requested the security for a few more minutes, they obliged and rather helped me. It is really nice of them.

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My last shot

There is a beautiful restaurant for those who want to spend the evening after the sun goes down. And we chose to move on and spend the day..

It was indeed a great decision to not miss this lovely piece of history, I wished I had more time to spend and explore this beautiful palace…

Indeed Incredible India and #MyRajasthan…Jaipur-493

 

The LASSI

“Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi”

When Gertrude Stein in 1913 wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”.. she might not have thought that people across the globe would use it for any article that could suite them..

Sweet white LassiWell not every Indian would add and agree to that statement with Rose and the “Quintessential Lassi”… When the world talks about the white sweet lassi, one place in Bhubaneswar, says Nah!! we do not like it white, let’s make it brown. Why should every thing from curd be white.

Well, welcome to “Lingaraj Lassi centre” . A bustling city space right in the heart of the city at Shahid Nagar (Near Durga Mandapa). Bhubaneswar being a foodies delight, this place adds to the flavour and it is very difficult to resist not going there and gulping down a glass of chill Lingaraj Lassi.

Having heard about this lassi, we happened to head out to have this beautiful sweetened

34493708331_9668a6c207_olassi. At first, the place being crowded makes you think about the popularity and fan following. There was ample space to park our car though slightly away, but the pull was strong for a nice walk. I struggled to first understand what to be done because of the crowd. Then we slowly made our way to see the whole jamboree of activities that happen right in front of you.

On the left as one enters, there was one who was scraping heaps of coconut, while right in front was a small cemented space to hold big blocks of ice which was being broken and taken for mixing it up with the lassi. As this was happening, what caught my fascination was the four huge furnaces on which there were huge pots of Khoa (Milk Product) was being made. The lassi here is made different with loads and loads of Khoa (Another milk product), which is basically what gives it the brown colour and the sweetness that it brings.  It is fascinating to see that there was this one man who kept staring the pots to get the right thickness and flavour to Khoa. Once this was done, curd along with sugar and Khoa was put in a mixer and served. There were close to fifteen mixers kept just for this purpose,

There are close to three people manning the serving area but one held the money and was mouthing the instructions while he himself went on serving. The coordination was so smooth that, only when the money was paid the glasses were held out to the customer.   This gentleman held a thick wad of money in his hand, explicitly saying he is the cashier without even having a board.

The prices were economical, a large glass (Approx 500 Ml) is priced at Rs50/- while the small glass (Approx 300 ml) was priced Rs 40/-. Now one can have a sugar free lassi too, but then when you have so much sweetness in Khoa, what is sugar free?? 2ecff44b86293d926068010b3c6f176d

 

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What ever said and done, once the liquid flows down the throat, there is a sense of peace 34624310715_a28409af3d_oand pure bliss. Well the only caution that it is really a sweet concoction and could hit you really heard, so choose your glass accordingly.

And.. if you are in Bhubaneswar, you could place an online order too..

Having said so, will always say.. “If in Bhubaneswar during summers (Available only in summers), never ever miss this heady Lassi”

Oh!! you can check their humble space on facebook too but not that active, it just says that the focus of these guys on the product and not on publicity. It is truly for its loyal customers like me to do.. ūüôā

 

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My first book.. Maya. Do pick up a copy at Amazon or Notionpress.com

 

 

 

Fort Art!!!

“Expect the unexpected!!”

fortkochi-1The word fort raises so much expectations and imaginations of what could be there. I too had an imagination of huge walls, fortification, palatial place … Well, all that was about to happen when we stepped into the ferry to go to Kochi Fort, a small island off the mainland.

As we stepped out, we were welcome by the beautiful Chinese nets that adorn the shoreline of Fort Kochi island. They seem to be a symbol of Kochi, standing there fabulous against the beautiful cloud cover and the ever present Arabian Sea… As we walked further into the fort area the realisation dawned in that there is no more of a fort existing and there are only remains of those classic era in the form of few monuments spread across the island. Today there are many beautiful shops and restaurants that cover the expanses of the island.

As we walked further, I was stunned with what caught my eyes. It was an expression offortkochi-2 love, emotions, life and most important to me was.. an expression of freedom… All that was spread and beautifully captured on the walls of various houses and shops. Letting people and artists use these empty spaces to express their feelings and emotions in an open public canvas. It was just not one wall that was let to get decorated rather there were walls all through out the space that we walked around.

fortkochi-3On one where there was the expression of freedom and free thinking, there was another talking about an emotional connect. Some showcased the modern trend of love to that of just geometrical graphic designs to express the elephant inside.. There were more of metaphorical connections that one could think off as we walked across the streets and feel awe around.

