Sneak Peak to my Vindhyas Trip

Travel, Uncategorized
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Hanging around in Munich

Travel

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We arrive at Munich airport early in the morning on our 3 weeks trip across Europe; Germany, Austria and Croatia…
Since Indrani, my better half had not seen Munich previously we planned to do some city sightseeing before catching the train to Mittenwald. The most cost effective way to get around the city is to buy a day pass (€38 per person). With the same ticket we would also be able take the train to Mittewald….the only problem was that the ticket was valid from 9am only, which meant we had to hang around the Munich Airport till 9 before we could take the train into the city.
Coming from hot and humid New Delhi, at least the Munich weather was crisp… We filled in our lungs with fresh air. Inside the airport everything was closed except for a small departmental store and a bakery which was is full swing. The smell of breads fresh out of the oven was making everyone hungry.
The first thing that we bought was a big bottle of water. Plane travel always make me very thirsty as if I’ve just walked across the desert. It turned out to be sparking water. Once we quenched our thirst and freshened up, everyone was in a better mood to explore. We bought some chocolates to nibble on and as the shops started to open did some window shopping. After the long flight and cramped airline seats, we soon got tired and found a place to sit where we could put our feet up realising we still had 3 hrs to kill.
One incident which happened while we waited is worth mentioning. We were approached by a young girl with her mother in toe in a burkha.. First she asked if we spoke English…when I said Yes…She continued, saying that they had a lot of rice which she wanted to give away (she must have guessed from our looks that we were Indians and rice eaters). I realised like us they too must have hoarded what was dear to them on their travels. We were carrying 4 bottles of Maggi Hot&Sweet sauce as in our previous trips we found that most of the sauces available in Europe were too bland for our palate. We politely said no.
Finally at 9 we took the train to Munich hauptbahnhof. The first thing that we needed to do is get rid of our heavy bags. Luggage storage facilities are available at the train station itself. Pretty expensive €6 per locker.
From here we headed straight to Marienplatz. Marienplatz is a central square in the city centre of Munich, Germany. It has been the city’s main square since 1158. To tell you frankly this time around we didn’t enjoy our time in Munich at all. The temperature was soaring and the entire place has been uprooted . Construction work was happening everywhere we looked. The wonderful yellow facade of Theatinerkirche the 15th C Gothic church had completely disappeared and the exterior of the church was instead covered with paper cut out.
We were quite happy to leave Munich and take the scenic train ride to Mittenwald. The ride was not without surprises… Stay tuned.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Travel

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This seems to be an odd picture to start my updates about our recent trip to Europe… But with such an exciting end to the journey I just can’t help myself…

It all started with our return flight with #Austrian airlines from Zagreb. We had a early morning flight which means you hardly get time to sleep the previous night. The morning was misty which is usually the case this time of the year as informed by Mathia who was driving us to the airport. Reaching the airport and after finishing security check we grabbed any vacant spots available in the waiting lounge. People kept piling inside a space which was smaller than many of our domestic airports. Soon I realized all the flights were getting delayed because of the fog which seemed nothing to us. New Delhi sees much worse foggy conditions between December and January and flights still take off albeit delayed. I wonder what foreigners traveling to India crib about when traveling during these two months. The fog was so bad apparently that the Austrian flight which was coming from Vienna couldn’t land. Rather than delaying the flight, Austrian thought better to cancel the flight all together throwing all our plans into turmoil. While all this was happening ( I mean flight cancellation) we were sitting nonchalantly unaware. Not our fault I tell you. The announcement system was so great that we didn’t here anything. Finally exiting the departure area and collecting our luggage’s again from the baggage belt we stood patiently in the line to see how we would fly out. ” There are no flights available out of Europe. We can offer you a connection on Aeroflot” says the lady at the counter in a business like fashion. With no other option in hand, we take what’s offeredagain going through the tedious process of check-in, the mandatory strip down at security check and waiting in the lounge.
Fortunately this time Aeroflot flies on-time. The lady at the Aeroflot counter seemed sympathetic of our ordeal since early morning and helped get us excellent seats.
The layover at Moscow was a tight one- 1hr15mins only… After landing we huffed and puffed our way to the new gates having just enough time to see the dazzle of the countless duty-free shops from outside.
The flight back was very comfortable. Aeroflot was a pleasant surprise. No frills but nice. Landing in Delhi we had another surprised waiting for us. Apparently the 1hr layover was not enough to get our bags transferred. So our trip officially ended a day later when our bags got delivered home.

