When in Andhra….do the Golconda dance!

 

I don’t like walking. No, really. It’s to do with being lazy, more than anything else. And maybe the napping in Calcutta during monsoons had something to do with it. Grandparents house, rainy afternoon, ordinary day at school, delicious lunch = sleep!

Have you been to the Golconda Fort? No, have you? Well, if you have then you’ll know that it’s not meant for the lazy or the faint-hearted.

I first read/was forced to read (depending on who you’re in conversation with) about the Golconda Fort at school. My history teacher Mrs. Basu (incidentally, my Facebook friend too) was one of the most likable people around. She made sure we studied and along the way realized the importance of the subject. Right behind me in class sat a legendary character, who need not be named, but his take on history was: “Man, the Mughal’s and all these rulers were so lucky. They got to stay in all these cool palaces and had soldiers and horses and so many girlfriends. Amazing bro, amazing.” Hmm.

Revisiting a chapter from the history books turned out to be an adventure of sorts! Like I mentioned at the start, it’s not for the faint-hearted…

After moving past the 201222064 ‘official’ tour guides, I finally made my way onto the premise. From the very beginning, you feel that the entire property has been well maintained and that tourists respect the rules and regulations. I said ‘the tourists’. The locals are in their own league! Several of them etch their names on the old walls and on being told to stop, hurl back well thought out Telegu words. Not pleasant ones, I assure you.

Past the crazy locals and their friends from ‘etch my name’ high-school, came the bit that I didn’t expect to witness.

The sacrificial grounds. Yep. Goats being slaughtered , fresh blood collected. The works.

The Kali temple on ground is where the preliminary rituals are completed. Women sit around a tree, while the executioners carry on with business. The priests chant. The children dance and I looked over my shoulder to see if Indiana Jones was on his way.

The remains of the goat are sent to be cooked. The makeshift kitchen under the old tunnel, where cooks prepare a feast for the devotees. Meanwhile the group of women and their family members begin the climb. It’s a bloody long climb, pun intended.

Barefoot. Enthusiastic. Drum-rolls. Dhinka-chika.

That’s not it. The women who are on their way to the temple have a rather long way to go, the climb isn’t easy (as I found out), but they had another task at hand.

Stopping at EVERY step and applying sindoor (vermilion) on the foot of the step.

I won’t lie, seeing them labor made me feel tired. Very tired.

The afternoon sun chose to appear and brighten up proceedings. Sweat poured down my cheek. The overpriced shirt, drenched. Hopping, skipping, jumping and taking regular breaks (as every marathon runner knows, staying within limits is the name of the game), I made my way to the very top.

I even took a photograph to prove it to those that might not have believed me otherwise. I was impressed with the cellular networks in Andhra Pradesh, that made sure that I could access the internet on top of Golconda Fort, a touch of instagram, indeed!

And, as I sat on the edge of the Fort, looking down at the Lego-like houses, I managed to get a word with the security guard. He likes to be called Raymond and doesn’t like talking much. Yup, great company. Throw in an ice-cream and it’s a party.

He sat there and spoke of his life as a clerk, before this. Of cricket, ghosts and railway travel. His love for tea and mutton (I was thinking to myself, he’s definitely in the right place then!)

The temple behind us, right next to the mosque. On top of a hill. Sun beating down. Thousands of devotees, who come here and believe in whatever it is they believe in.

Faith, so much more than a word on a Tuesday afternoon.

The walk downhill was pleasant. The clouds were out. The numbers had reduced and the drum-beats too. I was surprised that I made the climb, I knew I had no intention to. I kept telling myself, one step more…

Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr say: Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Well, looks like there are many who agree with him.

 

 

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Posted in Festival, Food, History, Hyderabad, India, Nostalgia, People, Photography, Rural India, Traveling, Youth | Leave a comment

Calcutta

“Hi there! We’re planning a trip to India over the winter. Any chance you have an idea about Calcutta? We’re definitely taking tips on Agra from your blog! Do let us know! Thanks, S.”                                                                                                                                                         – Fellow blogger, travel enthusiast.

The internet has made the world a lot more accessible than it ever was! It’s also made the world, a place for people to approach one another without any apprehensions. Especially travelers, who seek advice from people (strangers) based on their experiences.

My grandmother like many other grandmothers, told me not to talk to strangers. Luckily for her I grew up around the time when computers provided great joy to 13 year old children who came home from school and played games with extremely bad graphics and felt very cool about it. The internet didn’t really exist for us, then. The games on the other hand…

Oye, which level have you reached in Prince of Persia? No cheat codes?”  

“Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Awesome game, no?” 

