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

“He looked normal”

…has to be the biggest cliché in recent times. It’s the phrase that is bandied about the most when anyone talks about a terrorist – be it “baby-faced” Ajmal Kasab, who was given the death sentence yesterday for the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, or Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested today for the failed bomb attempt in New York.

According to an eyewitness,

“I never doubted that he [Shahzad] could be a terrorist because he was a very normal looking guy. He was holding his passport and sitting there, we could never have doubted him because he looked so normal”

Why, I ask, should a terrorist not look normal? After all, a terrorist is a “normal” human being whose mind has been “abnormally” twisted by fanatical individuals. He wouldn’t be roaming the streets with horns and a devil’s forked tongue!

But things certainly are scary out there, ‘cause seemingly well-to-do individuals are being turned by the fanatical outpourings of a handful of individuals who twist religion and spew hatred for “the other,” with delusions of world-wide dominance, at the altar of which innocent souls are slaughtered.

(image courtesy onegoodthing.net)

Nawalgarh — Rajasthan’s open air art gallery

Shekhawati: Rajasthan's open air art gallery

We take our annual holiday in December/January, as we prefer to be out of town during New Year (not ‘cause I like it quiet, just so we don’t end up greeting the new year with a fight!). This year, we did a road trip across Rajasthan — from Delhi to Nawalgarh, Jaipur and Udaipur.

We set off for Nawalgarh at around 10:30 on 24th December — pretty late, but that was hubby darling’s brilliant idea. Ergo, we had to fight our way through numerous traffic jams till we got to Kotputli, from where we mercifully left crazy old NH8 and ventured onto roads that were quieter and free of traffic. Thanks to a few wrong turns and one missed turn, it was around 6:00ish when we reached the hotel.

Being on the road for about 7.5 hours meant that we were pretty tired and cranky by the time we checked in. But the hotel, Apni Dhani, was really nice and welcoming. It has traditional Rajasthani huts arranged in a circle around a courtyard, somewhat similar to Mandore Guest House in Jodhpur in terms of the set-up and greenery.

Main entry gate to the Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold

But where it differs is in sustainability and eco-friendliness — they grow their own wheat, barley, maize, have a vegetable garden and also some fruit trees. So a lot of what you eat is actually grown at their property. Doesn’t get more organic than that!

Meeting area, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh

The owner, Ramesh Jangid heads the Intach chapter for the Shekhawati region, so he was the perfect person to guide us around the havelis and to tell us where to go and what to see. Though Shekhawati covers a pretty vast area — Jhujhnu, Mandawa, Dundold (some of the big towns) — he told us to visit the havelis of Nawalgarh and Dundold, which was just about 8 kms away, as they have some of the most well-preserved and finest examples of Shekhawati havelis. All the havelis follow the same basic pattern — there is a huge entrance first, with an outside area where the men could receive guests or people who came for an audience, then the main entrance (beyond which the women didn’t step out), where on the lower floor was the kitchen, water store and another drawing room where more important guests might be invited, and an upper floor that had bedrooms with a terrace on top.

Tea with a view, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold


Made sense, so on the next day, after we were rested and refreshed, we headed into Dhundold. Our first stop was the Goyenka Haveli, which has been well-restored and is open to visitors. There’s an entry ticket of Rs. 40, and the caretaker shows you around. It had some beautiful carving — the door to the main house was made of bronze, above which was a carved wooden and ivory panel. The walls were brightly painted, with a variety of subjects, ranging from a train, to deities and scenes from everyday life.

There was a small little room where matkas of water used to be kept that had a thin door that was left open to let in air — that’s how you got cold water in the hot summer months! There was a typical Rajasthani kitchen, with a statue of a cook making rotis and serving them, and a lot of old vessels arranged in the room, including an okhli and batta. There were a lot of other statues around the haveli…a woman grinding wheat, another of a bullock cart, a third of a meeting…

Cotton sample booklets, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold

Exploring the rest of the rooms, we saw some lovely antiques in the house, like a kid’s rocking chair and two gorgeous floor to ceiling Belgian mirrors…another room had a mini-museum, displaying old coins, 10 and 100 rupee notes (which were so much bigger than the notes today!), silver jewelry and silver candle stands. In another room I found some old codes and stamp paper, and a book of cotton samples — the owners had two businesses, selling cotton on commission and manufacturing Dundold tea. In one of the rooms a game of chausar had been laid out on the floor, and the caretaker explained how the game used to be played with shells, what the different throws meant, and how to keep count.