Inside Circle: Dudhwa National Park

Travel

 

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Most of the people I have come across have no idea about Dudhwa National Park and even fewer have ever visited it. Having heard good reviews from few of my adventurous friends, I was quite excited when I got an invitation from a friend of the Destination Knowledge Centre who plans to convert his farm estate into a luxury resort.

Located near the Indo-Nepal border, Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh is a major wildlife conservation site and an important reserve under the Project Tiger project for the conservation of Indian tigers.  We had driven down from Delhi. With Bareilly as the only halt we reached by afternoon. But the best thing to do is fly from Delhi to Lucknow and then drive for 4 hrs to reach the park.

The best fit for clients: After Delhi-Jaipur and Agra, continue to Chambal Safari Lodge ( 1hr/30 mins from Agra) to spend a couple of nights and then to Dudhwa (5-6 hrs from Chambal Safari Lodge) and finally Lucknow before taking the train/flight back to Delhi.

We had a quick lunch and were ready to head out for a game drive. After a long bumpy ride (the park gate is close to a 1 hr drive from the property) we reached the park.  The forest was beautiful. Even in peak summer the forest canopy was green. Dudhwa National Park has moist Sal forest unlike other parts of central India which are known for its dry Sal forest.  My time inside the forest was made extra special by the fact that I had an expert birder with me. The park boasts of more than 350 species of birds and we were able to spot many interesting ones like the Indian pitta, swamp partridge, plenty of painted storks, owls, woodpeckers and hornbills. Much of Dudhwa’s avian fauna is aquatic and found around lakes. Many a times when going to-and-fro we would stop at a bridge over the Sharda River to look at the huge turtles floating peacefully on the water surface and sometimes catch a glimpse of Gharials. The eco-system here which comprises of mesmerising mosaic of Sal and Teak Forest, lush green grasslands, steaming swamps and wetlands is what makes drives very interesting. I was also surprised to learn that this is probably the only National Park in the country where you can see tigers, swamp deer’s as well as rhinos. The 24 sq km enclosure inside the park, with swamps lands and tall grass is an ideal habitat for rhinos. We went on elephant backs to spot them. The tigers once again eluded me and Iam yet to see one in the wild.

Let me tell you a bit about my host’s property.  He is confident would be up and running by the coming season. The Haveli which was built in the 50’s has a colonial feel to it. The approach to the property is pleasant with litchi plantations and sugarcane fields flanking either side. Space is not a constraint here with acres of private cultivation land surrounding the property which is free to be explored by clients. Kamaljeet (the owner) plans to keep bikes and all-terrain vehicles at client’s disposal for them to explore their surroundings. At the moment there are seven rooms which would be decorated with British campaign furniture.  The food served here would be famous Awadhi Cuisine, including family recipes handed down through generations.  A wonderful sit out is an ideal place for evening get together after a tiring game drive. Apart from Kamaljeet’s property, stay wise there is nothing else noteworthy here. Ultimate Travelling Camp plans to open Suheli Camp, Dudhwa, to give clients the luxury tent experience sometime soon.

Before leaving Dudhwa I made a visit to ‘Billy’ Arjan Singh’s land, an Indian hunter turned conservationist who made Dudhwa famous by successfully hand-rearing and reintroducing zoo-born tigers and leopards in the wilds of Dudhwa. His house has a dreary, lost look to it as if forgotten by time, same as Dudhwa. It is hard to image that only fifteen years ago this park was once as famous as Corbett National Park.

