Posts Tagged With: travel

Off… Again

Have I mentioned before? I love airports. They are busy, lively and bring with them excitement of a new, unknown destination that you would be seeing in a few hours. There is an excitement in everything – holding passport and ticket in your hand, pushing the luggage trolley, getting your items checked, getting stamping done on boarding pass.

After coming to USA 4 months ago, this was my first air travel. And this time, I wasn’t alone. I was off on a mini vacation with my husband, At.

Every person, who travels a lot, develops his style. What he does with his wait time on the airport, and how he travels generally, probably reflects his nature. I, for that matter, do have a definite pattern. I finish security check quickly and then roam around the whole shopping area, entering mostly book and souvenir stores to browse (I never buy other stuff but do pick up a book sometimes). By that time, I decide where I want to eat. I pick up my food and coffee and sit by the transparent wall, watching planes land, take off and taxi.

This is what I did this time too. Only, it was fun doing it with a companion.

And so, we board the plane with our Chicken Barbeque sandwiches and my excitement increases.

At had taken a window seat for me, which is what I always too. But unlike usually, I did not get a place above the wing, which was very fortunate. We took off from SJ in a shaky take off and were soon over the city, watching roads and buildings that lay in a very organized fashion. I watched the land below, my forehead pushed against the window, till clouds showed up and I could see nothing.

That’s when I turned to reading books on my tablet.

We reached Houston after a 4 hours flight. The airport was chaotic and crowded – a colorful mix of nationalities and professions. The food court enticed me to different outlets, making it more difficult for me to choose. I went in for Italian ultimately.

A Stromboli and Pizza piece in hand, I was whisked off to the boarding gate. And here comes the best part. I had been fooled. We weren’t going to Galveston, Texas, as At had informed me. We were going to Cancun! A big big surprise for me! I did not know how to react till the plane took off. I was too amazed and touched. At had planned this whole trip as a gift to me.

After this new fact sunk in, I started imagining about all the exciting things that we could be doing in Mexico.

Mexico. Boy!

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Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

Summing Up 2012

If Divya from Tipsy from the Trip hadn’t have tagged me, I would never have thought of doing a retrospection. Now that the year has ended and most of my exploring and blogging has happened in 2012, I am excited to write about it.

Towards the end of 2011, I moved to Vadodara and life changed. Vadodara, also known as the Cultural Capital of Gujarat, has a rich history and lots of architecture, festivals and the like happening throughout the year. To top it all, I made a wonderful friend, M, who was equally enthusiastic and accompanied me for all silly/risky/vague explorations, most of which turned out to be fruitful. With her, I have seen the best architecture in and near Baroda, had some excellent food, met some great people and did lots of shopping.

I travelled a lot – in India, outside India and within my city. I bought a SLR, experimented more with photography and zeroed down on my niche – old architecture and food.

I have recently moved to the US post marriage and there is no old architecture here to photograph! This is a clean concrete city and I will not get rustic elements here. Let’s see how my blog transforms, going forward.

As of now, here is my 2012 round up.

1. Most beautiful post: Champaner – Date with heritage.

I have not taken better pictures with a Point & Shoot. Champaner deserves more credit and attention that it currently gets.

2. Most popular post: Dhundhiraj Ganpati Temple

This beautiful, historic temple is special. It was my last expedition in Baroda during my last days there. This was a mystery temple which when finally found gave us immense happiness. The temple is hidden from localites and it made me happy to be telling about it to the world. This post also got the maximum comments.

3. Most helpful post: Hazira Maqbara

Many localites don’t know about this grand Mughal structure in Baroda and this post made them aware of it. I hope, more people will now visit and appreciate this beauty!

4. Most controversial post: None yet!

5. A post whose success surprised me: Magic of doors and windows

I wrote this long ago. The photos aren’t great and I didn’t know giving effects back then. People liked the pics a lot!

6. A post that did not get the attention it deserved: Back to you

I thought the photos were pretty cute!

7. A post I am proud of: Tambekar Wada or Sevasi Stepwell?!

Can’t decide!

These are great historic monuments that hardly anyone knows of. I think I did my favourite city proud by visiting, taking good pictures and writing about them so that people get impressed and visit!

