Posted in Experiences, Travel

Paris and the Lord of the Rings Easter Eggs

I am a big fan of J.R.R. Toielken.His works, especially the Lord of the Rings Series, have the ability to transport you to a different realm- Middle Earth, as you dive into the books. To me, the best part of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” was the journey that the protagonists undertook- going out of their comfort zone into vastly unknown and inhospitable worlds, and coming back a lot more “hobbitses” than they were at the beginning.

Perhaps this is what travel and journeys in large, do to a person. Traveling makes you a better person- a more “human” person. On all our travels, we have made new friends, eaten new foods, slept like a log at the end of a long day spent walking through unfamiliar streets, and most importantly- on all our travels, we have found a little bit more about ourselves. That is why we travel- to see how “other” people live, to gawk at the beauty and bounty of nature with open jaws, to see humanity in unremarkable places, to appreciate human ingenuity- in all the things man can make, and humbleness in all that he cannot.

Last year, we were in Paris- the undisputed City of Love (or is it the City of Lights?)Whatever she threw at us, we revelled in the City’s charm. Palaces, Cathedrals,Museums,City Squares & parks that can hold thousands of people at once- we were mesmerized and awed by it all. Then there was the River – the life-giver and harbinger of joy, the Seine. I thought to myself, “This is the lifeline of this city” as the batobus rolled and yawed on the tumultuous little waves.

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One night, we took the metro to watch the Eiffle Tower at night. A street musician stood in one corner of the square and played soulful music, singing along. The strains of music weaved a magic into the night. There was a crowd of hundreds of people at that time, but everyone was alone and at peace- everyone was at one with the music in the background, and the sparkling lights of the Eiffle Tower ahead.

When my friends ask “Why do you go to cities for a vacation? A beach or the hills are so much better to relax”; my mind goes back to this night- and to many quiet days and nights like this where you find solitude and harmony in the centre of everyday hustle. Every city has this oasis of peace- you ‘ve only got to find it.

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Later that night, we took the RER metro line to return to base- and behold, I made another discovery! There exists a city beneath the City of Paris. It does not have cathedrals and parks, but makes up for those in having miles upon miles of steel tracks. As we went lower into the abdomen of the city, the air grew warmer, but the crowds did not thin. Strains of music played by street musicians filled the air inside making the deep tunnels seem almost romantic and melancholic at the same time. By the time we were at least four storeys below the street surface, the stairs and tunnels opened up onto a large hall with a high ceiling that was supported by many tall columns. As people continue about their daily business, we realized that the population under the earth was more that above it! The station had been made to be able to accomodate the entire city’s population, if necessary. There were food stalls, and souviner shops, even fashion stores – all inside the belly of the giant that was Paris. An epiphany struck- this giant system, and not the Seine, was the lifeline of modern Paris. This treasure of steel and concrete and humanity is what drives the pulse of the city. The Paris we discovered that night- is a sleeping giant, built for life entirely underneath the surface of the earth. It seemed to me like the Dwarfs of Toilken’s works, are real and live among us- making their fascinating little cities underneath our mundane lives!

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Posted in Travel

In Flight

I love traveling. It gives me anxiety and fills me with wonder. Much like my first flying experience.
I listened to the safety announcements of the cabin crew like my life depended on their words. I read through the flight safety manual before the boarding was completed. When the plane hit the runway, I clutched the edges of my seat and looked out the window. As soon as the plane lifted off the ground, a wave of nausea hit me and i turned my head back towards the seat if front of me. I did not want to be that passenger who was sick on the flight. I kept repeating this in my head till the sick subsided. Throughout that flight,  my tummy turned and I was queasy. I felt claustrophobic, and open the air conditioning​ vent to the fullest. Pretty soon, I was freezing and turned​ it off. This pretty much summed up my activities in flight!
To get my mind off the horrible feeling, I sat looking out of my window seat for the entire two & half hours of flight time.  When we started at the east coast of the country, it was twilight. I loved watching the landscape change below me- from the green and blue of the Ganga basin to the brown hues spanning the rest of the country. Even after the plane had flown over the clouds, I kept looking out – imagining figures in the puffs of cotton and clouds. When it grew too dark to discern any shapes, I kept looking at the blinking lights on the wings of the plane.

The flight captain announced our descent into India’s city of Dreams. I had never been so far away from home- and alone at that! There were too many thoughts rushing through my head at that time. And then, there were none…. The sight in front of me had left me bereft of any thoughts other than sheer wonder.
As we flew lower out of the clouds, I saw in front of me a million little stars – yellow, twinkling stars… And we were flying over them, and towards them. The famous Queen’s necklace, which I had only seen in photographs, now stood in front of me- lighting up the dark edges of an endless sea. The photographs could not do justice to the scene that was unfolding in front of me. I had never seen anything more beautiful. As the plane approached the runway, thousands of little lights glowing in the shanties of Asia’s largest slum- Dharavi, rose up to meet us. I could only look on with wonder and think- “This is what hope looks like”.

Mumbai became my favourite city if the world that night, and continues to remain so. That day- the 8th day of the 11th month of 2008, was the day I knew I would always travel. I would bear the anxiety attacks, I would overcome the fear of the unknown, I would do whatever it takes- to travel, to witness the wonders of the world, and to bring and take hope from all my travels.

That night, I had found my calling.