Highs:

–          Located in near to Lucknow makes it easily accessible

–          Unique eco-system of Sal forest, swamps and tall grasslands

–          An opportunity to see rare avian species like the Bengal Florican, Swamp Partridge as well as tigers, rhinos and elephants.

–          No pollution of too many resorts putting a strain on the forest

Lows:

–          The distance from the property to the forest gate is a long 1 hr drive. There is a plan to reach the park through another gate  which if goes through would cut the drive time to 20mins.

–          Weekends attracts the local domestic tourist which sometimes leads to many vehicles in the park. There is at the moment no rule about number of vehicles to be allowed inside the park

 

Update : Recently Jaagir has come under the Tree of Life banner run by Himmat Anand. Expect only good stuff now 🙂

Website: http://www.treeofliferesorts.com/dudhwa/

ART OF BENGAL

Travel

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Patachitra or scroll painting of rural Bengal is made by the Patuas, a branch of the Chitrakar caste (picture-maker). The Patuas are professional artists who make images and paintings for a living. Patuas, like the kumars (village potters), started out in the village tradition as painters of scrolls or pats telling the popular mangal stories of the gods and goddesses. For generations these scroll painters or patuas have gone from village to village with their scrolls or pat singing stories in return for money or food. The pats or scrolls are made of sheets of paper of equal or different sizes which are sown together and painted with ordinary poster paints. Originally they would have been painted on cloth and used to tell religious stories such as the medieval mangal poems.

Our day return excursion to one such village, Naya is an authentic village experience traveling through lush green agricultural field, beautiful terracotta temple, seeing local craft such as Madur (grass mattress) weaving, and the highlight is of course, are the scroll painters. We also trace from here the other famous Bengal painting called Kalighat. Nowadays most of these paintings are in the hands of private collectors or locked behind museums doors. From the depiction of Indian goddesses, and other mythological characters, the Kalighat paintings developed to reflect a variety of themes. The charm of the Kalighat paintings lies in the fact that they captured the essence of daily life and they influence modern artistes like the late Jamini Roy even to this day, whose work we would see at the Academy of Fine Arts Kolkata. 

 

ITINERARY

Depart from the hotel after an early breakfast, and drive to Naya village (3.5 hrs). On arrival we first visit the beautiful Terracotta temple of the local Maity family. Proceed later to the village of the scroll painters. Simple, non-spicy home cooked food is served for lunch with mineral water. After lunch we are free to interact with the painters, watch them create intricate works of art, listen to their songs, and visit the houses of the grass mattress weavers.

Late afternoon we head back to Kolkata. A quick tea / coffee break with clean toilet facility are available en route. It would be close to 1930 hrs by the time we are back in Kolkata. Next morning we visit the Academy of Fine Arts before proceeding for our city tour.

For the price and a longer itinerary which includes the beautiful Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur get in touch with me.

Street Art

Random, Travel

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Pardon me writing here after a long time. But as most of you know photography is my passion and I only write to share something which is close to me or an experience which has touched me.

This weekend I went to Shahpur Jat to experience a walk led by three young architects who blog,study,walk and are interested in not just buildings themselves but the interaction between the people and buildings. The walk is a part of the Delhi Street Festival which aims at making more and more people understand what street art is.

I have always associated Graffiti as being something ugly, something which destroys the visual appeal of a city. But in a sprawling semi-urban village like Shahpurjat I began to understand how art could make a difference and how the local villagers had now something to be proud about. Walking through the narrow lanes of Shahpurjat, towards the back side of the more popular design lanes, gave me a feeling of a place still untouched by time. Although it is an area inhabited mostly by the Jat community, I could also catch a few phrases of Bengali, which as our guides explained was also one of the communities which had made this urban area their home. The facades of most of the buildings here are gloomy with walls almost glued against one another and narrow buildings sticking their necks up, like a young tree trying to break free of the canopy to get some sunlight.

