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Posts tagged ‘Travel’

While I Was Away…

Since I started blogging some six years ago, this perhaps has been my longest hiatus from the blog-sphere. Illness, Death, Work pressure, nothing  stopped me from posting atleast one or twice a month. But since August of this year, life has been taking funny turns, leaving me with very little time to do anything but just get up and show up. It’s not been all bad, but not all good and for sure it has all been very very time consuming and at time both physically and emotionally draining. My reading has taken a back seat like never before; I did not even participate in the October Readathon, an event unheard off sine I discovered it  years ago and let’s not even get into blogging misses lately. The last novel I finished was on more than a month  back that too on a long flight. Life has been thrown off balance completely;so what transpired – plenty

  • I got promoted ..Yay
  • With promotion came double truck load of work and exhaustive travel….some yay and not so yay
  • Dad was in and out of the hospital for a while….definitely not a yay moment
  • My sister went through a terrible break up….for sure not yay
  • And…..some other very exhaustive personal stuff, which we an discuss when we know more

Life briefly speaking has been very very roller coaster like and I am not even sure we are finally settled. However I am trying to get some rhythm and regularity going and blogging is for sure part of that rhythm as is reading…… so here we go again.

How have you all been? What all have I missed? Please do drop by with some comments on how you all have fared and I hope to catch up with your blogs/posts soon.

The Most Glorious Month

Yay! December is here….the season to rejoice! Off with the old, and on with the new month! The Holiday and Happy Cheer month! The month to read, write, party and rejoice! The Birthday Month! The Month that justifies and makes up for of the other 11 months! Ah! Glorious December, how I miss thee, through the year!

Unfortunately my precious December started off this year on several wrong notes! Stupid partners at work continued to crowd on my time and more importantly on patience! I am striving hard through some personal stuff and i began kick started the month, by spectacularly falling ill! However, this is December so it cannot be all bad, just by virtue of it being December!

So what grand plans, you ask? Well, I know you did not, but I continue to enlighten you anyway – This being the season of joy, I have several house parties planned, namely three, all starting this Friday, the next Friday and the Friday the 23rd. I have friends visiting, so there will exploring Delhi in the lovely winter sun and many grand lunches. I am off the to the mountains again in the last week of December, for a Father Daughter trip. And finally and most naturally, there will READING! Loads and loads of books planned and unplanned which I plan to read, nice and cosy, under a pile of blankets, with tea and snacks! Bliss! The reading plan just got an impetus as I got an advanced birthday present in form of a Paperwhite Kindle (Yes! I hang my head in shame and say that I have gone over to the Dark Side!) which my flatmate cum soul sister cum Santa Claus gifted me, after my tab kind of committed hara-kiri after three years of ruthless use!

Enough excitement to fortify me for the trudge for the next 11 months! For now, I have to rush since I missed on the first few precious days of the month, but I will keep  you all posted; so please do hang around for the party!!

Something Old & Something New

And no, I am not getting married and anyway in a Hindu wedding, there would nothing old and all new! But at the very onset, I digress! The plan originally was to post about The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, but something has been brewing in my mind for sometime and it finally being put into motion!

Many of you may be aware from my About page, that outside of Reading like no tomorrow and writing constantly, the other ruling passion of my life has been Traveling. I was travelling since I was 3 months old and have always been wanderlusting as far back as I can recollect. The prize for doing well in school was books and a new place to visit. Money for meagre paychecks were added/deleted/divided in an effort to buy all the books in the world and explore some new part of the world!Planning vacations, besides adding to the To Read list in my GoodReads has been and is a major way to de-stress. However despite all the energy and efforts spent in traveling I rarely if ever posted on my adventures, and what I did was a cursory overview more to give everyone a chance to see why I was away . Somehow I could not seem to bring in the very personal touch in my travel writings as I did on my book reviews. So I held on and then recently, an idea stuck me – I wanted to start website on Women and their Travels.

Now, I think most of you would agree with Mark Twain when he wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” But in the context of women traveling, it becomes especially important – it provides  a time for the woman to discover herself , her true identity and instills in her the confidence that if she can do travel to a new place without the patriarchs of her life, she can do practically anything. Women traveling on their own or with a bunch of other women is one of the most empowering experiences and it is these experiences and adventures I wanted to share. I have the extreme privileged and honor of travelling with some of these amazing women over the last couple of years and their stories of being caught all alone in the middle of nowhere in Columbia or traveling alone to the heart of Iran with a 3 year old in tow is not only an exciting adventure, but truly liberating and empowering!

