Pink bangles and mirrored skirts

After many shameful days when the wifi in my hostel decided to selectively error my blog into nonexistence, today jumped at me with some time to spare.

This post comes after a year and that clearly tells me I’m a traveler who travels far and wide, but whose boundaries reside within the mind. That’s perhaps a cooler sounding way to say I’m merely a wannabe traveler. I plan to travel more in the real world through this year though. I intend to exploit my time in Delhi and take all it can give me. The weekend at Jaipur was one such exploit. 

We were thirteen of us. which is a lot of people to travel together; it becomes a logistical nightmare to consolidate interests and plans and keep everyone happy. We struggled the first day, but managed it well the two days that followed. We stayed at the Zostel – a new traveler hostel chain. The Zostel, after the test it puts you to by hiding itself in quiet, unassuming streets that reveal nothing, does surprise you when you find it. You walk in and it feels like a hug. The young paintings on the wall turned me into a five year old with a new themed room. This little house gave me back all the energy the slow bus ride had sucked out of me. The idea and possibility of meeting new people from far away gave me a kick. The place gives you a comfortable corner to feel safe in after a long day outside.

Jaipur is a pretty city. It has rows of tiny little shops overflowing with happy colors, bright beads and glimmering mirrors – perhaps its way to let you drape yourself in the city’s vibrancy and be a part of it. I like how the lines of stores were unfailingly punctuated with golgappa vendors and lassiwalas. You don’t often see cities that understand the wants of a determined shopper’s tummy.

Our first evening was mostly a stroll along one of the markets which was almost asleep; its owners, I imagined, were at home with their families, consciously inhaling the forgotten air of independence. And we, meanwhile, were letting the street’s scents decide where we walked. Despite being in Jaipur, I decided I needed therapeutic rasam to refurbish my spirits and when Jaipur did manage to succeed, it made me wanna cry and fall in love, a little bit. 

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We started the next day in a way that soothed my superstitious insides: we visited the Birla temple. I had, thanks to my treacherous memory, forgotten I had been there before. I often remember feelings better than I remember facts or events; for you can forget that which is beautiful, but how do you forget the way it weighed you down and caused something on the inside of your body to tingle? Beauty here, for me, wasn’t the white serene outside, it was something about the inside that calmed me down, gave me peace – something I could not dismiss as unfamiliar. The last time I had visited this temple was in 2006 when I was on a school trip. I remember that day very distinctly, I had had what I now see as a trivial skirmish with a girl friend and I remember sorting it out as we walked out the temple. I even remember how the two of us were dressed that day, she in an ankle length white skirt and I in a bright floral shirt and hideously loose pants. I have a way of tucking away little memories from long ago days, to revisit a later day and smile by myself, secretly.

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I value this more because I clicked it stealthily

We visited the City Palace after this. The City Palace is the royal residence of the Raja of Jaipur. A huge part of the complex is now a museum and the residential area continues to be inhabited by the royal family. For me, it was the section of the museum that displayed apparel that captured my attention the most. The outfits were so definitely those that only a King would wear. They were so intricately detailed and evidently regal, they would put everything we wear to shame. I even managed to click a picture of the Raja’s darbar when the guard wasn’t looking. We then walked across the road to the Jantar Mantar, which owing to my stubborn ignorance of science, did not enthrall me too much. As the day slowly tucked itself into bed, it left us in a house full of stories and beautiful people. We had the perfect evening at Dhruv’s house with his lovely family and his majestic but restless peacocks. As darkness set in, we cosied under the night’s sky with soft music, warm conversations and delicious food. Is there anything in this world that’s more precious than nice people?

That night, Zostel eased me into a long, comfortable nap, before I even asked for one. The next morning arrived too early.

The wind that wouldn’t stop hitting me caused me to want to sing; Bhushan, Chaarvi, the auto-driver and I sang and hummed all the way to Jaigarh fort. I loved how I could see the Jal Mahal from a little window on top of the fort. The fort housed one of the biggest cannons of the world. I dismissed its coolness and stared into the surrounding vastness from the points of altitude.  

 

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Welcome is always grand in Jaipur

 

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I like how the windows kill your hope, open to a murderous jump and the road springs out of elsewhere; it tells me I got to figure it all out by myself
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Just then when I clicked, everything turned still, posed for me.

Amber fort was like a pretty world in itself. One cannot pass it without stopping to look another time. Every bit of it was art standing proud and tall, causing me to wonder if such fineness can be recreated today. 

  

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The Majestic Amber Fort

 

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The hall of mirrors. My favorite!

