Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram

The first glimpse of Kailasanathar temple

Heading to the Kailasanathar temple, one has to leave the crowded roads of the main town emerging into village like areas of the district, bringing with it a distinct feel of calm. The first glimpse of Kailasanathar temple with its huge green lawn - the stamp of the ASI - although repetitive, has a similar effect. Since the temple is under ASI, full fledged worship (vazhipaadu) and pooja's are not allowed. A priest comes and performs minimal rites twice a day.

The courtyard around the temple lined with pillars

The temple is all done in a sort of sand stone or lime stone. If you have been to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram, the resemblance between the two - both in terms of material of construction as well as architectural style is unmistakable (yes, even to the untrained eye!). The inner walls of this temple are covered with sculptures depicting different stories. Even this had a distinctiveness as each sculpture seems to be encased in a mandap of its own and bordered by thin pillars.

One sculpture that caught our eye was this one, primarily for the hair style resembling that on buddha. Buddhism was just about getting prominence around this time, and maybe this was an evidence of its influence on the Pallava rulers!

A sculpture on the wall

The British, during their time, apparently attempted some sort of a restoration effort, however ended up ruining the homogeneity of the temple. While it is not clear who really was the cause for the destruction, you cannot miss the evidence of failed restoration efforts.

Remains of paintings on the walls

The priest who was there kindly gave us a brief on the temple. Legend goes that Lord Vishnu worshipped Lord Shiva here. Vishnu had just destroyed a demon, who also happened to be a devout worshipper of Shiva. Therefore his penance here was for cleansing himself of the sin of destroying a Shiva worshipper.

Another interesting belief is that of the cycle of life. The passageway around the inner sanctum in this temple is blocked at the entrance and in the exit - with only a one feet tunnel like opening to enter the passageway. You have to crawl through these small tunnels in order to go around the sanctum. The belief is that, once you have crawled through these two tunnels, you have left your sins behind and have been reborn.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chaatwala on the Street

This peanut chaatwala was the source of nibbles for many of the audience through a play at Horniman's circle. When we left the circle garden at about 10.30, the place was nearly deserted. Except for him. He was still sitting around, chating with his friend, and still doing his thing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Monotonity... and Then This!

The week has been horrible. Monotonous. A sense of restlessness weighed down only by inertia. Sometimes, you just indulge in a bout of boredom hiding under the excuse of purposelessness of everything. From drinking coffee to reading a book to planning a vacation. It was scary for a while, that just for the few days of doldrums, nothing spiked my interest or energy levels.

And then this arrived.

I recently decided to join the library service launched by my company (aah, I wouldn't call it a return to normalcy yet, but more the 'the ship is sinking, but we'll make your last moments very pleasurable!' effort). All we need to do is log in and place our orders - and the book is deleivered to ur doorstep - all wrapped perfectly in glass paper. Ahh the pleasure of ripping apart the cover - feels like it's gift opening time everytime! Anyways - this one just arrived today, and I have hardly been able to contain myself. May be, just may be, this would be my summer destination of 2009.

Reminds me - time I started making a wishlist!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Land of Thousand Temples, Kanchipuram

My mother has a strange fascination over Kanchipuram. It's difficult to ascertain exactly when in the last few years, this small crowded temple town got its hold upon her, but it has. Ever since then, Kanchipuram has been thrown at us as an all-stop-panacea. Out of sorts, want to go to a temple? Kanchipuram. A day out from Chennai? Kanchipuram. Do you have particular plans when you come down from Mumbai to Chennai? No? Then, Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is a standing joke between my sister and me, both of us always desisting my mom's urges to visit the town. But it seems like my mom has made some kind of a convert of my dad ... he patiently gives her company on her expeditions, though his un-religiousness remains intact.

In the last couple of years, my parents have discovered several temples in this town through their frequent visits. So, when my mother first mentioned the Kailasanadar temple, my interest was piqued. Plus, I wanted to explore some old and lesser known temples myself (yes, getting to know my roots). And so we went in search of a particular Guru temple (where he is present with his spouse, a rarity, it seems) and of course Kanchipuram for a day.

Idols outside Kailasanadar Temple

My mom is probably the perfect company if you wanted to 'temple' - she can tell you the stories behind the temples, the gods. This is of course as long as you have the patience for the single mindedness of a true devout. The nandanar story of Chidambaram was my favorite. The story of Mayiladuthurai, of different nayanars (or followers of shiva), the story of how the Thiruvasagam was written. Visiting temples for me is always tied up with listening to these tales of devotion, gods conquering the asuras or of divine romance, stories listened to with the same fascination as for fairy tales. Visiting Kanchipuram was just like the old times.

Kanchipuram is called the city of thousand temples. Among the 'puranada' temples or ancient temples, there are 108 Shiva temples and 19 Vishnu temples. Did you know that The Kamakshi Amman temple in the center of the town is the only shrine for the goddess in the town? Kamakshi is believed to be a form of shakthi or supreme power. Kanchi's Kamakshi, along with Madurai's Meenakshi and Kasi's Visalkshi are three epitomes of the shakthi forms. Exemplifying her importance, none of the Shiva temples in Kanchi have the usual secondary shrine for the goddess. Interestingly, all the Shiva and Vishnu temples have been built in a way that these deities all face the Kamakshi. Yes, Kamakshi appeals to the feminist in me.

The Gopuram at the entrance to the Kamakshi temple

It would be hard to cover all the temples in Kanchi at one shot. We managed to visit the Kailasanadar temple and Vaikunda Perumal temple, but had to miss the Ulagalanda Perumal temple, amongst others we hoped to cover. Without doubt, this one and several others have been put on the list for another time. There is also a Chola excavation site just outside of Kanchi - the name eluudes me for the moment - but, that has also been put off for another time.

Oh, yes, there will always be a next one to Kanchipuram, what with my mom threatening to retire here!

A flower seller at the entrace of the temple at Govindavadi

Lighting a lamp

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Memories from Yesteryears

Last weekend, my sis and I were rummaging through some of cartons at home, all ready to be shifted into the new home when I caught sight of my slam books from school. I couldn't remember the last time I had laid eyes on them and of course we stopped midway through the rummaging to dig into memories of yesteryear's.

A lots of things that I couldn't remember - a really long long emotional 'won't ever lose touch' goodbye from my best friend... and no we haven't. :) Lesser emotional write-ups from others. Called a hard nut to crack by one, impulsive by another. Unbelievably, I have actually added slots in my slam book for classmates to fill in their crushes, the boys they were teased with and their embarrassing moments. What's more interesting is that all my friends have with dedication filled those out - priceless !

