Trip down memory lane

In the beginning of 2019, my parents shifted base to Kolkata. Which meant selling off our house in Jamshedpur, the place which will always remain my home. This was a difficult decision but we had to play along because this was the best thing to do given that my parents are getting older.

So when my mother told me that we had some unfinished business to take care of in Jamshedpur, I immediately leapt at the idea.

Going back to Jamshedpur was quite important for me also because this time I had my yet-to-be-5 months old-son who accompanied us. Though he would not remember anything about this trip, it was important for me to take him to the place I called home.

My uncle came to pick us up from the railway station and during the drive he was updating us on the changes. I was already feeling like we don’t belong to the city anymore.

On the first day we finished the work for which we were visiting. The next day we decided to visit our home (which of course was not ours anymore). As soon as I asked the autowala to take a left turn to enter our lane my heart sunk. My head was flooded with many questions (where are we going to ask the autowala to stop? What would have happened to our house? How will I feel seeing our own house?). But I put my head to rest and tried keeping myself calm until I saw what has become of our house. It’s now a 4 storey house and almost nothing is similar to what we had left behind.

Labourers were still finishing the paint work. I gathered some courage and entered the premises and looked around to see if I can still find a corner which seemed familiar. I wanted to click a picture of my baby there. And I was lucky, the ground floor veranda was same. Clicked a quick picture. One of the labourers asked me if there is something he can help with, and with a heavy voice I said this was our home and we were just walking around. He smiled as I guess he understood.

We met the neighbours who greeted us well and we met ‘dai’. She was our house-help and has always been family. She was so happy to see us and my baby. We talked endlessly and it was finally time to say a final goodbye to the ‘bank colony’ (which is what our neighbourhood was referred as).

Jamshedpur is home because of our house and also because of my uncles and aunts. All of them made us feel special, treated us with good food and warmth.

I am writing this on our train journey back to Kolkata. Thinking about the whole trip and putting the memories in a pensieve (reference Harry Potter/Prof Dumbledore) for later while my baby is looking out of the window awestruck.

This was my baby’s first train journey and to the place which will always remain home!

Exploring street art in the by-lanes of Lodhi Colony

We were heading towards Lodhi Garden, but then I suddenly remembered about the street art video I came across on YouTube recently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYhPCRDgnzE). I have always liked the idea of street art. Had chanced upon a couple of them in Mumbai during one of my visits. Hence we took a detour and drove towards Lodhi Colony instead.

We drove through Meherchand market but couldn’t find any murals initially.  We kept driving, got into lanes and finally found two pieces of wall art, one was being worked upon. Now that we had tasted blood we drove further, parked our car and then started exploring the neighborhood on foot.

Slowly the beautiful art work unfurled before us as we walked between Khanna and Meherchand markets in the lanes and by-lanes of Lodhi colony. To me, it seemed like we were in a wonderland where fictitious characters came to life!

I had seen the wall art showcasing a hawker selling balloons in the YouTube video so I kept insisting on walking until we find this particular artwork. And finally, we found it!

02d82898-b292-4ef7-8265-ce447140d2ff

The Lodhi Art District, as the Lodhi Colony area called, is a project undertaken by St+art India (https://st-artindia.org/), an NGO established in 2014 by several artists. The first edition of the art festival took place in 2016 when more than 20 artists from India and from all over the world displayed their art on the walls of Lodhi Colony. This year the festival was called ‘Lodhi Art Festival’ and was scheduled between mid- January to mid- March.

The Lodhi Art District is an open exhibition of beautiful art work, a visual treat for all onlookers, passersby, photographers, tourists and the residents. Termed as India’s first open air art district, the best part of this place is its accessibility.

The Lodhi Art District has a mix of colorful and subtle art work, all of them a part of a narrative. There was a piece for every individual, something each one could relate to. I wished the artists were around so that I could talk to them and get to know more about their art. But it was also fun putting my imagination to work.

By the end of the tour I was reminded about Delhi’s beauty and charm!

 

Gateway to two pilgrim destinations Kishangarh!

The ghats around Pushkar Lake

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Thank God both my partner and I see what we see. I travel to make memories, rejuvenate and feed my inner soul!

Since we had to plan a quick trip for the weekend, most of the places in the ‘to cover’ list which were further away had to be crossed out. By the end, we were only left with Kishangarh (Pushkar and Ajmer). I have always wanted to experience the Pushkar fair. Since it happens every year around November, we were not too sure if we should plan a trip now in February. Nonetheless, we went ahead with our plans. And, we did not regret our decision!

Rajasthan, to me, is all about colours, vibrancy, music, forts, tales and the people! I have covered many parts of the region. Had done a family trip to Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur back in 2012. Had traveled to Udaipur on New Year’s Eve in 2016. Have visited Jaipur multiple times. Been to Bharatpur Sanctuary too. Kishangarh was my seventh destination within Rajasthan.

