Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Greek Spectacle!

All you the intrepid travellers, pull yourselves a chair and a cup of coffee.  I have a story that might interest you folks. Mid November 2015, I spontaneously agreed to a plan of traveling with my friends to GreeceStill new at my University, I was initially reluctant to go as it would mean that I would be away from work. In retrospect I am happy that I agreed to go ahead with the plan. Let's see on a map where we are travelling

(c) Google Maps 
So there I was on a cold Friday morning at Schipol International Airport at 6 am amidst tight security after the Paris bombings, trying to board a Transavia flight to Athens. Security conveniently took away my deodorant and hand cream. I guess they are ok with passengers smelling funny with chapped skin on their holidays. I was positively annoyed, emotions which echoed all the way to India. 
Anyway, soon it was adiós Amsterdam. I left behind the chilly winds and gloomy rainy skies for brighter pastures! Quite literally. Landing in Athens, it was like the Summer of '69! It was not like anything that I had seen before. An entire city in whitish - cream colour tones, sprinkled with little hillocks. Ah. So nice. In 3.5 hours, I was seeing more sun in one day than I had in the past 3 months of living in the Netherlands.

City of Athens
This is how the city looks from the oldest part of the town, Acropolis. Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel which houses many significant & great architectural remains, the most famous one being Parthenon, temple dedicated to the patron of Athens, Goddess Athena. The complex also houses The Old Temple of Athena and Erechtheion dedicated to  both Athena and Poseidon. The pillars are big and majestic, reaching out to the sky! I could only imagine the grandeur when it was originally constructed in 495 BC - 425 BC. 
(Major part of Parthenon is currently under restoration work.)

Old Amphitheatres
The gravity of western history came alive in front of my eyes as I walked up the steps of the Acropolis and observed the stone walls, each of which had seen more than 2000 years of thriving civilisation! It is not strange why Greece is called the cradle for western civilisation. A civilisation is of By the People, For the People, of the People. The sense of society and community gatherings is very strong as is evident from the multiple amphitheatres in the picture. Besides this their concept of opulent Gods with their benevolent nature is depicted in the way they construct their structures dedicated to them. 
"Strong, Awe - Inspiring, Imposing."

Well, all this you can surely read on any Wiki Travel page just like I did. But what I missed and you may as well is that that The Acropolis shuts down at 15.00 hrs. So it is a good idea to come with at least 3 - 4 hours to check out this place, preferably at the early hours of the day.
Unfortunately my group wasn't interested in going to the Acropolis Museum, which houses many excavated items from Athens area, so I missed spending some time there. However we did a little souvenir shopping and checked out beautiful streets of Plaka. It was beautiful to see orange trees in the middle of the road. In India, I have travelled miles to visit orange orchards! The entire city is nothing short of a museum in itself. We also grabbed a bite at a random eatery by the street, thankfully greek's prefer hot food over cold sandwiches. The Syntagma Square is the main city centre. It's beautiful with a central fountain, around which people are  enjoying themselves. Young boys practicing B'boying and acrobatics at the walls. We bought some chips sorta thing and peanuts to quell our hungry stomachs. This is the main connection point to the metro, city buses etc. 

City tip - Try not  to rush into the busy Athens metro or you might get left behind, just like I was when my friends boarded the metro. But then if you DO, do not panic! There's always a metro coming in 2 mins. All the locals who I have met in this trip have been great of help. They have given us the best possible advice in our times of uncertainty. 


Myth Busted - Greece is NOT not an inexpensive destination. It's as expensive as any other place in Europe, if not more. But, their beer is quite the value-for-money kind. tried Helix, Fix, Methòs for the pricing being anywhere between 1.5 - 2 euros for 750ml bottle. Their olives are best (Even though the major olive production has shifted to Italy). Be it as soap or simply oil, it's stealer price!

