Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Photos: A typical day in Auroville, Tamil Nadu

Over the last three years, I have found myself woven into the sentiment of Mr Chesterton who once said, "The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." 
"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." 
The dreamy dawns, a million shades of the sky, pristine water, the silence of the evenings broken by the roaring waves, an exemplar of co-existence, prolonged meals: this beach guest house in Auroville is all this and much more. With an intention to stay there for two days, we ended up staying for four and still haven't got enough of the splendor.


1. Witnessing magic
of nature by running down to the beach when the sun emerges from the sea and sitting wide eyed through the changing shades of the sky.



2. Reading a book on the hammock
while the tree above sways in a trance and the sea breeze caresses your hair. 




3. Discovering the concept of co-existence
by respecting the presence of all living beings and giving them their well deserved space. How difficult is that to understand, I often wonder.




4. Sipping on the best tea ever
after a stroll along the deserted stretch of the beach. 




5. Prolonged meals while staring at the huge expanse
Unlike our part of the world where meals are ncomplete without a television set or a phone in hand and are mere activities to be done away with. Each meal is celebrated here.





6. Sharing meals and experiences with the host
who has a cask full of inspiring stories from her well lived adventurous life back in Italy, India and her countless journeys.





7. Revisiting innocence
after meeting the village girl who might not have tasted the city life but she sure knows how to find pleasure in identifying objects in a travel magazine, climbing trees and befriending the strangers she has just met. It doesn't take much to seek happiness.



8. Turning strangers into friends
in a matter of seconds, spending the rest of the days cracking jokes and the late night exchange of serious facts about the world  that we were currently far away from. 



9. Rediscoving madness
by dropping the plans to leave for Pondicherry in the morning for a two hour long dip in the water and extending the stay till the boarding time.





















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Friday, January 24, 2014

Kudle Beach: The hidden little Sojourn


An Interesting Fact About Gokarna


One has to be really lucky to discover a beach that is far from being commercialized in a country of 1.2 billion people. Our road trip took us to one such beach that is less popular hence more inviting. 

We drive past the spiritual town of Gokarna and follow the narrow road that leads to Om Beach. Abruptly, off the road we see a sign directing us to our hideout for the next two days. Bending a little, we take a closer look at the trail that appears to meet the forest with no hint of any accommodation in the vicinity. Bewildered, we call up the care taker to guide us. He emerges from the very trail fueling our apprehensions.
"Bewildered, we call up the care taker to guide us. He emerges from the very trail fueling our apprehensions."
We carefully drive down the muddy descend to land in an open space interspersed by hand built wooden cottages. Built on a slight height, this cottage with a bed and an attached bathroom is the best way to spend some quiet time in the wilderness away from the maddening crowds. I sit on the steps, slowly sipping the hot tea and listen to the constant chirping of birds. A dog at a distance wags its tail as though to welcome us to his space. As I walk further towards the edge of the hill, I see an isolated boulder half submerged in water, a silent witness to the fierce waves crashing against the Western Ghats. Like Gulliver gazing over the Lilliput beach occasionally marked by its tiny inhabitants, I stand there in awe .


This wooden cottage at the Kudle Beach in Karnataka was cozy enough to spend smoe quiet time away from the madness.
Wooden Cottage in the wilderness


The breath taking view of Kudle beach from the hills of the resort was jaw dropping.
The boulder stands isolated
We brush off the fatigue from the five days of travelling and set out to find our way to the beach underneath. A 10 minute rugged trek takes us to the base of the hill from which, a while ago, I had witnessed the huge expanse of the white powdery sand sandwiched between the Western Ghats and roaring Arabian sea. It doesn't take long to realize that a love affair has just begun. 

After a stroll along the shore, we settle down at a spot throwing curious glances at a group engrossed in learning a martial art, another group at some distance is practising yoga. It is a refreshing site to find people uninterested in what others are doing. THAT is the real charm of this place. We join a bunch of hippies playing bongo, dance along and enter in a state of trance. 
"It is a refreshing site to find people uninterested in what others are doing."
After shaking a leg, we browse through the cafes sharing the space on the beach. The irresistible aroma from the kitchen pull us to Sunset Cafe. We nibble on our pasta and beer watching a kid playing and challenging the rising tides. The Cafe serves generous quantities of delicious continental breakfast.