Wall fresco, Krishna and Radha with gopis forming the elephant, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh

Almost all the rooms had beautifully painted walls. Some of the paintings had recently been restored using chemical paints, but others still had the more than 100 year old original paints made of crushed stone and water.

That tour over, the caretaker told us to go visit the Goyenka’s centograph, which was typical to the centorgraphs found around the region. In fact, he said that most other centographs in Shekhawati were modeled after this one! From there, we wnet to the fort, which was pretty disappointing, as part of it had been converted to a hotel, and they rushed us in and out of there in 10 minutes flat!

We were back at the hotel for lunch, and then spent the evening lazing around…there was a classical music evening at the hotel, which was interesting (though I would have rather gone and seen at least one haveli in Nawalgarh that evening!).

Inner haveli gate, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

The next day was reserved for Nawalgarh. We started with the Poddhar Haveli Museum, which was absolutely mind blowing! Each and every surface of each and every wall was filled with varied frescoes, depicting everything from mythology to the kings, trains, Europeans and daily life. The guide explained it thus: In the olden days, the paintings were like TV — for instance, people couldn’t go to Bombay to see the train, so the traders who had been there described what a train looked like, how it ran, what the station was like, to the artists, who painted them on the walls of their house!

Fresco depicting a train and a kingly procession, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

There some really interesting paintings, like one showing a woman feeding a child and doing makeup at the same time, another showed Shiv and Parvati on Nandi from the left, and from the right, Bramha and Saraswati on a bull. There was also a painting of the head of the house that was done in such a way that no matter where you went, it looked like his eyes were following you. Very interesting!

Inner courtyard, Muraka haveli, Nawalgarh

The other interesting thing about the haveli was that it offered a virtual tour of all of Rajasthan. A number of the rooms had been converted into galleries, which displayed everything related to Rajasthani culture, from paintings and carving of all the different regions, to wedding dresses, pagdis, all the main forts and palaces of Rajasthan, jewelry, musical instruments, marble work and miniature paintings.

The haveli just took my breath away! Imagine living in a house that was so gaily painted — I’m sure you could find a picture for any mood if you were living in such a place! At times I imagine it might have gotten a bit overwhelming, too, to live under the eyes of so many millions of paintings, but…it was absolutely fantabulous!

The crumbling Bhagwat Haveli, Nawalgarh

From there we went to the Bhagwat Haveli, which had some 100 odd year old paintings that hadn’t been restored. Though it was much simpler than Poddar Haveli, the paintings had an ethereal quality about them…some of them were fading, others were blackened by time and years of smoke coming out of the kitchen, some were peeling off a bit…but that’s the real charm, eh?

Sheesh Mahal, Nawalgarh Fort

We then went to visit the fort, which doesn’t look like one, and has only one room that is worth seeing — the Sheesh Mahal. The central dome is painted to show Jaipur on one side and Nawalgarh on the other, and the circular room is filled with mirror work and more paintings.

Fresco on an outer wall, Aath Haveli complex, Nawalgarh

I wanted to look around at a few more havelis, they’re all so beautiful, but since hubby dearest said no can do, no could do it was! I did manage to bug him into taking me to the Muraka haveli and the Aath Haveli complex, but that was about it.

The next day was check out time. We were off to Jaipur for an overnight stay, and then onto the next leg of our journey — romantic Udaipur!

