Sunday, April 23, 2017

More Indian than you think

A taxi ride from Denpasar airport at Bali where I had arrived a short while ago was a revelation of a kind. The major road intersections had idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. Bali, an island state of Indonesia which is a Muslim country has temples, cultural shows and events with an overwhelming influence from India. I also attended a cultural evening where the ‘Ramayana ‘was staged by the local artists dressed in colorful and vibrant costumes.

The best seller ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert has the main protagonist, spending one part of her life in India. She carries the influence of meditation with her to Italy and Indonesia, where she travels.

The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi of adopting ‘a nonviolent’ path and vegetarian way of life greatly affected the world leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela in spearheading the struggles of deprived ones in the USA and South Africa. Among the leading global celebrities who have given up eating animal products to lead a healthier life include former US President Bill Clinton, Hollywood actress Natalie Portman, former US Vice President Al Gore, heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson and TV personality Ellen Degeneres.

It is not unusual to be woken up early morning in a major world city like New York, London, Toronto or a few more by the chime of bells from a nearby ISKON, ‘Hare Krishna ‘ temple. Likewise, streets of cities as diverse as Tel Aviv, Bangkok, Melbourne, Tokyo and San Francisco boast of Indian restaurants like Tandoor, Gaggan, Shiraz, Nirvana, and Dosa on Fillmore satiating the gastronomic urges of people from all over. The number of stores that meet the ever growing needs of spices, Indian tea, and other herbal products is on the increase globally.

While undergoing training in Tel Aviv a few years ago, the training department decided to take the entire class for an Indian dinner in one of the finest restaurants in the city. Later they asked the restaurant owner to play the old hits of the Indian movies of yesteryears. The class danced to the foot tapping rhythms into the wee hours of the morning!

One of the kindest gestures I remember was an incident that happened long back in New York. I was a young Lieutenant serving in the Indian Navy and was sent for training in a firm located in Long Island, New York. On the last day, the company’s Vice President of the International Business asked me if I would like to join the company, as he was impressed with the performance and dedication with which the training was completed in a record time including the testing and acceptance trials of the equipment. I profusely thanked him and told him that I was just 4 years into the Navy, and there was no way I could be released! It is no wonder that many an Indian ranging from Indira Nooyi of Pepsi, Sundar Pichai of Google have become household names for their exemplary leadership skills.

There are many aspects of Indian culture that have spread on a global scale. From computer programs to curries, arts to yoga and self-realization, missiles and space programs and well beyond, the influences are all visible. The popular art of Henna leaves only a transitory impression but influence of India will leave an indelible impression for centuries to come on the human race.(

PS: This post is submitted for the Lufthansa/ Indiblogger sponsored contest, 'More Indian than you think'

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Road Trip to Leh

Roadmap  from Srinagar to Leh
 It was just within days of my marriage that I went out with my wife to explore the beauty of Kashmir. We had already spent about a week in Kashmir, going around Srinagar, Pahalgam, trekked to Chandanwadi, spent some time in Gulmarg and Khilanmarg. The varied experiences and the beauty of the valley had swept us off our feet. Those days, the valley was calm and terrorism had still not raised its ugly head. One evening when we returned to the Army Transit Mess at Badami Bagh in Srinagar cantonment, we learned that an Army bus was leaving for Leh, the next day. I asked my wife if she was ready for an unplanned adventure. She was a game, so we registered our names as passengers too! We could barely sleep at the night as excitement to handle this trip was overwhelming.

