Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The horizon, dry cracked earth and us - Rann of Kutch

We stared into the vast expanse of land in front of our eyes. Dry, cracked - cracked as if an earthquake tremor had left its marks behind, spreading out as far as we could see, meeting the blue and slightly pink skies at the very end. The landscape at the start was broken by a few shrubs here and there, and then by the salt pans. At this point, there was nothing else but us, the faint outline of a faraway hillock and the horizon in front of us. The sun had beaten down upon us strongly through the day, and the air was laden with the dust from the earth. This was Rann of Kutch.

The Rann of Kutch - trying to capture the vastness of it!

Calling it beautiful wouldn’t be right. The Rann doesn’t match the stark and harsh beauty of the deserts of Ladakh or the soft undulating curves that one imagines a picture perfect desert. But there was something about being in this dry, near barren, expansive, and literally ‘no-man’ land.

A friend reminded me of the story, 'Love Across the Salt Desert'. How could i have forgotten the love story set in the heart of this place. The author describes it beautifully... The monsoons had, so to speak, forgotten to land. The Rann lay like a paralysed monster, its back covered with scab and scar-tissue and dried blister-skin. The earth had cracked and it looked as if chunks of it had been baked in a kiln and then embedded in the soil-crust. Then one day the clouds rolled in like wineskins and the lightning crackled and the wineskins burst. Though two years have passed since the drought ended, everyone remembers that it first rained on the day when Fatimah entered the village. This is how she came...

The Rann in perspective

During monsoons, the Rann of Kutch is flooded with water, being at a very low-height to the sea. The Rann becomes accessible only in the drier seasons, and even then may be not entirely. The jeeps that venture inside could easily get stuck, as the dry top level hides beneath it soft and mushy clayey soil layers. There are no well defined roads or trails. Yes, there were jeep tracks from visits before us, but how our driver found his way through and how the other locals find their way to the salt pans was beyond our grasp. The desert is also broken by several salt pans were locals make salt from the ground. Coming back after watching the sunset, I kept asking our driver if he could find his way back.

Getting directions from a local chakkada

The quintessential dirt driving jeef safari picture

Our visit was actually to the part of the desert known as the lesser Rann, which lays a little interior to the area called as the Rann. The Lesser Rann is home to the ‘Wild Ass’ also called Khar (ye ye, I see you laughing, and btw did you know that Jack Ass is also a variety?), the Nilgai Antelope and Chinkara deers. On our safari on the first evening we saw glorious herd of both the wild ass and Nilgai. We didn’t realize how nice our sightings were until the next day, when for quite a long time we saw only loners or pairs. The Rann is also famous for migrating flamingos, visitors from Siberia.

A herd of Nilgai antelopes

A herd of Wild Ass

Cranes taking flight

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My 3 travel secrets

There has been a travel tag going around and I have been tagged by Cate and Neha for it. The tripbase Blog Tag is to share my 3 travel secrets. Here they come!

The Armenian Church, Singapore-
It was a hot day. I was walking around the so called ‘civic district’, using a tripod to take photos of myself, (and yes, to timer pose is funny!). My friend had mentioned a big church in the center of Singapore, and I thought this one was it. It is a white building, and could easily have been a bungalow. The main room was circular broken by long rectangular windows with wooden shutters, revealing the hot day outside. A ceiling fan whirred slowly. A painting of Jesus was the only thing indicating that this indeed was a church. It was a place more for peace, silence and introspection if you will. A place one could contend time in…

Inside the Armenian church

The Armenian church

A secluded beach in Hvar-
Mustacho is a restaurant and a beach along Hvar’s coastline. It is less of a secret really, but is less frequented because it’s farther away from the Hvar town and people (tourists) are too lazy to walk up to this one. We decided to go in search of it on our first evening. The walk to the beach was very beautiful, as the houses thin away leaving behind the trees and natural greenery of the island. The first sight of the restaurant (at night) was a blaze of lights amidst a crescent of dark waters. We were its only dinner guests and it was gorgeous to sit by the open sea, hear the sound of the waves and dig into our food. The walk back was even better, as we stumbled our way through the dark, with nothing but the stars for some light.

The temptation in Hvar is to jump to the famous islands of Bol and Brac. But if you keep your eyes open, you will see smaller signs for not so popular beaches. I can't speak for all of them, but our gamble on one proved to be the best!

Another secluded beach in Hvar as I don't have photos of Mustacho

Lost in the smaller villages of Sikkim
Kewzing in Sikkim is just another small hill town. But go beyond the market area, and you’ll find that some locals have thrown their homes open to travellers to give u a taste of their lives. The homestay in Kewzing was the highlight of our trip to Sikkim a few years back. We went on hikes, sat amidst hidden stupa ruins, watched Mt.Narsingh as we sipped morning tea, ate wholesome healthy meals, sang in front of bon fires.

