A weekend trip to Nasik

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Where next? …The Ramayana Trail at Panchvati, Nasik

It is better to make plans to local places that work rather than grand plans to exotic places that don’t work.

With that as the motto for a long weekend, we embarked upon zeroing on a place at drivable distance from Mumbai that wouldn’t have us paying an arm or a leg or at least a very fat undeserved amount!

We zeroed in on the not-so-sleepy city of Nasik at an easy driving distance from Mumbai to be our first quick vacation distance. Nasik is a city at about a 4 hour fabulous drive from Mumbai.

My memories of Nasik from the days bygone, was a place I had visited before I got married to ward off the evil eye and basically indulge my parents in eliminating the evil ‘Kal Sarpa dosh’…some terrible planetary alignment that would have made my marriage prospects really bad! And all the evilness foretold could be done away with a mere Pooja at the holy city of Nasik at the ancient temple of Trimbakeshwar. That simple! Well, if it were not for superstitions, I guess, half the religious tourism wouldn’t be what it is today!

Religious tourism aside, Nasik has a lot to offer in terms of non-religious place to see as well, and one can easily spend 2-3 days exploring the city.

Fun facts about Nasik –

  • Nasik has one of twelve Jyotirlingas at the famous temple of Trimbakakeshwar – A Jyotirlinga is considered to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the Jyotirlingas are columns of fire piercing through the earth.
  • Nasik is the largest wine producing district in India with the most well-known Indian brand Sula. Also home to winefests such as the SulaFest during harvest season
  • The Currency note press and the India security press are located at Nasik to print Indian currency notes and government stamp paper
  • Houses a unique Coin museum
  • Is one of the four destinations in India that hosts the largest peaceful religious congregation globally – the Kumbha Mela
  • Panchavati in Nasik is the setting of one of the most loved epics in India – the Ramayana
  • The father of Indian Cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke was from Nasik. You can visit a memorial in his name here

 

Religion/Mythological sites –

The Kumbh Mela

Legend has it that the nectar from the famous churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras had fallen in four of the places, where the Kumbh mela is held today. These include Ujjain, Allahabad, Haridwar and Nasik. The Kumbh mela is touted to be the largest congregation of religious pilgrims in the world and has put Nasik on the global map for religious travel. The city is replete with temples, some really ancient, some less so and some really quite new to fool gullible tourists into parting with their money under the guise of religion.

Ramayana trail

In addition to the Kumbh Mela, Nasik is where the most important parts in the Ramayana played out. Panchavati and Tapovan where the trio of Rama, Sita and Lakshman had made their home is a part of Nasik. Earlier the picturesque forest, Panchavati is now alas, yet another urban jungle. In Panchavati, there is an entire Ramayan trail which traces the ‘Aranya Kanda’ (Book of Forest) from the Ramayan. On the trail, you can find out where Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana had stayed while at Panchavati, the location of the infamous cutting off of Surpankha’s nose, where the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ had been etched by Lakshman and where Sita was carried off by the evil Ravana. You can also see the banyan trees which give the forest its name of being the forest of the Panch or Five Vata (Banyan) trees.  Another spiritually significant place is the Ramkund, which is a holy tank where Lord Ram and Sita used to take a bath during their exile. This is a place where ashes of the deceased are immersed to help them achieve liberation. However, I would take most of these supposed spots with a pinch of salt or kumkum or whatever! Apart from a few, many of these seem to have cropped up as modern structures in a concerted effort by all the tourist stakeholders in Nasik to add to some spots worth viewing. Of all the places on the Ramayan trail, I frankly liked only the spot on the banks of the Godavari below. Who’s to say it is real or not. But I don’t think the GPS really existed at the time, for us to be able to drop pins on where exactly these purported spots are.

A warning to those uninitiated into the religious travel – Most ancient temples in India are super crowded – probably seem to be more real than the modern ones. The temples of Trimbakeshwar, Someshwar, the Sita Gupha (cave) are ridiculously crowded with throngs of devotees lining up for an exalted ‘darshan’ or viewing of the Lords for ‘blink and miss’ facetime lasting roughly between 2 seconds and 10 seconds depending on how strong you can be to resist the pushes when you least expect them. So for a 2 second darshan you can expect to be in the queue for 2 hours and yet be contented after the darshan. You can also try paying your way (Rs 200 per person at Trimbakeshwar) into an express queue that will still take you 1.5 hours for the darshan. Thankfully, there are plenty of people manning all the queues and with the numerous barricades there is little possibility of breaking the queue and starting arguments.

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Trymbakeshwar Temple (Wikimedia commons)

Popular religious places at Nasik are the

  1. Trimbakeshwar temple where the river Godavari originates. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in India
  2. Ramkund
  3. Kalaram temple at Panchvati,
  4. Someshwar temple
  5. Muktidham temple
  6. Sundarnarayan temple
  7. Kapileshwar temples
  8. Sita Gumpha at Panchvati

A point to be noted is that most of these religious places do not allow photography, so whatever pictures I have are from wikimedia commons.

