Category Archives: Travel

The Lilies of the ground!

Flowers in the windPhotograph taken at Windflower resorts, Pondicherry, India

Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin;yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!:

Luke 12:27-28

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The Last Generation

Marine Drive

Photograph taken at Marine Drive, Mumbai, India

The Holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’ The others replied, ‘And those who come after us, what will they do?’ He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’ They said, ‘And to those who come after them, what will happen?’ He said, ‘THE MEN OF THAT GENERATION WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH ANY WORKS AT ALL AND TEMPTATION WILL COME UPON THEM; AND THOSE WHO WILL BE APPROVED IN THAT DAY WILL BE GREATER THAN EITHER US OR OUR FATHERS.’ – From ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’

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Trusting the Lord!

The Fisherman

 

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking: Luke 5:4-6

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Your Handiwork

The house in the Hills

Oh the joy of seeing Your work with mine own eyes

The gushing river, the lush grass & the sprawling valleys

The dash of snow on the peaks,the crafted hills and the painted skies

Sigh! Ain’t I glad to be where nature abounds and Your glory lies

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Up in the Himalayas: Manali

The soul is at peace, the mind is at rest

It’s Where humans live in peace and nature unveils its best

Snow capped Peaks

Russet Sparrow

Lizard

Weaver

bird in the hills

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The Madrasa

Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s Madrasa at Hauz Khas (established 1352)

The Ruins of the Madrasa

I was once the glowing pride of emperors

The coveted abode of seeking scholars

Today, as I lie in ruins, may my crumbling edifice continue to inspire

an education that the world treasures forever

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Mumbai Rajdhani: Another Trip

The thought of going back home on the Mumbai Rajdhani invariably fills me with  excitement and ebullience like that of a 4 year old when he sees candy. The silent motion coupled with high speed and the few stops this train enjoys sets it apart from any other Rajdhani in the nation. Mumbai to Delhi in flat 16 hours and that too, with convenient timings, makes this an enviable option to the myriad of flights available.

I reached Mumbai Central, the source station an hour and a half before departure by one of the new age locals that seem to be getting a lot of attention these days owing to frequent  malfunctions.

At 2:30 in the afternoon,the Mumbai Central platforms bear a bored look, one that is accentuated by the empty platforms, the dead locomotives in the pit lines, the napping railwaymen, a couple of strangely coloured stray dogs and the odd traveler.

The main hall of the station, however, portrays a different picture, with its swanky new Mcdonalds and Rajdhani restaurants, the buzzing mass of people, all conversing animatedly and  few railway workers checking, loading and unloading parcels onto carts

I preferred to stay away from the hustle and bustle and found myself comfortably placed on a new steel bench that seemed to have been victimized in some metal bashing session. 

A few locomotives kept moving up and down the lines, shunting themselves onto different platforms. The locomotives of Mumbai are unique, in that they run on both AC and DC. These specialized locomotives were created because Mumbai and areas around run on DC while the rest of India runs on AC.

By 3:30 pm a handful of passengers had arrived on the platform.  Two gentlemen chose to accompany me on either side of the steel bench. The one to my left kept himself busy over the phone, while the one to my right, obese from all ends kept nudging me for more space. all this when the benches ahead were empty. 

In the midst of our fight for space, which seems to be the story of every Indian, we were approached by a eunuch, begging (read demanding) for money. 

“De beta, paise la…bhagwan tera bhala karega” (followed by the quintessential kissing sound and the clap). Her sweetness, as in most cases, was shortlived and when she realized that we were hardly paying any attention to her, threw a string of abuses and went on ahead.

In the meanwhile, I was also fed up of the obese gentleman’s quest for space. I finally got up, glaring at the gentleman, who at that point in time, represented a  ripened tomato (in his red shirt), all ready to be squashed underfoot.

I moved on to another bench.That the train was going to Delhi was validated by ” auntyji, train ithe hi aayegi, aap kithe jaa rahe ho” ,zebra striped and gaudy sarees and salwars and a couple of surd boys jumping up and down on the platform:Punjabis 

The rake of the Mumbai Rajdhani was shunted onto the platform at 4:00 pm and it was a pleasure to see the queen, all washed and jacked up for the journey. 

As i watched the rake being shunted in, the same eunuch walked up to me again, delivering the same few lines. I refused again and protested saying that she had come to me earlier as well. Her memory seemed to be in auto mode however and she had no recall whatsoever and after an “uff ohh’ moved on to another bench.

The one disappointment on seeing the Rajdhani rake were the meshed windows, with the words ” There’s a little bit of Sail in everybody’s life” screaming out at you. My disappointment was amplified when I realized, that the usually clear view outside was now marred by the mesh across the window.genius thought for a marketer, a genuine disappointment for a railfan.