Looking at the art installations, you get a sense of the different backgrounds that the artist come from and what inspired them. Harshvardhan’s work inkbrushnme at the corner building of two forking roads depicting the Sun God is inspired by Amar Chitra Katha. It depicts the seven colours of the spectrum juxtapose with a map of Delhi . Yantr’s bio mechanics graffiti and style could be related to the fact that his father was a mechanic. I loved Alias’s works, brilliantly realistic yet hidden.

The walk was very visually appealing and the idea of a kit with information about ShahpurJat and a walking map to mention a few of inserts was a great idea. It also had a stencil cut out which all the group members used to make their own little wall art. There walk had identified close to 20 major art installations. The village is now dotted with several other smaller piece, commissioned by the local on their walls once they warmed up to the idea of street art. We ended the walk at potbelly , the only place in town that I’m aware of which serves Bihari food. The pakoras were to die for. I would definitely recommend you to stop there ( mind you, you will have to climb four flights of stairs)

Although the guided walks are over you can still head over to Shahpur Jat to see the art works. From here the festival which is on till the end of the month shifts to Huas Khaz and Khirki Village. My only qualm is that the Hero piece ( as explained an artwork which becomes a sort of a landmark ) is a not a dog but a cat 😉

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Harshvardhan

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PCO

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Alias

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Anpu ( Hero Art )

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Temples and More

Travel

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2 Day Chola Tour, Pondicherry and more

On my recent trip to Tamil Nadu, I wanted to do a classical tour but at the same time cover places like Mangala Heritage, Nagapattinam and Dindigul which could easily be included in an itinerary to make it (the itinerary) more relaxed.

My first stop was Chennai. Though it had rained continuously the week before, I was fortunate enough to get clear weather. After checking into my hotel, I proceeded for lunch at Sabita Radhakrisha’s house. Sabita is a freelance writer, food columnist and broadcaster. Nowadays she also entertains clients at her house over lunch, where she cooks authentic Tamil Cuisine.  The more adventurous can do a cooking class with her. She has a beautiful house, filled with knick-knacks which the husband and wife duo have collected from their travels. Sabita is also a textile activist and on request shows you her extensive and rare collection. A stop at her place for lunch or dinner makes for a good introduction to the Tamil cuisine and way of life.

To add a twist to the ordinary, imagine learning about the history of San Thome Church, its architecture and the history of the locality from the Father of the Church himself. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? So the next time you are in Chennai get in touch with us to make it happen. Before proceeding to your next destination, whether it is Mahabalipuram or Pondicherry I would recommend that you make an early morning stop at Koyembedu Flower & Vegetable market. The sheer size of the market and the riot of colours make it a sight not to be missed.

Going back to Pondicherry after 2009 I was dreading that the juggernaut of modernisation would have changed this quaint little town. I am happy to say that the French Quarter (White Town) hasn’t change much. Pondicherry is a one of the few cities in India where walking is such delight. I will not talk much about Villa Shanti here again since I have already covered its excellent food and the hotel in other sections of this magazine. Instead I will talk about Palais de Mahe. As usual CGH Earth does not disappoint.The service was excellent and the rooms are very spacious. Palais de Mahe boast of a pool too, which is rare amongst the smaller properties in the French Quarter. The inclement weather meant I didn’t have opportunity to use it though. Over the years there have been a few Bed & Breakfast which have mushroomed all over. Two of these which are worth mentioning; Gratitude and La Closerie Bay of Bengal. Gratitude is a lovely heritage home restored by INTACH from a French colonial home. The owners of this chic, eight-room B&B are passionate about textiles and pottery. The property’s highlight is its central courtyard and the giant mango tree which dominates it. When you enter the property a sense of calm and peace envelopes you. La Closerie onthe other hand is much more contemporary. A water body in the center of the property draws your attention and (like Gratitude it) has only six rooms, each having a different character and price. Both options can be looked at for the value conscious traveller.  I came upon both these properties on my walk with INTACH who not only tell you interesting stories about the town and buildings but you also step inside a few of the buildings to see the restoration project. For me the only way to enjoy Pondicherry is to stay inside the French Quarter and discover the place on foot. Get in touch with us to know more about an exclusive product that we have created – A French Day in Pondicherry; where we try to create the feel how a French local would spend time in the city.