The house we stayed in, Kewzing

These homestays are a means for these villages to generate income to support themselves, but are still not mainstream tourists stop, making it an ideal off the beaten track stop. There are homestays in the area of Dzongu also in Sikkim.

Please dont forget to see Cate's 3 travel secrets and Neha's 3 travel secrets. Thank you guys for tagging me!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Terezin – still haunted by its past

The bus rolled to a sudden halt, and we woke up with a start to realize we had arrived. We,and nearly the entire populace in the bus tumbled out sleepily. And there we stood, a bunch of tourists, trying to get our bearings with only the zoom of the receding bus breaking the absolute stillness of the town. We were in Terezin.

The town of Terezin

Terezin has a fortress that was built originally by the Hapsburgs of Austria. The same fortress came in handy once again during Nazi rule, this time to house a Jewish Ghetto. Over time, the original residents of the town were asked to leave to make way for a prison city. The museum today recreates the sad state in which Jews were forced to conduct life. Somehow, they still managed to have some hope during their time here. Terezin was not a death camp like other concentration camps, burdened with stories of torture. But the sadness of years of human spirit that was broken, piece by piece, till none remained, is undeniable.

“A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses,
The path is narrow,
As a little boy walks along it.
A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom,
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more”
~ written by a young boy who lived in Terezin


In memory

Terezin today is peaceful and laid back, once you get used to the stillness and state of abandonment. We in fact had one of our best lunches sitting at a roadside cafe in hotel Memorial. We saw people swimming by the river, and bikers in beer joints just outside the fortress. The green memorial sites make for a nice walk, a place to sit and even a picturesque place for a photo. It is easy to banish the image of the town. the way it was. But the words of the prisoners, their hopes, their sadness, still hang around and that still get to you, years later.

Inside the Little Fortress used to jail prisoners of war

PS: I found these very moving accounts...
To holocaust deniers, come to Buchenwald
To those who never got a chance to die where they were supposed to

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Alone or not alone? That is the question

Ok. I have to take a diversion from my not-going-anywhere Europe travelogues to turn to more pressing problem.

I have to move. My flatmate is being transferred (to London btw, and yes lucky her!) and I have to find a new place. I have for some time now been wanting to change apartments – we have put up with the same place, same cranky owner, same maid, same area for too long and a change is warranted. So this was an opportunity and I couldn’t chicken out on laziness.

The question now was – should I find a place all by myself? So I decided to do a survey and this was what I found out –

1. It would be way too lonely in the evenings and weekends. The evenings drag too long with no one to talk to.
This probably was not meant for people who work 14 hours a day, have dinner with a TV, and could go days without meeting their flatmate who also works 14 hours, if not more.

2. One friend had had a great time staying alone and in fact it had been his dream for a while. I was hoping for inspiration. He says, “It was nice. But would be nicer with a fun flatmate”.
OK! Needed one fun flat mate.

3. Now for the more serious feedback – for most women, when they were staying alone they had a boyfriend frequently visiting them. Sometimes it was also their parents, but mostly the boy friend.
So, it’s not really the same as living alone. It was just a matter of technicality.

4. My sister came out right and said ‘isn’t that a little weird?’
Ok. I can see where she is coming from. Still in her 4th year of college, she is probably planning house sharing plans in Bangalore (where she will take her job) and it probably didn’t occur to her that there will be a point when close friends are not so close by (location wise) any more.

But I thought that for other reasons. Are we judgemental of people, women in particular claiming to be ok of being alone?

But now that I think about it, several of my friends have lived alone at different points in time. When my flatmate in Hyderabad – the girl who couldn’t have eat lunch alone in an office cafeteria – took a place for herself, it was radical. And trust me,she lived it up. Another friend who took a place for herself was kicked about doing the place up and loved having a place of her own. For one friend, a place for herself was the highest kind of "evolution", if you can put it that way (well, except for her fear of staying alone). Another said that it would have been the natural choice.

So, maybe it could be liberating. Like the woman who buys flowers for herself and I’ve already done that once.

Maybe it’s just about being ok in your skin kind of thing. Believe that it’s no big deal ; and it really isn’t.

5. One said, ‘I was too young to be alone’.
How sweet. Is it an age thing? Do we become more ok with this sort of thing after an age? Or could this be an unavoidable option for some of us in the future? This scares me... I don’t think I want to accelerate this eventuality any further than I have to.

