Byadgi Chilli

dsc_8536 (2)Chilli, Red and spicy… one of the major ingredients for any preparation in India. The mere thought of Red Chilli sends one in an imagination of a Red or deep Orange coloured shriveled crescent moon structure filled with capsaicin seeds.

Chilli as such is not a native of India but rather an origin from New Mexico, Guetamala, Peru and has been domesticated in an around 5000 BC. Columbus was the one who img_20181223_172012brought these beautiful fiery fruits to Europe and from there this has moved to Asia. It came to India in around 1584. It was initially used as a crop to protect the crops from the birds but today is a main crop as such. I was largely aware that Chilli production happens at Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan but never knew that Maharashtra, Odisha & Karnataka are also major contributors. While Assam’s city Tezpur produces one of the spiciest chilies the world has, Naga Jalokia, the rest of the country produces chilli that are used in food and cosmetics (which was a surprise to know for me!!).

Well the other big surprise were the chilies being produced in Karnataka. I never knew about its Chilli producing capability and the variety that it produces. One of the largest producing areas is Byadgi region, near Haveri. The chilies from Byadgi are known for their red colour enhancement in food and less on the spice content. They are also exported for usage in cosmetics especially Lipsticks.dsc_8547 (2)

We happened to be travelling from our visit from Galaganath to Haveri and thanks to our GPS, it took us through some of the most lovely interior villages of north Karnataka. As we were crossing the village of Agadi, I pulled over to the sides of a paddy field on the sight of red chilies being dumped in the fields.

I had never seen harvesting of Red chilies and the sight was really exciting. We got down and literally ran into the fields with excitement. In a large clearing of the field there were close to 9 people working in sorting and packing the chilies in sacks. There was an air of excitement in them when my partner started talking to them.

She had no clue of Kannada and they had no clue of any other language. Actually, my partner amazes me all the time in the way she communicates with strangers and has good laughter with them.

Our broken discussions lead us to discover that this variety of Chilies that were produces was to be shifted to Byadgi which is the central zone for all Chilies production in the region. Here they were drying, sorting the chilies based on the colour and then packing them in sacks.

Chili Bugs

It was interesting to see the bugs in the chilies. They reminded me of the bugs from “Mummy” movie.

We took photos and videos of them doing the various activities on the land. The laughter that they had was coy and their simplicity was just contagious. It was a time that tells one that the heart of India is in its villages truly.

As we left from the farm land, we did manage to pick up some chilies for ourselves too, off course we paid them for the generosity. It was a beautiful evening to spend time in the rural part of this beautiful country.

Few lovely travel tips:

  • Always be on a look out for the beauty as you drive to your destiny.
  • Travel is for your pleasure, so pause when you feel or find something special.
  • Speak to the locals even though you may not know their language. The heart knows best to connect.
  • Request the people before you would like to take their photos or videos.
  • Carry a simple empty bag, just in case you would like to buy local things.
  • Keep change, it will always be handy as the rural side does not have many ATMs or swipe machines.
  • The last one, just soak in as much as you can.. ūüôā
Sunset

India is beautiful

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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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Terracotta Adda – Bishnupur

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The first time that I heard of Bishnupur, it did not rekindle any feelings. Yeah, like any other local town in India, this could yet another city. Now, the mind does play tricks and I happened to start reading about this town and what got me excited was that this small The wingstown some 130 odd kilometers from Kolkata has been on the tentative list of UNESCO Heritage sites. That was more than enough for me to make up my plans to travel to this city.

And thus the wings took me off to the “City of JOY” … Kolkata and from there we headed off to the sleepy town of Bishnupur. We had a great cab driver who was quite a chatter box and ensured that we had a lovely time travelling to the Town of RED.¬†Tera HorseThis town today falls in the Birbhum district and was ruled by local kings under the rule of the Gupta Dynasty. Somewhere in the 17th & 18th century, this quiet town was ruled by the Malla Rulers who were followers of Lord Vishnu and had built these elegant structures. There has been a time in history, Bishnupur was the cultural capital of Bengal.

