Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Road Trip #1: Valparai or 7th Heaven

Perks of marrying a wanderlust are, you get to be part of those travel stories, not just listen to them. Also, thanks to the same husband, who believes in being in the moment; my camera was shy of a lot of beauty which I missed to capture owing to 2 reasons. First of which I already mentioned and second of which was I was really being in the moment, this kind of thing rubs off easily.

I have been on road trips before, soaking in the sun and all the terrain sitting comfortably in the backseat and taking a couple of photos either on my digicam or mobile phone, whichever was at my disposal. Those images were often blurry, taken off of a speeding vehicle. Then came this guy, and the comfort of the backseat was no longer the norm.

Hail passenger seat!

Apart from the passenger seat another thing remained constant in my first 7 road trips (yes, 7 in the last 7 months): Starting point was Namma Bengaluru.

The first road trip was to Valparai fondly called the 7th heaven, a hill station with tea plantations tucked away in the western ghats in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. We started rather late assuming the trip to be 5 hours long including breaks. Something as basic as checking Google Maps for the approximate distance and travel time completely slipped our minds. The drive was laborious but a visual treat with acres of windmills and gulmohars lined along the stretch, and the stress of sitting for those long hours were worth every crammed muscle in my body. Crammed, also thanks to those 40 hairpin bends. Why would one complain of discomfort after they witness this, clicked somewhere on those bends..

Valparai - hillstation
Maiden attempt to capture Valparai from a moving vehicle

Yes, 40 hair pin bends, pro-tip: Don't gulp down your sodas or the hot cups of chai/coffee before hitting the hills. You may want to get off at Aliyar Dam/Park and take a stroll before you hit the hills to reach Valparai.

We reached Valparai while the sun was setting behind us, and I was stumped by the beauty - the lush green tea estates, those low hanging clouds that I forgot to capture them on my phone, and the vintage charm of the town itself. By the time I realized I had to freeze the moment, this was the end result. On the flip side, the road looks awesome, don't you think?

Roads of Valparai
Roads of Valparai

We had booked our stay in a private tea estate, which we reached after sundown. This place had cabinets, tents and your regular cottages, being the adventurous kinds, we booked this:

The Tenthouse
The Tent house

Yes, the whole tent under that beautiful big tree with violet flowers in full bloom. My experience was a mixed bag, while I was excited about the whole tent experience in an almost pseudo-wilderness, my first; the constant chirping of birds, squeaking of the squirrels, barking of the dogs, and some other unknown noises kept me up all night. Thanks also to those playful squirrels crawling over the tent all night and gravity for the occasional leaves/fruit; for their service all night.

Since our planning went amiss right from the beginning, we had to leave the property early to reach Bengaluru before sundown. So half-heartedly we left the place, and headed to Nirar dam, the waters weren't swell, something to expect in the hot summer month of May, yet the river spread beautifully along the horizon. We were not allowed to venture or explore the dam at leisure, but at the end of our short dam trip, we wanted to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea from the local plantation. Totally oblivion of the fact that we had to go down those winding hairpin bends to head back home (hence, the pro-tip.)
Valparai Chai
Freshly brewed Valparai Chai at Nirar dam

Well, the tea had its toll, I felt extremely sick while driving down from the dam. The result of that little cup of tea served in authentic tamil style was a beautiful stroll into the tea gardens, again I blame the being in the moment - both absorbing the beauty and fighting sickness, for lack of photos.

The drive back was as beautiful as the drive towards Valparai, I left the place with a vibrant green spectrum of colors. The drive was full of beautiful vibrant gulmohars lined along the road.

Gulmohar picked off the road from the many trees that lined our road
The road back seemed rather empty for a wide stretch, but don't be fooled by this random spouts of emptiness..
The empty highway
What looked like a rather empty highway to Bengaluru

And since the beginning, this trip was ill-planned, while reaching Bengaluru we had company in the form of heavily loaded trucks, co-roadies and the inevitable traffic jam.Despite starting at 8:30 am from Valparai with a little detour at Nirar, we could reach Bengaluru only at 9:30 pm in the night. Thirteen hours long journey definitely helped us in planning our future trips better. 

PS: 2 days including driving back and forth is the worst thing you can do. Go scout your calendars for those long weekends.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sixteen going on seventeen

Title: Not the song from The Sound of Music.

