The Mist and Mystique of Matheran

If memories become foggy over a period of time, recollections from Matheran would be the most vivid ones for me. Be it any season, any time of the day, this woodland perched above the Sahyadri summits of Maharashtra is always enveloped with cottony fog. I have visited this place twice or thrice since childhood, yet it never fails to allure me.

Sahyadri mountains covered with a thick blanket of clouds.
Sahyadri mountains covered with a thick blanket of clouds.

Matheran is a favourite weekend getaway for Mumbai and Pune, but still untouched by pollution of these twin cities.

Pollution-emitting vehicles are shunned in this eco-sensitive zone. You have to select from a few rudimentary options like toy-train, horseback, hand-pulled rickshaws and good-old hiking to reach the hilltop from the entry point.

A rail route which is closed during the monsoons. Inoperative tracks make a fun trail for hikers.
Smoke-vomiting cars are replaced with horses.
Smoke-vomiting cars are replaced with horses.

I always preferred hiking, and thanked myself for doing so. The moment you enter the gates of this green haven, you are welcomed by the sound of silence; occasionally broken by chirping of birds or neighing of horses.

Rows of quaint little hotels, private bungalows and government properties built in the yesteryears give a Victorian air to this hill station.

And if you get tired with all the trekking, you can always stop and stare at the beauty around you.
And if you get tired with all the trekking, you can always stop and stare at the beauty around you.
Get lost in the woods, and you’ll find ample ways in which nature astonishes us.
Get lost in the woods, and you’ll find ample ways in which nature astonishes us.
Usually puppies are hyperactive people. But this one chose to pose composed.
Usually puppies are hyperactive people. But this one chose to pose composed.

If you think that travelling in rains is not a big dampener, then you must visit during the monsoons. The landscape looks like a freshly-painted canvas of nature. Rain-bathed trees swank their brightest greens. Petrichor lingers around day and night. A steady downpour turns the sun-baked roads into gooey mud-ways. (Be careful of your footwear though. It is best to choose closed shoes or strappy floaters over delicate sandals and flip-flops.)

A friend had to say goodbye to her footwear.
A friend had to say goodbye to her footwear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it is drizzling gently, wear a poncho and a rain hat and step out for sightseeing. There are over 20 spots worth visiting.

A beautiful view from one of the many popular points of Matheran.
A beautiful view from one of the many popular points of Matheran.

However, you can always walk an unwalked path and discover something altogether new.

I came across this private property, completely covered with foliage, while wandering in the woods.
I came across this private property, completely covered with foliage, while wandering in the woods.

And if, by any chance, you end up trapped in your room with torrential rains outside, don’t you worry. Just grab your favourite drink, a cuppa coffee or a glass of spirit, and enjoy the view from your window for hours. Not to mention, with your favourite music in the background.

A view from my window during the afternoon, evening and next day morning too.
A view from my window during the afternoon, evening and next day morning too.

 

Well, rains may extend for a week or two more. So, why don’t you pack your bags and visit this monsoon getaway?

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Travel Punji

It’s just the fourteenth day of the month, and the machine refuses to spit out money. The screen coldly shows a three digit figure and I walk out of the ATM empty-handed.

For me, this is not a new phenomenon. Since past few months, I have been living like an Urban Poor with no regret.

Year 2016 began with my passion for travel growing stronger than ever before. I wanted to go back to the mountains of Ladakh. I wanted to visit Dah and Hanu, the villages that inhabit the last and the purest breed of Aryans. I wanted to sit in a cafe in McLeodganj and fill notebooks with silly poetries. I wanted to gorge every yummy street food available in Kolkata markets. I wanted to explore all the palaces and temples that whisper tales of the times gone by. I wanted to cycle around the forever French Pondicherry. (For which I’ll obviously have to learn biking. Ok, don’t judge me. I have an explanation for this, but let’s save it for later.) I wanted to travel across my country, and then after exploring every nook and cranny, travel across borders too. I wanted to… and I still want to.

But to start ticking off this never-ending bucket list, I needed to start saving.

Yes, travel is definitely worth more than money will ever be. But for a girl working in a demanding industry like advertising where pay cheque is a joke; saving money for travel was a big challenge.

