Udaipur is often called the Venice of the the east. I haven’t visited Venice, but I’d still prefer it to be called the Udaipur of the west! I’ll let the pictures of the Jag Niwas Palace at Lake Pichola do the rest of the talking:
One of the things that we found particularly nice about Gangtok, was how clean the city was—despite the extreme weather, the huge influx of tourists, and the logistical challenges of a mountainous terrain.
In the three days we spent, the constant rain may have dampened our hopes of seeing the snow-capped Himalayas, but the stone paths of MG Marg raised them up, and how! In the light pitter patter of the rain, the smooth tiled paths transformed into a beautiful kaleidoscope, reflecting the colourful lights of the shops on either side.
Here’s a sampler:
In response to this week’s Photo Challenge: Transformation
This is post #26 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano
NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging
It’s still early winter and there are some brave ones roaming the streets around without woollens. But we’re not taking any chances. As I write this post, sitting snugly in the warm blanket, my mind wanders to our freezing experience in Sikkim last year.
At the Tsomgo lake in Sikkim, we rented extra woollens and boots to help combat the extreme mountain weather. We had three layers of jackets on, but our feet were virtually freezing inside the boots. The yaks, though, were pretty cool and comfortable standing barefoot. Brrr!
This is post #24 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano
NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging
Lal ghat is perhaps the most tourist-y area of Udaipur, filled with havelis-turned hotels. Most of the hotels and cafes in the areas now boast of roof-top dining, and we explored as many as we could. One particular one, though, stood out. Jaiwana haveli was highly rated on Trip Advisor, and we headed straight there after our visit to the Monsoon Palace.
“Is the roof-top cafe open?” I asked at the reception. “Yes, it is! And if you’d like to use the washroom, then it’s on the ground floor—there isn’t any upstairs!” The man at the reception smiled and answered. We thanked him and then climbed up the narrow and steep staircase to the open-air dining area. It was around eight o’clock,and it appears that we were the early birds that night. The tables were all empty, and we took the best seat in the house—the corner table, with a splendid view of Lake Pichola and its illuminated islands. We picked our menu, and then immersed ourselves in the soft sounds of the waves of the lake and pleasant rain washed air. We could see portions of the City Palace in front of us, and all the heritage hotels—which were once palaces—on the opposite side of the ghat. Below us, were a few anchored boats, and other rooftop cafes, and way off in the distance, was the hill we had just visited. And then, out of nowhere, came a loud noise, startling us.
We looked around. There was an elderly lady seated behind us, and having recognized our searching glances, she offered an answer. “That’s the cultural program at Bagore ki haveli. It takes place every evening.” In the darkness of the candle-lit night, we couldn’t see her face clearly, but something in her voice sounded gentle and elegant. We continued to talk, and asked her about the other items on our list of things to do, and how might we plan them.
Shortly after, our delicious dinner arrived, and we noticed the lady giving instructions to some of the waiters. That’s when we realised, she was probably part of the management of the hotel, if not the owner.
The staff treated us so beautifully, it was hard to believe, especially after the harrowing time we had experienced at another famous tourist destination (more on that in a separate post). They thanked us multiple times and asked us to review them on Trip Advisor. This sweet hospitality, we later realised was common to all the cafes we visited. We made a mental note of the service, and decided that we’d visit again.
As we were winding up, other tourists began trickling in, and the moment we got up, one staff member placed a placard on our table. It was marked “Reserved”.
Before we visited Udaipur, our itinerary included the sound and light show at City Palace. Having heard the cheers of the crowd, and the recommendation by the lady at Jaiwana haveli, we decided to skip that and attend the cultural programme instead—a decision we are very thankful for!
The next morning, we visited the museum at Bagore ki haveli, and returned in the evening for the cultural show.
While my phone wasn’t able to capture the beautiful ambience atop Jaiwana at night, here are some pictures atop the haveli next door—Bagore.
Earlier today, we visited Kashmere Gate. About a kilometer from the historical site is an old Tibetan refugee settlement. Within the settlement is a Tibetan monastery, and a thriving market, popularly known as the Monastery market. Our main agenda today was to visit this market. Despite the peak rush hour—Sunday afternoon—we managed to explore the shops and lightened our wallets a bit (okay, make that a lot!)
My real aim today, though, was to visit the Monastery. The Tibetan Monastery has been on my wishlist of places to visit for almost two years now. Despite having lived for over two decades in this city, I had no idea of its existence, until early last year, when I asked a Buddhist colleague of mine where she went to pray.