Sometimes we are in a hurry to reach the final destination and miss out on places of interest on the way. Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) makes of an ideal stop in your Tamil Nadu itinerary. If Pondicherry is distinguished by its French legacy, Tranquebar is distinguished by its Danish past. Its relics include a gateway sporting the Danish Royal Seal, a fort that’s Scandinavian in appearance rather than Dravidian, a string of imposing colonial bungalows and two early 18th-Century churches(.) Start early from Pondicherry covering Chidambaram enroute and then stop to take a sneak peak at Danish history at Tranquebar, once a Danish trading post, that lies 100 miles south of Pondicherry on the Coromandel Coast. The Neemrana property “Bungalow on the Beach”  is right next to the sea and worth an overnight stay. I would recommend the rooms on the first floor (Crown Prince of Denmark and Queen Anna-Sophia) for the refreshing sea-breeze and veranda to enjoy the view of the sea and Dansborg Fort.

The other possibility is the stop for lunch at Bungalow on the Beach and proceed to Mangala Heritage homestay. It is a 100 years old Chettiar house with five rooms. One ofthe rooms does not have a bathroom. All the rooms are painted in an earthy colour giving them a warm glow under the tungsten bulbs at night. Even though it’s an old house you do have uninterrupted electricity courtesy of power back and hot water. The property is located in the back drop of a village surrounded by paddy fields and in front of the homestay is the temple tank. Arun is the caretaker who speaks good English and is always around when needed. The food at Mangala Heritage is an all vegetarian affair but if you let them know in advance about your meal plan they make a conscious effort to serve different local dishes to mix it up. I really enjoyed the food here as well as the filter coffee. Even though I’m a tea drinker, when traveling in South India I become a coffee drinker because the local coffee is so good. As for the activities, in the morning you can go to Nagapattinam Port to see the fisherman bring the fresh catch of the day. Later go with Arun for a walk around the village and to see the Mucukunda Murals which I have already spoken about.

From Mangala you can either proceed towards Kumbakonam or Tanjore. Just before reaching Kumbakonam you cross a town called Nachiyar Koli which is famous for Brass making. Don’t go to the big factories but enter any one of the houses (close to 500 )which are involved in Brass making. They are very happy to see visitors and you can spend as much time as you want watching process.

Finally let me come to the highlight of my tour – The Two Day Chola Tour. All of us do the major temples of Tamil Nadu, be it the Big Temple, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram. But in this two days the tour proceeds a little differently. Keeping Tanjore as the base for your exploration you trace the rise and fall of one of the most important dynasties of Asia – The Chola Empire. The Chola Empire ruled close to 500 years from 8C – 13C AD and build close to 5000 temples spread all over South India with a few temples in Sri Lanka and further East. Of these around 250 temples still survive. To understand the flow of events, we cover five temples chronologically each corresponding to one century of their rule beginning with the Vijayalayacholeswara temple of Narthamalai, the first temple built by this dynasty and ending with Kampahareswarar, the last temple built by a Chola king . The tour is conducted by a professor who used to lead the British Museum Tours to India. The highlight of the tour for me was the rare sculptures that we saw in some of these temples, especially in Gangaikondacholapuram which was about the family lives of the gods with their wives and children. Here we also re-enacted pouring of Ganga water into the temple well as was done by Chola King Rajendra a thousand years ago. On the last day of the tour, we end with a Chola dinner–  a 12th century menu but cooked in the 21st century kitchen and see some Chola period coins which the professor carries for us.

 

For more information about my trip drop me a email.