Wine tourism

Nasik is now purported to be the wine capital of India. One of the warmest regions in the world to create wines, Nasik offers in India what Napa offers in the US. A wine tourist destination (if not the finest wines in the world)! As late as the 1990s an entrepreneur Rajeev Samant, set up the first vineyards in Nasik noting its conducive climate and soil. From a few acres in the 1990s the Sula vineyards are now a whopping 1900 acres of land and one of the biggest wineries and brand of Indian wines. The Sula vineyards now offer wine tours, wine tasting and a snazzy resort with lively restaurants. Expect hordes of tourists on all weekends!
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Other attractions

The Coin Museum – The Coin museum set up in 1980 is a vast collection of coins tracing India’s evolution and history through the ages through its various currencies, dynasties and rulers.

The Pandavleni caves – These 2000 year old caves are a group of 24 buddhist caves built atop a hill. You need to climb about 200 steps to reach the caves and also feast on picturesque vistas osf the city below. These caves may not be as grand as the Ajanta-Ellora caves at Aurangabad, but they are quite amazing to visit if you are around.
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The Pandavleni caves (Wikimedia commons by Mrunal12)

There are also plenty of other places around Nasik that are picturesque to visit. Amongst these are

  1. The Saputara hillstation
  2. Dudhsagar falls
  3. Bhandardara hillstation
  4. Bird Sanctuary

All in all, a great weekend destination from Mumbai/Pune with plenty to see and do. Not much to do for kids, but well, one needs to just find a park to keep them entertained.

Categories: India, Maharashtra | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Seeking the I in the Independence

I recently read an article on women and independence and wanted to share my two-bit. What does independence after all mean to women? It is true that our Indian system, does not give us enough space to be that way. From living a sheltered existence at home before marriage, when family typically manages almost everything a girl needs – from how she travels, to her shopping, to where she studies etc to the married life when the husband does everything the dad would!

As a girl, my dad was often out. A great many things that my mom and I would have rather have him do were done by us. When I think back about those times, I remember they weren’t that easy. But, I believe, those are what made it so easy down the line. When you drag your broken-down two-wheeler for miles without having a father or brother to call, move houses independently, bribe telephone walas to get a connection (back then), go meet officials from random departments like electricity, water etc when you move houses, chase construction workers to fix things, pay bills, ward off crazy stalkers, chase mice and lizards out of your house (yeah, trust me this one ain’t easy for us girls!), all in your teens, you know there is only one survival skill that is of utmost importance. Independence.

True independence for me came with my first job. It can come for others who have had a chance to live in a hostel or share an apartment. You are finally financially independent. I remember the headiness of my first job! Wasn’t that the best time of my life? No accountability to anybody, No real responsibilities, no rush to get married, a steady income to splurge with friends, no immediate plans to study more! In short so much freedom! I remember how easily I would travel back then alone without any qualms. In ST buses to unknown destinations and remote villages, walk happily on the streets of the city just happy to be there alone, take long walks on the marine drive after work every day and just enjoy the solitude. The café culture hadn’t caught on to a great extent then, but even those years would see me enjoying my cuppa chai at now I think were shady restaurants and to hell with the glances I got from other tables. I wonder where that spirit has gone now. Why do I require people about me now?

Circa married life, suddenly, I have become dependent. Perhaps it is just easier now that I have someone to do some of the heavy lifting that are more of ‘guy’ responsibilities that I didn’t have a chance to pass on earlier. I need company to travel, to shop, to watch movies, plays, to eat out. I need someone to plan the trips I travel on. I need opinions and affirmations to buy a utility, to invest my money, to decide the menu of the day. I need someone to call people to get things fixed at home if they are broken. I pretend I can’t reach the top shelf of the cupboard and I can’t lift the tiny suitcase to put it in. Suddenly, I have assumed the responsibilities I never asked for or like. Like cooking, managing the domestic help, de-cluttering the house, and keeping everything in its place.

Many of these things have made my life easier. But off-late I have wondered, is too much dependence a good thing? After all, if I could go watch a movie alone, wouldn’t I be able to watch more movies given that I will never be able to watch one with my husband till the time my daughter is older!? I would have bought that coveted closet a long time ago and would have made worthy investments instead of waiting on for advice on what to do with them. If I can explain to my family that exercise, writing and reading are not ‘extra-curricular’ activities for me..They are a part of who I am. Now wouldn’t that make me fitter, and happier? Being able to do the things I love?

Perhaps we women need to reassert some of that independence, flavors of which we may have tasted at some point in our lives. To find some time to get away from the humdrum responsibilities, that will continue to bind us. To be with friends, to be alone, to seek oneself and to be able to do things for oneself.

On that note, I hope women out there, find ways and time to get away. Companionship and family are amazing things, but finding time for oneself, spending it with friends and doing the things you love can bring satisfaction and contentment.

In that spirit, I will plan the next trip alone! Just to get the spirit of self-discovery and the confidence to do things alone back! Stay tuned for updates.

A trip to Yosemite Valley

Categories: Other Travel Blah | 5 Comments

A trip to Yosemite Valley

Towering trees, bumbling bees;Azure skies, peaks old and wise;
Snowy pebbles, brooks that babble;Mystic mountains, springs and fountains;
Plains some mossy, still lakes all glossy;Icy cloaks, pines and oaks
Skulking bears, prancing reindeers;Scampering squirrels furry, coyotes in a hurry.
Rains and thunder, Nature’s wonder; Glistening snow, eyes that glow
Hills and vales, Treacherous trails; Winding roads, Glaciers once flowed
Myriad hues, beauty so true; Blue and Golden, resplendence beholden
White and green, a splendid scene; Pristine white, shimmering moonlight
Sculpted boulders, fire that smolders; Zephyrs trance, a verdant dance
Pindrop silence, sweeter than violins; A trickle of water, frozen in winter
Glorious clouds, Beauty endowed; The Great Half dome, God’s own home?

