My fascination with Indian stepwells

My fascination with stepwells started when I first heard about Agrasen ki baoli a few years ago – an ancient stepwell hiding in plain sight in the heart of modern New Delhi. I finally got a chance to see it two years ago; we were living in Gurgaon then.

It was an unusually balmy winter Sunday morning, and my husband and I decided to make the best use of it by heading to Connaught Place for a south Indian breakfast at Saravana Bhavan, followed by a leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood.

I suddenly remembered that the baoli was supposed to somewhere in the area, so why not make a visit? It was tucked away in a small lane, with the wall in front of it decorated with an exquisite Ganesha mural.

Unfortunately, the site was undergoing restoration work when we visited, so thanks to the scaffoldings everywhere, I could not take any photos. But during a recent trip to my alma mater in Ahmedabad last winter, I squeezed in a quick trip to Patan – rightly considered the queen of stepwells in India, fittingly built by a queen – stopping at Adalaj and Modhera on the way.

Here is a photoessay on a few of these stepwells – but before that, do read my story in BBC Travel on these ancient engineering marvels.

The kalyani at Hampi

A classic temple tank at Modhera

The steps of the tank at Modhera

The dramatic vav at Adalaj

Multiple levels of the Patan stepwell

Peering down into the well

The exquisite carvings at Patan’s Rani ki Vav

My top 10 wildlife experiences in 2016

Continuing from my nostalgia trip about travels in 2016, here is a photo summary of my close encounters with wildlife across the world. The husband and I are both wildlife enthusiasts (with a recently discovered interest in birding), and try to head to the forest whenever we get a chance. But as it happened, I got many unexpected chances to see animals and birds, all the way from Canada to Australia, of course, via the Indian jungles…

One of the wildlife highlights of the year – a long and leisurely sighting of Maya and her three cubs at Tadoba

Competing closely for first spot, the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island in Australia – the sight of hundreds of Little Penguins waddling on to the beach from the sea.

And as a bonus, fabulous sightings of koalas, this one giving us an audience during those precious moments between naps…

This shark safari at The Atlantis in Dubai was particularly special, not just because I got so close to the fish, but because it was a major step in overcoming ignoring my fear of water to do this

On a recent trip to Ahmedabad, I went on a freezing December morning to Nalsarovar Lake to see the flamingos

After planning for several years, we finally managed to head to Kaziranga to see the one-horned rhino in November

While Bandipur gave absolutely no joy, Kabini, also in the beginning of the year gave us excellent birding opportunities

Apart from these planned trips, the most delightful experiences were in placed where I had no expectations of any wildlife sightings…

The Ballestas Islands in Peru, where thousands of pelicans, cormorants, seals (and luckily for me, a dozen HUmboldt penguins) stay – who knew anything beyond Machu Picchu?

Coming face to face with the ancient Aldabra turtle in Seychelles, where I had gone for the Victoria Carnaval

Bison sighting at the Elk Island National Park in Edmonton, Canada

And finally, going in search of the endangered Green Turtle at the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve in Oman – and seeing this newborn turtle stumbling towards the sea

My world from up above

2016 has been a spectacular year for me as a traveller (a detailed round-up post coming up next) – but one of the highlights was the bird’s eye view I got of some stunning natural and man-made wonders on chopper rides.

From the Grand Canyon in the USA to twice in Canada, over the Niagara Falls and over the Rockies, recently the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Australia from the vantage point of a helicopter.

Then the familiar landmarks of Dubai from a seaplane, and the very intriguing Nazca Lines in Peru from a light aircraft, it has been an amazing ride.

Here, a few of my favourite memories of the world I saw from above:

The dozen brown hues of the Grand Canyon

The magnificence of Niagara from the Canadian side

Up above the snowy Rockies

The mystery of the outstretched hands over Nazca

Fringes of the Palm and soaring tower of Burj

The 12 Apostles, shipwreck magnets from the past

Friendly faces from Oman

Oman was an absolutely delightful discovery – a heady mix lush greens, aquamarine blues and sandy browns, interesting history and architecture, and above all, friendly people. Every one of these aspects was a revelation to me, since I went to Oman not knowing what to expect.

Our guide-drive Fahad, with his soft voice and gentle smile, turned out to be a mine of information about local culture and way of life. He was also happy enough to pose for my camera in places where I needed a human element to break the stark brown hues. Fahad will always remain one of my all-time favourite fashion models!

People were usually happy to be photographed, as long as I asked them first – of course, it was tricky with women, so I didn’t push it except for places where I knew they did not object. Of course, I couldn’t resist a few stolen moments, but these were rare.

Here then, a few of my favourite faces from my recent trip to Oman:

Scenes from a street parade

The sixth edition of the Seychelles Carnival, known locally as Carnaval, took place in the tiny capital of Victoria last week. And I was lucky enough to have a ringside seat to watch this parade. Apart from the cheerful and friendly Seychellois, artists and performers from all over the world – from Indonesia to Germany (and India too) – sashayed their way through the parade.

It was a riot of music, dance and colour on the streets of Victoria. I want to share a few standout images from the Carnaval, to show the impressive variety on display that evening.

Starting with one of my favourite performances of the evening, this Chinese masked dancer who changed masks with just facial movements…

Chinese

As a bonus (and because I was so fascinated with this), here is a short video…

And then this pretty dancer from Indonesia, wearing clothes and accessories that must have weighed a ton, through the sweltering afternoon, with a smile…

Indonesia

Colour was the leitmotif of the parade, with stunning, sometimes starling hues on display…

Blues

Multicolour

Not surprisingly, Africa was well represented, with artists from Mauritius, South Africa and several other neighbours showing off their skills…

Clown

Stilts

Dancer

But the undisputed stars of the evening were the Brazilians, with their costumes and chutzpah – it is no wonder that the word carnival brings to mind (atleast mine) images of these sassy dancers…

Brazil1

Brazil2

I hope you enjoyed this short photoessay on the Seychelles Carnaval – do stay tuned for more stories from this beautiful island.

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