2013 is an all new beginning. New country. New climate. New surroundings. Total new style!

And I am so looking forward to bringing my best out in this new year!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

VarieTEA: A place for conversations. And tea.

After M told me about her VarieTEA experience, I decided I HAD to visit.

There was only one snag – I do not take tea. How could I experience a tea speciality place without actually consuming its offering?

So, I dragged some of my friends there a couple of times so that they could enjoy the tea (with or without their willingness) and I could enjoy the aura of the place.

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That’s what touched me about VarieTEA – its ambience. The neat wallpaper, the glossy wooden wall panels, the wooden mesh furniture and cute tea pots. This is why I wanted to visit VarieTea again and again – its antiqueness. Its small-town-ness. I have never been to Darjeeling or those quaint East Indian towns. But I can guess that their tea shops would look like this.

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VarieTEA offers all kinds of tea – hot and cold, with and without milk, fruit and flower flavoured, spicy and mild. I decided, even if I do not drink tea ever and am not inclined towards it, these flavoured teas wouldn’t harm. And anyway, I was curious to taste the Green Apple, Vanilla and Guava flavoured teas. Wouldn’t you be?

Rarely have I seen the place crowded. It is always scantily populated. The maximum I saw was on this Sunday late afternoon when around 6 tables were full. It was disappointing to see people coming here just for the sake of food, and not for conversations. Yes, they do have enough food to offer – pastas, buns, pizzas, sandwiches and shakes – but this clearly is no reason why one should be solely coming here. This place has actually much more to offer than just food. This joint is a facilitator for thinking, mulling or communicating.

So far, I have tried that Hot Chocolate drink and Vanilla Tea; both were amazing. The sandwiches and pizzas are presented well and were reasonably good. The teas are rated at around ‘Sixtea’ to ‘Ninetea’. The service can be slow, the untrained waiters can mix up orders but that’s ok when you come here with lot of time in hand.

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Come here on a quiet afternoon or a lazy Sunday morning. Bring your own book or leaf through the pages of the magazines kept in a corner. The TV is muted and music system is always turned low. It won’t disturb your reading or tête-à-tête. Ring the bell if you need something.

And who knows, the staff may just gift you a pack of one of their speciality teas. We got Peppermint Tea.

~ ~ ~

Location: Jetalpur Road, Vadodara.

PS: I have heard that VarieTea, Baroda has closed down. (Added May ’14)

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Bombay

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Bombay has become so crowded in the last 5 years that I cannot go back to living there. But still, Bombay revives my senses everytime I visit. It makes me sit back and smile and several times tsk-tsk at the filth and poverty. Bombay gives freedom and space to each person to rightfully be their own self. It makes you strong and mature. Many outsiders do not like this wild city. But I must say, Bombay grows on you. You fall in love with it ultimately. Every person must spend some time in Bombay and let its essence soak in.

Categories: Bombay / Mumbai | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Singapore. Finally.

When I landed at Singapore Changi airport yesterday, I don’t know why I couldn’t stop smiling. I wasn’t just delighted. I felt gleeful. Victorious. Like I had achieved yet another feat. And totally at ease. At home. Totally in a familiar surrounding. Because for a wanderer, the world outside his home is his real home.

An uneventful but a good flight later we hired a taxi driven by a smart looking Chinese man. He surprised us by greeting us with a ‘Namaste. Aap kaise ho. Main accha hu. Maine khana kha liya. Aaj ka Mausam accha hai’. To our surprised faces and big smiles, he responded to our answer on his question about our state – Oh Gujarat??! MK Gandhi’s state. Famous for sweets and textiles! His knowledge about Singapore and India baffled me so much that I almost suspected him. What else was his mind capable of? He even went to the extent of asking Mum if she had an arranged marriage and wishes the same for her daughters! I couldn’t help but ask him if he was fond of reading about different countries ( a politer way of asking ‘how come so much interest in India?’) To which he replied – Oh, only the major ones. After all, China and India are the biggest upcoming markets.