 

Mother Nature has drawn one of her priceless canvases in Yosemite National park with an elegance that makes her splendor even more beautiful. Big is beautiful at this national park known for its old wise sequoia trees that are the biggest in the world, the tallest waterfalls and the most challenging of peaks protecting themselves from nosy humans by the sheer force of nature again.

I fortunately was permitted to see this priceless picture on a sunny day while it was splashed with a pristine whiteness on the myriad hues of greens and yellows. I hated to sully the whiteness of it with my footprints. While I could not stop Aahing and Wowing and taking pictures, I realized that it was one of those places where a mere camera lens could not capture even a 50th of the beauty that the live canvas possessed.
Someone rightly said, when nature has a project, she is a genius at work. From the bare leafeless tree to the ice laden pine, she ensures each season has something wonderful to look at. I fall short of words here, to describe the endless vales of snow covered pines and cones that I saw and went past, the winding valleys covered with mist and sheer drops below overlooking unbelievable vistas making us want to stop at every twist and turn where there was space to stop and gaze.

 

Despite all the human advancement, nature still makes man feel miniscule on just seeing the vastness of what She can create. The United States has certainly preserved the park well, and I am pretty thankful and privileged to see such beauty in this world where almost every piece of habitable land has been captured by humans.

 

 

 

Categories: Americas, United States | Tags: , | 14 Comments

Top six reasons why the Tata Zica Car is a winner

..Continued from my previous blog on the MadeofGreat trip here

A car isn’t just another product that you buy. It is an emotion and a way of life! It represents who you are and you take on a wee bit of the personality of the car.  The Tata Zica is a car that can be liked by all. Abbreviated for a Zippy Car, it is not just fun to drive, but is also very comfortable and feels so young!

On the evening of our first day at Goa, the Tata team had taken us through the Zica journey. Right from how they started designing it with global design inputs from Pune, UK and Italy studios to how they integrated all the little things that go a long way in making the drive more convenient, smoother and happy!

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The day to drive the Tata Zica had finally arrived and we were all excited to be finally doing the drive. When I bought my car, I had a chance to test drive several cars before I made a choice. The test drive lasted for a maximum of 20 minutes! And here was a chance to drive a car not yet launched for a good 2-3 hours on some of the most picturesque lanes in the country!

I was the driver for my team of three with Alex and Jaspreet that was chosen on the prior day and was only too happy to be the sole driver!

Now you will find a host of reviews out there already, but here are the few things that made this car truly fantastico –

  1. Looks do matter – yeah!

The design is sharp, elegant and bold. I loved the contours of the car whichever way I looked at it. Not for this one, an ugly back view or a jutting front. This one was suede, confident and dapper however you looked at it! Available in about 6 colors, the one I liked the best was the Sunburst orange which I drove the next day.

And it’s not just the big picture, but the small things that make it even more svelte – like the door handle ensconsed in a speedy arrow design. The hexagonal grill is one of the most elegant grills I have seen and just seamlessly flows into the design of the car.

2. Beauty has to be inside out!

A lot of thinking has gone into the interiors of this car. 22 utility spaces have been carved out to store knick knacks, water, tablets, coffee etc. A cooled glove-box is also provided. I can’t tell you how useful this cooled glove box is when on a long road trip..especially with a baby!

A dash of color of the body of the car embellishes the airvents and certain areas of the front of the car interiors making it feel livelier.

Little things but felt good that I as a driver didn’t have to keep elbowing the person sitting next to me with all the elbow room there is!

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3. We can pack half our house inside

Space is important in the car. Especially while travelling with extended family on a road trip that includes babies. The boot space is spacious, but there is plenty of space left inside the car as well..enough to pack half the kid’s toys and the mom’s food baskets inside in addition to all the other suitcases packed for a month for a week’s trips.

The back and the front are quite spacious despite having a pretty good boot space and three to four people can be easily accommodated at the back seat.

4. No more wars over music

An excellent audio system developed by HARMAN has been integrated in the top end model of the car with 8 speakers. Media control buttons on the steering are an added advantage and provide much needed sanity to the driver. An innovative infotainment system with a Juke-Car app ensures that everyone in the car gets to music they want to averting many a war! “This Juke-Car app utilizes a mobile hotspot to create a virtual network and host a service for sharing list of available songs in the device. All the connected devices can view the song list on the hotspot device and place their requested song queing!”

5. I finally don’t have to be buried into google maps to find the way

The Turn by turn navigation app makes the drive to all those unknown places in the middle of nowhere far easier with audio prompts. The app also provides ETA and next steps.

6. It felt good

Now you may think I am gushing, but the drive was really really good. After 3 hours of non-stop driving, I was as fresh as I was when I left early morning. We literally glided over Speed bumps, potholes, bad roads, mudroads and no roads contributing to that easy drive experience. The eco mode and city modes of driving provide the luxury of delivering fuel economy in the horrendous city traffic to a peppy drive on good roads.