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Free Birdie

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Life and Fun

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Get those colourful wings on..

It is a delight to see how beautifully these walls have been used as a form of expressions. I had never expected Fort Kochi to be a such a beautiful treasure-house of art work in an open frame… It was like peeking through the Veil..

Such an incredible place and incredible art… Imagination flew along with me as we caught the ferry back to the main land..
What mesmerizes me is how do people get such beautiful creative ideas to express.??

Chausathi Jogini – Mahamaya

‚ÄúSixty and four are the instruments of enjoyments that tempt the individual soul (jiva). Sixty and four are the divisions (kalas) within¬†jiva;¬†Sixty and four are the chambers of¬†jiva‚Äôs¬†chakras; Sixty and four; where Shiva-Shakti reside.”

–¬†Thirumandiram¬†V. 1418

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India has been and am sure will continue to be a land of radical thoughts and beliefs. It is a country that has been a confluence of beliefs and existence of them in different places and almost at similar times. Many had emerged, caught onto the believes of peoples and with the advent of a newer system, many of ancient traditions went away into oblivion until they were researched and practiced in pockets.

Odisha, the eastern state of India has not only been an historical place but also a place where the cultural and religious beliefs have come into existence. Buddism, Saivaism, Jainism, Shaktaism and later Vaishnavism have been prevalent for many years here. It is well known that the worshiping of Mother Goddess is an integral part of the Hinduism, but  it also branched off into Shaktaism for its uniqueness and Tantric practices. The cult was prevalent from the 9th century AD to 12 century AD and flourished well as people started to look out for different ways to connect with the all mighty. To me, it does symbolise the diversity and the openness to not only believe but also practices of different cultures was open and accepted.

Bhubaneswar or Ekamra Khetra (as it was known earlier) has been a seat for Devi (Goddess mother) and Tantric Pujas. The evidences can well be seen in some of the temples that were created and the idols prayed.

One such symbol of Devi puja is the “Chausathi Jogini” (64 Jogini) temple on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar at Hirapur. A temple dedicated to the “Women who possess magical ¬†Powers”. It is well said that, a true Jogini is one who is an enlightened woman possessing¬†exuberant passion, spiritual powers and deep insight.

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In India there are close to 12 such temples that have been discovered and ASI has taken over to protect it. The one at Hirapur is the smallest of all. All the Jogini temples are circular in nature and do not have a roof (hypaethral). They are open in nature.

I had spent my childhood at Bhubaneswar but never knew about this place, it was only while researching about¬†some other locations, I accidentally stumbled upon this beautiful open temple. They say, “when the lord calls, you visit”. It was exactly that, after close to 2 years of planning to visit this place, I visited “Chausathi Jogini” temple. It had poured the previous night and as we started for the place. The place turned out to have had a good wash¬†and ready to receive us. We crossed the small bridge over the Kuakhai river and entered the¬†paddy fields.

The directions are very clearly laid out and the roads are very good though narrow. The temple is surrounded by some lush green paddy fields. It was as though guarding the temple from outsiders. The smallness of the temple took us by surprise but once you enter the temple you would largely be struck by the beautiful sandstone sculptures.

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Betal

The entrance would be 5 feet in height and has a small vestibule guarded by two Betals on either side. On the inner sides as you enter the place you will find 64 Yogini sculptures. The temple would be around 30 feet or so in diameter with a square mandap (Platform) in the centre.

 

Each sculpture is so so different from one other. They not only seem to represent the various avatars but are so feministic in their nature. Some have beautiful faces while some have taken up animal faces. The hairdos and the ornaments are also unique to each one, wether it is the armlet, anklet, bangles necklace or even the earrings. All the avatars are standing on top of either an animal or a musical instrument. Each symbolising a significant nature of the avatar. Some of the avatars are Rudra (Ferocious) while some are calm. Some faces are human whiles some have animal heads.

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The 31st idol is “Mahamaya”¬†which is the main idol and is prayed daily. She is the only one who is ten armed goddess among the 64 idols. During the Dusshera Puja there are special rituals that are done here. On the Dusshera day, even today there is a sacrifice in this temple but that is of a Fish. A symbolic of appeasing the goddess.¬†Interestingly at Yogini 61, there is no idol. It seems to be the same one at some of the other yogini temples too. I felt it depicting that “No Form” is also a “Form”… I have seen such earlier at Belur and some other temples in southern India too.