Hippy times at Pushkar: Around town (part 2 of 2)

<— Read part 1: Getting to Pushkar

Bramha temple

Pushkar is a temple town. It is home to the only Bramha temple in the world, and has temples dedicated to both of his wives. The lake is surrounded by 52 interconnected ghats, which have about 500-odd temples. Of course, not all are open to tourists, and with such a profusion of temples, figuring out which ones to visit could be confusing. So it is something that is best done with the help of a guide. Our hotel, Inn Seventh Heaven, had tied up with a local priest to offer a tour of the most important temples in the city, and while checking in, I asked the front desk to arrange a meeting with the priest in the afternoon. However, the priest was out of town, and was to return on the day we were leaving, so that plan didn’t work out. We decided to walk down to the lake and figure it out from there.

Prayer at the lake

Our hotel was a couple of minutes walk from the main market, and we found our way to one of the ghats pretty easily (I think it was the Ganga ghat, but I could be wrong). There was a small shop there selling puja samagri, and the shopkeeper was a treasure trove of information. He told us the history of the lake — the mythology behind its creation, the reason why the only Bramha temple is in Pushkar, and why, despite Bramha being one of the most important Hindu gods, there are no other temples dedicated to him. Almost all of the information he gave us matched with what I had read in the Rough Guide to India, but it was interesting to hear it coming straight from a local, who colored that information with local traditions and cultural inputs as well. Contrary to what the guide books said, though, there weren’t too many people around to pressurize us to offer prayers at the lake. Although we initially thought that we would come back the next day to offer our prayers at the lake, since we were there, and as there was a priest around, we decided to do the prayer ceremony on the first day itself.

Prayers done, we headed into the market.

The bustling market

The market is a narrow road lined on both sides by small shops selling everything from music CDs to souvenirs, silver jewelry, psycadelic t-shirts, hippy clothes and Rajasthani fabrics. We also found a couple of guys there selling swords, which was something we were looking for a really long time. The idea being to pick up a samurai sword (or as close as we could get to one) and then carve a handle and scabbard for it and display it in our living room.

There were also a number of shops selling natural essential oils and incense — something not found anywhere else in Rajasthan. The reason — roses. In the desert. Honest! There are huge rose fields near Pushkar, so one thing lead to another, and in addition to rose essential oils, you get a huge variety of essential oils, the most interesting one being solid amber. It’s a slightly spongy piece of amber that has a beautiful, earthy smell, though at Rs. 350/- for a small little box, it is quite pricey. The shopkeeper assured us that the smell would last for 10 years (yes, 10) and that the tiny little box of amber was enough to perfume a medium-sized room! I picked up two boxes of that — one for me and one for mom — along with opium flower, white musk and iceberg essential oils.

Following the trail to Pink Floyd Cafe

Pushkar’s also a foodie heaven (though you get pure vegetarian fare). There are a number of street food joints, a lot of which cater to Israeli tourists, and you’ll also find a chai bar, an organic food kitchen and lots of pizza places. We also followed the trail to Pink Floyd Café.

Outside the Pink Floyd Cafe

It’s pretty cool, and definitely worth a visit, though the food isn’t much to write home about. It would be better to get yourself a cup of java or a cold drink and have a look around. The best food we had there, though, had to be our hotel food. They have a small menu, but orders are made fresh and the food is delicious. The best was their apple crumble with ice-cream — absolutely scrumptious.

Jholas and clothes galore

One walk down the market, and I bet you’d get hooked to the place! There are so many shops to explore and so much really cool stuff you can find. One of the shops that we frequented while we were at Pushkar was a clothes shop, which had tied up with a US-based designer who sent designs and samples in exchange for some free clothes and stoles to take back to the US! And if you think that means pricey stuff or haute couture, think again! There were really cool and different tops, skirts, pants, hippy-style clothes, and all of it really, really cheap.

Taking a break

We overheard a conversation between a couple of foreigners. One group had been in Pushkar for a week the other, for a month! When the newcomers asked the old-timer at Pushkar what the hell he found to do there for a whole month, his answer was: “Once you get through the first week here, you actually find yourself falling in love with the laidback pace of the city.” I’m not sure I could spent an entire month at Pushkar, but I’m pretty sure I could keep myself entertained for a week without any problems!

Dressed up for the tourists

The pace of the city is so laid-back, while still offering so much to do, that you can’t help but get totally de-stressed! We spent our entire trip roaming around the market, talking to shopkeepers and just relaxing. This was one of the most distressing holidays I have had in a really long time.