I had also filled the first page out in a 'this book belongs to me, and a bit about me' fashion (no, i didn't fill in my crushes or my embarrassing moments), but interestingly I have written that I want to travel the world. And I just can't remember wanting it back then. Of course, I was totally jealous when a friend went to the US for a whole summer vacations and she wasn't even half as excited as I was. And I was always the first to line up for school excursions - turtle walks, trekking in Himalayas, Lakshadweep. Of course, I also wanted to be a computer engineer... hehe, and we all know how that dream turned out!

Anyways, always fun to look back.

note to self: scan pics fron the by gone age. Can't be forgetting what I used to be!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Diner Trivia - Alice's, Ellen's

The other day, (as a part of the random browsing I always find myself doing) I was trying out this new website which allows you to make lists -lists of activities, sights to see, places to eat, shop. The lists could be like '10 shopping stops in Manhattan', or 'on the Moroccan food trail in NY'. I found the idea very interesting - it is a variation of other travel websites and opinions, but a list based on a theme is kind of like having a custom theme based tour made for you.

Anyways, I was trying this website and I for some reason decided to add Alice's to my list on 'California road trips'. I was looking for an image to go with my write-up which is when I ran into this...

"Named after the song, Alice's Restaurant, made famous by Arlo Guthrie, this Alice's Restaurant is a true country diner gem. While it may not be the original restaurant the folk singer sang about, it has an unmistakable charm.The building the restaurant is in, was originally built in the early 1900's and served as a general store t0 support the logging industry in the area. What had been called "Four Corners" was then turned into a restaurant. The building was eventually purchased by Alice Taylor, who renamed the restaurant after herself, and the song. The restaurant was sold again in the 1970's and has been family owned ever since. On summer days you can see long lines of bikers, stopping by for one of the fabulous burgers on the menu."

Who knew there was a story lurking behind this place! Sadly, I have no photo's of this place. But you can check some out here.

While we are on the topic of diners, here are some snapshots from Ellen's Stardust. I went there once again with my friends (on my trip to NYC this year April).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On the Markha Valley Trail: Sun burns and a Snow Storm

Day 6: Thachungtse to Kongmaru La Base camp

Being prepared (aaah – I refer to the mental make-up here) can make all the difference to a difficult day and it did to yesterday. The stretch from Thachungtse to Kongmaru La base camp (the base camp comes after crossing the pass at 5200 meters) could have easily contended with day 2 for the ‘most toughest day’ spot. Not that it didn’t. But the going was made easier simply because we knew what lay ahead. And we prodded along slowly but steadily to that end.

The actual stop on this stretch is usually at Nimaling – a meadowland half way before the pass. But instead our guide thought we should take the pass the same day to make out last day easier. I was frustrated. Out in the middle of nowhere I had nothing but my guide’s word to make an informed decision. I know I make it sound like a life and death decision – but it was an important decision. Anyway, we had a horse with us again – so we decided to cross the pass.

Nimaling was pretty – a green clearing cradled in the valley, but not spectacular. But it is also one of the coldest spots on the entire trail. An Indian trekker we met on the route mentioned that if it rained in Leh for two days together, Nimaling would see snow. And our luck (or lack of it), we got to see some as well.

What was spectacular was the view of Kang Yatse which crept in behind us as we hiked the pass. We were huffing and puffing our way up from Nimaling, took a break at the flat land that breaks the climb, to turn around and see the KangYatse towering over us, as if it had sneaked behind to shout boo-hoo! It was a breathtaking moment. Once on the pass, we were greeted with a welcoming snowfall. Though it hurt and felt a bit like ice rather than snow. None of us were dressed appropriately (talk about lack of etiquettes :)) – but it was a downhill climb and we somehow made it to the base.

The smokin mokin Kang Yatse

We were the only ones in the camp and I loved it for that. It rained endlessly through the night and today when we woke up, we could see the mountain tops that we had passed by yesterday covered with snow – not capped but like the sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake. We were happy that that part was behind us.

The team at Kongmaru La as we set off for our last day trek to Shamsumdo

Day 7: Kongmaru La base to Shamsumgdo

We just finished dinner and admired the clear night sky for the last time. For the last time, M and I laid out our tent, aired our sleeping bags. It is hard to believe that five days ago I was doubting our chances at finishing the trail. And here we are, in the end. I am happy we did it, sad it is over.

Our last day of setting the tent ritual

Today’s landscape was one of the prettiest – an interplay of pinkish rust and green throughout. A change from the barren browns of the initial days and the greens of the small villages we crossed. These mountains are fascinting. And walking through the heart of this ranges for the last 7 days, an experience. And each day has been different. In some places, they have the gnarled appearance of an old man's hands - all wrinkled and veins popping out. Sometimes, they are sharply cut with a metallic sheen, as if shaped by a diamond-cutter. Sometimes, they are smooth slopes of small infinite pieces of gravel creating varying hues as if from a painter's brush. Some have the look of clay, all ready to curmble to the lightest of touch.

Me on the pink and green trail

I worry that I may not remember every single sight of the last few days. Already, the scenes are overlapping from their compartmentalized days they are supposed to neatly fall into. But as long as I can bring back some, if not all of the images, call upon some breathtaking moments and of course, incredible maggis......

And of course, there will always be the photos! :)

On the Markha Valley Trail: Dark Clouds, A Drizzle and Hot Pakoras

Day 5: Markha to Thachungtse

I dozed for three hours this evening and am still all ready to go back to bed – once I finish this quick write-up.

Today’s trail was gentle – a bit of ascent, a bit of descent. The skies are cloudy and I hope it doesn’t rain – which it exactly does. Our initial itinerary had this broken down into 2 days with a stop in Hankar. Can’t imagine why, especially as we managed the bit to Hankar in three hours.

Another 'Mani' wall - that is the wall where the pile up slabs with a buddhist prayer, found near stupas

The prayer slabs on the wall

An old lady adn her grandson we saw on the trail. She actually came and asked me money for the photos I took.

Two river crossings and five hours later we are at Thachungtse by 2 in the afternoon. We encountered a light drizzle on the way – so me and M hurry with our tents. Our troublesome cook has suddenly turned friendly and made pakoras. Hot pakoras in the rains… we are in heaven in heaven.