So, I welcomed the New Year with a simple plan. I opened a separate account to take out a piece of my salary every month without fail. I call it my ‘travel punji’.

This travel punji has brought a lot of discipline in my life. Every month after a certain amount gets deducted from my salary, what I’m left with is just a little cash that helps me get through the month.

Travel punji has also changed my lifestyle to some extent, if not completely. I don’t remember the last time I visited a mall and returned with handful of shopping bags. Splurging stopped. Smart buying started. Today, when I open my wardrobe, I see only a handful of clothes, and I still feel it’s more than enough.

Yes, there are certain things that take a toll on my monthly budget. For example, food. I just cannot resist good food. Of course I can have two home-cooked meals every day; but when craving for a something specific comes to me, my grey cells stop working and taste buds take charge, resulting into a hole in my already-burnt pocket.

Second thing that forces me to use up all my monies is the taxi meter. I love travelling, but hate commuting. The home-office-home routine, last-minute meetings, late nights, work pressure, and the usual rant-worthy factors suck up all the energy, and make cabs the only preferred mode of transportation. I should seriously work towards commuting by public transport like trains and buses. I’m sure, I’ll easily add a few more pennies in my punji.

Well, the third reason is purely sentimental. Someday I might get successful in curbing the other two, but this one has emotions attached to it – It’s the joy of gifting. Deciding on a suitable gift, buying it, wrapping it with pretty wraps, giving it to your dear ones and waiting anxiously to see a twinkle in their eyes when they open it; the whole process is so thrilling and relaxing at the same time.

I pray to God that I’ll never be so broke that I stop this happy habit. And I pray to God that my travel punji may never be bare.

But no matter how empty or full the punji is, I’ll keep travelling. I’ll keep investing in moments. I’ll be rich with memories that can never be traded with any currency.

That’s my promise!

Kya naseeb hain unka. Na kahi se aane ki jaldi, na kahi jaane ki. Bas baithe hain maze mein, pairo-tale lehro ki chanchanaahat sunne fursat se. I secretly envy these lucky flags for just living in the moment without worrying about their travel funds. :)
Kya naseeb hain unka.
Na kahi se aane ki jaldi,
na kahi jaane ki.
Bas baithe hain maze mein,
pairo-tale lehro ki chanchanaahat sunne fursat se.
I secretly envy these lucky flags of Ladakh for just living in the moment without worrying about their travel funds.

PS: The word count of this post is more than my current bank balance. 😉

If you have interesting tips on how to manage travel funds, please share it with me. I’d love your guidance. Or if you want to know more about my future travel plans and how I’m going to use my Travel Punji, feel free to ask a question.

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Ganesh Visarjan Day: Then and Now

‘Ganpati Bappa Morya! Ganpati Bappa Morya!’

The words enveloped the city on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi as millions welcomed home their favourite guest.

Ganesh Festival is my favourite time of the year. Born and brought up in the heart of Lalbaug-Parel area of Mumbai, I have grown up celebrating this festival with great excitement. The pandals, the lighting and decoration, the long aarti sessions, the elocution competitions for children, the night-walks through the lanes of lalbaug, the jatra; every single thing has contributed to make my childhood memorable. But one thing that is etched deeply in my memory is the Ganesh Visarjan.

The Visarjan Day (or the Immersion Day) has always been special. Today, I close my eyes and the entire picture comes alive. I open my eyes and I realise nothing much has changed. Yes, with the advent of the DJ music, which I strongly detest, the form of the procession has changed. But the nature still remains the same.

These are a few last year’s photographs of some of the most common things you’d find in any Ganpati Visarjan procession across Maharashtra.

Chillar Party
Ganpati, the God of knowledge, is every child’s favourite Bappa! Throughout the ten days, the bachcha company keeps running around the pandals, helping their elders with small errands, feeling proud about their contribution. On the day of Visarjan, kids don their nicest dresses and set out to be a part of the grand procession.

Look at these two having fun with gulaal.
Look at these two having fun with gulaal.
They make elder’s shoulders their best vantage point.
They make elder’s shoulders their best vantage point.
The best view ever
The best view ever.
And the younger ones are always made to touch Bappa’s feet and to seek blessings.
And the younger ones are always made to touch Bappa’s feet and to seek blessings.
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Innocent prayers.