I want to say that we did visit a lot of the tourist attractions there, but honestly, apart from the lake and the Bramha temple, we didn’t go see anything else! Instead, we spent our time roaming around the market and exploring the shops (and of course shopping).

Biking to the sand dunes

One evening we also hired a bike and decided to go to the desert. However, the bike was pretty rattly, and we ended up not going all the way there after all. I also think we managed to lose our way, but it was a nice fun ride!

All-in-all, we had a wonderful time at Pushkar…and it certainly is on my list of places to visit again — this time, once the lake is full!

Hippy times at Pushkar: Getting there (part 1 of 2)

We’ve had a spate of long weekends recently, and continuing our love affair with Rajasthan, we decided to drive down to Pushkar, notwithstanding all the negatives people had to say about the place, such as it was going to be as hot as a furnace and dirty to boot. After a lot of stops and starts, we finally decided to drive down to Jaipur in the afternoon, stay there overnight and then go on to Pushkar, where we would stay for 3 nights.

Leaving Delhi at around 3:00 on a Friday afternoon, we reached Jaipur at around 8:00, thanks to a pretty nasty jam right at the entry to the city. We headed straight for our favorite hotel — Arya Niwas, where they upgraded us to deluxe room at no extra charge, and we fell in love with the place all over again! Their normal rooms are very comfortable, but quite basic.

The deluxe room at Arya Niwas


Their deluxe rooms, on the other hand, are simply amazing! The best part — a private balcony and an electric kettle!! Just what the doctor ordered! After a quick dinner, I headed out onto the balcony for some cool fresh air and a hot cup of tea. What bliss after that long and tiring drive!

We set out for Pushkar at around about 9:00 am the next day. Most of the drive is on the excellent 8-lane Ajmer highway, though once you take the turn for Pushkar, the state highway isn’t all that very great. We passed through narrow, winding, almost deserted roads…the signages were few and far between, and just as we were wondering if we had lost our way…we heard the unmistakable thump of an Enfield, and a few minutes later were greeted by the sight of two foreigners tearing along the road on the bike. That could mean just one thing — Pushkar couldn’t be too far away!

I have to admit that the first sight of the town doesn’t inspire confidence. On the way to our hotel, we drove down a rather badly pot-holed narrow road…right at the turn to the hotel we were confronted by the sight of a cow lazily ambling along the road, with narrow little open sewers, which I hadn’t seen since my childhood in Shakarpur (Delhi). The hotel, from the outside, wasn’t all that interesting either, and I could feel my heart beginning to sink towards my knees, because I generally pride myself on being able to find us good, comfortable, atmospheric, budget digs! This, though, was a big white house, with one of those huge gates that has a small opening to let pedestrians in, with the name of the hotel — Inn Seventh Heaven — stenciled on in peeling paint.

The central courtyard by night

However, someone wise once said, “Never judge a book by its cover,” and that person was bang on target. Because when you push open the door and bend low to enter the gate, you walk out of a typical small Indian town and into…fairyland!

Sitting area outside our room

The first impression you get is of tranquility, soothing greens, cool whites, and warm reds and browns…and then as your senses adjust you realize that you’re looking at a fountain in the center, a courtyard filled with trees, inviting dark wooden seating with cushions in warm reds and oranges.

Roof top dining area


The hotel has a lovely rooftop terrace, with comfortable seating, again done up in dark wood, red and orange upholstery and lots of green. They play beautiful instrumental music up there, so it’s a lovely dinining experience.

The central courtyard by day


In short, I had done it again! Our room was beautiful, the hotel was magical and the staff friendly and helpful, so strike one for me!

—> Read part 2: Around Pushkar

A tale of two cities

I came across this set of really cool articles in Open magazine, a relatively new weekly news magazine, that talk about reasons why Bombay hates Delhi, which is countered by why Delhi hates Bombay, and both these articles are then countered by the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay! Pretty interesting reading this.

