Monday, October 26, 2015

Love You Ravana

I fell in love with Ravana, holy attitude be damned. And no, I am not into bad boys but this one looked so cute. Yes, referring to the kathakali styled, heavily made up, tush shaking Ravana of the Sri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra’s musical drama Sri Ram.

Unwillingly I have to admit that despite considering myself a true blue Dilliwaali or so I claim, I had never seen this Ramlila, and I swear I didn’t realize I was missing something. Per chance a good friend had 2 spares on the day of the event and called me at the nth hour to join her with my son and I jumped out of my bed, I was napping, got ready in 2 minutes and met her at the venue. Even though we had the premium Rs 500 tickets the free seating required us to queue up outside the gate by 6pm. The foyer leading up to the open air stage was decorated on both sides by paintings and calligraphic renditions of the name RAMA in many languages. Getting a good comfortable sofa in the 4th row from the front, we settled to watch what would be an awesome learning and entertainment for all of us.
Into its 59th edition this Ramlila, as per its director Padma Shri, Shobha Deepak Singh, is a “perfect synergy of idealism, grandiosity and reality- a beautiful symphony of a magnificent tapestry of costumes, lighting, choreography and music.” And we nod our heads in agreement. It is all this and much much more, a peek into the story of Rama and Ravana who without each other could not have been what they are. I have always felt that Ravanas tragic flaw was his majestic ego and a bit of lust, he is much better than many Ravanas that we see on the streets these days. But well this post is not about being skeptical or negative, it is about this evocative drama that inspires one to think beyond the realms of black and white. It is all about the shades of grey (and not the 50 shades that you are smirking at).
Beautifully crafted stage came alive with lovely dances, amazing sound track that told the story, a slide show that was like headlines and poignant yet over acting  the way theater should be. This Ramlila did not remain untouched by the usage of multimedia including a bit of animation that has been introduced this year. The fact that the Ramlila is reinvented and includes elements of innovation makes it as new for anyone who is watching it year after year. My friend, a design instructor at a leading Delhi college and her daughter were equally mesmerized as if they were watching it for the first time and that’s saying a lot, isn’t it?
I loved the pace that the story moved at, fast yet not missing the milestones. What stayed with me as a deep after-thought post watching it, that usually never made an impact when one is reading the text, were these 2 episodes. One was that of Kevat the boatman, who ferries Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman across the river. When they reach the other shore, Kevat humbly refuses to take any money for his services, saying to Ram that you and I are both boatmen, I take people across the river and you take them across from this world towards moksha. Second came when Ravan was killed by the arrow of Lord Rama, and Ravana  pronounced that i am still victorious I will get to your kingdom (the Lord’s kingdom heaven) before you get to mine. I mean I almost had tears in my eyes, the way it was played out and said. To do the acts beautifully for almost close to a month each day requires much conviction and faith.
The dances were beautifully choreographed, in particular the dance by the golden deer was spectacular. Another scene that got standing ovation was when Bharat meets Ram in the forest and wants to take him back to where he belongs. The way Bharat runs and skids to lie prone in Rama’s feet was followed by thunderous clapping.
The arti and coronation when Lord Rama reaches Ayodhya and the deepawali scenes/dances deserve a special mention. The stage wore a look of festivity and divinity, the chiming bells, the diyas in the dancers’ hands and the royal seating of Rama and Sita with Hanuman and the rest of the family was straight out of a temple. To have achieved that look that inspired most in the audience to bow down or clap along was out of this world.

Post the Ramlila, we took selfies with Ravana, Ram and Sita and they all obliged. No photography is allowed while the show is in progress, so some of the pics in this post are not mine and taken from the Internet. Infact though I missed taking pictures, I realized that the moments soaked in were much more impacting than pictures framed, it is true the eyes will see what the camera won’t.

Thank you dear friend to have thought of us, its an experience we won’t forget in a hurry. For any body reading this, staying in Delhi and not have gone for it; you are missing much my friend. This year it is on till November 9th

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Haldighati - From Valley of Battle to Roses

Like Arjuna’s steadfast focus on the eye of the fish, our Udaipur trip was focused on everything Maharana Pratap, rest all was ancillary. On Day 1, after a breakfast fit for the kings at Devigarh by Lebua, we started on our journey to Kumbhalgarh fort via Haldighati.
On our way to Haldighati museum we stopped at the first Maharan Pratap bill board that we spotted and yes got ourselves clicked with it. The son was super excited and this trip was actually planned for his adoration of “Pratap”. Watching the tele serial of the same name infact it feels that Maharana Pratap is not only a part of the family he could be our son’s bff.