And here we are today! Our worlds impossible to function without e-mail and Facebook and Skype!

I was born and raised in Calcutta. Once the capital of the British Raaj. Home to great cuisine, the Eden Gardens, Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge, footballing rivalry, trams and so much more!

But what stands out for me are the people of the city. I spent 17 years in the city and have great memories of Calcutta, and even of water logged streets and broken down cars. I don’t recall being alone through those experiences. Somehow, there were always someone around to push the car along the road. Somehow, there was always someone who’d tell you, “Worry not, chhoto problem dada!”

That’s my memory of the people of Calcutta. Passionate, helpful, warm. Also, champion story tellers and bullsh*tters. They mean no harm, but their imaginations are of another level…

One would imagine ghost stories being scary, right? But my favourite ghost story (ever) is of the friendly Bengali ghost in Hastings. A police constable from the British era, who apparently guides lost travelers!

And that’s Calcutta for you! Even the ghost stories have a happy ending!

Food. Hmm. Where does one even start? I don’t think it’s possible to cover the range of cuisines the city has to offer, over a week or fortnight. You need to live in Calcutta for months to get an idea about how diverse it actually gets! And to burn the calories, you could possibly run around Victoria Memorial a dozen times!

There’s fabulous mouth watering Mughlai cuisine available in several parts of the city. The Chinese settlement ‘Tangra’ offers the best Indian-Chinese in the country. Park Street = folklore! The British left behind the club culture, and their ‘continental’ menu. Of course, there’s Bengali cuisine to die for and roadside eateries (Dhabas) that cater to the twenty something night owl!

The city covers all bases!

The photograph above was taken on my last trip to the city and to Peter Cat. Where one must either reserve a table or accept the wait outside their door. With every swing of the door, there’s the aroma of Chelo kebabs. Life seems very unfair at that point, only to reverse into your favor when you’re inside and there’s someone waiting on the outside…

On the last day of school, almost a decade ago! Emotions were running high, understandably. My recollection of that day includes walking into Kookie Jar and thanking the owners for choosing the location that they did and for bringing joy into our lives for so many years! I even got a lemon tart for my efforts!

I am yet to find a replacement and the hunt continues… Several cities offered promise, but my favorite bakery will always be in Calcutta.

And once you get used to the chaos the city has to offer, you’ll do just fine. Some cities you fall in love with instantly and some take a while to grow on you.

Calcutta grows on you. We complain about everything but we also love it as much.

The monsoons, the smell of earth, the talkative taxi driver, the school teachers who helped shape our lives, my math tutor who didn’t shape anything. The loud fishmongers, the aged club bearer, the familiar security guard, the old school building.

The house that will always stand, the Gulmohar trees, the afternoon drinking. The critics, the learned, the argumentative babu, the dhoti and umbrella in summer. The thick framed spectacles, the sickle on the wall, now some flower too.

The corner-store with the rope lit at one end, the chicken-roll shop, the old Muslim eateries in Park Circus. The school uniforms, the tram lines, the swerving bus. Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Holi, Eid, Christmas. The Armenian community, the Parsi football league. Rugby at CCFC.

“All are welcome”

Calcutta will leave a lasting impression on anyone, it has to.

 

And Bloody Mary’s in steel utensils, always a winner!

Posted in Calcutta, Food, India, Nostalgia, People, Photography, Politics, Restaurant, Traveling, Uncategorized, Youth | Tagged | 2 Comments

Wah, Udaipur!

Being an Indian male in the mid/late twenties age category brings with it the following:

a) Your friends are getting married by the dozen.

b) You will be getting propositions too. Maybe at a casual dinner or waiting for a taxi. (PS – or at the check in counter at the airport. True story)

c) Points A and B hold true, and one must learn to deal with such things with grace and Bloody Mary’s.

So, when I received an email several months ago from my friend Arjun, telling me that he’s decided to take the ‘big step’, it gave me the opportunity to be around him and his family and be part of what turned out to be a very royal affair in the small city of Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Indian weddings are grand, and this one was ‘off the hook’. With lots of like minded people, who seemed to blend tradition with modernity (where have I read that phrase before? hmm). There were ceremonies that were religiously followed by the book and there were cocktail parties that started at night and ended way after dawn. I’d say on an average 4 hours of sleep per day is what I looking at! And I wasn’t complaining!

I often get asked a question on my travels, especially abroad: “Why do Indian weddings go on for a week?”  Well, we all have been asked that question at some point, right? What’s the most innovative answer that you’ve come up with?

