A trip to US of A….

For the families like us, with a sole earning member and a fixed salary every month……planning, prioritising, compromising, budgeting and reallocating is very much a part of routine. So, planning an expensive abroad trip is an overwhelming luxury and risk in managing our funds. And on top of that…a trip to America, a country much costlier in smallest of things than my precious India, is definitely a very bold decision…

americaI had expected an overflow of excitement when the days would near for a vacation to the America. But, I am surprised at myself because I am quite subdued! Is it because I suppressed my excitement long enough so that it doesn’t jinx the trip ? Or an unknown place, the only exposure of the lifestyle there being through Hollywood movies or books, intimidate me already? Or the long planning of what to do , what to pack, how to best use the vacation with every dollar spent to its full, exhausts my mind? Or is it that the little voice in my heart which always insists on patriotism is afraid, that I would fall in love for all the material things and the small freedoms which at times are not available here?

I am afraid too….. of behaving like a wide-eyed kid in the Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, or Alice in wonderland, of wanting the vacation to never end, of desires that would take birth after biting the forbidden fruit…..

I know what all good values my country has to offer but I am also aware  where all there is much to be desired……small issues which lead to a crib against neighbors, politicians, public facilities, double standards in relationships …. I don’t want to come back and start feeling more antagonised towards the way of life, here in our country!!

There is much too love within the families here….which though results in melodramatic outbursts, emotional blackmail, unsolicited advices, unnecessary heartaches and verbal castigation to prove that one has failed to do duties towards family……..Yet this same dependency on each other, quality to stick together, reverence towards parents and unquestioning attitude to follow orders from elders of family is what, has prevented our families from disintegration…from frustrated gun toting kids….from runaway teenagers…..from loss in faith in the institution of marriage….

Times have changed much and many people are breaking away from the typical set up of tradition, culture not because they have lost interest in the traditions etc but because they want a little more freedom within the traditional set up….

I love our traditions, the festivities, the small arguments and the subsequent make-ups but I value my freedom to choose, to agree or disagree, to relate or to simply keep quiet…. And I have been termed a rebel……. So that makes me little afraid of myself…. Afraid that my views will become stronger….afraid that I will advocate more freedom for women to dress as they want and to choose who they want…..afraid that I will defy my parents and keep relations with only select few whose thought process is similar to mine….afraid that I will change!!

Off on a vacationIn another couple of days, I leave for a long vacation to America…..And I am excited…..maybe the joy will spill over once I board the flight….

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A photo journey : Havelock Island, Andamans

I had never seen so many hues of blue till I made a trip to Havelock Island , Andaman Islands. The most popular and the best beach in Asia, Radhanagar beach with its silver sand strewn with thousands of beautiful shells and corals, elephant rides in sea, snorkelling was so breathtaking that I could not stop shooting photographs. Here are some that I simply wanted to share…

From the ship deck

Approaching the island

Light House

Trail to tents

Tents at the island

Beach

The kids were immensely happy covering each other with sand and playing mermaid, making sand castles and  hut of twigs and grass or simply running in and out of sea. They did not want the vacation to end ever….

Kids at play

Tidal fury

Out in the Arabian Sea

A lone ship

Setting sun

The night watchman….this crab was moving fast when our torch-light dazed it momentarily and it assumed a ninja like attack stance…..

The night watchman

 

 

 

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Sun City: Jodhpur

Clock Tower, JodhpurA hot cup of coffee is my utmost requirement when I am tired and post my shopping adventure I sure was tired, famished and in no state to go searching for a coffee cafe near the “Clock tower” of Jodhpur though it has many eateries catering quick bites. The market place near the clock tower is the much sought after shopping area for handicrafts and ethnic clothes.

Someone told me to head for “Shri Mishrilal Hotel” which isn’t a hotel really but a small room in the extended arms of the Sardar Kot Gate known for its thick ‘lassi’ or sweetened and very thick buttermilk. This little joint exists since 1927 and is recommended by the Lonely Planet Guidebooks. It lived up to its fame because after one glass full of the lassi and a plate of Jodhpur’s famous ‘mirchi vada‘  (stuffed and fried large chilli) I was myself stuffed enough to skip dinner.

Shri Mishrilal Hotel

The much written about and much  visited Jodhpur is famous for its forts, palaces, lakes, Rajasthani meal thali and furniture much of which is exported. Besides shopping, the love for architecture, history and visiting new places becomes an added reason for my weekend trips to Jodhpur from Barmer, my current place of residence.

Jodhpur is known as the sun city may be because the rulers of the Marwar were sun worshippers and also because the city enjoys bright sun all through the year. It is also called blue city because of the blue painted houses which can be seen from the fort ramparts. Probably the blue colored houses were meant for the upper caste brahmins during earlier days.