He let out information overload on eatery and shopping suggestions on the way to the hotel. The 15 minutes journey costed us Sgd 19. We reached a Hindu temple, took the left turn and were at Ibis. The courteous staff unloaded our heavy suitcases and took them into the plush hotel which isn’t new to me. While waiting for the check in, I looked at the the deep red and orange sofas and purple lights going all the way to the restaurant and bar and wondered what the food would be like there. A staff with ‘I’m learning’ yellow badge helped me patiently with the check in and wifi (free wifi!!) details.

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The moment had arrived. I was in a new city. In another part of the world. I could see new views from the window. I couldn’t wait to get my new SLR out. Tall buildings almost touching the clouds can be seen from my hotel room window. A small portion of Esplanade stadium can also be seen. The taxi driver had told us that Arab street and Little India were just round the corner from our hotel (which was located at Bencoolen street).

The location of our hotel is brilliant. Bugis MRT and mall, which happens to be a reasonable sized mall, is just 7 minutes away. There is also the street shopping lanes and 2 other malls, OG and Illumini, in the area. So, there is no opportunity of getting bored here.

I am glad to have rested for the rest of yesterday. Because as expected and dreaded, we had to walk a lot today. Malls to and fro MRT, within the huge malls, Bugis Junction – you can’t avoid walking around in this tiny little country.

We began our day with roaming around the still closed Bugis Junction and I was glad to see names like Mphosis, Bossini, Espirit, Giordino, Nandos, Diva and Iora here. I can spend hours shopping there! On this early Saturday morning, the roads had been empty; so were the malls. This made the loitering around even more pleasurable.

I have really been excited about breakfast because I remembered the soft boiled eggs-coffee-toast-banana bread combo I had a couple of years back at Tea Loft (Ion Mall, Orchard). The toasted buttery banana bread was lovely, so was the coffee that had an orangish tinge and a delicious flavour. So this morning, we had breakfast at Toast Box. Apart from Toastbox, only McD and Mos Burgers were open and were already bustling with early risers.

Breakfast at Toastbox was like a dream breakfast for me. The small place with an open ‘kitchen’ area is full by 10 am even on weekends. 4 staff members multitask and manage to toast thin and thick bread slices, butter them, juggle between billing orders and making coffee, boiling eggs and preparing iced tea. We ordered for coffee, hot milo, thick toast – plain buttered and sugar, soft boiled eggs and banana cake. If you do not specify ‘hard boiled eggs’, you will be given soft eggs – that is eggs 40% boiled. Of course, I love them. You will be served eggs in 2 small shallow bowls, and one of them is meant for mixing egg with soya sauce (yes, soya sauce). I gobbled everything down while my sister and mother caught up on each other’s lives. The other favourite breakfast dishes seemed to be toast with minced crab floss, eggs noodles and chicken sausages.

Petite Singaporean girls can make bathroom slippers look hot and walk with rapid speed in high wedges. While the ‘poor’ portion of Singapore is visible, the majority other portion is hep and trendy. Think of any latest fashion trend and it is here. Perfect eye make up and innovative hair styles and hair cuts, if Singapore was to declare a national attire, it would be shorts. Girls of all ages wear shorts of all styles and lengths, team it with tank tops, shirts or frills and look smart.

Its probably is a mistake going to Orchard street on weekends, unless you love crowd, because more than half of Singapore would be here. Orchard street is the poshest area of Singapore with big names like Dior, D&G, Louise Vuitton occupying huge showrooms on the main street. The most popular mall here is Ion Mall. It has 4 floors – food court on the lowest floor and 3 other floors of restaurants, fashion stores & electronics stores. The mall is huge and it is not easy moving around here. Singapore is not very cheap for us Indians. And though I looked longingly at Mango, Charles & Keith, Forever 21, Zara, New Look and H&M store displays, there is hardly anything I can buy from there, unless I have spare money to splurge, and in the end I gave up even entering the stores. One store Mum and Sis enjoyed and spent a lot of time in was Daiso, the 2 SGD Japanese store. Everything from stationery to gardening tools to car cleaning tools to kitchen products were available here for 2 SGD each. We got some interesting things like milk frother, ice packs and pens. Tourists and localities flocked into its narrow passages filling up their shopping baskets. When we reached the food court, it was packed with hungry shoppers. If you look at the assortment of food available here, you can’t choose just one joint. Desserts – chocolate to milkshakes to cut fruits to flavoured ice to bubble tea to gelato, Cuisine – Thai to Malay to Japanese to Indian, fast food to posh restaurants, breakfast to cake shops – what is not here? I decided you have to come here multiple times to get a taste of all that your heart demands / desires. Though it was difficult to stand the odour of most Asian cuisines, the duck preparation smelt yummy (what many friends had said turned out to be true) and this remains an unfulfilled desire for which I need to come back to Singapore.

