Thursday, November 19, 2009

And one trip led to another..

I spent an unexpected four days in Shimla this September. I ventured into the northern parts of the country for the first time. I saw the capital city for the first time. I saw the Himalayas and snow-capped peaks for the first time. Here's how it happened.
Club Mahindra announced a travelogue contest called 'My Trip of a Lifetime'. The link was passed around quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook and managed to grab my attention on the last day of the contest. I sent in my write up of the Valparai trip along with the pictures I took there. Going by the track record of how my luck has fared in contests like these, I conveniently forgot about it until the results came out. I was pleasantly surprised and deliriously happy of course! This meant more travel, more photography and meeting more people. It also meant that I had to convince my manager to let me go for a full work week. 



Luck still played along as I worked out my leaves and headed out on this journey. Also traveling from Bangalore were contest judges Lakshmi Sharath, a travel writer and Arun Bhat, a photographer and travel writer. The other two winners, Kanchuki and Kongkona joined us in the Delhi airport. Three other judges, Cdr. Satyabrata Dam, a renowned mountaineer, Arun Nair, the editor of Clay and Kiruba Shankar, a blogger and columnist joined us in the Delhi bus station where we boarded an overnight bus to Shimla.


The Club Mahindra Whispering Pines Gables resort is located on top of a vantage point with a lush view of the valley in Mashobra, 15 kms from Shimla. The sunrise that greeted us on the first morning there made sure that I woke up at 5.30 every chilly cold morning just to catch a glimpse of it. And shoot tons of pictures. And look for incredibly tiny, beautiful birds making merry in the golden light. And drool over the mesmerizing view. 



This trip also turned out to be one where I ate. A lot. Starting from the delicious and mouth watering breakfast spread, proceeding to lunch and a scrumptious dinner, I only ate, ate and ate. The sous chef Vikas personally ensured that we were being over-fed and his able group of stewards never let a plate go empty or a cup run dry. I particularly recall Balwinder, who was omnipresent. You just had to look up from your plate and he would appear out of nowhere, offering you more food. The resort manager Monish pulled all strings to ensure that our stay went well. Overnight camping trips, hosted dinners, barbeque in the lawn, packed breakfast boxes for an early morning outing, he took care of everything.



When I took breaks from eating, I did travel around Shimla. The group went to Kasauli the second day. A quiet little town, other than the customary mandir and market, there's nothing else to do or see. The third day took us to Chail, which more than made up for the first day. Chail is a quaint little town with a very old-world charm, partly because there is a ban on new constructions. Long walks in the amazing weather, lunch at the Chail palace, some lovely bird sightings (Eurasian Jay in particular) and walking around the highest cricket ground in the world .. we did it all. We camped out one night. When sweaters, rugs and sleeping bags didn't give any respite from the biting cold winds, we turned to raucous singing well into the wee morning hours. Tributes to Hemant Kumar, Rafi, Kishore and Lata ended with a grand finale of Govinda's 'Tujhe mirchi lagi to main kya karoo.' We trekked back to the resort through the hills in the morning and met an old shepherd who sat with his sheep and a dog in a beautiful meadow. In the evenings we walked up and down the Mall road, eating corn and kulfi and also made a couple of trips to India Coffee House. The visit to the Viceregal Lodge, which I blogged about earlier was memorable. 



The return day journey from Shimla to Delhi gave me a first hand experience of road-travel up north. The lush landscapes of Punjab, massive highways, the lovely city of Chandigarh and New Delhi of course. I am yet to see a city as massive and well-planned as Delhi. The infrastructure took me by surprise and I invariably kept comparing it to Bangalore. 



So, this is how one trip led to another. The best memories of this trip will no doubt be the breathtaking landscapes of the Himalayas. However, I will mostly remember this trip for the people I met and spent time with.
The journey continues. Till we meet again... 


P.S. The pictures I took at Shimla are on my Flickr account. You can view them here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Viceregal Lodge - Shimla

The Viceregal Lodge in Shimla was formerly the residence of the British Viceroy, Lord Dufferin.



One of the most beautiful buildings of Shimla, this Victorian-styled structure was designed by the British architect Henry Irwin.



Construction began in 1880 and was completed in 1888. It served as the headquarters of the country during the summer months from March to October.



It was the first government building to have electricity, with an internal wiring system at that. The futuristic architect also made provisions for an elevator to be installed. Most of the upholstery and furniture in the building have been retained for all these years.



The sprawling lawns conceal a rain water harvesting system beneath them, which is being used till date. The lawns and gardens are well-kept and house a vast variety of flora and fauna.



Crucial meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah were held in this room here during the Indian Independence struggle.



Negotiation papers during the Partition were prepared here, on this very table.



After independence, the building became a part of the estate of the President of India and was renamed as 'Rashtrapati Niwas'.



In 1965, Dr Radhakrishnan established the Indian Institute of Advanced Study here. It is a residential center for research in humanities and social sciences.



The pillars and walls of this building have witnessed events of historical importance. The structure is elegant and regal in every sense and is a must-see for anyone who visits Shimla.

Friday, July 10, 2009

When I Saw God in Valparai...

I recently returned to the city after a 5 day photography workshop and expedition in the Anamalais range of the Western Ghats. From the very first minute into the trip, I've been making mental notes on how to describe this trip to friends and family and also how to draft a write up for my blog. However, the entire experience of the trip has left me completely out of words. Yet, here I am, making an attempt to describe my experience, fully aware that I will not be able to do enough justice. This is a detailed account of the expedition and I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed re-living the trip by writing this.

