I have been writing a lot lately. Features, news stories, interviews…in the past two months, I’ve written a little about a lot. If two months back anyone told me I would be getting published on a web page or working at a newspaper, I would have most likely dismissed it. And 6 months back, this was not just a distant dream; it was highly unlikely that I would be doing anything at all.
But, cut to September. After the opportunity I got a few months back writing for http://www.voxspace.in, I work now at The Pioneer. A chance conversation with a friend set the ball rolling. The Universe does work in indefinable ways (Taming the Lions). Even in this digital age, there is no greater joy for me than to see my articles being printed in a daily newspaper. After all these years and quite a few by-lines later, seeing my by-line in print today feels like it is the first time ever.
I have just re-started. I still have a long way to go. I’m daring to dream again.
But today is all about this. For everyone who has helped me get these opportunities, for all of you who help me with the research and the invaluable ‘connects’, a big Thank You!
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
My previous two camping treks were when I was still in school and as such, though I must have noticed, but I did not truly appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. It was more of an ‘exercise’ trip, and it helped that after each of those trips, I came back 5-6 kgs lighter. 🙂
I had been looking to go for camping/trekking for a while and this trip came as a great opportunity. We travelled through Haridwar, Rishikesh and Joshimath to Auli the starting point of our 5 day trek.
At the Haridwar Ghaat
The flower ‘chadawa’ in the Ganga river at Rishikesh
I was a part of a large group of people hiking and camping to the popular Kuari Pass top. We were also the last group of trekkers before the trail closes for the Monsoon. Providentially, for us, it would be bright and sunny while we hiked, and the rain Gods would open up the minute we reached our campsites. So, luckily, all through the hike we enjoyed all kinds of weather without being inconvenienced by it.
The trek is not as ‘easy’ as my pre-trip research made it sound. At some places, it was very steep climbing and at times with narrow trails with sharp 90 degree cliff drops. However, all the huffing and puffing lead to devastatingly beautiful views which were heavenly to say the least- worth the suntan and the sore limbs. As it is said, “the best views come after the hardest climbs.”
On the way to Tali
Khullara in the background
The steep 90 degree fall on the way to Tali
In fact, I also had a pleasant surprise when on the very first day of the climb at Auli I bumped into a friend I had studied in Melbourne with. It was a pleasant coincidence that he was there holidaying with his wife. Such a small world!
In any outdoor activity, the focus completely shifts from us as individuals to our surroundings- making them the natural center-stage. Throughout my treks, the focus moved from the green rolling hills that were our campsites to the snow-capped mountains that glistened on the horizon. Sometimes, it was the soft clouds drifting in-between us as we made our somewhat arduous walk, and sometimes it was the angry dark clouds bellowing at us from above.
Gorson Bugyal campsite
The pitter-patter of rain as we sat huddled in our tents with our cups of hot soup or curled up in our sleeping bags. Or, in sharp contrast, the clear starry evening sky, with the smoke curling up from the cooking tents as the meals were being prepared.
There were the gurgling sounds of fresh water streams we hopped across on our trails, small ponds awash with rain water, and wild strawberries and berries that grew with abandon in the forests as we trudged past them. Alternate to that were the patches of farmlands in the villages we criss-crossed with their organic produce of potatoes, rajma, apricots and colourful flowers.
Rain water pond
The grazing sheep, the mooing cows, the tottering ponies, the sheep dogs that followed us… it was nature at its best. It suspended all my anxieties, thoughts and trepidation making them trivial in front of the the vastness and expansiveness of the Universe.
Many a time, I found myself sitting in silence over-looking the deep gorges with a mighty river meandering in the distance, or on large branches of trees staring into nothingness as birds hummed in the background. As a quote I read by Jon Kabat Zinn says, “Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and in activity”.
It feels slightly odd to talk about this, especially on a camping trek, where food is nourishing, but quite basic. In a delightful break from my previous treks, the food served at every camp here was a delight. Though vegetarian, the zeal with which the cooks whipped up not just North-Indian, but South Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisines with a selection of desserts, evening tea-time snacks and different soups would give any eatery in the city a run for its money.
Lunch -Rajma Chawal
I could not believe that after a tiring day I was having steaming hot macaroni, Chinese Manchurian, noodles, pani puri, samosa, cream of mushroom soup, idli, sheerkhurma, gulab jamun (the list is endless) at high altitudes in dense forests and grasslands, with no motor-able roads for kilometres, no electricity and completely cut away from any other civilization.
