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Much ado about Kutchh…

In Travels on January 11, 2011 by Ticket, please?

Arid barrenness for a view and hot gushes of sandy winds blowing into your face is a great way to welcome yourself into Kutchh. Possibly,  because there ain’t another especially during the onset of summer. Throw in some charismatic village folk who will pose for a price (ah! tourism), warm smiles to compliment the weather, a geographical marvel with its mysterious mirages,  a taste of hot mawa (sweetened burnt milk) with kadak chai (strong tea), exciting stays in eco-mudhuts called Bhungas or tents, must-have Gujarati handicrafts to embellish your homes – all this sprinkled with a good dose of Gujarati tradition.  This hot sojourn was absolutely worth the sweat. Consider me doing a recce for you, because summers really isn’t the time to be here. But do book your bhunga or mudhut in advance for an unusually rustic experience in winters. This photoessay will live up to all of that. And don’t refuse that loving cup of tea; actually you won’t be able to.

Warm, vibrant, smiling welcomes in Kutchh

 
 

Kutchh lives by its traditions


‘A pocketfull of poses’ – Tourism has been a learning experience for Kutchh.
They know they’ll adorn your walls and make for a good story, so why not get a
little compensation! Keep some notes handy.



Do take a ride in the local bullet-buggy or ‘chakkda’. Make sure to wear your
sunscreen.
 

Stop over in a small village called Birendiyara enroute to Kutchh famous for its
‘kadak chai’ and hot ‘mawa’

Meet the craftsmen/women; you can actually get a customised Kutchhi(Gujarati)
handwork bedcover or embellishments as souveniers.


Everything organic – the living, the eating, the experience! This is your chance to go
deep rustic.

Go grab your luxury ‘bhunga’ or mudhut now! Eco-friendly, comfortable, cool,
makeyourself at home in Kutchh. Shown here is the Bhunga stay at the Hodko
village in Kutchh.
 

 

 
 

Or choose a traditional tent if you so please. The recommended place to stay is the luxurious Shaam-e-sarad Resort in Hodko village.

 
 
 
This geographical marvel has attracted tourists from far and wide. Go explore the beauty of this barrenness and let the mirages guide you.
Carry home an exqusitely handmade shawl or bedspread with Kutchhi embroidery from Shyamjibhai’s loom in Bhujodi. Tell me if all you didn’t want was everything here!
Try a hand at dyeing at the weaver’s loom in Bhujodi or anywhere else in Kutchh. The weavers are extremely friendly and you will be glad to get your hands dirty.
If this hot sojourn gets you panting and parched, just stop by at the Rudramata Dam to wet your senses.
Surely difficult to leave a place that casts such a shadow! But then a Kutchhi goodbye says “aavjo” meaning do come back again.

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Go take a walk or something…

In Travels on December 31, 2010 by Ticket, please?

The lonely traveller they say, is having all the fun. And I’m the kind to be easily led by hearsay. So whilst the others went off to the breathtaking and spine chilling Nathula Pass in Sikkim, I decided to give my spinning head a late start. Also to dig out the big truth of the much raved about solo travel.

Dorjee, my driver cum guide seemed wary of a single woman wanting to go, just about anywhere to experience the local. “Madam, are you from Discovery channel?” he asks. The ice is melting. He continues, “You look like one of them; only they go to such interiors and offbeat places.” Yes, he used the word offbeat! One thing I can conclude at the onset of this journey – the drivers here are extremely suave, stylish and well bred. And he switches on Linkin Park, just for the record.

Cloud-hugging uphill drives, creaking veteran bridges, peeking faces from bamboo huts, rivulets leading the way, the omnipresent gurgling Tista, cool alpine winds whistling out to me and a wondering Dorjee – perfect surroundings! The pleasure of being able to stop anywhere to have a chat and chai with the locals, to find prayer flags greeting you at unimaginable heights, to create loud whispers amongst the peeping residents, to chance upon young monks wearing superman t-shirts, to give right of way to the hens on the road and then get off to actually chase them – all this at the luxury of being on my own.

So what’s the next obvious thing on this not so obvious itinerary – a monastery. Nestled somewhere in a small village called Pabyuk in West Sikkim is this five hundred year old monastery that is happily neglected by tourism. Primarily because it is a steep climb and none of you are healthy or eager enough to get there, and perhaps because of its miniature stature amongst the more prominent hotseats like Rumtek. Seriously, all you tourists, what they say about travel is, that the best places are the ones that aren’t on a map. They, whoever.