Anyways moving onwards we came across a small Maharana Pratap cave and stopped the taxi with flailing arms all over; it was an unplanned stopover, and yes we did have a very tight planned itinerary. The stop revealed a cave and a temple built around it, we were told that Maharana Pratap used to have his secret meetings with his allies here and that this cave that was once a secret passage has been blocked now. Its quaintness was what made it so beautiful.

Hopping back into the taxi, on our way to Maharana Pratap museum we noticed many vendors sitting under small make shift tents selling rose sherbet, gulkand and rose water. Not visible from the main road, we learnt that there are large farms where “Chaitri Gulab” variety of rose is cultivated.
Driving through the Haldighati range fills you up with sadness and pride at the same time, thinking of the bloody battle that ravaged so many families, the parks and monuments made in the memories of the valiant and the fact that one is standing at that same spot, can become a bit unnerving. Haldihgati got its name from the yellow haldi-like colour if the sand.  Rakht Talai, known such cause of the blood pool that formed as the result of the battle, is the exact spot where the battle was fought between Maharana Pratap and Akbar’s Man Singh. We could not go there because of time crunch but visited Badshah Bagh on the main road before the Haldighati pass where the Mughal armies had pitched their tents and on june 21st 1576 Pratap’s army had their first encounter. Today it is an ASI protected monument with a beautifully developed park.
Off the road, slightly uphill is Maharana Pratap Memorial. Beautifully built and maintained the black statue of the king on his horse with “surya” emblem on the sides of the platform evokes respect for all that the Maharana stood for. 

From here we proceeded to the museum and were surprised to see a heavy crowd thronging the place. They have a guided sound and light show every 15 minutes, and a short documentary film on Pratap. Walking through the dark gallery the tableaus have been created on both sides and light up accompanied by the recorded information on the life and milestone achievements of the Maharana. The museum has been developed and is maintained all by the efforts of an individual promoter Mohan Lal Shrimali.

Haldighati battle (1576) was also the one where Maharana Pratap lost his loyal horse, Chetak. A chattri buit in the memory of the mount where he died is called Chetak Samarak. A couple of meters away from the Maharana Pratap Museum, it does deserve a short stopover just to soak in the courageous feat and think of a beautiful man-animal relationship.
गिरता कभी चेतकतन पर¸ 
राणा प्रताप का कोड़ा था। 
वह दोड़ रहा अरिमस्तक पर¸ 
या आसमान पर घोड़ा था।
A poem by Shyam Narayan Pandey

From here we moved on to Kumbhalgarh fort, where Maharana Pratap was born. I told you, didn’t I, ours was a packed day. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Of Bumpy Landings into Maharaja Suite at Devigarh by Lebua, Udaipur

A curious case of missing center seats in the plane while scrutinizing our tickets and an eventual realization that it is a 2x2 seater small air craft by Jet. A hilarious introduction of a couple of crew present on board (hilarious cause the list finished before it started) and an equally expected bumpy touchdown by the pilot Rahul, a name my son won’t forget in a hurry. That was the beginning of our 4 day action packed holiday in Udaipur or really if you ask me our hot trail of following Maharana Pratap through Mewar’s forts and palaces.
MRP (as is fondly called by son and his friends) is a popular historical figure with them, the imagination having been fueled by the teleserial of the same name on Sony on this veer putra. Not a TV watcher and bad with dates I was being corrected and reprimanded for my lack of knowledge in the matter but confess I must, I came out equipped with stories of valour, strength and a great deal of sense of patriotism and respect for the Maharana clan. 
Our landing at the Maharana Pratap airport was as you have noticed much dramatic and equally dramatic was our double upgrade to the suite with private swimming pool in Devigarh by Lebua. A 40 minute ride by the car on an uphill winding road led us to a beautifully restored fort hotel, in the middle of a sleepy village that wasn’t so sleepy when we checked in since there was a wedding going on that night and the loudspeakers were blaring Sheila and Munni with equal gusto. On checking in we were greeted with showering of rose petals from the Ganesh Dwar and offered subtly flavored rose drink while the husband completed check-in formalities.