Needless to say, I doubt anyone of us lost any weight on this trip! Haha…
My parents, some family members and close friends have also advocated these to me. Everyday messages on the same lines flood my inboxes…these messages are fantastic to read, but can they be really practised in our daily lives?
Is it so easy and life altering to change thoughts ingrained in our psyche over the years?-thoughts ranging from self-doubt, loneliness, anger and other negative feelings that crowd through us every day?
Passing through a challenging period in my life right now, I desire to try to bring a change in the way I think. I chance upon an app in the App Store and try their ‘7 days of calm and happiness’ to see if it is easy to feel these despite the daily challenges.
Day 1: A few minutes of concentrating on my breathing and trying to calm myself down. Every few seconds I find my mind wandering, but I calmly bring it back to my breathing.
Next is a 10 minute session on feeling gratitude for all that I actually have in life. Wow! I do have a lot of blessings to count!
Day 2: I concentrate better on my breathing- following my breath as it goes in and out is slightly better than day 1. My mind still wanders, but it is easier to bring it back to the task on hand.
This is followed by a session on self-love and realizing my weaknesses without passing judgement on them. Listing my positives and my negatives without criticizing made me feel strangely quite contented.
Day 3: Breathing while concentrating on every part of my body from scalp to toe ensues. I breathe into each part individually trying to feel the signals they send me.
This is followed by an exercise of ‘letting go’. This is not so easy. Letting go of pent up feelings of anger, resentment and past failures and future uncertainties is challenging. While doing the exercise, momentarily, the mind ‘let’s go’, but doesn’t forget.
Day 4: Today’s session is about pulling out of ‘auto-pilot’ and ‘living in the moment’. This is difficult, as my mind is crowded with many thoughts and constantly wavers. But, as the session goes on, it becomes easier to bring it back to concentrate on the breathing exercise.
It is an exercise to appreciate the moment that we are in right now. Though hard, the few minutes of meditation does help bring a perspective to my life.
Day 5: The exercise on concentrating on breathing today involves taking breaks through the day to ‘do nothing’. Again, my mind wanders, but it is easier than earlier to bring it back. Breathing into each part of my body- the knots in my shoulders and back though they don’t dissolve completely, but they feel softer.
The session to embrace uncertainty and look at it is an opportunity is an ideal situation, but requires lot of effort.
Day 6: The session today is about building patience and better mental and physical health. Counting 1 as I take a deep breath saying 2 as I breathe out helps to maintain my focus on breathing. The first few times the mind is concentrated, but again it wavers. It requires an effort to leave the comfort of ‘thoughts’ to bring it back to concentrating on breathing.
Apart from breathing into different parts of the body to soften them, the exercise also urges us to breathe into our emotions and feelings. As I do that, I feel a softening of my anger- I feel less angry at certain things that have been troubling me.
Day 7: Today is the last day of the exercise. It wishes to inculcate being ‘aware’ and taking time out for hobbies and other leisure interests. The exercise is about breathing into each part of my body one after the next and only feeling the signals they send me and not alter them. It is a fairly long session and as everyday it is a challenge to keep my mind only on the breathing.
The next part of the session urges me to think about the last time I laughed, and what I like to do for a hobby or my idea of relaxation. It is a jolt to me that I cannot find answers to these basic questions right away. As I breathe in and out trying to soften my tense muscles, it makes me think about them.
Doing craft is my hobby and I remember feeling so creative and joyful every time I made something. The session inspired me to decorate some pieces.
Focusing only on breathing and not thinking about anything else is hard. Meditation is not something that I look forward to do daily. But practising it this past week, I do sense a change in me, however small, but it is unmistakably there. I feel calmer and more accepting of my circumstances. It has served as a reminder for the many good things in my life, instead of only focussing on the not-so-good.
I haven’t tamed all the raging lions in my mind, but they feel more pliable now. (Published!)
There is much to do in Vizag this New Year! From graveyard slot movie shows at 1 am to stand-up comedies to new dining and better shopping.
My friends and family usually hit me for places to eat, things to do and what and where to shop while in town. While the beach is a major attraction, we usually skip venturing in the cool waters this season. There is ‘new’ every season here.
If you are visiting Vizag or even if you live here, this is a roundup of some of the new things you can do in a day this January. (Ah Vizaaag!, One Lazy Sunday)
Head over for a scrumptious lunch of hot soup and some winter comfort carb-rich food to the new diner in town- Pepperazzi. This glitzy new place is loud, not just in colour, but in din too. Done up in bright red, it aims to create an American diner atmosphere. This diner is a good place to stop by when hunger pangs strike while you are out and about exploring the city.