So, here I am going through all this emotional and psychological upheaval about moving alone. And I forgot (how could I?) – it always comes back to the basic things. No no – its not facing my fear and all that blah. I’m talking money and exorbitant rents in Mumbai. All this drama and struggle before sorting out the most important question – will I be able to afford it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Old Towns of Eastern Europe

Have you guys seen the Old Town Square yet? Beautiful isn’t it...”, he said. And with a mischievous grin, he smoothly adds, “ Almost like Times Square”. Yeah, right!

That was the American tourist we ran into in Petrin. Within moments after he had told us he was from New York, we both gushed that we loved New York and Manhattan. And in return, he was taking a dig at us. Still, we didn’t mind. He was cute.

This post is not about him, but about the Old Towns and Town Squares of Prague and of Eastern Europe. Small, neat, historic and at the same time colourful, the old Town area is almost like a toy city from a different age. Roaming around the Old Town Prague took a little getting used to, it was almost like a set. And you think you haven’t seen anything like it and don’t think you will see anything like it. And then you are in Bratislava and find yourself in another quaint Old Town, an even smaller one if that’s possible, and you fall in love all over again.

Prague Old Town Square

It was not until the last day that we truly discovered and duly got lost in the maze that the Old Town Square of Prague was. Like the quite corner of Ungelt, a small corner just behind the Town Square, which we hadn’t even thought of wandering into. All through our walking tour on the last day, we kept noting several quirky restaurants and cafe’s we wanted to come back to for lunch (especially a particular choco-cafe) – sadly we couldn’t find our way back.

A small bridge in Bratislava Old Town

Bratislava - we didn't expect anything and in fact we didn't plan to do anything but chill by a cafe. But once again, the historic center lured us into her folds. Much much smaller, and slightly less ornate, and still very distinct from Prague! I remember how excited we were to find Bratislava the way we found it!

Sigh. I keep telling myself travelling isn't about compare and contrast. But visiting these smaller Eastern European cities, with their colourful Old Towns served on cobblestones, could just almost spoil you for the biggies.

Oh, and ps, I did have my wits around me to tell him, yeah right. R, of course was nodding her head in agreement.

The dominating church in Bratislava's Old Town

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Prague - the city of thousand spires

How beautifully true. We were standing at a view point, near the entrance to the Prague castle (aka Pražský hrad) and in front of us stretched out the city of Prague. The sky was cloudy, with a light fog blurring distant buildings and the horizon and giving the view a slightly ephemeral quality. There is a clutter of orange-brown rooftops and old buildings along the Vlatava. And from this slightly hazy view of the city, were several spires breaking the nearly flat sky line.

Prague from the castle

Escaping the crowds in the Prague castle and in search of the omni-present McD signs, R and I stumbled upon the quiet streets of Mala Strana. The road was narrow, flanked by tall ornate buildings, with huge wooden gates at intervals like each of them held a palace inside them, and the quintessential lantern like street lights along the walls – in the quietness of the streets, I could almost imagine a world from years ago, and could almost hear the clutter of hooves. It wasn’t until after lunch when our stomachs were satisfied and our minds were rolling, there was an ‘oh!’ moment and we realized we were at Mala Strana.

We found the owner of the green dome that had dominated every view from the Prague castle – St. Nicholas Church. On Nerudova street and in its namesake cafe, R had a coffee-shake and I, tasted my first Czech original Budweiser. We then discovered the road to Petrin (a wooded area with a mini-Eiffel like tower which offers yet another, but still different view of Prague). Another walk beckoned and we followed the call – a long day of walks and views! If there was any city where I’d recommend one to climb towers and tough roads all for the views, it would definitely be Prague!

The dome of St. Nicholas

Call it clichéd. Call it touristy. But I loved walking on the Charles bridge (the bridge across river Vlatava leading from the Old Town to Mala Strana. There is something about a place from where one can observe a beautiful sunset and see palaces in the distant horizon. The bridge is lined with statues on both sides. The most notable one is that of St. John of Nepomuk or the statue with 5 stars (I confess, I just googled his name up). Legend has it that if you rub the base of the statue you will come back to Prague . Or you could also get married. These were the versions provided by our tour guide. The website says this statue brings good luck. Sadly, I never got to rub the statue.

Charles bridge

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eastern Europe 2009 - a journey begins

I am back, I am back, I am back! And actually not all that excited to be back. It’s been 2 weeks since my 18-day vacation got over- the first week was sleep deprived with a lot of work, the second week has been me battling my cold. And still, even as all these mundane of my life overpower me back to reality, I can still close my eyes and transport myself to the time when I was swimming in the aquamarine seas, or the time we cycled downhill at wind-breaking speeds.

Where do I start? Despite my disgruntled mood at the outset, and a lot of shakeups to our plans, the trip was fabulous. It was quintessential Europe –soaking in the architecture, revelling equally in old, weighty buildings as well as the charming rustic villages, walking around old town squares till our feet hurt, lounging in cafes. But also more!

