Life is a beach

A different sunset each evening. And a different sunrise each morning too – if one is enthusiastic enough to wake up that early – after spending most of the night under a million stars. Make that a few million. Alright, maybe that is an exaggertaion. Blame it on the cool sands and the clear sky.

Four days on the road. My birthday on the third. A newish car. The mango season. MTDC hotels right on the sands. Home made amla juice and sol kadhi. And a surprise around every corner.

And all those road signs to keep away the boredom. And all those beaches to melt away the weariness.

There is a program on Discovery Travel and Living called Top Secret beaches – this is about some of my own. Discovered on the way to our almost holiday in Goa this April. Almost because Goa is where we set out for. And never reached. Because of these fabulous stops on the way.

First Harihareshwar. With the temple by the sea. The peaceful cove by the resort.

Harihareshwar - quiet coveHarihareshwar - sunrise

Then Ganpatiphule – the sand dunes of Ganpati. The tantalising and breath-taking glimpses of the sea in the distance even as you turn the curves on the hills just before hitting the town…

Ganpatiphule - seaview from the top

The kitschy colored mouse in front of the temple. And all the devotees looking sneakily and longingly at the inviting waters even while praying to the elephant god inside. The beach crowded just around the temple area but very quiet as you walk away to find your own space…

Ganpatiphule - sunset

And Ratnagiri on our way out the next morning – of delicious mangoes and the Burmese connection. The Thibaw palace. And spectacular views of the sea crashing against the rocks – from the ruined fort…

Finally Tarkarli. Maharashtra tourism’s proud discovery – Tarkarli is fine sand, clear waters, lazing on hammocks. And at night, on the cool sands. First one star, then another, and then a few thousand more… And lots of seafood for those so inclined…

Tarkarli - sunrays filtering through the trees

And boat rides on the backwaters – coconut trees, enough blues and greens to compete with god’s own colours… and the backwaters leading to more private beaches….

Sindhudurg on the way back to Bombay. Narrow lanes. Fishing nets. And more fresh mango juice. And Chhatrapati Shivaji (for once his own name this, not renamed in his honor) – the floating citadel in the waters just a five minute boat ride from the jetty.

The last sunset of the trip not on the sea but on far off meandering Vashishti river. From our room at the unimaginatively (but aptly) name RiverView resort at Chiplun. With a complimentary head and body massage. And an evening at the Parashuram temple – and lipsmacking kanda poha and sol kadhi at one of the small ‘cafes’ lining the narrow steps leading down to the temple. And enough papad purchases to last us a year.

Chiplun - sunset on Vashishti river

And then back to Bombay. OUCH.

NH17 and road signs

Slight upheaval in life – I am joining a new job tomorrow – going to be working full time after many years – slow blogging this last one week since all my free time has been spent in getting myself out of the knots I have been tying myself into at thought of full time work. So here I am cheating just a little bit, reposting from my archives.

Dreaming of such long drives and holidays even before work has started… Happy Monday Morning!

The Bombay – Goa highway NH 17 is a beautiful route – I expect it is breathtaking during the monsoons – it goes over innumerable small (and some quaint) bridges with streams and (potentially) rivers flowing underneath them – and over miles and miles of ghat roads… and if nature all around you is not enough to keep you occupied and enertained through this long drive, there are the road signs – surely the work of a super creative mind – longing for expression – within the roadways department.

They range from the simple – SPEED IS KILLING NOT THRILLING – to the more complicated LIVE AND LEFT LIVE (???)

And then there are more morbid ones – THIS IS A HIGH-WAY, NOT A DIE-WAY (gulp, I hope so) – certainly the product of a frusrated and overworked government official…
The cheerfully promising – TODAY IS MY ‘NO ACCIDENT’ DAY – what about tomorow then?

The signs in Marathi are much more strict and sermonising in tone – MOH TAALA, NIYAM PAALA which I assume means – Oh sinner, resist the temptation – to speed/crash/kill whatever – and follow the rules…

This one has an air of finality about it – JHOPLA TO SAMPLA – loosely translating into – fall alseep, and you are finished. After which sign, I kept glancing nervously at my husband every thirty seconds and kept pumping him with coffee to make sure he stayed bright and awake at the wheel…

And there is also – SAFETY ON ROAD IS SAFE TEA AT HOME – tea or coffee or whatever it takes, just stay awake and get me home safe… and CONTROL YOUR NERVES ON THE CURVES (is this a sexist road sign?)

Inscrutable oriental philosophy too finds expression in these roads – SENSE OF LIFE IS THE ESSENCE OF LIVING. duh?

And these are only a few that I remember now… Take it from me – this is one journey that promises entertainment all through, especially if you are not at the wheel! This drive was enroute Goa – we stopped at three different beaches on the way and never reached Goa. Expect post on this very soon with pictures.

And can you think of any amusing road signs you have come across?

Magical Bundi

I have been meaning to write about Bundi, one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Rajasthan and even India. Just 40 km from Kota, the ugly industrial town, Bundi has managed to stay largely undiscovered and consequently unspoilt; ‘off the beaten track’ does not begin to describe Bundi…

Painted gate at Bundi

Bundi is a series of one delightful discovery after another. Sadly, I did not know enough about Bundi to realize than that it deserved more than just a day trip from Kota. The tourism websites list many many “sightseeing” options but we ventured on our own and stuck to what seemed most inviting. And we were not disasspointed.