Today stands still to get recognition that it had in the past. The only thing that has got a world recognition is the beautiful Terracotta horse from Bishnupur that stands proudly with the West Bengal Tourism. It has become a symbol of pride from the past.

While heading to this historic place, we enjoyed the “Aaloo Chap” (Potato balls) a specialty from Bengal. It was way different from what we have had so far. One thing to remember is that, if you are heading towards the hinterlands in east, food is something you would have to adjust or carry your own stuff. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ed1
UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ecfYou may not find great restaurants on the way but guaranteed to find some amazing local delicacies in shacks. Offcourse, water is a treasure and do pick your bottles as you head towards your beautiful destination. Not that you may not find them, but just be sure that you have them when you need them.

We rolled down our car and one would tend to have some guides who would reach out and ask. The best part is that these guys are not too pushy here and very reasonable. Our guide asked for Rs 200/- to take us around. You would need one of these guys just to get a understanding of some of the nuances that web may not throw out.

After picking up the tickets, I turned to just be awestruck by the grande of “Rashmancha”.. the base itself is some seven feet high and on top of that is the edifice which to me reminded of the Pyramids.¬† More than anything, it was the usage of Terracotta and red bricks to build this massive structure. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f7cOn these red bricks, the terracotta slabs depict the life from Ramayana &¬†unadjustedraw_thumb_f82-e1536476895193.jpgMahabharata. Just imagine, to cover such a huge structure how many just blocks would have first been conceptualized and then molded in heat to get the story done in a¬†beautiful sequence.

The “Rashmancha”¬†was made to celebrate the festivity with Lord Krishna. The villages from nearby and far would bring their Lord Krishna & Radha decorated in their finery best. There were places that were demarcated within the “Rashmancha”¬†where the respective deities were kept. It must have been a scene filled with fun and frolic. Bazars must have been filled with delicacies and handmade art work for people to buy and celebrate the festivities.

After this we went to the “Radha Balabha temple,” which is exquisite art work. The temple is small but a lot compactly built. The square structure is proportionately built with door ways exactly the same way. But, each wall has a different inscription and story to tell. The terracotta work will leave you mesmerized and you would tend to spend more time understanding each of these panels.

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Post this we went ahead to see another beauty called “Jor Bangla”.. Which is also called Twin palaces. “Jor” means joint.. There are two identical structures that look to have been joint in the middle. Except the fact that one has got a door while the other does not. The rest of the structure is the same.

UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_faeThe sad part is that people are not allowed to get inside the place. Am sure the exquisite work would have to be preserved.

As we walked around we found that, apart from the red bricks there were laterite rocks that have used to build these palaces. Both red soil and laterites are common to this place. A beautiful usage of what is available in the vicinity.

Then there is the Madan Mohan temple and many others. All these temples that have been created. Many of these structures are fairly identical to one another and grandeur. This is one temple where the lord Krishna resides and the idol is worshiped everyday. We happened to reach there a little late.UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_fcc

Just a furlong down, is the “Large gateway”. It is also made up off Laterite rocks and Bricks. As I walked into the gateway that is still used for smaller vehicles to pass through, one could see the posts that were created for the sentries and Royal army to be stationed. The large dome did make it more spacious.

Each of these places do have something or the other happening right outside. We had a Baul singer, mesmerizing the place. Then you have the tea stall and a vendor selling the local handicraft.

After¬† going through the regular tourist spot, we were fascinated by some of the dilapidated structures. One of them was this “Radha Krishna” temple. There were still in sequence next to the village pond. Even though it is a locked and broken temple, people have had kept the space in front of that cleaned for their evening get-together.