The long meandering menu covers Italian, Lebanese, Indian and South East Asian cuisine, but skips American.
The bread bowl soups are my fav here. I have been craving for them since I last had them at the Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco. So happy to find them now on the menu here. The bread bowl is very fresh and the soups are top-notch. I have had a few varieties here and they are all good. I enjoy the rice dishes the most here and when you are taking a day off, it doesn’t matter if it makes you long for a siesta later.
Their hawker menu includes the Korean fried rice and the Indonesian Nasi Goreng. While the Korean version tastes good, it reminds one of any local fried rice, nothing Korean about it- not even Kimchi. The pick of the dishes for me is Nasi Goreng. It comes served topped with a fried egg and chicken satay on the side. Really good!
The potato dumplings served with Mexican rice is also good, but a little heavy with all the cheese. A dessert of brownie with ice cream was delectable. The brownie was fresh and melted in our mouths.
I wish they served ‘diner’ food though- burgers, eggs, sausages…
Swap the sambar for some soup.
Sizzle with the Kebabs
Make space in your tummy for the yummy kebabs at Roast and Grill. Based on the lines of BBQ Nation, the unlimited veg and non-veg kebabs are delish here! Unlike other such places, where every dish tends to taste the same, here each item has a different flavour to it and it is really hard to choose one best one.
It is interesting that their selection reflects a mix of multi-cuisine in its flavours and doesn’t just stick to the Indian masalas. We really enjoyed the Creamy Florets (cauliflower in a white sauce), Mexican mushrooms and the Beetroot steak in the veg selection. The vegetarian spring rolls might taste even better if served with a sweet and sour sauce.
In the non-veg, the Australian grilled chicken, the chilli garlic fish and mutton seekh kebab were the pic of the dishes. The fish was falling off the bones. It had a nice crust to it (maybe egg-wash?). The seekh was a little spicy for me, but eating it with the yogurt and green chutney dips cut some of the spiciness. There was a mango chutney dip too for those who like mangoes.
The rest of the buffet was largely Indian Biryanis and curries. However, their rogan gosh was excellent in medium spiced brown gravy. They had a chicken roast in grape sauce with vegetables- it was the highlight dish of the evening. I wish they have more roast dishes…
If you are not yet bursting at the seams already, they have a regular selection of Indian sweets for desserts.
Psst: This is a Keto diet friendly place.
‘Handmade soap is the new black’
Hydrate your dry and chapped winter skin for some ‘me time’ after a long day at being about and around with the chemical free soaps, scrubs, body lotions and balms made by soaper Nitya Mutyala at Amoda Handmades.
As they say, soap is to the body, what laughter is to the soul. What I love about her products is that unlike the commercially available ones, hers only use vegetable oils and butter, pure essentials oils and natural colour. I like how each of the soaps that she handcrafts with love and care retains glycerine which attracts moisture, and keeps my thirty winter skin hydrated. The same holds true for her moisturising body and lip balms as well.
Mystique soap Pic: Amoda Handmades
Gift packs Pic: Amoda Handmades
My favourite soaps from the extensive range on offer are the coffee scrub and the lemongrass soaps. Her soap’y’ operas smell oh so fresh every time I use them. Her creative gift packs make for fantastic giveaways to take from the city.
We passed through Araku valley last week on our road trip to Nagpur. It was so crowded that it made us want to get away as soon as possible. On the quest to find some relaxing getaways close to Vizag, we found two off-beat places with little or no phone connectivity. (Logged off, Shut Down… Went Outside )
)In sharp comparison to the throngs of tourists in busloads to Araku valley and Borra caves, the Gangrel Dam and the Chandoori Sai resort are the perfect spots for people looking to get away from the ‘maddening crowd’ for some calm and quiet.
Gangrel Dam is built across the Mahandani River and is located in the Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. Chitrakoot falls are more popular in this region, but the Gangrel dam filled to the brim in the winter season with its pristine blue water is a sight for sore eyes. On the way from Vizag to Nagpur, we took a planned detour and a single-lane road from Dhamtari town (15 km away) led to this vast expanse of water.
We spent the night at the Bardhia Lake view cottage, owned by Chattisgarh Tourism. We reached at night and woke up in the morning to the soothing sight of water right in front of our large balconied rooms.
