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Desert Diaries

I was very young when I first saw the movie Lamhe where the sultry dessert beauty Sri Devi captures the heart of a very young Anil Kapoor. The movie created an aura of royalty around Jaisalmer. A feeling of timelessness that stretches across the vast expanse of its desserts, of untold tales and haunting melodies. This fascination stayed with me through the years and in 2015 when I got a chance to visit this fanciful land, I jumped at the opportunity.

 

It was February when I landed in Jodhpur and set off for a long drive through rural Rajasthan to the city of Jaisalmer. The fact that there is no airport in the city made it all seem very Armour of Goddish to me. Like we were on some mission to unravel stories buried underneath the dunes of these desserts. But none of these could have prepared me for the experiences of walking through a ghost town and playing hide and seek among the pillars of the royal cenotaphs. I must confess that I had very little idea about what to expect from these places when they were suggested by our tour guide. I always was somewhat lazy in doing my homework.

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Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

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Royal Cenotaphs

 

We started our first day in Jaisalmer by visiting the Bara Bagh, which literally means ‘Big Garden’. But this was no ordinary garden as we could not find any flowers or trees there. Instead what greeted us was a cluster of many beautifully carved cenotaphs. Cenotaphs, as I learnt later, are memorials built over a site of cremation. These were built in memory of Maharaja Jaisingh II by his son Lunkarna. Jaisingh wanted to build a dam and a lake in this dessert region. However, before the work on these could be complete he passed away. After him, many following rulers from the Bhatti family built cenotaphs here as well.

 

Each has an idol of the king and many others surrounding it representing his queens. The setting of these carved dome like structures set against the barren land made for an idyllic landscape for photography. Standing inside these dome structure, one can almost catch whispers of old tales carried by the dessert wind rushing amidst the pillars.

 

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Kuldhara Village, Jaisalmer

Leaving the Royal Cenotaphs behind we made our way towards another interesting spot, almost 18 kms outside the Jaisalmer city. As our driver slowed to a stop, we stepped out of our car curiously looking around at what looked like a set of randomly broken mud walls. As we stepped inside the ruins we were informed that this was no ordinary place, but the haunted abandoned village of Kuldhara. 

The thrill of stepping into a ghost village seized us as we walked on and saw small neatly laid out mud houses, broken and yet preserved by nature over centuries.

 

 

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Ruins of Kuldhara

We explored the ruined village at our own pace. It was a very well planned village with neat rows of houses, water storage area, a lone temple and even some artefacts and bullock-carts preserved by the archaeological department.

 

Legend has it that this was once a prosperous village, a part of 50 villages in the kingdom of Maharaja Jai Singh, but was abandoned due to extreme and harsh tax demands and atrocities by his minster Salim Singh. Some even say that the neighbouring villages were destroyed by frequent earthquakes.

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Temple in Kuldhara Village

But the most interesting story was told by our photographer. Apparently, the village head man had a beautiful daughter who had caught the fancy of the minister Salim Singh. Known for his cruel taxation, Salim Singh demanded to be wedded to the girl or the village would face severe taxes. He gave the headman five days to think about it. Troubled by his evil intentions, the village headman consulted the heads of neighbouring villages and decided to abandon the village. As the fourth day drew to a close, all the residents of the village and its neighbouring 50 settlements, packed their belongings and disappeared under the cover of a moonless night, never to be found again. The village has been vacant ever since, closely guarding the secret of this mass disappearance. As we left the Kuldhara village, we were all quiet, lost in our thoughts, wondering about times gone by and lives that were so different from ours.

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My desert exploration continued over the next 2 days that I spent there. Follow my blog to read about my adventures in the city of havelis and the mystic dancers of the desert.

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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in travel

 

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HAVE AN OPINION. OR MAYBE NOT!

We are busy people. Busy with our everyday lives, earning a living, cooking food for our families, taking our children to their respective activities, and basically going about our lives. We are secure in our own worlds where nothing goes wrong. At the end of the day we sit down with our families for dinner and have the satisfaction of believing that all’s well in our world. But is it enough?

 

The reality is that all’s not well in the world we live in. There are gross injustices going on all around us all the time. We read about them in the papers, see some feeds on online platforms, then fold the newspapers and log out of our online platforms to go back to doing our own thing. As long as it does not touch our safe little worlds or affect the people directly connected to us we don’t bother finding out what really happened and how it can impact people. We passively consume the news and get on with life.

 

In the last few weeks there have been two rather powerful occurrences that have the potential to change the social fiber of the world in which we live. I am talking about the HC ruling against Triple Talaq and the stand on Marital Rape. How many of us have bothered to find out more about it or to even understand who gets affected by these. Some days back someone asked me what I thought about the Triple Talaq verdict and to my dismay I realised I didn’t have any opinion on it. While I was aware something was being done towards it, I had no idea how much it meant and to whom. I felt sad about my passive attitude and planned to educate myself and if I find it strong enough, raise my voice in support of those affected.

