This isn’t the first time that a Chennai beach forms the setting for a post. And it probably won’t be the last. And every time I have written about the waves, it has always been with fondness, and serenity.
This week’s photo challenge, Serene comes at the most appropriate time. It has been a month of blogging madness—and a deeply fulfilling creative extravaganza. It’s perhaps most fitting, that NaBloPoMo culminates in that experience, which it perhaps the closest to me.
I wrote previously about the rather sad state of the Marina beach in Chennai. The Elliot’s beach, more popularly called the Besant Nagar beach, fortunately, does not share the same fate, and is my favourite place to visit early in the morning for relaxing—especially during Margazhi.
This is the 30th, and last post of this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano. Tomorrow, I won’t have the pressure of posting something. A chance to put my blogging feet up for a while, take a short break, and try to put myself back into a more sane routine.
Throughout this month, on most days I had absolutely no clue what I would post about, often till the moment I began typing. And every time, I surprised myself. I almost didn’t participate, because I am still recovering from the health crisis I put myself into last year. But it has been an absolutely amazing journey, and you, my friends, have been the best part of this journey. To each and every one of you, who has read, liked, rated, shared and commented, thank you.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to catch the dance show. They’ll probably cancel it with this much of rain.” Sitting on a bench around a tree in the courtyard of the City Palace, two umbrellas and the narrow roof above us couldn’t prevent us from getting wet.
Earlier that day we had visited Bagore ki haveli and had seen the venue of the cultural program conducted every evening—an openair theatre assembled in the courtyard of the heritage building with a shamiana for a roof.
Eventually, the clouds decided to pause the shower. We left the Palace and walked towards Gangaur Ghat. We stopped for coffee and a cinnamon roll at one of the cafes to recharge our (and my phone’s) batteries and then walked over to the haveli.
We looked at the ominous clouds and asked the guard about the program. “Oh! Don’t worry about the rain! We have all the provisions here. The show is definitely on.”
We bought our tickets as soon as the counter opened and then proceeded towards the theatre. The key to getting a good seat is being the first to enter. We weren’t the first, so the best we could manage was the second row at the mattresses laid out in front of the stage, barely a few feet from the stage.
7 pm. The musicians began performing the rather cliched Rajasthani folk song ‘Kesariya balam’. Soon after, the emcee walked out and welcomed the audience. The stage was ready for some very colourful peformances. First up, Chari dance.
Chari dance is a folk dance performed traditionally by ladies from the Gujjar community of Rajasthan. Living in the desert, ladies often travelled for miles to collect water in a ‘chari’. It is the celebration of this ritual of collecting water that is depicted in this folk dance.
Just as the emcee finished explaining the significance of the dance, the show began—on the stage in front of us, and from the heavens above.
In walked the ladies, dressed in colourful traditional attire, balancing pots of fire on their heads. Down came the shower of raindrops, applauding their entrance. The shamiana held up rather well.
The ladies clapped and swayed, moved around in circles and spun more times than my head could count. Out they walked to thunderous applause, drowned under the sound of the downpour.
There were more dances, followed by the puppet show. Traditionally, it is the puppets who take centre stage, and the puppeteer stays behind a screen. But at this show, the puppeteer takes centre stage, revealing his craft.
The most thrilling performance came, quite fittingly at the end. A lady entered, balancing two pots on her head. Dancing gracefully, she made her way to the table kept at the back of the stage. She placed her hand on the raised floor behind the table, and then placed her palm on her forehead—a salutation to the stage.
She climbed up the table, still balancing the pots. And sat down. She bent forward, and picked up a kerchief placed on the table, with her lips.
The crowd applauded.
She climbed down, an assistant came and placed more pots on her head. In the meanwhile, another assistant unrolled a cloth package on the table. Out came shards of glass. She went back to the stage. She made the saluting gesture, and climbed above the table again.
We may have been seated on the floor, but we felt edgy. More than once my hands clutched my face. If the pots on the head and the shards of glass were not enough, the shamiana overhead was threatening to give way under the weight of the rain. A few drops of water were beginning to trickle down.
We all gasped in silence. I was too nervous to take any more pictures, my palms pressed against each other, in front of my face, praying with the dancer, as she walked on the table and began thumping her feet on the glass.
We all collectively heaved a sigh of relief and applauded for the marvelous performance.
The assistant climbed up a chair, and we assumed it was to help her unload. But no. There were more pots coming.
Eight! The crowd cheered, and the applause didn’t stop. Nine! We all went crazy.
And then the musicians began singing that classic song, “Dama dum mast kalandar”. Ten! The crowd went wild. We were certain the cheers of the crowd could be heard a few blocks away—we knew because we had heard the loud cheers of the audience the day before!
As the emcee walked out to wrap up the show, the crowd still applauding the performance, he announced something even more bewildering. The lady who had just captured our imagination was a ripe seventy years old!
If you visit Udaipur, be sure to catch the cultural show, and please buy the tickets for the camera. Most of the arts on display are on the verge of extinction, and the proceeds of the tickets are the only way these arts can be sustained.