One interesting thing about Singapore is that though it is quite crowded, there is seldom a dense mass. A popular hangout like Clarke Quay was quite sparsely crowded (though I am told that morning work hours are so busy and crowded that you can expect a stampede anytime). Even though people had lined up the river bank to enjoy the cool pleasant weather, there was still space for more people to come and sit. Everyone, including us, sat facing the river watching tourist cruise boats go by (where tourists frantically clicked pictures and were entertained by music played by yet another doll-like Singaporean girl. Strange I don’t call myself a tourist) and the occasional bungee sport on the opposite bank. I looked up at the river-facing TCC joint on the second floor of The Central with longing. What a wonderful feeling it would be to have coffee sitting by the glass window there!

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We could hear music and beats coming from a thickly populated area on the other end and immediately knew that that was where all the action was. We walked past the several restaurants – Japanese, Indian, Australian, wine shops, ice cream shops and reached the main food area. Our destination there was Muchos, a Spanish restaurant. It was between Ras (an Indian restaurant) and Hooters (a Singaporean food joint that has assigned a tiny white and orange shorts and tee set to its waitresses to attract people. I’ve read that the girls often dance in front of the restaurant to attract visitors). The competition seemed tough here. Each joint employs some method – music, girls, boards, posters – to attract visitors. One huge middle Eastern food joint was playing loud Arabic music to make a girl in shiny blue Arabic costume do belly dancing. Further deep, were more discs and pubs and music, it was Saturday night, of course.

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Of course, we were one of those few boring ones who moved out towards our hotel while more people were flocking in. A crazy aged cab driver took us to our hotel. It had been a long day and I felt disheartened for spending a little more than optimal on clothes and accessories today (a pendant-chain from forever 21 for SGD 7, Glares from H&M for 15 SGD, 2 tops from H&M for SGD 18 each) and for not having used my new SLR.

Tomorrow we visit Esplanade area. Have to be geared for yet another beautiful day in Singapore.

Categories: Singapore | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Singapore The Third Time

Before I realize it, it is time for me to leave for Singapore. I panicked today (like I always do before every foreign trip). I leave from Baroda on 3rd May for Bombay to catch the flight to Singapore on 4th May early morning. I can’t express how excited that vision is – of holding your passport in one hand and the suitcase handle in the other. Before that comes lots of preparation – deciding what clothes to carry (see how this comes on top of the list), packing in utilities, ensuring no essential item is missed out, local travel, currency. I kept thinking I have loads of time and lo behold, I just have 5 days left!

I wasn’t as excited for this trip as I was for my previous 2 trips because Singapore isn’t new to me. I’ve been there 2 times before – both as a tourist and as a local. Having seen Sentosa, Merlion, Night Safari, Little India, Jurong Bird Park, I have also explored their malls – Ion, Vivocity, Tampines & Jurong Point – and food joints. There is still a lot to be done and seen there. This time, I am going to be armed with a brand new SLR and just the image of me clicking photos with it is quite satisfying.

We are going to be spending good 8 days in Singapore. Out of these, my sister (who is going to be our host for these 8 days) will be attending work for 3 days during which time my Mum and I will be on our own. A very careful itinerary has been made (otherwise also needed to decide which ensemble to wear when) mentioning the mall, food joint and sightseeing spot to be visited each day.

Having seen the most apparent parts of Singapore already, I am keen to see below the surface this time. My sister instantly ruled out nature parks and trails. I managed to get Chinatown, Singapore Zoo & Emerald Hill approved.

As I catch hold of whatever piece of paper I can find to quickly make the things-to-carry list, I remember my first foreign trip 5 years ago to SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore). I was so excited that my suitcase was packed and ready to be taken a month before we actually left. I have still preserved the to-take list I had made that time. Since that first foreign trip, I have not seen any dip in my enthusiasm levels. I am as excited as I was that time for every trip hence, whether in India or outside.