I started planning this trip a few months ago when I came across a mention of this expedition on Kalyan Varma's website. I have been an avid follower of Kalyan's photography, his LJ and his sites. I knew that I would never be able to forgive myself if I let go of an opportunity to travel in the jungles of the Western Ghats and also learn the art of photography from Kalyan himself. Having nominated myself for the trip, Kalyan's email on the finalized dates came as an alert to me as I was yet to purchase an SLR for the trip. Based on Kalyan's suggestion, I landed at Jayesh Mehta's store and purchased my Nikon D90. This is also the only time ever that blowing up my bank balance brought me so much happiness :)
I left for Coimbatore on the night of 18th with my camera equipment and all my rain gear packed up. Since this trip was going to be with a group of people I had never met before, I had received ample amount of warnings and suggestions from family and friends on how to be safe and how to judge people (my failure rate is quite high with this judging part!). I know their intentions were in my best interest, but once I got back, I ensured to tell each one of them about the people I met there and how they got worried unnecessarily. One of the participants in the expedition, Sumeet, traveled in the same bus as me. Kalyan picked us up personally from Coimbatore. After a quick stopover for breakfast at Pollachi, where we met Dilan Mandanna (Mandy) and the rest of the group, we were headed to our destination - Valparai in the Anamalais range.

You can check my Flickr account to see photographs from this trip.

Day -- 1
Driving through the well-laid TN state highways, Kalyan mentioned that he has made a list of 12 Hotshots which are the most special species from the Anamalai hills. Our job was to spot and photograph each one of them. We were around the 4th hairpin bend when we spotted a hunting party (mixed flock) and a mighty Crested Hawk Eagle in the dry bushes. The Scarlet Minivet was the first Hotshot we spotted there. Up on the 9th hairpin bend, we got off the vehicles to look for the endangered Nilgiri Tahr which has made these grassy peaks its home. We were lucky to spot two adults and a calf high up on the hill, however, the distance didn't let us photograph them. But luck got luckier when we spotted two adult Tahrs engaged in a mock fight bang in the middle of the road. They gave us some lovely poses and the happy group clicked away. We also managed to provide some entertainment to the locals sitting by the roadside who must have thought we were crazy to photograph animals they see on a daily basis. How I wish they knew they were really lucky to see these endangered endemic species in their habitat every single day.




The endangered Nilgiri Tahr graze on the side of the road with traffic passing by..

Other Hotshots we spotted on the way up were the Indian Giant Squirrel, the Nilgiri Langur and the critically endangered endemic primates - Lion Tailed Macaque (LTMs as they are lovingly called). The fact that we could spot 5 Hotshots even before we reached Valparai gave us an idea of how rich the biodiversity of this land is. We also spotted a group of female Gaur on the way up. A couple of road kills on the way were stark reminders of the human invasion of their habitat. One of the road kills was a Pit Viper and was a part of the Hotshots list.
The beautifully laid out tea estates covered with mist and clouds add to the beauty of these hills. They are also the reason why the forests have been cut short in these parts. As much as these tea estates add to the beauty of the valley and bring in revenue, they have destroyed the forests here. Forest patches have also been replaced by Eucalyptus plantations, which again bring in money. They do not suit any animals or birds. Animals are forced to interact with humans in such habitats and human-animal conflicts almost always result in some kind of loss for both parties.

40 hairpin bends up, and we were in Valparai. The group was put up in rustic English bungalows in the middle of the beautiful Parry Agro tea estate. The bungalows were over 70 years old and well managed. They also had the best cooks and care-takers. In the days to come, we realized how rich the estate was in terms of the bird population there. The birds we spotted in the estate during the length of the trip were - Malabar Whistling Thrush, White Cheeked Barbet, Lesser Coucal, Oriental Magpie Robin, Red Whiskered Bulbul, Common Myna, Common Hill Myna, Plum Headed Parakeet, Flame Backed Woodpecker and the Streak Throated Woodpecker.



A bungalow and surrounding view in the Parry Agro estate..

After a yummy lunch and a much needed nap, we headed out to visit a rain forest restoration plot created and managed by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF). NCF has invested a lot of time and effort in restoring forest plots to assist animal movement in these hills. We met Divya, Sridhar and Anand who shared with us a world of knowledge about rain forest plants and their relationship with the animals there. We spotted some birds that evening - Malabar Grey Hornbill, Rufous Babbler and Malabar Parakeets. We also saw a Barking Deer in the distance.

My first day in Valparai also brought in my first ever encounter with the infamous Leeches which are widely prevalent in these rain forests. My first reaction to a leech trying to climb up my ankle was total panic and fear. Someone from the group gallantly pulled it off and then I turned into an over-cautious leech inspector. We were armed with leech socks for the next two days and eventually I just stopped worrying about them. I am proud (and not so proud) to say that I didn't get a single leech bite throughout the trip. Though I suspect they didn't like my blood, I should also give myself enough credit for always brushing them off at the right time.
The group was usually split into two and both groups took turns traveling with Kalyan and Mandy. The night was spent driving around the hills with Mandy looking for the Large Brown Flying Squirrel. It is a nocturnal animal that sits camouflaged high up in fruit-bearing trees. The only way to spot it is by looking for its shining eyes which light up when torches are flashed up in the trees. We found several squirrels but were not able to photograph them as Kalyan was far away with the other group and none of us could figure out the right camera settings. Two Sambar Deer grazing by the side of the road gave us company for a while. Kalyan and group also spotted a lone Tusker. After a short bout of rain, we went around looking for frogs when Kalyan heard a Leopard call. We waited around for a long time but the elusive cat didn't make an appearance. Following frog calls led us to an Anamalai Gliding Frog sitting in the bushes. This frog hasn't been photographed much and is endemic to the Anamalais range. After taking record shots of the frog, we decided to retire for the night. Driving back to the estate, we spotted a majestic Brown Fish Owl sitting on a culvert.

Day -- 2
Though Kalyan had described the melodious tunes of the Malabar Whistling Thrush, also called the Whistling Schoolboy, none of us were prepared for the actual experience. We woke up in the morning to a magical whistling tune and all of us assumed that its a very happy estate worker whistling away during his chores. When we realised the music was created by a tiny bird that resembles a crow, we were dumbstruck. We spent the next 4 days listening to its music, enjoying it thoroughly and photographing the bird of course. One of the best memories I have of this bird is when Shiva, a fellow participant and me headed out one evening to photograph birds in the estate. We followed a Thrush and realized that the bird had company somewhere in the distance. Standing right in the middle of two birds, we were treated to a musical concert while both the Thrushes kept whistling to each other. I wonder if they were telling each other how their day went! On this day, we headed out to the Manamboly forest range, which is one of the best protected rainforest spots there and is excellent for bird sightings. Passing through the Puduthottam estate, we were greeted by dozens of LTMs which live in the jack fruit trees by the side of the road. This is also the only place in the world where these primates can be observed and photographed at such a close range, simply because they are used to us humans staring at them. Of course, they also attract a lot of noisy, insensitive morons  who like to tease them. To handle these so-called 'tourists' and to track the LTM movements, NCF has appointed full-time guards. Other species spotted on the way were - Black Eagle, Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater, White Cheeked Barbet, Stripe Necked Mongoose, Lesser Coucal and the White Throated Kingfisher.