Someone I know, once came up with, ” It depends on the will left behind by your Great Great Great Grandfathers Father, who before moving on (not passing out) decides on how long the wedding should go on for.” A very pretty girl (nationality not to be mentioned nor hair colour) bought the story and ended up spending a lot more time with the storyteller than he’d initially imagined.

I love the grandeur, the colours, the tradition. Friends, old and new.But what makes it all come together? The fabulous hospitality, the laughter and the conversations.

Conversations about Marxism (Groucho, strictly), Calcutta politics, Laal Maas (YES!), pubs in London, bakeries in Bombay and Amsterdam, dream cities, falling in love, drunken poetry….and some dull conversations too, when you need to stare at the person you’re talking to in the eye and say- “Hey, I need to get a refill. Don’t move, I’ll be back!”

Udaipur was magical. Its narrow lanes and graffiti had me fall in love with the city, instantly. The shopkeeper close to the the City Palace conversing with me in French and complaining about exchange rates, epic. The friendly locals are always around to guide you and not swindle you for your money!

On last count, I did manage to lose my way 24 times. And had it not been for the friendly locals, I’d have made my way to Mt. Abu, where I do plan to go, someday. Plan, being the key word. If you haven’t been to Udaipur, you must. There are fascinating places to stay, fun things to do, exotic drinks and dishes to experiment with. And I know, I have family to go back to.

 

Posted in Food, India, People, Photography, Politics, Traveling, Udaipur, Wedding | 1 Comment

The night is darkest just before the dawn.

There is a saying amongst the Irish to inspire hope under adverse circumstances:

“Remember that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.”

I must admit that the source behind the quote was down several pints of Guinness when she quoted those very words…But her confidence and ability to string a sentence together gave me hope that someday I would quote her!

Apart from the time I spent when I was a young teen, harboring hopes of becoming a superhero, I never really woke up at dawn.

Until, Wednesday.

At 5.11 AM on Wednesday. I lay in bed. Staring out of my window. 6th floor. And then I remembered what I wrote to an ex girlfriend once, “When you have nothing to do, and you’re not sleepy or tired. Put your shoes on and walk. You’ll get somewhere.”

And walking in an unknown city has its own charm. I met people, lots of them. I broke bread with them, quite literally. Followed their rituals and routines. Some dip bread into their hot tea. Others put sugar on their bread but not in their tea. Diabetes, one said. Some sing in the Lords name, some dance to Michael Jackson or whatever plays on the radio.

I didn’t do all of that. I just dipped bread (pao) into what seemed like a never ending cup of tea at a traffic crossing at six in the morning.

These people live in their own world. Some are street cleaners others rag pickers. Milkmen, mailmen. Drivers, policemen. School clerks and peons, government building security guards. Wannabe song writers and actors. Poets and newspaper delivery boys. And me.

Conversation, car horns and sunrise.

One of them gave me their cycle. Not as an act of goodwill but just for the morning. And as we cycled through the old lanes and crowded ‘dhobi-ghaats’ where the washermen and women work, it seemed like in every lane there existed a different world.

And as I sit and write this short piece, put together the post with images…I am reminded of all those people I met. Their ability to be happy…come what may. Their reasons to celebrate with the change of weather or a wedding. Their willingness to fight to see another dawn.

Their lingering hopes. Their laughter. My lingering hopes and frowns.

The last photograph was taken at Agra. All the doors were locked. But then again, not all doors require keys to open them.

Till next time….

Posted in Agra, India, People, Photography, Tea, Traveling, Youth | 2 Comments

Chaai. Friends. Cups. Sunsets.

The photo journal below has been compiled over two weeks. These images have been sent by friends from across the world and few have been taken by me.

7.12 AM: Yousef, Jordan. 

The doodle in the photograph is by a friend, Dima. She resides in Lebanon. Social networks have a funny way of bringing people together!

2.44 PM: Vansh, New Delhi. 

While friends in the middle-east start early, a friend in Delhi goes across to Elma’s Tea Room in Hauz Khas Village.

I’ve been to Elma’s and the experience was fabulous! There are things on the menu that I am going to try on my next visit…including the slice of cake in the photograph below!

3.21 PM: Sidra, Manchester. 

A friend from University, Sidra is currently traveling across SE Asia. I wonder if she misses the traditional tea (more like meals) in England. Sigh. As I write, I recall the spread of scones and jams and breads and muffins and…tea, of course.

4.15 PM: Me, Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) 

This photograph was taken at a soya plantation in Vidisha. The worker, Ramlal, drinks his cup of chaai at the same time, everyday. He spoils himself every now and then, with a couple of biscuits.

4.43 PM: Darjeeling, Shivangi & Prabhav

Take a bow!

These images make me want to visit Darjeeling, again. The first image is of a pot of Orange Pekoe and the second is White Tea.