On the train, my neighbours included a couple of young chaps,a Punjabi businessman and two probably bengali ladies.A compartment ahead, sat a group of tough looking policemen with sten guns.

The train left on time and we were soon chugging along, though at top speed, across the Western terrain of India.

The Punjabi businessman sat right opposite me in the side berth. An unobtrusive man, he knew perfectly well to mind his own business. Apart from the open mouthed snores and the constant “Hey Prabhus” , he was the perfect co passenger.

Of the two young chaps, one seemed to be around 17-18 years of age, measly thin, with an army cut. He had an accent that seemed to suggest he had had some exposure abroad.

What made this character intriguing, however, were his phone calls.All his friends seemed to have nicknames assigned which included Baby Goose, Momma Goose, Tiger, Captain etc etc

He would keep referring to Western Commnd and war at this front and that front. His size didn’t seem to suggest any relation to the army, although his fervent talk seemed to suggest deep affiliation to whatever he was involved in. He had, infact come down to Mumbai because there was a lecture by Tiger, meant for the Western Command(??). 

The only other plausible reasoning for this  lingo was gaming. It was tough for me to comprehend, however, that young guys were travelling across the nation to attend lectures on strategy for a virtual world??

I resigned to Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where are you now?”and most of the evening was spent reading, interspersed with glances here and there and small naps, with my mouth wide open.

Dinner time came and went with the service good and the dinner served hot. I actually didn’t miss the soup and the bread sticks, items which have been discontinued from the Rajdhani menu by the IRCTC, citing enhanced quality focus by restricting themselves to fewer items. Fewer items meant no ice cream as well.

After the stop at Baroda (9:30 pm) ,I climbed into the cosy, side upper berth and in a matter of  minutes was lost in dreamland.

Morning was a rude experience. I was jolted out of sleep by a white light beyond the folds of my eyes. I found myself staring at the tube-light on the ceiling. The attendant had switched it on on duty’s call.

Waking up, I realized, to my dismay, that as usual, I had forgotten to bring my toothbrush and paste. Brushing would have to wait but could not afford to allow my mouth to stink. I didn’t have my pack of Happydents as well and was wondering what to do when I remembered the welcome kit (given on the Rajdhani) included a mouth freshener pack as well .

So, within the confines of  an Indian style toilet, while the others outside thought I was busy attending to the call of nature and brushing my teeth, I popped the sweetened saunf into my mouth.

Bad idea…The welcome kit included paper soap as well and the the soapy taste of soap and the sweet taste of saunf had combined and culminated in a truly disgusting taste. The mouth smelled fresh, however, even if it smelt of soap.

I got down to eating breakfast, which comprised of  tasteless vada and tangy idlis served with a hopeless green chutney. Whatever hopes I had had of the IRCTC delivering to quality were lost with this breakfast. There was no packed juice as well, which had become staple for me in my frequent journeys.

The breakfast was followed by coffee. Instead of the regular Nescafe, they served TaTa Coffee and as a proud South Indian, I must say, this will surely appeal to all who favour roast and ground coffee to the bland Nescafe.

The coffee was invigorating enough to help me finish around 50 pages of “Where are you now?”  in a span of half an hour. The train, meanwhile had reached Delhi and was slowly making its way through Hazrat Niammudin, Tilak Bridge, Shivaji Bridge to finally reach New Delhi at 8:36 am, for all practical purpose, on time.

A metro ride later, I was home, treating myself to chapati and Kerala style Chole.

Another succesful trip  and another good ride on the 2951 down Mumbai Rajdhani Express

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Ludhiana: Plums,Pepsi and Butter Chicken

I frequently survive on weird diets, often leading to mouth ulcers, currently one of which has been tormenting me for the past 4 days. Pepsi and Namkeen, half a glass of juice, no fruits …the entire diet plan is vague and rarely effective in helping me maintain my health. An over heated body only adds to the misery.

There have however, been situations where I’ve had to survive on a diet because there were no options. One such situation presented itself during my MBA summer internship. I had been placed with Taegu Tec – a leader in making cutting tools for engineering purposes. A part of the Berkshire Hathway group now, this company is based out Daegu in Korea and hence the name.

I was assigned to do some market research for the firm and understand opportunities and flaws in terms of its business. My region was north and it meant travelling all across the industrial belts of Delhi, Noida, Manesar, Daruhera, Haridwar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh.

It was also a time when my parents and my sister had gone off to Kerala and as such, I was left to fend life on my own with a house to take care off. The start wasnt very auspicious though and after a short trip to Haridwar, on coming back, I realized that I had forgotten to put the fish back in the freezer. The house had a stench which was unbearable and I was only glad that the neighbours hadnt bothered to call the police for enquiry, thereby saving me from embarrasment and a bruised ego. 