The meal in the Sunset Cafe at the Kudle Beach and a beer.
Our long meal: Pasta at Sunset Cafe


Watching the sunset at Kudle Beach was one of the experiences that will stay etched in my memories.
The setting sun casts a spell
As the crowd starts returning to their shacks, we warm ourselves with a shawl and watch the ball of fire cast a spell on the water. As the sun meets the sea, we lie down and let a million stars shine down on us.

Have you ever found such hidden heaven?
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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Fascinating French Colony, Pondicherry

When I crossed the central canal of this tiny coastal town of Tamil Nadu, I was struck with a mild culture shock that compeled me to pinch myself to make sure if what I saw was for real. I had heard about this town also known as the French Rivera of the East but experienced it when I explored the French/White Colony on foot. As we were not left with much time after four days spent in Auroville (Read An Auroville Experience), we decided to take a tour of a city that later came across as a pleasant mix of East and West.

A french colony until 1954, this part of the otherwise very Indian city has boulevards lined with Mediterranean style buildings oozing out the stories of the antiquities. The churches, statues and the modern town planning have been carefully conserved along with French language that is widely understood by the people of Pondicherry.
"A french colony until 1954, this part of the otherwise very Indian city has boulevards lined with Mediterranean style buildings oozing out the stories of the antiquities."
As we were leisurely loitering on the polished streets of India's very own Europe, we were drawn by the aroma of fresh bread baked in the bakeries serving wide varieties of baked delicacies. In contrast to the Tamil quarters, this part of the town consists of fancy restaurants serving streak and fine wine. After maneuvering in the streets for hours, the beach Road of Pondicherry emerged. It was flooded with people: the locals and the tourists alike. The roadside makeshift stalls, the girl walking across the tight rope, the standard elbow pushes to carve a way out of the crowd woke us up from a dream.

As time drew the evening to a close, we reluctantly wrapped the fond memories of the days spent in Tamil Nadu and boarded the bus to Bangalore.

The colonial Architecture


The colonial Architecture


The colonial Architecture
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Travel Photo: Cactus in Kutch, Gujarat

In a land where there is no sign of human life for miles together, my only companion through these desolate roads are these cacti that add to the rawness of this barren stretch of Kutch, Gujarat.


Cactus: Kutch, Gujarat


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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Art in Auroville

In a Utopian township of Auroville where freedom is of prime importance, art and innovation find their way in through the window. When the love for humanity and the passion towards work is chosen over the materialistic pleasures and the preconceived idea of a livelihood, the mind tends to sail beyond the boundaries of conventions and break the patterns. 

Auroville can be easily termed as the artist's paradise with the schools teaching various forms of art (dance, music, painting, candle making, pottery) and it being celebrated every moment. Ideas rush to your brain when you are determined to embrace sustainable future, especially when you have less to do and more to observe. Art, here, is not considered a hobby or an option, it is a way of life. 

"When the love for humanity and the passion towards work is chosen over the materialistic pleasures and the preconceived idea of a livelihood, the mind tends to sail beyond the boundaries of conventions and break the patterns."

The day was to start with a brief meditation session in Matri Mandir (Read An Auroville Experience). As soon as we parked our two wheeler near the visitor's area, we exchanged a smile with a man. We had, by now, realized that sharing a smile was almost a norm unlike the city souls who wander with a stone face. In his late 70s, clad in a white pajama and a khaki kurta, he looked quite fit for his age. In a Spanish accent, he invited us to an art workshop that was organized in an open area next to Dreamer's Cafe ( Drip Coffee at Dreamer's Cafe ). We had read about the event on the notice board near the cafeteria but had chosen to give it a pass taking our artistic skills into consideration. 

This open for all workshop was an attempt to liberate the emotions through colors.
Engrossed artists

However, the magical vibes of freedom in the truest of sense changed my mind and I decided to stroke a brush or two. We were welcomed by the organizer, a young art teacher in Auroville. "The idea is to spread joy, open up your senses and to let the expressions flow." she said. She was right. It was the first time after my school that I had picked up a brush and so artistically stimulated was I that, if skilled, I could have created the Last Supper, there and then. 
"The idea is to spread joy, open up your senses and to let the expressions flow."

