Tuesday, 3 December 2013


This Valentine's Day, my husband took upon himself to take me to all my favourite haunts from then to now (and yes, it did include a jewellery store!). This trip down the memory lane began with our college campus, nostalgia gripped me and emotions threatened to choke as we revisited the vignettes of our story. It had been so many years since we had first sat on that parapet, watching a squirrel frolicking around the riotous purple of the blooming Jacranda. Nothing much had changed and yet, everything looked a little different, a lot stranger and totally, alien. Thus, began my reflections on the City of Cities-Delhi; the city steeped in Culture, History, Faith and Heritage and yet, so modern, so contemporary.
Through most of its history, Delhi has seen sundry socio-political upheavals; its been captured, ravaged, brutalised and then rebuilt several times and each time this remarkable city has emerged stronger, unflustered and more vibrant.



Delhi may not be the first choice for the tourists but the traveller in you cannot ignore this smorgasbord of cultures; its a heady potpourri of culture, of romance; of spectacular ruins and vistas of greens, of epicurean delights and street food staples. Delhi as I know it, is not for the timorous traveller, teetering after city guide books and following GPS commands. If you truelly want to get lost in this mishmash of the kitshy and the aesthetic, come, amble along; be a lover of the foot notes and the foot paths and soon you will be embraced in its endearing warmth. The city will enamour you with its lively, over the top, often flashy, seldom subtle attitude. The Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas vistas, the  sprawling Lodhi Gardens and the formidable Red Fort would woo you; the veritable gastronomical delights on offer- from Paranthe Waali Gali, Bittoo Tikki Waala, Karim's to the suave amore' patios, aqua and b bars will lure you.

Shopping is seductive; take a pick from the chic boutiques in Hauz Khas, a bling binge at Lajpat Nagar or the luxe charm of premium malls like Select City Walk and DLF Promenade to bespoke Emporio.

The lush greens that adorn the city scape, the tree lined walkways, the Ridge forest cover, the manicured gardens and parks -are all proof of a green breathing city.
The Lal Quila (Red Fort) ,India Gate, India Habitat Centre and Sirifort Auditorium crank up the cultural quotient of the vivacious city, these places through the years have become a platform for showcasing the stance, the stand and the intellect of people of Delhi.
I am completely smitten by the city, so much in love with it that I am willing to forgive the endless traffic jams, the torturous BRT corridors ( be thankful that the deadly blue line era has given way to the practical Metroline); I am so inured to the dishevelled, unorganised layout that anything more orderly might begin to bother me.
Delhi is a city of many shades, many moods, it is always changing , forever evolving and yet rooted firmly to its rich heritage. Delhi is Eclectic, Eccentric and Electric; come prepared !!


P.S. # Delhi is historically made up of a cluster of cities and thus known as City of Cities. Even today the metropolitan Capital city of Delhi or the National Capital Territory along with its neighbouring urban regions have been given a special status of National Capital Region NCR.
# Delhi is world's second most populous cities.
# Delhi in ancient times is also said to have been the ruling seat of Pandavas of  the mythical Mahabharata, in the name of Indraprastha.
# The Archaelogical Survey of India recognizes 1200 heritage monuments in Delhi of which around 175 enjoy the status of National Heritage Monuments.
# 3 World Heritage Sites, The Qutub Minar, The Humayun Tomb and The Red Fort have been recognised in Delhi besides other monuments of interest like the India Gate, Jama Masjid, Akshardham Temple, Bahai Lotus Temple, Tughlakabad Fort etc.
# Delhi is the hub for tourists going to Jaipur, Agra,Gwalior, Udaipur, Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala or Leh and Ladakh.
# Delhi Haat in Delhi showcases the cultural diversity in terms of handicrafts, curios and food of India, serving as a one stop shop for tourists looking for  local souvenirs.




"I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine", Caskie Stinnett

And so on one balmy winter morning, while my husband suggested going to the movies and afterwards a nice lunch, I tried cajoling him to take me for a long drive( some 500kms and 10hrs away) instead. We eventually settled for something inbetween - The Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, a short 3-4 hour drive away from Delhi.
A quick reservation call, some add-ons dumped in my travel ready suitcase, a little cribbing on my better half's part; and we were ready for our jaunt.
KEOLADEO National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site is touted to be the richest bird areas in the world and is a habitat to rare and endangered species of birds. Thousands of migratory water fowl flock the sanctuary for safe haven during the winter months and if you are lucky enough, chances are you might spot rare Siberian cranes during extreme winters.This expansive avi-fauna sanctuary ironically, was originally, a duck shooting preserve for Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur. It is rumoured that in 1938, over 4000 birds were hunted in one shoot alone. It was only after 1964 that hunting was banned here and in 1985 it was declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Soon our rickshaw strutted down ( cars/motor vehicles not permitted inside beyond a point) the muddy trail past prancing peacocks and grazing cattle oblivious to the visiting tourists. The chirping of the birds, the tweets, the chirrup, reververated through the solitude.
This birder's paradise also is home to wild animals like sambars, spotted deer, jackals and bengal fox.
You could spend hours in this beautiful, lush mosaic of grasslands, woodland swamps and wetlands; listening to the cuckoo calling,watching the painted storks nurse their fledglings or capturing a picture of a cormorant diving to prey on a fish!