First was the Chaurasi Khambhon-ki-Chatri or the 84 pillared cenatoph. Although the blazing heat did not make this seem very exciting then, this is what I found out about this place later. This 84-pillared cenotaph was raised in the memory of Deva, the son of the wet nurse of Rao Raja Anirudh Singh. Built on a high platform this unique double story cenotaph has a large Shivlinga at the center, which makes it both a temple as well as a cenotaph.

And then on to the most famous of the stepwells of Bundi, Raniji ki baori. Built in 1699 by and for Rani Nathavatji, this stepwell is 46 metres deep and is supposed to be one of the largest stepwells in that region. Interestingly, apart from serving as private swimming pools for the royal ladies, these stepwells also acted as reservoirs in the hotter months.

Raniji ki baori was as dry as Bombay on Gandhi Jayanti and the main gate was locked, the key with an inebriated (at lunch time) watchman who vanished on seeing us. However, the exquisite carvings and arches all along the sides were enough to make that trip worth it.

Down to the stepwell

Arches and garlands

Our final destination for the day was the Garh Palace.

A steep climb along a roughly cobbled path takes you to this entry to the palace.

Gate of Bundi Palace

Window views

Only parts of the palace are open to the public; there was noone else in the palace at that time and we went around at our own pace, looking at the captivating murals on the walls and ceiling and pillars. One of the rooms is kept locked and was opened for our benefit; the walls which must been full of colur at one time had now faded and peeling murals (and some obnoxious graffiti too) but the government seems to be doing something to preserve whatever was remaining. The room is kept dark and flash photography is strictly prohibited.

Thankfully, the most captivating portion, the Chitra Shala or the palace of paintings was open. The walls and ceiling of the chitra shala are filled with traditional murals of the Bundi school of painting, all dating back a few centuries (I am not aware of the exact date). Most of them depict scenes from Krishna raas-leela, with a few chest thumping murals thrown in between about the splendors of the kingdom – glimpses of court life, animals of the region, hunting scenes and the like.

Faces of Krishna

I could have easily spent hours at the chitra shala, especially the watchman there had kindly allowed me to take pictures without using a flash. Except it was getting dark and we had to get back to Kota. Without seeing Taragarh fort and the other “sightseeing” marvels that the afore-mentioned tourism websites go on and on about…

When I have a lot of money, I am going back to Bundi to spend a few days there, taking in the colors on each mural at the Chitra shala and walking up and down the Taragarh fort. And all the while, staying in sinful luxury at some ancient haveli converted into a hotel for the sake of tourists like me. When I have a lot of money…

Proud of what heritage?

Independence day pleasantly spent at Karla caves near Lonavala. Well, mostly pleasantly. A drive on the Mumbai Pune expressway. A nicish climb up a hundred or so steps to reach the caves. Getting drenched in the rain all the way up and down.

And then the magnificent chaitya(chappel equivalent – Buddhist) at the end of the climb.

The chaitya - chappel or prayer hall

The principal cave is the largest Chaitya among Buddhist cave in the country, Being 15meters wide and 16 meters high. The most remarkable feature of the cave is its arched roof supported by wooden beams which have astonishingly survived the onslaught of elements for more than 2,000 years.

The roof of the chaitya hall

Onslaught of the elements they have survived. What about the onslaught of the humans?

Not just the humans who have steadily and thoroughly defaced and destroyed the magnificent architecture in the caves through the centuries. Religious motivation? Part of the plundering of the vanquished? Or was it just timepass…?

No, not just them from the past.

Which is the not so pleasant part. The litter. And the noise. And the plastic. And the catcalls. And the beer bottles. And the utterly unimaginative bunty-heart-arrow-babli graffiti. And the stench of urine inside the caves.

And did I mention the litter?

Why this utter lack of pride in what is ours – our heritage, our past? Is it ignorance? Or just plain indifference?

And all this from people who took off their footwear somewhere towards the top of the hill – before they entered the ekvira temple just near the caves. And bent low before every stone that had a flower and a red and yellow mark on it along the way…

These caves have survived – are surviving these ‘elements’ too – for how much longer, I wonder…

There is a wonderful group on flickr called Ruins from India. If you liked these pictures, have a look at more pictures and the interesting discussions there.

From Jalandhar

Jalandhar is a small town in many ways – nice friendly people who want to know everyting about you and invite you home for garam khaana (hot food) right after the first meeting…

And small enough for people to commute by cycle rickshaw… Five rupees can take you a long way in this city. And people bargaining with the rickshaw puller – paanch rupaiye kyon? paas hi to jaana hai – teen rupaiye le lo (why five rupees for such a short distance – take three rupees)

I guiltily think about how little five rupees means to me. I wave away the rickshaws who stop near me and start walking…

What is worse – to ride on one of them, with another human being pulling you? or walking away and depriving him of this opportunity to earn his living? I never know…

Another thing is the number of travel agents and ads for airlines – in the half kilometere stretch that I walked between my hotel to my work place, I counted nine travel agents, one one side of the road, that is… Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Slovakia Airlines, Gulf Air. You name it.

Ad most of these travel agents offer an additional service too – filling up of visa forms. One of them says that they make a lot of money this way, apart from the regular service of procuring the visa for their customers…

And many old people who say that families spend between a lakh to three lakhs on this business of sending a young relative abroad year after year. Families which cannot afford it but manage it somehow…

Each family has one or two young people abroad – among whom many of them have disappeared – there is no news of or from them… for many years now.

Yet people want to go… and keep going. And many never come back…

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