It’s hard to put in words what I imagined about Eastern Europe. Places like Prague and Croatia definitely had that magical quality about them, and partly because they were lesser trodden. I knew they were “developing” vs being the developed. I had heard that their trains and buses and transport aren’t as good as in the West. I had heard the people can be a little cold. I wasn’t sure if poverty was an issue the way it is in India or not really. All these tit bits don’t give a picture by themselves, but tend to be a downer and make you a bit wary. But don't worry! From the word go, these cities rid you of these distortions.

From the moment we stepped on Prague, from the airport to the metro, all we could think of was this doesnt feel like what Eastern Europe should feel like (That’s also because Czech replaced its age old communist era train system in 2000 after a flood). Croatia was like a resort, and may be off the lot, Bratislava showed a bit of wear.

One of the streets in the old town square, Czech

Yes, some of the things used to describe Eastern Europe is true and I agree, countries like Czech may have come a long way ahead than others. Alright, everyone on the road doesn’t stop to smile at you, but that is likely true of UK too. They don’t have TGV’s, but their trains were still OK and on time!!! I didn’t notice a single homeless person in Prague like you see in New York (and of course India), but our walking tour guide did mention there were druggies who begged for money. And of course, coming from India, really, it seemed almost ridiculous to be apprehensive, and they seem light years ahead in infrastructure.

Street outside my room, Czech

Need you ask? I am telling everyone to go to Czech and Croatia and Eastern Europe, especially before they join the Euro regime :).

And yes, I have so more tales to tell, if you will only listen. Till I can sort all that out in my head, I’ll leave you with some initial glimpses of the places I’ve been to.

Stone alleyway, Croatia

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Euro Trip...

Ok. I have been waiting to do this post for a long time now. And i’ve pushed it far enough (for the fear of jinxing the trip) just till everything fell into place. Which it almost did – until it fell apart this morning. Hehe - so much for waiting for the perfect moment huh? So no better time like now.

In a few hours, I leave for Prague with my friend (yeaaay!!!) – which is where our official Europe trip starts. I’ve been researching Europe for a while now, and somehow after always finding reasons to push it out, this year I thought I have to make it happen. I was contemplating travelling alone – but I doubt I would have really done that. And so, when my friend also joined in, there was no turning back.

Czech had caught my fancy at a time when it was still offbeat. And though it is definitely mainstream now (I personally have heard of quite a few people who have been there this year), it hasn’t lost its sheen in my eyes. I can’t remember how I zeroed in on Croatia - probably when my other friend said that she finds beaches more exciting that architecture. Vienna was added in because it was on my friends wishlist and Bratislava as a transit point.

So, it came together as Česká republika, Österreich, Slovensko and Hr̀vātskā. (Don't you love the way the names roll off your tongue???)

We were tightly timing our visas and it seemed every possible delay was going to happen to our visas. The schengen which should have been a cake walk, took a few days longer. Every extra day the schengen took, meant lesser days for the Croatian. The Croatian – well, what should have happened on Monday, was magically pushed out by another day and another day. Finally – yesterday we were relieved. The Croatian visa had been stamped. Only, to find today, when we got our passports in hand, that our Croatian visa falls short by 2 days!@#$%!!!!

Our final flight is from Croatia to Mumbai – and so now we have to rework that. Most of all – of all the places, I’ve been really excited about Croatia and i had almost transported myself to its beaches and it seemed like a fitting end. Now the visa not only cuts our time in Croatia from 6-7 days to just 3 days, but also messes up our last few days.

The entire day, I don’t think i really believed this was happening and expected that magical last-minute-things-fall-into-place-end would be the end. But that isn’t our end and I am a little upset. Still - on the brighter side, I cant wait for tomorrow to start when I will finally land in Prague - (touchwood)!!!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Flocking over Mumbai...

The endless blue sea, the strong sandstone Gateway balancing itself against the waves, the yatchs beyond, the paved clearing ahead, peddlers here and there, couples holding hands, families laughing, kids running about… and the scene suddenly broken by the flight of a flock of pigeons. This scene is a classic one, undoubtedly evoking Mumbai to people’s mind.

The white one among the black sheep

I don’t think these pigeons have consciously ever occupied my thought – till Mumbai. In Mumbai, they gain a significance other than the one above. Imagine this…

Once again, I am standing in the service area behind my bathroom looking at the mess the blasted pigeons had created. There is still one pigeon fluttering about in panic, trying to escape out of a window that had been wired precisely for NOT allowing pigeons in. And once again I would have to call the apartment help to take the bird out. Yes, unimaginable, but they keep losing their way within my service area and can’t seem to recognize that just because they see the open world outside, they still cannot fly out of a window that has been wired. Comic really, if u are in the mood for it. And once again I am swearing, “stupid bird”! This is a scene that plays over and over again in my flat in Bombay.