I had received an initial advance of Rs. 10,000/- from the company for my travel and accomodation.Ideally, for a college student, this should be more than sufficient. However, money was disappearing fast and in my extravagent avtaar of travelling only by Shatabdis and staying in slightly expensive hotels, I soon realized that I might just not be able to make it back to Delhi.

I was in Ludhiana when this realization hit me.After an initial bout of panic attacks, I finally sat down and budgeted the left over amount, assigning cash to each meal I was to have and the hotel and travel expenses for each day. I realized that I could pay off the hotel bills and the travel expenses and for the trip back to Delhi but I would have to compromise on food.As fate would have it, Ludhiana, the land of chicken and kebabs was to lose a foodphile to the one challenge that affects all: cash.

And so the next 7 meals across 3 days comprised of a bottle of Pepsi(500 ml) and 3 plums. I loved plums and the Pepsi helped in achieving a full stomach and the optimism of being able to make it back to Delhi( where I could borrow from my aunt) kept me going .

On the third into the diet and my last day in Ludhiana, I reassessed my situation and to my utter relief, realized I had saved more than intended which meant I had just enough to splurge on one last good non veg meal in Ludhiana.

Sitting in my hotel room, I ordered for a plate of butter chicken and naan and felt my taste buds watering in excitement and anticipation.With my stomach growling and my eyes shifting constantly from the TV to the door, I knew this was going to be well worth the wait.

After a long 20 minutes the food was in, a thickly orange gravied chicken, rich and appealing served with soft, buttery naan. My senses approved it and my mouth was eager to take big, meaty bites and chew to satisfaction.

The excitement was, however, short lived. Somehow, my stomach had adapted to my meagre diet of plums and pepsi and was now refusing to accept the flavours of the wonderfully prepared chicken.

5 minutes later I retched, spewing forth all I had eaten. Lunch, despite the butter chicken, comprised of 2 leftover plums and half a bottle of pepsi.

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Thekkady: Tiger County in God’s own country

My wife constantly complains about our honeymoon trip eventually turning out to be more of an adventure trip where nature and animals gained precedence over her. She laments over the pictures we took and wonders if we should be sending it out to friends and family or to Nat Geo and its likes.

In my defense, however, Kerala is not the place for honeymoons. There is so much to explore and so much yet unexplored that your soul continues to thirst for more of the sereneness, the tranquility and the beauty of God’s own country.

Thekkady was no exception and its claim to fame is it’s being the gateway to the Periyar Tiger reserve. I shall overlook the boat ride, the elephant ride and the hotel stay which I might address in another post and around which you’ll find hundreds of other articles.

Instead, I will try to direct my pen to the three hours we spent walking right into the blackness of the jungle with the moonlight, our flashlights, the fireflies and the gleaming yellow eyes of the jungle beasts being the only sources of light.

I have no qualms in holding Sweety responsible for this trek. It is a well designed conspiracy that finds me responsible for the same today. While at the hotel, Sweety’s eyes fell on a pamphlet which was a summary of the things we could splurge our hard earned money on. Ayurvedic massages at Rs, 900 and above were good for the body but not good enough for my feeble heart. The jungle, however seemed to be much more inviting with its trails and treks.

We (read she) decided to go for the night trail. Organized in batches of 5 by the Kerala Forest Department, this trek is made with the forest guards who periodically go out on their night patrols. A 3 hour affair, there are three slots you can chose from….7 to 10 pm, 10pm to 1 am or the 1 am to 3 am slot. We chose the 7 to 10 pm slot as I wanted to be in a managable state of preparedness for the twists and turns through the hills the next day.

At 7’0 clock we were in the guards’ cabin, signing a declaration that, if there was to be any mishap, the forest department was not to be held responsible. For that matter no one can be held responsible for a tiger getting hungry and deciding to pounce on you or an elephant charging at you assuming you to be his sworn enemy.

The 3 other adventure seekers included an aunt and her niece from the U.S and a tall German who somehow reminded me of the eucalyptus trees in Munnar.

We were all provided with flashlights with the guards getting the biggest and powerful -lest of them all and me getting one that would have also passed as a flickering lantern.

Complaints aside, we started on the trail, with 2 guards leading the way and a third watching our backs.Rosewood, teakwood, Sandalwood, Poached Sandalwood…this wood that wood…their scientific names…the understanding of the jungle flora by the guards was appreciable. The malayalam helped the guards in easing out and soon we adorned the role of translators while the guards emptied their grey cells.