With nothing to do, we decide on a quick evening nap – only to be woken up by the rains. It’s not heavy, but from within the tent it seems like a storm raging upon us. However… sleep overtakes. Until dinner and a write-up waits…

It is still drizzling outside. The camp looks beautiful with the last of the sunlight fading away, and star making their entrance. And us surrounded by dark mountains, nestled in V between their slopes, with lighted tents dotting the landscape.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

On the Markha Valley Trail: A Pass and Some Plains

Day 3: Over the Ganda La Pass to Skiu via Shingo

I want to say we woke up after a log like sleep after a long day, but sadly was not the case. I kept tossing around and waking up breathless to find my heart racing like mad. Deep breathing brought no results. I was sure I had AMS. My other friend had breathlessness and headache and the other friend didn’t sleep at all.

The campsite at Ganda La base

So we were the Bright Brady Bunch next day morning! However, we had learnt something the previous day and slowed our pace to match our breathing. And tackling the pass first thing in the day was a plus. M was on a horse and we were all ok. After the pass was a whole day of descent – I don’t think we relished any other stretch as we did this one.

Nestling a cup of tea and a bowl of maggi at Shingo, we relished the cross over of the pass. And also had one of the most interesting conversations in the trail with a frenchman. He was solo trekking with no guide or horses and living of t-stalls and the homestays, all through the trail. I was very impressed. He talked about he saw the Taj from afar to avoid the “tourists” (:), his trip to Pangong by bus and how Leh was too hippy. The last bit came as a surprise, as we may have mistaken him off as one (interesting to realize that so far, my definition of hippy was a foriegner dressed in hare rama kind of clothes!). He also chatted about the nuke deal and surrounding drama and the Jammu problem. I was surprised by how much he was tuned into the going-ons in India. Philosophy prof, we ended our chat by wondering if 2 months vacations were good for kids or not.

Evening was interesting – the entrance to Skiu was like a scene out of Indiana Jones (and the Last Crusader – the only one I have seen), a shower in a solar shower which was of course not working and a night under the most star-dusty skies I have ever seen...

Ibex heads welcoming us as into Shingo

Day 4: Skiu to Markha

Finally! A night of solid sleep and none of the breathlessness. We have been hitting the sleeping bags by 9 and waking up by 6.30. A schedule I haven’t seen in ages. I am lovin' it.

Today’s route was to be on flat plains. We were looking forward to that. Barely 20 minutes after beginning – we ran into an old woman – a really old wrinkled woman. Our guide who dedicatedly greets every passing by guide, fellow Ladakhi or tea-stall owner chatted up with her. We learned that she was going to Markha from Skiu – our “trek” for the day. She had this frayed, old, teeny weeny backpack – the one which teenagers carry around for carrying absolutely nothing. She was on her way to either get her knees checked or get her spects fixed (that was lost in translation). But she was going to wobbly walk her way to it.

I was amazed, amazed at the way of life in this unconnected region. I wonder what life would have been to grow up in a place like this, to have grown up with weekends spend rambling in mountains and wilderness. Like Heidi. Like Gerald Durrell. Like our guide here.

Canyon like rock faces on the way to Markha

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the Markha Valley Trail: The Proverbial Last Mile

Route: Jinghchen To Ganda La Base past Rumbak via Yurutse

“Gruelling” was the only way to describe day 2. Today we set off from Jingchen past Rumbak, Yurutse to the base of Ganda La (pass). From a height of roughly 3900 meters, we ascended to 4200 meters according to our guide. The guide book notes that the base camp is at a height of 4500 meters and for all our sakes, I hope that is in fact right. The actual pass is at a height of 4900 m – so still some way to go. All these numbers which were mere numbers have begun to take significance of their own.

Before leaving for Leh, the Markha Valley Trail (marked as moderate) seemed very simple. I kept looking for ways to extend the treks, include places to cover more and see all that we were supposed to see. Today – that has all changed. 8 hours as such is not hard, but add to that a group of first-time and moderate trekkers, and a steep incline – the picture looks very different. And shortness of breath, can be a real speed breaker.

If the saying “the last mile is also the toughest” ever held true, it was today (not sure if it is really a saying, but nevertheless). I remember the exact moment when we reached our end point or what we thought was our end point. Only to find that our horses had found this site unsuitable to their fancies and had decided to camp a few hundred meters ahead in the second campsite!! Every step after that is etched in my memory! Our guide’s view “every step today is step lesser tomorrow”. While it was hard to argue with that logic and his smile, it didn't make it any easier!

PS 1: All qualms about an “elaborate” staff (yes, the presence of cook versus a cook-cum-guide counted as elaborate, not really, but somewhat) have been squished. The extremely watery Maggi and pickle waiting for me was like heaven. (Yes, Maggi and pickle!)

PS 2: For tomorrow, my friend (who has half a mind to cut the trek short at Skiu) is taking the horse. I hope that works, I would hate to turn back!

Red clashing with brown

The lonely Chorton (or Stupa), among the many we saw

Green fields at Yurutse

Friday, September 26, 2008

On the Markha Valley Trail: A Smiling Guide, Four Horses and a Sprightly Donkey Later

"The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched the Argentine soil. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once was. All those wandering around "Our America with a capital A" has changed me more that I Thought". ~ 'Che' Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

(As written on 18th August)

Finally, today we are embarking on our Markha valley trek. I know I sound like we have been waiting ages for the trek to begin, though it has only been three days. I guess I have been a little worried that we may not get to do it at all.

We began by getting the band together – the horseman, guide, and we were surprised to find a cook thrown in to the mix as well. The ‘preparatory activities’ at some level came as a shock – it seemed like we were taking way too many things contrary my intention of taking as less as possible and going basic. The sight of loading these animals with kerosene cans, stoves and tent equipment wasn’t the prettiest. They are the beasts of burden, but some looked so ill-fed and unkempt that we were worried about some animal activists locking us in. At some level, we began to wonder if this was the best way to have gone about it. We ended up with 4 horses and yes one sprightly donkey. The donkey, despite the weight on it's back, was jumping around like a scatter-brain scared out of its wits. Quite cute really.

I was unsure if Markha would do justice to the beauty that Ladakh had to offer. The first hour put to rest all these doubts. After walking through a short green patch, we emerged on to a desert like flat land. This stretch ran along small towns like Phey and Phyang on side and was bordered by rambling mountais on the other, capped by azure skies on the top. This stretch extened for like an hour before we landed on to the narrow trail cutting across the mountain slopes.

As we set off

A group of horses in the distance

The stark mountains intermingled with vast patches of desert like sand sweeping the slopes, the wonderful play of brown, the numerous shades and shapes. The Sind gave us company for the initial part of the route – it is surprising, but I would have never imagined that a brown river could look so beautiful and so right at home.