 In the wee hours of the morning, we hopped on the bus with our baggage neatly stowed in the luggage boot. There were just a handful of passengers, the one I most vividly remember was a young Major with his petite wife who had a huge coin sized ‘Bindi’ on her forehead! The face still remains fresh in the memory, though several years have passed. The bus slowly started the climb, as the day was breaking out. The scenic beauty of the meadows, wildflowers and the small sparkling rivulets with almost no traffic on the narrow road appeared to be a heavenly, in comparison to the traffic we were used to! The silence would often be broken with a squeak of the birds or cascading waterfalls. After about 2 hours of drive, the bus stopped at Sonmarg. The place looked like a huge picture postcard! The piping hot ‘kahwa’ (local tea) went excellently with the ‘poori and aloo bhaji’ the Army Mess had packed for us. It was very refreshing.The temperature had started to drop, as a few drops of rain greeted us on the upward climb. Near Baltal, the climb was extremely steep and on either side of the road, there was a wall of snow. I had never in my life witnessed such a scene. 
Serpentine roads

The heart missed the beat when I looked out of the window of the bus! The deep valleys, protruding hills and the serpentine road made the view unmatched. From Baltal, one can take a route to visit Amarnath, the legendary cave of the snow Shiv- Linga. However, we were content just to see the trail that went down to this great destination. 
At Gumri
A little later in the afternoon, we reached Gumri the second coldest place after Verkhoyansk in Russia. The treacherous glaciers on which we attempted to walk still remains firmly etched in the memory. On the entire route, there was hardly any vegetation or human presence. The barren beauty was only interrupted with a picket of the Indian Army where a lone jawan stood guarding our border valiantly.  We crossed ‘ Dras’, the scene of a bloody battle many years later.  By 5 PM the bus reached, Kargil a major Army outpost. It halted at the Transit Camp where we were to stay overnight! The mess orderly showed us our room that was perched on the hilltop overlooking a frozen river. We could see a barbed fence that was just a short distance away, and were informed was the border of Pakistan! Never had I expected that I would be this close, to the neighbor country. The beauty and snow covered hills all around with chilly winds is beyond words. To add the icing to the cake the mess havaldar appeared with  cups of steaming coffee and  ‘pakoras.’ Later we explored the small village at Kargil, had a taste of the tea, prepared by Yak’s milk, a novelty. We could barely sleep due to howling winds at night and constant screech of the tin shed roof. Next morning the journey continued through the barren hills at high altitude through villages of Sarkas, Larmayuru, Alchi and Phey. The sight of locals, Buddhist monasteries, Gompas and yaks from time to time were the only companions besides BEACON ( Border Roads Organization) and Army personnel.  By late evening we reached the Transit Mess at Leh, overlooking the airfield. The Officer In Charge, a Major, greeted us and informed that we were the second one from Navy to have visited the place beside the Chief of the Naval Staff who had been there a month earlier. The time spent at Leh deserves another post!

PS- Map Kind Courtesy Google. 
2. Old pictures digitized for this post

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trek to Chandanwadi

 We stepped out of our tent to look at the clear blue skies and the silver clouds drifting across. The sun had still not risen. The distant snow clad peaks shimmered from the light at the daybreak as the golden sky kissed the peaks. The chirping of birds and the ruffling of the leaves by the wind were the only sounds that could be heard. The thick foliage of the trees and undulating slopes with a carpet of velvet green grass made the environment truly romantic! My wife was beside me. We were married less than a week earlier. The location was somewhere off Pahalgam at the Army Adventure Camp.