Women in Forefront
No matter how much we deny, we still live in a patriarchal society. It’s a sight for sore eyes to see so many women coming forward to bid adieu to their Lord. Dressed in traditional Navvari sarees or a macho kurta pajama and Gandhi cap, they all congregate and sometimes even outnumber male volunteers.

Women performing traditional Mangalagauri games
Women performing traditional Mangalagauri games.
Female volunteers at work and play.
Female volunteers at work and play.

The Swag Quotient
Trends come and trends go, but during the Visarjan you’ll always spot cool dudes sticking to the classic. One just cannot go wrong with the classic combination of Kurta and aviator glasses. You’ll find not one, but many bhais going all out with this dress code.

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Kurta and aviators combo has its own swag!
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And mind you, this style was famous long before the Dabangs and Singhams of the world came into existence.

Gulaal
No festival in India is complete without colours, especially Ganesh Festival. Streaks of Gulaal rocketing up in the sky, forming clouds of pinks and reds make a picturesque sight.

And it’s not bought in docile plastic packets, but in ten and twenty kg gunny bags.
And it’s not bought in docile plastic packets, but in ten and twenty kg gunny bags.
Sometimes it makes the odd stand out. Sometimes it makes everyone blend with the crowd.
Sometimes it makes the odd stand out. Sometimes it makes everyone blend with the crowd.
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The pink finds Nirvana as it settles at the Lord’s feet.

Pushpavrishti
Pushpavrishti is the flower shower that is offered to everyone’s beloved Ganesha, as he proceeds towards his abode. Every year, innovative ideas are implemented by various mandals to make this floral offering.

Seva Sadhna Mandal Pushpavrishti at Shroff Building, Lalbaug.
Seva Sadhna Mandal Pushpavrishti at Shroff Building, Lalbaug.
Ganesha drenched in the shower of love.
Ganesha drenched in the shower of love.

The Majesty himself
And last but not the least, the Bappa himself. The beautiful Ganpati idols slowly moving towards the seashore, en route his home is a purely overwhelming spectacle. The grandness of the idols humbles you down. An impulsive tear rolls down your cheek as you join hands and ask Bappa to come back soon.

Bappa on his way home.
Bappa on his way home.
Devotees dancing in front of the idol to give him the best farewell ever.
Devotees dancing in front of the idol to give him the best farewell ever.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!! Pudhchyaa varshi lavkar ya!!

Ganpati Bappa Morya!! Pudhchyaa varshi lavkar ya!!

 

How many things from this list do you also spot during the Visarjan day? If you feel there is more to add to this list, share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Dawn at Nandi Hills

A morning no less than a painting.

I was chiding myself for missing the sunrise. But as soon as I reached the top of Nandidurga, a thick, fluffy sheet of fog gave me the best bear hug ever.

Nandi Hills is just a few kilometres away from the city of Bangalore. But once you reach here you get teleported into a beautiful water colour painting like this:

A morning no less than a painting.
A morning no less than a painting.

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Tribals from Dhanoshi and a pair of Giver’s Hands

Come on, let’s not fool ourselves and admit it for once.

Throughout our lives, we keep asking for more. Sometimes silently. Sometimes stridently.

In the prayer room, we pray to the God to give us more happiness. In the board rooms, we outperform ourselves so that we can demand a promotion; a salary hike, a higher designation.

It doesn’t stop at that.

We take our ‘taker’s hands’ everywhere. We want our loved ones to give us more time. As parents, we burden our children with great expectations. As citizens, we require our government to give us a better standard of living. Throughout our lives, we just keep taking, taking and taking.

But there are a few good souls on this planet, who are born with the ‘giver’s hands’ irrespective of their current socio-economical state.

I met one such generous soul while I was visiting Aaliv Maal tribal clan, Dhanoshi.

My Dhanoshi visit was as a volunteer with Yuva Morya – an NGO that helps tribal children from Jawhar district get better educational facilities.

After conducting our workshop, all the volunteers headed to have lunch with the locals. Since it was my first time to volunteer in that village, I chose to take a little detour.

Narrow village lanes

Walking through the narrow lanes, I saw a funny mix of old and new. Though the houses were purely made of mud walls and thatched roofs, the haystacks were cautiously packed with plastic and tarpaulin sheets. While the young girls were frolicking in comfy nightgowns, the older women adhered to their traditional tribal dressing of a blouse and a half-sari.