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Puja performed for Mahamaya

At the centre of the temple is the mandap is also called the Chandi mandap or yogini mandap. It is said that there was a lord Shiva idol as Nataraja which was worshiped in the centre. This image of Lord Shiva is also called Moha Bhairav. There are four Bhairavs at the four pillars of the mandap. This is also considered as the seat for Tantric puja & rituals.

 

The outside of the temple is guarded by two dwarapals and on the outer wall are the nine Katyayanis. The Katyayani are standing on a smiling severed human head. Some have swords while most of them have an umbrella cover held by one of their helps.

One could feel the goosebumps with the energy that this place could generate. The power of women in its urga or ferocious form is a testimony of the times when women power and its importance was way significant that what it is now.

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Once you step out of the temple area, you are welcome back to the peaceful quite village banyan tree and the pond. As if all the energy source is stabilised by it. We tried to leave the place twice but every time there was something there that held us back and we returned into the temple. What could have been a fifteen minute exploration and prayers, turned out to be more than an hour.odisha-412

I am a novice into spirituality but I am really mesmerised by the bold acceptance of that era to depict and present a different aspect of life. An era where equality might not have just been stated but would also been practiced and respected.

We left the place with lots of peace and bliss. It also taught me what acceptance of different beliefs could do to human beings. It would help in exploring the non existent me within me for sure.

Odisha offers one so much to explore that, the more I discover.. I realise how less I know about this beautiful eastern state of India… Really Incredible Odisha and certainly Incredible India!!!

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Chuk Chuk…

A traveler am I and a navigator, and ever day I discover a new region within my soul
– Kahlil Gibran

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The multi wheel carriages running on two tracks carrying many dreams, ambitions, sadness, love, apprehensions and what not that a human being could go through has always been a fascination for me even in this flight era. Someone recently at office asked me as I shared that I will not be at Office for the following week,

He: oh!! so you are flying off on Friday??
Me: No.. Catching the train in the evening..
He: Really, it is a long journey.. 20 hours.. It will be tiresome. You should have caught the flight, save time.
Me: (Smiling) Oh, I did not think it that way. Yeah it would take time but I would love every moment of it with my family. It is full “FAMILY TIME!!”.

He was not sure, what to say after that and we both had a good laugh..

It’s really a treasure trove for me every time I get started with¬†my train travel plans.

Right from the moment, I book the train tickets, the wait and the anticipation is on the rise. Anticipation for the remembrance of childhood memories, a sense of freedom and a desire to meet and talk to strangers.

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The Indian Railways, is one of the longest and the most complicated rail networks of the world. From the first train that got launched in 1853 when am sure, people would have been looking at it with awe and admiration then to the latest high speed trains that are getting experimented from Delhi to Mumbai and many. The awe and admiration still remains the same. The network today runs over 115,000 Kms across carrying millions of passengers daily. There are many known and unknown interesting facts that the Indian Railways throws up.

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Technology todays has helped us avoid the jammed up railway ticketing counters but the fight to booking the tickets still runs high. Can’t complain when you have more than 13 lakh tickets being booked in a day through IRCTC portal. Just imagine the amount of traffic that IRCTC would be facing for these bookings.

As I have grown over the years the accessibility to AC coaches have become a part of life and the travels are becoming more and more comfortable. Having said so, I do miss those lovely moments when I would wake up to the sound of a chia wala (Tea vendor) or the smell of a hot snack at any railway platform. The beauty is that, each station has its own brand and popularity. I remember once catching a local train from Sambalpur to Bhubaneswar years back, and the train stopped at Boinda station. People jumped off the train as it came to a halt to have the very famous local bara and Aloo chop (Vada & Potato balls). (I am already  salivating as I share this.) This station is a junction and people literally have their breakfast in the morning as the train halts for 15 Р20 mins. Post the breakfast is the hot cup of tea on those small clay pots which are now very common in the Eastern part of the country.

Or the Bread Omlet at Vijaywada station as the train to east from Chennai halts in the morning hours. Am sure, each of us have a wonderful connection with many of these stations. It makes you feel closer to home.

Well, the pantry services is no different experience which one goes with. Now the services have improved and are way better off, though a long way to go. Train journeys tend to become gastronomic journeys too. Remember my childhood days when my mom would pack up tiffin boxes and snack packs for the travel to last for 18 hours. The moment the train leaves the station, there is an auto trigger for the hunger to kick in. So what, if I had had my breakfast or lunch or dinner just before we left home. ūüôā

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Enjoying the breeze

The longer the journeys is towards home, the more the impatience as the destination¬†gets closer. I tend to move myself away from my seat and stand at the door. The fresh breeze hits harder as the train chugs along. My mind pushes the train¬†harder to fly on those lovely tracks as the rice fields fly past me. During this month’s travel, I was standing with my son at the door (who was there for the first time) and I could see the excitement in him and the nostalgia that it created for me. Off course one needs to be cautious and careful but this today has become a part of life no matter if the train is long distance or local train. The freshness that this experience¬†leaves is heavenly.

