Common ground

We come from different background. So different, in fact, that we came to this marriage with very little in common. Our personalities, hobbies, food habits, approach to life situations, temperaments, communication styles…… were all very different. The only common thread in our dissimilar lives was our interest in amateur photography and the fact that we worked in the same organization.

Starting off on opposite sides, we were lucky to  find a common interest early on in the marriage. Birding. We discovered it quite by chance on a trip to Coorg. We enrolled for one of the early morning birding tours on the property we were staying at and took a liking to it. I struggled with the binoculars, preferring the camera instead. The camera we had was a DSLR, one that brought far off objects close by to a fair degree, but not one with the right lens for capturing birds. The lack of appropriate birding gear didn’t deter us from enjoying the morning excursion. A quiet activity, it introduced us to nature, giving us an opportunity to marvel at its beauty and diversity. It made us realise how dis-connected we are from nature and how much abundance and joy nature is willing to generously share with us.

A book on birds was purchased on the way back to Delhi and V spent a good deal of time browsing through its pages. Subsequent trips to the hills introduced us to more birds and our interest grew. The book is now our guide and we go back to refer to it frequently. A field trip would mean frantic photography session in the morning hours trying to capture each bird we spotted. It would be followed by a session of identifying the names of the birds and then another session of photography in the evening. With our basic birding gear our work was neatly divided. V would spot the bird either with the naked eye or the binocular, I would do my best to quickly capture it with the camera and then we’d go home to our faithful book and find out the names of the birds. It was a great outdoor activity.

Back in the city, we tried to keep the interest alive. I was sure we wouldn’t find anything beyond crows, pigeons and mynas. It was going to be a challenging activity in this polluted, concrete jungle of ours. But when we keep our eye peeled for the flighty, feathered little creatures, we found a whole lot of them! There were starlings, green pigeons, oriental eyes, barbets, bulbuls, robins, lapwings, ducks and even gulls! What a delightful surprise!

We’d like to present in this post, some of our best or most favourite pictures of birds. They are in two categories: Birds in and around Delhi and Birds in the hills (south and north both). Photo credit varies with each picture. Sometimes its me and sometimes V.

Birds in and around Delhi

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Silverbills

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Spot billed ducks and Stilts

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Red whiskered bulbul

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Peacock

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Red muniya

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Babbler

Tailor bird

Tailor bird

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Treepie

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Starling

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Yellow footed green pigeon

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Robin

Birds in the Hills

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Red billed blue magpie

Laughing thrush

Laughing thrush

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Asian Barred Owlet

Asian Barred Owlet

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Spotted dove

Great Barbet

Great Barbet

Brown fronted Woodpecker

Brown fronted Woodpecker

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Grey hooded warbler

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Oriental white eye

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Green backed tit

The parents

Parents play such a large  part in our lives that’s its practically impossible to not be influenced by them.  We admire them, learn from them and in many cases, aspire to be like them.  I think most of us end up being like them in one way or another, whether we consciously plan it or not- so great is the influence.

I love and admire my parents for a lot of things. I am putting it out on a list here. What comes straight to my mind, features  here.

The mother

  1. Persistence. If she’s set her mind on it, she’ll persist till she gets it. Very ant-like 🙂
  2. The ability to smile through difficulties.
  3. Commitment.  Of the highest order to her family, her job, her hobbies and her chosen path.
  4. Making the most of whatever resources, people, situations life sends her way.
  5. Putting others first. Caring for them. Being there for them. Making their lives easier, more comfortable and joyous.
  6. Spontaneity.
  7. Helpfulness.
  8. The insatiable desire to learn.
  9. The will and ability to stretch the mind and self beyond limits
  10. The ability to see the funny side of things.

The father

  1. Honesty. Father=honesty.
  2. Hard-work .
  3. Saying a lot, with a little. Most people over-use, misuse or carelessly use them. Not the father. No one speaks in doses as perfectly measured as him. Quite an art, I think.
  4. Calmness.
  5. Material detachment. Another area perfected. It’s coupled with generosity and that’s what makes it truly great.
  6. The ability to take on life’s challenges.
  7. Being there for the family.
  8. Finding happiness in the same and simple things of life.
  9. Expressing love in the smallest and cutest ways. Remember the “ugly” watch, the flourecent pink dress material, the chicken sandwiches in the tiffin, pa? All very sweet gestures.
  10. The ability to fix-it. All gadgets of all types will be restored to previous working conditions, only with a few screws missing. 🙂

What is it that you admire most about your parent/s?The comments space is all yours.

Happy Birthday Dadi

dadi n me

I am a day late  in wishing you but I wanted to re-start this blog with something heart warming and happy, even if that meant I was late.

My paternal grandmother turned 79 yesterday. I called to wish her a happy birthday. She sounded very cheerful, more cheerful than I had found her in the last many months. My aunt had thrown her a surprise party at Haldiram’s with her park friends. She thanked me for the wishes and said “Its been a long journey” and then went on to recounted an incident from childhood.   “We’ll sit down some day soon and recall all the happy moments in your life. If you like, we’ll write them down.” I told her. The idea got her very excited. I haven’t  seen her this charged up about something in a long while.

