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Last weekend in Kochi, a memorable slice of time

To me, travel is therapeutic at many levels. Whether I travel for work or leisure, or even to meet family obligations, I revel in the sensory overload that travel brings. Earlier this month, I was in Kochi to serve as external jury member for 3rd year architectural students at a relatively new private college. While that was an interesting experience in itself, the highlight of the trip was spending time with one of my closest friends and her family.

College buddies, especially if you’ve shared hostel rooms, clothes, intimate secrets and much more, have an understanding of each other that is rare and precious. Both of us found we had saved conversations up in our heads for years and years for the time we would meet and have a chance to have a leisurely conversation. So that was super fun. Just as much fun was interacting with her kids; who felt familiar after only two days of time together.

The ease of being with people who feel like family seeped into the one day we had free. We visited the touristy part of town, Fort Kochi, but we hardly had tourism on our minds. Instead, we wandered through artist Paris Mohan Kumar’s art exhibition at the iconic David Hall, a restored art gallery and cafe that was once a Dutch bungalow. The paintings, which were largely monochrome revolved around the themes of nature and human relationships with an emphasis on the female form, were fascinating in their ability to be complex and simple at the same time.

We then hung out in the cafe part of the building for a while, cooling down drinking mint iced tea and gazing onto the patch of Kerala green and the pristine white stone wall, solid like they built them in the 16th century. Talking, laughing, thinking. And having some unexpected deep conversations.

Soon enough, phone calls came in, errands were run and appointments were rushed towards. The afternoon went by in a tizzy of sushi tasting, professional commitments, shopping and driving around a city temporarily scarred by the construction of the Metro line.

A week later, I’m still carrying that slice of time at David Hall with me. Memories are not necessarily made of a famous piece of architecture, high culture or amusement parks. Nor of expensive meals, cruises and moonlit walks. They are equally made of ordinariness, of words exchanged with an 11-year old child wise far beyond her years, of time spent with someone who understands you better than yourself. Of laughing over spilt cold coffee and of counting ants climbing up a tree. And in the day of smart phone, of taking a goofy selfie.

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Kolkata’s delights: Eclectic Fairlawn Hotel

I’d only been once to Kolkata before, a long time ago. And I’d been dying to go. Our team at work had been engaged in a field study on auto rickshaws in Kolkata and a consultative workshop in December was the perfect occasion for us all to go in an engage with the project a bit more.

My colleague Manish, who is never satisfied with the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, bullied us all into booking what he called “a quaint heritage property on Sudder Street”. It’s only when we got there that we realized this was the famous Fairlawn Hotel. With its interiors painted a bizarre green, its walls cluttered with newspaper clips, photographs and paintings, and its rooms full of eclectic curios, Fairlawn is a sensory explosion indeed!

We spent quite a few amused and excited moments recognising famous faces, including Patick Swayze and Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor (who apparently spent their honeymoon here!), several photographs of British Royals (I’m not they ever visited though!) and some very detailed water colours of Fairlawn that I particularly liked. Fairlawn’s infamous owner Violet (Vi) Smith, who was well known as a talented racconteur and host, passed away at the ripe old age of 93 only in 2014! One could see, standing there in those rooms full of atmosphere, that Fairlawn had seen some really interesting times! The building, I gather from news reports online, is over 200 years and was inherited by Vi from her Armenian mother. Through its history, it has been a home, a barracks and mess for Canadian airmen during the World War II and finally, a hotel that was a must-visit for foreign visitors in Kolkata for years. Vi’s daughter Jennifer runs it now.

Amid our busy work schedules, we managed to sneak in some crazy pictures of ourselves in Fairlawn as well as some moments of leisure chatting while standing in its historic corridors.

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Manish and Persis lunching in the outdoor area of Fairlawn’s restaurant, a popular hangout for the hip and cool young of Kolkata

 

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The dining area….green is the signature colour of Fairlawn!