Next stop - flight to Santorini from Athens was a 20 min flight with Ryan Air. Santorini Airport is a military airport equipped with a simple scanner to check luggage and 2 coffee shops which sell snacks. 
Map of Santorini
The ride to Kartérados was in a local bus, which costs around 3 euros per person, and we where happy to find our hostess waiting at the bus stop to take us to our very own cave house! On our way she shared a popular local tale. Santorini was a pirate island! Capt. Barbados's ( a very famous pirate of his time) hidden treasure is located somewhere in the sea of Santorini. Still many people come in search of it! Many modern tales say that the lost world of Atlantis is nothing but a part of Santorini which went under water due to volcanic eruptions. At least on the internet there are many articles which agree with the story. All these stories just upped the charm of Santorini as a destination, but it was definitely the beauty of the place which definitely blew my mind away!

Santorini Views
Myth Busted - Santorini is not a place only for Honeymooners! I saw many more friend groups there, girl gangs and boys groupies than couples. It is a destination which can be both romantic and fun at the same time. Hence, I believe it is such a popular destination for weddings and lovers. All that matters when we travel are the people. Fortunately, I was in a good place! Such beautiful shades of blue and serenity, makes you want to believe that life is beautiful. 
Cruises to Volcano Island from Fira Old Port
Let's talk food! 

I found greek food very palatable, especially Moussaka and Greek Salad. Feta cheese is out of the world. I simply fell in love with the taste! To be honest, there were people in my group which did not like what they ate, but I have to say that most of the food isn't for those with traditional taste buds. The flavours are generally either bland or stronger than expected.

Greek Salad
While food kept us engaged, drinks were not far behind. The Vin Santo from Santorini is the most marvellous dessert wine I have ever tasted. Vin Santo is of course Italian, but is also locally grown here on the island. It's sweet and floral flavour makes you want more with each sip. The taste of older Vin Santo gets more syrupy, hence looses it's  wine like viscosity. We stepped into a store which were we tasted other wines as well, and it is common to find shipping facilities of these wines to your home country. Also there is Ouzo, famously compared to Vodka!

We visited three towns in the Santorini island - Kartérados, Oia, Imerovigli, of which I found Oiá most scenic. However the Imerovigli's AirBnB villa was the best. The view at night especially the falling star will be very memorable.

With the donkey obsession, finding Maggi in supermarket (Meri Maggi!), eating obscure dishes in name of food, to climbing 600 rocky steps in 10 minutes to catch the ferry to volcano island and hot sulphur spring, not to mention blink & you-will-miss moments to catch our flights; this trip was thoroughly eventful. 

A fitting summary would what I kept saying throughout this trip - "Too much drama in one trip!" To many more adventures ahead to unearth lost worlds, let this journey continue to far and beyond!

Here's a Trip Summary!
Concept Courtesy - Dipayan Sinha!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kerala : My account

2010 ending on a sweet note. This family trip was on the verge of cancellation due to my odd university schedules, which kept on changing. Anyhow on 16th December we set off flying to Munnar via Cochin.
For the first time we entered the much talked about, T3 terminal in Delhi's airport. I was awestruck to see the magnitude and "glamour" of the terminal.

While on flight, the Einstein's law of relativity was all over my mind. Everything seemed to shrink in size as we gained height. The sky was clear till we reached Hyderabad. After that there was all but clouds, clouds and clouds.Big small, straight, twisted...I was glued to the glass. As the plane moved through them, I shaked. In technical terms, there was "turbulence".After the miles of miles of clouds, The only colour that I could see was "green"
It looked like dopples of green pie pudding...coconut trees, trees I could not identify! such "green-ness", GOD!

Cochin airport is the quintessential, little and quite airport. The first thing to hit you is the pretty structure and the moist weather. Our co-travelers were mostly Gujrati NRI's and many Sabrimala worshipers, along with few delhi-ites.
Generally places which are much hyped about can be skeptical to visit! Kerela is one such place but when I visited one of the hotspots in Kerela, Munnar made me realise every word of why they call this state, “God’s own country”.

