29 July 2009
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Lunchtime! At the end of the universe.
Posted By joseph
The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.
This is an actual photo. Shot at Gulmarg at the second stop before the peak of the cable-car (Gondola) journey. This is at 8,300ft above sea-level at the Kongdoori station! Gulmarg or the “meadow of flowers” boasts of Asia’s highest Gondola journey with the final stop ending near the peak of Afarwat at 12,200ft!
The view from the Gondola is nothing short of breath-taking and you will be left screaming WOW at every single meter you go up in ascent.
I was standing in the restaurant while taking this shot and the almost desolation of the place inspite of tourists is perfectly captured here. We had the most amazing sizzling seekh kabab, delightfuly hot coffee and clear soup to wake up our minds from the numbness of the freezing temperatures outside.
Sometimes all you need is a short memory of the good things in life to make you smile when you’re sitting in office. Even as short as this.
And yes, Kashmir is truly Paradise on earth.
Have a great lunch!
PS: What are YOU having for lunch? Write about YOUR lunch in the comments! We are all ears!
29 July 2009
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Pirates of the Indian Ocean!
Posted By namrata
That’s the end of the list!
We’re one of the dirty dozen,
The chosen ones, the select few..ok..THE TOP 12..I’m sure you get the gist!
But it’s not been easy going for us,
These past few weeks.
We fought to keep our heads above water,
Bailed frantically and plugged the leaks.
We set sail in June,
On a beautiful twenty-fourth.
The weather was fine,
The sun shining bright, as we left the port.
With friendly tugboats to help us,
Initial passage was a calm affair.
Some followed us a long way out,
Such friends are surely rare.
Soon the sails were up,
We watched them billow and flutter,
Sailing along smoothly,
With a light hand on the rudder.
The sea however turned choppy,
The wind turning into a gale.
The ‘I’m Outdoor’ swayed ominously,
Were we all set to fail?
And then we spotted a beacon,
Its beam a guiding light,
We pulled our wits together
And paddled with all our might.
Soon we reached that mythical,
Land of a hundred trees.
With sweet water and fruit in abundance,
And a playful, gentle breeze.
Soon, a score and four other vessels,
Reached the same shore,
We exchanged notes and experiences,
Were more squalls in store?
We set sail together,
A not-so-merry band.
The dark waters, soon sank some members,
Everything was now in God’s hands!
Thus emerged the chosen twelve,
To soon break bread around the same table.
The journey is far from over,
Wait for the end of this fable.
It’s always a good time to rhyme!
28 July 2009
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World’s Best City For Travellers 2009
Posted By namrata
Yup! Our very own Venice of the East dethroned last year’s winner – Bangkok to become the World’s Best City for Travellers 2009. Fortunately, this was declared around the same time when my company was finalizing the location for our annual conference, so between 20-23 July I was visiting this beautiful city.
The recently renovated Maharana Pratap Airport is sleek, neat and quite efficient. It was nice to see that though the terminal was newly constructed, the authorities had not let ‘terror-paranoia’ affect their judgment, and there remained a modern ‘Visitor’s Gallery’ with a scenic view of the two runways.
The Trident, Udaipur is located 27 km away from the airport, and is on the banks of the famous, but quite dry this season – Lake Pichola. The verdant surroundings, beautiful weather can sure make one forget that the inhospitable Thar Desert lies in the same state!
The Trident, as expected, was grand and overwhelming. Though it’s a business hotel, the architecture in keeping with the traditional style of Mewar, resembles a Rajputana Palace.
The evening before departure
That was the only window available to explore any part of Udaipur. As luck would have it, a mela had been organized in the city and all major roads had been blocked from vehicular traffic. Two colleagues of mine, Tina & Tashi, and I didn’t want to squander this opportunity to get a glimpse of the city, hence we hailed a local auto and were soon on our way.
To beat the road blocks, our sensible auto-wallah took us towards the city through some narrow gullies and narrower bridges. Foreign tourists, local residents, cows and small vehicles all squeezed their way around the little curio shops and busy internet cafes. Our auto-wallah, turning out to be quite an informed fellow, revealed that most of the clothes that were sold at these little shops were made out of old clothes or chindis, bought mainly by foreigners; margins often exceeded 200-300%!
Driving along the Fateh Sagar Lake, we wanted to reach the old city to shop for some Bandhani & Lehariya work before sun down.
We had as much as given up on visiting any monuments or tourist attractions because of the road restrictions and the late hour that we had ventured out, but we were in for a grand surprise!
No, I am not referring to the latest Imran Khan & Shruti Hassan starrer; I am referring to that inexplicable, off-chance that makes your trip memorable. Sometimes it is finding a great dhaba on a rainy, long drive, it could be some perfect weather or good lighting that helps your photography, or a quick-moving queue when u visit the Taj (the real thing, not the hotel) on a weekend.
For the three of us, that evening, it was finding ourselves here!
The gentleman on the ticket is Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar with the Phantom II Rolls Royce that was featured in the bond Movie ‘Octopussy’ that released in 1983. This museum is actually the garage of the royal family of Udaipur, and houses twenty vintage vehicles. Some of the best pics of that evening will now follow. Soak in the splendor of these vehicles and the opulence of the Maharaja lifestyle. Life really couldn’t get any better than this!
This is the royal coat of arms. Notice the sun above the two figures. The rulers of this place are considered to be ‘suryavanshi’. Loosely translated, it means, descendants of the Sun God.
Notice both the ‘R’s in the logo to the left are black in color. The original logo had both the letters in red. Apparently, after the death of one of the founders Charles Rolls (died on 12, July 1910 in a flying accident), one of the letter R’s in the logo was made black. The remaining one was colored black in 1933 after the death of Henry Royce. Queen Elizabeth and Jacqueline Kennedy sat in this vehicle when they visited India.