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Persis, all ready for our workshop, in the hotel’s breakfast room

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Post-workshop goofiness! Ming vase? Ooh la la!

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And the Bankura horse too!

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Lovely water colours, my favourite wall art in Fairlawn

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Another one…

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The upstairs living room where Vi held court

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The stairs going up to the rooms

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Outside the rooms, hangout space

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The goofy selfie- Moi, Persis, Manish and Shamindra

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Grins in the mirror

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A World-Map folded into several layers: Travelogue of the Point I reached by Rikhia Pal #TheCityasMuse Runners-Up

Rikhia Pal is a Gurgaon-based homemaker who describes herself as “an ex tax consultant, part time traveller, freelance painter, occasional singer and future writer”

Comment: Rikhia’s construction of the city as a journey across the world is skillfully done and full of little details. A pleasurable read.

A World-Map folded into several layers- Travelogue of the Point I reached

The airport looked like a runway through the ocean when I peeped down the windows of my flight. It almost crashed over the voluptuous, chocolate skinned, bikini-clad women on the beach, as it prepared to land.

Near the airport exit, I could see several tourist information centers. Women, with small eyes, thin lips and orchids in their hair, greeted me with folding hands and warm smiles.

After gathering information, I headed towards the nearby Grand Bazar. Since I was hungry, I ate breakfast- a Vada Pao and a plate of Missal Pao. Full and happy, I loitered around some more in the market and bought a small replica of the Eiffel Tower as a souvenir for my folks back home. The mall was huge and soon I lost my way.

I came out of one of the gates and found myself on the side of the river Nile. Its blue waters dotted with numerous black gondolas rowed by handsome men. I got into one myself. The man started singing a song called “Amore Mio” as we passed by numerous monuments, palaces and ordinary homes. The streets, corners and houses were decorated by hanging paper-cut dragons, tigers and red ball shaped lanterns. I was amused to see a red telephone booth being guarded by red-coated black-hatted men standing like statues. As the river approached a bay, I got down just round the corner. The house in front had long glass windows lit with red lights. There were beautiful women standing in front of those windows waving at people.

As I came in front of the bay, I was awed by the stately opera house built on a piece of land protruding into the bay. It looked like a series of shells stacked together. It was backed by a red colored suspension bridge called the Golden Gate Harbor Bridge.

Soon after, I entered the state museum shaped like a pyramid. I learnt that the city was built when the mythical Lion-Mermaid drank the oceans and spilled the water over the lost city of Machhu Pichhu, which was earlier destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, a conical mountain sprinkled with snow on top. The present Tsar of the city, was of the lineage formed when the 5th Tsar married a local Geisha. They were married in the Royal Peculier, St. Basil’s Cathedral, a grand red structure with a cluster of decorated onion domes. 10,000 Cherry Blossom trees were planted to mark the occasion.

It was almost evening and I felt hungry. I went to a restaurant inside a park on the star shaped Liberty Island in the bay. A huge statue of a woman holding a book and a torch was at the center of the park. There were celebrations everywhere as the people were heralding the new year of the Tiger.

After finishing my dinner, I headed back to the airport. I bid adieu to the ember-red city of Brasilia. Rabindra Sangeet played on my ipod as I flew home to Calcutta.

One more week to send in your entry #TheCityasMuse

We’ve got in some interesting entries for #TheCityasMuse contest.

I’m excited that all sort of fun people are writing in…from teenage schoolchildren to professionals, from travel enthusiasts to foodies, from bloggers to those making their first attempts at writing. The entries are pouring out straight from their hearts and that’s exactly what the ethos of #TheCityasMuse is!

What? You haven’t sent in your entry yet? What’re you waiting for?

Just take half an hour out from your super busy schedule. Transport yourself to that place you love, admire, yearn for, detest, want desperately to improve….. And then write or draw your feelings and experiences! Mail it in to ramblinginthecity@gmail.com

It’s really very simple!