 

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The hall of mirrors. When you look at pieces of mirrors arranged in patterns, little bits of you look back at you.

 

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There were so many birds, they refused to let my frame capture them.
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This picture does no justice to the pastel shades.
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I like pretty windows even more than scenic expanses
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There was magic in the sky that day!

We spent the rest of the day heaping up bags of happy things from the stores in Johri bazaar and other markets teeming with eager people. I, after a point, just strolled on the lit up streets, dancing with the lights that stood out in the evening’s dim and watching people hurry home after the long day. 

I went back to Zostel and let my blanket hug me into a whole night’s sleep. Jaipur was truly beautiful.

 

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All of us.

Falling in love with Paris

This is my entry for a contest organized by IndiBlogger and http://www.yatra.com

Paris will always, always be the first place my mind would run to at the word ‘travel’

This is love before first sight. There are some things you love just from all that you‘ve heard of them, you have a picture- a pretty one placed neatly in the leaves of your memory album. The picture is beyond technology and everything; it lets you step into it. You accept the invite and jump in letting the world around you change magically. Paris has always been my secret land of bliss.

When eighth standard French lessons took me on a promenade on the grand Avenues des Champs-Elysses ornamented on both sides with short barked and large headed trees and buildings that reek of luxury and affluence, which led to L’arc de Triomphe that stood proudly flaunting its magnificence, yet humbly guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier who had lost his life during the First World War and respectfully venerating all those who had fought in the French Revolution, I fell in love. I fell in love with this city, its profound past that had left around traces of itself causing its people to reminisce and its tourists to get curious, its richness that I believe is explicit, its language that sounds to me like liquid marshmallow in pastel shades flowing in fast and slow gushes – a description I cannot rationally justify and its people that I believe should be brimming with pride and its love that I know so certainly is in its air in abundance. I knew that Paris would see me someday staying in its abode, living a temporary but typical life of one that belongs and adding love and mirth to the ambiance thereby making up for any other incompatibility that may stand out and would accept me with its welcoming peck and an accompanying Bonjour.

I would go with my friend, the best one, the same one that’s insanely unreasonable at one point, unbelievably affectionate at another and crazy fun at all other times.

With my strange inability to keep my eyes open and stay conscious while inside a plane, I’m a complete dud for a flight-companion. As typical of me, I’d be a curled up mass, asleep with an embarrassing expression and a diagonally plummeting line on my face formed by drool – a picture that the world and I would see the next day, on Facebook, thanks to you-know-who who had earlier been considerate enough to take a minute off the air-hostess and all the flirting to click a photo. During the long wait for immigration, I would tell him all about Paris including its pronunciation and the evasive silent ‘s’.

We would walk out the Charles du Gaulle airport, discussing the name, collecting free travel-brochures along the way and planning dinner that night. We’d check in to a hotel and quickly walk out luggageless, eager, ignoring the mandatory post-flight change of clothes that cleanliness dictates. We’d walk where the road took us – this would be a planless night, a night to linger, to see the city, breathe it in and fall in love for real, this time. We’d walk past cafes playing slow French music, vendors shouting out French words I would hardly get, dapper men with sharp features, hot women in fashionable clothing and peaceful homes. We’d find a little café at the corner of a deserted street and we’d order for fresh vanilla ice-cream and some steaming coffee. We’d huddle together, to mitigate shivers of the evening chill. I’d look up and all around for a picture to add to my memory-album.

We’d wake up to a crisp, sunny morning. I’d wear a beige ruffled top and a floral skirt. I’d carry along my fav jacket. He’d wear something insignificant, looking at which I’d wonder how one cannot want to be at his best on such a day. Shooting him with some expletive filled sentences, I’d walk out with him into the day ahead. I’d try hard to read as quickly as possible, the French words on hoardings as we zipped past them. Some would bring back to memory French lessons, others would go away meaning nothing. We’d visit Le Louvre first, to stay indoors during the day “To avoid tan” he’d say sounding girlier than I ever possibly could. I wouldn’t mind though, I’d want to wait  for the romantic evening to set in to visit the Eiffel Tower.

Le Louvre and the glass pyramid adorning its entrance would bring back Robert Langdon’s adventures to mind. Mona Lisa would look just like it always did – expressionless, yet so profound. We’d gaze for a while. We would spend sometime at ‘Virgin and Child with Saint Anne’ , ‘The death of Socrates’ and many others. I’d declare ‘The Raft of The Medusa’ (Le Radeau de la Meduse) to be my favorite. We’d walk out slightly in awe, slightly in the excitement of the plans ahead.