The first trip abroad in 2007 was driven by the childish curiosity of seeing what foreign countries were like. The real moment of enlightenment came in 2008 when I visited Switzerland & Paris with my family. That trip me showed me a world that I was actually attached to but still so unknown, different and far away. I had told my parents that time that by 2010, I wish to have 10 countries’ visa stamp on my passport. I managed to have 6 (excluding the multiple Schengen & Singapore visas). My dream from that time was to see the whole world. My eyes had opened to the fact that the world out there is very huge and very different and you can’t die without seeing it. When I took a stand in the last 2 years and went to Australia and Europe even though my family and several friends condemned me for wasting (imagine, spending money for travel means a waste for them) money like this. Very few supported. In my heart I knew I had to go. And I did. I cherished each moment of walking on foreign lands and feeling a part of a world which is much bigger than my hometown.

A friend asked me today how resolute I am towards travel. Will I travel irrespective of company / situation? Am I a compulsive traveller? I was forced to think about it. So, I have been a compulsive traveller till now. If not foreign trips, it is nearby Baroda. Or in Baroda. But the desire of seeing /experiencing something new, the need for being marvelled at staggering new sights & the yearning for being transformed into a different being never eludes me. The quest here is not of travelling but of learning which will always remain eternal for me.

The third visit to Singapore is going to amaze me equally more. I am quite likely to return as a new being.

Some pics taken during my first visit:

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Merlion from ropeway to Sentosa

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The famous hotel where we were told Shah Rukh Khan always stays when he visits Singapore

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The typical coloured windows

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A Chinese temple

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Sentosa Island

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That’s me at the southern most tip of Asia at Sentosa island

Categories: Photography, Singapore | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery

The Baroda museum was founded by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and built completely by 1894. This huge red brick structure reminds you of the architecture of England. The huge museum is located in Kamati Baug and has sprawling premises with the main building in the centre and gardens surrounding it. The museum is open on all days from 10:30 am till 5 pm. On a Sunday morning, typically the common man will come here on the obligatory Sunday outing with his wife and kids. Most of the crowd won’t halt in front of each exhibit for more than 3 seconds but for people who are really interested in history, information and art, Baroda Museum is worth a good 3 hours of their time.

The entry fee for Indians is Rs. 10 per person and Rs. 150 per person for foreigners. You have to pay Rs. 100 extra if you wish to use a camera inside.

I have visited the museum several times during my school days but did not remember anything about how the building looks like from inside or what all it contained except 2 exhibits – a huge animal skeleton and an Egyptian mummy. It turns out that these 2 exhibits are the highlights of the museum (and the caretakers / guards will not let you leave without confirming with you if you’ve seen them). 2 of my friends visited me last weekend and I dragged them to the museum because I wanted to refresh childhood memories.

Once through the entrance, you will find yourself in a huge lobby area with a passage, held up by wooden pillars and arches, going in the front towards the Gaekwad room. Just before it is a table showing old photographs and items once owned by Mahatma Gandhi. On the right and left sides are various other exhibits kept in individual rooms. The various rooms on the ground floor are Japanese Gallery, Persian Room, Baroda Room, Egyptian Room (housing the scary looking mummy with its feet popping out), Tibetian Room, Chinese Gallery to name a few. These rooms exhibit paintings, wall hangings, ceramics, and show pieces belonging to these various countries. There is also a huge room displaying cloth & handicrafts from various states of India. The Old Baroda room displaying the typical traditional Gujarati jaali work windows and balconies was one of my favourites.

The second floor consists of 2 wings. One half is primarily the Animal Section which has stuffed animals, birds and reptiles and preserved body parts (like intestines) of various animals. This one section was beyond my liking and I only managed to rush through it without paying attention to what ‘stood’ behind the glass walls glaring at me. Moreover the dummies looked dirty and wilting. The museum as such is well maintained and clean but the same cannot be said for the exhibits.

The other section is an assortment of minerals, stones, musical instruments, global tribal costumes and a huge elephant head skeleton. Another display I didn’t want to go close to (although a young boy of around 8 hopped inside the enclosure and tapped a couple of times on the tusk to fulfil his curiosity).