I tried my hands at painint in the art workshop that was open for all.
A humble attempt
The humble effort of your's truly turned out to be self satisfactory. A word or two of appreciation was showered upon which, I suppose, was a consolation for the end result as seen in the picture above.



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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Travel Photo :The Romanticism of Black and White

While colors are synonymous to happiness, there is a level of romanticism in the extremes of colors akin to the extremity of emotions.

While the Vijay Vilas Palace stands in all its glory, it holds countless shades of emotions and when you are there, on that ground where the joys have been shared, the sorrows borne and the lives spent you feel the vibes around you, in every corner of it. This, I believe, holds true for every monument that stands tall with pride.

Find the detailed account of the palace here.




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Monday, January 13, 2014

Vijay Vilas Palace, Gujarat

Located on the sea beach of Mandvi in Kutch district of Gujarat, Vijay Vilas Palace is an exemplar of the opulent lifestyle of Maharao Shri Khengarji who ruled over Kutch in 1940s. He built a summer hideout for his son and heir to the kingdom, Vijayraji to escape the blistering heat of Kutch. Hence, called Vijay Vilas Palace.

The palace is nestled in 450 acres of lush greenery and 2 kms of private beach. As I entered the main gate and started walking towards the palace, I was welcomed by the trees dotted with fruits on both the sides as if to provide a protective shield.


Lush green on both the sides


Trees dotted with Chickoo


Right in front of the palace


A well laid garden

As soon as my eyes fell on this palace built of red sandstone standing in the middle of a well laid garden, I couldn't help but admire the hard work that must have gone in constructing this wonder in those nine years. With the Bengal styled Umbrella domes, jharokhas as seen in Rajput palaces of Rajasthan, the stone carvings and the colored glass work on the windows by the architects and artisans from places like Jaipur, Bengal and Saurashtra, it is a beautiful blend of architectural styles. Inspite of these influences, it has been carved and constructed to be in the perfect harmony.

The Palace


The side Dome

The corridor on the ground floor has rooms on either side and the pictures of Vijayaraji with his family and famous identities look down on you as you walk down with awe and sheer sense of grandeur.


The corridor (The ground floor)


The corridor (The ground floor)



The sitting area (Ground floor)

The dining area (Ground floor)


Well lit sit out area (Ground floor)

The first floor has the Bengal styled domes that emanate radiance, jharokhas that narrate stories and the sweeping view through the perfectly carved stone carved jalis. 

The place reminded me of the song 'kai po chhe' from the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that was shot right where I stood. The movie was filmed in this very palace and being here brought back the memories of my childhood when I had seen the movie for the love of Gujarati culture. 


The stone carved jalis



The stone carvings (First floor)


The stone carvings (First floor)


Jharokha (First floor)



A beautifully carved spiral staircase that leads you to the top of the dome

A carved narrow metal staircase led me to the terrace that offered a splendid view of the estate. The vast stretches of green appeared as far as my eyes could reach. The wind brushed across my face and the sunlight of a winter morning provided a soothing warmth.

A view from the top of the dome

I came out with my eyes dazzled by the art and a tinge of momentary jealousy looking at the the summer resort once built by a father for his son.



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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Yet another Sunrise

Watching the silhouetted tree against the sky in the morning was a spectacle in itself. We had left early enough to watch the mist lift up and sun rise from the horizon. 

Despite the long distance ahead of us, we parked our bike on the muddy pavement  and stood there glued for a few minutes to let the beauty sink in.




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Friday, January 10, 2014

The Rainbow Laden Jog Falls

A waterfall is at its magnificent best during monsoon. Isn't it fascinating to see the water gushing down furiously from a height, more so when it is the second highest plunge waterfall in India? Well, it definitely is and those who have had the opportunity to visit Jog Falls would unhesitatingly agree. However, there is always a facet to everything that is not at its best, so does Jog falls.