A further down was an old house of one of the singers from the “Bishnupur Gharana”. This house is now run down and is beyond use. Only after seeing this place, did we realize that Bisphupur, does contribute to the Indian Classical Music in a big way. Felt sad too that such places and art has not been publicized much.IMG_20180429_124950

What really surprises me the heights and the similarity in layout. One would tend to find a similar layout within each structures. Each of these temples have a Tulsi area, a kitchen area right behind the temple structures.

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The top of all these temples have a very beautiful arch which am sure serves both the ways for keeping the place cool during the hot summer days and also, let’s the water recede faster during the rainy season.

There seem to be an alignment to the Vastu requirements of building a place. The vastness of the temples does talk about the fact that these places were not only built from a worship point of view but also a place where people could get together and celebrate various functions. There is a very forward thinking by the kings who ruled this places.  Importance has been given not only to the architecture but also the society that thrived around them.

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Exploring the kitchen area, my imagination on food had no bounds ūüėČ

We had spent almost three hours in this beautiful historical place and still felt we have not seen enough. Our driver then took us to a place slightly away from the main area. This place was further decorated with many a temples. These temples have been built by the local Zamindars and these are no less captivating.

After another hour of exploring the beautiful red structures and soaking in the past, we went ahead to see one last chapter in the annals of history. That is the “Dalmadal Canon”. This canon was the largest manufactured by the Malla Kings. The canon has been manufactured by layers of alloys stripped together and is quite intact. It has not rusted at all.

IMG_20180429_141955We ended our trip at the “Chindamastika temple”, which was really a peaceful space in¬†front of a rather “Ugra roopa” (Violent image) of Goddess Kali.

By around¬† 2.30 pm we were hungry and our driver took us to the “Bishnupur Tourist Lodge” for a simple Fish meal. Well even if you are a vegetarian, the food is really simple and nice. It was really a nice place to end the trip and before we headed back to Shantiniketan for the next part of our journey to soak in the cultural hub of West Bengal. It was quite a fulfilling journey.

A few things definitely would suggest who would like to go and soak oneself in this beauty:

  • Carry water bottle as much as you can
  • Be ready to walk, as there is much more to explore, a CAP is a must as these are open spaces.
  • Do carry some food with you if you can.
  • Try being there during the non summer season.
  • Take a guide, he will help you explore the place from a different perspective.
  • The place is fairly clean and the Archaeological department has done some great restoration. Help them in the cause by keeping it clean.
  • Soak in the local flavours, you will not regret it.
  • Enjoy the place, it has more to offer.

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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

 

 

 

Blessings!!!

It was a beautiful day when we decided to head towards the Satapada side of the beautiful Chilika lake. Little did I realise that I was in tryst with history and spirituality. Well yes, I was aware that I would be going down the Srikethra road, Puri but the knowledge of the heritage and that too of this small places was absolutely unknown to me. That is when the elders and people in the locality share their expertise. As we took the outer road bypassing puri, we got onto the road to Chilika, Satapada. 20161006_091244I was surprised with the quality of the road that we drove on. The Odisha government seems to have really maimage031de the roads comfortable & driver friendly. The drive on these beautiful road is flanked by coconut trees and lush paddy fields. It was that time of the season when the paddy fields were filled with lily. They gave the place a beautiful combination of white and green.

A drive of 20 kms from the Shree Jagannath temple, we came up to a small
bustling Odisha village of Bentapur at Brahmagiri. The main road divides the village of Bentapur and the hoarding will guide you to the temple. The temple which is hardly a 300 meter drive  of the main road, through a small lane enough for two small cars to pass through.

The narrow lane opens up as we come close to the entrance of the temple which seems to have been bathed in white. The architectural design is similar to that of the Shree Jagannath temple at Puri. One could say this to be a miniature version of the main temple.

I parked my car and paid Rs 30/- for parking in front of the temple. There is not much space though to park anywhere there.

