Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stop and Stare: Atop Shanti Stupa

And then there are those places – really, moments – where you want to just be. You don’t go seeking, you can’t plan for them, but they do happen, creeping upon you unaware. Across the sidewalk as you watch life passing by. Or, in the beach, watching the waves. Moments where you lose a sense of time. You shrug your shoulders and sigh, just content to be right there. With no place else to be.

It was a tiring walk up to the Shanti Stupa. Once on top, we played the fool, clicking photos. There were people sitting around the terrace - catching up with friends, exchanging travel tips, and some just observing. We soon joined the group and sank into our own "silent" zones. Interrupted only by an odd comment here and there. Somewhere in between, I blanked out. Not sure if it was sleep, but the next thing I was conscious of was the cold creeping up. We then made our move!

Relaxing at Shanti Stupa

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Christmas break, remembering Rann!

Christmas break is around the corner, and I’ve finally convinced my sis to take a few days off from work. Yeay!

Thinking of Christmas reminds me of the Rann of Kutch trip last year.

I can still remember the December chill in the air, even as the sun burned down on us. The bright colours of the women’s Sarees and Ghagras (a long skirt and blouse teemed with a shawl) contrasting with their heavy jewellery. Men in white dhotis and shoes. Sleepy, sleepy village towns with old traditional havellis, but all in disrepair. A shepherd with his sheep blocking our jeep. Camel’s pulling carts with people and loads. A fat fati in the middle of nowehere. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my four years in another desert state – the landscape, people, the dryness, the heat and chill, all had a familiarity of yesterday.

I had always meant to post Devjibhai’s details (we stayed at his camp), and also some more photos. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to going someplace with my sis this time!

How to get there? There are several points of entry into the Rann of Kutch. Through bhuj and Gandhidham, you can enter the Greater Rann, and through Dhrangadhra or Zainabad, you can enter Little Rann. We went to Dhrangadhra. From Mumbai, we took a sleeper bus to Ahmedabad. From here, you can take both buses and vans to Dhrangadhra. From Dhrangadra, there was a jeep drive to the camp.

Where did we stay? Devjibhai Damecha runs a camp here and offers both huts and tents for accommodation. He is a nature photographer, environmentalist and birder. We found him very helpful – despite the lateness of our request, he was able to accommodate us. The safari’s were also well organized. In the evening, he even offered us a short ride to catch the sunset.

Devji's website is here.
Other options include: Desert coursers, and the Rann riders. Best way is to shortlist among these and call them for info!

How many days? We spent about 2 and half days. Reserving a day for the safari is good, but we were on a much slower pace, with nowhere else to be.

In a crowded van, chugging towards ...

Road blocked!

Mr. Shepherd

A beautiful sunset

Our hut or Kbooba

Cute dog in the camp

Friday, October 08, 2010

The moment when it started

We were back from an unexciting day at Skofja Loka (a nearby sleepy village), and making it to some of the landmarks for last photos. Eventually we found our way back to Presern’s square (the most important, central square in Ljubljana).

Six o clock at Preseren is bustling. After a cloudy day, the sun was finally out, warming us all up. People walking past or cycling by, some sipping their coffee, tourists just hanging around at the foot of the statue, parents with strollers, shoppers... A street musician was playing and a small crowd was gathering. And then he struck the chords for ‘My girl’.

Preseren square in the evening

We had had a bit of grey weather in the first few days. And then, I had gotten to know that an exam I had given hadn’t gone for the best. Funny how such a small thing can come snowballing and make you see things in extreme gloom.

And then as the song began, it felt like – so what? Here I was in one of the prettiest, liveliest squares, - one of the most ‘realest’ squares filled with people who actually lived, and worked and belonged to Ljubljana. I imagine I would have been doing exactly this on any other evening if I was living in the city - walking by the square, stopping to see the river, catch a glimpse of the evening sun and soaking in the life in general. The sun was warming me to the core. I had a slight buzz from the bookshop I had dropped into, and the couple of books I had picked up. And then there was the song calling to me. I think that was the moment when I felt, yes I am here, here now. The moment when it felt like the trip was beginning to take off.

The triple bridge

Preseren’s square is not the most remarkable or even bigger squares in Europe. But what is nice is that it is a part of the daily life of Ljubljana rather than just being on the tourist trail. We saw a few girls with H&M bags and decided to ask them where the store was. They laughed, “Oh you caught us. Don’t worry we’ve left something for you”. The square is along the river Ljubljana’s banks, with landmarks like the Franciscan church, Triple bridge (Tromostovje). Preseren is a national poet who wrote the Slovenian anthem and his statue stands tall in the square. Story goes, he is looking across the square at the building of his lady love.

Preseren and his Muse

Us just hanging out

Later that evening, after some shopping at H&M, we stopped by a cafe offering apperitivos - it means drinks, but typically many cafe’s offer a filling but free plate of side eats. We had been looking for these bars/restaurants in Venice, but found these first in Ljubljana. Our first day in Ljubljana had started off in Preseren Square – where our walking tour began. On our last, we left with a glorious final image of the square blazing in lights at night.

Night lights