I got back to coffee in sixteen (2016) just like how I got back with this blog in seventeen (2017). A lot had been written in the last couple of years with little mention on my blog (that is ghost writing for you!) For a quick recap fifteen (2015) was the year that started off on a high note, went on a drama-coaster ride in the middle and dropped me in a slump by the end of it. Sixteen was the year of pain, joy, love, loss, happiness, longing, the new, the old, music, and a lot of travel and recycling. It was an year of losing an inspiration, of making beautiful things, of embracing health, travel and a lot of things left unsaid, of stories, of wind in my hair, sun in my face and a lot of sunny stories (will try and keep this less grim).

Oh! the stories (not the sunny ones), while I reveled in the abstract topics on the writing end right from nutrition to home decor, there was this nagging conscience for not writing in this space, my metox zone. Talking of metox, for all the inaccuracies (or accuracies since I called it metox not detox), I started drinking coffee.

Coffee and I had a weird relationship, after an intensive, obsessive, abusive and a rather toxic one, I ditched it for 2 good years before last June in sixteen when I hooked on to it again after a nice black, bitter cup of 100% pure blend in Africa. What a comeback cup that was?! Right now instead of all the unhealthy encounters like those in our past, we now enjoy our weekly (sometimes monthly) rendezvous either at home or some book haven cafes of Bengaluru.

Bengaluru, yes, I moved here. It has been my pseudo city for the last 7 months. Where I decorated my home with a lot of love, care and careful crafting of daily objects (in simpler words DIYing and recycling). I must admit, white walls are the perfect canvas for some amateur artist in the making - it opens up a lot of possibilities. I draw all my inspiration from the coconut tree that keeps rustling outside, the beautiful sun which sometimes forces me to draw the drapes in, the beautiful sunsets that I soak in, that song of India plant (I brought to life by accident), and the yellow crane that has the concrete jungle in the making going.
The Window
The window
Song of India happened by accident, it came with two lovely figurines I chanced upon in Commercial street in August. I potted them when the leaves started falling off the figurine. It has been adorning my window sill ever since. Then there is my amazing balcony garden despite 2 casualties - my begonia and my yellow chrysanthemums. Bright and yellow they were just like sunshine.

Sunny.. Getting married was not as scary as I thought it would be.
There are a lot of Sunny stories and they grew road trip after road trip as the wind swept our hair and sunshine filled our faces and hearts up. From tea gardens of Valparai to the Irani cafes in beautiful Mumbai rain to the exotic Islands of Seychelles to a small transit and that humble fish in Sri Lanka to chancing upon the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Mysore to the beautiful French colony of Pondicherry to the breathtaking hill station of Kodai to the lovely ruins of Hampi.
Not to forget those long beautiful walks in the evenings, the steaming cups of filter coffee at MTR tiffins, the beautiful sunsets at Lal bagh, stories told and heard, read and shared, of the beautiful music, movies, cooking, chai making, and what not. Toasting to sharing time and space and philosophy and some great PJs and more amazing sunny stories to come.

Sixteen travel snapshot
Sixteen Travel Snapshot
Floating in the Indian Ocean for the first time or doing my first mini trek in the hills of Kodai or climbing a hill for the first time to look at things in a new light.

Sixteen has been a mixed bag, a few things unsaid, a few things which left a void in my life and heart. Yet sixteen was a year of new beginnings, of trying new things, of exploring new places, of getting in touch with my artistic side both in the form of DIYing and experimenting with food; so cheers to sixteen that has made its way to seventeen without a meltdown. So while going on seventeen, a year I hope has more possibilities and a lot of amazing things that are yet to unfold, I unfold mine with this humble comeback piece, good to be back.. :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The C-Chronicles

Hyderabad Diaries: Charminar, Chowmahalla Palace and others (Date: 17-Jan-2015)

Charminar: This weekend I visited Charminar, yet again, with my friend Sud.. and the place continued to thrall me with its ethereal beauty despite the fact that betel juice traced its path from the streets and along the winding stairs (that path could do with some lighting) bang into the balcony. The glimpse of the (not-yet-crowded) bazaar through the balcony was made memorable when the clocks chimed at 11:00am (Charminar is one of the many clock towers adorning the twin cities ::4 clocks, to be more precise::) while the lazy pigeons sat perched in their moolah oblivious to the furor and the shutterbugs clicking away to glory.