Veins cut into the mountains

Rafters on the Sind

We crossed a french couple with whom we got chatty. J was upset they had more donkeys in his group than horses (:)). Yes, it is always nice to have mighty beasts to spruce travel tales. It was nice chatting up with them - and the first of interesting people we met on the trail. J also had ridiculously long number of vacation days, which we faithfully felt jealous of! Not only that, his job allowed him to travel crazy - he was off to Burkina Faso after Ladakh!

Our stop for the day was Jingchen. But having reached Jingchen at an early hour of 3 in the afternoon, we wanted to plough ahead to our next stop 4 hours away. Our cook had already set up camp and refused to budge. He seemed to think he was the boss of the group and well, we didn't really know how to impress otherwise. I was now regretting leaving behind my reading companion in an effort of travelling light. But as you can see, I have put these free hours to good use – thoughts have never before flown the way they do today - fresh from the experience and free of after thoughts and hind sights.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Through Coffee and Chaos, We Made History

In a matter of days, my world has been turned 360 degrees several times around and if possible upside down as well. It would be unreal and unnatural and just, well, unreal for me to carry on with my Ladakh trip accounts, without making a note of these events – which have left their mark on not just my life but I would think world financial history as well. Hell, for all you know, I could be a part of a HBR case study – alright, may be the part that gets lost between the lines, but definitely a part. So, in the duty of dutifully recording the most important events in my life, here I go.

You may be aware (honestly, I wouldn't blame you if you weren't), we just witnessed what could be THE financial crisis of "our time". Yes, I hear people are talking about this debacle in the same breath as 9/11. (:) (I know I joke, but it is not every day that you are a part of something this big, even if it is big in a screwed up kind of way!) And I have been a spectator, but a spectator from the inside simply from the virtue of being employed in one of these firms. The recent demise of my firm however has of course drawn me from the audience right into the battle field.

It all started two weeks ago when we saw our public standing see a rapid descent in a matter of days. While the gods convened, we, the lesser mortals remained glued to our screens tracking the minutest flickers in the pulse of our survival, and the craziest of speculations, all the while wondering, and actually joking about our future. Time was filled with rounds of coffees, meetings and discussions. By Friday, we knew. From “business as usual”, we had progressed on to “business no more”. I find myself, once again, seeking refuge under the word “unreal” to describe the mood, but unreal it was.

September 15th, Monday. That morning brought a whole dose of reality. Hearing “I am sorry” from my boss was not the best wake up call I have had in years. We were left to the only other choice available – to break ourselves into parts and put each up for sale. The days that followed have been the most surreal of all – clearing and saving the remnants of our past. Coffee and discussions continuing ....

Just as each passing day has brought new developments, it has also brought about a change in our attitude and standing. We have been disappointed by what we believed in. For all the one firm philosophy that was brandished, it was the each man for his own attitude that survived. The bright spots have been the support and concern extended by the people we work with and friends.

As for me, I still wait. Out of pure inertia and nothing more. (And of course the absence of enticing job offers at the moment - and not for the lack of trying!) This definitely puts a spoke into my 2-year plan (or rather at least 2-year plan). However, all is not over - not yet. And of course, I continue to worry that I have still not had the opportunity to brandish my photos from Ladakh...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Towering Into The Clouds

I know, I know! For someone who just came back from Ladakh, instead of flooding my blogs with pictures, I've been dousing it with words. My laptop has crashed sadly - with no signs of revival in the near horizon. Unless of course the random laptop repair guy I called today proves to be a jem! What you see below is one of the first photos I uploaded - consider it a preview for the full show!

The mountains outside of Leh

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Familiarity of Leh

(As written at the Airport, waiting for the flight to Mumbai)

Two weeks of crisscrossing with this city at various instants to acclimatize, just rest between journeys, search for travel agents, trip deals and drivers, trying out its various German bakeries, walking down its sinuous gully-ways. By the time we left this place, Leh almost had the familiarity of a city lived in.

One day as we were walking out of Zar-la, our residence in Leh, we noticed a small board which said ‘shortcut to market’. It was a narrow gully leading to the market crossing fields, other houses and gutters. Though we later conceded, that these were really not “shortcuts”, but nevertheless fun exploring them. On our first visit to the Shanthi Stupa, we were once again guided to a narrow gullyway, which on the way back we truly lost. But we still managed to figure our way back.

Leh's Gullies

There was the scarf shop man, who would wave every time I walked past his shop and invite us in over for chai. The day we came back from our trek, we were out hunting for a deal to go to Nubra and Pangong. And we turned around to ask a taxi driver for some directions and there was our Jumma ji. Jumma was the driver who took us for our first couple of road trips. We had had a great time on those trips. His favorite question used to be “trek jaake kya karoge – mein aapko nubrak leke jaathi hoon, whana bahuth kuch hai” (what will you do going on a trek, I’ll take you to Nubra). It was fun listening to his description of tourist, the place and little titbits we gleaned about his life. The first thing he told us when we ran into him was that 'Aapka rishtedaar bi nahi pehachanega' (even your relatives are not going to recognize you now!). It was like running into an old friend.

Then there was the Mero travel agent, another person we kept running into after the trek. He didn’t think we'd make it beyond the second day of the trek (a thought that might have echoed through us to at some point on the trek). And then we'd stand there reminiscing about our trek or he'd tell us some of his experience. And of course, there always seemed to be some of our fellow travellers whom we kept running into. We got to know a few quite well; With others it was just a quick wave.

Yes - I'd say the familiarity we developed and meeting new people was one of the best things about Leh and this vacation.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Last Day, Lasting Thoughts at Leh

(As captured on 30th August, our last day at Leh)

Today is our last day in Ladakh and Leh. We are sitting at Penguin – a café we seemed to have frequented the most. There is lovely music playing in the background – what seems like South Indian classical fusion, though the café manager claims it to be Nepali. Quite a change from the Buddha beats which seemed to be their favorite.

Yesterday, on the way back from Pangong Tso, I was panicking. Pangong was our last trip in Ladakh, and right towards the end as we were returning back Leh, I was driven by this sudden urge to photo-shoot like a mad woman. Had I clicked every single moment, recorded every memory? My friend, M, sitting opposite to me refuses to even listen to my already beginning ‘post vacation’ cribs. She doesn’t want to talk or even think about the Monday morning that’s up ahead of us, not until she absolutely has to.

I have heard of people saying that their vacation was a total break from reality – and this one was truly like that. Maybe it was the length of the trip – fifteen days seems to have been enough for us to completely break from all things familiar. Or maybe it was fifteen days with nearly no cell connection, no TV, no news (for some of reason, none of us even really thought of picking up the paper even while in Leh), barely any connection to the world we left behind except for quick calls home assuring family that we were indeed alive. Or maybe it was simply Ladakh - long hours spent hiking, or driving and just soaking in the beauty of these mighty ranges, the nights spent lost in one of the best night skies we have ever seen.