Now, this calls for a short review of the hotel. Well maintained with manicured lawns, high reaching fort walls, dreamy landscape of hills as far as you can see the horizon, very very well mannered and attentive staff that each time they saw you joined their hands in “namstae” and greeted you with cheer, much in contrast with our stay at Trident Udaipur that looked and felt equally bland after a stint at Devigarh. Our room with the pool was nothing short of a royal treatment, at the entrance to the suite was a very well created trishul and Shiva installation, an inviting pool and typical Rajputana sit outs complete with low seating. These definitely made early mornings almost surreal and an hour to look forward to, what with sipping tea (made by husband; even better, actually more shocking than anything else), surveying the expanse and soaking in the loud chatter of the birds. An amazing property, I must say with the only deviation being the F and B prices, prohibitive.
our private sit out 

Devigarh by Lebua

Since it was late evening that we had checked in, all we had to do was soak in the dimly lit fort and have our dinner. Except that the beer that we had at the hotel’s restaurant that costed us a cool Rs500/- per pint (we had 4 pints that night, poor unknowing us!) our adventure that night was limited. I still can’t get over the pint, whoever said size matters was right, a pint-size can happily take your happiness (am I making good Sindhi sense?!). Well the food made up for the shock, the Lal maas that we had was superlative and so was the chicken accompanied by Rs 200/- each roti/parantha. There I go again. I told ya, this meal was an adventure. Anyways retiring to the room with a most awesome view that we were promised the next morning was a solace. Another day. Another story. 

Ah did i mention that at Delhi airport we got lucky to have bumped into Saifeena; yes Saif and Kareena. Got sonny boy's pic with Saif while Kareena was at the cashier at WH Smith. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Date with Tso Pangong

I wouldn’t lie, I have been pretty enamored with the picturesque setting and shiny emerald waters surrounded by high mountains and looking sexier than Kareena Kapoor in her bridal attire. Well yeah, I am talking about the climax scene of 3 Idiots shot besides the world’s highest salt water lake. A lake that presents itself as a shimmery blanket of waves and holds much enigma, I promised myself I will “one day” visit THE Pangong lake. I got reminded of my promise to myself when I saw the love of my life SRK (yeah snigger as much, I am not changing my mind. He is my first love) diving into the lake to save the panting, screaming Anushka Sharma in Jab Tak Hain Jaan. It is another thing that some people say she did not dive into Pangong lake, but who cares. By the way I had already got the warning by my son, “mom don’t even try to dive in…SRK wont come to save you!!” Smile with tongue out
Hows and Whens hadn't been thought or planned but it was an idea whose time had come. Especially so when I saw and eventually took the plunge (no, Not in the icy waters) and booked for an all women tour to Leh with Women on Wanderlust. In our 5 day itinerary, besides the other amazingly breathtaking landscape visits this one was the jewel in the proverbial crown. We set off early in the morning since the travel time from Leh to Pangong and back was estimated to be about 5 hours (150kms) each way. Enroute we ascended the gorgeous snow laden peaks on one of the best and highest motorable roads. Considering the icy weather in Leh with much snowfall it is an admirable feat to be driving on roads so nicely maintained by the army just as the season began.
20150518_095004     20150518_100452
We had to cross Changa La Pass which is almost at 18k feet above the sea level, on our way to Pangong. No wonder the landscape was all heavily covered with stacks of snow many feet deep. It was a sight to behold, I don’t think words can aptly capture the essence of either how we felt or what we saw. The winding road wove through piles of snow and looking out of the bus window the snowy sculptural shapes seemed like works of art, drops that were frozen in time as icicles, the small peaks that lay delicately balancing on thick snow almost like a ballerina. It was a wonder to behold, the spirit and grit of humans that have made even these treacherous terrains as their own, one could not stop marvelling at the roads and the electric poles, and the super efforts of the army to keep it all going. I pause here for a BIG SALUTE to them and all the agencies who keep the country well oiled and borders well guarded.
The whites were broken only by the colorful prayer flags swaying in the wind singing the glory of the Lord God who made it all. When we reached Chang La Pass a small but functional café served us hot tea and the quintessential garama garam Maggi. Even though we were covered with layers and layers of warm woolens and wanted to spend more time, we could not prance about for more than 15 to 20 minutes in which we scurried around to click some pics and hopped right back into the
bus to head towards Pangong Lake. 20150518_095357
From here the descent began and the first look of the Pangong was as awesome as was imagined. We parked at the site and was greeted with a well spread piping hot buffet lunch at guess where, the 3 Idiots Café. It was such a moment of gratitude, not only was the food amazingly yum and fresh, the Café was equally hospitable. Giving into the demands of 20 women for hot black coffee, tea with little milk no sugar and maybe 20 ways to make it too. Post lunch we ambled across to the lake site, ambled yes not only cause we were stuffed but also we realised that running at such an altitude and getting out of breath was not a great idea. The 150 km salt lake with around 2/3rds of it being in China is a beautifully picturesque stretch of water, surrounded by majestic mountains and ever changing color of the water. The waters almost magically change the colours with the changing hues of the sky and is at its greenest green when the sun is out. Per chance on our visit the sky was overcast, obviously disappointing us though just a little. You can not be in the area and not marvel or be meditative with such tranquil surroundings. It is true that nature connects self with self. The waters were freezing cold and we were in thick woolens it was a tough deal but we did put out fingers in and wriggled our socks-less feet in the water. It was an equally amusing sight to watch the newly wed honeymoon couples in short dresses and bare sleeved tees posing a la Titanic…but well the young …stop don’t label me old …I am above all this you see…we are mature women.
Post our date with the emerald shores we retreated to the Café for coffees before the goodbyes. As luck would have it there were strong gusts of winds just as we were sipping the last dregs of the coffee and the clouds made way to the Sun. And guess what the Sun did, it gave us the most awesome view of the colours of the lake and we ran back to click some and take it all in with loads and loads of gratitude and came back with indelible memories.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lush Vs Barren: Beauty Lies in the Eyes of….