Look forward to seeing your entry in my mailbox soon:)

Southwark through a local’s eye: A walk along the Thames in #London

I’ve anticipated this London trip for so long and yet have had little time to plan an itinerary. A work trip for the most part, I knew my touristic experiences would need to be squeezed in. I’ve opted to live with a friend, someone I’ve known since college and so, by default, I’ve been let into her little world. I let her lead me through her neighbourhood on my first day in what locals consider “the greatest and most beautiful capital city in the world”!

We started our stroll with a visit to her local square. Kids kicked a football around, a few stalls were selling trinkets and toys. The residential neighbourhoods we walked past were still and sleepy. A dog barked at us, a baby gurgles, the locals stood out in the sun in bunches, satiated with pints of beer and lazy lunches.

The neighbourhood square

The neighbourhood square

Riverward..on the way

Riverward..on the way

My friend lives in the London Borough of Southwark, south of the Thames and close to the London Bridge. And our walk took us river-ward. An area with Roman origins, the riverfront we walked onto is rich with wharfs and restored warehouses. On a surprisingly sunny yet balmy Saturday afternoon, the place had a zippy, young feel to it. Families out with their children, friends catching a drink at the pubs and restaurants that lined the Thames, that sort of thing.

Posh apartments,  redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

Posh apartments, redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

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The ramps that took the cargo from the qyayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

The ramps that took the cargo from the quayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

My first glimpse of the Thames...gasp!

My first glimpse of the Thames…gasp!

Love the clutter!

Love the clutter!

View across the river

View across the river

Wine stop!

Wine stop!

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Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over...

Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over…

The sun lit up the Thames and the famous landmarks that were spotted out to me dazzled and shone. The Tower Bridge, of course, the City Hall designed by Norman Foster and, as my friend put it, a miniature of the Bundestag Dome we saw in Berlin, and the HMS Belfast right there in the centre of the river. We walked across and around the Tower of London where, along with the swarms of tourists, the sea of ceramic poppies greeted us, a recently installed commemoration of the World War I in its centenary year.

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City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river...

City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river…

Walking around the Tower of London.  I was here 15 years ago...

Walking around the Tower of London. I was here 15 years ago…

The poppies...oh the poppies!

The poppies…oh the poppies! Blood red and stunning

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It's Renzo Piano's latest addition to London's skyline

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It’s Renzo Piano’s latest addition to London’s skyline

A surprising detour through the upmarket St Katherine Docks where the Queen’s gilded boat rests and where I was amused to see The Dickens Inn, rebuilt in the style of a 17th century timber-framed building and apparently inaugurated by the famous writer’s grandson. That the author spent a part of his life in this part of London is well-known but it was had to reconcile the images of Dickensian London in my head with the extensively redeveloped swank sights before me!

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine's is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine’s is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

err....like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

err….like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

Ceramic panels we walked by...

Ceramic panels we walked by…

Posing in front of the Dickens'

Posing in front of the Dickens’

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local's eye is the BEST way to do so!

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local’s eye is the BEST way to do so!

No, can't wipe the smile off!

No, can’t wipe the smile off!

And thus, after being introduced to this delightful part of London, I dragged my jet-lagged self back at last night, happily tired and looking forward to more good times here!

 

 

From dread to delight in Shimla, the Queen of the Hills

It was a rude shock getting back the heat of the plains after a weekend in Shimla and Mashobra. It rained quite a bit while we were there and though it cramped our sightseeing attempts a little, we weren’t complaining about the cold at all! A couple of us had to acquire more clothing, a jacket here, a pair of pajamas there, a small matter in the joy of being in the Queen of the Hills, Shimla.

I’d only been to the famed hill station as a very small child and had no memories of it at all. It seemed strange to me to have lived for so many years in the environs of Delhi and never having been to the most popular holiday destination of my fellow citywallas! So I grabbed the chance.