Therefore, I seek an extension  your patronage and ask you to join me in these adventures, which my friends and I share at A Smooth Round Stone! You have always, always supported me in not only visiting my blog, but sharing your thoughts and ideas and showing me a whole new world, I hope you will do the same in this new adventure of mine. Furthermore, I hope you will also share with me your stories – stories of your travel or when you played host to travelers and enrich this humble motley collection of travel tales!

And, thus without any further ado, let’s us travel!

All About The Absence

Hello! Hello! I know I have been away for nearly two weeks without a word, and some of you have been wondering where I have been! To begin with, a big Thank You to those who have been checking up on me; I really really appreciate the concern and feel blessed to have people who watch out for me!

I was away on a road trip all across what is considered the Himalayan Desert at about 15000 ft from the Sea Level. The region around 10th century used to belong to the then Tibet empire and still retains many of its culture and practices, which are especially evident in the Monasteries that are dotted all over the region.The place is called  and is a unique natural phenomena of a desert at a very high altitude,  located in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Spiti” means “The Middle Land” in Bhutia language, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

While Spiti River surrounds the valley, the region is in a rain shadow area and is devoid of the lush green vegetation that usually forms the landscape of the Himlayas. However the barren brown mountains in the backdrop of the clear and deep blue skies are absolutely awe inspiring and in their presence you are intensely aware of a power at work, which is much greater than those of the mortal man. And then after range and range of imposing brown mountains, there would be flash of green and all kinds of wild flowers and it would seem like some one had taken a crayon and painted the whole natural canvass.No wonder, Buddhist monks chose this region to deeply meditate and some of the most powerful monasteries of the Buddhism is located here!

I took this trip again with the absolutely brilliant Shibani and her team at Wonderful World and only they could have managed to infuse a sense of comfort when the conditions were anything but, provide luxury when none existed to begin with and ensure we get a feeling of truly experiencing Spiti and her culture with a well thought through and extremely considered plan. For 10 days, managing 12 women across adventurous terrain, Wonderful World, this time led by Pooja Sharma, ensured that we all got to do what we wanted and keep calm in face of crisis including when my flatmate and cousin decided to take photos anywhere and everywhere  delaying the scheduled arrival time. Pooja was also wonderfully patient in helping me navigate some of more challenging trails, which became challenging thanks to the 224lbs that I carry with me! This team remains a girl’s best travelling companion!

This trip was not meant to be  relaxing vacation, a day at the resort; it was arduous and difficult. Every day we would drive about 8 hrs or so and then hike some more km. As the altitude increased, air became thinner and simple tasks required more effort and sleeping at a different place each night and living out of the suitcase for 14 days was anything but easy! But this was one of those truly life changing epic trips and the majesty and the brilliance of the landscape sears your soul, until you find yourself introspecting and come away with a heightened awareness of self and the surroundings!

I know I will go back there and at some point, move to the valley to spend the rest of my life there. Until those grand plans materialize, I leave you with some pictures of its grandeur!

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P.S. None of the photos have been Photoshoped and the play of colors and shadow that you see is a complete natural capture!

In The Company of Magnificence…

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate and I set off for a tour to a historically rich but now ruined citadel in South of India, Hampi. Both of us are great travelers but due to various circumstances last year, we had to keep our wanderlusting in check. Therefore to say we were really excited about this trip is an understatement! The USP of the trip was we were travelling as part of a tour group of all women’s team organized by the brilliant Shibani Vig and her team at Wonderful World.

Women from all parts of the country flew in to meet at Bangaluru, the metropolis of South India, from where we all took began the road trip to Hampi. Per Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, the now UNESCO heritage site of Vijaynagar, the primary city of Hampi, was founded by two brother Hakka and Bukka when trying to flee enemy forces. They came across this mountainous – ridge range and met a sage who convinced them to establish their seat in this region! . Under the rule of Hakka and then Bukka, the empire became rich and went from strength to strength. The city flourished between 14th and 15th century and at its height it was the second richest kingdom of the medieval world after Beijing and way bigger and more prosperous than Paris or London. The Kingdom continued to flourish under the heirs of Hakka and Bukka, and especially famous was King Krishnadeva Raya whose reign saw a burst of cultural activities, including prolific writings in literature and the building of some architectural marvels. The empire declined after losing successive battles with the neighboring kingdoms of Deccan Sultanates in mid-16th century. The victorious forces plundered the city and destroyed the buildings in a long drawn systematic way. Today all that remains of this once great city are the beautiful and haunting ruins!