Having come all the way to the market, we made a quick stop at the Monastery. It may not be as large or grand as the ones in the traditionally more popular Buddhist cities, but it was every bit spiritual.
We admired the seated Golden Buddha, and for a change, we took no photos of the interiors. There were many devotees, several of whom were dressed in traditional attire; and we felt it would be insensitive to behave like crazy tourists. We turned to leave, when a middle aged gentleman stopped us. “Have you taken the prasad (sacred offering)?” he asked us. And then quickly went inside and brought our two cloth bags and gave them to us.
We asked if it was a special day. Indeed, it was. It was the third, and last day of an annual fast, and an auspicious day, that we had happened to visit. Lucky coincidence, or divine intervention? I’ll leave that question alone; the world works in mysterious ways.
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Which is why, perhaps, it must spill out of the halls of exhibitions and galleries, and enter the public space.
Perhaps it was the influence of Mario, or the general laid back ‘hippie’ culture that is now synonymous with Goa, that encouraged art to spill on to its streets — from graffiti on the rocks, to sculptures at street crossings.
“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.
Mylapore is to Chennai, as Chandini Chowk is to Delhi. One of the oldest residential areas of Chennai, Mylapore is home to a colourful bazaar as well as a number of temples. Last year, we decided to explore this area on foot.
We began our journey at the Kapaleeshwarar Kovil.
Of the numerous beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu, the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai is one of my favourites. The detailed sculptures on the gopurams, the elaborate kolams on the floor, and the peaceful ambience of the temple always leave me spellbound.
We then walked towards Santhome Basilica. On the way, we saw a beautiful Jain temple.
The temple was closed, so we continued walking.
Being Christmas time, the Church was decorated with colourful linen and stars.
San Thome Basilica was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, after demolishing the original Kapaleeshwarar Temple which stood on the grounds.
There is a small museum next to the Church which has architectural remains from older constructions, including some distinctly Dravidian motifs. Strangely, the plaques on the exhibit attribute it to the Church, even when the stone sculpture is clearly distinct from the rest of building materials on display.
Our next stop was the Marina Beach Lighthouse.
No, we didn’t have to climb all the way up. But it sure was interesting to look down the flight of stairs!
The viewing area at the top of the lighthouse is quite narrow, and it was quite crowded. Nevertheless, the view was amazing!
With the sweeping panoramic views of the beach done, we decided to walk towards the sea.
Sadly, the state of this world-famous beach was not as beautiful as its surroundings. Nearer the sea, the beach looked more like a dump yard than a space to relax in. The only solace, for us, was the sounds of the sea – the waves caressing the sand and filth with equal warmth. Humanity may attempt to seek redemption and forgiveness through spiritual and religious pursuits, but isn’t it ironical how that concept of cleanliness, that is the holiest of them all, is still some distance away?*
Our route map:
* I don’t mean to pick on Chennai. In fact, it is a relatively cleaner city, as compared to many of its northern counterparts (especially the temples).
This is post #14 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano
NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging
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.
The Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior combines three European architectural styles—the first storey is Tuscan, the second Italian-Doric and the third Corinthian.
There is an eclectic collection of items housed inside the museum, which can be visited by the public. One section still serves as the residence of the heirs of this Palace.
We weren’t allowed to carry bags inside (there is a provision of a locker), and strangely, we weren’t allowed to carry umbrellas inside either. While the museum itself is entirely indoor, to exit the Palace, one must pass through the central lawn. As luck would have it, it began pouring just before we were about to complete our tour.
If you plan to visit this Palace in Gwalior, make sure you have sufficient time—we spent over two hours (excluding the rain delay), as there is much to see. And if you are short on time, pace yourself to keep the maximum time for the last section—the opulent Durbar Hall. We had read about the extravagant decor and seen pictures of the massive chandeliers. But it was only when we saw the hall that the reality of its grandeur hit us.
In our limited exposure to exotic places, some places leave a lasting impression, some of romance, others of awe. The Jai Vilas Palace, even with all its magnificence, left a somewhat cold and distant feeling. It’s hard to tell why – perhaps it’s the excessive indulgences; or the exclusively European architecture; or perhaps it was the weather; or just maybe, the contrast between the lifestyles of the common people, and that of their representatives, that is so blatantly visible to the casual observer.