Tired after meandering through the vast stretches of wilderness, playing hide and seek with the elusive deers, trying to locate the camouflaged spotted owl couple, juggling the camera and the binoculars and taking mental notes of the 'authentic' general knowledge our rickshaw puller imparted; we finally headed for our rendevouz with the royalty - The Laxmi Vilas Heritage Hotel, a Palace to the erstwhile king's brother and our abode for the night!
The hotel, though, slightly expensive for the basic amenities it provides ( always remember that the heritage tag discounts for certain level of compromise with blissful luxury), was an experience in itself. Huge chandeliers in the lunch room, quaint lanterns adorning the corridors, stained glass windows and picture galleries speaking volumes of an era gone by- we were bathed in its resplendence, bowled over by its charm.

 And, we were so glad for this little spontaneous detour of ours. That night, instead of watching the stars on the big screen; we watched the stars embellishing the sky, listened to the chitter chatter of birds returning to their nests and drank in the nectar of life along with the flitting fireflies!
P.S. * Bharatpur, Rajasthan lies on the Golden Triangle Route, enroute Jaipur from Agra, India
*Rickshaws or Tongas have to be hired from inside the sanctuary as motor vehicles are not permitted.
*October to March is the visiting season, though, January is when you can spot the Siberian Cranes
*Over 366 bird species, 50 species of fish, 7 turtle species, amphibians and reptiles besides 379 floal species inhabit the area. Its an unrivalled breeding site for herons, painted storks and cormorants
*Sarus crane with its spectacular courtship dance can be spotted here. Recently, Greater Spotted Eagle has been reported. Great Indian Monitor lizard is of common occurence
*As of now there are very few options of boarding and lodging, though, Claridges chain is coming up with a heritage hotel soon


Thursday, 28 November 2013


Its Thanksgiving today and what better time to send my thanks to friends seven seas across( now please, don't take my knowledge of geography too seriously!).  Friends that bring a smile everytime we think of them, friends who made travellers out of the tourist in us, who made memories of our vacation even more cherishable...they welcomed us into their homes and their hearts and together we discovered the exciting new flavours of life.
It was a friendship exchange program, an amalgamation of different cultures, lifestyles and way of life and this time we were going to Long Island, USA...why not NY city ?? I obviously, had to ask, as anyone uninitiated would have. I tried to shove the swarm of filmic images that flooded my mind; Manhattan skyline, Times Square, The Empire State building were smirking, mocking at me as I was going to be this close but yet so so far away from the razzmatazz of this adrenaline pumping, quirky metropolitan. I surfed the net like crazy, searching for every possible mode of transportation that would take us to NYcity from Long Island (wherever that was!!), noting down time tables, writing down numbers of taxi services- afterall 10 days in some dusty quaint island as compared to the flashy, vibrant, crazy New York city seemed a little dampening. But as they say, " Ignorance is not stupidity, but it might as well be" and I was ignorant enough to not know the beauty of the marginal roads that branch from the kitshy highways constantly shrouded in the thick fabric of touristdom.
Long Island is about charming villages, sparkling beaches, historic light houses; of walking barefoot on the golden sands or spending an afternoon sampling the latest vintages at a local vineyard; its the summer playground of the rich and famous.
The  favourite weekend getaway shown in all Hollywood glam movies -The Hamptons, is right here and a string of chic seaside communities adorn its map.
 The story begins at Quogue, slightly removed from the Hamptons happening party scene, founded in 1659 and home to our charming hosts. We were greeted by a deer grazing besides a couple of snow-white rabbits frolicking in the gardens. All images of the glitzy Manhattan faded in the background; I was completely besotted, deers in your yard, cherry blossoms in the background, daffodils flashing welcome smiles, bobbing their heads in excitement. The first evening was spent in getting acquainted with our hosts, getting a 'hang' of the beach which was right at the backdoor. A storm welled later in the evening and so our discovery trail had to be cut short and finally, we settled against the background score of pitter patter of the rainfall.