As I puffed and panted my way up, giving up every ten steps, a little doubtful about the safety of a lone woman in a jungle that was getting more dense, a destination that wasn’t on the map (because that was the whole idea!), my head was conjuring up all the possible incidents that can happen so discreetly here, where the slightest croak or movement on the ground would be a reason to flinch – and even amidst all this drama, I was completely besotted by the beauty of this journey, this solitude. Discovering the road less travelled on your own has its own rush – it’s an achievement. An endearing silence and an inexplicable sense of peace prevailed as I saw a hint of some prayer flags fluttering amongst the greens. A whiff of this verdant luxury needed to be packed along. The monastery per se is nothing much to boast about and was closed when I reached. Perfect timing. But my efforts were duly rewarded with a monk going out of his way to open it up for me. As the doors open, I see a small dark room with a huge set-up of lamps, incense sticks, water bowls and some other potpurri. The magnificent set up was for the big prayer the next day – a prayer for the departed souls.

Little monks were going at their football game like any other team in the world until they noticed me peeking and clicking from a corner. And I wonder, “what’s the fun of being a monk?” I save the contemplation for a later moment. The downward journey was easy, interesting and delectable. Noodle soup with locally grown herbs was a warm welcome by the locals. The setting sun just above my head – a lifetime memory. And a tatse of ‘channg’ – the local beer, made this whole journey pretty much worth it.

The thing about a solo journey is that it is completely yours. I won’t make any larger-than-life claims to a self-discovery, or anything remotely spiritual. It’s important to be one with the place and the journey. To find newer paths of getting there. And eventually all of us do get there; it’s the how that makes your story. So go take a walk or something… I say.

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America – as it Falls!

In Travels on December 19, 2010 by Ticket, please?

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time the writer is speechless. It isn’t just fashionable to have visited and tweeted about the Fall in America, it is a divine pleasure to be consumed by a season. You may be hearing this for the umpteenth time, and uptil now Fall for me and to most of us commonly meant a change of wardrobe. Actually being amidst the bare withered trees with a few hanging red leaves was nature’s way of saying, “Here is a season that’s a perfect symphony of permanence and change. ” As I held my breath to soak in the crisp air and the magnificent auburns that surrounded me, I realized I had rediscovered my sense of surprise and wonder lost somewhere in the back alleys of the routine.

The madness of planning itineraries, getting the best deals and all that comes to a screeching halt at the mere sight of a plush red tree. Or for the colour savvy, ochre or burnt sienna for that matter. Wide-eyed, lips almost forever apart, long drags of fresh air, calm and awe tingling your senses at the same time, this is where your clock stops ticking and you wonder if this is part of the same world you live in.

At the risk of an endless monologue, let’s just see America, as it Falls!

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Yours truly – Old Manali

In Travels on October 3, 2010 by Ticket, please?

‘Old’ – now that’s a qualifier that changes the entire mood of this conversation. I am no fan of gold and I refrain from using clichés but this one, yes the glittering one, “Old is Gold” seems so appropriate at the moment.

What is it about old things, old people or old places for that matter that gets us intrigued? What is it about the new or modern that isn’t as alluring? I for sure, found my answers in Manali. The very same commercially-tarnished, crowded and touristy Manali. But then, here’s the difference. We stayed in old Manali, hung out, ate and dreamt in old Manali and just a glimpse of new Manali made us squirm and run back to the old. The Mall Roads have contributed amazing disgust value to many a beautiful place the world around. Whatever happened to the local? The local moved to cozy nooks and corners in an older quieter place. Local flavours, local people, local stories, local shopping – everything that made a place, quintessential.

I really urge these loud holidaying, mostly Punjabi families to go to Disneyland or the waterparks to amuse themselves, rather than create Mall Roads in every hill station. Families must have their outings, but come on people, learn to enjoy and respect a place as is. Blaring horns, thumping music – disgraceful. Do you blackberried and iphoned people even remember the last time you heard the soothing sound of a flowing stream or a local language for that matter? Sigh.

Let it rain! Now that my angst with the touristy tourists is let out, let me actually ask you to walk with me on these narrow undulating lanes, slopes mostly, discovering the pleasures of the real Manali, tucked away in many interesting nooks and corners. Here is a place that must be explored on foot. The crisp air is welcoming. Walking in the drizzle is like the annual SALE that you’ve long been waiting for; so don’t take cover! Stopping at roadside cafés to sip Honey-Ginger-Lemon is the next thing on my mind.