What struck me most getting into Shimla is the sheer density of the city and how precariously positioned it is on the massive mountains. As my friend Henri said in his comment on my Instagram pics from Shimla, it is a “disaster waiting to happen”! Certainly, it is a city run wild, with its older cramped parts intermingled with the recent multistorey additions, hotels and government offices all crowding together helter skelter.

The sheer density of Shimla hits you as you drive in

The sheer density of Shimla hits you as you drive in

Much of the building stock is old and diaplidated

Much of the building stock is old and diaplidated

The city rests helter skelter in the midst of the most stunning hillside scenery

The city rests helter skelter in the midst of the most stunning hillside scenery

We stayed at the Club Mahindra property in Mashobra, which is a quiet village ahead of Shimla. When in town, we parked and took the elevator up to the Mall, which is the only sensible thing to do! Because is it entirely predestrianized, the Mall in Shimla (despite the summer crowds) has a certain old world charm. I enjoyed the old colonial buildings and the ‘sense of place’ in the city. The weather, which turned from rainy and windy to sunny and bright in the few hours we were there, showed us the city in many different lights. I don’t want to crowd this post with too much info and I’d rather highlight some of our experiences separately. But here are a few glimpses!

It's hard to reconcile the incongruity of the crowded city gainst the magnificant backdrop of the majestic Himalayas beyond

It’s hard to reconcile the incongruity of the crowded city against the magnificent backdrop of the majestic Himalayas beyond

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Christ Church

 

The Town Hall and the Mall

The Town Hall and the Mall

The most darling little buildings in the Mall

The most darling little buildings in the Mall

Girly Road Trip: Where do I begin?

Being on the road is fun, but it also offers the opportunity to be in the traveler mindset. That particular state in which your disconnection from the ground realities of your life (the mundane stuff, the routine), offers the chance for your mind to wander in a free state. So many thoughts passed through my head on this journey from Mumbai to Delhi that I cannot even figure out where to begin writing about it.

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Broadly, I’m thinking about the experience in three buckets.

The physical experience: A travel log that documents the route, the stops, what we saw, what we did. Food, sights and sounds. Conversation.

The social experience: Three women on the road, no male company, a whole lot of positivity that I definitely want to share about how its possible to be who you are, do what you want to if you try, plan, do… and also about the meaning of friendship, which is perhaps the most important social experience we have as humans.

The spiritual experience: In the interstices of the above two lies the most meaningful bit about being out there on the road. What passed through my head, a new view of life, a fresh attitude, a big step in the pursuit for the ‘centre’ inside me. And now, my struggle to retain the peace and balance I felt out there as I pick up my routine again!

It’s all very interesting, this journey. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Nupur and Rachna, my two best friends. They, who  never intrude, always encourage, they who empathize but also call your bluff, they who are rock solid and who are always happy to be part of my journey. And me of theirs.

With that (and after I’ve sorted the zillion pics on camera and the trillion thoughts in my head), I’m going to let the posts roll…… :) Stay with me!

Savouring Dubai, the land of opportunity and refuge

Dubai has been on the cards for a while now. The last and only time I visited was in early 2010 for a conference. I vaguely remember doing a brief spin of a city deep in the doldrums of economic depression, staring at half-built buildings and getting the sense that I was experiencing a ‘freeze frame’. That first impression and the idea that I am motivated by (hi-fi?) stuff like art, culture and history and not so taken in by glitzy glass-clad skyscrapers (sarcasm, confusion, loads of self-judgement in those words!) ensured that Dubai wasn’t really on my radar for some time. But then, Rahul started to come here every year for his annual training refresher and Dubai was back on my list!

This time round though, the city feels very different. Alive and buzzing with the energy of the Dubai Shopping Festival and a renewed construction boom kicked off in part by the fact that the World Expo 2020 is being hosted here. I promised myself to reserve the judgement before I came and have been happy tramping about the city by myself (while Rahul is working), exploring the Metro and meeting friends and shopping! Despite myself and because of the way this city is, it is impossible not to appreciate the sense of organization, the aesthetic of opulence, the ease of getting around, the effortless intermingling of cultures very different.