So when I told a dear friend about my impending Leh visit, she did not seem to share my excitement and told me that it was a depressing place and that lack of vegetation made it thus. I just smiled since I wanted to experience it and not just rely on hearsay.

Our tour operator suggested that we reach the airport early and grab the window seat since the aerial views will be breathtaking. Am I glad I trusted them, a really short flight of an hour and 15 mins, the descent began pretty soon. Flying over the fluffy white floating wisps of clouds that reminded one of baby’s breath anyway, I caught white and brown mountain range peeping from the cloudy veil. As the flight kept moving on the bird’s eye view kept changing and transforming, the mountains from full white to white with streaks of brown it definitely was a glorious sight like none other. The sight enthralled me like never before.

On landing and throughout the trip of 5 days in Leh, we visited several places, but the landscape largely was browns and whites. Like my little old friend of 6 years said, “vanilla with streaks of chocolate or just vanilla”.

The mountains in Leh are a unique lot, brown majestic ones dotted with huge boulders till the eyes could see making us wonder at times, “what was the force that was holding them up” they did look like they could roll right down anytime. The very small weedy grass interspersed at far intervals just revealed the strong will of life’s desire for itself. Defying desert and snowy conditions some weeds swayed and danced to the rhythm of cool breezes.

Another marvelous exotic never-seen-before sight that welcomes one on the way to Lamayuru Monastery is called the Moonland. The beautiful sand-dune like high mountains had a unique personality of their own, it was a sight one cannot forget in a hurry. The soft rocks that turned into sand on being crushed in-between the fingers and its yellowish orange hue added to the surreal beauty of the area. Our WOW Buddy Zeba said that these formations reminded her of Cappadocia in Turkey! 

Sure, Leh was not lush, the mountains were so very very different from the ones that we are used to in Shimla or Nainital, but was it devoid of beauty? No ways, it had a charm that was so distinctive it is unforgettable, the barrenness striking against the azure skies and stretching far and wide may be “imperfect” to some but beautiful it is. My take is that Beauty should not be trapped in definitions. It is all encompassing, and the saying that “it is in the eyes of the beholder” resonates so much more deeply today than ever.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Are We Ever Really Alone

One of the to do on my bucket list before turning 40 was to travel alone. Alone not because i dont like spending time with my family but because i really have never ever travelled alone. Really i mean it. I have had a pretty comfortable sheltered and protected life pre and post marriage. However, this yearning to travel alone was taking over my thoughts and became deep rooted. Fortunately the hubs supported my desire and let me go "jaa jee le apni zindagi" style and so did my amazing son who promised to behave himself and not miss me too much.

I zeroed in on a destination and knew i wanted to travel with wow an only women travellers group since i have known of sumitra since my PR and her travel writing days. I decided to go to Leh; Pangong lake being my prime motivation. So off i went to the land of high passes and altitudes.

Alone? But really was i ever alone. No. I found a bunch of awesome strong women friends all with the solo aim of grabbing their downtime and quota of fun. The minute we touched down we located each other the pink brigade 22 in total, all set to live together as one big family for the next 5 days. And yes there were mny cases that demonstrated an amazing bond of sisterhood. Sisters of the heart. Due to high altitudes and less time to acclimitise we all did develop some headaches, tum tum issues etc but they were merely minor distractions. We shared love,meds and even desi nuskhas. We bonded extremely well and though we werent with the families and friends they were with us in our hearts, while bargaining for gifts and mementos, while getting monogrammed tees and sometimes when the phone signals came on we spoke to them.

Its then that i realised we never are truly alone its just that at times we need a bit more than elbow space, a space to claim of our own. An adventure that liberates us and yet keeps our feet steadily on the terra firma.

Cheers to all my wonderful girl friends and of course i am a convert and will take up many more trips with WOW. It was a wowsome experience very well orchastrated by the team and Zeba our WOW buddy.

I will travel alone again but i know i wont ever be lonely.