To keep the pigeons out, I wired the windows. They didn’t get the message started coming in through the vent in the roof meant for pipes. Then they began to build nests. I kept removing them, and they kept rebuilding them. Then they laid eggs, which is a stupid move considering I am likely to throw them out in anger. But by that point I’d given up. So now the blasted pigeons have their very private own area in my apartment. And yes, they are my constant company with their never ending guttural ‘ow ow’ cries!

So, when I landed up at the gateway for a photog enthusiast meet, I was surprised to find myself shooting the pigeons more than anything else. Or rather the scene around the pigeons. There are peddlers around the Gateway who sell channa (or some such) so people can have fun feeding the pigeons. It was amazing to see the joy on the kids faces as they tried to catch the attention of these birds (which by the way are spoilt for attention!) Personal irks aside, the pigeons are here to stay in this city - roosting in every crevice they can find in this concrete jungle or being fed by the endless tourists who land up to see the Gateway!

Father and son trying to feed the birds

Greedy pigs pecking of from people's hands

Excited kids!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


The monsoons are here again. Or almost. As I was walking down from my office, I stopped at this spot – almost like a vantage point – where I always like to take in the view of the rest of Hiranandani. I always liked this view, giving me a feel of standing on the outside and looking inside. With the rains, the view was all the more beautiful – the fogginess from the light drizzle almost adding a mystical air to the view. I know- monsoons in Mumbai are not to be looked forward to. But before the torrential downpours, the clothes that wont dry, the room that is flooded, the walls that are damp, the days where you get soaked, but before all that, that is inevitable begins, before the daily wars that we would eventually have to wage, can I just say...

...I love the smell of the damp earth signalling the imminent monsoons (even though there is a lack of damp earth in some places, the rains still seems to be able evoke their earthy smell for concrete!), love the moist breeze which breaks the monotonies of the days, and love the feeling of change around the corner (– who knows what it may bring). The rains have been teasing us for the last couple of weeks – will it or will it not today. But until they do, it’s good to take in the moment. ‘Cos, this too shall pass.

Caught by the rain in the not so distant past, Singapore

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A House in Fez

The shelf was lined with several books of my favourite theme - people buying a house in a new country and the cacophony and confusion that follows. However, it seemed like Tuscany and Provence were the most sought after places. It got me wondering if these authors stumbled upon each other at some point of time. Anyway, amongst a mire of vineyards and valleys, I caught sight of 'A house in Fez' where the author was re-doing a house in Fez, Morocco. My interest was sufficiently piqued.

The theme is well known – Suzanna Clark (author) after visiting Fez just once falls in love. With the place. And so, she and her husband decide to buy a Riad (the Moroccan word for one kind of a bungalow) here. The story is all about the people she meets in the process of restoration. The book was an easy read. I loved Morocco as a setting. The cafe's she discovers, the traditions, the shops she goes looking for – in search of doors, windows and whatever else that goes into making homes. Of course, the quirks of the local people as well. Morocco has now fallen into my travel radar as a result of this book.

However, I did think that her style of writing was somewhat lacking. It wasn't somehow the most interesting narrative from a point of view of judging a written account per se - the words themself and her narration of events or feelings or experiences were somehow not the most evocative account i've read. Nevertheless, a reasonable nice read!

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a book I was totally 'in to' - after a long, long time. And for a partly travel book, I read it in 2 sittings straight. So when my friend put a negative review here, I was quite surprised I have to say. And a little disappointed. But that has also spurred me to writing my take on this book which may have otherwise taken months (OK, who am I kidding, I have travel book reviews waiting from 2007), or may have never seen the light of day.

I actually passed by this book many times simply because it’s cover read “… after a bad divorce… rediscover herself…” and I decided, ok another chic lit/woman heavy novel (not that I don't read those books, but I wasn't in the mood). The Italy, India and Indonesia bit was totally lost on me. But after reading a review here, I finally picked up the book.

What I loved about the book – the author opening herself so much about what she went through while travelling to these places. After EPL, I realized that’s what I miss in some of the travel books – the authors shows the different places, but they don't show what it does to them. Of course, not every travel or vacation gets emotionally loaded. But there are sometimes when one travels, seeking for something - peace, happiness, meaning of life. Here the journey of self is as important as the journey to the place. And I think Eat, Pray, Love falls into that category.

Having said that, there are very heavy topics in this book. The author does realize going full emotional overloaded on those topics is likely not palatable and tries to describe it in a funny way. Like, the first time she introduces the topic of god - "What happened was that I started to pray. You know - like, to God".