You go down the curved stairs and up towards the Picture Gallery which houses some famous paintings by Ravi Verma, European painters and Maharaja Sayajirao’s collections. In the basement below the picture gallery are the Greek and European rooms showcasing marble statues and pretty ceramics, glasswork and embroidery.

At last, just before the exit is the blue whale skeleton in the basement on the left side (the guards would willingly guide you). Apart from the 22 meters long skeleton, skeletons of dinosaur, chimpanzee, wild pig, etc are also displayed. This is one interesting room (actually a part of the kids’ section) which must not be missed.

Not just the exhibits, the architecture of the building itself is something that one can spend time looking at and photographing. As with all the buildings made during Maharaja Sayajirao’s times, this one is ornamental, grand and sturdy. The red brick form only adds to its mystique.

Someday I would like to come back here and spend a good half a day here taking photos and studying exhibits.

There is a tiny aquarium near the museum buildings which is too tiny and is nothing special. At an entry fee of Rs. 4, it may just be a delight for young kids. Oh yes, the funny distorted mirrors can keep the adults entertained.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Oh…. Calcutta…

It’s just 6 pm and it’s so dark outside that it feels like 8 pm. We are in a kurta shop called Prapti and it is so so peaceful here. The pounding inside my head has almost stopped. This place gives no hint of the rush, traffic, noise and chaos happening outside in the G market area. While E’s Mum is getting chicken rolls for us from Bedwin and Boudwin, the oldest and world famous rolls, we rushed through the narrow footpaths, which are selling 2nd hand books, earrings, plastic stuff, katha work blouse pieces and jute bags. I wish I hadn’t shopped so much previously this year; I could have got worthy, cheap stuff here. How much ever dirty, congested and poor this city may look to be, I am falling in love with it. In fact, I had fallen in love with the idea of Calcutta even before landing here.

So why is my head pounding, you may ask? Because I fell sick in the morning. And this happened because of excess consumption, no excess hogging of sandes yesterday. I ate and ate and ate like there’s no tomorrow; like I’m never going to get sandes ever again in my life. I must have had, like, 7 pieces in a span of 4 hours.

When I got up in the morning today, I felt my stomach doing weird things inside. Usual stomach problem because of too much food, I thought. But when I went for a bath and I felt dizzy, sick and wanted to puke, I panicked. This is exactly what had happened to me a couple of years ago. I was puking for 2 days. It was something to do with acidity. Looked like the same thing.

I felt weak; very weak and could barely walk, sit or sleep or so anything, for that matter. E’s Mum called up a Doctor relative of hers and gave me medicines. I don’t remember if I went off to sleep and how I must have looked like because E’s family looked quite amused. Of course, they took real good care of me and I knew I would be ok because I am in good hands. And when I felt better I realized our whole plan for the day had been destroyed. Marble palace, Flurry’s, Book Street, Kookie Jar, walking around the city – all down the drain. I can’t express how muh I regretted not being able to see the city the way I wanted to and also missing on all the gorgeous food. E pointed out on an optimistic note that this just gives me an opportunity to come back here once again. Sure, I will!

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We left from home at around 1, after lunch, and head straight to New Market. Though I feel fine in a sense that I do not feel pukey and stomach feels ok too but I feel very very weak. I am barely able to walk and don’t feel like eating or talking at all. I lag behind E and her Mum and want to sit down at every opportunity available. We go to Khadim’s where cheap leather goods are available. It is very crowded; Durga Pooja shopping seems to be happening in full spirit! I look around at the colourful chappals but don’t feel like buying anything. We go further into the narrow lanes holding shops selling everything from bed sheets, plastic and glass ware, cosmetics, electronics to crockery. We buy hair clips, dress materials and glass ware and stop over at a Parsi bakery which happens to be one of the oldest bakeries of Calcutta for some snacks. I take a fish cutlet. It is too salty (again) for my taste and it doesn’t taste like fish too. But anyway, I wouldn’t have left without trying something from there.

