Exploring the land of the Dalai Lama: 3 days in Dharamsala (part 1)

Norling Guest House, Norbulingka Institute

After a spate of particularly nasty fights with the darling husband, I got together with my girlfriends to plan a weekend away from the madness of marriage. And what better place to calm the spirits than the spiritual land of the Dalai Lama?

Thus began the frantic search for the perfect place to stay — one that wouldn’t burn a hole in our collective pockets, and yet would be calming and beautiful. And as usual, yours truly lived up to the challenge! The Norling Guest House at the Norbulinka Institute. Search for the guesthouse over, we started thinking logistics. That’s when my girlfriends — miss details and miss happening — realized I was dead serious about going for this holiday without the husband. And that’s when I guess their conspiracy theory started.

Miss H asked her husband to join us on the trip, and Miss D, our single, fancy-free friend, convinced me that I should also ask the husband to come along. “Who knows, by then your fight might be over and you might regret not calling him along,” she said.

The cafe at the guest house

So, bowing down to their conniving ways, I bit the bullet and asked the husband, secretly knowing he’d never agree to come. But, surprise, surprise! He agreed immediately! Miracles never cease, do they? So, a little peeved (oh ok, mighty peeved!), I accepted the fact that he would be tagging along with me, though what do you know, by the time the month passed and it was trip time, our fight was over, and all was well with the world!

Landscaped tranquility at the garden

When D-day finally arrived, the husband was muttering about all the stress involved in going for a holiday (imagine that!), Miss D came with tales of working until the last minute and Miss H came with all guns (read camera) blazing! But finally, after a month of planning and waiting, we were off to Dharamsala!

An overnight bus journey later, tired and slightly edgy, we reached the hotel…and were transported into tranquility. The guesthouse is set within a monastery and institute complex that was set up by the Dalai Lama to give Tibetans fleeing from persecution in Tibet a place to gather together to preserve their art, culture and traditions. The rooms are beautifully appointed with Tibetan-style furnishings, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and exude an aura of peace, with the song of birds and crickets in the background. Bliss. I could see myself just lazing around, soaking in the atmosphere there for a while…

But first, McLeod Ganj waited!
—> Read part two

La Furia Roja conquers the world!

Sunday’s World Cup final was bound to create history — one way or another. But this clash of two two like-minded footballing cultures looked more like foulball than football. The Dutch set a new record for yellow cards in a World Cup final (12, compared to the previous record of 6), with Heitinga getting sent off with his second yellow card for the evening in the 110th minute of the game. The night, however, belonged to Spain, which prevailed despite the hounding and hammering they received from the Dutchmen.

“I simply made a small contribution in a match that was very tough, very rough,” said Andres Iniesta, the Spanish hero who sent his team to World Cup glory. “All sorts of things were happening on the pitch.”

The match was rough and tumble; the Spanish weren’t able to play their free-flowing football; and despite the number of scoring chances, there was very little of the quality football that these two teams are known for. The sport’s showpiece event was hardly a showcase for the beautiful game, and that was the Netherlands’ doing. Refree Howard Webb showed the first yellow card of the evening to Van Persie in the 15th minute when he brought down Joan Capdevila. Spain’s Carles Puyol reacted to a foul on a Spanish player a minute later and was shown a yellow card of his own, but the spoilers were definately the Dutch.

Though the tactics slowed down La Roja, they still maintained the upper hand in terms of possession (60/40), and delivered where it mattered most — in the goalkeepers net! As Iniesta took off his shirt and ran to the sidelines to celeberate on one end of the field, on the other end Iker Casillas, standing inside his goal post, had tears streaming down his face. That goal ended nearly 80 years of angst for a nation that has produced so many great players but has not once lifted the World Cup trophy.

With this win Spain enters the history books not only because this is the first time the nation has won the World Cup, but also because no country has ever lost its opening match and gone on to win the final! Spain is also only the second country to have won the Euro Cup and gone on to win the World Cup two years later.

Absolutely putdownable: Lajja

Taslima Nasrin wrote Lajja in a span of 7 days following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 June 1992 and the subsequent persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh. Maybe the book would have benefitted if she had spent some more time thinking about what she was writing.

The book reads like a laundry list of Hindu areas and temples that have been demolished in that country over the years — and the result is so boring that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the book (a rarity).

It did seem to start with a promising idea — a Hindu family who refused to flee from their homeland despite the mass exodus that had been taking place around them over the years caught in the cross-fire of the 1992 riots. It could have made for an excellent novel, Taslima Nasrin could have portrayed a lot of the history she wanted to by building the story and fleshing out the protagonists.