#MadeOfGreat

The whole experience was truly memorable and the care that had been taken in all the little things showed. The passion and the energy of the team – the engineers, the marketing team and all the teams who spent the last three years in creating something entirely new, free of all the baggage of Tata’s previous cars, just showed. And the outcome is truly fantastic! This car is certainly not made for mediocrity! It is a fighter, and the extra mile gone into taking care of the little things that bother, will go a long mile in making this car a winner.

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The Tata Zica Goa Experience – Part 1

On a dreary late Thursday

I sat mulling at Excel at my bay

Looking forward to a morose weekend ahead

Of changing diapers and partying in my head

 

Until I got a call…

That changed my plans all

Ting Ting went my phone

A telemarketer I thought, not someone of my own

 

Hi there..I am calling from Indiblogger

Would you like to come to Goa on an all expenses paid tour?

I jumped out of my seat

My mind agog, all upbeat

 

Tata Motors beckoned me

Come to Goa and see

The new Tata Zica

Come and ride it Chica!

 

Saturday dawned and I was on my way

Sadly I reached a little late due to some delay

Excellent Tata hospitality awaited me

Where everything was generous and all free!

 

The Alila Diwa Goa so serene and calm

A breeze, a flutter, the salty mist, such a balm

Set amidst green plantations and many a tree

I never felt so alive, so free

 

And now for the best part

The closest to my heart

I finally met the bloggers out there

Did I meet them earlier. Not really but who cares!

 

A new bunch of people I thought I knew

Only because of their blogs and twitter. It’s true.

Friendships were forged in the twinkling of seconds

At the end of the 2 days many were friends for life I reckon

 

Beauty, Lifestyle, Fashion, Travel,

Personal, Technology, Food all unraveled

An eclectic group of bloggers

Finally met the faces behind the handles and verbal wars

 

The Tata motors mascot , Lionel Messi, Made of Great

Integrity and talent who everyone loved to adulate

Was introduced to us in a funky locker room of fame

With lockers and Tshirts in our name

 

As we waited with our breath bated,

Suddenly, the locker room split and doors parted

To reveal the all new Tata Zica

In its flaming sunburst orange glory

 

With features explained by the passionate Tata team

It looked like a mighty big win

Sleek silhouette, a svelte body, and features galore

The Car looked gorgeous all ready to explore

 

Alas, we would have to wait till next day

On the lanes of Goa to drive her away

But a party awaited us next

Where we could just relax

 

The #fantastico cocktail party was in full swing

Where dresses were pretty and full of bling

White, pink, Purple and black

And heels went clickety clack

 

Where pretty cocktails and mocktails flowed

While talented singers went to take a bow

Our talented bloggers crooned

And karaoked the night under the stars and the moon

 

Thus the day ended

And so does this narration

But wait, the Tata Zica ride is what made the whole trip so special!

 

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Well, that’s all the cheesy poetry (If I can dare call a bunch of rhymes that) I can write..

One week past the Goa weekend, and my mind still wanders to the fantastic(o) time it was. Tata motors and Indiblogger had taken a lot of care in organizing the event and kudos for pulling it all off so seamlessly to make for a brilliant experience.

And if the lines were too cheesy up there (half of which I published as an afterthought), here is the experience in a few lines of the easier to write prose :)

The MadeofGreat tag line for the new car being launched is pretty apt and I am going to call it the MadeofGreat trip in my next lines, was one of the best trips I have had for a long time. It was all the more special because it was with people who barely knew each other, but knew each other really well because of their words, and thoughts through prolific blogs.

The Alila Diwa resort which was our home for the two days that we were there, is a fantabulous property set on lush greens. The sprawling property has green views everywhere you look and calming canals and fountains that are indeed very pleasing to the eye and a far cry from the urban jungle we were coming from.

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We started off our Goa day with a refreshing beach sojourn. This was followed by high tea and an introduction to all the lovely bloggers who were present. The Tata Motors team, who were indeed very hospitable every minute that we were there, then ushered us into the funky locker room complete with individual lockers assigned to us with #MadeofGreat merchandise just for us.

Celebrity VJ, Cyrus Sahukar, who was the ‘head coach’ kept us entertained as we heard the story of their journey to making this car truly great and worthy of Lionel Messi, the star footballer mascot.

The wow moment was certainly when the locker room walls parted and the car was revealed in all its sunbursting orange glory. The excitement was palpable as we all enthusiastically went to explore the car and we couldn’t wait for the next day when we would finally get to drive the car and see if it fared as well in the drive as it looked.

All in all, a great day culminating with an exciting cocktail party complete with Karaoke with talented singers in the group regaling us all.

Stay tuned for more on the car and the fantastic drive the next day.

Categories: Other Travel Blah | 11 Comments

Ramazan at Istanbul, Turkey

One of the biggest questions while visiting a Muslim country is – Is it a good time to visit during the holy month of Ramazan. While several countries have food restrictions during this season in terms of eating while outside and establishments remaining shut, there were no restrictions in Turkey during this season. Infact, looking back, I was lucky to have gone in the season of Ramazan to Istanbul and my worries that we would get nothing to eat were blown away as Ramadan became the highlight of my trip!