Blue houses seen from fort

In a recent two day trip to Jodhpur, I squeezed in some time to visit the well known Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan besides my shopping spree.

MEHRANGARH FORT :

This magnificent 500 year old largest fort of India still stands tall with thick sturdy walls on a hill 400 ft above the city spreading to a massive 5 km expanse. The original name was “Mihir-Garh” (Mihir=Sun + Garh= fort) but due to mispronunciation and local slang it acquired the current name.

Fort model casted in metal

Fort model casted in bronze

 The existing fort was made during the reign of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, in 1638. There are about five stories to the fort added by successive rulers. The fort museum houses large collection of paintings,armory, palanquins, head gears and turbans, musical instruments etc.

The fort has seven colossal gates one of which still bears the cannonball marks that hit the gate during the attack. Following the attack the fort walls were raised and another gate, the Loha Gate which was the seventh and last gate, was added to the fort.

The fort also houses grand palaces like Sheesh Mahal or the mirror palace, Phool Mahal or flower palace which are decorated with Belgium glass, intricate gold work,  hand woven huge rich carpets etc..

Every year Mehrangarh fort host the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in October. Local musicians, dancers and famed artists participate in the festival. The current maharaja is the chief patron of the festival. Considered to be one of the best 25 international festivals, it is also supported by UNESCO.

I haven’t had the chance yet to see the festival but I did listen to the street artists who attract tourists by playing their instruments within the fort complex.

 

A street artist with local stringed instrument

A street artist with local stringed instrument

Umaid Bhawan:

A major part of the palace is converted to a hotel managed by the Taj Hotels and was out of bounds for visitors. Out of the 347 rooms that the palace has only 10 rooms are accessible to tourists.

The king employed thousands of villagers for construction of the palace to provide them employment at the time of famine.

The palace boasts of a collection of vintage cars of the current owner of the palace Maharaja Gaj Singh.

Scaled model of the palace

Scaled model of the palace

There are many places within Jodhpur which I still haven’t visited and there is loads of shopping yet to be done. I must plan for a longer stay in Jodhpur, I guess….

 

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Lord Ganesha’s visarjan (departure)

Ganpati Idol

Ganpati Idol made at home by Mihir Pendharkar

For ten days since Ganesh Chaturthi which is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada (August-September), starting on the fourth day of the waxing moon period, the atmosphere reverberates with songs and prayers in praise of Lord Ganesh. This is particularly a major festival for the state of Maharashtra. (Read Swarupa’s vivid description of the festival at http://thegr8wall.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/the-ganesha-chaturthi-festival-of-india/)

Lord Ganesha idols are installed in homes and at community pandals and the celebrations commence with immense fervor culminating on Anant Chaturdashi, fourteenth day of the waxing moon period. On the tenth day, the idols are taken out for a procession with much fanfare and immersed in flowing water(ideally). The immersion or visarjan denotes the departure of Lord to his abode.

In Hindu dharma the God may be worshipped in two ways….Nirakaar or formless which is worshipped through meditation and Saakar or with form which is worshipped as deity.

The physical form of Lord is considered to be the incarnation  as human body  made of five elements…the air, water, fire, earth and ether. The human body returns to the heavenly abode as a formless soul and all five elements become a part of universe again. To represent the cycle of creation and dissolution in nature, the idols traditionally are  to be sculpted from mud which again consists of the five elements of the universe. The mud is taken from nearby one’s home. On the tenth day the idol is immersed in a nearby water body where it dissolves returning the elements back to universe only to reincarnate again later next year.

The making of idol at home commemorates the creation of Lord Ganesha by his mother Godess Parvati or mother earth who fashioned him out of the dirt which she exfoliated off her divine body and then gave the inanimate statue a soul and life. (http://shomaabhyankar.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/elephant-headed-god-lord-ganesh/) There is a similar mention in story of Golem in Talmud scriptures.

Being a Maharashtrian Brahmin myself I too invited Lord Ganesha to our home. I decorated the temple at home and made all the sweetmeats that the Lord is fond of….the modaks, laddoos etc. But I am no sculptor. However I do paint so for my home I bought a small terracotta idol and helped my daughter paint it before doing the Pranpratishtha (invoking the soul of Lord himself to reside in the idol for ten days).

Hand painted idol of Lord Ganesha

Hand painted idol of Lord Ganesha

One of my cousins, Mr. Mihir Pendharkar is a sculpting enthusiast when it comes to Lord Ganesha’s idols. I have seen his creations when we were younger and from the days of making crude hand-made idols he has mastered the process now. Here is his this year’s creation.