Posted in Travel

Of Birds and the Bee

When Bee says he is “bird-watching”, he means he is watching our feathered friends- real avian  creatures. Now, that is good news for the wife, for not only does he spot birds with hawk-like precision, he is also good at clicking beautiful pictures of all the birds he claims to be watching 😉

His new-found love of watching birds saw us travel from the Western-most corner of the country at the Rann of Kutch, to the Eastern Coast of Odisha – in the backwaters of India’s largest Salt water Chilika lake. Each picture he clicked, has a story to go with it….

One of the first signs of the gradual increase in his interest for birds was when we were in Kuala  Lumpur. On the second day after landing in the Malaysian capital, Bee suggested we visit the “Kuala Lumpur Bird Park” As the day  wore on , I figured that the birds had been taking centre-stage in my pictures (yes, pics of me)!!!

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Stealing the show- The Pelican & Me

With the day drawing to a close, Bee was still energetic- still running about the place looking for birds on the prowl. It was at this time that he spotted a “mommy-baby” duo of the peacock family making their way through the undergrowth.

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A pea-hen guides her chick back home, as the day draws to a close

We left Kuala- Lumpur- Bee, happy with the birds he had sighted; and Me…. well, I was a little concerned with his enthusiasm for the feathered ones.

Back at home, we were visiting a friend one weekend. Her room-mate and she had been away for a week and on returning, found a bird nesting in the middle of their living room! The mommy-bird had laid a couple of eggs and was pretty much at home in their living quarters. When Bee & I arrived, they showed us their “trespasser” friend – who seemed very accustomed to the girls, but a little wary of us visitors.

Bee was enthralled at the prospect of watching a little bird being born !! Starting that day, we visited this friend’s place every evening after work, “so she can get used to me as well” was Bee’s line of thought. [ Incidentally, this friend also writes by the name “girlsonthemove” on WP] . Then one day, the miracle happened! All four of us were ecstatic – hearing the tiny chirps fill the room. That day, we realized that mommy animals and mommy birds are extremely, fiercely protective of their little ones! The bird, who had been nonchalant of our presence for weeks, was now a demon in disguise- screeching warnings at us, if we dared approach her nest.

Bee never really got to see the chicks, and the only pic we managed to snap was mommy sitting protectively on her nest, not allowing anyone so much as a peek inside 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Mommy- Bulbul looks out for her babies, as we play a waiting game of who blinks first… She won hands down!

Earlier this year, we planned a trip to one of better kept secret backwaters of the Chilika Lake in Odisha- Mangaljodi. Among bird-watchers and documentary film-makers, Mangaljodi is a haven of beauty and peace. Hidden away from the regular tourist routes, it can be reached by taking a slightly concealed turn from the state highway. A few kilometers through the country roads, and one can start getting glimpses of various avian species along the path.

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The major attraction, however, was a boat ride through the backwaters. Each boat can seat between 5 to 6 adults, and is paddled using a long bamboo pole from the rear end. The  advantage of  the boats is the silent operation- which mean that we were able to get extremely closer to the birds in their natural habitat.

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The silent boats meant we could creep right up to the birds in their natural habitats

Bee was ecstatic at the prospect! He made sure we  stopped  in the middle of the ride, trying to coax a bird to come closer.

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All that “bird-watching” has left Bee sweaty but ecstatic!

That was not really the end of our avian trial…

Closer home, he is constantly on the look out for birds- whether they are soaring high up in the air….

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Bird of prey- flyin’ high

Or, they are trying to cloak themselves in the dark of the night…

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One of a pair of spotted owlets that calls our colony home

If truth be told, Bee’s love of our feathered friends has yielded us some very funny moments, with some very good photographs! Needless to say- I am pretty proud of him 😉

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Posted in Travel

Bagan: An Empire in Decline

#ItsAWonderfulWorld … Bagan- definitely on the bucket list

What an Amazing World!

Gawdawpalin, Started by Narapatisithu and Completed by Htilominlo Gawdawpalin, Construction Started by Narapatisithu and Completed by Htilominlo

Chapter 1, Part 16

Almost two centuries of endless temple construction which began during the reign of Anawrahta, the founder of the kingdom of Bagan, resulted in nearly two-thirds of arable land in the kingdom reserved for religious purposes. The construction of colossal temples and the increasing influence of the kingdom, as well as the need to secure its borders, required a huge sum of money. But as the amount of cultivable area shrunk, so did the source of income Bagan needed to retain its generous spending.

Htilominlo, the successor of Narapatisithu who ruled Bagan largely in peace for almost four decades, overlooked the imminent financial difficulties his kingdom was facing. Construction spree was still taking place with the completion of Gawdawpalin, an enormous temple started by Narapatisithu and completed by Htilominlo, and an even bigger temple which would be…

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Posted in Travel

The Trains Strain

Train journeys are fun… but let’s not turn a blind eye to reality!

Heartranjan's Blog

At the risk of sounding like Mahesh Bhatt, I must acknowledge that trains and railways have been an integral part of my life.

As Indians, we take some sort of pride in quoting off facts and figures related to the Railways. Largest network in the world, the largest employer among government agencies, has been running since 150 years, all of that.

And yet deep within, we all know the truth.

Indian Railways is the largest network of shitpiles running across the length and breadth of the country. Like most government amenities in the country, those of us who can afford to bypass the realities of our country choose to travel by air, or in AC compartments.

When the government announced the hike in train fares last week, the responses weren’t exactly what you’d call surprising.

The opposition cried foul and lambasted the anti-poor move, the ruling party said it was…

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