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We head towards a sari shop where I buy saris for Mum. I am left impressed by all beautiful silk saris. Suddenly, my taste in saris has changed. Good bye, Clinging Crepes and Georgettes. Hello Silk. These printed silk saris will look brilliant with wooden / dull metal beads and other forms of chunky / vintage jewellery (no gold, please). Well, someday. Till then, I can always wear the saris I gift Mum!

We also buy beaded jewellery worth dirt cheap from the footpath outside. And, oh yes, we also stop at Wills Lifestyle and I buy a shirt and a cotton capris (I think my health became perfectly ok after this!).

Before it gets dark, E’s Mum wants her to meet their Swamiji (they follow Ramkrishna Mission) and I decide to wait in the car to preserve energy. I use that time to make a few phone calls and what do I notice in a while? E’s Mum and E are walking towards the car with Swamiji himself! When he was told that I am waiting in the car and am not well, he came down himself to give me prasad, some books and his blessings for me to get well soon. I was so touched and overwhelmed!

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So, here I am, devouring the chicken and egg roll from B & B and I must thank E’s Mum for giving me effective medicines so that I am perfect shape to eat these heavenly rolls. Non veg, finally! Real Calcutta food, finally!

We start packing up as we have to leave tomorrow morning. It’s cool and winds are blowing outside. There is a slight drizzle. I get up and rush to the balcony to close the door. E’s Mum shares a light laugh with E. (I have been sneezing and shivering at the slightest drop of temperature. Everyone, though troubled by this, has been highly co-operative in this regard). I know I have missed quite a lot of Calcutta but I have enjoyed each moment I have spent here, with all the people. This was an ideal vacation and I wish it had been longer.

Categories: Calcutta, India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Journeys

After all the planning that goes behind a trip, the moment the journey starts, it’s the most exhilarating feeling. For me, it’s the feeling I get when I get into the train. Train journeys have a charm of their own. Not too long but short duration journeys of 4-5 hours can give a lot to ponder on. My recent journey to Bombay was equally delightful.

F O O D

Food vendors bring tea, coffee, biscuits, chocolates, idli-chutney, sandwiches, cutlets, bhel and the ever green vada paav and make even a full stomach want more. The whiff of the delicious food enters the coach before the nasal, sing-along tone of the vendors does. On my latest journey, I intentionally did not get food from home, even though the cook offered to pack food, because my eyes were already gleaming with the though of the hawkers’ food! The moment my train started, I waited impatiently for any hawker to come by. Idli? Cutlet? Sandwich? Which hawker would come first? The bhel seller passed. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t like dry bhel much. At all, rather. But who could resist the rousing aromas of onion, lemon and chat masala! I ordered one finally (overpriced at Rs. 20) and didn’t regret it at all!

DSC00682The bhel I couldn’t resist

P E O P L E

Interesting, weird, irritating, funny and sometimes nice people you find during journeys. Rarely have I made a friend during any of my train journeys. Most people have just been interesting characters. People who occupy too much space (this happens with me frequently because I am thin and people think I don’t need space); people who talk loudly on phone; people who play songs loudly on their mobile phone assuming other passengers like their choice of songs; people who throw rubbish around. During my recent journey to Bombay, the girl sitting opposite me took up the entire leg space between both the berths and refused to realize. A chattering and nagging wife of a harassed looking husband didn’t stop talking. The whole family of 4 had a picnic and ate made homemade bhajiyas. 2 small girls sand Gujarati jingles for couple of girls. One of the girls fell down from the top berth and wailed. Their mother searched frantically for a lost gold earring. There were no interesting characters during my return journey and the journey felt quite bland!

B O O K S

A perfect time to devote yourself to a book. Our daily lives don’t give us time and energy to read books. it takes efforts and most of us don’t do that. A journey is the best time to read. I had been delaying completion of Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell. I had been reading it slowly and that too during the short travel journey on my weekend home visits. I managed to finish off this book during the 3-4 hours I spent in the train to Bombay. Not only did the book become more interesting with each page, I am back to the good old habit of reading.

DSC00522My bag and my book.

M U S I C

Happy, cheerful and soulful songs enrich a journey. There are numerous songs that have made my journey better at different phases of life. Some of the favourites today are Suddenly I see by K Tunhall, Emotion in Motion by Ric Ocasek, Hey Ya from Kartik Calling Kartik and the latest, Bhaag D K Bose from the movie Delhi Belly.

