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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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!
Kurta+Pajama+Aviators 1
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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Worli Buddhist Temple: Travelling inwards without travelling too far

Amidst the chaos of this city, there are so many hidden gems that are waiting to usher you into their calmness; one such place is a Buddhist Temple near the picturesque Worli Sea-face of Mumbai.

Do not confuse this temple with the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji Buddha Temple. Unlike the later, this one is not much talked about on the internet. Even Google Maps carry little to no information about it.

In spite of being part of a plush residential building’s premises, this temple oozes out simplicity and modesty, the virtues on which Buddhism has flourished.

As you enter the temple, you’ll be greeted with a huge golden statue of Lord Buddha calmly casting down his eyes as if inviting you to meditate with him.

The walls of the temple are filled with ancient paintings depicting stories from the life of Gautam Buddha. One thing that piqued my interest towards these paintings is that most of the paintings were brought from Sri Lanka. A few even mentioned full address of its place of origin.

(Upon enquiring, I discovered that this temple is built by Late. Ven. Prof. K Ananda Maha Theo. He was the Founder and President of Bahujan Vihar Trust, Sri Lanka. After doing extensive work in Colombo, he visited India and opened three Buddhist temples in Mumbai, one of them being the Worli Buddhist Temple. The other two temples are in Parel and Andheri.)

As I was admiring the art, one of the paintings caught my attention. It illustrated Gautam Buddha meditating under a Bodhi tree. Three beautiful women are dancing in front of him, trying to break his penance. The painting reminded me of the famous characters from Indian mythology – Rambha, Urvashi and Menaka. But the title read, ‘Mara’s daughters tempt to attempt the Bodhisatta’.

When I asked the caretaker about that painting, he happily told me the story of Mara, the demon and his three daughters.

The legend says that Mara was a powerful demon who wanted to defeat Buddha and any person who followed the path of spirituality. And in order to do that, he employed his three daughters to seduce Buddha.

I looked at the painting again. The three sisters were certainly beautiful. I’m sure it would take only a great and pure soul like Lord Buddha to not waver in front of such incarnations of beauty.

Please do check out this piece if you happen to pay a visit to this quiet place. If you love ancient art and painting, you’ll definitely love this humble collection.

After marveling at the paintings, the idols, and the simplistic architecture, I sat down in front of the statue to meditate for a while.

I believe that you don’t have to be a yogi to meditate. A simple exercise like concentrating on your breathing can also have a tremendous effect on your mind, body and soul.

The soft, salty breeze sweeping in from the ocean comforted my skin. The profound silence enveloped my mind. And soon, I was travelling into the deep realms of my soul for that one hour.

Well, isn’t travelling inwards the longest journey one can embark on without travelling too far?

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