Just outside the Blue mosque is the Hippodrome square. Normally quite lively, this square was even livelier on a Ramazan evening as hordes of families camped out with their fast-breaking picnic baskets all over the place. This is the biggest congregation I have seen in such an organized fashion to break the Fast at Iftar. Thousands of people gathered with picnic baskets of food spreading out on benches, lawns and wherever there was space waiting for the sun to set. With the advent of summer, the sun didn’t set till well after eight and yet most people waited on cheerfully in anticipation of the feast that awaited them. What was also interesting to see was their enthusiasm and patience to go to the place to reserve a spot and wait for the next 2-3 hours for the sun to go down. This after all day of going without food and water during the peak summer. Hats off to them certainly.

While the fasters attacked their food, a host of other activities including music concerts, live performances played in the background and a fair like atmosphere prevailed at the hippodrome square and other popular gardens and squares..

Although I am a vegetarian, I can certainly say that people who eat all kinds of meat are in time for a veritable feast for amazing kebabs and Ramadan special delicacies. Even while most employees at restaurants were on a fast themselves, their service to those who weren’t did not cease before Iftar which is certainly very  creditable given that they have to look at food all day long and yet not be tempted to eat. Ramadan special menus and iftar menus were put up at every restaurant in time, all of which were jam-packed as the time for Iftar neared.

If you are planning a trip during Ramadan, I will certainly say go for it in Istanbul to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere there is. That being said, in the interiors and more conservative parts of Turkey towards the eastern and central side, it may not be that easy to get food outside or eat outside. One needs to plan ahead for exigencies.

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Ramzan @ Turkey with the Blue Mosque in the background

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Picnicking for Iftar @ Istanbul, Turkey

Iftar at Istanbul, Turkey

Iftar at Istanbul, Turkey

Categories: Europe, Turkey | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Grand Mosque photo blog – Part 2 – The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

Continuing with my series on the Grand Mosques, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, is the fantastic architectural piece, quintessentially Arabic laced with Egyptian and Persian architectural elements.

Named after the nation’s ruler, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, the mosque is a must-see for all travelers in Muscat. Built in the suburb of Al-Ghubra, this large mosque occupying 40,000 square meters cannot be missed as you travel on the adjacent main roads. With a spectacular dome and minarets, it is pretty impressive from outside, and even more stunning from the inside. Built to accommodate 20,000 worshippers in its two large halls and courtyard, the mosque is one of the largest in the middle-east.

As was the case with other grand mosques, this mosque also required appropriate dressing to visit it. A Headscarf is mandatory for women as are fully covered hands and legs.

Gorgeous landscaped gardens encircle this mosque. As you enter the main hall through its tasteful arches and spacious corridor, once inside, everywhere you look, is opulence, craftsmanship and grandeur.

The mosque is built of chiefly Indian Sandstone. Inside of the main prayer hall, the walls are made of marble adorned by geometrical motifs, flower and leaf designs.  The main prayer hall is a massive 74.4×74.4m with the central dome rising to 50m.

The carpet you stand on is purported to be the second largest in the world and apparently took a long four years to weave by 600 women! Woven in 28 shades of vegetable dyes, this massive carpet weighs 21 tonnes, has 1.7Million knots and covers 70 x 60 m of the praying area of the grand hall all in one humongous piece.  The chandelier is another highlight and is 14 meters tall and adds to the grandeur. All around you can see marble designs, beautifully inscribed Quranic verses and stained glass art adorning the inside walls, ceilings and floor of the mosque. The corridors are embellished with arches and house the mosque’s various facilities such as a large library

Here are some photos of this truly grand monument.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

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The Main hall

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque  up close

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque dome and chandelier

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Adorning Panels

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Read about the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque here. My next post on this series will be out soon!

For a virtual tour check out http://sultanqaboosgrandmosque.com/ and see the beauty for yourself! But before you go, do let me know how you are liking this series on the Grand mosques in the comments below.

Categories: Asia, Oman | Tags: | 5 Comments

Idle Thoughts of a Desi Mind

This post is republished from my other blog http://www.richlandtalk.blogspot.com. Although this is written a few years back  and I am back to India now, I think this still holds true!
 
 
Well, it’s been almost half a year since I moved to the US from India, and I continue to marvel at the differences between the two countries.  I guess, I am about to say what every Desi who comes to this land goes through. 
 
On Conversions
 
 
The first thing that hit me in a week was the number of conversions I kept doing to get my perspective right.  Fahrenheit to Celsius, Miles to Kilometers, Pounds to Kgs, Ounces to Grams, Dollars to Rupees, Gallons to liters…  I know we are used to the difference in the spellings now, with due thanks to Bill Gates who points out not coloUrfully but colorfully in red and all of a sudden I was flummoxed when everyone resorted in India to saying XYZeee instead of XYZed that I had learnt years back! Here even the switches get turned on the wrong way..On is up and Off is down!
 
On Beggars
 
 
Our local beggars endeavor to be as pathetic as possible singing sad songs in pathetic voices and generally making everyone feel guilty about being better off. Believe it when I tell you, here beggars wear weird costumes and have smirks on their faces with placards which say ‘Gimme $5 for a glass of beer!’ or ‘I need my Dope’ or sit with a dirty dog with a placard saying ‘Help me care for my dog’ and yes, they mutter maybe ‘Ass****’ at each person, loud enough to hear if you pass them without giving them anything.  Local train beggars aren’t dissimilar to our Local buggers.  They come with their musical instruments and make speeches and stories all starting with ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. I am homeless.  Please help me’.  Of course, this being a far richer country, the numbers are far less than what we have.  But it’s funny to see ads of ‘Please donate a used car for the poor’.  I could use one of the donations!
 