What you most probably may not like – her journey through India. She comes to India to explore her spiritual side. And I am sure every single person will go – duh!!! The second bit is also that she delves into her own spiritual journey – and this is likely to spook you completely. People are going to be more comfortable reading the most explicit s*xual exploits of another person rather than another person’s spiritual journey. Listening to spiritual experience at some level shows too much of the other person than you care to see. In a way, it closes down the spaces and you need to be ready for it.

So yes, I did get tired of her own spiritual experiences. I am not sure if I should judge the veracity of her experience - but I don't mind giving her the benefit of doubt. Especially since the fact that I was uncomfortable makes me a biased judge. However, I loved her ashram experience, and her simple way of phrasing some of the learnings on god, yoga, the extracts from gita etc. that have been passed from guru to disciple for years now.

As for Indonesia and Italy – it was vacation cum slice of life. Here, she develops routines - the first step to establishing a sense of living versus visiting. There is a touch of the classic ‘girl-meets-boy-and-life-turns-perfect’ ending, but if the author did in fact manage to find this ending that we all dream of, good for her.

Initially, my first thought was to say – if you don’t like too many emotions or are not comfortable with spirituality, this book is not for you. But what I do want to say now is – if you are willing to test new waters, give this one a try!

PS: For a long time now, I have been searching for a good source for travel books. So check out some of the new links I have added to my blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beautiful bougainvilleas

Beautiful bougainvilleas at the Esplanade park...

... were a refreshing treat even as my legs sought some rest

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Striking a Chord With Buddhism

Visiting a Buddhist temple was hardly on the cards for my Singapore trip. For one, the thought didn't occur even once when I tried to make a list of things I would like to do here. But as it would turn out, I found my self visiting a couple of Buddhist temples, and almost made it to a third.

The courtyard at the entrance of the Tooth relic temple - yes, it was raining again!

Talking about the Buddha tooth relic temple is almost straight from the tourist guide. To be honest, that's how I landed upon it in the first place - I was looking up China Town, and this temple is round the corner, just off Pagoda street and therefore fell into both mine and Uniquely Singapore's China Town 'itinerary'. Having said that, the temple is simply one of the magnificent of Buddhist temples I have seen - in a rich and grand way. It's simple exterior gives no clue of the rich, impressive hall or the eye-dazzling Maitreya inside. I was in awe.

A lady lighting an incense stick in offering

Ironically, I also witnessed one of the most beautiful Buddhist services with people were singing in a choir like fashion here. Despite what seems like a lifetime of monasteries in Sikkim and Ladakh, this is the first time I saw or heard anything like it. The song was lyric-less. And the whole of it sung with the one syllable 'ah'. For once, I wish I could sing right now instead of using these words so you can also see how beautiful it was. (Although, you are probably better off not hearing me sing!). It was one the most moving prayers I have heard. I stood there for almost an hour -just like that, just listening.

People singing together

And the last thing I liked about this temple (yes, one more reason) - they have a nice museum on the second or third floor. In the Ladakh trip, I finally picked up a guide which ran through some of the basics of Buddhism. My knowledge before being limited to only Gautama Buddha, but the religion itself has a begining much older than that. The museum tracing the life of Gautama Buddha was a nice stop, adding a few more grains of information.

The Maitreya in all his glory

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Dash of Orange Amongst Gray...

Was all it took to make my day!

We moved to a new office this week (actually, the old office from where we moved out and have moved back in. But it's new for me!). So I am busy spending my last week establishing a new routine - timing my mornings, dashing to the bus stop, stteling into a new coffee routine, finding lunch places to eat...

The one thing I do miss - ok! I hear you. I've not been here long enough to "miss" things. May be I should say, the one thing that I did like about the other office was the view of the Quay. The orange and red tiled brick houses breaking the monotony and the monstrosity of grey office buildings around.

Boat Quay along the Singapore river from 34th floor, Battery Road

The bright orange and brown brick tile roofs

Singapore sprawled beneath a cloud laden sky - yea, it was going to rain!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lost in One Art

This poem has been weighing on my mind for the past one week. For no reason, yet, for some reason.

One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

I wonder if ‘losing’ really does get easier...

When I saw the movie AND read the book, I liked the poem quite a bit. But it takes a melancholic mood to really, really, feel it I suppose. The other poem in the book is also beautiful. On reflection, not so much for the words, more for the moment where one sister reads it for the other. And for all that the moment signifies.

I carry your heart with me, by EE cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Such sombre thoughts for a Friday night! On more mortal affairs, my trip has been extended by a week. So, lots of options for the weekend – Mcritchie reservoir, may be the ECP... or may be just blogging and reading. Will have to wait and see what the morning brings.