I’m currently in a village, 120 km away from Lucknow. Little Lallan looks at these images and refuses to believe that the images below are of chaai…

2.12 AM: Madurai, Martin. 

An old friend, Martin, travels across South India on work.

This image was taken on one of his trips to Madurai. He tells me of the conversation he had with the owner who gave up his dreams as a young man to carry on with the family tea stall.

From my experience, tea stall owners make great conversation. Like one tea stall owner in Varanasi told me, “We live in fast pace world. But it take tea two minute to cool down. I talk my customers for at least two minute.”

9.33 AM: Yasmeen, Gurgaon 

Gurgaon is the corporate hub of modern India. With most Multinational companies and several Indian firms making the suburb what it is today…

But even in between decision making and excel sheets, there’s always time for …. 🙂

6.18 AM: Srinagar, Kashmir. Naina Masi 

A close family friend was in Kashmir recently and confessed that she couldn’t capture the sunrise and the kahwa! Here’s to paradise…. and houseboats!

12.20pm: A village in Madhya Pradhesh, Me.

The tea stall has been there for many years. And those sitting in front of the store have grown up around the store. It’s their regular meeting spot… Friendship bound by chaai.

5.21 PM: Close to Chiraghpur, UP. Me. 

The real storyteller captured in the image below. East meets West. I asked for a coca cola and as did the village spokesperson… He was upset that there was no ice! I made do with the relatively freezing bottle…

6.31 PM: Nepalganj, Nepal. Me. 

The best spicy tea in town. The lady also makes momos and is a storehouse of knowledge.

In Nepal the motor vehicle number plates are in red. And one of the regulars at the store got one made for me, with my name and birth date on it.

People are friendly, if you are.

Thank you for sending me the photographs ya’ll!

And remember to send me more!! Send them to: arjunpurimail@gmail.com

Love from Uttar Pradesh!

PS – From the city of London: My friend, banker and future barrister: Ed 

There isn’t a time on this image. He drinks several cups through the day. I talk from experience. Four years of sitting next to him!

Posted in Delhi, India, Nostalgia, People, Photography, Rural India, Tea, Traveling | Tagged | 4 Comments

Of love and other such things, Agra.

A South American girl asked me to marry her at the Taj. I refused, politely. But I did buy her a fridge magnet and a bottle of water.

There’s a reason why the city is home to one of the wonders of the world and a mental institution…

Here’s to those that encounter one at least!
Three. Twelve. Twenty seven.

Those aren’t my favorite numbers, well…one of them might be. But when put in the same sentence, they denote the number of times I’ve been to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

As I sit on the steps of an old ruin at sundown, I realize how lucky we are to physically touch and feel the buildings built centuries ago, to walk down the corridors and pathways. To sit on the ledges made of red stone, overlooking rose gardens and fountains with modern day technology in each of our pockets.

William, the young Frenchman with the iPad, iPhone and Mac, sits next to me. He doodles, edits and uploads in a jiffy. Like a young boy impressed with a magicians trick I smile, while the Mughals turn in their grave at the very thought…

But for me Agra isn’t just about the Taj Mahal, there’s a whole lot more that one can discover.

Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb (Urdu: اعتماد الدولہ کا مقبرہ, I’timād-ud-Daulah kā Maqbara) is a Mughal mausoleum in the city . The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who had been given the title of I’timād-ud-Daulah (Pillar of the State). Mirza Ghiyas Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the emperor Shah Jahan, responsible for the building of the Taj Mahal.

The above facts come in hand to impress the several beautiful ladies that come visit Agra, and William too. Who is still around as I type…

I carried my Lonely Planet guide with me. If only I had paid more attention at History lessons at school! Sigh.

While I spent my time looking out of the window at school, my mother spent a great deal of time over the years reading about the Mughals and their impact in India, which helped me in understanding the significance of all that I was experiencing on this trip.

Since my mother will not be traveling with any of you, here’s a link to the guide book:

http://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Planet-Rajasthan-Regional-Travel/dp/1741046904

The reason I recommend the book or tell you of the relevance of knowing what you’re seeing is because it adds a whole new dimension to your experience.

A word of caution: there are WAY too many tourist guides in the city and sometimes it just gets out of control. One must check the authenticity of the guide else you’ll be left with stories made up by our own modern day Shakespeare from Uttar Pradesh. I got told by one gentleman, “I will show you where they played cricket.” The Mughals played cricket? Erm.

Some think its their right to show you around and will continuously follow you…until you shout at them or narrow your eyes or show them a snake (I haven’t tried this one, but someone who carried a snake in her bag did).