 

And then I hear a Bang! A loud bang which echoes across the country and leaves us all stunned. Gauri Lankesh – a very strong voice which dared to rise above the din and speak against the establishment has been silenced. I get afraid. I question my resolve and think that maybe it’s best to stay out of controversy. Afterall, I have my own life and family to think of. And a scary realisation creeps in – they have won! The perpetrators of fear have won by scaring us into silence. Is that what Gauri’s life was worth? To be knocked out by just one blow? No, I look around and find that with the felling of one, many more Gauri’s have risen. They are mistaken if they think that she was alone.

 

We live in a very dynamic world. A world where there are no boundaries and information and support is always at hand for those who seek it. It is for us to decide whether we want to let them use this to set an example or to scare them back. To rise above our fears and speak up against the injustices been done around us. So next time you hear a neighbour scream do not turn up the television volume. Next time you read about a rape in your city do not turn the page. Join the march. Get informed, have an opinion.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Current Affairs, Daily Life, People

 

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If a rejuvenating holiday is all you want, avoid these in Munnar

There are many reasons why we choose to go on a holiday. Sometimes it is to explore the local natural beauty to its fullest, sometimes we are looking for adventure not found in our daily lives. But every once in a while we seek a holiday to do nothing. Just a simple break in the midst of nature where you can put your feet up and soak in the goodness of nature.

 

I’m having a great time in Munnar. It’s my second day here and I am enjoying every minute of it. Since this is my 3rd trip to the place I am okay if one doesn’t make the best of every moment, but if you are here for your first trip here, it would help to know what is worth investing your time in. If you are looking to make the best of your time here and are looking for more of a relaxing holiday to just soak in the beauty, here’s my pick of some popular tourist attractions one can avoid.

 
1. Eravikulam National Park – the much popularised national park is a good 1 hour drive away from the main city and does not have much to offer in terms of wild life. The main attraction, the Neel Giri Tahr, is actually just a mountain goat. So if the call of the wild goat doesn’t excite you, choose from among the many interesting activities you can do at the resort or just catch a nice afternoon siesta.

 

2. Madupetty Dam – A north Indian tourist, who has has seen the great and gurgling dams of the Himachal, will find nothing great about this calm and serene dam of Kerala. Especially if your trip is just before the monsoons, one can totally give this one a pass.

 

3. Flower Show – the valley has some very beautiful flora and one can spend hours with the beautiful flowers in all colours and shapes. But if you are short on time, and the objective of your holiday is to chill and bond with your family, opt out. Take a walk in the organic garden your resort will no doubt have.

 

So choose your itinerary smartly. Put in a bit of research to understand what each place has to offer and then plan your stay to make the best of your holiday. A tick mark holiday where we must do everything and have pictures of every possible tourist spot to show back home is so not worth it.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Nature, travel

 

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A Walk in the Clouds

I woke up this morning to find that overnight our resort had lost its earthly anchor and floated up to the devine devloks. Atleast that’s what it looked like from my window. No where could I see the lush hills of Munnar covered with tea gardens. I rushed out and sat on the hills, marvelling at this feeling of being on top of the world.

As I sat gazing at the carpet of clouds, I could feel a change coming over them. The snowy clouds started to turn a beautiful shade of gold. Still in my sleep fuzzed and wonderstruck state, it took me some time to understand what was happening. I was witnessing a beautiful sunrise on the hills!

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As the golden rays of the rising sun touched the clouds and the hills, the whole valley glowed with a beautiful shade of orange. Soon the clouds departed and the sun-kissed, misty hills reappeared.

This is how I started my morning trek to the Sita Devi Lake on top of the hills of Munnar. My guide chose an easy trek for us city-trekkers and a half hour later we found ourselves near a beautiful lake. The clear waters reflected the canopy of trees and gentle hills surrounding it from all sides. Nestled among the thick forest of Munnar, this pristine lake took my breath away.

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As we sat at its banks, the first rays of the golden sun filtered through the thick forest and created the illusion of a devine harp. Sitting by the lake we were surrounded by the melodious exchange of the Malabar Whistling Thrush, calling out to their mates.

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Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Nature, travel

 

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A Walk in Fragrant Gardens on the Hills of Munnar

When people like me step out of our cozy and comfortable four walls, we find ourselves wonder struck by how refreshing the natural way of living can be. Everyday when we need vegetables it means a trip to the local market or ordering online, owing to the busy lives we lead. There is a contant fight between my 9 year old and me if I decide to step out and wish to take him with me. But imagine if I were to tell him to step out in the garden and pluck some fresh organic cabbage or brinjals, the conversation would be completely different I imagine. When he was little his pre-school teacher once informed me that they were going on a fruits and vegetable filed trip the next day. Over-joyed and congratulating myself for choosing a hands-on school for my jigar ka tukda, I asked her which orchard or farm they were going to. I was promptly informed that the trip was to the local super market where the children will see a wide variety of fruits and vegetables displayed. 😐

But yesterday morning I found myself walking in a beautifully laid out organic garden where more than 30 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs were grown. I could not help but wish we had something like this in the city so that kids could see how these things actually grow rather than just sold.