Call it jet lag or the strangeness, the thrill of being in a new place, we woke up early. Another friend of mine also travelling with us, suggested we venture out for a morning walk down the street; knowing little that Quogue was in throes of the 'yellow shower of sulphur dust', a spume of spray of pine spores colouring everything yellow, clogging every pore. Only the first aid of warm water down my throat saved me from choking that day.
 Today we went to Montauk Point Lighthouse, East Hampton, the first lighthouse in New York and which is still active, flashing every 5 seconds. Its a National Historic Landmark located on the lush Turtle Hill.
 Pirates are believed to have buried treasure at the foot of the lighthouse site in two ponds now known as Money Ponds. We didn't find any money though, and lost a lot, for, our next stop was Tangers Outlets, Riverhead-heaven for shopping buffs like me!

Over the next few days we were taken to so many memorable places by our hosts and the friendship exchange team; all of them taking time out for us, accompanying us to places , organising lunches at exclusive restaurants, planning entertaining evenings and making us feel totally, at home. Here, Bob Berks abode is a place worth mentioning. Bob was an orient artist famous for sculpting images of  Popes and US Presidents, among his works figure the bronze bust of John F. Kennedy, a symbol of the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, Washington D.C. Meeting his charming unassuming wife was a privilege and experiencing his art was humbling.



Fire Island and the Sunken forest with its over 300 year old primeval holly forest and fresh water bogs, also left an indelible mark with its unparalleled beauty and tranquil. Fire Island is a barrier island located off the southshore of Long Island, approachable only through ferries and personal boats. The picture of the sun kissing farewell for the day and the skies blushing a rosy pink while the azure sea stood witness to this eternal love affair, is still etched in my mind. I made an instant connect with Fire Island- and now I know why. My lovely friend, Nancy, whom I hadn't even met till then, lives here!!



We did manage to go to NY city for the usual broadway show, Statue of Liberty, The MET and other museums while the kids attended American village school at Quogue after taking requisite permissions; but longed to come back to Long Island and LIRR train schedules were now at the back of our hands. The trip was fast coming to an end and our farewell dinner was being hosted at Greenport, a treasure trove for art lovers and a shopper's paradise. For me though, it turned out be slightly nightmarish; a photography session on a floating plank tied to the pier, proved a little more exciting than planned. The float managed to drift away from right under my feet; stupified with fear and unable to react, I almost drowned myself but for, the ropes that came into my grip. My husband and our doctor host tried to pull me out from the pool of circling jelly fish around me but it was only after five people, from the nearby restaurant, dived in to lift me, was I SAVED! It still makes for a good story; a trip which left footprints on the heart and bruises everywhere else! The aches and pain were soon forgotten in the merriment that followed (While I secretly, enjoyed the attention showered on me during the farewell dinner.).

"Life is a journey in which we are all travellers looking to make that great trip with someone", we found this out the perfect way! 



Sunday, 10 November 2013


"I haven't been everywhere but its on my list" - Susan Sontag

It all began with an invite to my cousin's wedding reception at someplace called Machu Picchu. And just when that smug, complacent feeling of 'been there, done that', had begun to envelope my suitcase heart; Machu Picchu came as a reminder of our smallness in this enormous wonderous world.

Machu Picchu, Lima, Peru rekindled the true spirit of travel, the joy of unravelling hidden treasures; the hunger, the awe, the expectation that makes your heart beat a wee bit faster. Thus, I started penning down my very own travel bucket list, which, soon I realized, was bottomless; with no ending, no full stops! I share it here with you, in no way claiming that it would ever be complete; neither expecting you to agree with it but yes, hoping that it would ignite that spark in you- to travel, to explore, to dream and to live...

1. Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, Lapland, Finland :  To view the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis spectacle from this glass igloo hotel would be a dream come true. The luminous midnight sky with shades of green, pink and violet light bursting through, is a sight to die for. Best time for a chance encounter with this 'blink and you miss it' phenomenon is late autumn or early spring.


2. Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia, Turkey : Unique landscape of valleys and unusual rock formations resulting from frequent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and ongoing effects of erosion. Its a fairy-tale land worth a visit.