We visited jog falls towards the end of December during our first road trip. Hence, we were not expecting the kind of view one can get during the month of July or August. 

We had stayed in Gokarna (Read: Kudle Beach: The Hidden Little Sojourn) for two days and had left for Jog falls in the morning. It is about 110 kms from Gokarna. It took us about two hours to reach Jog Falls. 


The trip Map
Jog Falls, located in Sagar Taluk, is created by the Sharavathi River dropping 830 ft making it the second largest plunge waterfall in India after Nohkalikal falls with a drop of 1100 ft in Meghalaya.

After parking our bike safely, we headed towards the falls. We had to climb down a good 1500 protected and well maintained stairs to reach the bottom. It took us more time than it ideally would have as we had to be in sync with the kids on a school trip. As the stairs were wide enough to accommodate two people at a time, we had to be patient. 

As we were approaching the base of the falls, the excitement was building up. I would give some credit to the kids as well. Although we failed to understand their language, their tone clearly reflected their enthusiasm that eventually caught our already excited souls. 

We could see, from a distance, four distinct narrow falls trickling down. The Sharavati after flowing over a rocky bed which is 250 yards wide reaches here and flows down in four distinct falls: Raja, Rani, Rocket and Roarer.


The view of the falls while climbing down to the base


In-spite of the winter season, the sun had risen enough to raise the temperature but we managed to reach the base by then. 

We still had a hurdle to cross before we could take a dip in the water. The rocks which seemed tiny on the way started looking larger as we reached the base.These rocks are some of the oldest found in India. The torrential rains eroded the face rock gorge and the block of rocks thus fallen lie scrambled all around the base.The water from the falls has fallen on these rocks with immense force for thousands of years creating interesting patterns on metamorphic rocks. They appear to be thin sheets of rock sticking together forming a layered structure. We trekked through these huge uneven rocks to reach the water.


Observing the beauty


I desperately wanted to swim for a while but we had a journey ahead of us so I had to stay dry. Nevertheless, I comfortably placed myself on a rock and looked up to witness the panoramic view of the falls.

Raja, on the extreme left, makes an uninterrupted straight fall from the top to the base whereas Rani, on the extreme right, spreads as it reaches the base. Roarer, next to Raja, true to its name makes a thunderous sound and rocket next to Rani, called so because of its trajectory, hits a few intermediate points before it touches the base of the fall. Nature at its best, monsoon or no monsoon, it always creates magic.

Heaven like

The best was yet to be seen. After spending couple of hours admiring the nature and its splendor, we started climbing up. It was tougher than our way down but the stalls at various points serving lime water helped to a great extent. While we were struggling our way to the top, our eyes fell on the falls and our eyes widened. We spotted heaven. I couldn't lift my eyes soon to realize I had to capture this and lock in the memories forever. We couldn't move, literally. After half an hour, we proceeded,


Nature at its best


Rainbow laden Jog Falls
We discovered a new facet of the Jog falls not at the perceived best time but we witnessed what we had never dreamt of. We left thrilled and satisfied.


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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Drip Coffee at Dreamer's, Auroville

Back in Ahmedabad, coffee to me meant instant coffee made either hot or cold with milk. I was not a frequent visitor of coffee shops either. Hence, my knowledge on coffee and their kinds was vague and particularly narrow. It was only when I visited Bangalore for the first time did I realize that I had been a naive all these years. 

Bangalore revealed to me the treasure trove that had stayed hidden from me. I am referring to the Indian Filter Coffee, a drink abundantly available and a cultural norm in the southern states of India. Roasted coffee beans mixed with chicory filtered through a metal device results in a strong brew. This mixed with the desired amount of milk and sugar gives you a sweet milky filter kaapi. 

While I was still busy coping with the ecstasy, I happened to be in Auroville (Read: An Auroville Experience. I chanced upon Dreamer's Cafe, a small open cafe near visitors centre in Auroville, that offered Drip Brew through paper filter instead of a coffee machine. 

The coffee dripping from the paper filter
To state a few facts about paper coffee filters, they were invented in Germany by Melitta Benz in 1908. They are used for drip brew all over the world.