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There is a folklore which takes us back to “Satya yuga” where Lord Brahma prayed for Lord Vishu on top of a hill. Being mighty pleased with the way Lord Brahma worshiped and prayed, Lord Vishu asked him to build a four armed idol made of single black stone carrying his four symbols.. Sankha, Chakra, Gada & Padma (Conch, Disc, Mace & Lotus) and since Lord Brahma prayed on this hill top, it came to be named as Brahmagiri (Hill of Brahma).

There are many mixed stories that have emerged with regard to the name and establishment of this temple. One speaks of its connection with North of this country, which brings Rajasthan down here all the way to Puri as the rulers of Alwar, Rajasthan who are supposed to have built this temple and hence the name, Alwarnath or Alarnath.

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While there is another that talks about the high priests from the south, prior to Shri Ramnujacharya, known as Alvars had come down to perform the puja and hence the name Alvar-natha or Lord of Alvars.

This temple as per records was built by King Madan Mahadev in 1128 AD.

It¬†is said that, when Lord Jagannath goes into¬†Anavasara (Two weeks of rest when the lord gets high fever) and is not accessible to anyone. This happens just after the annual bathing ritual (Snana yatra) during the months of June / July every year. During this period, the devotees go to “Alarnath Temple” and get his blessings. The crowd really swells up during those fourteen days.

31280812052_ff353db71f_oOnce you get into the sanctum, one would be mesmerised by the beautiful four handed pitch black Idol. When the crowd is less, the priest also does talk about the folklore of the lord having burnt his thumb and some places on his chest as hot rice milk pudding (Kheer) had fallen on him while HE was trying to have it. It had slipped and fallen over HIM. The priest did remove the flowers to show us the spots. Today the Kheer is the prasad that one could get in the morning and evening hours.

It is said that this idol has resemblance to that of Lord Krishna except that this idol also signifies aggression and protection at the same time.

30618118693_fbf4c089a3_oThe expanse around is beautiful and quite. There are some old stone carvings that seemed to have fallen off. The sculptures do talk about the beauty and grandeur of architecture and craftsmanship of that era.

There is a Goddess Lakshmi temple inside the same compound. It is said that the idol was dug out by a local priest from a nearby place and placed within the same compound as 31425511925_79714a23be_oShe being his consort. The idol has a very peaceful look and one could be mesmerised by being in its mere presence.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being a great devotee of Krishna and that of Lord Jagannath, has a temple next to Lord Alarnath’s sanctum. It is said that when Sri Chaitanya lay¬†down to pay his prayers, the stone below him melted by his sheer power.

As we stepped out of the temple, on the left is Brahma Gaudiya Math. It houses Lord Chaitanya, Sri Sri Radha Krishna & a small idol of Alarnath. There is a cow shed which is managed by the ashram too.

As we left the place after a couple of hours being there, the idol and the mesmerising aura stays with you for a long time…

I was counting my blessings to have had another opportunity of pure Bliss!!

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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.??

Sublime ecosystem – Chilika

 

odisha-325Chilika, the shallow brackish lagoon on the south eastern part of Odisha, today is an integral part of the state. A distinctive landmark that is not only well established from tourism perspective but also is well know for its “Tiger Prawn” cultivation worldwide. A landmark¬†that was once a maritime hub with¬†a rich history, today largely remains a source of livelihood through tourism and prawn cultivation. This pear shaped lagoon stretches 64.3 Kms across¬†Puri, Khurda & Ganjam districts of Odisha. Apart from being a support to the human livelihood, this natural beauty is a mother to the 225 species of fish¬†ecology and it hosts 160 different species during peak migratory season.

This was my second visit to this beautiful lagoon. My first trip was some 11 years ago from Berahmpur side. The vastness was what pulled my interest. This time I was more excited as I wanted to see the beautiful lake from the Puri side. Also, this part of the lake has the lesser known Irrawaddy Dolphins. The fascination drove us down to visit the place once again.

Well, how much early that I think of starting, still ended up leaving only by 7.30 am from Bhubaneswar. The newly laid outer ring road is very smooth to drive and is a toll road today. The stretch of 135 kms took us 4 hours with some stops in-between for breakfast and at Alarnath Temple on the way.