The iPhone 3G has been launched in India, Bihar has seen a flood, J&K is worse off, Salman and Shah Rukh seemed to have made up, and Air Deccan is no longer Air Deccan. A lot has happened.

The hope for today is to laze around at Leh Café. Maybe chew on a book. And maybe search for stoles and jewelry to break the monotony of lazing around. A one last visit to the Shanti Stupa for a view of Leh sprawled below and the unreality of the mountains would be a perfect ending. A day of endless possibilities...

PS: Yes, we made it to Shanthi Stupa for one last time after all...

PS 2: Did I already mention it? It was glorious 15 days! And reality hurts!

Lying down on the terrace of Shanthi Stupa on our first visit

The lay of Leh beneath us

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ladakh Calling...

Yes. It has been calling out to me for a while. Since a friend's motorcycle trip couple of years back. Since my trip to Sikkim. Since my realization, life is too dynamic and anything can happen waiting for another opportunity. Since I read Pico Iyes's "Heaven's Gate" on the NY Times travel magazine. And when a close friend from undergrad and a colleague signed up, it was a definite sign. We were going to Ladakh this summer. :)

I have been waiting to blog about the upcoming trip, since it was more or less decided. But you know the thing about counting-chickens-before-they-hatch. However, last week, we finally made the formal "commitment" and booked our flight tickets into Leh and back! I can't wait - fifteen days just to revel in, soak in and take in the mountains.

In the book, 'Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', the author explains why he does not like road trips in a car. I can not recollect his exact words. But in essence he says, being in a car, you are in someways disconnected from the environment you are in. You are an outsider watching the landscapes, while not being a part of it yourself. I feel exactly the same way (though I know a lot of people who are road trip crazy won't agree to this). And so I hope, (dearly hope) to see the mountains as much by foot.

On the other hand, trekking the place also means I cover lesser area, lesser places in the same time. Already I have people asking me "You aren't doing the Leh-Manali route? But you have to! It is one of the best roads ever". Or, "You have to go to Nubra or .....". While they say it with good intentions, and are probably right about those places, I wish people understood that at some level, every trip is different, and every traveller different. For some, it is to see all that they can see. For some, it is to see one thing but see it well. Sometimes, you are lucky, and you do a bit of both. Sometimes, you take the chance to see a not-so-talked-about place, but are unlucky, and end up spending time in a place you didn't like. Some like long sumo journeys, some don't. Some are budget travellers, doesn't matter what their bank balance. Some are the luxury travellers, doesn't matter what their bank balance. And sometimes, you are simply good with your travel research and have your reasons for what you chose to do. (:))

It's hard enough, that when you plan a trip, it is more easy to find tons of places people praise about, rather than find places people honestly say they didn't vibe with or didn't care about. So, even as you research and sternly tell yourself, you want to do quality vs. quantity, somehow the quantity bit keeps popping up in your head urging you to squeeze more in that you can. And then, if I were honest with myself, there is that need to bring back badges, stories and adventures. I already find myself lured into places simply because that guide book says "From here you can see the mighty peaks of the Karakoram", just so I can bring back names and moments others can ooh aah to.

When I started on the "research" for this trip, I called up Mridula, travel blogger and honorary advisor (:)) for her insights. I asked her "There seems to be so many regions to go to, and each raved as very beautiful and seems to fall in the cannot-miss category. Can you order them in your opinion which is the best, most beautiful to go to?". She said, "Each and every part of Ladakh is beautiful. It won't matter. Don't worry, you are just going to love it." I loved her answer.

Anyway, I hope to keep both above-mentioned urges at bay, and do what I really really really want to do - take our time, and trek the mountains. It doesn't matter if the trail chosen is a disappointment or if it is plain regular. And with time to spare, we may ultimately do the road trips too!

If you are wondering, all the "I"s in the post, and where is the "we", well, this is what I want to do ideally... But, won't know until it all unfolds!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Random City Photos...

In need of a friend

I saw this fellow as I was criss crossing through Greenwich village and West village. He was patiently waiting for his owner to return, who I presumed was picking up something from the nearby bakery or grocery store. The neighbourhood was filled with owners walking their dogs, playing with them. They all appeared to be the working kind, I wondered how they took care of their pets during the day. Sigh! I could do with some company and love and affection from a four feeted, tail wagging, adoring eyed friend...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Shopping Pilgrimage, NY

"So, did you travel around when you were in New York? "

Me : "well, you know, my trip gets so hectic with work and meeting friends, there's hardly time to plan... "

"So what do you do then on weekends?"

Me: "ah well... just exploring neighbourhoods... and walking around... and well, (sheepishly) shopping!"

Ok -I confess! It has been all about shopping and shopping, that I have hardly bothered even thinking about stepping outside and exploring new places. I have been to New York twice, and both times, it has been like a trip to the Mecca of fashion. I am almost possessed to make sure I have seen, tried, shopped (where I can) and window shopped all that I can. Well, shopping is another flavor to experience a city by. And definitely, shopping in New York has been an experience.

The city is all about brands -Gucci, Prada, Dolce Gabana, Ralph Lauren, and their slightly smaller cousins - Kenneth Cole, Nine west, Aldo, Sephora, Ann Taylor. I am not a brand conscious person myself, and pride myself on several (actually I should say mostly) "brand-less" great "buys". But there is that kick to be able to indulge in an expensive brand without worrying about the economics. Once in a while, instead of looking at the price tag and walking away, you want to say "what the hell, I like it, I want it, so I am going to get it". I love it! (Of course, this didn't apply to Saks or the ralph lauren's where I ended up doing what any sel-respecting shopper would do - take an "I've been to Saks" photo!)

Yes! We can't stop shopping.

And most importantly, I just love the variety available in terms, of sizes, cuts, fits... it is amazing what they can do to a simple white blouse! And the idea that my size falls into a more "average" range and the fact that I can find a beautiful fit in almost any shop I walk into most often makes up for the relatively expensive price tags.

A Ralph Lauren window display in West Village

There is shopping. Then there is this window shopping. Window shopping is a lot more fun, simply because there is no pressure to find something immediately. And of course, the real twist is that you should leave room for the chance that you may actually buy something. Setting out with a clear mindset of "not to buy" could be a damper. Anyways, so while there was shopping, there was also window shopping.