PS: The book is ‘In her shoes’ – not brilliant, but definitely a favourite.

Monday, March 16, 2009


A girl seated on one of the sculptures found along the Boat Quay

Caught this girl seated on one of the many scultptures set along the Boat Quay. There are several sets of sculptures, depicting the history of life along Singapore river in times gone by. On reflection, I should have caught the whole sculpture as well. But couldn't resist this pic!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Nook for Coffee and A Book - A Day in Randomness

I had the Saturday all planned out in my head – a nice toasty day, white sands, blue seas, the wind in my hair and hot coffee as I settled to finish ‘The Hours’. I was going to go to Changi Village, a sleepy locale close to the airport, by the sea and if it was anything like the scenes I had seen on my drive into Singapore on day 1, could be close to paradise. I had read and re-read the scene where Clarissa steps out into a spectacular New York morning about 3 or 4 times. I was getting a feel for the book, and all I needed was a great place to settle into for me to fully devour it.

I had a late start. Ok a really late start! Grabbed a sub, caught the MRT and I was on my way. The sky grumbles, here and there. But my excitement cannot be dampened. I reach Changi Village. Changi is really sleepy. And the sea – grey and murky. This place is nowhere close to what I had in mind. I notice a sign that says ‘Coastal Walk’ and indicates a stretch of beach. So I decide to check it out. 30 minutes, and a kilometre of sweaty walk later, still no sign of my dream. I realized I had grossly mistaken that Changi would be like ECP.

Sleepy sidewalk in Changi Village

What to do now? After a quick coke (the village may be sleepy, still expensive), I decide to get on the bus and try and get to the ECP. On the way, we pass the Changi chapel. On an impulse, I get down. There’s no way I am coming back here – May as well take a look. Plus, there was a cafe attached!

Outside the changi chapel

Just as I get done with the chapel, the sky that has been ominously threatening with its growls and grumbles, decides to unburden itself. So, I sack in the cafe. Now my stomach is rumbling – but the menu is pricey. I order mushroom soup. What I really really crave is endless cups of coffee. Coffee that is strong and not milky. And doesn’t cost 4 sing a cup. I want my Kopi. Still, the cafe is quiet, and I manage to turn a few pages. And chat up with this westerner guy who comes and asks me where I was from. Apparently, he is right now based near Pune and travels to North East very frequently. A vague thought is hovering as we talk - I should get his contact or something like that. But I don’t. The rain stops. The cafe is pretty and all. But there is no feel. So I leave.

Stranded in the Bark Cafe

ECP? May rain again. I don’t want to go to Starbucks. My bus comes – I get on. The bus feels closed. I feel restless. The day feels pointless. I see a signboard for ECP. On an impulse I get down. I am in Bedok. Looks like a residential area. I just want to walk. Few more cafes have come in sight. All serve cappuccinos, Irish coffees, lattes and others I can’t remember. Not a sign of the simple, honest Kopi. I walk further. Ahhh – a Chinese food mall, with graphic designs of all possible meats in the world. My hopes rise a little bit. I run through the menu. And there it is – coffee, Hong Kong style and coffee , China style. I don’t know which one it is. But I say Kopi and she seems to understand. And then I look for something vegetarian. I want plain toast – but she can’t seem to grasp toast with butter by the side (as inferred from her breaking into a song-like squeaky Chinese). She asks if I want Kaya. I don’t know what that is, so I am dragged to the kitchen and shown Kaya :). Yes, a plate of Kaya toast and Kopi for me. All for a buck and ninety.

Kopi and Kaya Toast

There is Chinese music playing behind me and radio jockey talking in between. All slide into the background as I sip the coffee. And bite into the toast. And finally, finally settle to flip a few pages of ‘The Hours’ in soul deep contentment.

A random day, broken only by the monotony of my attempts in photography.

Me in Tang Tea House

Tang Tea House

Friday, March 06, 2009

City Quirks: The Fine City?

The T-shirt says it all :). I vaguely remember being warned about fines for littering on our first trip to Singapore (15 years back). To be honest, I haven't really paid attention to these fine boards, which supposedly can be seen everywhere. And I probably would not have registered this fact but for the T-shirt.

Of course, my friend pointed out that one can hardly see any cops policing on the road (I wonder how they go around fining people) and people follow rules implicitly (except may be not so much for jay walking :)).

A T-shirt hanging in a shop in China Town

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

City Quirks: First Impressions

Ok - finally, I get to click the publish button on my first impressions. These were penned down after my first couple of days itself, and I have more to add. But all those in another post!

- I love the ‘green’ look that the city has got going. Not just trees, there are also stretches of grass lawns here and there and everywhere. Lends the right mix of picturesque and laidback sub-urban air.