We had arrived there the previous evening after gathering the details of the place from the Transit camp at Srinagar. There was a cluster of olive-green tents for accommodation in the midst of the jungle where a sparkling river flowed.
With Col Manjit Singh
‘Hello! How are you doing?’ a voice from behind our backs started us. A tall Sikh gentleman almost six foot high with a silver beard and a rucksack on his back looked at us as he smiled.
‘We are fine sir, ‘I replied.
‘I am Col Manjeet Singh, retired from the Army in 1971 ‘he introduced himself.
We too introduced ourselves and he was amazed that just after our marriage we were there. We too were equally amazed to see the spirited retired Army officer roughing it out, full of zest. He had a married daughter who was settled abroad and his wife had passed away a few years ago. He was an avid traveler and fond of trekking. He was planning to leave for Chandanwadi which was about 16 km from the camp.’ Wow! What a coincidence! We too are leaving an hour from now’ I told him. He had interesting experiences to share as we chatted with him over the breakfast of aloo poori and tea prepared for us by the mess havaldar. It was very well prepared and after polishing off the breakfast we got our packed lunch from him and left. The colonel was in a fit physical shape and soon overtook us.
My wife was still to get used to the new way of life and with a high level of energy, we both continued meandering through the unfamiliar path. Soon we reached a hilltop as we had strayed from the track. Luckily a local girl who was grazing sheep came to our rescue and we were back on track again!
After four hours we reached Chandanwadi and saw a lot of people having tea and lunch in dhabas. They were going on pilgrimage to Amarnath. It was good to see human faces again!  Col Singh was there too and waved at us. He had reached more than an hour earlier and was enjoying his lunch. We ordered tea and then opened our packed lunch as we were almost famished after the trek. Chandanwadi was a small hamlet with a few dhabas where people usually had sojourn en route to Amarnath. The wind was chilly and the spray of water from the gushing water rivulet nearby added to the beauty. We rested for an hour and Col Singh bid us goodbye as he started the return journey. I asked my wife if she was willing to walk back.

‘Sure, ‘if the old Sardarji can do it I too can’ she replied. So we started our trek back. We completed more than halfway when I realized that I was being unfair. Just because my wife had agreed to rough out with me did not imply that she would do all the soldiering from week one of our marriage.  I looked around and found a truck passing by. I waved at him and the driver stopped at a little distance. He asked us to hop in as he was headed in the direction of Pahalgam. My wife was tired after the long trek. I felt proud of her achievement and seeing her inspired by Col Singh. Later in the evening, we enjoyed a campfire with him and others who too had joined. 

PS: Images restored to the digital format as the technology was non existent at that time

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Land of Krishna

ISKON Temple- Vrindavan

The air was charged and the continuous chant of ‘Hare Krishna’ was getting louder. The drums beat, the devotional songs played amidst chant of bells and air laden with the fragrance of flowers and incense engulfed us. Suddenly, the curtain was raised and the breathtaking sight of Lord Krishna’s idol came into the view and many devotees prostrated. The venue was the Dwarkadish temple at Mathura.

Delhi has several attractions in the vicinity. One of my favorites has been Mathura and Vrindavan and has been visiting these places from my early childhood. The major draw to these places is temples dedicated to Lord Krishna, as it happens to be the birthplace of the lord. Over the years that I have been visiting, it appears that the time has stood still in terms of the lives the people lead here. The changes due to the technology like a mushroom of mobile towers, polluting vehicles, and mobile phones everywhere are all pervading, but the roads are narrow, the streets littered and the ‘pandas’ making a kill as soon as one is near the vicinity of a temple, has not changed. The place is not for the faint-hearted, and as long as one is willing to rough out a little, a glimpse of Lord Krishna at the Dwarkadish Temple or the Krishna Janmabhoomi among a score of other temples is delightful. The marketplace from Holi Darwaza, to the Dwarkadish temple, is lined with sweets, chat, and curio shops besides ware for daily use. It is overflowing with people most of the time and the rickshaw pullers, cows, motorbikes and the pedestrians compete hard to make way in the narrow cobbled streets. The monkeys in the city can be a nuisance sometimes but as long as one guards himself well and do not offer them eats, it is fine. If possible, one should avoid a visit to these places during the festive time as the rush is tremendous and the jostling is definitely a not pleasant experience. 
Dwarkadish temple- Mathura

The river Yamuna flows quietly adjacent to the several ghats of which Vishram ghat is the most prominent one. In the evening, one can witness the ’Aarti’ being performed by the banks of the river and is always a memorable event.
Jalebi and Kachori shop in Mathura

One of the most striking things about the town is the good quality of sweets and savories available at almost every nook and corner, especially the cardamom flavored ‘pedas’. One can have a lovely spread of‘ Jalebi and Kachori’ at breakfast for less than rupees Fifty.
 Banke Bihari Mandir at Vrindavan

A short ride to Vrindavan which is just about 20 km away from Mathura is always fascinating. The place is dotted with several temples dedicated to Lord Krishna. One has to make sure to reach there early as later in the day most of these temples close for the entire afternoon and open only later in the evening. Some of the most visited temples are the Banke Bihari, Rangji, ISKON, and Birla temples. Each of these temples is well worth a visit and the peace and tranquility beside the beautiful d├ęcor leaves spellbound.