3. Machu Picchu, Lima, Peru : The lost city of the Incas built on a saddle-shaped ridge between two giant peaks. The massive construction at such a remote location is bound to leave you flabbergasted. Stone mined from a quarry, shaped using bronze tools, smoothed with sand so as to fit tightly and precisely together, no mortar used- speaks of adroit craftsmanship.
4. Morroco : Even the faintest mention of Casablanca, invokes that heady feeling of romance and fantasy in you. Add to that the vivid colours of the bustling souk in Marrakesh, the potpourri of aromas emanating from a thousand different spices, the bright vermillion of the traditional riads, the alleys full of hawkers, fire eaters and snake charmers; the thrill of being in a strange, unknown exotic desert land. That's Morocco for you!
5. Japan : Believed to be an extravaganza of exquisite floral beauty; a land of cherry blossom trees and Buddhist temples, a land of unbridled joy and a million zen moments.

6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil :  Its hyped as one of the most stunning harbour cities and who wouldn't, if given a chance, want to see that iconic image of the 32 meter statue of Christ the Redeemer, embellishing the mountain of Corcovado. Travellers swear by the stunning sunrise and sunset views from up here and who hasn't heard about the beach life in Brazil ! Can't wait for the party to begin!!
7. Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA :  Awe-inspiring, astounding, vast, enormous; thriving with life and yet so lonely and desolate- the 450 km long stretch of daunting rock formations sculpted by years of erosion, the Grand Canyon. Hiking, camping, trail-walking and getting completely, foolishly lost- are up on offer here!!

8. Giant Causeway, Belfast, Ireland : Known for its polygonal columns of layered basalt, this UNESCO World Heritage site is steeped in myths and mystical legends. Rare and unusual plant species are found here along with an enviable variety of exotic birds. 
9. Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England : Its a pre-historic monument considered to be a temple for sun worship by some; a healing center, a burial site, a huge calendar by others. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is shrouded with mystery. The remains of a ring of humongous standing stones set within earthworks, promise to leave you spell bound. 
10. Dead Sea : Also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. The salinity makes for harsh environment where no fauna can thrive and hence the name, Dead Sea. The density of the water makes swimming akin to floating. So all you lazy bums, pack up and head straight for this natural marvel. ( Did I mention, the health benefits of Dead Sea Mud treatments!) 
11. Norwegian Fjords, Norway : Take a cruise vacation and what better way but to cruise through the narrow inlet of crystal clear water navigating past steep cliffs. Azure waters, lush green vegetation, ethereal flowers; vistas of nature awaiting to envelope you in a warm embrace.
12. Alaska : Its the largest state in the U.S., teeming with diverse wildlife and stunning natural beauty. The to-do list is pretty impressive here with National Parks, Glaciers, Fjords to visit and to witness, if one is lucky enough, the spectacular dancing northern lights.
13. Egypt : Steeped in history, shrouded with mystery; the country boasts of a rich cultural legacy. The myths, the legends, the romance, the abundance and the desolation- lure the wanderer, bewitch the traveller. The pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the city of Luxor and the Red Sea Riviera, hold the promise of captivating your soul for good. 
14. Masai Mara, Kenya : Images of Wildlife Safari traversing the epic Masai Mara, haunt me. I long to be on that open jeep amidst grazing zebras, exotic giraffes and the riotous pink flamingos. The impressive backdrop of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha complete the picturesque scene. Would love to take that Hot Air Balloon ride for that bird's eye view!
15. New Zealand : Umm, though I am not a walking enthusiast, but, Milford Track-hyped as the world's greatest walk, does stir me up a little. It winds through native bush and rainforest, past rivers and waterfalls, through glaciated valleys and imposing mountain lines. Hmm, so, God offers 'Combo Packs' as well!
16. Leaf Viewing, New England, USA : I want my name on that list of leaf peepers. I, so crazily, want to catch the blazing amber, yellow, bronze and red of the autumn leaves; the riotous display of foliage colour which is perhaps best exhibited in this part of the world, owing to a unique combination of climate, tree species
and terrain.                                                                                                                                        

17. Hawaii : A tropical dream endowed with soft white sand beaches and dramatic volcanic cliffs; the Hawaiin paradise beckons you. The indigenous culture, the heart warming tradition of Aloha, the charm of the Hula girls and their pretty luau costumes, are all so welcoming. The luxe resorts at Island of Maui or the surfer's dream- The Big Island, the options are as breezy as the wind swaying the tall coconut palms.

18. Bhutan : Land of the Thunder Dragon, the 'happiest' place on earth, a land of daunting mountain terrain, quaint Buddhist monasteries, of a varietable flora and fauna, is surely, worth a visit.

"The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page" - St. Augustine

I want to read the book, page by page, leaf by leaf, slowly soaking it in; knowing that this book has no endings and loving the very fact!!  

P.S. Since I have not had the opportunity to visit any of the listed places, the images used are borrowed either from free sharing sites or from friends. Any unintentional overstepping of copyright issues may be excused.