I especially loved the one on why Bombay hates Delhi — maybe because I myself come from that side of the country — a lot of points made me say: “Yes! That is so true!” Sample this:

Space is not compressed here. Everything is far from everything else. There are real gardens where you do not see the exit when you stand at the entrance…Homes have corridors, and they are called corridors, not half-bedrooms. Yet, Delhi has a bestial smallness of purpose.

And a narrow mind — especially Delhi men!

Those men there who drive the long phallic cars, sometimes holding a beer bottle in one hand, there is something uncontrollable about them…What is the swagger about? What is the great pride in driving your father’s BMW, what is the glory in being a sperm? And what is the great achievement in stepping on the accelerator? It is merely automobile engineering—press harder on the pedal and the car will move faster. Why do you think a girl will mate with you for that?

Probably because of their “don’t you know who my father is” mentality. Power is everything here, with almost every second person claiming to be related or acquainted with a politician or a high-ranking police officer.

Delhi as a centre of power is an inheritance, a historical habit. An unbearable consequence of this is the proximity of easy funds for various alleged intellectual pursuits which has enabled it to appropriate the status of intellectual centre.

There is much weight attached to the imagined sophistication of talk, of gas. It is a city of talkers. There is always The Discussion…[there is] a meaningless aspect of Delhi’s fiery intellectuality, and also laid bare the crucial difference between intellectuality, which is borrowed conviction, and intelligence, which is creativity, innovation and original analysis…Delhi [suffers from a] mental condition which is incurable—a fake intensity, a fraudulent concern for ‘issues’, the grand stand.

You can read the entire article here.

Of course, there has to be a counter to this rather dim view of Delhi, though I must admit that I thought it wasn’t as convincing. Starting with a debate of fame vs. power, the article then meandered to Bombay being a city of dreamers…

In this city of people looking up without looking around, dreams are what matter. It is evident. The stock market, ad industry and Bollywood—whichever way you stack them, they make for too little reality.

…and then dissed Bombay for holding candlelight vigils, which, by the way, are now de rigueur in Delhi too!

When reality does sink in, all of Bombay responds as only Bombay can. Scented candles and designer dresses make for a procession of the fifteen thousand. Affronted as they are with the politicians and politics of this country, they ‘decide’ to teach the rest of us how things should be done.

The article touched upon the casteism, which sadly, is rising in Bombay, but the reason for the rise is power — political power. It’s a brilliant strategy if you think about it, but then, that is an altogether different discussion.

You can check the article out here.

And then, there is the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay — one of the most hilarious, ironic articles I’ve read in recent times.

The article starts with a tongue-lashing on Delhi and Bomabay having to “kowtow kowtow to the fickle ways of the Bombay and Delhi weather,” and goes on to slam the efficient public transport in the two cities.

I utterly abhor the temerity of auto drivers from Bombay who, without exception, consider me unworthy of charging whatever grabs their fancy. What’s worse, they choose to take the high ground by being scrupulously honest about the whole business of taking me for a ride…Whatever happened to good old things like indecency and respecting what the customer can be ripped off for. It’s what I’ve come to expect and grown comfortably used to in Chennai. Why shock me senseless with your conscientious ways?

Delhi’s metro isn’t spared either!

For starters, what’s so great about offering an efficient and clean Metro Rail service when one can be pampered by the timeless pleasures of waiting for one to materialise and, in the meantime, making do with a service that’s considered frequent only by people who haven’t seen much better. Efficiency, I tell you—so over-rated and so unnecessary.

And then you come to the heart of the article — love.

Speaking of love, the thing about it, it’s easy to dish out in copious quantities when the recipient is a less fortunate soul, or city, worthy of pity.

And since Delhi and Bombay are not…Though,

Scratch the surface and you’ll find few people really hate Delhi, Bombay or the people from these great cities. What they are is jealous. And that’s what they hate. Happily, it’s okay to feel this way. I call it the ‘Australia syndrome’. Meaning what? Meaning this. So long as Australia were well-nigh unbeatable at cricket, it was eminently more comforting to hate them…Beatings apart, what’s not to hate about a country that’s so beautiful, so sunny, so clean, so spacious, so prosperous, so efficient, so livable (mostly) and, worst of all, possesses a cricket team so goddamn hard-to-beat? Naturally, the only option one had, since one couldn’t surpass them at anything important, was to hate them. Call them self-centered. Arrogant. Uncouth. Loud. And the like. Echoes how the rest of India feels about Bombay and Delhi, doesn’t it? Case closed.