As a child going in the sleeper class coach during rainy season was a delight. I would be chasing the rain drops as they would crash against the shut glass window pane and run down to meet the other water droplets. Dreams get created and smiles tend to appear at the corner of the lips.. then and even now it does so, no matter how old one gets.
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Indian Railways, with what ever shortfalls that it has.. it does not matter once you are on the train. Someone rightly said and I have seen it happening, “It is a beautiful journey where strangers meet and become friends to part again and may be to meet again”.

There are so many stories that one can go on and on. There is an unending list one shares in these journeys with not only the passengers but also the caterers, the TT, vendors at the station. All hoping to have a moment of fleeting emotion to be shared with.

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Train Bridge over River Godavari

Rightly said and with all love, I do connect with the same tag line of Indian Railways,
“Lifeline to the nation”

Every journey is worth living for!!! … Can’t wait for the next trip….

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Col Saheb Island – Munroe

Calm and deep, is what it feels
Green and blue, are the hues it shows
Meandering as is, interwoven with life
Nature and people, love these sides

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It was after spending the day with the Stallions, we headed out for our one day trip to the boat ride that we had planned. Boat rides, one normally connected with that of a typical Kerala boat and we were no different. The meandering road took us down to the ferry place. This ferry services connected two sides of the land which was well connected by train services and road. The road services were cut down by nearly 20 Kms, which was a big thing as the roads are so serpentine that a few person could throw up.

As we took a right turn at one of road which was running beautifully next to a canal and coconut trees, we reached a dead end. This is where the road met the open expanses of water. The ferry boat from here would take us to the other end, where out beautiful boat ride was to begin. As we reached we realised that we were a wee bit slow. The ferry boat just left our¬†end of the the Ashtamudi lake and moved to the other end. We got down from the car and enjoyed the calmness and non hurried atmosphere. Father and son, got into the mode of posing, sitting on the road next to the bank where the boat had left and enjoying the breeze. Least that I realised that my wife had got shooting us (It was a good surprise when I was going through the pics ūüôā )…

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Kollam-105As our ferry came back, people got on to it and then slowly the loading of three cars, a mini truck and close to 15 bikes got on. It took us 5 minutes to go to the other side of the lake. The place we reached was the Munroe Island. One of the Island that got naturally created by the backwaters. The area was formed by the Asthamudi lake (Astha mudi РEight coned). It is a beautiful wetland ecosystem.  This place also got its name from the British Colonel

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Train line connecting the Island

Munroe who was a resident of the erstwhile Travancore district.Kollam-143

We again got into the meandering roads before we reached our man who was going to be our guide, Mr. Regu further. As we got down, the first predicament was that our language. With all the question mark my partner started in hindi:

She: Apko hindi ata hai (Do you know Hindi?)
Mr. Regu: Madamji, humko ata hai. Hum hindustani hai. Hindi rastrabhasha hai (Madam, I know Hindi, I am an Indian and Hindi is our national language).

The moment he finished, we all burst into laughter and that is it… He took us on a small foot path serpentine through the banana plantation.¬†He deftly handed us over to his oars man, stating us to come back by 1 pm. While doing that Regu¬†said to us.

Aapko jaldi ana tha, bahut jagah ghum sakte the. Late ho gaya abhi. No problem, enjoy and  Lunch ke liya aa jana. (You should have come early, could have gone to many more places. You came in late. No problem, enjoy and come back for lunch)

 

Kollam-175We smiled as we got into the small canoe kind of boat. Not the typical Kerala boathouse and we got to know why as the journey started.. To begin the rain Gods said, let me sprinkle some Kerala water on you.. It was such a bliss feeling as the boat moved and our old oarsman handed over the umbrellas that he had for such occasion. It seemed very normal for him. We were all speechless for five minutes as

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Our oarsman

the boat started to more. All forgot about the scare we had with water and the shake of the water. We were all immersed in the true beauty of the nature. It was simply pristine.

As we moved more into the natural canals, realised what all this country has. It was a water system that was the life line for the people over there. People would park their boats at the side of the canal and got the nearby grocery shop to pick up their daily things. The coir industry is an industry that thrives side by side. Kollam like any other place in Kerala does have a thriving coir industry and coir products being produced in the back yards. We parked our boat for a tea break and also stopped to lay our hands on making coir ropes. It was really a delight to see how a simple single coir strand could turn out to be a strong rope that could hold any weight.