Hot morning cuppa
The pristine view of the water from our room
The new log huts, ready for occupation look straight out of picturesque postcards from Thailand or Indonesia. It is hard to imagine that this is located in a remote tribal region close to Vizag (475 km).
The night sky was clear and we were greeted with a brilliantly lit blanket of twinkling stars. It was very comforting to recline on garden chairs in the cool December night sipping our hot teas. As it was a weeknight, there were no other guests and we had the whole resort to ourselves.
The friendly staff served us piping hot breakfast of aloo-puri, poha and eggs in the morning. There are water sports at the dam and we passed a park on the way. They all looked like good picnic areas. The small surrounding villages and canals with flowing water made for a picturesque ride back to the highway.
Note: The new log huts are not yet opened and we stayed in the older rooms which though not luxurious were large and adequate.
Lounging in a manicured garden overlooking the rolling hills, watching the smoke from the neighbouring chimneys as the evening meals are cooked or gazing at the stars in clear skies at night, the faint sound of the nearby flowing brook and the chirping of crickets. If you aspire this, then believe it or not, it is only 200 kms from the hustle-bustle of Vizag.
Chandoori Sai is nestled in the forests of Orissa. Conceptualized, built and managed single-handedly by Leon Mahoney, an Australian, this luxury eco-friendly homestay in the picturesque pottery village of Goudaguda is to be experienced to be believed. In order not to disturb the tribals, this accommodation is unobtrusively placed in a secluded part of the village.
With only five spacious guest rooms, this unique guesthouse is styled on the tribal village homes of the ‘Poraja’ and ‘Khonda’ tribes that live here, but within a secured garden setting. The accommodation is modern and the bathrooms are extremely clean with hot water and shower cubicles. From the hand-made terracotta floor tiles, to the coloured ochre used on the walls to give the rooms a warm earthy look- everything is pristinely local.
Garden…rooms are seen behind
The continental fare of pasta, home-made freshly baked bread, and pies and tarts for dessert could give the best of bakeries a run for their money. All the vegetables are organic and sourced from his garden or the local markets.
We had a truly unique opportunity of seeing and experiencing a different way of life first-hand.
Truly places where on a clear day, you can see forever!
NOTE: There is little or no mobile phone connectivity at both these places.
Chandoori Sai: Goudaguda village is in Kakriguma in the Koraput district. By train: To Koraput via Araku valley and a taxi thereafter (about a 50 km drive); or the twice weekly Intercity Express to Rayagada stops at Laxmipur station from where the village is 25 km away. By road: Take a taxi from Visakhapatnam. www.chandoorisai.com
It has been a while since I wrote my last blog, mainly, as my fingers are sore from trying to fill 32 pages of the exam booklets. I am tired of writing so much. I have just finished appearing for my first semester exams of MBA-7 subjects daily each for 3 hours! Phew! (Back to School)
My out-of-school friends are tired of all the ‘study talk’. Since I have gotten back to study, invariably the conversation veers to, “How is college? When are the exams? How did they go? Will you pass?”
So, how did I study for these exams? I did everything a student should not do. From watching movies to going for dinners and meeting family and friends. I have done everything else but studied just a little. In fact, some of my tutors went into more of a tizzy trying to explain concepts to me last minute and fretting over ‘my busy social schedule’ 😉
The time that I did try to study- even the copious amounts of cups of tea and potato wafers I nibbled on couldn’t help me concentrate (my waist line’s bigger though). The alphabets (‘Sweat the Alphabets, Dance the Digits’) blurred out (prompted me to see an ophthalmologist) and danced into oblivion as I tried to memorize my class notes.
Suddenly everything else seemed more important too- Steig Larsson’s and Fannie Flagg’s novels lying by my bedside, catching up on the latest TV series, scouring the internet for design ideas, planning my next vacation…
Last minute phone calls to my classmates for ‘important questions’ didn’t help much either, as I didn’t know the answers to those questions anyway 😉
Waking up anxiously and walking up tensed to the exam hall, staring at the question paper as if it was in Greek and Latin, I cursed myself and promised to study well in time for the next exams. The only thing that came to my rescue while writing though was what I remembered the teacher teaching in class, as learning anything new at the last minute proved quite futile.
I am invoking God in my prayers, as I fretfully wait to know if I’ve made the cut.
I wonder if I’ll be better prepared for the next exams… I DOUBT 😉
The magnificence of the forts, the dazzle of the glittering ‘sheesh mahals’ and flamboyant palace-hotels, the rustic beauty of the villages, the inner calmness even in the thick crowds at Ajmer Shareef, the staggering queues of the devout at Pushkar, the clambering of hawkers in the old city and the mouth-watering mithai and food. My recent escapade to Jaipur was visual, soulful and a gourmet treat.