(PS: Single female visitors will not be allowed to enter Charminar owing to security reasons, there were few eve-teasing instances in the past, it is better to tag along with a friend.)

In and around Charminar

Famous Govind Bandi: The next stop was the famous Govind bandi for some hot cheese dosa. I missed out on my cheese dosa by a whisker but the buttery dosa kind of made up since the descent from Charminar was tiring thanks to the dark winding stairs.

(PS: If you are visiting Charminar during the day do not miss this bandi fare. The sooner you reach the bandi the better. Sud was on a mission and started her trip at Charminar with a hot sumptuous cheese dosa, if you reach the bandi late - which closes by 1pm, you may have to settle for a buttery dosa like I did.)

The Laad Bazaar: Our next stop was supposed to be Chowmahalla palace for which we had to walk through Laad bazaar and since we left our blinkers and ear plugs home, we went for a quick bangle shopping (just kidding! we fell for the sales pitches). After a happy detour where we picked few stone studded bangles for Sud (after some not-so-hardcore bargaining) we headed to our original destination.

(PS: It is advisable to bargain while shopping for bangles at Laad bazaar. Better tag along with local Hyderabadi friend(s) however hopeless they are at bargaining. Always start with half-price or use your instincts.)

Chowmahalla Palace

Chowmahalla Palace: Chowmahalla palace is located behind Mecca Masjid, so after a guilty trip through Laad bazaar we turned left at the end of the lane to reach the palace. Chow (Four) mahalla(t) (Palace) was a visual delight and houses many courtyards, the grand Durbar (Khilwat) and wonderful fountains. The grand durbar hall housed many splendid chandeliers. Chowmahalla palace was on my wishlist after few of my friends got their pre-wedding photographs clicked in Nizam attires at a photo studio outside the palace.

It was fun to recall the history of the Nizams parading through the palace which was origially spread in about 45 acres but is now confined to 12 acres. Princess Esra, former wife of  Prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur, is instrumental in restoring the palace to its past glory and telling the city their story. The Palace now holds souvenirs of the Nizam dynasty through several exhibits - featuring photographs, paintings, crockery, arms, clothes and carriages/cars. Certain parts of the palace are not open to the public yet, but one gets a peek into the royalty and grandeur that once was, Chowmahalla(t) palace.

(P.S: Thanks Sud for planning this trip and enlightening me about Chowmahalla meaning four palaces :D)

Irani chai Nimrah cafe

Irani Chai and Osmania biscuit: My first date with Irani chai was in December when I visited Nimrah cafe for a cuppa, but the chai fell flat in terms of taste (too much milk and way too much sugar) and texture. Sud convinced me to take the leap of faith (she considered herself to be the lucky food companion) and to order the famous Irani chai of Nimrah and their partners-in-crime osmania biscuits. Oh boy! Sud was right (it is now certified, she is a lucky food companion). The tea tasted better than what I had when I last visited this place. After quickly sipping tea and getting refreshed, we headed to Mecca masjid for some peace and calm. (It is a bad idea to ask for special Irani chai for your friends visiting Hyderabad, just order your cuppa and enjoy.)

Mecca Masjid
Mecca Masjid: I discovered the peace and calm of this masjid during my visit to Charminar in December and fell in love with the place instantly. Amidst the crowd, evening prayers and hundreds of pigeons one can definitely find their peace and calm at this masjid. Sud and I sat down by the pool for nearly an hour (before we returned to reality and chaos). The otherwise lazy pigeons which were perched on the minarets gave an amazing aerial performance by swooping down and over our heads to circle the mosque twice and leaving us waiting for more (there was a no-show, lazy pigeons you see). Reluctantly we left the masjid and the solace it offered to enter the wilderness in the bazaar outside.

(PS: Women are advised to carry a shawl/dupatta while visiting this mosque.)

This trip also ended with a cup of refreshing Irani chai, now I know why this is the go-to beverage for most Hyderabadis. While walking back to catch our respective cabs I recalled Sarojini Naidu's famous poem, 'In the bazaars of Hyderabad', which I discussed with Sud when I first visited this place with her in 2012.

Disclaimer: This is my account of the city and the places I am trying to discover. This post does not provide a 360° view of those places.

Photo Credits: Clicked by Sud (most of them) and me