Later that evening, we would go to the Eiffel Tower. I would look at it in sheer admiration. The place would be thronged with people quite like me, feeling wonderful to be living that moment. The moment would fill me with emotion, all the emotion I had always associated with my travel plans. This would feel like the perfect point, the perfect place to shed a tear. I would hug the friend, who’d then make a face at my interruption of some serious lens focusing he was doing for the perfect picture. He’d hug back, responding to my overwhelmed state. We’d get a picture clicked by a polite French gentleman. I would know so certainly that this would go on to stay the best moment in life, for a long time.

We’d then decide to go on a cruise on the Seine. I’d gaze at it, thinking of the picture I had in mind when I had studied of the Seine’s exquisite and tranquil view and it would be just that, in actuality. We’d take a cruise offered by Bateaux Parisiens, beginning at ending at the Eiffel. We’d find our receivers to listen to the guide’s commentary. With the illustrious description and the guide’s deep voice, we’d get a glimpse of the whole of Paris. The soft lights lighting up the night would add to the picture, making it unbelievably romantic and beautiful. The mellow, wobbling waves around would make me fall in love another time (I’ve always had a thing for water). I’d remember how my french ma’am told us, back in school, that water – l’eau – is feminine just as all beautiful things in the world are. I’d smile at the memory. 

I would go to bed content that night, knowing I had probably lived the best day of my life.

 

A drive to Hyderabad’s Himayat Sagar Lake

The best trips happen as a consequence of the strongest of impulses. Best drives too, I suppose.

There was Punjabi music. Enjoying it, were more than just the group of Indians around. The TV reverberated to the music it was playing. The air was enthused. It was one of those tunes that hooks on to your mind and refuses to let go of you. To me, unsurprisingly, the song was just a combination incomprehensible sounds in a combo that made me wanna jump up and disco. I couldn’t make sense of a single word, except for the repetitive ‘Long drive pe chal chal’ which I kept singing aloud proudly; it was pride that sprang from my having deciphered the words from the encompassing sounds. The song set the mood. We set off.

It started with Maggi and Chai at DLF. And went on to Himayat Sagar Lake. Just about 20kms from Hyderabad, the lake is known to be one of the must-sees in the city. It didn’t happen all those days when I decided to go out and see all that’s in the list for Hyderabad, it happened this day when Maggi was the first thing on my mind. Never plan, they always say!

The roads were deserted. I sat with my legs on the seat and my backside on the open window and the rest of me outside the window, singing aloud and jarringly all that the car played and swaying to my own singing. The clouds chose not to rain. The winds embraced us, amiably. The drive was impeccable.

We got to the lake. I gazed at the waters, like I always do. Water, I’ve always believed is the most powerful of things. I stared in awe.  It was huge, the lake. It bobbed up and down; every bit of it did, almost in unison. It looked to me like it could not contain itself in its colossal receptacle; like it threatened to break out of it and foist its powerful self on us- weaklings. Or perhaps it was all in my head and the lake was just frolicking all by itself.

Across the road, stubs made of cement had been erected, one every foot along the road. It was fun trying to not lose balance atop a stub. As I gained stability on the stub, I stood there and looked around; all around. You could see nature subsisting in its elemental self. Lights from the far away road, added to the charm. There was nothing exotic about the place; it merely gave us a reason to stop and stare.

I’m glad the TV chose this one of all songs to play, earlier that day.

All of us
All of us

Trip to Maharashtra Part4: Lonavala

You can find Part1 here and Part3 here.

Lonavala, located between Pune and Bombay, is a hill station known for its verdant setting and scenic landscapes.

Only,  the green wasn’t too easy to spot. The lakes were dry; the ground looked desiccated. The weather had no semblance of that of a hill station. I have to admit, we were disappointed. It wasn’t a good time to visit the place, as the driver of the cab we rented, told us. The monsoon would do the place good, I thought to myself.

The view from one of the points, of the valleys nestled between Lonavala and other hills and mountains was in a way, infinite. There are some inherent things that do not easily go unnoticed. Magnificence for instance.

Credits : Suddu
Credits : Suddu

There were a couple of camels around, adorned in rajais (quilts) of bright colors. There was a seating area made atop them, around the hump. We did not take the ride though.

Suddu
Suddu
View of sunset from Tiger point. Credits: Suddu
View of sunset from Tiger point. Credits: Suddu

At Tiger point, the most popular of all the view points, we walked around a park like area, as we waited for the sunset. There were tons of monkeys hoping to find some foodstuff. At 6:35 PM, the sky looked like it had been painted in hues of purple and orange. In the middle, the sun looked ferocious, just a tad bit above the horizon. And as it began to disappear gradually behind the hills, it looked just like all the sceneries I had painted as a little girl. And soon, just the tinted sky remained; the crowd of tourists dispersed. 