It was a beautiful drive, also which cut off from the Puri main road. on our way we could see the great Jagannath temple. The Puri РSatapada road is filled with lilies on both the sides. It was a sight to see, awesome will be an understatement.

As we entered the Satapada area, we were almost chased down by a biker. He waved his hand vigorously and wanted us to stop. I slowed down the car to a stop, as I rolled down the window I realised that he was one of the local guys trying to get people for the boat rides. If one is not careful you could actually end up paying a higher price. The IMG_20161106_214234.jpggovernment owned boards are much cheaper and better which is near the lake boating point. We left him and trusted on the GPS to guide us to the spot. We were welcome by a small toll booth who showed us the way forward. We finally happened to reach at the lake boating area by 11.30 am. As we happen to get down there were a bunch of fishermen odisha-213community guys got hold of us positioning their deal for a boat ride. Though hesitant to pick it up we managed to get a good deal for three hours, which included Dolphin viewing, Rajhans island and Muhana (The lake mouth meeting the sea). We stacked up our ration of water, juices and snacks and went ahead to the boat designated for us.

After having exchanged the pleasantries our boats man pushed the boat into the main water. It was really unexpected of us that we would see the Dolphins within five minutes into the lake. It was a family of three that came up the surface and then ducked into the water. They were swift and moved very rapidly. Catching them on camera once needs to understand the patterns in their movement. Finally I managed to get their bums shot. It was an real beautiful experience to see them.

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Irrawaddy Dolphins

These dolphins are so different from that of the regular ones that one sees and reads about. According to a census in 2010 there are only 156 dolphins in Chilika. Hope the number have gone up now rather than nose diving.
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After our beautiful rendezvous with these mammals we headed off on a solitary trip to Rajahans Island. Chilika being spread over such a huge water space, there happens to be many small islands and water ways are a very strong mode to move from one island to another, as well as connecting it to the main land. One would also see the intricate spread of fishing nets either for catching the fish or prawn. These nets also become a good hunting ground for birds to get their hunger satiated.

20161006_123044By the time we reached Rajhans island it was already 1.00 pm and we were exhausted odisha-296because of the sun heat and the water around. But the breeze happened to be a good solace in the whole drive.

Rajhans was a small beautiful island, in-between the lake and the sea on the other side. The heat was really strong and the Akashiya shade was a real solace. Oh must say, the beach gave a feeling of odisha-298peace and was an amazing place for doing some great photo shoot. We spent close to 20 mins there before we headed back to our boat for our return. For the heat and the hunger that had caught us by now, we decided to skip the lake mouth. The sea shore at Rajhans was reassuring enough for the day.

We reached back at the shore in another 45 mins and that was a killer of time. Exhausted and parched. Was wondering how our boatsman managed to stand in that hot sun all this while and we the delicate lot even under the tarpaulin sheet were feeling the heat. Well nature has its own way of balancing it I suppose. The cool breeze made us to catch up with couple of winks before we reached our destiny.

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Lunch stop after the ride

The hungry souls finally got satisfied with a feast on awesome fresh sea food catch. You name it and it was there and the food was of local flavour which was finally topped up with some delightful pan (beetle leave).

Though the journey back was in the cool air condition of the car but the heart was left behind in the pristine waters of Chilika, as if it beckoned us to come back again and be a part of that wonder….

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Some experiences:

  • Avoid the touts trying to lure you in for a private trip.
  • Cover you head with caps and wear loose cotton clothes.¬†
  • Carry loads of drinking water while on the boat.
  • Carry fruit juices and not aerated drinks. You could juices near the boating area.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the boats.
  • Try to get a covered boat
  • There are no proper restrooms around
  • Food for vegetarians could be a challenge
  • Swatch Bharat… the place is relatively clean, try and keep it that way.

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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

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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!!!