Random window displays in West Village

On one weekend in my last trip, I was in West Village. The idea was to window shop and explore the neighbourhood. I kept getting drawn into these quaint boutiques dealing in body oils and perfumes and the likes. Just losing yourself in the heady mix of fragrance in these places is amazing. And the shop attendants, donned in aprons introduce you into an unknown world of self indulgence as if they themselves were the creators of each of these concoctions.

The last one I entered was Sabon. Dim-lit, and designed with an antique touch, lined with bottles of body lotions, bathing salts and hand made soap. As soon as I entered, the person in charge asked me if I wanted a hand wash? They were offering free samples of bathing salt for a hand wash. I was then offered an array of flavors to choose from. He explains "oh, that is the patchoulli vanilla lavender, my personal favorite. I usually don't prefer vanilla myself. But just a touch of lavender balances the sweetness", "smell this, don't you love it?", "and this just has a subtle nutmeggy fragrance", and then proceeds to paint a picture of how each would work wonders. The hand wash was followed with matching lotions and of course flattery on how soft my hands now felt. I almost swooned at the indulgent sales pitch I had, and yes, there is a vanilla lavender body creme sitting on my dresser.

Inside Sabon

Just as much as this self-pandering variety of shopping can be an experience, so can hunting in smaller localities and tucked-in-a-corner-shop be. Last year, I checked out a sunday market right in the middle of 7th av. With stalls selling crepes, kashmiri carpets, the best of Dolce Gabana handbags for $20 and bohemeian jewellery, it almost reminded me of the fairs (the annual shilparamam sale in Hyderabad, the Linking road or Colaba Causeway market in Mumbai, Panthean road/Beasant Nagar beach Chennai for the best cotton there is and pondy bazaar in Chennai) back in India. And of course, there was also an half a day escapade to China Town, for hand bags and stone studded rings that we ended up falling in love with.

The sunday market on 7th Av

Now back at home, even as I advise my friend on where she can order stuff from or ask her brother to pick it up for her, I check myself. I realize it isn't all about just buying and owning things. The best of shopping is going through the whole process of checking out the array of options, mentally building images of what you want, letting the object of desire call out to you and grow on you, and ultimately allowing yourself to be seduced into the buy.

A flower that caught my eye, West Village

Sunday, June 01, 2008

New Place, New Home, New Beginnings

Imagine altering your whole life to be in a place you fell in love with. A holiday that keeps you longing to go back, an opportune house that comes up for sale - and lo and behold, you have moved lock stock and barrel to start a new life as a wine maker or a teacher. The concept is thoroughly fascinating. Its like inventing a new life for yourself.

I first fell in love with the idea when I saw the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun". It is one of those movies that make you wish "if I could do something like that". In this movie, recent divorcee (portrayed by Diane Lane) is pushed into a trip to Tuscany by her friend. During the trip, Diane is led astray by a house she sees, and on a whim buys it. The rest of the movie is about her discovering Tuscany, and making a new house and life for herself. Beautiful. Though the movie has a run-on-the-mill end, I loved it. The movie is based on a book "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes, which is about a couple who move to Tuscany. I haven't managed to grab a copy of it yet, but its on my travel reading list!

Peter Mayle's 'A year in Provence' is about his first twelve months in Provence after he and his wife and two dogs make the move to the little town, having fallen in love with it during their vacations there. He says "We had been there (Provence) before, always desperate for our ration of two or three weeks of true heat and sharp light. Always when we left, with peeling noses and regret we promised ourselves that one day, we would live here. And now, somehow to our surprise we had done it. We had bought a house, taken French lessons, and aid our goodbyes, shipped over our two dogs and become foreigners." Particularly enjoyable is his style of writing. Especially, where he describes the idiosyncrasies of the French, he brings out the humour with such indulgence; in a way one would tease an old friend. Though, on second thought he was not as considerate about the English.

In this NYTIMES article,"Guatemala as muse and a base for a writer" authoress Joyce Maynard talks about how she buys a second home in Guatamela. She spends four months in a year in this place writing, conducting her workshops and of course enjoying the country. The article says she had no intention of owning a home in Guatemala when she set out to travel there seven years ago with her daughter, Audrey, who was studying Spanish in a Guatemalan school. On her stone patio one recent morning, Ms. Maynard, recalled the conversation that changed the course of her life. “I said, ‘I so envy you, Aud, for getting to be here and study your Spanish,’ and she said, ‘What’s stopping you, Mama?’ ” Dramatic pause. “And I realized, ‘Nothing!’ ” She had been divorced for over a decade. The youngest of her three children, Will, had just finished high school. Her older son, Charlie, was in college. Her work as a writer required only a laptop. She was supposed to be traveling on to Hawaii, but cashed in her ticket and rented a house for eight months. The longer she stayed, the more certain she became that she had stumbled on the next chapter of her life story.

Though ofcourse, all the romaticism in starting a new life is somewhat curbed by the practicalities of the cost involved. This seems to restrict such fantasies to the more privilged. But then there are those bohemnian travellers out there who take a long break - six months, a year or 2, move to a new country, hire an apartment, settle to do anything - waiting on tables, teaching, being shop attendants - just to experience a life in a new place, a new country. This is as romantic as moving entirely to new place - and possibly a more practicable option for some of us. Maybe someday ... We all dream on...

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Blue, black, black, black, black ... and yet another black bag on the conveyer belt with no signs of wine ... I had been standing there for more than twenty minutes and was going through my usual post flying trauma of "will it or will it not come?". It never seems to matter what kind of bags I carry or whether I am the first to check it in - my bags are usually the last to arrive. And, by the time it appears, I've almost decided that it is lost, and am shedding invisible tears for my preciously hand picked pieces of colthing and shoes (the only valuables I usually carry and mean more than the money that got them).

We had landed some 30 minutes back, and my bags hadn't yet arrived. I was absently observing to myself "Did you know that a vast majority of the luggage is black? Wine is proving to be an infinitely cooler choice". Another 10 minutes .... and slowly there were whispers.. "Bags mishandled". "problems in heathrow". What seemed like half the plane was still around me, how could so many bags be "mishandled". Was this some kind of a joke?

Apparently not. Or rather a poor one if it was. BA had finally managed to do what seems usually unimaginable and set a new record that night. They had left behind luggages of 80 people. But, one thing that worked in their favor seemed to be the time. Landing at early morning 2 o clock, after a 17 hour flight seemed to have mellowed down people. Some were ranting that "BA is known for this". One lady actually said that this was the second time it happened to her, and last time she didnt get her bags back. Why she flew BA again, i couldnt fathom! But people were definitely bonding over there mishap.