Kishangarh is a city in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. The city also known as Marble City of India, is famous for a special kind of painting called ‘Bani Thani’. There are many tales about this style of painting which originated from Kishangarh. While there are quite a few things to see in Kishangarh, like the Kishangarh Fort, Nepheline Syenite, National Geological Monument, Nine Planets Temple, we decided to head straight to our stay (which was closer to Pushkar/Ajmer and around one hour away from the airport) as soon as we landed in Kishangarh. Before the Kishangarh airport was built, people had to travel to Pushkar and Ajmer by road which was time-consuming. People either directly traveled to Pushkar or flew to Jaipur and then traveled more than 100 kms to reach Pushkar/Ajmer.

On our way to the resort

We stayed at a beautiful ‘Ananta Spa and Resort’, which was surrounded by hills and hence had a picturesque view in the backdrop. We were quite happy with the place. The rooms were spacious, comfy and clean.

The next morning we set off for Pushkar city which was just 4 kms away from our resort. Pushkar is in the central part of Rajasthan and on the western side of the Aravalli Mountains. The city is known for its annual fair, which is the largest camel, horse and cattle fair in India and maybe the world. Every year traders, tourists, pilgrims and locals flock to the city in the month of October/November. Supposedly the Pushkar fair alone attracts over 200,000 visitors every year.

Just another day for me!

Pushkar is also famous for its temples. The most significant one in the city is the Temple of Lord Brahma. It is one of the very few existing temples dedicated to the Hindu creator, Lord Brahma in India and remains the most prominent among them. The Brahma Temple has many mythological tales about its origin. We heard a few interesting ones from the locals.

Next, we visited the Savitri Mata temple. This temple is located at the top of the Ratnagiri Hill and is dedicated to Savitri, the wife of Lord Brahma. One would need to use either the cable car or the steps to reach the temple. You get a beautiful view of the city from the hill. There is an interesting mythological story behind its origin. It goes like – once, Lord Brahma was performing a yagna on the bank of the Pushkar Lake where the presence of his wife (Savitri) was required. But because she was late in arriving, Brahma married another girl (Gayatri) to complete this ritual on time. When Savitri arrived, she was upset to see someone else in her place and in her anger she cursed everyone present there. Later, she went to the Ratnagiri hills to atone for her deeds. The temple was hence constructed in her remembrance.

View from Savitri Mata Mandir

Next on our list was the beautiful Pushkar Lake, one of the most prominent spots of pilgrimage. The beauty of the lake is because of the ghats surrounding it. There is a total of 52 ghats around the lake. Out of the 52 ghats used by pilgrims to take a holy dip, 10 important ghats on the periphery of the lake, have supposedly been declared as ‘Monuments of National Importance’. It was a beautiful experience to witness the serene, calm atmosphere at the lake, with devotees offering prayers, taking holy dips, birds silently making their way in the stunning blue and bright sky.

Pushkar Lake

We then headed back to our resort and decided to relax for the rest of the day but only after we had our share of mouth-watering Rajasthani food. We were quite ambitious and thought we had the appetite to devour a whole Rajasthani thali. But we were wrong! The most common Rajasthani food are ‘Besan Gatte ki Sabji’, ‘Daal Bati Churma’, ‘Laal Maas’, ‘Rajasthani Kadhi’, ‘Ker Sangri’ and our thaali had it all and more!!!

img-1281.jpg

On the last day, we checked out and headed to Ajmer, one of the oldest cities in Rajasthan. Ajmer is famously known for the ‘Ajmer Dargah’, the Mayo College and its lakes. We stopped at the Ana Sagar Lake which is spread over 13 kms and is the biggest in the city. The lake is surrounded by hills which makes it visually attractive.

Ana Sagar Lake - Ajmer

On our way to the airport, we stopped over at the Nareli Jain Temple. It is a complex comprising of 14 temples built recently. It is known for its architecture and intricate stone carvings which gives it both a traditional yet contemporary look.

Nareli Jain Temple

Though Pushkar and Ajmer are mostly destinations for pilgrims, I think it has something for all travelers. I am not a very religious person but what my grandmother once told me made a difference. I remember I used to make faces whenever she asked us to accompany her to the temples. But one day she told me that I need not visit the temples for any religious sentiment but may visit it for its tales, architecture, views etc. That definitely made sense to me!

Kerala is alive and kicking!

Trips which are not planned are the best because the whole process then becomes about discovering!! And, we just went with the flow – booked our tickets last minute, booked a hotel a week before leaving and we were all set…to visit Kerala (Kochi)! Honestly, we were a little unsure if we should visit Kochi after the devastating floods but, we were pleasantly surprised to see the city so alive!! By the end of the trip we were quite happy with our decision.

Cochin, another name for Kochi means “like-China”. When the Chinese migrated there in the 14th century, they thought that the region resembled China and therefore they named it Cochin. We were quite intrigued by the history of this city. It was invaded time and again by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and finally by the British. It was not just the invaders, but because the city was an important spice trading center, it was also often visited by the Arabs, the Jews and the Chinese. The city thus has had an influence of many cultures.