Birding in the Manamboly forest stretch..

Driving and walking in the Manamboly forest stretch was one of the best day trips of this expedition. It gave us a golden chance to understand and experience evergreen rain forests, first hand. This forest is a work of art. It is so beautiful that every view has a photographic quality that cannot be ignored. A dry log which housed hundreds of pretty mushrooms, colourful leaves, tall evergreen trees, rare bird species, butterflies and dragonflies - these were the things that greeted us at every step. We also photographed another Hotshot - Impatiens Flowers - some of which are endemic to the Western Ghats. With constant guidance from Divya, we were able to identify and understand hordes of plant, insect and animal species. This is also where we spotted a Hotshot - the Great Hornbill. I will never forget the whoosh-whoosh sound made by the colourful, giant bird when it flies. I have to agree with Kalyan when he says that the beauty of this bird is when it flies and not when it sits up in a tree. We stopped for lunch at the electricity board's scenic guest house where we spotted the Lesser Fish Eagle. Other birds spotted in the day - Dollar Bird, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Black Drongo, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo and Oriental Honey Buzzard. A couple of us spotted a Hotshot - Malabar Trogon, but were not able to photograph the beauty.
The find of the day was when Divya heard the call of the rare Wynaad Laughing Thrush. The bird is extremely shy and very tough to photograph. While we all stood on a culvert and watched the bird hop around inside a bush, Mandy decided to get a record shot. His never-give-up attempts only lead him to a Rufous Babbler hiding in the same bush but we came back with some lovely memories of the incident.



Trying to get a view of the rare Wynaad Laughing Thrush..

That night we headed out again to photograph a Hotshot - Brown Palm Civet - but the shy animal eluded us completely. But, we didn't know yet that we were going to witness one of the most memorable sights of the trip. Walking down the road, we saw a horde of Flying Squirrels sitting quite low down in the Ficus trees. All of us took turns using the external flashes to get proper shots of these squirrels as it is crucial to get ample amount of lighting. Also, we could not flash more than 2-3 times to ensure that the animal doesn't get blinded or stunned. Kalyan pointed out that one of the squirrels was sitting on a fruit-less tree so it would have to glide over to another tree for food. True to his words, with a bunch of LED lights lighting up the sky, the squirrel made a mesmerizing glide from a tree at one end of the road to the other. There was absolutely no sound in the squirrel's glide. As my eyes followed the glide, I couldn't help but admire what a great creation that animal is. Once it landed, I realized that all of us had unanimously decided to drop the cameras and just devour the beautiful sight instead. Nothing in the world could have stopped our exuberant babbling after a sight like that.
The merry crowd returned to the bungalow, thrilled to bits.

Day -- 3
NCF has an information center which is located at the entrance to the Parry Agro estate. The center has a lot of information about flora and fauna that can been seen in the Aanamalais range. The wildlife pictures in the center have been shot by some of the best wildlife photographers, including Kalyan. It was a treat to see all of them under one roof and the group realized that we were already getting better at identifying the various species.
We were headed to 'Seen God' on this day. En route we stopped again at the Puduthottam estate and photographed LTMs for more than an hour. This day, the primates were more in number and definitely in a more playful mood. Watching them leap from one high branch to another is a treat. They gave us some pretty poses and one particular male even bared his fangs at a group of guys who were trying to annoy him! The idiots were eventually shooed away by the NCF guards.



Bala, Kalyan, Geeta and Sumeet photographing LTMs at Puduthottam estate..

Seen God is situated high up in the hills and offers a wonderful view of the Anamalais, the Shola forests and the evergreen forest canopy. The place is called so because of a man who lives up there who claims that he's seen God at that very spot. From that great height, watching a bunch of Great Hornbills fly high above the canopy was a splendid sight. Sitting by the edge of the cliff with an amazing landscape spread out in front of my eyes, it slowly sunk in that I am one of the lucky few who's getting to experience such a pristine and diverse bio-culture. We have no place amongst these animals and birds, yet we are here. We inhabit and encroach into their habitat and call it ours. Worse, we destroy their homes. And we don't even belong here. I don't know which God the man kept referring to, but I for sure Saw God there.



Kalyan and Mandy scouting for Great Hornbills at Seen God..

By now, most of us had used up space on the memory cards. We spent the noon transferring pictures to Kalyan's system and portable hard disks. Kalyan also did a mini-training session on reading Histograms and using them to work on post-processing of pictures.This night was more exciting than the previous two. The group headed out to a stream to spot snakes and frogs - Pretty Bush Frog, Purple Frog & Pit Vipers to be precise. Rain Gods played spoilsport and we weren't able to photograph any rare species. However, wading through knee-deep cold waters while watching out for leeches, spiders and vipers was by far the best experience of the trip. I have to thank Shiva for ably guiding me through the stream walk and making sure that I didn't tumble down into the water, camera in tow. We only managed to spot a Wrinkled Frog in the stream. A white umbrella and external flash lights provided for a simple studio setup in the dark of the night. All of us took turns taking macro shots of the frog. Kalyan said we need to be cautious about not flashing the frog more than 2-3 times. After spending over two hours in the stream, we got out to the road.
Kalyan then got a call from Divya and group, who had spotted a Travancore Flying Squirrel nearby. While rushing to the spot, Kalyan explained that its a very rare species that was considered extinct for ages till it was spotted ten years ago, in the Anamalais. No clear record photograph of the species exists either. En route to the Tata estate, we found more Large Brown Flying Squirrels, Black Naped Hare, Wild Boar and a confused Porcupine that ran around in the middle of the road. The Travancore Flying Squirrel was smaller than a Large Brown Flying Squirrel and was more rufous in colour. We watched it scuttling around the high branches, munching on Cullinea fruits. Kalyan, armed with his 200-400mm VR and a Nikon D300 tried for over an hour to get the best photograph of this rare species. Now, all of us belong to a club of less than 50 people in the world who have seen this animal.
We got back to the bungalow at 1:30 am, thrilled to bits again!!