Instead, the protagonists are not even 2-dimensional and there is no story or major plot to speak of.

At every stage, there is either a long bullet list of atrocities committed by Muslims against Hindus and a list of temples and villages burnt down, or protagonists speaking lists of areas that were affected by the riots.

And this was the book that was banned in Bangladesh, and that caused a fatwa to be issued against Nasrin? What a shame!

History will be created in South Africa

The semi-finals have been played and the final two sides chosen — it’s going to be Netherlands vs Spain on the 11th of July at Johannesburg, and no matter which team wins, history will be created.

Netherlands enter their first World Cup final since 1978 with a 3-2 win over the relatively inexperienced Uruguay side. They won’t be favored to win against Spain, but this Dutch team finds ways to win. The Oranje outplayed Brazil with a combination of a very strong, hardworking midfield and a continuous attack that revealed all of Brazil’s weak spots, setting up the upset of World Cup 2010.

But they didn’t look all that very convincing against Uruguay. The verve with which they played against Brazil was lacking for the most part of the game. They won against the hard-working Uruguay team solely on the basis of their experience.

Dutch stars like Robin Van Persey haven’t made a mark at the World Cup — the glory in their team belongs to Wesley Sneijder (who is in the running for the coveted Golden Boot) and Dirk Kuyt.

Spain have already created one piece of history —- this was the first time the Spanish team made it to the semi-final stage in the World Cup. Should the Euro 2008 champions go on to lift the title, it will mark their first-ever World Cup victory, and will make them one of just a handful of teams to have won the Euro cup and gone on to win the World Cup two years later.

After their embarrassing loss to Switzerland in their opening group game, Spain were able to go on to beat a “German team so rampant that it had three times scored four goals in a game during the tournament,”
suggesting that they’re just hitting their stride. Though I was afraid that the German defense might be too difficult for the Spanish to break through, and that German strikers would pull holes in the Spanish defense, La Roja flowed down the field like a wave of red!

Their confidence in possession is terrifying — Spain more than once took short free kicks to players who had an opposition defender literally on their backs, the gesture showing their players’ confidence in holding on to the ball no matter how close the opposition got. On the rare occasion that they lost it, they simply grabbed it back within a split second. And in the process, they played some gorgeous attacking football with little flicks and feints putting their players through — although that sometimes maddening Spanish habit of seeking to pass the ball all the way into the net rather than sometimes simply pulling the trigger was occasionally in evidence. — Time.CNN

But what are their chances in the finals?

The Dutch didn’t expect to reach the finals, so they should be able to play a freer game without any kind of performance pressure. The start-studded Spanish side, though, entered the tournament as the favorites to lift the trophy, and the pressure can tell. At the end of the day, though, football is a crazy game — anything can happen, at any time!

Uruguay advanced into the semi-final by beating Ghana due to a foul in the final minute of extra time. Netherlands defeated Brazil because Felipe Melo got in the way of his goalkeeper, and later let his frustration get the better of him and got himself sent off for a violent foul.

And that is why I for one am going to be glued to my television set on the 11th, cheering on for my favorite side — Spain!

(images courtesy FIFA/getty images)

The final four: FIFA 2010

South Africa has seen some major drama in this world cup! France and former world champions Italy crashed out in Round 1, England and Portugal bowed out in the Round of 16, and Brazil and Argentina crashed out in the Quarters!

Here’s a look at the final four teams that are still standing:

Netherlands has a rich footballing tradition, but have never taken the trophy home. After being Brazil 2-1, this could well be their year! The Oranje were in the semis in 1998, and made two straight finals in 1974 and 1978. But for decades, the Dutch have been labeled the best team never to win it all. If they could come back against the Brazilians, thanks to two brilliant goals from Wesley Sneijder, then their major breakthrough could well be at hand, after 32 years of waiting!

Uruguay, once a soccer power, most recently an afterthought, broke South Africa’s heart on July 2, beating the last African nation in the fray — Ghana — 3-2 on penalties. (Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930, then again in 1950, beating Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.) This is the country’s first semi-final appearance in 40 years. However, they will face the Dutch without their most important goal-scorer Suarez, who was red-carded when he used his hands to keep out a header in the last minute of extra-time, denying Ghana a place in the semis.