When we think of Kerela the first thing which comes to our mind is the laidback backwaters of the Arabian Sea and the house boats floating over them however, Munnar is a rather different taste in the mouth considering that it is famous for its tea gardens and idyllic locations amidst the green mountains.
Munnar, 6000ft above the sea level is located in the Idukki district, started off as an old British establishment with acres of tea plantation. The weather here is conducive to the growth of some of the best Quality of tea which is now exported abroad to Russia, turkey and many more. Once a quiet town Munnar has now become the centre of hustle bustle with tourists pouring from everywhere, India and Abroad.
This place is blessed with some brilliant natural scenery which is best described in two words- Mystic and Enrapturing. Mountains there look carpeted with a pattern in green, along with short stunted tea shrubs growing in a line.
All elements of nature are present in complete harmony, where the clouds glide over the waters and cover the mountains in mist. It is unlike any other sight to pass through a mountain passage with zero visibility because of the clouds and come out to clear scenic view on the other side; it’s just like magic created from nature wand!
Munnar literally means the confluence of three rivers, ‘mun’ meaning three and ‘nar’ Meaning River in Malyalam. It has a huge christen population, so there are many quaint looking churches every 50 mts. The beauty of munnar lies in old British styled bungalows and waterfalls which stand testimony to the huge amount of rain received by this part of the country.
 With 80,000 acres of land, Tata tea is the largest tea manufacturer there along with tea estates of RPG and some others. However the main attraction is the “world’s highest grown orthodox tea garden” located on the other side of the Kolkkumalai mountains. This freshly grown tea is still manufactured manually and was set up far back in 1938. The pleasure of sipping hot spicy tea amidst the mountain chill is something MasterCard can’t buy! 
The other every important item of interest is the “spices”.  With a huge variety of locally grown spices, Munnar offers a big treat for those who love the smell and taste of spice. There are also many spice factories by the highway which offers a variety of curry powders to cook almost any dish in the world! Cardamom, pistachio, turmeric and so many more, the stores selling such spices are heady with their fragrance. One can actually walk into the in numerous spice gardens as they are just by the road.
Considering the amount of rain received, there are many rivers and lakes in and around munnar. The Anayirankal dam nearby is one of the world’s only dam to be only made from earthen material, devoid of cement.
The view of the mountains there on a full moon night is a romantics dream. The momentum of the clouds carry you along with them into a world of their own, where the moon is the queen and mortals only gape at its beauty! The madhupatty dam too is a huge attraction with boating facilities available. The lake there is huge and surrounded by lot greenery, pasture lands and clouds.
The Rajamalai national park is the home to the endangered Nilgai and also a unique flower which blooms every 12 years and turns the entire mountain, mauve. It also has the Annamalai mountain peak which is the highest in the whole of south East Asia.
Commercialization has taken over this place however the bustle too has a different charm.
To talk about the food, malayali food is a must try. Not much dominated with the coconut milk like the usual south Indian cuisine; this food is rich in taste of the spices used and has a wide variety of non vegetarian delicacies. Malabar parantha is a must have. The homemade chocolates are a huge crowd puller along with the great bakeries bringing back the old world charm.
At night there are many places which organise a brilliant Kathakali and Kalyaripattu performance which are a great form of entertainment. It gives us an insight into the rich traditions and dance forms which have emerged to express human emotions rather explicitely! Kaliyaripattu is age old tradition which is the mother of all martial arts originating here. It has a huge influence of animal movements in its acts and is a tough art to master involving 4 major stages of mastery. There is a lot of wildlife around munnar, with packs of elephants strolling by resorts every now and then gives tourists a rather unique thrill!
The weather there is decent with not much of a chill, with temperatures ranging anything between 0 degree to 25 degree Celsius. What is surprising is the play of the clouds stay up in the sky or come down as they wish...
Munnar has something to offer for everyone with different taste, looking for a great experience of southern hospitality. Munnar takes away ones breathe with its beauty, serenity and comfortable weather. This place is warm and welcoming, so why travel abroad when there is so much to see in India?


Certain endings are absolutely wonderful. Certain days, when for once you feel that you have completely lived every moment! 31.12.2011 was one such day!

My day started early with Home visit. One true-ly heart to heart conversation.
For a few days we'v been planning to visit the Red fort and Old delhi. Somehow, due to time issues even till the last moment I wasn't sure if I could actually be able to make it. However with my mother's consent, (who agreed readily), I met my friends and headed for Chadni Chowk.