Day -- 4
This was the day when we all had committed to planting trees in one of NCF's restoration plots. All of us went to the nursery maintained by the NCF and helped in loading the saplings into the jeep. Sridhar explained that it was important to select the right kind of rain forest trees to plant. The trees have to be beneficial to the soil and also have to attract birds and mammals to it. We also made the mandatory vada-tea stop at a beautiful little chai-kadai and gorged on yummy vadas.
En route to the plot, I spotted a wriggling tiny snake-like thing by the side of the road. We stopped to check and it turned out to be a semi-dead Large Scale Shield-Tail snake. It was run over by a passing vehicle. As I held the struggling snake in my hand, I realized what a beautiful creature it was. I wonder how many of these helpless animals have been destroyed by centuries of human habitat-building.



Trying to get a record shot of the semi-dead Shield Tail..

Upon reaching the plot, Sridhar gave us a demonstration on how to plant the saplings. It was then time to get down and get dirty. Touching the wet mud and leaf litter, digging up the ground took me straight back to my childhood when playing with mud brought me ultimate joy! I planted three saplings and I am now proud to say that I have contributed at the grass root level to work on restoring the rain forests of the Western Ghats. I could see a similar joy and feeling of content spread over all the faces around me as everyone got their hands dirty that day :) Together, the group planted over 50 saplings.
Three people from the group left that day. The rest of us had opted for an extra day's stay. As we said our good-byes we knew that four days of togetherness had created a bond that would last a lifetime. Every time we recount these stories later, mentioning the people in the stories will be inevitable. 




The group tries to photograph Malabar Grey Hornbills hiding in the bushes..

When we signed up for the extra day, none of us had imagined that the highlight of the trip would happen on that very evening. To make best use of the rains that kept pouring down all noon, we ventured out looking for Bush Frogs in the estate. After photographing some of them, Kalyan and Mandy thought it would be best to head out to the area around the 38th hairpin bend as we would also be able to spot snakes there. We drove around slowly, looking out for snakes and frogs on the road when Mandy spotted a Leopard on the culvert, crouched, in position to leap down from there. We saw it hardly for a couple of seconds before it made the leap. Mandy insisted that we drive down the hairpin bend as the Leopard would cross that stretch next. We drove down real quick and exactly the way Mandy predicted, the Leopard crossed the road and got into a small stretch of bushes. It sat there, conscious of our presence as we were parked on the road looking at the cat. With torch lights to guide us, all of us sat there admiring the Leopard for about 30 seconds. While we wanted to relish the sight of this beautiful animal longer, two buses interrupted us as a stark reminder of the habitat we have given them. We were forced to move the vehicle to make way for the buses and that's when we lost sight of the Leopard. Driving up and down the hairpin bends again proved futile and we couldn't spot the elusive cat anymore. None of us thought that we would find a Leopard in the rain while we looked around for frogs! Well, that's the charm of these lands. You never know what to expect and you can never be prepared for what you eventually see. For example, every single person in the vehicle had their macro lens on at the time when we spotted the Leopard. However, the fact that the Leopard initially emerged out of an NCF restoration plot was the icing on the cake. Personally for me, this sighting made up for the elusive Leopard that dashed away into the bushes in Kabini, just a week ago.
The night ended early, but on a very high note.

Day -- 5
On our last day in Valparai, we headed out to the Athirapally forest range, which is in Kerala. The Athirapally forests are much denser than the ones in Valparai. This is a great route for birding too. The canopy is so thick, 10AM looked like 6PM. However, rain played spoilsport again and we couldn't spot as many birds as we expected to see. We drove up to a view point and then got back so as to make it back in time. Apart from the birds we had already spotted during the trip, we spotted - White Bellied Woodpecker, Shikra, Pacific Swallow, Pied Bushchat (male & female), Gey Jungle Fowl, Long Tailed Shrike, Flowerpecker, Purple Rumped Sunbird and the Common Tailorbird. We were also able to photograph the shy Rufous Babbler on this day. Of course, that required us to wait on the side of the road until the Babblers thought we were safe enough for them to venture out. The butterflies we spotted here were The Blue Mormon, Common Crow, Southern Bird Wing and the Malabar Tree Nymph which is endemic to these forests. Watching the Malabar Tree Nymph fly is a true visual delight.
This was our last day trip in the expedition.
By the end of this trip, we had managed to spot and photograph nine of the twelve Hotshots. The Brown Palm Civet, Large-scaled Pit Viper and the Malabar Trogon eluded us on this trip.



Woke up everyday to the tunes of the Thrush and this lovely view..

After another ritual tea-vada stop, we drove back to the bungalow. The afternoon was spent lazing around and transferring photos. None of us wanted time to pass. We didn't want the evening to set in, or the taxi to come. Procrastinating packing didn't help either and soon enough it was time to pack and get ready. As we said our goodbyes to Kalyan and Mandy, we knew that this wasn't the end. The trip ended, friendships had begun.