Trip to Maharashtra Part3 – Drive around Mumbai

You can find Part1 here and Part2 here

We reached Mumbai the next day. Finally.

Before we got home, we drove to a close-by elevated point with a good view of Hiranandani. Pranav showed me a building which was once the widest in Asia. I sat on the pavement and looked around. After five mins, Nair stamped the butt of his cigarette, putting it out and we left for home. I didn’t feel too alright, it was the traveling perhaps. But there were so many places I wanted to see. For the first time, I had done some research before traveling. Ignoring my feverish feeling, I freshened up and told myself that this was going to be good.

At Costa Cafe
At Costa Cafe

We relaxed at Costa coffee a while. The hot chocolate was soothing; it did my throat some good. We walked across the road to Galleria to grab some food. A couple of hours later, we left for a long drive. Dhivya, one of their friends, joined us.

We went to Bandra first. Bandra West to be more specific. Known all over India for its “urban coolness” and “glitzy shopping”, the suburb was colorful, lively and swarming with riveted girls. We got down at either Linking road or Hill road, I’m unable to recollect. As Chandna had told me earlier, it was a charming place for a stroll in the evening while making occasional entries into random piquant shops. We were evidently late, most of the shops were closing for the day. We managed to find a stretch of shops still open; we began there. We went into shoe shops with promising discounts, lingerie shops and clothes shops. An hour later, we got back to the car and got in, ignoring the unhappy expressions we got from the men.

We then drove via the Sea Link. Pranav explained to me how easy the bridge had made life for anyone wanting to commute between Bandra and Worli. What would have taken one – two hours at the least now took a minute. My fascination for the sea made me sit up and listen intently as I stared outside and upwards fascinated. It was a beauty, the bridge. The city, from the bridge, looked like it was more alive than it was through the day; typical of all that Mumbai is known for. With Nair at the driver’s seat, the drive on the Sea Link lasted less than a minute.

A while later, Pranav showed me Haji Ali Dargah far away in the sea. It shone bright standing out from the dark waters surrounding it. It looked elegant, just like in the pictures, just like I had pictured it. This was the one place I wanted to see more than all others. I wanted to walk on the pathway with the sea ‘s mildly  surging waters hitting the edges. I wanted to walk to the middle and experience all that I had read from pages on the internet. Sadly, we didn’t have adequate time that day. Haji Ali was out of sight in no time. I was shown Mukesh Ambani’s residence, the name of which I later found out, is Antilia. Most of what I could see was made of glass; I’d have never realized it was a residential building, had I not been told so. It was grand, it stood very very high in a funnily disproportional way though. 27 floors I was told. I was amused. After a turn somewhere, Nair pointed to me the stretch of sea along the road. It was Marine Drive.

We parked the car and found a peaceful place to sit. The wall was lined with dykes to assuage the waves. I looked at the waves, like I have always looked at them: amazed. There is something about seas and me, I do not know to explain. I can sit and stare for hours. I could smell the saltiness. My hair could certainly feel the humidity of the sea.

View from our spot at the Marine Drive
View from our spot at the Marine Drive

I was shown the circular building rotating ceaselessly about its vertical axis – the Ambassador hotel. Nair pointed out to a faraway point where the numerous spots of light seemed to end. He said it was the Nariman Point. I remembered that name clearly from the 2008 Mumbai attacks. I let my eyes wander around. Next to me, a girl aged about 12 was trying to get hold of a toddler running around. She looked like the little one’s nanny. Soon, it was time to get going.

We dropped Ajay at Dadar. He got on his bus to Pune. We headed to Hiranandani where I met Pratham, a friend from college, next to one of the fountains. It was nice to see him after a year. We chatted a while and hugged good bye.

As I got home with Chandna, I realized it was a trip for me and just another day for the others – all Mumbaikars.

Trip to Maharashtra Part2 – Road trip to Panchgani

You can find Part1 here

We left the apartment and hurried to the close-by shopping complex named Galleria, to grab some food. I sat on the pillion seat and marveled at the buildings of Hiranandani that stood high and slightly alike with their classy facades. Designed completely in neo classical architectural style, the township flaunted a stark difference from the rest of Mumbai. Hiranandani is known to be the most elegant of the residential townships in Mumbai.

In half an hour, we were in Aaditya Nair’s new car, heading out of Mumbai.