After spending some time and our expertise in making ropes we got back onto the boat for the further boat ride. One could see the beautiful ecosystem as to how the birds and people Kollam-227have co-existed there. We saw many white headed eagles that seemed to be thriving on the fishes there. It is so difficult to describe the beauty that surrounds you there. Our oars man took us from a big canal into the small canals under the foot bridges. There is fish cultivation along with Paddy and off course coconut cultivation in the area. We stopped near one of the paddy fields where our oarsman gave us fresh coconut to drink without a straw. It was really a good balancing act trying to drink. As we kept moving from one canal to another, we could see the livelihood around. People would smile and wave back. They were so used to seeing new faces. Our oarsman would go on exchanging his news with folks as they cross each one house after the other.

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As we ended our trip the rain gods again showered on us to treat us good bye. But, out journey was yet to be over. Mr. Regu, picked us from there and took us to a small boathouse for a lavish typical Non Vegetarian lunch. For a change this was complete sea food lunch. We had, Kareemen fish fry, Kareemen fish curry, Crab masala, Prawn curry,

vegetable, Kerala rice and butter milk. It was a mesmerising food. I had never hogged food the way I did that day on the boathouse. We invited Regu to share the Lunch with us, we had a very a fun filled time. His Malayalam dialect Hindi was the beautiful highlight. An army guy after having served the country now is focused on giving a customer delight. He has a small stay home where one could stay for days or weeks or months. Simple people with a very friendly approach. That defined who he was.

We came back from Munroe island with loads of freshness. As we drove back, my body was in the car and in the flight back to Chennai but my mind lingered over the water canals and the mesmerising freshness of silence and air. It was one to stay long with me..

Kollam-239We left the place and kept chatting about the various little things we saw… Hard to believe we have such beautiful places and branding has not happened much. It is really an incredible country having some spending places to explore…

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Love it all!!!

 

Sea Witch

Curled and hanging
Lapping against the water
Calling to come close
Sharing the tenderness in its lap!!!

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220 Kms to the south of Chennai as you drive down past the old French colony of Pondicherry, one would normally miss out this quite place filled with Mangrove forest… PITCHAVARAM. ¬†It is 10 kms before Chidambaram.. This is the Sundarbans of South and undoubtedly one of the largest in India.

Happened to find this place accidentally while scouting about Chidambaram and Cuddalore. It really was a big surprise and not many of friends even had an idea of any such place. It felt like, the little brother of Sundarbans which I have been planning to

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Roots of the trees…

travel to for a while. We reached there by 8.00 am and were asked to wait. The place is pretty a clean and well maintained by the government. We opened our breakfast box, though there is a canteen but that was also not open and we were not sure of what we could get. Finally at around 8.30 am the counter opened and we were the first ones to pick the tickets. We paid Rs 275 /- for an hour ride in the mangrove. But once we got in we negotiated another one hundred bucks with the boatman and that was a good deal actually for an additional 30 mins ride.

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The fruit

One of the most terrible thing was that none of us realised the heat that the place would generate and we had missed our caps or umbrella in the car, thank God that we had our water bottles. The 400 mtrs of open sky was a killer, till we reached one of the canals. The sun was at its best show and we felt being steam baked at 37 degrees. Well the moment the boat turned into the mangrove canals it was a heavenly feel. He took us from one to the other and it was as if the time had stood frozen. One could see the beautiful roots of these majestic trees hanging everywhere as if a witch has had a bad hair day, but somehow looked very pretty and lovely. We were also cautioned about our head banging against any tree root, some of the roots ends were pointed too.

Our wonderful boatsman parked the boat against one of the mangroves intertwined trees Logo-5and we were at our best behaviour, climbing onto these amazing tree and it felt like being on a swing. One after the other, we got onto the these strong trees and did our photoshoots and had a good energizer. It is an amazing feeling and with a boatsman giving you the confidence that the trees are secure, we moved from one root to another. It was an amazing feeling.

The trees are so well integrated and spaced out to create close to 4000 odd canals right across the 39 sq kms place. There were plenty of amazing birds that inhabit that place.

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Fisherman, waiting for a good catch

The local community also uses this place for its livelihood by fishing in these waters while big directors create some amazing movies like “Dasavatharam“.

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The government has got a small guesthouse in the middle of the forest too, that one could book and stay overnight. It is¬†a plan for some other time. As of now, we left the place with some amazing chillness and channelled memories…

Incredible India!!!

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