The group poses at Seen God
photo courtesy Kalyan Varma
(L-R) Arun, Selva, Me, Sumeet, Shiva, Bala, Geeta, Avijeet, Kalyan, Mandy

Well, I don't know what to say about Kalyan. Even for a minute in the trip, he didn't make us feel like visitors. He participated in the entire workshop as if he was one of us. His dedication towards the cause of wildlife and conservation is impeccable. He gave all of us individual attention and the photography lessons I learnt from him will stay with me forever!
And then there is Mandy. Quick and nimble. Mandy can sense animals. He can hear them, feel them and spot them before most of us can even find a footing. I can't stop admiring his traditional and acquired knowledge of wildlife and animal behaviour. Both Kalyan and Mandy left me amazed with their ability to hear bird calls, look for animals, watch out for roadkills and drive at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking!
The drive downhill through the misty roads was quite uneventful except for a beautiful sunset and we stopped to photograph the landscape. Listening to the sound of traffic made me crave for the tunes of the Whistling Thrush. Getting back to the urban jungle also resulted in a headache, which stayed intact for another 30 hours.
Bala picked us up in Coimbatore and took us to eat dinner at the Heritage Inn. While we relished a tasty dinner of Appams on the rooftop restaurant, we exchanged stories and shared our best moments of the trip. None of the people at the table had known each other five days ago. Yet, here we were, talking-laughing-joking as if we have known each other for years. Put together a group of strangers with a common interest and an addictive hobby and bam! - you create a friendship that was hitherto unknown!
If you have read through this article in entirety, please do leave a comment so that I can personally thank you for reading through. I know it is lengthy, but a five day trip, this wonderful, cannot be explained in a paragraph.
Valparai, with its animals, birds, trees, rain, cloudy mornings and misty evenings, vada and tea combos, melodies of the Thrush and most importantly the images we made has woven an invisible web around us. We are deeply entangled and will not be able to get out of these strings for life.
What a holiday this has been! What a hangover it has left!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Sun Sets in Style

The sunset was pretty brilliant today.. Here are a couple of images..



Fluffy Skies

The clouds seemed to be in the mood to show off today. There were some amazing views in the evening. Through the noon, the clouds looked like white cotton candy :)





Friday, April 10, 2009

Her Choice

The first time mom hired a maid I was very little, about 8 years old. A well behaved and hard working young lady, S would speak only when she was spoken to.The oldest child in her household, she sacrificed her education. With her tiny salary, she ensured that her sister and brother went to school. Over the years, she pretty much became a part of our family. It was a common joke among our relatives that she was mom's adopted daughter. When mom started teaching at a school run by her friend, a copy of the house key was handed over to S so that she could continue her chores even if no one was at home. Defending strong negative vibes from family and friends, mom insisted that she trusted S like she would trust her daughters. S later got married to a small-time contractor and had two daughters. We have since moved out of that locality, but S has constantly stayed in touch. She calls mom once a month and even visits often.
Now here is why I am telling her story. Through the years, she has saved enough money and purchased a piece of land. She and her husband are registered voters and have a ration card. Her husband learnt how to drive so that he could get more employment opportunities. He now has an additional part time job. She is paying for her brother's education and he is studying his degree now. Her sister completed
college and is married to an educated government employee. Her daughters are now in primary school and consistently fetch grades in the range of A and A+. Both of them can comfortably converse in English and Hindi. One of them has been learning dance and one is learning classical music. The local government school conducts computer classes in summer at a nominal fee, both the kids have been enrolled there. S and her husband have been putting aside money as an education fund for the girls. All along, she has been working as a maid and is continuing as one.
We hear of stories from the working class/'blue-collar' labour. We read them in papers, hear them from the help we employ - gardeners, drivers, maids. Most of them are tragic and sad. Drunken husbands, hungry kids, harassed by loan sharks, crying women..the list is endless. Some uncontrollable issues, but many problems that could be handled well with the help of education and better usage of common sense.
But S didn't take that path. She made a choice. She is not educated, but decided that her children would not take her path. She wants them to get jobs, earn well and lead a better life. S made a darn good choice.
In the words of J.K. Rowling, voiced by Albus Dumbledore, "Its our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
S, I would like to say I love you and I am so proud of you. You go girl!!

New Life



Woke up this morning to the sight of budding flowers in my balcony.. As always, new life is thrilling and beautiful!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chandler vs Joey - II

Joey: I don't know. I'm not too good at memorizing lines.
Chandler: It's a good thing you don't have to do that for a living.


[Joey and Chandler are trying to break into a closet]
Joey: Do you have a bobby pin?
Chandler: Wait.
[runs hands through hair]
Chandler: Oh, that's right. I'm NOT an eight year-old girl.


Chandler: And this from the cry-for-help department: Are you wearing makeup?
Joey: Yes, I am. As of today, I am officially Joey Tribbiani, actor slash model.
Chandler: That's funny, 'cause I was thinking you look more like Joey Tribbiani, man slash woman.


[Joey is making marinara sauce and filling every container possible with it. Chandler enters]
Chandler: Whoa, whoa, so I'm guessing you didn't get the part... or Italy called and said it was hungry.


Joey: How come we don't have jam at our place?
Chandler: Because the kids need shoes.


Joey: My agent thinks I should have a name that's more neutral.
Chandler: Joey... Switzerland?


Joey: You know how you're always saying we need a place for the mail?
Chandler: Yeah?
Joey: Well, I decided to take it to the next step.
Chandler: You're building a post office?


Chandler: You don't look good, Joe.
Joey: The fridge broke, so I had to eat everything. Cold cuts, ice cream, limes. Oh, and what was in that brown jar?
Chandler: That's still in there?
Joey: Not any more. By the way, you owe me $400.
Chandler: Is this a service you're providing me?


Joey: Days Of Our Lives. Anyway, you're not gonna believe it! My character is coming out of his coma!
All: Oh!
Chandler: That's great!
Joey: And — and — and not only that, I'm gettin' a new brain!
Chandler: So great things are happening at work and in your personal life!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunset..

As the Sun played hide and seek with the clouds for a long time, we were treated to a spectacular sunset today..
Some pictures from the office terrace..





Chandler vs Joey - I

Joey: [to Ross] Forget about Rachel. Go to China, eat Chinese food.
Chandler: Of course there they'd just call it food.


[While Chandler naps against the wall in his room, Joey is drilling though the wall. As he drills, the drill bit comes though the wall right next to Chandler]

Joey: Oh! Uh, sorry, did I get ya?
Chandler: NO, YOU DIDN'T GET ME!! IT'S AN ELECTRIC DRILL! YOU GET ME, YOU KILL ME!


Joey: [trying to dress up as a 19 year old] "Wassup".. Am I Nineteen or what??
Chandler: Yes Yes.. on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the dumbest.. yes you are nineteen...


Chandler: Well, of course, lambs are scarier. Otherwise the movie would've been called Silence of the Ducks.