With its 4-0 rout against Argentina in the quarters, Germany will enter the semis more confident than ever. This is the youngest side to ever be sent to the World Cup, and they certainly don’t seem to be missing their captain from four years ago — Mikael Ballak. The team has a formidable defense led by captain Philip Lahm, and excellent mid-fielder in Bastian Schweinsteiger, great goal scorers Miloslav Klose and Mesut Oezil and Lucas Podolski.

Spain entered the World Cup as the favorites to win, but were off to a shaky start, losing 1-0 to Switzerland. That defeat, though, shook them, and they’ve become progressively better, beating Paraguay 1-0 to book their place in the semi-finals. Spain last claimed a space among the top four in 1950 in a round-robin final stage, but have never competed in a World Cup semi-final. Fernando Torres hasn’t got his groove back, but the individualistic David Villa is creating magic on the field, as are Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, who replaced a shaky Torres 10 minutes into the second half. Other notables in the Spanish squad include goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defenders Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos, and mid-fielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso.

(images courtesy fifa.com/getty images)

Make your own rules

If you were in charge and could make any one rule, what would it be? There are a lot of rules I’d like to make, but the one rule that would be most important to me is…

Reduce the workweek to 4 days
If I could make the rules, this one would be on the top of my list. Slash down the workweek from 5 days to 4. We could increase the workday by an hour each day to offset the loss of a working day. But a 4-day work week would give us ample time to take care of the rest of our lives too, and would be a perfect way for employees to strike a work-life balance.

There are too many things that we are forced to put off due to work commitments, and not all of those can be addressed on the 2 days we have off. Imagine the possibilities that having 3 days to yourself would open up! I know there’s so much more I could achieve if I had 3 days to myself —- from the daily nitty-gritties that get piled up for the weekend; to giving more time and attention to my hobbies (photography and art journals); managing to get important official work get done, which a lot of times gets pushed and pushed unless there’s a fire…


So, if you could make your own rule, what would it be?


Book review: New Moon (and Twilight)

I had heard a lot about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, and so while browsing around at the bookstore some months ago, I picked up the entire series. It’s a compulsive thing — if I have one book that is part of a series, I need to have them all!

The first book — Twilight — didn’t impress me much. The writing seemed labored and the style and grammar (I’m an editor, what did you expect?!) left much to be desired. But somewhere along the way, I started to enjoy the story — a bit. I like witches and wizards (think Harry Potter) and vampires (think The Historian and Bram Stroker’s Dracula), and Myer’s take on the latter was interesting. They sparkle in the sun instead of burn, have strong piercing teeth not fangs, can drink both animal as well as human blood, and are indestructible and lightning fast. And one of them falls in love with one of us! Interesting!

But since the style of writing left a lot to desire, the rest of the books were languishing on my bookshelf. That is, until I finished reading Ben Okri’s Starbook (very interesting, but rather heavy!) and wanted some light reading next. While going over my stash of unread books, I came across New Moon, the second novel in the Twilight series, and thought, why not?

This one hooked me from page 1, and I finished reading it in two days flat. This doesn’t mean that New Moon was much better than Twilight; it just means that I’ve read some pretty heavy fiction these last two months (see my Reading list) and needed a really, really light read!

The plot (spoiler alert!), with its twists and turns and the introduction of warewolves, had me hooked to the book, as I raced to find out what would happen next.

On Bella’s 18th birthday, Edward and his family throw her a birthday party, where, clumsy as she is, she gets a paper cut. This drives Edward’s brother Jasper out of control, but Edward saves her. To protect her, Edward ends their relationship and the Cullens move away from Forks. This leaves Bella heart-broken, though she goes through the motions in a “zombie-like” state for the sake of her father. That is, until she realizes that thrill-seeking activities allow her to “hear” Edward’s voice in her head. That’s when she purchases two old motorcycles and renews her friendship with Jacob Black, whose sunny disposition eases her pain over losing Edward.

But things aren’t that straightforward, as Jacob is in love with her, and Bella isn’t sure if it will be fair on her part to reciprocate those feelings. She also learns that Jacob and some of the other Quileute tribe members are warewolves, arch enemies of vampires. They protect her from Laurent and also Victoria, who is seeking revenge for her mate James, whom the Cullens killed in Twilight.