Personally, at 2 o clock, the whole thing just seemed unreal. Also, I seemed to have become a veteran at losing things (cell phone, luggage - this is my third major luggage incident in last five years), that my acceptance levels have risen up considerable. And I swear, my new Kenneth cole shoes and Sephora makeup didn't race through my eyes. But thankfully for me, my bags did arrive two days later. But for those who didn't know (like me), BA has the highest rate of mishandled bags - so be prepared!!!

PS: Yes. BA does have highest rate of mishandled bags. Though they have a decent enough system for tracking your bags. Only crib is that, for a long time, the status was just "tracking", it would have been better if it had said "identified. in london. waiting for shipping details"!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Luggage Headache

If there is one aspect of making a trip that I find very tedious, it's packing. Not just what to pack, but which bag to pack in. Deciding which bag is as difficult as planning the entire trip. In fact its probably more difficult. Over the years, I have collected an assortment of luggage ranging from day packs to back packs, air bags, suitcases - and every single time I have always bought a bag too small or too big or too heavy or too something other. And obviously, every single trip - I am left with the feeling that I don't have the "right" piece of luggage.

And no surprise, just as I am about to leave for a month long trip, I have been gripped by the same paranoia of "deciding the luggage". This time, the decision was further complicated as I had to buy a new bag - therefore instead of choosing between the 5 to 10 options from my collection, the choice is thrown open to 1000's of brands, sizes, shapes, materials, features and blah. Color of course is limited!

So finally, I chose a shop close by , spent couple of hours discussing at length the pros and cons and picked up a wine colored Giordano 28 inch suit case ideal for travel for longer than a fortnight. Well - happy ending right? So one would like to think. Instead, I come home - and the bag appears far too big than it is supposed to have been. I am concerned - should I have gotten one size smaller? I call my mom, crib to her for a while. I spend a sleepless night. First thing in the morning - I am on the net, looking for information - and guess what? I couldn't find anything!!! called up few colleagues, bothered my frequent flying friend. Called the shop manager, got myself an "exception" to exchange. And even after which I couldn't decide what to do - to exchange or not to. Ultimately, I decided I cannot let such a minor event ruin my peace of mind (though the cost of it isn't minor) and did the "pick a chit" test which said stay with this bag. So that's the end of the matter.

But for those who are as confused as me, I finally found this price chart - thanks to luggage online luggageonline.com and some infor from about.com. Though, I am still not entirely convinced with my purchase. :)

Price chart from luggageonline.com.

Anyway - what one really needs is a luggage invention which can change into different forms and sizes. And if it can gauge the owner's mind and pack itself - nothing like it.

PS: I am surprised that a lot of people actually agreed with me on this one when I thought, maybe, I was in fact spoilt for choice. I agree with girl with big eyes' sugesstion of use and return. Personally, I would prefer it if the luggage shops had items like shoes, clothes, business suits, cosmetics kits - so one can actually pack it in in the shop to get an idea. I feel that is the most difficult part of the purchase - trying to visualize what a bag can hold.

In my case, the extendible bag proved to be a good choice to fit in all my shopping. so women - definitely go for that one!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Lost Continent...

Finally O finally, I managed to complete this book. I dont know if it was me or if it was the book or it was just the way it was meant to be - but i ended up dozing off more often with this book than I did with my CFA books!

Bill Bryson talks about the road trip he undertakes across the American continent touching all except for 10 states. The book had a promising start. He starts of by saying "I come from Des Moine- somebody had to". He has a sarcastic wit which is entertaining - but gets tedious as you get deeper into the book. I can understand his disappointment that the small town America he knew no longer existed, nevertheless, his comments that the every town had mindlessly let malls and McDonalds take over becomes repitive when he describes about 85% of the towns that way. Halfway down the book I was reminded of the narrative style of J.D.Salinger's in 'Catcher in the Rye'. In my honourable opinion, it would have been nicer if he had not taken the pains to explain the drawbacks of every motel he had stayed in. And he had dropped his cynism levels a tad bit.

But truth be said, I agreed with him on some things, though these could be true for any country and not just America. Many small towns lack individuality - but probably to be expected given the continents size and unfortunately, limited number of phyical features available to land. I also disliked the tourist crowds in Yosemite and Niagara (though Niagara doesnt star in this book). A number of "spots" are more about the advertisement - 'a tourist trap' he calls them. Lastly, if America stopped spending, the rest of us would definitely be in trouble :).

The good parts - I like the sections where he enjoys the place. I like his discovery of lesser populated places such as the appalachians, the region around the great lakes. In fact, Lake Erie is on my must see list, if and when I ever go back. He also flavors his writing with a lot of titbits on people, their origin, accents etc. As he drives through the appalachians, he describes this tribe which has features such as eye color etc like the whites, but has a dark skin tone. Quite interesting. He also reminisces a lot about "his days" and how America has changed since then.

Overall - do not be dissuaded by my initial comments. Bill Bryson is supposed to be a well liked and appreciated author...!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On The High Seas of Mumbai

Last Saturday, me and a few friends went to check out the cultural festival held in Elephanta caves, hoping to catch a ferry ride, see elephant caves lit, get a bit of culture in our lives and of course strike out a few Mumbai-must-do's. While the festival and the caves itself are going to turn up in a different post, I couldn't stop myself from writing about the ferry ride from Gateway to Elephanta.

The timing was perfect. We left Gateway at around 6, right in time to catch the sun setting behind the Mumbai skyline. After being in this city for 8 months, you don't believe its possible to find space anywhere. Terms such as "fresh" "unpolluted" just don't exist. One gets so seeped into the crowds of the city, that one almost forgets the openness of the sea. So it was not until we pulled away that it hit me - the sound of lapping waves, clean unpolluted air, and just being on the sea. The twilight seascape was quite fantastic too. The sea was lined with yatchs, then barges, and what looked like oil rig kind of ships - all balzing with lights - giving the sea a true "night-life".

The second highlight of course is that I truly like some of the photos I clicked. And I hope you like them too. Most are unedited, couple are sharpened!

Ferries Sidling Away On the Coast

Away from the madding crowd

Mumbai SkyLine

A barge on the Mumbai Coast

Sailing High Seas

All eyes on the Deck

Friday, February 15, 2008

This and That

Long time no see. I am kind of brimming with things to say, of things which are of importance in the context of enriching your day and at the same time not so important from a larger than life perspective.