It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.
–David Allan Coe
The Gwalior Fort, constructed atop a hill, is a mammoth structure. Legends say its construction began in the 3rd Century, while historical accounts put it anywhere between the 8th and 14th Century. This Fort has seen numerous rulers and severe onslaughts across the centuries and withstood all that has been thrown at it.
As with many of the places we have visited, it is extremely difficult to paint a true picture of the scale of the structure. I could write about the long trek to the top, and the sweeping views of the city, but the closest that I can get to explaining it, is to point to the size of the people in this (incomplete) picture below.
We had had a rather strange morning. Waking up at 3:30 am, to be stuck in a traffic jam around 5 am, and then racing against the sunrise to get to the top of Tiger Hill. We missed the famous golden Kanchenjunga due to bad weather, but took away some interesting memories nonetheless.
We are extremely slow travellers. And on that foggy morning, we were the last of the tourists to slowly descend the hill, soaking in every inch of the natural beauty and scores of colourful flags. Somewhere along the path, lay a beautiful temple with more strings of flags than any other place we’d seen.
It was also very quiet, ignored by all the tourists scrambling to get into their cars to visit the next item on their list of places to see. We wondered why this one was missing on anyone’s itinerary.
Our own ‘package’ didn’t include this, and with our driver asking us to hurry up, all we could manage were a few quick photographs from the outside.
I did a quick search on Google, and sadly, could not find the name of this temple; there weren’t any tourist brochures or itineraries that mention this place. I’m not sure if visitors are permitted to enter (they must be, if there are so many flags here!) If they are, and if you have the time, perhaps you could add this to your list. If you’ve visited the temple, I would love to hear your story.
As we were stepping out of the hotel room, we saw a tall, broad man peering through the viewfinder of a DSLR. The SUV behind him was open and the valet placed our bags in the boot.
As we closed the door, the driver kept his camera on the front passenger seat and hopped in. He had a small goatee and wore an earring. His black leather jacket and slim fit jeans completed his look. Like almost all the SUV drivers we had interacted with on the mountains around the river Teesta, he looked like a rock star.
“My name is Mahesh,” he announced in a jovial voice as soon as he closed his door. “So you’re headed to Darjeeling, eh? How was Gangtok?” His laid back manner appeared as if he had known us for a long time. And we eased into a conversation without any hesitation.
“It’s absolutely beautiful! So much to see. So clean. And people are so friendly. We’re already planning our next trip here!” It had rained for three days and there was not one camouflaged puddle, and the roads were free from slush and filth. The hospitality we had received at the hotel was outstanding, and we didn’t really want to leave.
“Yes, I love Gangtok,” said Mahesh. “Every time I come here I like to take pictures. You’ll see a huge difference between Gangtok and Darjeeling. That’s such a dirty place.”
As we made our way along the narrow, winding roads, we approached a fork—one road led steeply uphill, while the other continued downhill. Wedged in the middle of the fork was an SUV. The driver had apparently taken a wrong turn uphill, and was backing down slowly. Cars had begun piling on all sides. And something miraculous happened—everyone waited patiently as the driver reversed, moved forward, turned a little, and reversed again to repeat these mini movements for maneuvering the tricky slope.
We told Mahesh how amazed we were by the orderly conduct of the drivers in Gangtok. In the Delhi-NCR region, people honk even if the traffic signal is red! And here, people waited silently for what seemed like an eternity for the driver to course-correct. That done, we proceeded downhill.
“There is very good enforcement of law here. People don’t go breaking rules.” Mahesh was clearly happy in Sikkim. “I come to Gangtok every now and then. But one day I will come here only to take pictures. I want to photograph the traffic ladies here. And want to compare and contrast them with police in Bengal.”
As Mahesh was speaking aloud his artistic dreams, the scenery outside took a beautiful turn. Beside the road, a shallow stream was flowing on a bed of hundreds of smooth pebbles, with hills all around. We had got used to the natural beauty of Sikkim by now, but it appeared that there was no way for us to document it through the windows of a moving vehicle. As if reading our minds, Mahesh slowed down. “You can take the picture now! See, I want you take as many pictures as you can. I want, that when you go home and you see these pictures, you will remember me!”
We continued smoothly, when Mahesh parked the car to the side of the road beside a huge boulder. He paused, looked outside his window, and quite abruptly, grabbed his camera and hopped out without a word. Puzzled, we looked at each other, and then tried to follow his movements. A short distance behind us, Mahesh was straining his eyes and looking up. He peered into the viewfinder of his camera while we kept wondering what it was he was looking at. He came back and placed his gear on the passenger seat and we resumed our journey. “There was a vulture’s nest up there on top of the boulder. I thought I saw two baby vultures there. But couldn’t get a decent photograph.” If there was a hint of disappointment in his tone, it went away in a few minutes.
Our next stop was at the ‘Lovers Meet’ viewpoint, from where one could see the confluence of the rivers Rangeet and Teesta. Mahesh asked us to soak in the view and take our time—something, that we later realised, no one had said throughout any of our road trips.