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I observed her during the workshop. She was as one of the brightest girls.
I was particularly observing her during the workshop. She was one of the brightest girls, I must say.

I was on my way to the farmlands, when I observed two girls following me from a distance, giggling softly. I invited them to accompany me. They gladly accepted the invitation.

Rekha and Anjali, my two young guides took me through the fields of taandul (rice), vari (jungle rice)tur (pigeon peas), jowaar (sorghum) and nagli. While I was familiar with the rest of the names, Nagli intrigued me. I tried to dig deeper and get more information on Nagli, but to no avail. They kept giggling at my ignorance and tried to distract my curious mind by pointing at a Singada plant.

They were shy, but kept on giggling while I was trying to click.
Rekha (L) & Anjali (R): They were shy, but kept on giggling while I was trying to click.

I returned to the camp, and joined the group for lunch. A simple meal of nachnichi bhaakri (ragi roti), usal (cooked sprouts) and loncha (pickle). Pure bliss!

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The lunch got us so energised that while on our way back, we decided to halt for a dip in a nearby waterfall. I again sneaked out and strolled around.

 

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As I was passing by a house, a middle aged woman, who was peeling garlics in her front yard invited me in. She belonged to a big family – three brothers and four sisters. I smiled at the ratio, and continued to listen to her chatter. She was lean, yet agile. The way she moved around her house, she could have easily passed off as a woman in her late twenties.

After ten minutes of chit chat, I asked her about Nagli. She laughed and went inside, only to come back with a reddish bhakri in her hand. She warned me not to eat it because it was stale; but allowed me to touch it.

“That’s what I had for lunch today”, I exclaimed.

She explained as if educating a naïve child, “Nagli is nothing but nachni or ragi. Nachni is better known as Nagli, a highly nutritious millet grown in tribal belts like Jawhar.”

IMAG4956She went back and this time came with a bag full of Nagli flour.

I thanked her, but refused to take it without paying anything in cash or kind. She brushed off the idea with her wide eyes and literally forced me to take it home.

She was wearing the most soiled sari and donned the cheapest glass bead jewellery. But at that moment, she was the richest person in the world. She waved at me with her giver’s hands, as I picked up the flour bag packed with her love and kindness, and left with a happy heart to join my friends.

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The Dying Remains of Awanti Swami Temple

Serendipity is travel’s favourite child. For at every turn you take, you’ll discover an experience you weren’t even expecting to encounter.

While on our way to Srinagar, our friend insisted that we must take a little detour and visit Awantipora. Please note that it wasn’t a polite proposal, but a clear instruction given directly to our driver. Throughout the way she campaigned for the site, saying that it was a shooting location in one of the famous Bollywood films; and that we must visit such a prime spot that contributed in the evolution of Indian Cinema. In short, she just didn’t leave us with any choice. Well, I’ll always be grateful to her stubbornness.

We reached the ruins of Awanti Swami Temple in Awantipora (Awantipur), located between Anantnag and Srinagar. And, boy oh boy, we were enthralled.

The entrance of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora
The entrance of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora.

What we were witnessing were nothing less but the ruins of an entire era captured in grey limestone.

The entry fee to this temple is measly Rs. 10. The Government Tourist Guide was happy to see us, as we were the only visitors at that point. The guide was earnestly telling us about the tale of this temple, built to praise Lord Vishnu.

The ruins of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora
The ruins of Awanti Swami Temple, Awantipora

Hundreds, or may be, thousands of years ago, a catastrophic earthquake ruined this beauty. But they say, the real beauty cannot stay hidden for too long. Soon it was resurrected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Awantipora 3
A close up of the carvings

Each niche was dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses of Indian Mythology. Each pillar, each stone restored to life was telling a story. But unfortunately, there weren’t too many ears to listen to them. There are so many architectural wonders like this craving for visitors, be it connoisseurs or mere tourists.

Would these unheard stories die a sad, silent death in spite of getting raised from the dead in the past? I hope not.

That's my friend I'll always be thankful to.
That’s my friend I’ll always be thankful to.

P.S. This temple was not used as a filming location. But, who cares! The visuals recorded in our memories are far better than anything else!

 

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