If you are planning a weekend trip to Mathura and Vrindavan, do add Bharatpur to the itinerary. The Deeg Palace and the fort, besides the renowned Keoladeo Ghana Bird sanctuary, will not disappoint. A number of other short trips to the adjoining Barsana, Baldeo, Gokul and Govardhan famous for temples and tales connecting Lord Krishna’s life are also worth a visit. Delhi has several modes of transport like luxury buses, taxis and superfast trains connecting the destination. So do make a trip to this temple town, if you happen to be in Delhi next time!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Cusco Trail

The lush green mountains, the sparkling blue waters,
  Cascading down Andean Peaks n Urubamba valley totters
Standing tall the remains of Incan Empire
  Leaves one spellbound in awe n much to inspire
Ayar Oche raises high in flight towards heaven,
  Listen to the murmur of Cusco tales make feet leaden
As you climb higher on Machu Picchu trail
 Stand, look, admire the edifices n structures frail
The delicacy of stonework on Killke raised complex
    Will raise a heartbeat, leaving jaws open n perplex?
Cusco is still a jewel adorning Peru’s crown
   Rising amidst jungles, rivulets and many a Llama towns

PS- 1. This poem is a dedication to the history, culture, and uniqueness of Peru, a land I desire to see one day!
2. The interesting legend of  Ayar Oche, that stood and displayed its large wings and came from where Sun was and turned into stone, just as he was, according to the folklore
3. The Killke people came before the Incas in 13th century and built the fortress, temples, and aqueducts

4. Llamas are domesticated animals that are prevalent in the region
5. Image of Machu Picchu and Llama- kind courtesy the Google

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Un-Smart Actions

The most un- smart thing that can happen when using a smart device is to accidentally touch a link or an icon that was not intended. I am sure each one of us has suffered for this folly in some way or other. The result of this could sometimes be a laughing matter, while at other times a matter of a long time suffering. I know of instances when an accidental like for an ‘e-commerce site’ resulted in never ending stream of advertisements and similarly touching the ‘like’ button for a site that offered solutions to ‘sexual problems’ resulted into embarrassing stream of never ending advertisement to the friends list about the efficacy of the solutions duly endorsed by the ‘poor’ individual, who had no such intent!
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to ‘unlike’ these and going through the administrator is tedious, and does not offer easy solutions. Someone told me that while browsing on the hand device an unfortunate touch on an ‘online dating site’ resulted in a never ending stream of all kinds of suitors who were keen to befriend the individual.
I have been a victim too, but thankfully except for minor embarrassment, and sometimes paying a heftier mobile bill, the damage was well contained. Many a times, the outgoing calls to the last dialed number, happened while sliding the phone in the pocket and forgetting to lock the device. In fact, one of the person whose name was first on the dialing list on top of the alphabetic order, told me that I have troubled him at the most odd times and not once , but repeatedly. A harmless person like me certainly felt bad when I was informed on the phone that I had dialed half a dozen times and never said anything meaningful. At least it was forgotten as an un- intentional reckless act.
The ‘auto suggestion’ of word has resulted in many a blunder that do not border on humor. Misspelling of the names, giving a complete twist to the meaning, using harsh words that normally are not a part of my regular vocabulary are just a few examples. One omission of re-reading the text and inordinate hurry in pressing the ‘SEND’ button is one of the main causes, in my case. As the old adage goes’ once the arrow leaves the bow, you can’t call it back’ and only’ regret in leisure’. Sample this, and am sure there is an endless list one can come across from the real life scenarios.