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

It's strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

It’s strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

In conversations with those who live here, friends as well as strangers I met on the Metro, I can see how it is easy to get used to the conveniences of Dubai, especially in the face of the employment opportunities and improved pay packages it provides as compared to ‘back home’. Dubai has attracted people from a plethora of nationalities- Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Yemenis, Syrians, Egyptians and many more- for whom it represents a better life. Yes, by corollary it also means that life ‘back home’ wasn’t that great for many of those who have come here. By all accounts, most of these immigrants will never ever go back, or even want to go back. Despite the big brother watching, despite the controlled media and the heightened awareness of the need to mind your own business if you want to survive, Dubai is a good experience, a place that treats you well.

Both strangers and friends confided to me that a sense of personal safety, the lawfulness and speedy execution of justice were what made them most comfortable here in Dubai, as compared to India. I wasn’t too surprised by this admission, even though I had to curb my urge to fiercely defend my country. You have to read papers here to see that nearly all news out of India is negative! In contrast, the media reports about the UAE are a mix of heady, positive, self-congratulatory stories interspersed with rather watered-down criticism. My analysis: You cannot compare apples and oranges, you gotta see things in perspective. By this I mean that living in a democracy and an autocracy are very different, but I can also see that this difference may matter little for citizens who are happy to have their daily needs well met. Walking among the glitzy edifices and seeing families out carefree and happy in the middle of the night, it’s hard to push this point without sounding defensive!

And so, I let it go and shop some more. I click pictures of dancing fountains and ornate ceilings. I enjoy the pleasure of the us-time Rahul and me are getting as we choose from a fantastic selection of restaurants, eat, talk, laugh… I savour Dubai, I refrain from judging, I miss home.

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you. This is at the Mall of the Emirates, where I trawled aimlessly for an hour, clicking pictures and feeling intimidated by the determined shoppers!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

Another ornate ceiling

Another ornate ceiling…

...and the space below it!

…and the space below it!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It's pretty spectacular.

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It’s pretty spectacular.

Excited to be off to Dhanachuli. Kumaon, here I come!

It’s a few hours before I take a train into the hills. Particularly, I love Kumaon, having visited the area a few times as a child and recently as well. I am already imagining stepping off the train and getting borne into the breezy, green mountainsides of Mukteshwar and beyond to Dhanachuli.

I am taking my first trip after the massive floods the Himalayan regions experiences earlier this year.  Part of the motivation of the Blogger’s Meet being organized by Te Aroha is, as I understand it, to imbibe to aftermath of this traumatic event and try and understand what it has meant for people who live here and work here. Life is hard in the hills and hill people exhibit the patience and solidity of a civilization that has nurtured the attributes of patience and perseverance. A natural disaster tests their limits and I am curious to see how these lovely people have coped. Kumaon, particularly, is perceived to have not received adequate media attention or relief efforts despite being as affected and vulnerable.

I am also excited to experience Te Aroha, which I have heard and read so much about. I hear it’s more like a work of love than a resort and that is such a tantalizing description anyway.

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go…. do watch my blog for thoughts and observations, and pictures of course from Dhanachuli!

Meanwhile, here are two of my older posts from my trip to this region in January this year…

Portraits from Ramgarh and Nainital

Skygazing at Ramgarh and surrounds

Magical light patterns @Koh Samui, Thailand

Its night time in Koh Samui. We drive around the island in a pick up truck. I am cozy at the back, wind blowing my hair, a one-year old Aadyaa asleep on my lap. And these are the pictures I take.

I find them magical and I return time and again to my iphoto folder to see them. They were taken 4 years ago. Thought I’d share them today, on a night when I feel lonely and these are enough to bring me cheer.

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