Back In One Piece

Travel

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I think I’m very lucky to have friends who are so enthusiastic about travel. But sometimes such enthusiasm puts me into a spot of bother. For instance, our last trip to Pushkar on bikes. Now you would say so what – people go to Ladakh on bikes. For one I don’t know how to ride one and secondly, I sleep very well in anything that moves. As usual our trip was planned on the spur of the moment. We started early morning, on a Saturday and reached Pushkar late in the afternoon. The Pushkar fair was on, so we spend the entire day at the fair ground soaking in the riot of colours.

The next morning after an early lunch it was time to head back. On the way back we kept getting delayed. Once one of the bikers lost his keys and we had to back track some of the way. To make up for lost time we decided to try a smaller road off the main highway which looked shorter on the map. By now the sun had set. Everyone was pretty exhausted since we hadn’t slept more than a few hours at night before.

Not having to do anything sitting at the back, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. The road we had taken didn’t have any street lights and was pitch-dark. The entire landscape would briefly be lit up with the light of our convoy of bikes and then again become clouded in darkness. All this while my friend riding the bike was trying his best to keep me awake – asking questions, signing songs and talking non-stop. Thinking about it now, it’s a mystery how I didn’t fall of the bike. There were long periods in-between where I opened my eyes and it took me a brief second to grip where I was.

This post is an entry for a contest by CupONation, an online retailer of discount coupons, and The Shooting Star travel blog.

Breathtaking Scandinavia – Helsinki

Travel

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The first thing that caught my eyes as the plane came down from its soaring height were the little red houses scattered across tiny island, as if build and forgotten by its owners. Later I came to know that these quaint little houses in the middle of no-where were the summer cottages where the Finns rush-off to relax in the summer holidays – most probably to escape the hordes of tourist that flock to Finland in summers. After flying across green landscape dotted with pine trees our plane finally made a soft landing at the Helsinki airport. I don’t know whether it was the time we landed or is it generally the case, the entire airport only had Finn air planes of different sizes. 

De-Boarding our plane we started walking toward what we hoped was the exit. Reading the sign for directions was a problem; here English took a back seat. Fortunately the airport is too small to get lost. I know T3 is grand and all, but landing here seemed so homely and welcoming. Immigration was a brisk affair. A few questions about the purpose of our visit, travel duration and we were clear. I was travelling with my family; my Dad now a retired government servant had done all the planning, burning midnight oil, rummaging through endless websites and reviews. To cut a long story short, we were well prepared. We had found out the cheapest way to travel from the airport to our hotel was to take a shared taxi. Traveling to & fro from Gurgaon the thought of shared taxi brings to mind scary images of people packed like sardines and haggling for space. After waiting for 10 minutes we were escorted to our taxi by our driver – a Mercedes minivan. There were just 4 of us traveling. It’s Right Hand Drive in most countries of Europe; so it’s odd seeing you whizzing past on the wrong side of the road.

Helsinki has a character quite different from the other Scandinavian capitals, and in many ways is closer in mood (and certainly in looks) to the major cities of Eastern Europe. For years an outpost of the Russian empire, its very shape and style was originally modelled on its powerful neighbour’s former capital, St Petersburg. Yet throughout the twentieth century the city was also a showcase for independent Finland, much of its impressive architecture drawing inspiration from the dawning of Finnish nationalism and the rise of the republic.

Our hotel was an apartment- Hellsten Parliament. Walking in, the first room had a dining table, a kitchen, a television and a big sofa cum bed. This was to be my room. The adjoining room, smaller in size had twin beds & a study table. (A special mention about our hotel Hellsten Parliament. Great location and lovely large apartment rooms. Just be careful about the lifts. They don’t work most of the times). After resting for a while we took our maps and walked to Kamppi. Now imagine a Delhi map- waking two inches according to the map would mean at least half an hour of brisk paced walking. Here we were at our destination before any of us had warmed up. Kamppi was an open square buzzing with activity. People relaxed, enjoying the sun, sipping a cup of coffee while others rushed to catch the metro or a bus. Helsinki is a paradise for people who love to eat. The only reason we did not gain weight was due to the fact that we did a lot of walking. I went in July and everyone was lapping up all the sun they could in the few month of summer that Finland has. It’s also the time for fresh fruits (June onwards till end of August). Just look at the girl standing behind strawberries. Someone asked me if they were tomatoes. On the entire trip I’d become a fruit bat. Strawberries, peaches, plum, kiwis, passion fruit….