- There is a feel of ‘space’ all around the city (excluding my hotel room of course :) ). Even in areas with tall buildings on both sides of the road, I didn't feel as towered in. I think it has to do with the pretty wide roads and broad walkways for pedestrians. Or may be, they just don’t have that many floors on their buildings!

- This one I love. I love the ‘informal’ and 'unorthodox' style of work wear. No ties. No blazers. (Well, you can if you want to). All around me (by the way, I am in Raffle's Place, which seems like the financial center), people are in what I think is the widest variety and COLORFUL of western wear. Who cares if you are an i-banker? (Ok – may be ALL the people hovering around aren’t i-bankers. Still). It is so hard to predict what you will see on the next woman - fancy swishy skirts, dresses and blouses in satin that would be considered party wear in lots of places, a range of colors and prints... Obviously, even in all the informalness, men have only so many choices.

Last friday, people wore jeans to work. Can you beat that? We don't do that even in Mumbai!!!!

Not that I mind going the formal way - I still love 'dressing up' for my job (adds a bit glitz, if i can say so). But with just a pair of suits, I always felt a little under dressed in a place like NY city! Singapore takes off that pressure a little bit.

- And oh the shoes!!!! it has to be the highest of heeled ones. While there is nothing new about fancy high heels, what catches my attention is that these women don't exchange them for flats while on the roads or on the train or making that long walk to the bus stop. Impressive!

- A lot of shorts and skirts going around the place. And definitely tinier ones that what I've seen in other places :).

- And the crowds!! I was pleasantly surprised to see people all over the place during my first lunch. Every single restaurant was buzzing with people and long queues. Lunchtime also seems to be a good time to check out a shop or two. And at night, standing at start of Boat Quay (close to work), you can see heads of people, all the way till the end. People grabbing a drink, people catching up. Quite a lively after-work scene.

Monday, February 23, 2009

In the Lion City, Singapore

My fourth day in Singapore. Though the city lost its sunny disposition within hours of my arrival, I was impressed and loved what I saw. I like it and am liking it more.

A rainy afternoon greets me on day one at Singapore. The smudges on the right are probably rain drops on my lens. Not a great pic, but doesn't look too bad in this size!

The drive from Changi Airport to the YMCA clinched my first impressions. For the first 5-10 minutes of leaving the departure terminal, the road was all tree-lined and incredibly pretty, even though if in a landscaped way. the road trails along some pretty beaches, bay-side restaurants and golf courses until hitting some flyovers (which appear to be the equivalents of the highways). Even on these flyovers, I could get a lovely spread of the city! Quite a contrast to most other places, where usually the drive from the airport to the main city is through highways in somewhat un-inhabited surroundings and one needs to keep their expectations at bay till you can actually get out!

I am being put up in the YMCA Hotel – definitely not corporate style living accommodation. I suppose one who was drowning should not ask for a yacht and just be happy for a trip on a tug boat. (:))I have gotten over most of my cribs, but cannot forgive this one – they do not have a full length mirror in the room!

The location – 1, Orchard Road however is perfect. More on this soon.

PS: Waking up at six is taking its toll on me. Goodnight!

The Singapore Museum of History from my room window

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Puppy Love

Well, I am just back from a weekend in good old Hyderabad filled with a whole dose of puppy love. My friend R with whom I stayed has this incredibly adorable Lhasa Apso ‘Tipu’ and I just can’t get over him. The way he stands poised, waiting at the door when he hears someone coming in, the way he sniffs and prances around you, gauging and measuring a new-comer, the way he keeps running up and down the house checking to make sure every one if ok, the way he was relishing his single cube of panneer, the way his front locks falls over his eyes – the list of his ‘adorable ways’ is endless.

Darling Tipu

Sunday morning, as I drowsily woke up to answer the maid on my tea preference, I could feel a cuddly ball of fur sitting on my bed and nosing around me; I reached out and gave him a huge bear hug and may have scarred him of (:)) in return – but it was one of the best wakeup calls I’ve had in a really long time!

Tipu looking out of the car on his way to his walk

I confess – I am not one of those ardent dog-people, who seem to have their way with even the scariest beasts. I am easily scared by a dog that barks a ton at me or just looks daunting in many cases. But still, there is that idealization of the simplistic yet unconditional love and faithfulness of a four legged friend. (All selfish, but nevertheless there :)).

As they say in Marley and Me, “A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.”

On the travel front, a couple of days of re-discovering Hyderabad and some photos, my first sleeper bus travel, a few thoughts on a recent trip to Vasai fort, a still pending 2009 resolution and an upcoming Singapore trip. Lots to write about – I hope they will all make it to the blog!