The Bullet-in! And as I blissfully sip on the hilly potion, did I just hear the classic sound of the Royal Enfield? A roar, to be more precise. Another common sight is the fleet of bullets that people in Manali hire to move around. Good choice I say, worth it if you have a good rider too.

At around Rs. 700 per day, you’re already kick-started. As a pillion rider, what I get is an unforgettable cloud-kissed ride, I get the bullet vibrating in my veins and I don’t even have to get it on the stand! And if I’m crazy enough (which I was), I also get to stand on the bike with my arms flung open, letting the fresh air blow my hair and my mind out, as I whiz past the meandering hills like a bird. On a downhill, the bike just drives itself on neutral and is way smoother than what it is when in gear. Remember this even otherwise – save oil and be good to the environment while you have the joyride of your life. So park your cars, get the bikes.

Picture perfect! Misty clouds, unwinding roads, the sound of rain, long drags of clean air, the appetising smell of local bakeries, silent musings by the riverside, a walk through the woods, an occasional local musician, running into interesting people – a sumptuous experience is guaranteed in Manali.

A room with a view. Manali is easy on your wallet. My recommendation:  just take a top floor room to get a permanent view of the hills and that slim waterfall. And don’t forget to open the windows to let the clouds in. Depending on your budget, there are a range of hotels and homestays to choose from. It is quite easy to find a neat and clean economical room with some finger-licking World(Indianised) and local cuisine and of course, a breathtaking view. And beware, stays often get extended here. Those in the mood for luxury can also indulge in some cottage stays with a private butler at your service. Interesting to know – a lot of foreign visitors book some awfully cheap rooms for months and make it their second home.

Hog-culture. Huddled together are many cozy walk-in cafés and shops that make for the most memorable stopovers. Whether it’s Dylan’s Café, where waiting to be seated is the usual, the snug atmosphere of the Lazy Dog, or any roadside shack, their menus offer much more than what’s on the plate. Great company and ambience for instance. And remember, not all bakeries are authentically German.

Whether its an egg puff, a crunchy salad, steaming parathas, momos or even your very own Maggi, everything is like what you’ve never tasted before.

Order for a hookah on the side if you please. Relaxes any cold nerve in your body, is an anytime companion and is sure to take you on another trip right there!

A bargaining act! You’ll find not-so-pocket-friendly silver (but some irresistible pieces) every few steps, cool Tees with cool prints or messages (Rs.200-800), music shops, bike hiring junctions (where you get to see all the dudes and the wanabe type too), endless clothes’ shops and irresistible woolens.

Surprise yourself with some interesting bookshops too that house a lot more than fiction. This is where I splurged. Mind you if you’re an Indian, be prepared to get ignored at the mere sight of the fair-skinned. Sad and comtemptfully true.

Befriend Manali! Like-minded company in Manali is pretty much served on the menu at no extra charge. This town has a myriad of faces that have many a story to tell or an ear to lend.

The smallness of the place, the commonness of purpose (chilling out) creates a good platform for you to join a bunch of strangers at their table or on the road and take it from there. Making friends here is not just the easiest thing to do, but the most ideal one. There are people from Greece, Italy, France, UK and probably every nook and corner of the world including our very own loud Punjab!

Who wants to let go of a cozy hug? Yes, that’s what old Manali feels like. It embraces you with such cozy experiences that you would never want to let go. And that’s a promise. A lot of people from different countries do stay there for long periods, but as an Indian who is always running behind something – that something being work, money, family or just the guilt for having enjoyed yourself too much, even you busy-Indian can’t let go. After a splendid time here, you get greedy and start wondering if you could have a cozy hut of your own here. Well, if any of you do seriously intend to take that plan ahead, I’m ready to be your guest of honour.

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Step into a Stepwell !

In Travels on June 29, 2010 by Ticket, please?

In times of RO purifiers and blah blah, I quenched my thirst for an ancient story with a mesmerizing Stepwell from a bygone era. This is Adalaj Ni Vav at the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

It’s a well, but there is no drinking water available. Exchanging pleasantries with damp smells and a few bats wasn’t exactly the introduction I was looking for. But having overlooked these nags, what you do get to see is an example of function blended so well with the form, that it puts commercial architects to shame. A Vav in Gujarati, means a stepwell – a well that is accessed through many steps.