Mumbai apparently wasn’t going to be a respite from Hyderabad’s scorching heat. With its humidity as an added pain, it irked everybody. With shades on and sun screen lotion dabbed all over my face, I was prepared. Chandna and I, we sat at the back and caught up on happenings, friends and gossip. Soon the sun began to retire for the day, thereby lessening the heat. The woofers reverberated continuously as we played some good music and it occasionally sent out fervent vibrations. I jerked suddenly as the back of my seat vibrated. The rear view mirror vibrated, amusing all of us a little. With music and travel put together, I had no reason to frown. It felt like the ideal crazy road trip. In about three hours, we halted at Coffee Day, Pune where Ajay and his friend, Satish would join us.

They arrived. We had a long way to go and light was getting scarcer by the minute. The road to Panchgani wasn’t one to be driven on at the later hours of the day. Most of the stretches were devoid of any form of lighting. Some of them were roads with a good amount of incline, sharp turns and U bends. We went on, relying fully on the head lights. It felt dangerous; even more so to see Pranav and Ajay on the bike. I had my head half out of my elbows rested on the edge of the window; I held my hair band tight as it threatened to fly away. My hair hit my neck unceasingly and made it prickle; it was annoying. Far way, down below lights glistened in the blackness. The horizon was undecipherable. The black with golden dots of fire united smoothly with the beyond sprinkled with stars. It reminded me of Diamonds by Rihanna. How spectacular the world becomes at night, I thought, as I put my head back in to avoid a bad hair next-day.

The "cottage"
The “cottage”

We settled down comfortably at a local eatery as we waited for out parathas to arrive. They were delicious and heavy. The hotel we had in mind was already full that night. We called a couple of other hotels; all went in vain. There was one place though. They had a cottage for 3.5k. After some negotiating, we paid the man 3k and followed him a couple of kilometres to get to some deserted area. After going down a fleet of stairs, we were there; in front of us was the “cottage”. “Is this the rest room?” Nair asked aloud and everyone burst into a cackle. The cottage had one room and a balcony. The room had two beds, one fan at the corner of the room, no water and plenty of insects and flies. The next hour, we spent laughing at our circumstances and at Nair’s cottage-jokes.

I shut the door behind me and sat in the balcony. The quiet was peaceful. I thought about how far away I was from all that I wanted to do in life; something about the silence was powerful and promising. Ajay joined me after a while, we gazed at the valley in silence not realizing an hour go by.

It was time to sleep, I had had a long day.

I woke up in the morning to see that sun was back, glowing in all its radiance. The mist caused the far away hills to evanesce into the sky. The lake in between the valley looked elegant, yet sober; it was blue-grey. The smell of smokes filled the air as one of the others lit up a cig. I sipped in steaming hot tea; it was perfect.

Morning view from our balcony
Morning view from our balcony

We checked out and headed to Mapro Foods. Contrary to the remaining of Panchgani, this place was thronged with people of all ages. The verdant place with   its ponds, huge tents, benches and other accoutrements looked like a mini carnival. The sandwiches were kinda tasty. So were the fresh strawberry and mango ice cream scoops. We bought a box of strawberries and blackberries and left. We decided to halt at a table land like area that shot off the road on the side. Nair went ahead in full speed and as I sat up animated, he swerved the car into a full 360 degree spin, letting a gust of sand fly all around. We parked the car at the edge of the open, unprotected area. Two middle-aged women were relentlessly trying to synchronize high-jumps with the camera click to get a pic of them high up. We stood there a while, watched and giggled.

Restaurant at Mapro foods
The crowded restaurant at Mapro foods

It was a long drive to Pune and it was hot, again. Ajay’s house was certainly welcoming. Painted in soft colours and furnished with low set bamboo couches convertible to beds, bamboo stools and a hammock, the apartment was lovely and it felt like home instantly. We spent the day lazing on his couch and listening to good music. There was so much of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons; it became the song of the trip, pretty much.

That next day was Chandna’s birthday. We went to a nice place with a lot of furniture almost huddled together in the small expanse, quite symbolic of the crowds that thronged the place. Funny paintings occupied most of the walls. I got hyper when I recognized the tune as one of Avial’s songs. It felt like college again; we sang aloud merrily. I met some more of their friends; we had a fun time. Hotel California was played, dedicated to the girl turning 23 that night. It was past twelve, it was time to leave. I came back with Ajay on his bike, giving in to my fondness for bike rides at night. It was a spirited night with pictures, cake and loads of happiness.

All of us!
All of us!