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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Posted in Travel

Travel Diaries- July 2013 (Part 5)

Having ticked off the Old City Center from our “must-see-do-experience @KL” list, we decided the bright sunny day needs to be dedicated to the “Golden Triangle”.

“We will start at Bukit Bintang- that’s the shopping district of the city, from there we will find our way to Jalan Alor for the street food and we can then walk down to the Petronas Twin Towers – to see the lights on in the evening. You can get yourself a tripod in the shopping area, so that you get good pics of the towers at night” Bee hurriedly added, just as I made a face about going to the shopping arcade. I mean, why would anyone in their right minds go to see the shopping area- it’s all the same- everywhere in the world, you get more or less the same things, at more or less the same price! I wanted to see the other things- specialties of KL which you don’t get in any other city. The last thing I wanted was to go shopping, or worse, go see the shopping district without needing to buy anything on sale!!!

But Bee’s “Tripod” bait worked! I have always wanted a tripod – to be able to do justice to the night shots I take with my Nikon D5100. Not that they are bad without the accessory, but night shots- especially those requiring long exposure times do need a very stable hand. One of my favorite “traffic light trails “shot did not live up to my expectations back in Bangkok.   (https://www.facebook.com/loveleen.mishra/media_set?set=a.4049336365773.158854.1652899674&type=3)

I have, ever since, been vying to get a nice, stable tripod!

So that was it- with breakfast tucked in and a plan in place, we left the hotel and made our way to the works!

The Bukit Bintang (roughly translated, it means “Star Hill”) area is the premier shopping area of KL- flanked on all sides by teeming shopping malls, al fresco restaurants, swanky bars- the lot. It is among the most preferred Youth Haunts (if I may use the term) of the city.  Today, the Bintang Walk hosts some of the biggest events at KL, including the annual F1 GP “pit stop”, the New Year’s eve celebration and the Independence Day Eve celebrations.

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Some of the most famous Retail Outlets (all right, I am saying it- Shopping Malls) Some of the most famous Shopping malls in the Bukit Bintang area include the Berjaya Times Square, Imbi Plaza, Farenheit 88, Low Yat Plaza (For all your electronics junkies), the Lot 10, Starhill Gallery & The Pavillion (for all fashion-estas)

“We can’t possibly see all these at one go, Bee. Which one to see and what not to see? We don’t even have a lot of time” I worriedly asked.

“Lets start with Berjaya Times Square and then find our way to the next ones, OK?”

“OK”

So, first up- the Berjaya Times Square. When we were there, we were not aware of the records that this building holds. First, it is the world’s 8th largest building in the world (by floor area) and is also the world’s largest building to be made in a single phase! What we loved about it was its “Fish Foot Spa”, a Theme park right in the centre of the mall and of course the GSC MAXX 2D&3D theatre.

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Soon, we were hopping from one shopping mall to the other- till we found ourselves right infront of the Starhill Gallery

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It is the most ritzy and luxurious of the lot- boasting brands such as Louis Vuttion, Gucci, Fendi and Sephora. Brands apart, it is one stunning piece of architecture. In fact, we found out that iIt was shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival (WAF) Award in 2013 in the Shopping category.

And, standing right across the Starhill Gallery, is the most famous of them all- the Pavillion, Kuala Lumpur.

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A one-of-a-kind shopping mall, the Pavillion can be divided into six distinct categories, including “The Couture Pavilion” (Dedicated to some of the major fashion labels and flagship boutiques), the “Centre Court “(where some event related to Swiss made watches was going on as we went in), a “Gourmet Emporium” for the food buffs and “Seventh Heaven” with its beauty parlors and spas! The Pavilion is also home to former Prime Minister (Tun Mahathir Mohamad)’s own bakery- “The Loaf”

By this time, it was well past lunch-time and we needed to grab some food, before venturing further into the remainder of KL’s “Golden Triangle”. So we peered into the Nokia Maps and found our way to “Jalan Alor”.

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The few streets that we walked to get from BB walk to Jalan Alor seemed to be like traveling back in time.  As we came closer to the famed “Food Paradise of real Asia”, the ubiquitous Flashy billboards from the BB Walk, start to get replaced by Chinese boards – hawking the food available. The streets were now lined by Chinese “Dhaba” equivalents- ready to put chairs on the street and start feeding you! We had heard that this place comes alive after sunset- we could sense the prep for the evening was on; but alas! We had arrived a little too early to enjoy the gastronomical delights of Jalan Alor!

“Bee… lets go somewhere else. I am hungry and this place doesn’t open – not even a single hawker on the street- during the day”

“Ok… lets head back” and we found our way back to the hustling streets of Bukit Bintang!

It was during lunch that Bee told me “You know, Jalan Alor was very infamous in the past. It was the red light district of KL till some years back. The Tourism Dept and the City Municipality have actually put in efforts to get rid of the menace, and put some life & focus back on the food paradise part of Jalan Alor”

I listened intently as he continued “There are still many undercover pimps on these streets, trying to lure single male tourists into getting a good massage!” Bee winked as he related yet another story, while I finished lunch.

We continued walking in and out of the myriad of retail outlets for the rest of day- looking at the map to find the best route (read shortest route) to the KLCC and the Petronas Towers.

By the time the sun set that afternoon, we found ourselves at the Suriya KLCC- Our final Shopping mall for the day (and for a lot of days to come, I hoped)!

The Suriya KLCC mall is a must visit- not for the shopping, or the brands, or even the food. It sits on the base of the Petronas Twin Towers! For any architecture major, or building enthusiast, or memento collector, or engineering major…. For that matter, every visitor to KL should and does come to the hallowed grounds of the Petronas Twin Towers. Why? Well, it is currently the tallest twin towers in the world; it was, from the time it was built, till 1998 (when the Taipei 101 was built) the tallest building in the world… It is, in fact, a symbol of how far the city of KL has come. From shady beginnings as a tin mining shanty (link to blog), through a series of race riots, KL has transformed itself into an alpha world city. The Petronas Towers are symbolic of the city and her status as a Global Player. (Refer http://www.petronastwintowers.com.my/ for further details)

The sun was not down yet, so we still had a few daylight hours to kill- before we could witness the splendor of the Towers with the night lights. So we decided to take a stroll in the KLCC park, and snapped some pics of the towers in daylight.

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Beside the wading pool, a few photography enthusiasts were preparing for the light show- setting up tripods, ensuring they got the view of the entire towers, setting up and checking the light-meters.

“Bee..” I suddenly remembered “We did not get that tripod for me! You said in the morning we would buy a tripod for me. We forgot! What will I do? How will I get a steady shot of the towers at night?” I was panicking by now.

“Its ok… you will get good shots. I am sure. Besides, you said a few times in the last one hour that you don’t want to go to any more shopping malls- you are fed up, remember?” Bee Chuckled

“Cheatercock! You should have reminded me!”

And the argument continued…

Till the lights came on- and then we were too mesmerized to break its spell. As if on cue, the fountains in the pool rose up in a sequence of synchronized choreographed moves, and danced along.

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By the time we had clicked a hundred odd photographs of the site from all angles and all sites, we decided to call it a day and walked back to our room.

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But that’s not the end of the story, Bee had yet another ace up his sleeve! This time, the agenda was to bug me off completely (and he succeeded, like in all his other ventures)- Instead of walking to the closest metro station, he walked and made me walk two stations in the opposite direction, before finally taking a train back to our studio! I am so sure he did all of this just to annoy me … Why, you ask?

Well, all the married folks reading this would know why- the singles…. J J I am sure, you will know the answer at the right time!