Shibani is one the most thoughtful and considerate tour planners I had the good fortune to travel with and this trip was no different. The trip was led by the amazing and extremely patient Liane Ghosh and since we were traveling to a city of great historical importance, Shibani, even got us a personal historian to talk us through the great buildings and monuments! We set off on the bus with some articles on history of Vijaynagar which our historian had written up and just add an element of fun, he had even procured some comics, whose plotlines told the readers of the history of the city and tales of its denizens! Even the hotel Shibani had sought out for us was a testimony to the taste and elegance of team’s planning – instead of some ultra-modern luxury resort; we stayed at these wonderful cottages of Uramma Resort, Anegundi. This resort run by a philanthropist who aims at creating better lives for the villagers around Hampi, by trying to offer better healthcare and educational opportunities. The profits from the resort goes towards education of the youth as part of the broad program of the Uramma Trust. The resort is not fancy, but has all that is basic and comfortable. There are no televisions or bars, but the rooms are sparkling clean, beds super comfortable and a wonderful and obliging staff that is willing to do anything make your stay memorable. Staying at Uramma Resort, you get a feel of what it feels like to stay in real South Indian village surrounded by the marvelous vegetation, with some wonderful views from the green grounds of resort that overlook the majestic landscape of Hampi. We reached the resort, extremely late after several wrong turns and going round the circles, thanks to the drivers who claimed they knew everything when they actually knew little. We did manage to get a view of the magnificent sunset at Tungabhadra reservoir and that view alone made up for all the delays!

Sunset

(Picture Courtesy – Liane Ghosh)

Nevertheless after dinner had been served which by the way, was absolutely lip smacking delicious, we were all extremely sleepy and we called it an early night, looking forward to the morning of fun and adventure.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The next day we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and started off right after breakfast for the historical explorations. We crossed over to the other side of the town via a ferry (not my most favorite mode of transport, with high levels of hydrophobia), but have to admit that the ride was smooth and easy.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The first site that we visited was the magnificent Vitala Temple.  The temple was built by the King Deveraya in 15th century and was enhanced by the same famous Krishnadeva Raya. The temple is dedicated to Vitala, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu and the architecture once again shows the elaborate and the artistic creation of Vijaynagar that combined science and art to create these mammoth creations for a single rock cuts. The temple is surrounded by 4 madapas (entrances) of which 3 are still standing. The temple complex consists of many shrines and halls made of stone with intricate carvings that depict both Hindu legends and social and economic lives of medieval India. The stone chariot standing in the middle of the temple courtyard is breath taking and carved with graphic detailing. It’s dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The main hall of the temple was closed due to maintenance, however its outer walls again testify to some magnificent sculpture. There are set of pillars in complex that are carved out of some kind of resonate stones and legend states that at the height of festivities these pillars were used as musical instruments to be played in accompaniment to the hymns. Even today, the seven pillar emit seven different sounds of the musical notes of different density and volume. The temples today stand as a testimony of not only what was brilliant, but also show case the systematic destruction that was undertaken once Vijaynagar fell.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

We walked from the temple along the ghats (banks) of the Tungabhadra River. Some of the most beautiful scenes opened up to us …long narrow caves that suddenly open upon a scene of high ridge plateau on top of which sat a magnificent architectural creation.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The second important destination of the day was the Virupaksha Temple. This is one of the oldest functioning temples of the region. It was originally built in 7th century and later enhanced and renovated in 14th century by the Vijaynagar rulers. The temple consists of the main sanctum, a hall and open pillared hall and three chambers. The eastern gate or the mandapa is 50 meters high and this nine tiered entrance consists of some of oldest and most elaborate carvings.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

As we neared the temple however, my legs decided that they had enough and I managed to twist my ankle and pull my muscle at the same time. (Don’t ask me how I managed this medical marvel!) After much ado, my flatmate and I came back to the resort and after spending hours soaking in hot water and several painkillers and muscle relaxant dosage, I was finally able to walk again. (Thank You Liane/Sabeena for that amazing muscle spray and medication!) The fact that I was travelling with a wonderful troupe was brought home even more by the fact that the moment they reached the resort, the made a beeline for my room to figure out how I was doing and what could they do to make me more comfortable. Further ministrations and care, and I was finally ready to venture forth and join everyone else for evening dinner at Hema. Hema is a dimly lit shack where you get the most delicious Shakshuka and sizzlers. After gorging on some of this great food, we were back in the hotel for some rest, looking forward to-day 2.

Since I had limited abilities, I did not visit all that was planned, choosing only selective venues to explore and therefore to do justice to all the greatness of Vijaynagar, I make over its retelling to my bestfriend/flatmate/sister-in-crime, mentallynailbiting in the next post!

 

Come September……

Yay! Finally fall is on its way! Goodbye to all the heat and dust….no more summers for at least the next 7 months!!!

Oh! How I hate and I mean HATE summers! I love Fall/Winter seasons – cannot get enough of them! You can dress whatever you want, go out in the sun and not melt, eat what you want and of course like I keep saying, it’s the seasons of celebrations – the entire world celebrates their most important festivals during these months! These are just hands down the best part of the year! Give me 12 months of September to January! (Don’t like February too much, it begins to remind me the on coming summer!)