 

I have never seen cabbages as big as these or mint smelling as fresh as to carry its whiff IMG_20170426_104837107-1across the garden. The sweet taste of freshly plucked fennel was far more refreshing than any sugar coated fennel we find in the markets. I was amazed to find how easy it is to do this ourselves if only we find the time and passion to dedicate some of effort and resources to it.

The interesting part I got to know is that while it is good for us to consume these fresh and organically grown fruits and vegetable, it also adds to the bio-diversity of the area. The waste from the plants are used as manure for the garden and the vermi-compost pit ensures there is no need to ever use chemical based fertilizers, making this a truly organic produce.

The honey bees that nest here help in pollination, thereby adding to the grDSC_0646owth of the local flora. The trees and plants provide habitats to rare and beautiful birds and animals such as the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Spotted Dove, Malabar Hornbil, Indian Parakeet, the flying squirrel and many more.

 

I am so excited about my find that I cannot wait to plan a visit with my son so that I can show him the natural way of life. I can imagine his wonder and amazement to see the beauty and simplicity in living a sustainable life. I know it is not practical to create a life like this for him in the city. But I hope that he will stay in touch with the reality and be a conscious individual when he grows up.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Nature, travel

 

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Munnar – The journey fills your senses even before you reach the destination

Munnar, the hilly paradise in God’s own country, is on the travel list of most people. Over the last few years, the quaint little villages, the wide-spread tea gardens, the lush waterfalls have created quite a few memorable holidays. The variety this one single destination offers in terms of food, natural beauty and off-beat activities is what adds to its popularity and makes people come back for more. 
I am on a short trip to this exotic destination for the next two days. Follow my journey as I share experience through my photos, videos and sometimes verbose posts.
For now I will share some tips on making your journey to reach the destination pleasurable. 

1. Start early – Reaching Munnar takes time so its best if you take a morning flight to Kochi from where ever you are travelling. The drive from Kochi to Munnar is too beautiful to pass in the dark. 
2. Take breaks – While driving uphill, stop at the little villages on the way to just soak in the freshness and coconut-ness of the region. Travel is all about the journey and not just the destination.
3. Eat Light – Since the first day is mostly spent on travel, keep the food light. you can gorge on the southern delicacies once you reach there. But the road uphil is winding and you wouldn’t want to dot it with the undigested remains of your breakfast and lunch.
4. If travelling with kids, be prepared with –

4.1 Multiple options of little light snacks

4.2 Some audio story books as the long drive can make them fidgety

4.3 Wet – wipes, tissues and pediatric anti-nausea meds

5. Spice Gardens – Visit the spice gardens on the way and take a walk among the trees and bushes to know more about the organic spices that the state is rich in. Most spice gardens offer guided tours for a small amount.
Look out for more as I share my wonderful journey with you.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in travel

 

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Dream a little Dream

What do we have that we can truly call our own? Something that no one can take away from us. Our assets? Our possessions? Our friends? Family? I think not. Its our dreams, our vision of what we want to be, something we want to create. “If I can see it, then I can be it, If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it!” These are powerful words!

 

I saw a movie yesterday which made me rethink about how I live my life. How I begin my feeble chase after my dreams and give up at the slightest hurdle. It made me question my intentions. Nil Battey Sannata is a movie about perseverance, about dreams and about making your dreams come true!

 

The movie has such a refreshing approach it warmed my heart. A woman who works multiple jobs – house maid, factory worker, masala maker, and what not – has just one dream. She wants to see her daughter make something of her life. While the said daughter has no ambition of her own at all…in fact, on the contrary, does everything to make sure her mother’s plans for her fail. But the  quiet perseverance of this mother, the lengths she is ready to go to, is very very inspiring. Not once in the movie does she get any charity from her employers who have the means to do it for her or the Collector who, in his capacity, could made things work for her. They just nudge her in the right direction. And that too was a pleasant surprise. Because you see, it is very easy to step in and help someone in their struggle. But it takes a lot of wisdom to gently guide and help people stand on their own two feet. Because that is what will finally see them through.

 

I have a son and naturally I have many dreams for him too. Like all modern parents I also believe in giving him space and letting him find his own place, his own ambition in life. I hope that when time comes, I have the wisdom to not take over his life and railroad my dreams on him. And I hope that if he shows signs of complete lack of ambition, I have the patience and perseverance to teach him how to dream again and to work towards making them come true. A quote from the movie that stayed with me –

“Gareeb woh hota hai jiske paas koi sapna nahi hota”

 

 
 

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