A ‘share’ button and ‘change language’ buttons on most of the social media sites need to be touched with utmost  caution as  it tends to go to places where it was never meant to be shared and picks up a language with which one is least familiar. The consequences, needless to say are always disastrous as some good friends will unfriend you and huge amount of energy would be spent to restore the device to the original language. This learning is not very useful in long run as the history keeps repeating!

PS- Images Kind courtesy Google

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Patisserie and Boulangerie of Cote de Azure

An Artisian Bakery
The hunt for the perfect place to satisfy the growing hunger pangs was accentuated with the aroma of baking while strolling on the cobbled streets of the Old Town( Vieux), in Nice. The small streams of visitors were slowly heading in the direction of the Flower Market, a major draw. The surroundings looked like an Indian bride decked up in the finest. Buntings, hoardings, and images of Santa Claus adorned the marketplace, as it was Christmas time. Then we spotted one place that had a pull of the magnet, I had not experienced for a long time. It was a tiny Patisserie with a small crowd inside. The sight with an inset of all hues of pies, pastries, bread and croissants left me gaping like a child. For next couple of minutes, it was one of the most difficult decisions to choose from the offerings of Tart Au Citron( Lemon Tart), Tart aux Pommes( Apple Tart), more.Tart aux Myrtilles( Blueberry tart) and  more.Even the most hardened dieter would melt at the sight of these!

The magical tarts and pastries-Nice
Mouthwatering desserts of Nice

We finally homed on the Tart au Citron and Tart aux Pommes with a steaming hot latte, and a topping of chocolate. The months of exercising, yoga and weight watching, was tossed out of the window as I merrily dug into the crust of the pie. The contents melted in the mouth with a flavor lingering, till the next bite came. Rarely, one gets a treat like this!
Who would not like this?
Tarts are one of the French’s favorite desserts. Many households keep the recipes a well-guarded secret. The fillings vary from region to region of the country. Those from Lorriane swear by the Mirabelle tart while in the Normandy region, the locals swear by the apple tart. It is an integral part of the regional heritage. In the Vosges, the abundance of blue berries that grow in wilderness is a favorite. Likewise the Lorianne region boasts of the finest Mirabelles.(cherry plums, almost 80% of the global commercial production is done here). Menton, is the only place in France where lemons grow and thus Tart au Citron is the specialty of the region. The list is almost endless and each of these delicacies deserves a separate post to describe it.
Cote de Azure also boasts of one of the best Boulangeries (bakeries) anywhere in the world. A visit to at least some of them is an absolute must. The most famous ones in the region are Boulangerie du palais, La Baguette Magique, Serrain Cappa(all in Nice), Patisserie Cottard in Antibes and Sapore di Pane in Cannes make breads that makes one drool. Their presentation is as beautiful as the places where these are located.Whether hungry or not just the sight is so tempting that it is difficult to resist.
Artisians at work in Cannes
The ‘French Stick’, the long thin crusty loaf, is perhaps the best icon of the French life. Baguette- literally means ‘a stick’ and is the most popular bread in France. The golden brown crust and the lattice pattern on the underneath makes this bread stand out. The other kinds of popular breads are Couronne( bread in a circular ring from), Flute( twice the size of Baguette), Batard(a half-length normal loaf), Ficelle( a thin loaf),and Brioche( a sweet bread) are just a few of the popular ones besides a dozen more offerings. These make an excellent treat for a picnic anywhere, while traveling in the region. They are extremely delicious and must be eaten when fresh.

Spoilt for choices of bread- A bakery in Cannes
For those traveling in the region, it is necessary to know that most of these boulangeries close around 1230 am for two hours or more, and by evening most of the fresh produce runs out of the shelf. So to avoid disappointment, be an early bird to pick and choose the best.