There’s still another twist in the plot — through a series of miscommunications, Edward believes that Bella has killed herself. Distraught, he goes to Volterra, Italy, to provoke the Volturi, vampire royalty, who are capable of killing him if he exposes himself as a vampire in their city. Alice (Edward’s sister, who can see the future) and Bella race to Italy to try to save Edward; of course, they arrive just in time to stop him from stepping out into the sun, where his skin would shimmer like a thousand diamonds. The Volturi don’t let them off easily, though. They think that Bella, a human, knows too much about vampires and must be killed or transformed into one herself. Using her gift of foresight, Alice convinces the Volturi that Bella will turn into one of them, and the trio returns to Forks, where Edward and Bella resume their relationship, but not before Bella convinces the Cullens to turn her into one of them after she graduates. And of course, with the return of Edward, Jacob exits Bella’s life, though she’s determined to “win her best friend back.”

The book did drag a bit in the middle, but it was pretty fast paced nonetheless. I also found the writing style much better than the first novel, plus I liked the fact that Myer didn’t dwell overtly on Bella’s clumsiness and Edward’s awesomeness. That was a real pain in Twilight, which was very Mills n Boon-ish. The introduction of warewolves kept the novel interesting, and now I’m intrigued to find out if Myers developed the dynamics between vampires and warewolves in the other two novels.

I’m not sure I would recommend the series to my friends; plus this really isn’t the kind of fiction I generally enjoy. I guess if you’re a teen or pre-teen you’ll like the book. If you want a light read, you just might enjoy New Moon.

Mosaic maker: a pretty cool game!

I came across this game on Kylee’s Book Blog; it looked like fun, so I thought I’d give it a go! It took longer than I anticipated, but I really liked the result!

The concept:

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.

The questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name

Do leave a comment if you try this on your blog; I’d love to see the results!

Portugal has arrived!!

In the most exciting match of FIFA 2010 so far, the brilliant Christiano Ronaldo led his band of 11 merry men to a resounding 7-0 victory over DPR Korea.

You really can’t call Korea a weak team, they did manage to hold Brazil 0-0 till the second half after all. However, they changed their strategy since that game, from a defensive to an attacking one, and that appears to have gone against them. It doesn’t take anything away from Portugal, however, which gave the Koreans a masterclass in football!

(images from fifa.com/getty images)
There was some brilliant passing from Ronaldo, who set up a number of goals. Plus, when his shots missed the target, his usual theatrics were missing, showing how he has matured as a captain for his team.

“I am always happy to score, but the credit must goes to my teammates,” said Mr. Ronaldo, who was named player of the game. “We were fantastic today.”

Now, what do you have up your sleeve for Friday’s game against Brazil, Mr. Ronaldo?

The World Cup of upsets

What’s up with all the “strong” teams? So far, Argentina’s the only team that impressed in both of its matches. Germany started out extremely well before falling to Serbia; Italy’s just about managed to draw both of its games against Paraguay and New Zealand; England gave away a goal to the US and couldn’t find the back of the Algerian net; Portugal drew nil-nil with Ivory Coast; France is almost certainly on its way home; Brazilian magic worked mainly in the second half; and Spain crashed and burned against Switzerland!

None of the footballing stars have been able to really control the Jabulani ball, and goal keepers haven’t been able to always predict its trajectory. The most successful goalkeepers in this World Cup have been the ones that have punched the ball out instead of trying to catch it, and commentators’ favorite line has been “the ball was too long and went out of play.” The number of times that crosses fly over the penalty box and shots go into the stands is only increasing. Have the best players in the world suddenly forgotten how to play? Or is the reason for all of these gaffes the Jabulani ball, with which players are unfamiliar with, and which England boss Fabio Capello describes as “the worst ball” ever?

It might be sensible to bring the best stars in the world to play in winter conditions, on high altitude, on porous pitches (those in Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Rustenburg are more suitable for planting potatoes or accommodating homeless moles), and deafen them with vuvuzelas. After all, Sepp has always promised to bring the World Cup to Africa. But to make those stars play with a completely new ball on the biggest stage in the world is more than outrageous. That kind of decision shows total lack of respect for all involved – the players, the fans, the World Cup and the game as a whole. (you can read the entire article on goal.com)

But then how do you explain how Maradona floated a beautiful free-kick into the net during practice? It simply demonstrates that the best players keepers are the ones that adapt the quickest to the way a ball reacts, particularly at altitude.

So maybe the fault doesn’t lie in the Jabulani ball; maybe it’s just first-round fears, with many of the teams paralyzed at the thought of being on the back foot after a match. As the teams get into a more “do or die” situation, chances are we’ll see some world class football once again. If you saw Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast yesterday night, you’d know what I was talking about!