However for now, the summer of 2013 is over and done with! I am so glad that it’s OVER!!!!! I love these days….I see so much beauty, the early morning mist that comes over the valley where I stay, the feel of the warming sun the smell of wood smoke from the small hamlets around the valley; the smaller days and cooler nights – a season of festivals and beckoning of more joy to come!

I am not being poetic; I will leave that to a gentleman named William Blake who himself eulogized this season in a marvelous poem in 1783 and whose words capture the very essence of the season and leave me spell bound!

To Autumn by William Blake

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

The wind and the willows and the chimes…..

Photo Curtsey:mentallynaibiting

Nothing rejuvenates me more than going away from the city to the mountains. The sun shining on me, the gentle cold breeze, and the sound of the wind chimes mixing with the wild songs that the birds sing….heaven can wait, this is paradise.

As planned, my flat mate, her parents and I took off for a mountain trip mid this week. This unexplored…. well relatively unexplored and virgin out of the way cottage in the mountain forests is a bliss for all those who love quiet, dig communing with nature and spend hours on doing things they never get time for in the city – reading, writing, thinking, laughing. It’s a quaint out of the way place that reflects the glory of this mountainous land and provides some vintage glimpses into its 140 year old history. The rooms are clean and spacious with antique albeit simple and basic furnishings, the staff is wonderful and to state that the food is yummlious is an understatement.  (Yes, I invented that word and currently hold its sole copyright!) But best of all is its environs – surrounded by mountains on all sides, this 100,000 acre farm ((Yup! It’s a farm in the mountains)  has some of the most beautiful woods, that have been left to nature for their tending without human intervention (I hate pruned and planned gardens!) and have thus a natural and wild magnificence . We spend the days here watching the sun rise over the mountains, trekking up the hills (my flat mate and not me…me not particularly keen on physical activity and I firmly believe one can bond with the various beauties that the nature has to offer from one spot), writing oodles and oodles, listening to forgotten melodies, photographing (again my industrious flatmate) and laughing! In a nutshell, we are having a brilliant time.

Photo Curtsey:mentallynaibiting

 

Photo Curtsey:mentallynaibiting

Which is why, I do not understand the psyche of some of the people visiting this place. The farm’s website screams out loudly that this is not a regular deluxe a-la grandee establishment with disco and bar etc. It’s a place to come away from civilization but some guests simply did not get the point. They reach this place and demand to know where can go site seeing and why does the farm not offer pasta! They want to know if they can have a bonfire party and a night spent at the farm is enough to make them miss the city. I guess they never heard of Mark Twain – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. These people undertake to travel to further their prejudices, re confirm all their bigotry and impose their narrow minded standards on the rest of the world!!Now don’t get me wrong, I love my city too…I love the home deliveries, the uninterrupted internet services (asking for God is easier than seeking continued internet availability in this place) and my all night parties. But then when I want to get away from all the madness and competition and the hub bub of the city, I come to a place like this – I come here because I don’t want any part of my city life to follow me here as I try and reinvent my thoughts and think about all the bigger and simpler things in life. I want to see the sun rising and hear the sound of the gushing stream water flowing from the mountains. I do not want to watch television or hear Eminem. I want to eat simple, but fresh and absolutely delicious home cooked meals and not Domino’s Pizza. Most importantly, I want to stand and stare and not worry about how I look or who is looking at me (or in some cases, why are they not looking at me!)

Therefore I want to know why people who want their pizzas and discotheques and bungee jumping opt for holidays in these places. I do not understand how one can look at the magnificent mountains (don’t believe me; just look at the pictures below) and say “But there is nothing here to see but hills and trees! Duh! What did you expect a dancing chimpanzee surrounded by 40 belly dancers all moving to Jennifer Lopez’s On the floor??!! Oh! Grow up! If you don’t like it, scoot! But don’t keep loudly complaining all through the dinner! Besides if they ask me, I would suggest that they take a page out my flatmate’s mother’s life – she is a 60 year old homemaker, who loves life and has kind off reinvented herself on this trip. At the age of 60, at this farm, she learnt the joys of a simple swing (yes! She had never boarded a swing before now…don’t judge her; neither did I before coming here!), she wants to try all the various alternative cuisines that this place offers and wants to go for a trek every day though she is not always confident about her walking abilities and her road sense and busts into songs whenever she sees a sight that enthrals her…..she personifies the very  spirit of a true traveller and if at the age of 60 she can still retain her enthusiasm, without the deluxe luxuries of a 7 star property,  the others can shut up and try and listen to the songs of nature!!

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