Before I start my ramble – no, these are not really travel things, ‘cos though some don’t seem to realize it, I have a job to do and unfortunately, a job that doesn’t have too much linked to travel, unless of course it’s the incidental kind, and like a lesser mortal, need a lot of my weekends for boring activities like sleep, sleep some more, hopefully read and of course watch desperate housewives. I know I started a travel blog and all, and did a glorious and seemingly adventurous trip, but starting of a conversation with “hey – so where are u these days”, as if I may be in Timbuktu (not that I don’t wish I were, though Macchu Picchu is more on my list these days) or “so, how come no trips anymore?”, as if ‘travel’ were my sole reason for existence, would definitely be taking my interest in this pass time too far ( though, I am ofcourse flattered witout doubt!). :)). And realistically speaking, I lack company to make even the easiest of trips – like to Goa – I know, sounds unbelievable, the gal that conquered Sikkim has yet to set eyes on Goa (at least at an age that counts which renders my trip in class 4 with mom, dad and sis uncountable), but that’s life or so some say.

So, yes, my travel "visibility" for the year does indeed look bleak, except for escapes to Chennai.

Incidentally, talking about travel, my lead analyst was in Barcelona last week for a conference. Sounds exotic huh? Or so I thought a year back when I was getting interviewed and my collegue mnetioned that my boss was in Barcelona. Anyway, it appears that it may take years before I get to go. Plus, not sure if I want to after talking to my boss. He's been there for 5-6 times now, and he pretty much hasnt seen anything beyond the hotel where he stays and the conference center. And the airport. And same applies for Shangai, Seoul and Taipei. So much for work travel!

Anyway, now for some aforementioned common place topics.

I have opened my eyes to a Bombay I didn’t know. A late night drive in search of ‘rock bottom’ (into which we were denied entry as we lacked socks which would have seemingly covered otherwise uncovered feet, and would have been deemed as better character assessment over our weighty visiting cards) – and I lay my eyes on almost the entire stretch of linking road. Furhter exploration of Khar/linking road leads me to decide that this is the place to live in. And yea, shop in as well if you have a loaded purse.

Few weekends before, I landed up in Matunga – the “Southie Mumbai” not to be mistaken with ‘South Mumbai’. Never has the sight of Nalli Silk Sarees made me feel more at home than it did then. And, yea, I ended up buying a sari over there as well (possibly, making me the only south Indian who sought to look for a Kancheepuram silk sari in Mumbai when I was leaving for Chennai in a couple of weeks). Well, the shop was small, with lesser options than the original (incidentally, this Nalli is not the same as orginal Nalli in Chennai, too many sari shops going by the name Nalli, have they run out of names or what?), but the few saris they had were quite nice, and I managed to like 3 of ‘em! And of course the hot pongal vadai, and masal dosai meal all for less than 25/- that we had on the road side- definitely unmatchable.

Anyway, inspired, I managed to track down a ‘dosa atta vendor’ who will deliver fresh atta with six hours lead time. Got my maid to make thakali vengaya chutney as well as urulakezhangu masala. The ease with which a crisp dosa rolls of your non stick pan with a dash of oil – I may even consider taking up cooking again. Anyways, getting my maid to do some south indian dishes, and i feel like i have accomplished something!

I unfortunately missed the Kala Ghoda festival, which is quite talked about. But am headed for the elephanta festival today. Food stalls, night lights and pictures!!!So, yeay!

Anyway, I am tired of rambling - but rest assured, I have begun to accept life as is in BBy!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

When life was a one long summer

The description on a photo exhibit in the NY library

It’s interesting what thoughts take you, when you lie back on your oversized beanbag and have nothing better to do but let your mind wander. Today, actually for some days now, my thoughts have been running away to summers. Summers, despite all the heat and humidity, bring out the best in me. And the welcome of summer, a lightness to my life. Anyways, for some reason - the summers at this house kept coming back.

We had just moved into this new house a few months back. It was one of those regular rectangular houses, with a portico and a small garden in the front and bigger one in the back. Looking back, my father with his intention to fancy the house up, may have inadvertently removed some of the old-day charm in it. Next to our house, was another old bungalow with its colonial style intact? I loved this house. With the old red cement flooring, slightly high roofs, and two dominating columns in the veranda - it was a house I looked on from the outside and dreamt off. The walls were bordered with bougainvillea and there were lots of trees, but nothing organised. The whole house had a 'rambling' feel about it. Its occupant was an old lady, 'Shantha aunty'. She had never married and for a long time had stayed alone. The stray cats in her house were company until another friend came along.

It was summer holidays. A warm afternoon. I can’t remember how old I was, but it was my birthday. I was in this white frock with pink flowers - I loved this dress. Sadly, I don’t believe I have any photos of this one at all. I remember standing on the bench in our portico, and looking over the wall and talking to Shantha aunty -I was telling her how I had been ill the previous day. Sometimes, I’d balance myself on the Neem tree, which broke the compound wall, to talk to her - or to climb over to her house.

She would invite me and my sister to "pick" nellikai (small sized gooseberries), and we of course would end up eating more than picking. We'd spend afternoons making custard, jelly and pudding - dishes only read off till then. Once, when one of her cats had kittens, me and my sis (in one of the rare moments we were united against my parents) picked up one of the kittens, and tried to make a pet of it. I can’t remember how that one ended - but my parents most likely asked us to give it back.

I liked my house too, despite its lack of style. I loved climbing the compound walls. My room on the first floor was like my own private quarters. It made me feel all grownup to have a room. I used to keep lifting furniture from the rest of the house to 'do up' my room. The large kitchen - warm and well, large. There used to be an outhouse- cold and damp. During summer vacations, when I was steeped in famous fives and five findouters, I’d pretend it was the "secret headquarters". I in fact had a password when my cousins were around and we'd play detective. Since we had our own private terrace, we started the habit of making vadams. I also liked the balcony, partly covered by the Neem tree. On many a hot nights, we had dinners here.

We went through a whole life full here, but most of all, I remember the summers. Rather, life itself seemed like one long summer. Picking mangoes. Gardening or at least trying to (nobody in my family seems to have been gifted with green fingers). Running around the house. My grand mom and sis spending hours playing the daya kattai (ludo) or pallanguzhi (a game with shells). Me, either pouring over some book, or getting burnt in the sun cycling with my friends. Standing outside the house, and having long talks with friends. And fights with my sister. Once she was so wild, she actually got the aruval and threatened to hit me. And of course, spending time at Shantha aunty's house.

We lived there for almost 8-9 years. Even after we moved out, everytime I went by the lane, I’d look at the house or both houses and think it seemed like a dream that we had lived here. Today neither house is around. Instead, there's a huge apartment in their place. Right in your face and unreal.