We soon spotted our first wild animal : The Sambar Deer. An animal that hitherto existed only in text books and on the National Geographic channel stood just a few feet away from us. The light right into its eyes didnt seem to intimidate it and it stood its ground whiffing the air for the scent of a tiger (The Sambar Deer is a favourite of the tigers, we were told).

Sambar_Deer_Thekkady

Photo Credit:http://flickr.com/photos/sunilv/

As we advanced deeper into the jungle we saw many more of the species,all with their noses in the air. The trail was along the river bed and the guards constantly flashed their lights onto the banks in the hope of spotting an elephant, bison or a tiger.However the moonlit night was playing spoilsport.The moonlight ensured that there was enough light within the shadows of the jungle for the animals to move around less warily. On a dark night, all the animals would have come out into the grasslands, by the river banks to be easily able to spot the wolf among the sheep.

A little disappointed but nevertheless hopeful, we still trudged on.Enroute we spotted more deer, a herd of wild boars and the gleaming eyes of a bison.

As we were approaching a resting bench, I saw a dash right ahead…a porcupine.We  took our first break of around 10 minutes. Tired but eager to move on we impatienly waited for the break to get over. The guards in the meanwhile filled up some registers and files. We were soon ready to move on.

On this second leg we spotted the nightjar, a nocturnal bird that doesnt even build a nest but relies on the soil to camouflage it during the day. A non vegetarian, the bird feeds on moths.

Indian Nightjar (Caprimuglus asiaticus)

Photo Credit:http://flickr.com/photos/13967067@N03/

We also chanced upon a shed cobra skin and the recent footprints of an elephant and her calf. A 3 feet circumference of the elephant foot meant that the elephant would be close to 9 feet!!

A few more meters ahead, we heard a thundering roar across the silence of the jungle. The king had made his presence felt.The Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the few sanctuaries in India where there is plenty of food for the king and where he has marked territories. 42 tigers, each with 25 sq. miles of jungle land to itself.

Tiger-the-king

Photo Credit:http://flickr.com/photos/guruji/

The guards suddenly became wary and sternly told us to shut up. Ahead into the jungle with only a stream separating either side were the eyes of a beast, menacing and angry. As the guards flashed the light into its eyes, the beast’s head bobbed up and down and without warning dashed off deeper into the safety of the dense vegetation. It was the Asian elephant and the most aggressive of the lot in the reserve. With only a dry stream bed to cross, the encounter could have gone awry had the beast chosen to attack.

With the danger having passed, we made our way to a watchtower, a remnant of the medieval ages, this structure is made of tin and constantly creaked and croaked as we made our way up. At times elephants would lay seize to the tower,the guards informed us, and would chose to remain for hours playing in the mud and throwing up trunkfulls of water, while the guards watched helplessly from above.

We were now on the final leg of our trek and the cold had started gnawing at my sweater. Winter in the jungles is defined by the cold, frosty nights and our paces across the dry leaf laden jungle floor quickened in the anticipation of warmth and food at the hotel. Humans after all, I mulled, had chosen to tread the urban path and in the process had lost most of his instinct for survival. He was now at the mercy of governments and economies. 

We crossed the final frontier, a trench built with just the right width to ensure that elephants couldnt cross over into the forest department quarters. Many wild life photographers,the guards informed us, had tried to take photographs of these beasts at close quarters, in the night, by settling themselves in this trench and then luring the elephants through salt.The elephants came, had the salt but a perfect proffessional photograph could never be taken owing to their dark colours.

Off chasing bison

Photo Credit : http://flickr.com/photos/sarahandiain/

It was soon time to bid adieu to the vast expanse of evergreen,decidious vegetation and grasslands. As we shook hands in gratitude with the guards, I couldnt but help see the irony of it all. Here were some brave men, protecting what was left of the earth’s character through their instincts, their knowledge, their years of experience and their love of the jungles and what they got in return was a dirty uniform, an aging rifle which they could fire only in defence, boots so they could travel miles into the jungle, flashlights in abundance and a paltry salary and here was I, being served because my proffession was regarded to be more urbane and receiving a salary which seemed to justify the business of it all…greed, deception and frustration.

Kerala

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Some Cherished Railway Gifts

Each year, my birthday warrants people gifting something related to trains. Usually these are kid versions of trains running around on plastic tracks. 

However, the year 2006 was special. Some of my closest friends went to the rail museum in Nagpur (around 40 kms from college) and brought me some amazing models of trains, pictures of which i am posting below.

The Fairy Queen miniature : The world’s oldest running locomotive

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The Rajdhani Express: India’s high speed all A/C train

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This coupled with a book on how the Mumbai local system came into being have probably been the most amazing ‘railway gifts’ I have received.

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