I am in love with Rajasthan. My winter visit of Udaipur (Palaces, Lakes and Memories) this year made me a fan of this State. Udaipur was laid-back and Jaipur is comparatively fast-paced. The action, for tourists especially, is in the old city-also known as the Pink city where all the buildings are painted in pink (a welcoming colour). Needless to say, we spent all our waking hours discovering this part of the city on foot and cycle rickshaws. The famed Hawa Mahal is located here. We jostled past the crowds to go all the way up for some ‘hawa’ (air), but alas! On this particularly sweltering day, there was none. However, the unique architecture of the building and the views of the surrounding monuments from here, made up for the lack of breeze.
In front of Hawa Mahal at night
View of Jantar mantar from Hawa mahal
Inside Hawa Mahal
Forts and Palaces
Amer Fort and Nahargargh Fort were our ‘must-sees’. Both located about 11 kms from the city on top of a hill are visual marvels. Amer Fort is huge, covering the surrounding hills to protect the town of Amer. Moats, ponds, gardens and a long curving pebbled walkway led us to the palace atop this fort. The Rajput maharajas and their families lived in this opulent palace with its large open courtyards and the ‘sheesh mahal’ (section made entirely of glass). The Nahargarh Fort located at the edge of the Aravalli hills offered beautiful vistas of Jaipur city from its very interestingly made roof-top. It is said to have been a retreat palace for the Maharajas. The fresco paintings and their many baaris (windows) made for picture-postcard pictures.
Columns at Amer Palace
Moat, garden and fort at Amer
At Nahargarh Fort
Frescos and baaris at Nahargarh
Roof-top at Nahargarh
We drove up to the Samode village (about 40 kms) which has a magnificent palace converted into a hotel-Samode Palace (What-e-‘Numa). The drive up to this palace traverses through the quaint village where artisans were busy at work in their shops. Blacksmiths were hammering hot iron on their anvils, while families of bangle (lac) makers were busy moulding pieces of designer bangles. They made us some new bangles as well. The palace is beautiful, with guards standing sentry.
Infinity pool at Samode Palace
Our ziyarat (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) to Ajmer Shareef (135 kms) was a spiritual experience. Even in the midst of the multitudes of people, this resting place of the benevolent saint Moinuddin Chisti (Gharib Nawaz-Benefactor of the poor) had an eerily calming effect on us. We offered a customary chaadar (embroidered sheet) and flowers to the saint’s tomb and the custodian of the Dargah (Dr. Syed Irfan) offered prayers for us. The lyrical sound of the qawwali (Sufi devotional music) outside was divine.
We took a trip to Pushkar town (Mysticism and the Kumbh) from Ajmer (16 kms) where the only Brahma temple in the world exists. While crowds of people lined to enter the temple, many others, like us, walked to the ghats (series of steps leading to the holy water) where priests performed pujas and did aartis to the chants of shlokas.
After our spiritual interlude, we were back to discover the rest of Jaipur. We took a food walk by YoTours in the old city and it was a gastronomical adventure of local snack food of kachoris, masala chai, malai kulfis, ghewar,sutarfini and our favourite-different kinds of paan. The Rajasthani food looks simple, but is deviously rich and laden with ghee. The famed vegetarian thaali with daal baati churma and a variety of curries and rotis we could only attempt to eat once. The non-vegetarian delicacy, laal maas, is not to be missed. We had it at ITC’s Rajputana and it was very worth it. We also had Continental and Chinese food at Niros and at Taruveda in the new part of the city.
Waiting for our Laal Maas
Different types of Kachoris
The hawkers and shop owners strike a hard bargain. The city is famous for its blankets, durries and bed sheets. Bandhini prints, bangles, fashion jewellery, footwear, different types of mukhwas (digestive mouth-fresheners) and bhujias (snacks), the roads were teeming with people selling all these and much more. Needless to say, just like my trip to Udaipur,(Palaces, Lakes and Memories) we came away with extra baggage!
Jaipur is a royal city. The people are courteous, helpful and surprisingly, humourous. Everyone is a guide here and has their own story to share about the forts and palaces. This city’s unique mix of the old and the new made it a memorable and delightful journey for us.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is well-connected by air from metros. It has a good road network and a train station. Ajmer is well-connected to Jaipur by road and train. Pushkar is accessed by road.