You can read this gem of an article here.

Diwali dhamaal

DSC01553Mom came home this year around Diwali, and we decided to go over to her brother’s (my mama) house in Kanpur to celebrate the festival of lights. This was the first time after marriage that I wasn’t celebrating Diwali at home. I missed decorating the house, making rangoli and lighting the diyas on Diwali. BUT, I had an awesome time at Kanpur!

Since our plans were rather last minute, there was no way we were going to get train reservations. So, we did the next best thing — fly. Delhi to Lucknow (30 mins) and then by taxi to Kanpur (1 hr 15 mins approx).

I was going back to the city after about 15 years…and the area where mama stays is just the same. Those same narrow roads, which of course can’t change, a lot of the same shops, the halwais that I remember being there…it was a trip down memory lane. As we used to when we were kids, we were staying at mom’s cousin’s house (my masi), which is a 5 min walk from mama’s house.

Filkhana and Viranha Road to Kanpur are what Chandani Chowk is to Delhi. Opportunities for photography abound, but being Diwali time, and seeing as I was wearing salwar kurtas and chappals and having to manage duppatas and my purse (so, no chance that I could bolt at the first sign of an eve teaser or chain snatcher) and was constantly running between mama’s house and masi’s, I had no time to pause and capture even one single image. Crummy. Well, I guess we’ll have to keep it for next time.

DSC01561

My cousins were also there, and so every evening all of us youngsters would get together and go out on a gastronomic adventure. I had the most awesome bhelpuri this side of Pune at Bombay Bhel House, tried tikka rice, which was a HUGE disappointment, and had yummy butter chicken from Babas. And since winters had set in, we had malai makkhan every day for breakfast. For the uninitiated, this is the most heavenly, lightest, awesomest sweet dish that you can have — ever — and it is available ONLY during winters and ONLY in Kanpur. I’ve heard that it’s available in Old Delhi too, as Daulat Ki Chaat, but those who have had both say that nothing comes even close to the malai makhan you get in Kanpur — only at Filkhana.

We also managed to squeeze in a trip to Lucknow — a shopping trip for mom and masi and an overnight halt to visit relatives and friends for Abid and me. And of course, while in Lucknow, how could I not squeeze in a shopping trip too? Picked up some lovely chicken peieces — both kurtas and suit materials — from Hazratganj. All in all, a pretty action-packed, fun-filled Diwali!

A hilly existence

It’s been a while since I’ve done any creative photography, and will likely be a while still before I do get a chance to do any. In the meantime, though, while I was editing pictures from our last trip to Lansdowne, I thought it would be nice to share some here.

Unhook from the hectic pace of life in this small, sleepy town…

Sleepy street

Continue reading

Divorced from reality…

…for a few days when I went back home to Poona….

Soaked up the cool air during breakfast in the garden every morning

Soaked up the cool air during breakfast in the garden every morning


It was a total break from the hectic pace of my “real” life. A going back in time, as I returned to my room — the place where I spent 20 years of my life — to a life sans responsibility…no need to think about work, to plan the next meal, to track groceries, or worry about mundane things like making up the bed. It was a return to innocence, to a time when responsibilities were something the grown ups had to deal with.
Watched nature unfold around me on lazy monsoon afternoons

Watched nature unfold around me on lazy monsoon afternoons


The weather in Poona was lovely compared to the oven that is Delhi…cool breezes, light monsoon showers…perfect for lazy mornings spent reading the newspaper, breakfast in the garden with the singing of the morning birds…late morning spent talking with the parents, an afternoon siesta, long walks in the early evening, crowned by a shopping trip later in the day…a more languid, peaceful, soulful time.
It was yesterday once more as I returned to the sanctuary of my youth --- my bedroom!

