Friday, January 30, 2009

A Walk into Mumbai’s Woods

Couple of weekends back saw me and A heading to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park early on a cold Sunday morning. The park has a walking trail leading to the caves. The trail is a good 5kms long, one way, and makes for a great ‘I want to stretch out those muscles, feel the crisp cold air, get away from honks and dirt and crowds and work my appetite for a heady Sunday brunch’ kind of walk!

Ghost tree inside the park

Note: Don’t be misled by ‘national park’ as I was. I did not expect to see more than a handful of nature and hiking enthusiasts, but there were a bunch of people who had arrived even before when we did (7.00 AM). The park opens its gates much earlier to regular ‘walkers’ who hold a pass. There was also a karate class as well as a yoga class (if I remember correctly) happening in the park entrance. Of coure, this part of the park is separated from the actual forest with the famous leopards.

After walking for about 20 to 30 minutes, the crowd thinned away as most people visiting had driven down. I didn’t quite understand people driving down, because the walk was really the best part of the visit. So, it was just us, enjoying the fresh morning air, getting a dash of green and also a great work out.

Mumbai from afar

Monday, January 26, 2009

In Transit

Mumbai trains and long transits are one of the most chronicled aspects of the city. Despite this, they never cease to fascinate.

People moving towards the train in preparation as it whizzes to a halt

I live ten minutes from my place of work, and so don't go through the whole rigmarole of taking a crowded train first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And therefore, my memories – or at least a majority of my memories – are probably quite different from those of the larger masses. The mildly filled compartments, the evening breeze on my face as I stand by the door and watch the silhouettes of apartments spotted with lit windows - sometimes filtering through gauzy curtains, the much closer shanties with a window or a door open, laying bare to the world the life within, the temple that surprises me every time somewhere along the Vikhroli-Dadar route, and a mental note every time to look it up. The pleasures of a weekend commute.

Early morning at borivilli station

Coming from a not-so-dependant-on-trains-metro, autos were the instinctive first choice for transport. You know that trains have somewhat usurped that position when a friend, giving directions to a new year's party, suggests you take a train, and you don't think twice about it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Postcard from Italy

Postcard from Italy

A Postcard for Me

Look what came in the mail this week - a postcard all the way from Portofino, Italy! Not the e-mail one, but full with postage, delivered by mail man kind of one! To be honest, I thought postcards must have been a wiped out art of sorts by now. The last time I got a postcard-from-between-a-trip was from a friend when she was visiting her brother in the US back in college. As a kid, when we used to travel – we referring to my family – we always used to pick up postcards in nice places, but definitely never mailed them to anybody. May be they were just keepsake buys!

It is so nice and fun to dash off a postcard, just scribbling a few thoughts that take you in that moment. Thanks Sriram! He writes, “Portofino is famous with celebrity tourists for its yachts’, sailboats and beaches. Good place to be in for an expensive holiday!”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maximum City

Bombay Lost and Found, the by-line for this book is a little misleading. What I hoped would be a book of life and experiences in Bombay was actually his two year research on different aspects of the city - but I was not disappointed.

Maximum city neatly compartmentalizes Bombay into underworld, Bollywood, bar-girls, politics- all this interspersed with Sukhetu Mehta's own personal anecdotes. The book's beginning is what is easily relatable to any non-Mumbaiite moving into the city. Thereafter, it is a Mumbai I probably would never have gotten to know - and maybe, some of it, I don’t want to know - except through movies, and maybe the newspaper. The rent Act, the crazy hype over the West (West Mumbai), why New Bombay failed, the lack of solutions to Mumbai over-population situation – we have questioned all of it at some point in time. And he lays the answers or at least the history for us. His portrayal of some banal scenes from life, like travelling on an overcrowded Mumbai train, dealing with your plumber - yes, you have seen all of it. Yet, the book has managed to throw a different angle to it.

What makes the book's narration of some of the already beaten-to-death-aspects of the city is the interesting characters the author meets and how he has beautifully fleshed out each character's life, dreams, aspirations, their philosophy and what makes Mumbai tick for them. I loved his portrayal of Babbanji’, a 16-year old who runs away from Bihar to Mumbai.

I won't call the book an easy read. It's voluminous, and sometimes like a text book. The author's style is vivid, and so graphically descriptive that it borders on repulsive and disgusting on many occasions- but that is probably what helps drive the truth home. However, his narration is simple and flows beautifully. He has managed to simplify a complex city, complex people and complex country (to some level) and present the nuts and bolts of it engagingly!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Exploring the Sahyadris

It was 12 ‘o’ clock in the night. I had just come home from work and I couldn't make up my mind if I should be going on this trek tomorrow. The usual excuses - don't know most of the people in the group, too difficult to get up early... But next day morning come 5.45, I was ready - fresh and raring to go on the Mahuli trek. And thus began my explorations of the Sahyadris.

A temple on the way to Duke's Nose

I take no credit for these trips. It all goes to my colleague, an avid trekker and the initiator of these one-day hikes into the Ghats. One of the best things I like about these treks is that I have nothing to do but just land up at the appointed time in the Kanjur Marg station. I only know 3 things - 1) place we are heading to 2) time to meet and... Oh well, actually only 2 things to remember!

The village sprawled below - as seen from atop Duke's Nose

My Sahyadri round up for the year included Mahuli fort, Duke's Nose (near Lonawla, Khandala), Naneghat and then Siddhaghad. The first three happened during and slightly after the monsoons, when the landscape was bright green - almost with a fluorescent blaze. The Siddhaghad trek was filled with hues of golden and brown.

Our target in the distance -Mahuli Fort

Obviously, the landscape doesn't wary widely between each of the peaks and passes. I wouldn't call any one of these places a must do over the other- but we still have our favorites. Siddhaghad was particularly my favorite because we spent the night over at the top of the hill. There is a temple on the top of Siddhaghad and there is an empty “mandap” where people can camp. No rooms or anything, just a roofless courtyard of sorts. The food cooked by the couple living there was one of the most delicious meals I've had. We sat out in the night talking about this and that. Then retired to sleep under the sky!

A view of the ranges shrouded in mist, Mahuli

The start of Naneghat

The treks are good fun for other reasons too. We travel in a way I would have never otherwise done in Mumbai - take 2 or 3 trains some times, local buses, share autos, unreserved class. Then there is the food in some roadside-dhaba-like places serving some of the most spiciest and tastiest of dishes! Then, you meet people - nope haven't made thick as thieves friends from these jaunts, but there is always some new stories, new conversations.

And of course, it gets you far away from the madd(en)ing crowd.