[Joey wears a sunglass to avoid getting spit in the face by his costar during a shoot of World War I.]
Chandler: "If I remember correctly, Ray Ban was the official sponsor of World War I"


After Joey finishes that mammoth turkey, Monica says "Joey we are very proud of you".
Chandler: "Yes, we are expecting a call from the President any moment now"


Chandler: [To Joey who's removing his tie] Would you put that back on? Monica's gonna be here any minute!
Joey: But it hurt's my Joey's Apple.
Chandler: [frustrated] Okay, for the last time. It's not named for each individual man.


[Flipping a coin to decide which one out of two babies - one wearing a shirt with ducks and the other having clowns - was Ross's baby. They have to decide which side to assign to the duck and which one to clowns]
Chandler : we have to assign heads to something
Joey: Ok Ok ducks is heads 'cause ducks have heads
Chandler : what kind of scary ass clowns came to your birthday ??!!!


[Joey tries to sell the entertaimment center and gets locked and robbed]
Joey: I was tryin’ to make a sale!! Oh, man, if I ever run into that guy again, do you know what I’m gonna do?
Chandler: BEND OVER?!!!


Joey: Want some jam?
Chandler: No thanks, I just had a jar of mustard.


[Joey has packed an emergency kit with food, Mad-Libs and condoms]
Chandler: Condoms?
Joey: We don't know how long we're gonna be stuck here. We might have to repopulate the world.
Chandler: And condoms are the way to do that?


Joey: Oh, yeah. Go for it man, jump off the high dive, stare down the barrel of the gun, pee into the wind.
Chandler: Yeah, Joe, I assure you if I'm staring down the barrel of a gun, I'm pretty much peeing every which way.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Concerts Galore!

Watch Bombay Jayashree in concert at 6.30 pm on April 4 at Fort High School Grounds, Chamarajpet.

Watch DR. K.J.Yesudas perform at the same venue and time on April 5.

More updates to follow!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chandler Mania


Chandler: I'm not so good with the advice... Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?

Chandler: I can handle this. "Handle" is my middle name. Actually, "handle" is the middle of my first name.

Chandler: All right, kids, I gotta get to work. If I don't input those numbers... it doesn't make much of a difference.

Chandler: Sometimes I wish I was a lesbian...
[everyone stares at Chandler]
Chandler: ... Did I say that out loud?

[When asked if he knows anything about chicks]
Chandler: Fowl? No. Women?... No.

Chandler: [entering from bathroom, with an issue of Cosmo] All right, I took the quiz, and it turns out, I do put career before men.

Chandler: Listen, it's kind of an emergency. Well, I guess you know that, or we'd be in the predicament room.

Chandler: [to Joey's father's girlfriend] Come on, I'll show you to my room... Wow, that sounds weird when it's not followed by "No thanks, it's late".

Chandler: [about Eddie] Ding dong, the psycho's gone.

Chandler: I can't say hump or screw in front of the b-a-b-y... I just spelled the wrong words didn't I?

Chandler: [To Monica] Come on, you're going to Bloomingdale's with Julie? That's like cheating on Rachel in her house of worship.

[Chandler is practicing advertising slogans]
Chandler: Phones: bringing you closer to people... who have phones.
Chandler: Pants: Like shorts... but longer.

Chandler: Well, if I were a guy...
[Everyone stares at him.]
Chandler: Wait. Did I just say "If I were a guy"?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chandler on Ross's Love Life

Chandler: [to Ross] You've slept with someone three hours after you thought you broke up. I mean, bullets have left guns slower.

Chandler: [to Ross] You know if your not careful, you could not get married at all this year.

Chandler: Ross, just for my own peace of mind — you're not married to any more of us, are you?

Ross: We were on a break!
Chandler: Oh, my God! If you say that one more time, I'm going to break up with you!

Chandler: [to Ross] Three failed marriages, two illegitimate children... The personal ad writes itself.

Chandler:
[to Ross when he can't decide between Rachel and Julie] Oh, I know. This must be so hard. "Oh, no! Two women love me. They're both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet's too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The first time I read about the Holocaust was in Erich Segal's 'Doctors'. For many other reasons I re-read the book several times but was shaken and intrigued by the causes and consequences of the Holocaust. I then watched the brilliant 'Schindler's List' which led me to read 'Schindler's Ark', the book the movie was based on. The book and the movie are epics and have left a lasting impression on me. Though based on the same theme, I didn't expect John Boyne's 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' to make such an impact. More so because of its length - 215 pages. How wrong I was.
The book talks about nine year old Bruno's amazing and rare friendship with Shmuel, the boy in the striped pyjamas living across the fence behind his new home. The story of the Holocaust is told through the eyes of Bruno, who cannot comprehend why he is not allowed to play with the hordes of children living on the other side of the sky-high fence. Through the events he witnesses, the horrors of the Holocaust are subtly but expertly explained by the author. The book is so short and crisp that any more details I spill can reveal the entire story. The writing is very simple. A thorough page turner, the book leaves you with a chilling effect once you finish reading. I read the entire book at one sitting late into the night and regret doing that because it left me sleepless. I know that the feeling will linger many more days. It is a poignant and memorable story, one that you would have never read before. Published by Black Swan and priced at Rs.360, it is available at Landmark and Crossword.
I highly recommend the book. It is worth every dime and your time. I am off to look for more by John Boyne.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Moon


The moon was at its romantic best on Holi, one day before the full moon day. What an amazing sight.. I am proud of my mobile :) Paisa Vasool!!

Spring Is Here!!

I love winter, but spring offers an unmatched visual treat. Though Bangalore is not as beautiful as it used to be when we were kids, we still get to see some amazing sights. Take a minute to savor the delightful hues of pink, yellow, lilac and green that color the skyline of the city now. Here are some lovely sights captured in and around South Bangalore...












Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Siesta


I caught this cute little butterfly enjoying its siesta on a hot and sunny day. We were lunching at the new South Indies branch on Infantry road. He was on the wall right behind our table. All the noise and talking didn't seem to disturb him at all! He sat still throughout my attempts to get a macro shot from my mobile camera.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lily of a Day

I remember reading this poem for the first time when I was in primary school. It was a part of the 2nd language English syllabus and was the favorite poem of the entire class. Not because it is so lovely, but solely for the reason that it was short and very easy to mug up for the exams.
Through the years, the more I read the poem, the more beautiful it sounds and means. Here it is.. by Ben Johnson (1572-1637)

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three-hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald and sere.
A lily of a day,
Is fairer far in May,
Although it droop and die that night,
It was the plant and flow'r of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures, life may perfect be.


What's In A Name

Ever since I completed reading “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, I’ve known one thing for sure. I may read and re-read hundreds of books, but I will never enjoy them the way I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series. J.K Rowling can reach up to impeccable levels of imagination and then actually proceed to translate those ideas into words that will be read and remembered by millions – young & old – and will be passed on by those millions to their kids and grand kids. In spite of the magnificent sets and CGI effects in the movie series that are so well embedded in our memory, all of us who have read her books have mentally constructed our own versions of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Privet Drive, the Burrow, Grimmauld Place, Azkaban, Diagon Alley, the Leaky Cauldron, the Ministry of Magic and the Quidditch world cup stadium. That’s the kind of impact her translation of imagery to the books has had on all of us.
But, this is not what I love the most about her and her books. The way she names characters, their homes, their towns, their books and even their pets is mesmerizing. This also goes for names of the ghosts, elves, goblins, animals, curses, charms, spells, hexes, magical items, stores, schools, halls, corridors, passwords... the list is quite endless. My most favorite name has and will always be Albus Dumbledore. The name has such an endearing quality to it, as if he could be your grandpa. Albus means ‘white’ in Latin. In the Order of the Phoenix, when I read his full name - Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledoreit went on to become my all-time favorite name. I feel it has waves of love, courage and peace in it. If a name can speak words, this one can speak volumes. The way Madam Maxime calls him Dumbly-dorr makes him look cute.
I am very tempted to visit the Leaky Cauldron for a firewhisky and then to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour for a double sundae. A visit to Diagon Alley is incomplete without some shopping at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and Flourish & Blotts. While am there, I will not forget to pick up puking pastilles as a gift for my manager. I definitely wouldn’t mind spending an entire day at Hogsmeade whiling away time at Honeydukes and The Three Broomsticks.
There are names that sound fierce, rude, elegant, cute, exotic and some that sound stupid. Lord Voldemort sounds quite vicious and so does his real name, Tom Marvolo Riddle. Bellatrix Lestrange is another one. I have to admit, the escape scene in Azkaban which shows her laughing like a lunatic perfectly matches the fierce quality of her name. Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Rita Skeeter, Igor Karakoff, Mulciber, Salazar Slytherin, Millicent Bulstrode, Vincent Crabbe – all these names successfully hint at the kind of character they are named after. They vary between ugly/rude/fierce. Then there are the ones that sound exotic and mysterious, at times elegant too - Rubeus Hagrid, Phineas Nigellus, Andromeda, Nymphadora, Fleur, Victorie, Dominique, Roxanne, Apolline, Rosmerta, Narcissa, Olympe Maxime, Xenophilius Lovegood, Ollivander, Gellert Grindelwald, Aberforth, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Alastor Moody. Did you know that Lupin is French for ‘wolf’? Sybill Trelawney sounds magical and so does Minerva McGonagall. Then there are the funny, stupid ones - some intentional and some not so – Dedalus Diggle, Elphias Doge, Mundungus Fletcher, Sturgis Podmore, Arabella Figg, Gregory Goyle, Adalbert Waffling, Mafalda Hopkirk, Peter Pettigrew, Poppy Pomfrey & Argus Filch. The topper on this list has to be Dudley Dursley. It sounds like this name was used as a curse on our dear fatty to stay stupid all his life.
Names of animals and pets in the series stand out. While Nagini, Firenze, Fawkes & Hermes sound mystic Hedwig, Fluffy & Norbert sound adorable. Other notable ones are Fang, Aragog, Crookshanks, Errol, Buckbeak and Scabbers. Pigwidgeon is the cutest name I’ve heard in ages. Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington has a memorable name, and so does Moaning Myrtle. We will never forget Grawp, Dobby, Winky, Kreacher & Griphook. Pius Thicknesse sounds like he could really be thick and Dolores Umbridge actually sounds like the name of a stout woman.
And then there are the regular names which have leaped up in the popularity charts thanks to some memorable characters. Harry, Hermione and Ronald will go down into history as the most popular names of this generation. Giving them company are names like Cedric, Oliver, Ginny, Fred, George, James, Lily, Rose, Hugo, Neville and my personal favorites – Sirius and Remus.
While Rowling wrote about her favorite boy Harry for 17 years, I am sure she never imagined that he would become our favorite too and a worldwide literary wave (tsunami rather) would arise. A dear friend of mine says I have a fixation with Harry Potter, to which I agree completely. Well, I have to admit that I don’t agree completely because it’s not just a fixation. It’s an obsession and a favorite one at that.
To all the non-Potter people (muggles I’d say) who read through this patiently, I am sorry. I am not sorry for making you read this, but sorry that you have not experienced the world of Potter. And I sincerely hope that you will read the books some day. My kids will definitely grow up with Harry.

Eerie but Beautiful

The colours of the sky always fascinate me, but was stumped when I saw a silver and gold skyline on Saturday evening. I was in Lifestyle at around 6pm and as usual looked up to catch the sunset colours. After managing to attract some attention from the parking attendants who started peeking into the sky the moment I took out my phone to capture the amazing sight, I got a wonderful picture.



I cant believe a colour picture turned out like this.... Its eerie, but beautiful..