Spend a Day on Tram- The extensive tram network is the best way to cover all the corners of the city. We bought a day ticket which cost €7/person and allows you travel on all the public transport and it is valid for 24 hrs. Explore flea markets with their eclectic collection of items on sale. The city is full of parks. Toolonlahti is a nice walk along the bay. Kaivopuisto is beautiful park in the south of the city. One could spend hours enjoying the view of the sea with small yacht disappearing into the horizon.

Cityscapes- Visit the Helsinki Cathedral, probably the most prominent building and symbol of the city, Parliament of Finland, Central Helsinki, Helsinki Central railway station, Uspenski Orthodox cathedral and enjoy the views from Elaintarhanlahti.

Visit Poorvo- We took a bus from the underground of Kamppi to Poorvo – a small old town about an hour’s drive from Helsinki. It’s a tourist town with beautiful old part with delightful small houses & picturesque lanes. The river front is full of cafes and places to dine. From here take the road under the bridge to reach the rows of quaint red houses. This is actually the old town with its famous cathedral & the local chocolate factory manufacture Brunberg’s outlet.

I believe that women in Finland are tremendously happy, since I don’t think anyone eats at home. There are countless little restaurants throughout the city and I can honestly tell you that I never once saw them empty. Finns eat healthy. Lot of salads and ice-cream (I would put it down to the extremely hot summer that they were having) and minimum of fried food. And I’ve never seen a nation so crazy about running. The city is safe. I didn’t once see any problem related to law & order. 

Do make a visit to Finland and if are going give me a tinkle I would definitely go back again…

The Bauls

Travel

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They are unique to Bengal and you can’t miss them on. I was on a 9 days tour of West Bengal exploring the weaving traditions of the region.Uncut, often coiled hair, long, usually with a flowing beard, their saffron robe with a necklace of beads made of basil stems, crooning about love and compassion in ecstasy. It was straight from the heart and there was a hint of melancholy as well. The first time I heard a Baul singing was at Shantineketan. I was there at the weekly fair held every Saturday. Although there were many things, all vying for my attention, I was rooted in that spot listening to him.There is a soul connection between the musical Bauls and the soil of Bengal.

Baul roots are not only deep, they are ancient. Baul is an oral tradition passed on by a mentor to his disciple to be remembered as in storytelling. In the olden days Bauls used to roam from village to village and were offered alms for passing on the knowledge through song and dance to villagers about spirituality, art and science of life, how to be in deep love with nature and remove the shackles that
bind us. Begging for alms is a way Bauls enforce the fact that they should be happy with whatever comes to them. In each village there was a special house set aside for them to stay in and they would stay as long as they pleased. The language of their music is often called the ‘Twilight language’; the time of the day when boundaries blur with their songs having multiple interpretations with metaphors, codes and signs. Just like the sacred texts of Vajrayana Buddhism of the Tibetan tradition. But Bauls are non-conformists. Their simple, natural and direct approach to God has elements from devotional Hinduism, Tantric Buddhism and Sufi Islam.

“We sing songs of joy, love and longing for mystical union with the divine and believe love for humankind leads to love for God” says Anand Gopal Das Baul. I met him at his ashram in Shantineketan; a small place with a central courtyard. “Bauls are simple but it is not simple to be a true Baul. You have to do years and years of sadhana (spiritual practice) under a Guru, who has the gift or the key to pass it on to you so that you can pass it on to others ” says Anand Gopal Das Baul. He led a life of an ascetic with his Guru for 10 years where 5000 songs were passed on orally as seeds of higher philosophy. Speaking to him I sensed that he was at peace and someone who had infinite patience. Leaving the ashram I thought if only there were more Bauls in the world, there would be less hatred and more peace all around.