Built as a resting place for pilgrims and traders by the then Queen, Rudabai, this Vav served more than a utilitarian purpose. Alternatively, you could call it the Facebook of the 15th century. People who came in to fill water or to quench their thirst and rest, would eventually interact and mingle and even trade. So you 21st centurions have no reason to swell about the advent of social networking – the wise Yodas of yesteryears have been there, done that!

Adalaj Ni Vav – An Architectural Marvel


The Adalaj Ni Vav stands as the only major monument of its kind, with three entrance stairs leading to a stepped corridor. These three entrances meet at the first storey, underground, in a huge square platform. There are openings in the many ceilings which make way for good ventilation for the octagonal well. However, direct sunlight does not touch the flight of steps or landings except for a brief period at noon. The structure’s interplay with light is worth a see. Best time to go would be when the sun’s up and when you, are underground.

It is also a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture and design. The cross pollination of creativity brings its rewards in more than the intended area. As a hub that encouraged interaction, business, culture, the Vav stands as an edifice of innovation and craftsmanship that one can only marvel at.

Talking further won’t help unless you see this objet d’art.

Check http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=239489&id=566762036&l=6928e9bba3 and do visit for an experience.

Also, a very small but interesting mirror temple adorns the site. Again, not worth a miss!

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A Shekhawati escapade – Castle Mandawa

In Travels on June 23, 2010 by Ticket, please?

What can I say about a memory that is as fresh as that February morning, and refuses to fade away even after a year? That is Castle Mandawa for you my friends. Highbrows accustomed only to the Udai Vilases and the Devigarhs may retire now itself because this cozy miniature would not live up to the snob-value that you oh-so live by.

But those looking for a night’s getaway from Delhi, for a bespoke royal experience, more so, a palace to yourself, dump your bags in the boot, pick up a few friends or a special someone and head straight to Mandawa, all of 240kms from Delhi. This one doesn’t need a plan. Though you do need to check availability.

Typically, I favour word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends. And they were well versed with my taste and penchant for such cozy getaways. So on an early February morning, a bunch of us take off for a whiff of a royal holiday. The morning mist was a rarity to most of us, but nevertheless quite captivating. The drive is car-friendly and offers sumptuous parathas on the way for a king-sized breakfast. After all, the getting there must be an equally rich experience, isn’t it?

The sheer excitement of the sudden escape, curiosity to seek the unfamiliar, a relaxed mind embracing the morning fog, the company of great music and friends helped us reach the destination with even greater expectations. But we accidentally landed first at a close cousin of our Shekhawati abode – The Desert Resort Mandawa. I find the term Resort disgustingly commercial for my liking, especially after all that royal bragging. So with long faces we step inside to check out the property anyhow. In two minutes flat, we knew we weren’t looking for options.

The small Rajasthani town of Mandawa greets us with narrow lanes, longer purdahs (it is such a sight even today!), bright coloured shops of handicrafts and the warm welcome that an Indian Bazaar can create in the hearts of its visitors. And to our gaping surprise, tucked away in the middle of this hullabaloo is Castle Mandawa! An even narrower lane takes us in to a muddy entrée, tall old walls and a fascinating fortress at the end. Ladies and Gentlemen, we had finally reached our Shekhawati splendour.

The old world charm, the mysterious aura of the castle are enhanced with beautiful and graceful Rajasthani women in joyful bright clothing, peeking out from various corners. The story had begun! Handsome Rajasthani men, with their profound moustaches (the only ones I adore with facial hair) greet us with tilaks, respectful bows and a smiling namaste. Modern living and mannerisms felt quite distasteful at this moment. This is also when we realized how presumptuous we had been in not booking our suites in advance. There was only one Royal suite available and another deluxe room. Of course there was a toss, but did it really matter who took which room, since none of us intended to waste a single moment here. The concierge takes us through a courtyard where women are pounding spices and greet us with their beautiful smiles. Colourful frescoes and arches in the passages lead us to the sprawling residential section of the Castle housing 70 rooms & suites, interspersed with lawns, dignified with an ancient cannon and a pool cum Shekhawati bar tucked in a private corner.