On Prices
 
 
And now for my long pent up emotions on the horrendous prices here, even though I have recuperated from the shock now.  People back home said we would be really rich in the US!  But consider this. Back in India we were supposedly in the upper middle class having a 3bhk, a car, never used the local train, and had 2 maids to cook twice a day, pack our lunches, clean up, tidy up and do everything that enabled us to lounge around only watching TV.  And here, we live in a 1BHK, have a four wheeler..uh, I mean 2 bicycles, no maids (if you discount the dishwasher) and commute in the packed subway trains.  Now that life on the other side of the ocean was certainly comfortable!
 
I reckon getting past the currency conversion from the $ to the Rupee was a challenge given the fact that ‘everything is so cheap back home!’  It started with the bread being $4 (Rs200) for a loaf (@#* I paid Rs 20 back home!), onions being $2 a pound (Rs 200 for a kilo) (@#&; Governments have been brought down back home because of the rising onion prices!), well you get the idea.  I won’t even speak about the unspeakable amounts we pay as rent!  Okay, even if you don’t convert, sometimes the rates that are charged for some piffling labor are downright absurd.  There was a cleaning ad saying they would clean up rugs or carpets really well and remove all stains etc in just $150 (Rs 7500).  Well!  I could get a new carpet for that price!  In fact there is no concept of MRP or any sort of standard pricing.  It all depends on the rate the store wants to fleece people!  You could get the same brand for half at some other store or for 1/10th online.  Perhaps it is because I am around one of US’s most expensive cities.
 
On Healthcare
 
 
Well, I am one of those really unfortunate people who are underinsured due to ignorance, and now may have to shell out some $500 (Rs 25,000) for a single sitting to have an ear cleaned!  A doctor charges a cool $150 (Rs 7,500) to prescribe an OTC balm for an aching hand.  I have not known a more screwed up healthcare system than that exists out here. Wikipedia told me that it is in US that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are due to Medical Debt.  I don’t blame them.  If an uninsured or underinsured person were to fall ill, he would sell everything he has to pay it off or die of a cardiac arrest on seeing the bill!  Well, there is health insurance, and since 85% of the people have health insurance, all doctors charge astronomical amounts, and because they charge astronomical amounts people have to rely on health insurance. And, since the docs get sued all the time, they have to make up for the money they spend on litigation!  So, I guess, being a lawyer is the best profession there is in the US!  I am now contemplating a flight to and fro from India to have my ear cleaned!  It might just be cheaper.
 
On Labor
The other thing that struck me, was the fact that despite the unemployment numbers being supposedly high, the labor rates here continue to be just phenomenal.  There is little wonder that there are so many drop outs in America.  I hear that truck drivers make around $100,000 to $200,000 a year in this country!  I mean that’s really wow!  They certainly can compete with educated PhDs flaunting all their degrees or investment bankers or make even more! Babysitters charge some $15 an hour in cash, that’s around $32,000 tax free. Women who earn around $50,000 a year, which is a decent amount, quit as their babysitters charge more!  I think all the girls on H4 out here who cannot really work, but do like kids should offer their services in this field!  It never amazed me in American TV serials when they showed plumbers and handymen living in the best of the suburban houses with manicured lawns..(if you are guessing, that’s Desperate Housewives)! Now as my building doorman drives down in his car wearing a tie and a designer suit, I have ceased to wonder!  What I don’t understand is, why can’t the unemployed unskilled workers, just offer their services for a lower wage?  I am sure there will be a lot of people willing to employ them.  The unemployment rate will certainly go down.
 
On Cabbies
Something that is similar though is the sport of fighting with the Cab driver. There was this cabbie who wanted to charge a cool 100 dollar bucks (~Rs 5,000) for a 25 min ride with one stop on the way, the unreasonableness being, he would charge $50 without having to stop! Add to that, the ridiculous ‘tips’ that are mandatory to the tune of 20-30% of the total fare.  No wonder, people prefer renting cars and driving around the whole day for a maximum of $100.  Most cabbies are either Pakistanis, or Indians or Bangladeshis and the seats are dirtier and mustier than in Mumbai.
 
 
On Shopping
 
 
Finally, once I entered the acceptance mode after the denial, anger and resignation stages of shock of prices, I discovered shopping was a pleasure here, thanks to the huge departmental stores around here.  There is no dearth of brands and consumers are spoiled for choice in every category.  Furniture, cosmetics, Electronic goods and all the capital investments that go into a new home are relatively still cheap because mostly everything is Made in China. The awesome part is you can always return goods, no questions asked for up to 90 days!
 
 
On Gadgets
 
 
Thanks to the technological advancements here, most happening products such as the iphone, ipad, e-readers, Wii, GPS Navigators and other cool gadgets get first released in the US, and then trickle down much later to India.  It’s pretty cool to be connected on 3G everywhere and the large number of wifi hotspots there are.  I can’t wait for 3G to get to India and download books on my Kindle e-reader as easily as I do here.   Browsing the internet is a pleasure, since the ultra fast speeds allow me to stream videos really fast, watch movies on Netflix etc. 
 