Water seeps through the ground coffee, absorbing its oils and essences solely through the gravity passing through the paper filter. The liquid drips into the container with the coffee grounds left behind in the filter.


The hot strong brew
As seen in the above image, a strong filtered brew, the resultant of a long wait to take in the aroma, slurp and savor the hot strong brew along with the desired quantity of sugar was ready. I sat in the open area next to the cafe and relished a sandwich and coffee.


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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movie Review: Taxi Driver (1976)


Movie: Taxi Driver (1976)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Paul Schrader

Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodei Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Hervey Keitel

History has incessantly demonstrated that when the world is on the verge of tumbling down or the evil takes over, a savior, essentially a common man, rises from slumber and wipes out the scum from the face of this earth. But, this movie is not about the heroic actions of a common man. It is, perhaps, the story of a disillusioned, disoriented and a directionless man who, through the course of the movie, seems to find the purpose of his life only to end up in a brutal violent rage.

Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine and Vietnam war veteran, drives a taxi in the night shift in order to fight insomnia. He lives in a state of isolation which becomes apparent when he says, "Loneliness has followed me in my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I am God's only man." but doesn't make efforts to develop a meaningful relationship with his co-cab drivers. His socially inept identity comes to surface when he casually takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who appears to be a ray of hope in the otherwise hopeless life of Travis, to a porn movie.

Although, in the first half of the movie, Travis comes across as bitter but indifferent to his surroundings, but towards the end you realize that the intolerance towards what he terms as 'the scum, the dogs, the filth, the shit' had been growing inside Travis since the beginning only to be fueled by the half-hearted response from his fellow cab driver Wiz whom he confronts for a small talk. "I got some bad ideas in my head." he says.

His only slightly sensitive human behavior is visible when he attempts to save Iris (Jodie Foster), a 12 year old prostitute from the hands of a smooth talking pimp (Hervey Keitel).

To sum up Travis is a complex, radical and a psychologically unstable man who slips into insanity on the pretext of saving the post Vietnam war affected New York city of the chaotic situation.




Martin Scorsese has teamed up with De Niro to create a disturbing yet a powerful piece of cinema. He has very realistically portrayed the ever increasing urban alienation and the intolerance of a common man towards its follies. Paul Schrader's engaging screenplay takes you through the psyche of a man who at first, makes you feel awkward but compels you to question the very character and his motives at the end of the movie. 

The film downright belongs to De Niro. Time and again he has proved that he is the master of versatility: Be it the role of a gangster in Goodfellas or the Chief Diver and mentor in Men of Honor, a catatonic patient in Awakenings or a father in Silver Linings Playbook. The transformation that the character goes through has been brilliantly illustrated by the different moods (Indifference, rage, determination, sympathy) he has effortlessly carried. Foster as Iris has stood out in the small role as a young prostitute which at her age would have been pretty difficult to carry and Shepherd as Betsy doesn't carry much weight but looks pretty. 

The film has a number of aspects open to the audience's interpretation which has led a certain strata of viewers to dislike the movie. But to me, these aspects make it more gripping and thought provoking. The best example is the end of the movie where, after the bloody brawl, he is left unconscious only to return in the last frame with a reputation of a hero. Is he hallucinating while injured? Is he accepted by the society? Has he turned normal or is the same Travis to return? It is left upto the viewer to conclude. The movie is a cinematic treat with one of the finest performances of all times.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Sparkling Water of Mandvi Beach


The Sparkling water of Mandvi Beach

When on a vacation, dawns and dusks are the times of the day when I don't prefer staying indoors. They invariably offer you a glimpse of heaven. After I witnessed the changing colors of the sky resulting in vivid shades of blue in Auroville ( Read An Auroville Experience ), I dug out the old photos and found this.

We had spent a night in Mandvi after a 450 kms ride from Dwarka, Gujarat. The next morning's plan was to visit Vijay Vilas Palace and leave for Dhordo (the village closest to The White Desert).

Being this close to the beach and missing out on the sunrise would be an injustice to the chosen coastal route of Gujarat and our loss at the same time. So we headed to the beach, took a stroll for the much needed warmth and witnessed the sparkling water acknowledging the sun of its grace. 


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