There are lots of cultural events that take place in the city. We were fortunate to catch a folk performance on one of our evening walks.

Many might disagree but to me going to Agra means going to Fatehpur Sikri. I love being there. There’s something about the place that just….works.

And here’s to faith, at the Dargah:

It’s getting dark. William has packed up, finally. The security guard asks us to make our way to the exit.

The sunset over the river looks beautiful. The prayers on microphones add an element to the atmosphere. There is laughter somewhere and barking too. Who’s to say, what represents happiness? “Happiness is an angel with a serious face.”  As Modigliani said.

I’m assuming the dog is laughing too.

The old priest folds his hands. His son hides the cricket bat behind the tree. I say bye to William. He’s a part of my story and I a part of his. So what if the story required silence and only an exchange of names and glances.

Here’s knowing what you and I are doing today …. will be history, tomorrow.

From the House of Love, in Agra.

Posted in Agra, Festival, India, Mughal, People, Photography, Rural India, Traveling, Youth | 8 Comments

Lungis, Japanese dolls and Scott Parker’s hairstyle.

It’s Tuesday. And though there isn’t much on the agenda, I feel there’s reason enough to be adventurous. I miss Delhi. More now, after having moved back to India. It’s the only place where I have a cupboard of my own and all the suitcases are in the attic. The cream paint on the ceiling and the twelfth floor view is constant. The sound of the night train and the city lights, all familiar. This is home. Where the alarm on the phone is replaced by an unpaid ‘wake up’ service, provided by an enthusiastic three year old German Shepard. Of snuggles and licks, sometimes a bit over the top…but its okay, it’s what I miss the most when I am away.

I’m in Delhi on a Tuesday. And it feels good.

The idea of having constants and variables is a formula that puts most things in perspective. Be it people, objects, feelings, math (which I have no idea about, still)…the list goes on. And as we drove past one of my favorite localities in Delhi, CR Park, I realized that the house I called my own over several summers will now have new residents. As my Aunt and Uncle move to a city far away from mine. *Shoots down another shot of tequila*

The photo above is from the winter that just went by. Of a time, when I thought I’d see another winter through those old iron gates at CR Park. I was reminded of the lift (elevator) at my grandparents house, every time I saw those gates. Where one waits an eternity for the lift to function, dreads the thought of getting stuck and even though it says ‘allow three passengers only’ there is always the lift man, which makes it rather inconvenient for the third person in a group. One has to climb six flights of stairs or gaze at the lizard above the flickering tube light, till the lift (lift man) decided to come back. Yes, that was me on most Fridays in Jodhpur Park, Calcutta. And if you know me, you’ll know…I rarely climb stairs. Yup, lots of gazing over the years….

Coming back to Delhi and Tuesday. Have you been to Andhra Pradesh Bhawan?  Not to meet the Andhra officials or pay homage or anything but to eat at the canteen. Have you? Because if you haven’t…you’re missing out.

Its like you’re part of a crazy army of foodies. All of whom are impatient in general but have a remarkable level of patience while waiting endlessly for a number to be called out. Ours was 121. Yes, 121. And the forty minute wait was spent talking to people around us, sympathizing (read: evil) with those waiting behind us and jealous of those ahead.

Its like waiting in queue to meet a rockstar!

And there was noise and sweat, lungi’s and towels. Telugu and erm, more Telugu. But that’s what makes it special? It’s the wait, the plotting and the aroma (once you get over the sweat).

If you enjoy your food and are willing to wait in line and sit with strangers and shout across the floor for rice and sambhar…then this is where it’s at! I couldn’t resist updating my status on Facebook about being in Andhra Bhawan. And the texts made its way to me, “Get the mutton fry!”, “I miss Delhi, trust you to be there.” , “Is the fat balding chap still there? he runs the place!”

Food = nostalgia.

Like a song that reminds me of rain in London, like the thought of chicken fry and endless rasam reminds her of the canteen on Ashoka Road.

Here’s a link, since I’m pathetic with directions: http://www.aponline.gov.in/apportal/apbhavandotcom/Location.htm

To round off the perfect Tuesday afternoon (and procrastinating math) … there’s the Japanese miniature doll exhibit on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi:

And this one! Oh, Spiegelman!

And on my way home I was ordered to visit the hairdressers. And as I sat there in the waiting room flicking through the various magazines, my hairdresser (and keen Tottenham fan) asked – “Would you like me to style your hair like Scott Parker?”

Oh well…..

I guess everyday is a new day, everyday is yours to win.

Posted in Delhi, Dog, Food, India, Nostalgia, People, Photography, Restaurant, Traveling | 2 Comments