On People
People are so much more civilized here.  The very Indians who wouldn’t blink before they discarded chocolate wrappers from their car window, pick up their dog’s shit with gloved hands (that part is really ewwwwwwwwwww for me) and discard it wherever designated.  Even though the subway is really crowded, no one really jostles to get in or cause any stampede to get out.  People don’t spit on roads or consider the outside of their homes as the garbage can.  They are always polite and smile and hold doors and the smiling does not arouse any suspiciousness. Everyone is interested in sports and not everyone wants to become an engineer or a doctor. 
 
On Dogs
 
 
Talking about dogs in the previous blurb, US is a dog obsessed country.  I have never seen dogs pampered as much as they are here.  There are dog birthday parties, dog sitters, dog walkers, dog designer clothes, prams for dogs, beauty products, cosmetics, and accessories for dogs, dog beauty parlors, dog restaurants, dog toy shops, dog playgrounds…It really gets disgusting the amount of pampering that goes on!
 
On Sports
One thing that is apparent is the evident enthusiasm of everyone in sports.  Each match is attended with gusto and the subways overflow even when there are obscure local matches and there are Cheerleaders for most matches. Even the sports Americans play are different from what the rest of the world plays.  While the world calls Football, Football, the Americans call a game they play with their hands, as football, and the actual football is relegated as Soccer. And that American Football is actually almost like Rugby, but with extra protective gears, helmets and padding. I’ve heard few Europeans call it a sissy sport.  While the world played cricket, they invented Baseball.  In Baseball, they have something called as a World Series in which the local teams compete with each other and the winner becomes a World Champion! No wonder many Americans think they are the world in themselves and everyone else is an alien! Thankfully, basketball which is another popular game here is still the same.
 
On Roads
In India I used to look left and then right before crossing.  By the time I realized my mistake, I shifted here, and I now look right and then left which is like all other things opposite to what it is in India.  I guess I can attribute whatever misfortunes I might have to the curses of the motorists in both the countries!  However, the roads here are truly beautiful.  The infrastructure is simply superb, the highways are a pleasure to drive on, and connectivity is great. And the good news is there are good clean restrooms to stop by.  That is so very difficult back home to find! It is sad that we can boast of a few good highways, such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.  Imagine all of India being connected from every village with such roads. Travelling would be so much easier.
 
 


On Natural Beauty
The country on the whole is so gorgeous and there always huge forests they call National Parks around everywhere in the country, an endless number of weekend getaways and a host of weekend activities to indulge in. With the fact that this is such a huge country, there is so much to see and appreciate.  The terrain varies from the rugged Colorado Desert to the blue water beaches of Florida to the verdant greenery elsewhere. I certainly can’t get enough of the beauty around me!
 
All in All
All in all, I reckon, living in each country has its pros and cons.  As I remove my rose tinted glasses to look at India, I reckon I can point out fallacies there for all my criticisms above with the rising inflation and low transparency and a million other reasons in our governing system.  Each country has its pros and cons.  While I miss the culture that I grew up in, I have grown to appreciate the country I am currently residing in.  Fulfilling the American Dream is still aspired by many, and I don’t blame them. After all, it is a beautiful country with much to explore and excellent facilities and infrastructure to explore it.  Cleanliness and less pollution add to better living. It is quite an experience to live in the multicultural vibrancy of this country.  India isn’t quite there yet, but I am optimistic, with all the leaps  taken towards development, will one day fructify and it will be a more pleasant place to live in. Right now, I reckon, I will just indulge in everything that India doesn’t offer, and then when I don’t have time to do that, I shall come back and live a life of luxury with maids and cooks and drivers to serve me!
Categories: Americas, Other Travel Blah, United States | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

Grand Mosque photo blog – Part 1 – The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

This blog is the first part of a photo-series in the amazing Grand Mosques that I have seen.  This weeks blog shows the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.

Known as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, this mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Pristine and white, it looks almost too beautiful to  be true. With shining white minarets, domes and turrets, the design is sheer magnificence.

It was a hot day when I went to the mosque (though not as hot by UAE standards in December) and the white of the mosque blazed in the morning sun. After going through the courtyard, the verandahs and looping through the pillars, we found ourselves inside to gaze on the huge chandeliers, sink our legs into the deep soft carpet and experience the peace. Without further ado, here are some pictures.

The first look

The first look

Inner Courtyard - Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Inner Courtyard – Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque - Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque – Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

Ornamental Pillars - The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental Pillars – The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental walls and windows

Ornamental walls and windows

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to be.one of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to be.one of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Quick tip: Visitors are allowed in the mosque only if they are covered appropriately (read fully covered clothes and a headscarf for women). Entrance for worship and visitors is kept separate so that the worshipers can pray peacefully.

Categories: Abu Dhabi (UAE), Asia | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

The Roman Colosseum and a School Project

The Roman Colosseum is one of the Seven Wonders of the world and exalted to be one of the most lofty structures ever built. When I was at school, as a part of a history project, I had resolved to build a model of the Colosseum which back then was another historical monument I had to mug up about. As we studied the structure, the windows, the shape of the ruins, the more monumental the DIY project became! I remember several failed attempts at making a simple model of this building which included foolish attempts at cutting up a bucket to get the round shape, curling up a cardpaper which looked too one dimensional, using all kinds of thermocol to no avail, creating moulds that would not break for a POP model and finally using the brilliant technique of paper mache to create that three-dimensional structure that wouldn’t collapse with a breeze! And ever since then, I have wondered how they built the real thing so well! And I guess, that little school project was one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit Rome!