While taking out the immersion procession, the devotees break out in frenzied song and dance with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm shouting their hearts out

Ganpati Bappa Morya….pudchya varshi lavkar ya!!” (Praised be Lord Ganesha ….please return to our humble abodes next year again)

 

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The Great Indian Thar Desert

“Sir, just for Rs 800 I will take the camel cart to the farthest limit of this desert…..You can see the finest golden sand there…no coarse grain. All films with desert scene are shot in that part, sir!!” Our camel ride guide was trying his selling pitch on us as we stepped down the cart to shoot some pictures at the ‘Sam sand-dunes‘ at outskirts of Jaisalmer.

Sam (pronounced as “sum”) Sand Dunes are located at about 45km west of Jaisalmer. The golden sand stretches for miles and miles burning during the day and freezing cold in the nights. December to March weather is perfect for a visit to dunes. The best time however is February-March when the “Desert Festival” is organised. The festival is a showcase of all cultural activities with camel races, folk dances, puppet shows, Rajasthani music, traditional cuisine and henna art by local women.

Though regular buses ply for Sam from Jaisalmer but it is better to hire a vehicle from the town for the campsite.

Camel Cart

The sun was already setting…..we couldn’t have reached the promised farthest part before it was completely dark…so we declined the camel owner’s offer. He soon dumped us at the pick-up point and proceeded to find more gullible eager tourists. On our own then, we sauntered back to the nearest dunes across the campsite where we planned to stay the night. I could not resist taking a shot of the picture-postcard look-alike  scene of distant camel riders and the camel carts with a backdrop of setting sun.

Sunset on dunes

Afraid of snakes and scorpions that might venture out of their burrows at night we returned to our campsite before it was too dark and cold.

The campsite was one of many along the road. All the campsites offer similar stay options with slight difference in quality and hence the variation in rates. The average rates per night for the tents vary from Indian  Rs 4000 to Rs 7000. These can be booked online or from the tour operators in Jaisalmer town.

The tents are spacious with a sit-out,bedroom and attached washrooms. A table fan to be used during day and quilts for the night are provided by the campsite management. The kitchen is just a shout away and staff is willing to make a cup of tea or coffee whenever asked for. They love a tip though!!

Desrt camp

Khamma ghani sa (welcome sir) …….. So says the traditionally dressed lady at the entrance of the campsite in the evening welcoming the guest with a  garland and a ’tilak’ ( a mark made by ring finger with paste of turmeric ) on forehead of all guests irrespective of whether someone is staying the night at tents or just visiting for dinner and dance performance.

Almost all campsites offer the regional cuisine served by men dressed up in local traditional dress. Indian style of low seating is provided for all guests. After the dinner the stage is set for the traditional ‘Kalbeliya‘ dancers and the night carries on till the guests leave on their own to retire in their tents.

Kalbeliya is a Rajasthani tribe of snake charmers and the kalbeliya dance depicts the snake movements. The dancing girls wear a very colorful long skirt and the traditional jewellery and perform tricks like picking up rings, blades and paper currency with their eyelids. This dance is listed with the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

It was well into midnight before we retired to the tents. The temperatures drop close to zero during some winter nights in desert and we were not prepared for so low temperatures. The only option was to huddle and snuggle up in the quilts and that is precisely what we did.

The next morning the sun shone bright and there was no sign of cold. A lone camel rider in an attempt to be the first one to get some business showed up with a beautifully decorated camel on the dunes but the sun was too harsh to ride on dunes. I was content with taking pictures only.

Decorated Camel

On our way back we came across some untamed camels with their little ones drinking water from a pothole….

Untamed Camels

Though this trip was quite enjoyable with the tents somewhat like Arabian nights, rides on camels and camel carts but what I discovered about myself was that….. Me, the sun and sand don’t go together!!

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Designs on walls…

When I moved into a new house, I unpacked and put up all those freshly washed and ironed curtains, the polished wood furniture and other small curios to decorate the house but still there seemed something missing in the decor. Ah! Yes! My walls were bare!!

When a wall is adorned with paintings, photographs of family, textures and colors, it comes alive and the house suddenly transforms into a warm well decorated home.

Wall decoration has been a habit with humans since their days as cave dwellers. Archaeologists have discovered early wall paintings all over the world. With the innovation of tools by early men, designs became three-dimensional and elaborate carvings appeared on walls depicting the flora and fauna, kings and gods, signs and symbols, hymns and edicts….almost everything!

Indians, since ancient age, have painted images of many Hindu gods on entrances for good luck and images of people celebrating festivals on their walls. Indian ancient temple walls have been adorned with finest and exquisitely carved sculptures. Forts, palaces and houses of rich traders had walls decorated in marble inlay, stone carvings, paintings,mirrors and precious stones.

Some wall motifs and designs that caught my eye :

 

 

 

 

 

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Baijnath Temple, Kausani

This gallery contains 4 photos.

I have this lust…. weekend outings! Being a homemaker there is really no ‘off-day’ for me and it becomes real boring for me if I am stuck at home for the weekend doing all those same household chores like every other … Continue reading

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