The Royal suite was indeed a feast for the senses with its sheer magnanimity and grandeur, representing the flavours of an ancient era. The bathroom which is a topmost priority wherever I go, is another splendid royal treat and offers you enough space to do a bath-ballet if you’re up for it. A series of arched windows create room for great ventilation and offer some splendid views of the town. After a bathroom that does so much for you, we couldn’t seem to contain the explorer’s instinct and headed out.

Like many restored fortresses, Castle Mandawa is home to tradition as well as contemporary hospitality. Family portraits, antique cannons and arms have many a tale to tell of this family run palace-hotel where tradition still runs strong. It is strongly recommended to explore the Castle at your own pace. Spending leisurely hours over a drink in the colonial verandah is a sure favourite.  A close second is the comfort of the Diwankhana, the formal drawing room decorated with family portraits and a prominent display of antique armour. Such magnificence commands royal poise and mannerisms too. We loved to put up that act, even if just for a bit. The view from the ramparts over the town and the surrounding landscape is an unbounding experience.

There are 70 rooms, a verandah bar, conference facilities and an Ayurvedic centre. The hotel can organize camel and horse rides, jeep safaris, gala dinners, puppet shows and folk dances, theme weddings, turret dinners, and offers a billiards room, pool table, table tennis, vintage car rides and lastly a heritage walk of Mandawa, which sadly did not find its way on our slim itinerary.

At Mandawa, whether it is a quiet breakfast on a terrace offering great views of distant temples, a laid-back lunch in the mural-painted dining room, sharing a drink and interesting conversations in the congenial setting of the verandah bar, or an alfresco dinner under the stars, entertained by Rajasthani folk singers and dancers, every meal becomes a memorable occasion. Though I must admit that my obese expectations from the much heard of Rajasthani cuisine did not match up to a finger-licking experience.

Having experienced all that fare, it was time to bid adieu to this splendour and go back to run our rat-races. Basking in the glory of this short-lived trip, the return journey was a quiet rewind of what was to become an unforgettable memory.

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The Hollywood you would’ve never heard of…

In Travels on June 19, 2010 by Ticket, please?

Before we get going, it is important to unlearn all that we’ve known and fancied about Hollywood. We need to dump our experiences of the many ‘-ollywoods’ too because the one I’m taking you to hasn’t featured on the fanciest of our radars. Rustic. Bright. Carefree. Slum. Idol makers. Large families. No, no this isn’t Danny Boyle’s next. Before we get into this presumptuous mode, let’s just simply step into this vivacious paradox called the Hollywood of Ahmedabad city.

Beautiful, sexy and loud women guaranteed. Lazy and naughty men too. Hordes of children, who grow up along side a school they will probably never go to. Cow dung and filth for an ambience. It is uncouth, it is nose tingling and in spite it of all, its gay abandon is amazing.

Here is a Hollywood where the adolescents are swinging to the latest Bollywood tunes and are very inspired by Bollywood fashion. They all love the camera and pose like professionals. But their warmth lies in their smiles and the cup of chai that they are willing to offer even to a stranger. Interestingly infamous for being a pick-up point dominated by the eunuchs at one point of time, perhaps even still, it is now known for idol making. The Gods must be crazy when they created this lot!

A fight for drinking water everyday. Education – a money wasting means for the rich. They say, someone had to be at the fag end to balance it out. Ha! No education but a great sense of humour for sure. State of living clearly not a priority.

So what are we living for?

“Today”

Don’t you want a better life?

“We have our family, easily earn our daily bread and have wonderful helpful people around us – what can be better?”

Don’t you feel limited due to lack of education and therefore opportunities?

“You get educated – you want to grow more – earn more – you expect more – you get into the rut of this vicious cycle of wanting more and more. It’s like a curse.”

Danny Boyle might actually find his next big O here. Oscar, silly. But in all the excitement to capture the lifestyles of the poor and the infamous, I forgot to ask them the most nagging question – why is this whole hullabaloo of a place called Hollywood? Some friends came to the rescue. One theory says, because it’s an extreme contrast to THE most famous address in the world. Another goes by the kinky ways of the place and the silent prostitution it lives by and ‘Hollywood’ probably appreciates the aura of …let’s just say, the offering! But some common denominators however cannot be missed – the spunk, the bold attitude, the zest for living a chilled out life and even in their extremes, both have many stories to tell.

Come with me on my curious little journey to Hollywood lane at #mce_temp_url#

(http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=236843&id=566762036&l=276020a2fb)

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