But, well, onto the real thing, when we were at Rome, we wanted to save the best for the last (or a Free Sunday) to see this amazing structure. We scheduled our visit on the first Sunday of the month to gain free access to the Colosseum. Worrying about snaking long lines, we hurried to the Colosseum, a few stones throw away from our apartment bright and early and were at the gate at 8 am where people had started lining up already. 20 minutes later, we were inside after all the free ticket and security formalities were completed. We took the audio guides for the Colosseum to understand points in the building.

About an hour was enough to see the inside of the colosseum. Although much of the middle portion is in ruins, it was still interesting to imagine the gladiators of the days that are past enter make their dramatic entries into the field where the blood of many a brave man was shed. Scenes from the movies on Gladiator obviously came to mind listened to the roar of the lions and the shrieks of the victims.

We went around for about an hour, took some nice pictures and were out on our way to the next stop not before we saw the serpentine lines and thanked our stars we were well on time to see the greatest highlight of the city and the country.

Alongside the Colosseum are other historical structures – the Roman Forum and the Palatine hill.  Well, those are another story to tell. So will leave you with a few pictures of this truly wondrous structure.

The Roman Colosseum

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Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Gleaming Whites on Glimmering Waters – The Narmada

Rippling waters, gleaming cliffs, a cool breeze and imagination galore…that is what the boat ride on river Narmada is all about.

Continuing with my previous blog on the pictursque Bheda Ghat near Jabalpur, a trip here is incomplete without a boat ride on the river Narmada. This was a boat ride unlike any other I had ever taken before.

Boat rides have always been fun and more so, if the views from the boat ride are scenic. Some memorable boat rides I have taken were the river Hudson showing off the glamorous skyline of New York, the river Potomac in Washington displaying pretty Cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the Chicago river cruise to see iconic buildings and bridges. On Indian lakes and back waters, common sights are people washing clothes and bathing on the banks of the river, trees swaying in the wind, little villages on the banks and farms on the banks of the rivers. The Narmada ride showed me none of these! It instead showed me what I had never seen before…

We glided into the tranquil waters of the Narmada away from the noise of the dock and as the boatman rowed us away, we entered magical waters, tranquil and sublime. Gone were the farms and villages. No scenes of washing clothes and bathing assailed us. As we floated down the ethereal river, large cliffs and mountains loomed large…no ordinary cliffs, but cliffs of solid Marble. As we went deeper inside, the marble became whiter and the cliffs higher.

The Marble rock formations were the highlight of the day and as we floated down the waters, the rock formations assumed interesting shapes left to our imagination and interpretation. In some formations we saw the Nandi bull paying obeisance to Shiva on another rock. A tiger loomed large on another rock while a hermit in marble sat meditating on one more. As we went further along, the boatman and guide became more and more animated as he regaled us with tales of Bollywood romancing (on) the river. It was a mercy that the river had been spared largely by litterbugs and the river was mostly clean with strict instructions from the boatmen to not dirty their livelihood.

The 50 minute boat ride takes tourists to the Bandar kodini point where the rocks are so close that a monkey can jump from one cliff to another.

This boat ride can also be taken at night. I can only imagine how heavenly it must be to be on shimmering waters, with glistening marble cliffs, a starry sky, and a full moon…

Here are some pictures..

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The River Narmada

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Rock formations on the River Narmada

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Between narrow marble cliffs

The River Narmada

Gliding along the River Narmada

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Rock formations on the River Narmada

Categories: India, Madhya Pradesh | Tags: | 6 Comments

Wedding bells and River Warbles


Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers

It was wedding season and a big gang of us were visiting the city of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh for a fun wedding.  North Indian weddings are usually in the evenings leaving the day free, with the main wedding going on till wee hours in the morning. We reached a day before the wedding after a long train journey from Mumbai to Jabalpur. After a night of partying at the Sangeet a day prior to the wedding, we decided to visit the nearby Bheda Ghat and see the river Narmada.

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Categories: India, Madhya Pradesh | Tags: | 10 Comments

Rome: The Galleria Borghese

Villa Borghese is one of Rome’s favorite gardens and the famous Galleria Borghese is situated in these picturesque gardens.

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

I have to admit that I am not an expert at Art at any level and neither do I claim to understand much of it. But I do appreciate all the Art in its myriad forms. Italy with its bounty of museums and cathedrals was certainly a place I eagerly looked forward to exploring.

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Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Towering high in Dubai

Tall buildings. Tall buildings, Tall buildings. Well. Those were the things foremost on my mind when I visited Dubai for the first time. After I left, I realized, Dubai was a mélange of so much more than just TALL BUlLDINGS!

Towering high

Towering high in Dubai – As seen from the Dubai Marina promenade

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Categories: Asia, Dubai | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

A wrong turn that led to the right place – The Piazza del Popolo

On the way from the Spanish Steps to the Galleria Borghese which was our next stop, a long walk that had taken the wrong direction took us to some right places. On the negative side, we ended up walking far more than we bargained for, but, on the positive side we chanced on a few things that we enjoyed too…but now isn’t it true, that you can always see more and more, the more you explore!

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Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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