It was yesterday once more as I returned to the sanctuary of my youth --- my bedroom!


As some of that peacefulness clings to me still, I’m reminded of the lyrics to Dido’s Sand in my Shoes:

Two weeks away it feels like the world should’ve changed
But I’m home now
And things still look the same
I think I’ll leave it to tomorrow till unpack
Try to forget for one more night
That I’m back in my flat on the road
Where the cars never stop going through the night
To real life where I can’t watch sunset
I don’t have time

The war on Mumbai

On 26 November, terrorists struck India’s financial capital — Mumbai — in one of the most brazen attacks ever seen in India. They entered the city through the sea route, striking at the Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe, and Cama Hospital first. In this first strike, the nation lost three of its best police officers — Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte.

The terrorists then proceeded to take two high-profile hotels — the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi-Trident — and Nariman House (also known as Chabad House) hostage. The siege, which lasted almost 60 hours, claimed the life of the rabbi and his wife, leaving their young son an orphan.

This latest and most brazen attack, which the media dubbed India’s 9/11, has horrified the nation. For three days Indians sat glued to their television, in mute horror, watching the drama unfold on television. We watched, helpless, as the terrorists set fire to the heritage Taj Mahal hotel, we cringed as we heard gun shots and grenade blasts ring out, we watched with bated breath as NSG commandoes engaged the terrorists, and we cried when we heard about the number of hostages who are killed, and as we saw some hostages released. Once it was all over, though, we became a nation angry. This time we will not call upon “the spirit of Mumbai.” This time we want to see political action. Platitudes will not work anymore.

But, this is India.

Politicization of the attack

On day 1 of the attack, leader of the opposition L.K. Advani said he would work together with the UPA government and not use this event as a political campaign point. The next day, he forgot all about his promise and the BJP released full page color ads politicizing the issue. Its leaders like Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje are using the Mumbai siege as a topic to gain political mileage.

Then we have other politicians that give a gem of a soundbyte. Sample this:

Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. These are difficult times for the nation. In times like this we should unite in our war against terror and the Pak sponsored attacks rather than waging war against the democratic institutions.

This, gem of a quote was given by the BJP’s Mukhtar Naqvi, his view of the candle light vigils being held in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country condeming the terror attack.

Weak-kneed response

PM Manmohan Singh called for Pakistan to send ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to present him with hard evidence about the involvement of Pakistani elements, including Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) terrorists, in the Mumbai strike. After agreeing initially, Pakistan refused to send his over. Now, Zardari is saying that there is no evidence that the terrorists were Pakistanis, and even if they were, they are stateless elements and Pakistan can do nothing about it. This, despite India having given them evidence of ISI involvement in the attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India was also make to placate India and to ensure that we do not take military action against Pakistan. If we do, their war on terror will be affected, as they are using that country as the base from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan.

Intelligence failure

The attacks also point to a total intelligence failure, with agencies initially claiming they had no evidence about the attacks. Later, though, it became apparent that they simply ignored the evidence that they did get. Fishermen had submitted written letters stating there was suspicious activity at ports. Fishermen in Gujarat also reported that Indian trawlers were crossing over into Pakistani waters, meeting trawlers there, and coming back into Indian waters without being arrested. After repeated requests to improve safety at the Gateway of India, stating the sea route could be used for an attack, one police van and two policemen were stationed in the area. On the day of the attack, this motley security was also missing.

All of this points to the fact that this attack couldnt have been carried out without political sanction. This is not to say that the politicians were involved in it, but just that they chose to ignore warning signs and ensure the saftey of civilians. The reason? Simple. Political gains.

Hostage stories

One of the stories that really stayed with me was related by a foreign couple who had come to India on a 1-month holiday. They were happy to be safe, praised the commandoes, and said that they had no plans to cut their trip short. Though the wife got teary while relating their terror while they were held hostage, her husband said that this episode would just serve as a road bump to their plans, they did not plan to give in to fear.

You cannot give into fear, or you let the terrorists win. When they are holding a gun to your head, that is the time to feel fear. But to let fear rule your life is to let them win. And I will not let that happen.

Isn’t this the mantra to live by?