We arrived at Kochi on a Saturday morning and took a cab directly from the airport to Fort Kochi (which was 1.5 hours away from the Kochi airport). Infact, we were ferried to Fort Kochi while we were in the cab. This was quite fascinating! The name ‘Fort Kochi’ is derived from ‘Fort Emmanuel’ which was the first Portuguese fort built in Asia in that area.  But we could hardly see any remains of the Fort now.

That's how we were ferried to the other side

We stayed at the Towerhouse (a Neemrana property) located at the Vasco da Gama (Fort Kochi) square and that’s where you get the best view of the famous Chinese nets that were introduced during the 14th century. After settling down, we picked up the map and zeroed down on places we wanted to visit. Though local transport was easily available, we decided to walk around Fort Kochi. The weather was lovely and every place we wanted to visit was approximately 1-2 kms away.

Since it was a three days trip we decided to stay in Kochi and not venture elsewhere. People advised us to travel to Munnar, Alleppey, etc but we decided not to. There is a lot you can do in Kochi.

So here is my take on what you should not miss during a visit to Kochi:

  1. Trying the local food and cafes – We tried a variety of food during our stay and everything was just perfect. We tried the fish wrapped in banana leaf with rice at a local restaurant at Fort Kochi. We tried some lip smacking biryani at Kayees Rahmathullah near Mattacherry area. Kashi Art Café (at Fort Kochi) had a great vibe. As you enter you will find a lot of interesting artefacts. On another day we discovered this small but cozy café named Fusion Bay, which served local food. We were so hungry and ended up finishing everything we ordered. We left the place with a big smile. This place is a must visit!Local food
  2. Visiting the Kerala Kathakali centre – if you want to get introduced to Kathakali as a dance form (an important part of Kerala culture) then this place is a must visit. It was a great experience for us. The intricate make-up was done right in front of us. We were also given a translation of the story which was presented that night and it helped us understand and enjoy the performance better. It was an overwhelming experience!
  3. Taking the ferry ride/boat jetty to Ernakulam – Although it was a nightmare because we had to stand in a long queue for almost 1.5 hours to buy the tickets, by the end of the ride I realized it was all worth it. The sunset, the waves, the glimpse of the INS ‘Vikramaditya’ made it worthwhile. It was all so serene. Serene views
  4. Indulge in some shopping – Since Kochi has been at the center of Indian spice trade, spice shopping is a must!! We bought some very aromatic spices from the local spice market at whole sale price. Most of the spices are grown in Kerala so there is no way you can miss the spice shops. We also picked up some Kerala cotton sarees from Jayalakshmi (located at MG road in Ernakulam). Spice shop
  5. Witnessing fishermen at work – While walking around the streets, we also spent some time watching fishermen at work. They were using the Chinese fishing nets for fishing. Fishermen at work
  6. Getting to know the city by visiting the museums – There are quite a few museums in the city. We visited three –
    • The Mattancherry Palace (which is also a museum) – The Palace was built and gifted by the Portuguese to the king of Cochin around 1555. The Dutch carried out some expansions and renovations in the palace in 1663, and thereafter it was popularly called the Dutch Palace. This was the best museum because it had a lot to offer- information about the history of Kerala and its people, wildlife, culture, handloom, architecture and murals.
    • Indo-Portuguese museum – located inside the Bishop house. We got to see some old maps of Kerala which is of historical and geographical importance. This museum also showcased the Portuguese influence on the city.
    • Indian Naval Maritime museum – As we entered the gate, a gentleman told us that two sturdy bunkers to store arms and ammunition (built by the British) were after many years converted into this museum . While this museum showcased a lot of information about the Indian navy, do not miss the documentaries screened inside. You get to learn a lot about the Indian navy’s glorious past.
  7. Visiting churches, synagogue, beaches – During our stay we also visited many other touristy places. I’m listing down some of the names here.
    • Cherai Beach located on the northern tip of the Vypin island
    • Paradesi Synagogue
    • Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica – The Dutch invaded and conquered Cochin in 1663. All Catholic buildings were supposedly destroyed but the St. Francis Church and the Cathedral were spared. The Dutch made the cathedral their arms storehouse. Later it fell into the hands of the British who demolished it when they took over Cochin in 1795. One of the decorative granite pillars of the destroyed Cathedral is still kept as a monument at the Basilica premises.
    • St. Francis Church – The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.
    • Jewish cemetery and Dutch cemetery – Although you won’t be able to enter the cemeteries but you can definitely get a glimpse from outside.

Suddymoody tips

  • Try getting an Ayurvedic healing massage – During my search for good Spas I came across some names which might be useful to you – The Fort Ayurveda spa, at the Fort House hotel in Fort Kochi, Ayurville, Agastya Ayurveda Massage and Wellness Center on Princess Street. I did not try any of them so please do your research well before going for a massage.
  • Visit Spice bazaar on Broadway. Broadway is opposite to marine drive (Ernakulam). Though you will find spice market in Fort Kochi area, those might be expensive. Jew town also has a Spice market.
  • Do go for the ferry/jetty rides but to avoid long queues make sure that it’s not a national holiday or during peak hours when people use ferries to commute the most!