Under the hood!
This one had two red R’s in the logo. And was manufactured in 1924. Wonder if the tale is true?! I loved this one too; it won the ‘Best Maintained Car’ at one of the vintage car shows in Bombay.
Now for some American muscle.
Wish she was mine. I usually do not gush over a car/bike/plane/helicopter. But this one really stole my heart! Check out the black and white wheels too.
Tina caught between the two Mr. Morris’s!
I’m a gangsta - straight from flicks of the ’60’s!
...and to wrap ‘em up >>
The royal family today uses a few Mercs, Audis, etc. But nothing that beats these beauties!
28 July 2009
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Varanasi - a city of two tales
Posted By joseph
The city of Varanasi or Benaras (no relation to Ben’s arse as mistaken by a few British travellers in 1998) happens to be one of the world’s oldest cities. Yes, that’s right - the world’s oldest. So it is no wonder that this 3000 year old city also happens to be one of India’s major tourist destinations and the heartland of hippies high on happiness-inducing-substances.
To me, Varanasi is a city of two tales. No, not of Varuna and Assi, but of Now and Then.
Now: In the geographical core of Varanasi lies the city itself. Inhabited by the Benarasis of today, the Now of Varanasi is characterized by two full-fledged malls (IP and JHV with their own multiplexes), unholy amounts of dirt and garbage on the roads, enough cows on the road to make you shout “Holy Cow!” everytime your rickshaw brakes, traffic-jammed streets, tons of coaching institutes, big old universities teeming with “fashionable” students in their bright Bollywood-inspired clothes and the airport which holds the world record for the smallest conveyor belt in the world.
The Varanasi of Now belongs to the Benarasi who is drawn to the glamor of urban India and relates to the hectic lifestyle of the big cities but is still heartwarmingly simple enough to be awed by an escalator in a mall. The only public mode of transport is rickshaws and shared autos which ensure the feel of a small town remains intact in the looming presence of the “phoren” McDonalds and Pizza Huts.
The streets of Varanasi are mostly narrow which get narrower as you move down to the ghats. It is in these wide roads, in the modern part of Varanasi, that you see the true Benarasi while the oldest parts are filled with tourists. As a city, Varanasi does not have much to offer to the Indian tourist in terms of convenience - lacklustre roads, horrible traffic management, very few hangout spots etc. But what it lacks in convenience it more than makes up in character; foreigners who’ve known India to be a land of turban-ed bearded folks, with cows roaming on the roads and rickshaws being pulled by men will never be disappointed with Varanasi. Infrastructure development is painfully slow and there’s an overall reluctance to move on with the times. In the end, the Varanasi of Now is hell for the resident Benarasi but a delight for the tourist.
But a tourist’s true delight lies in the Varanasi of Then.
Then: This is the world that lies on the banks of the Ganga - the Ghats. The moment you step away from the city and into the narrow lanes leading to the Ghats, Varanasi transforms from 2009 to 1709, taking you back to an age when handcarts and feet were the best transport.
No car would fit into any of the narrow gallis that line the Ghats. It is easy to lose yourself in the labyrinthine cobbled streets, while finding a new discovery at every turn; an old swamy with matted hair, cowdung, a family staring at you for invading their privacy, little curios from centuries ago, people who’ve lived their entire lives from sundown to sunset watching the tourists go by, hoardes of Indians from everywhere in search of religion and faith…the discoveries never end. The gallis go on and on leading you further away from modern times to something that everybody who comes to Varanasi seeks…
Your first steps onto a Ghat will be nothing special, they’ll just be simple “steps”. You step down innumerable stairs and into the ganges. But then, the true beauty of the places sinks in when you walk along these steps. Most of the ghats hark back to the times of the kings and queens, each one named after a conqueror, a saint or a prophet. The build of the ghats seem impregnable and they have an eternal look to them. Built of pure stone in some places, the ghats seem to have weathered centuries of abuse, lasted millenia of stories and lives while remaining alive to tell us all the tale of what used to be.
Along the way you’ll find many temples, idols of all shapes and sizes for sale, german bakeries, japanese eateries, buddha lounges, coaching centres, dancing schools, music academies, pottery classrooms, happiness-inducing substances, saffron-clad beggars, “guesthouses”, massage parlours, music stores selling cassettes, jewellery stores, saree shops, copper art, electronics and much much more.
I spent 10 months in Varanasi but I think writing this post has taken longer than that.
For Varanasi, in a lot of ways, is a tale best untold. It is easy to crib about the dirt, the pollution, the apathy of the municipality and the localites, and it is all too easy to mock the foreigners shooting pictures of cows on roads and of sadhus performing their penances. But it is very very difficult not to be charmed by the place and the people. To realize that this is a life so far removed from what we see in our concrete jungles and yet so contemporary. A culture and environment that has taken millenia to build and sustain, and weather the storms of change…and stay true to the times still.
The people and the experiences of Varanasi taught me not to trust anyone (whether a rickshaw wallah or a filthy rich business lord) but at the same time to value the virtue of giving people the benefit of the doubt. A study in contrasts and a tale of two cities, Varanasi will forever be embedded in my memory. Lets catch up over a peaceful walk on the Ghats at 2AM to talk about it.
A nostalgic Joseph
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Fresh out of college, we were thrown into the dust bowls of U.P and the jungles of M.P. Sneaky trainees that we were, we took full advantage of the available resources to explore. Whether the pine trees of Almora or the ruins of Khajuraho, a Bhojpuri film shoot or some gun-laden, mustachioed dudes in the Chambal areas of Bhind - our travels always had added flavor!