Once we had crossed the viewpoint, Darjeeling was not very far.
“Welcome to Darjeeling! I hope you enjoy your stay here. It won’t be as nice as Gangtok, you’ll see. But I hope you have a good time.” As we finished unloading our bags at the entrance of the hotel in Darjeeling, Mahesh’s phone rang, perhaps a relation had called. Still chatting on the phone, he nodded his head in acknowledgement of our small goodbye and reversed the vehicle to begin his ride back home.
Our scenic journey over that week had many exotic destinations and experiences that we would remember for months, if not years to come. And looking back, we now realise how important the role of our drivers was in our journey.
Throughout our trip, we had travelled with many drivers, some for transfers, and some for sightseeing. None of them were particularly remarkable, and stuck strictly to their jobs. For them, it was about getting us from point A to point B, as per the itinerary. While our driver in Gangtok had allowed us a small extension of our sightseeing time to accommodate our slow pace of exploration, the drivers in Darjeeling would keep calling us and telling us to hurry up. Towards the end of our trip, though, one driver left a lasting impact on both of us.
We had left Darjeeling to spend a day in Kalimpong, a town where my father had spent some part of his childhood. It seemed like our driver didn’t want to drive and tried to talk us out of visiting an old monastery by saying that all monasteries looked the same! We got him to take us there, albeit grudgingly, by arguing that it was included in our itinerary, and no, they weren’t all the same to us.
As we were making our way to the hotel after completing our sightseeing, I noticed a sign board.
“Hill top!” I squealed with delight. “That is where my grandfather used to live! Could we stop for a few minutes, please. I just want to have a look at that house.” The light was fading fast, and we had to leave the next day. If we had a shot at laying our eyes on the old house I had heard so much about, this was it. “That’s not part of the package!” retorted the driver and continued onward.
That’s not part of the package. It was simple, and as inconsequential to him, as that. But to me, those words stung. It took a while to get over it, and we both vowed never to take packaged tours after that.
We returned to Delhi the next day, our cameras and phones full of pictures and videos. We told our friends stories of beautiful buildings, clean marketplaces and the blank foggy vistas that hid Kanchenjunga from us throughout. We praised the hospitality of each of the Summit hotels we stayed in, the colourful strings of prayer flags and the scenic routes we travelled. We shared our disappointment of missing the Kanchenjunga, and the little joys of travelling with one very interesting driver who took us from Gangtok to Darjeeling.
It was a pity we didn’t take down Mahesh’s number, nor did we take any pictures with him. But what we do have is the memory of the road trip we shared. Every time you look at these pictures, you will remember me, he had said. He was wrong. We remember Mahesh even without looking at the pictures.
Diwali may have gone by, but that doesn’t stop me from posting about it 🙂
In this day of fairy lights and tea lights, the protagonist of Diwali, for me, is still the humble clay lamp, or the diya.
Diyas are usually soaked in water before oil is poured in. I’m not sure why, but I’m guessing it is to ensure that there are no air bubbles inside the earthen lamps, which would ‘drink’ a lot of oil!
This past Diwali, I caught dozens of diyas lazing on a weathered wooden table, drying under the sun after a nice soak. The contrasting colours and textures of the scene were quite different from what they would end up looking like at night!
In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Rounded
I love denim – its casual and cool attitude, texture and multiple shades of blue… I’ve always wanted to work with the material, but I dreaded even the thought of sewing. So invariably I asked my mom to create things like this beautiful pencil holder.
Last week, I teamed up with my mother-in-law to turn a pair of old jeans into a laptop sleeve.* This was the first time that I took up a stitching project and it was quite the ride. Denim isn’t the easiest material to work with, especially if one has never stitched before—first with cutting open the jeans, then running it through the machine, and the occasional need to reopen messed up stitches. To complicate things, we attached the zip after stitching all other sides—bad idea. It should have been the first thing to be done up.
After we stitched everything up, we realised that the zip would rub against the laptop constantly, and it would be necessary to add some piping inside. Again, a lack of planning. With the multiple stitches bunched up at the corners, we extended our simple project by adding a small patch that doubled up as a pen and zip holder. To finish things up, we tidied up by putting in a few stitches by hand, and then trimmed all the loose threads.
For two-and a half days, we stared at the fabric; measured the laptop and fabric multiple times and drew chalk lines; had mini debates and discussions (no, there were no arguments, thank you); threaded needles; pulled the sewing machine apart to remove knots; lost the thread and threaded the needles again; stitched, reopened the stitches and stitched again; turned the bag inside out and then right side back up; and finally packed the laptop in. Phew!
Today, I am proud to introduce you to our new laptop sleeve!
This one was made using one leg of the pair of jeans. One down, one more to go 😉
* My mom is super happy I decided to give sewing a try. And now I won’t be able to ask her to take up my sewing ideas. Bummer.
Images taken with Motorola Moto G3 and collage created with Befunky.