This is one place which mystifies me. Soo many people, It seems the World Lives here! Literally! Chadni Chowk is crowded but it molds you into itself.

Cunning Hawkers trying to get hold of you.. " Saari, lehenga, suit.. madam ji? , Saahi daam, Saahi kaam!" you want to run away from them, yet it's this experience which bewilders you! Tch Tch~

Red fort is Big. However, restoration, damage has probably left only 20% of this fort for viewing. Much of it I had already seen before, so this time it was more about reliving those memories and learning new facts!

The history, architecture and science behind these monuments of epic proportion is indeed brilliant. They make old sound glorious and history sound fun!

 As always, these monuments are filled with all kinds of tourist.
Foreigners trying to get a grab of Indian-ness.

Lovers, trying to get some seclusion midst historic ruins. Talk about 'epic love stories' !!

Random loners - yes, we spotted quiet a few of them who were just strolling in the Mughal gardens as if it were the verandah of their homes. And believe it or not, they had ear phones plugged into their ears.
Jeez! Why did you come all the way inside the fort for a stroll? :O

 The worst ofcourse are those who like to leave their mark in historic monuments with signs like heart and arrow. Engraving their pseudo lovers name into age old sand stones!

* Lets keep our monuments clean guys! *
The royalty is over whelming. We friends who were there to spend some quality time away from the malls and closer to 'real dilli' found Red fort quiet a party spot. Just think--- it would be a sucha 'cool' place to live in!

If you had the Yamuna still flowing within the red fort, maybe you could take a boat over to your friends house. All of us could fit in that throne in the pictures. (you see, size does matter here! After all we'r the kings of our lives )

For some thing that I felt whilst in red fort, We need to restore the old glory of the history that we so boast about..
It was pathetically missing in the search. Glory. It is sad to see the condition of some parts of the fort. The architecture of this treasure house can easily blow off people's mind, but probably the Vision is clearly missing. With little efforts to beautify the space one can surely be awestruck!

Anyhow, up next was the National War Museum. Wow, such were the weapons and the anorexic figures on display! Indeed the collection is huge, primarily filled with British era mementos. The display definitely kept me engaged as I tried to look through the multitude of people who thronged the place!

Ofcourse Chadni Chowk is about the multitude of people trying to fit into tiny planes. Then it is also about co-coexistence! Where else would you find a gurudwara, church, Masjid and Temple in a single row... 

It is also about shady movie halls screening C grade 'ethic' flicks!  Notice the picture above, and the movie - 'Kartavya'!
That was the morning session. The night had much more excitement in store! 
previously on the way to Manali earlier this year we had spotted a few promising dhabas on the Karnal road. So my parents and I drove around 65-70 kms one way upto the 'Pahalwan Dhaba' to enjoy some paranthas and home made butter!
The drive is killer as the roads are very smooth, crisp and not much of traffic. Thankfully we did not have any fog to deter the speed. Driving at a cool 90-100 km/hr range we reached there by dinner time. We gorged on  Gobi, mixed and aloo pyaz parantha topped with oddles to White butter. 
I drool as I speak! 
The Dal Makhni and Paneer were great accompaniments and the Halwa, Kheer completely made dinner a gourmet affair!

Overall, as I mentioned earlier, the last day of the year was well spent. With a heady dose of old Delhi topped with a drive down to exciting food, it brought 2011 to a great closure! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Places I Must go before I die...

"Who knows where I will be tomorrow." I like that statement. Not that I am fan of the vagabond, yet the certain uncertainty would be much welcome. For a long time, I was planning to make a list of the places that I would want to visit before the inevitable end...

Towards creating an unending list of global footprint. Here it starts...(Just a mental order of my exotic dreams!)

1) Egypt : Don't need to say much, It's my childhood dream. Since my days Egyptian lore...I have wanted to be in this ancient civilization.

2) Italy : Florence, and the Sicilian countryside. Read about it too many no. of times in the Dan Brown, Inferno. And the fabled land of the Italian Mafia. Visiting Sicily will be a way to relive my Godfather days!