Delhi-6

Watched Delhi-6 on the weekend. It’s the most muddled up movie I have seen, but with the most amazing characters and subplots.
It’s a story about a young NRI, Roshan (Abhishek) who lands in Delhi with his granny played by the ever-beautiful Waheeda Rahman for his first trip to India. The audience gets to see the sights of Delhi and Chandni Chowk through his eyes and the pictures he clicks away on his mobile. The sights of the city and its people captured by Rakesh Mehra are as real and candid as they can get. A single vintage car stuck in a traffic jam amongst bicycles and tongas, thousands of people offering Namaz at the Mosque and on the streets around Chandni Chowk, politicians interrupting ‘Sita Apaharan’ at the Ram Leela to make an important speech and donation, “A mother cow giving baby cow’ in the middle of the street, rushing to the hospital in a tonga.. to repeat the age-old cliché, “It Happens Only In India”. The movie has an amazing ensemble of characters. Brothers (Om Puri & Pawan Malhotra) who breathe fire at each other oblivious to their wives (Supriya Pathak & Sheeba Chaddha) who continue living like one family, sharing pakoras, gossip, love and much more through one broken brick in the wall. There’s Gobar, a character that will find a strong hold in your heart as soon as he is introduced - a silent and dim temple worker played brilliantly by Atul Kulkarni. The very sportive Gobar never minds being the butt of all jokes, but gets away with the cheekiest line in the movie at the end. The streetside jalebiwala (Deepak Dobriyal) who worships Allah and Hanuman as one, the local bully cop (Vijay Raaz), the street sweeper (Divya Dutta), the fakhir who walks around showing everyone a mirror, Prem Chopra as Lalaji, his twenty-something wife ‘Beauty’ and Cyrus O as the faker Suresh excel in their roles. A new actress as the sister of the warring brothers impresses as the gentle Rama Bua. Sonam Kapoor as Bittu is fiery, fresh, beautiful and very impressive. She sails through her character with ease. Abhishek is okay and is getting very good at emoting with his eyes. Waheeda Rahman’s poise and brilliance comes through in all her scenes. I remember seeing her once in Forum, she was walking up to the PVR ticket counter. In a simple lilac chikankari salwar kameez, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I just stopped in my tracks and didn’t know if should stop staring at her. Well, I couldn’t do much but just stare and when I looked around later, I realized I had company in the hordes of others who were doing the same thing as me.
Rakesh Mehra adds the subplot of a monkey-man attacking people in the city and in turn becomes the cause of Hindu-Muslim riots because people are led to believe that the monkey was a Muslim. This is where the movie loses its charm and starts lagging. The climax is extremely annoying and preachy. Its quite devoid of logic too. I wish Mehra thought of a better storyline to end the movie.
Two things that I loved the most in the movie. Rahman’s music is splendid, brilliant, spellbinding, amazing and fantabulous. In years to come, Delhi-6 will always be mentioned as some of his best work. The music liberally flows through the movie and keeps the spirit going. If you haven’t heard all the songs of the movie yet, please pick up the cd. Its worth every penny. Its hard to pick favorites from this album but I recommend ‘Genda Phool’ and ‘Rehna Tu’.
My most favorite part of the movie was Rishi Kapoor as Ali Baig. Well, I’ve always had a massive crush on him, but he looks extremely handsome in the movie and elevates a simple supporting character to another level altogether. If you like him, watch Luck By Chance as well. He rocks!!

Meet Me

 Here are random and little known things about me.
  • I love white. The colour represents peace, purity, love, beauty, hygiene, light and most importantly life. My wardrobe is filled with white. I can wear white all day long, all year long and never get bored.
  • I am not very religious. I pray every day, but not in the conventional way. I believe in the highest entity that creates and destroys all, I call ‘Him’ God too. In that sense, all the beautiful things he created are spiritual and pure. It maybe a sunset, curled up fingers of a newborn baby, dew on a budding rose, a lush green rainforest, a majestic tusker, a little bulbul, MS Subbulakshmi’s rendition of ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’ or Gulzar’s ‘Mera Kuch Saaman’. The odds of these beautiful things making me feel spiritual is higher than visiting a grand temple.
  • I can’t survive without music. I wake up with a tune in my head and it stays there till I get back to sleep. I listen to music almost all day. A dear friend thinks that I would have gone insane by now if not for my affliction to music.
  • I absolutely and totally adore Sonu Nigam. I have been in love with him from the time I first heard his voice, which was 14 years ago. After I heard him sing in my mother tongue, I realized that I couldn’t have asked for more. All this fascination culminated quite well, when I watched him perform live and stood right at the foot of the stage singing along ‘Anisutide Yaako Indu’ with the man himself.
  • I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. I have read and re-read and re-re-read the series multiple times. Ron Weasley is the cutest character in literary history.
  • My dream man is Chandler Bing.
  • I am a cleanliness freak. I am also a stickler for hygiene. I like everything around me to be in perfect order, in the right place and if possible, scrubbed clean.
  • I have great patience. I can listen to people talk for hours and endure utter nonsense for ages. Though this is a quality that most of my friends envy me for, I know how it can work against me.
  • I strive for perfection everywhere. Most people blame that on my sunsign, but I love the habit. It makes me want to achieve something better each time and keeps me on my feet. My quest for the ‘perfect’ stuff annoys people around me and also causes me a lot of agony because no such thing exists. But am not about to give up that easily. There has to be a perfect way of giving up things, and I am yet to master that!
  • Dance, according to me is the most beautiful form of communication. The levels of spirituality, discipline and happiness a person can attain are unarguably the highest with dancing. It’s mostly true with me. I am happiest when I dance.
  • I despise hypocrites and show-offs. I will gladly trust a fool, provided he is genuine.
  • Photography is my religion. For me, every sight I see is a prospective image and I am always mentally framing pictures. I love photographs and can never get tired of looking at old ones. I also like to believe that I can take pretty decent and expressive pictures.
  • I worship Gulzar. He is the king of poetry and some of his songs have moved me to tears.
  • I am very passionate about nature and wildlife. I watch the sunset every single day without fail. I love travelling and would love to travel through a country alone, someday.
  • I am everybody’s agony aunt. Family, friends, acquaintances and total strangers discuss their problems with me. Some look for advise, some for help and some just for a ear to pour out their problems.
  • I have a weakness for flowering trees. I can look at a in-bloom Java Cassia tree all day.
  • I have an unusually large memory. I can remember tiny, crazy, remote things and events that no one would bother to pay attention to. 
  • I can’t survive without reading. I usually don’t get out of home without a book in tow. I can’t sleep if I don’t read a few lines.