S C E N E S

Villages. Fields. Bridges. Rivers. Lakes. Hills. Towns. Old houses. Ruins. Abandoned factories. I especially like the fields and villages. I look, as far as my eyes can see, at the roads vanishing into faraway villages. Little towns with little houses, built close to each other, people sitting at the doorsteps chatting and children playing outside, not with toys and balls, but with each other. I often find myself imagining how it would be like staying in those houses or being in those small towns. What do the people do in their free time? What do they do for entertainment? Do they have electricity all the time? Do they have water problems?

T H O U G H T S

I can spend hours thinking. That is some feeling of being isolated even when you are surrounded by people. New things, new people and new situations trigger the chain of thoughts and may even give ideas! Who knows what brings out the creative best in you – during travel and when it is most unexpected!

Preparing for a trip can be quite a task but once the journey starts it’s for you to enjoy. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, after all. So true. I am already excited about my August Calcutta trip, which is going to involve air, rail and bus journeys. I can’t wait!

Categories: India, Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The Dutch Cemetery, Surat

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SACRED TO THE MEMORY

OF THE REV. JAMES SKINNER

WHO DIED OCTOBER 30 1821

AGED 38 YEARS

‘”My flesh shall slumber in the ground

Till the last trumpets joyful sound

Then burst the chains with sweet surprise

And in my Saviour’s image rise”

Read one of the tombs. However eager I was to visit the Dutch cemetery, I was sceptical of walking on the ground below which several dead bodies have been buried. E had been to this place before and had warned me beforehand of the eeriness of the place. My love for old architecture drove me there; otherwise, I am the kind of a person who turns into stone when she hears a noise in the darkness! We were clever enough to go there during daytime – around 4:00 pm. This historic cemetery is located right on a main road in Katargam area. It is surrounded by residential buildings from the remaining 3 sides. Could this place have felt eerie, ever?

We were greeted by the stench of urine and sewage at the main gate of the cemetery. Stone structures topped with domes loomed beyond the walls. An old man sat on the ground removing wild grass (good thing that the premises are taken care of by someone). Some 10 teenage boys played cricket at the other end of the cemetery.

The place looked far from eerie or scary. The sky was clear and the sun beamed down on us in its full glory. With sunglasses covering our eyes, we looked around the various structures and tombs. The mesmerizing structures were worn out but stood upright. The cemetery contains several tombs of the Dutch who stayed in Surat in the pre-independence era. But the 3 major tombs are that of Francis Breton (President of the English factory. He died in AD 1649), Christopher Oxenden (He died in 1659), George Oxenden (C Oxenden’s brother; died in 1669) & Gerald Aungier (Governor of Bombay & President of English factory, who died in 1916). Large elegant structures have been put up as a tribute to them.

DSC00292The rustic structures

DSC00349One of the important tombs there

DSC002943 tombs laid beside each other with an ancient structure in the background

DSC00304The worn out paint of the pillars of a structure. Some design detail can be seen on the roof

DSC00340The most grand tomb of the cemetery

Some other beautiful structures:

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Beautiful memorial verses have been engraved on the tombs. There was a tombstone of a baby who died merely 2 months after her birth. Tombs of army soldiers, captains and their families fill up this medium sized ground. Each touching verse spoke about how the person had lived, how he or she touched their lives and how they wish his or her soul rests in peace. Each message was filled with sentiments and affection of the departed’s loved ones.

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Most of the tombs were of dates before the year 1900. Obviously, none of the descendants of the deceased stay in India anymore. In fact, when the cemetery was created, Surat city or India would have been some other territory, obviously under the British rule. I expected to see at least one tombstone with flowers on it but I guess that was an unreal wish. The tombs now lay alone and probably forgotten.

The cemetery is located in the heart of the city and is safe to go at any time during the day, though not advisable to go very early or late during the day, as the gate might be locked and it may be difficult to hunt for the caretaker. There are no fixed timings because, my guess is, no one really goes there. The structures are fantastic mastery of art and are worth seeing. It is quite sad that they are worn out and look nothing like the original forms but they are beautiful all the same.

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Categories: India, Surat, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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