3) Middle East :

a) Turkey : Istanbul - Food. Culture. Tea..I need not say more.
b) Cyprus : The great Mediterranean.
c) Greece : The history, needless to say the hoopla about food and Socrates.

4) Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The largest Hindu temple and Buddhist complex, amidst deep set forests!

5) Not a big fan of third world countries, yet I would like to set into the reaches of Afghanistan. Hopefully the Taliban, will allow me unhindered.

6) England, Scotland and Ireland : The Great Britain, All hail for the Englishman. ( I must say, that I do speak English well than any other language probably)

7) Scandinavian Countries : All of them I guess. They are an unique culture set in a cold summer.

8) Paris : French Romance and fragrance. I have seen the Eiffel Tower too many many times on TV etc. It doesn't hold much excitement for me!

9) Natural History Museum,USA. I am history Buff. Don't judge me.

.....(to be Continued)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rishikesh: A glimpse at nature's fury

"Travelling puts life in perspective. "
My recent trip to Rishikesh did exactly the same. We ought to understand the workings of time. And rest leave it to the universe to show the way. A sudden outbreak of monsoon in Uttarakhand, left the entire state grappling under nature's fury. As nature struck with all its might, the otherwise calm Ganga (often referred as Jeevan Dayani Maa, "life giver") swept away everything in its path. Not even sparing the pious, holy shrine Kedarnath. I thought to myself, how is that we continue to think ourselves superior to the Universe's will. How juvenile. We don't understand that the Law of Causality is always working. Anyhow, Lo and Behold.

These pictures were clicked on Monday, in Rishikesh. It was the day when the waters broke all records. Uttarakhand was under water. Literally. Holy or not, there was no discrimination made by the waters. Called as the Himalayan Tsunami was a sight I would never forget. The incessant rain but the never die spirit of people have left an indelible mark. One had to be there to empathize. My Mother and I had quite an experience. My heart goes out to all those who din't survive, but they fulfilled their mission of this life. In their memory, we must create a space for better co-dependence.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Rishikesh - Coming close to Ganga

My sojourn with the Ganges continues...

This winter break my family, friend and I made a quick tour to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. Rishikesh is the hub of all things 'Hindu'. Closer to god or shall I say, the spirit, the Ganga flows through the various turns at a pristine pace. One can catch the rapids for white water rafting, however I found myself taking an inward journey this time. Enjoying recitation of Vedic Mantra(s) and Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Ghat, while the sun set on the banks of the Ganga instilled in me a distinct feeling of calmness. 

The suspended 'Ram Jhula' takes one from the busy markets of consumer satisfaction to the 'other' side of the town predominated by Ashrams. Here one shops for the soul! Understands the various facets of Hinduism more closely. Of course the presence of menacing monkeys and holy cows is the added feature, but no one seems to mind!

Thousands of devotees from all over the country (though I found Bengali's a bit too many in attendance) soaking in the 'spiritual vatavaran'...

While, I was quite done with only the flat flowing Ganga, so we traveled higher up to 6000ft to reach Tehri ahead of Chamba in Garhwal. The Tehri Dam is one of the highest Hydel power plants in the world capable of producing 2000MW of electricity of the Northern Grid. Very few of us get a chance to enter the actual power plant, built inside an entire mountain, so I consider myself lucky. This was actually my second time inside a Hydel project, but the excitement was no less. 

The actual Tehri town is underwater, under the catchment water. Tehri is like India's very own 'lost city - Atlantis'.

The ganga which flows through the gangetic plains of India is a combination of various tributaries like the alakananda, bhagirathi, saraswati to name a few. What starts from the Gangotri Glacier is just a part of the concoction. Probably one shouldn't say...but I can liken The Ganges to a mock tail of sorts. Different flavors and colors mixing to finally create a heady concoction.

This holy river has been mentioned in the Vedas which dates back thousands of years. Not only it has mothered an entire civilization, it still continues to be the reason of great joy to millions of devotees who come to her to find solace in life and death. 

She is a mystic. A source of power from ancient ages, as man continues to find different ways to use her.