I plan to meet her today evening and hold a long discussion over a cup of hot cup of chai. If she’s likes I’ll  jot down her fondest memories. May be she’ll read the text and re-live the happy times when the arthritic bones ache, when she gets tired of the rigmarole of everyday life, when she misses her departed parents……

I have some very fond memories of my grandmother. I spent a good part of my childhood with her.
I was her first grandchild and was naturally very loved. My mother tells me I get some of my characteristics and tastes  from her. She taught me to embroider- a hobby I pursue to date. She was the first person I saw baking. Baking is one of my favourite activities today. Some of my house-keeping sense I borrow from her. She knitted me hundreds of sweaters. Unfortunately, that skill I never picked up. She makes the best gobi-gajar-shalgum  and aam ka achar. Creates the most beautiful lace with tatting and crochet.  A political science graduate, she speaks English fluently and comfortably slips into the language when talking to her grandchildren. She’s opinionated. She likes to make a point and stick to it. I display a slightly diluted form of these  characteristics.

Happy happy birthday dadi. Here’s wishing the year brings you lots of good health and many happy moments.

Bright and happy the house is..

and life is back in order once again.

 The painting job is over. Things at home have found their original place.  Everything looks brighter, happier, and surprisingly lighter. The lightness isn’t a result of the newly coloured walls. It’s a direct outcome of the “spring cleaning” that we were forced to undertake while Missions Paining was on. If you’ve moved homes, renovated them or done an overall paint job, you’ll know how much unplanned cleaning and reorganizing you end up doing. Its an exhausting process, but well worth the effort.

This time the painters uncharacteristically kept their time line, which,if you ask me,  is rather  impressive. As is their earnestness in doing the task in hand. It is this earnestness that has translated into spray paint designs on  all surfaces inadvertently left uncovered by us.  If only we could change our perception, we would be able to look at our  water jug covered in a fine mist of off-white paint as a style statement. Come to think of it, it is a unique style statement. How many of you can boast of possessing such an item? Of course if you pair the painted jug with a couple of spray painted katoris, floor tiles and window sills, it does takes away some of the uniqueness of the object..but still…

While almost everything is exactly as it was before the painting, we’ve made one minor change. It’s  this image of Kali Ma that we have  has with us for years that has found a permanent place now.  Purchased on a visit to the Dakshineshwar temple on the outskirts of Calcutta, the image is a personal favourite. Made with grains of unpolished rice, the image of the Godess blesses the entrance of our house nowadays.

Domestic godess? err..almost!

Just because I made a resolution to go slow  on blogging, you guys decided to stop tagging me! No fair!!! I’m generally partial to tags- just so long as they don’t require me to make public things that I would rather keep private. There’s a meme going around that asks bloggers to give evidence of how “great” they are in the domestic sphere. Monika’s done a post on it and so has Abha. And because no one tagged me, I am tagging myself, if that’s even possible, and doing a post.

Let me take you back to the time when one of my cousins was tying the knot. As family we were obviously invited to the wedding and all the ceremonies that preceded the main event. Living quite a distance away for the scene of action, my parents had decided to attend only the wedding. I wasn’t too happy with that. To me, at 16 years of age, the circus that Indian weddings usually are, was very alluring. I wanted to be a part of everything, see everything, participate in everything (except the dancing. That I could and can live without. I prefer not to dance, not for my sake but for the sake of others’ who have to watch me make a complete fool of myself with my two left feet and all.) Seeing my extreme enthusiasm and the situational challenge faced by me, one of my uncles offered to let me stay with his family till the wedding was over. He was in the cousin’s immediate family and that meant he would be attend all the events leading up to the wedding. What more did I want? I happily packed a bag and tagged along with him. Learning from my example another cousin, S, who lived even further away than us, decided on camp along with me at our uncle’s. We dint really need the wedding to get us all excited and charged up. Between the uncle’s family, S and me, we were enough cousins to have celebrations of our own!

One afternoon, while everyone took a nap to rejuvenate themselves for one of the ceremonies – I put myself to good use. My uncle used to have this part time maid who would do odd jobs like ironing clothes in addition to the usual jhaadu-pochha and kapada. Trying to be efficient and helpful, I though of ironing the clothes for the evening myself.  I pulled out my clothes from the heap set aside for the maid to iron and extracted S’s clothes as well. I was going to iron my own clothes so what would another 2-3 clothes matter? I ironed my clothes and kept them in a neat pile and began tackling S’s lehnga. The moment I placed the iron on it, I heard a sizzling sound. Unperturbed the noise, I considered it a minor distraction and continued running the iron along a straight line. Some more sizzling sound was heard, this time accompanies by small plumes of smoke. It was the smoke that sent off alarm bells in my head. Something was wrong.  I lifted the iron and peered at it. There were trails of red, green and gold decorating the stainless steel surface, akin to a smudged spray painting. I moved my gaze to the lehnga then. The off white base that was once embellished with a pretty pattern constitued of tiny polka dots in red, green and gold, now had practically no pattern and the cloth wore a singed look. Oops.  Not too sure of how to undo the mess I had created, I folded the  lehnga and kept it back in the pile of clothes, switched off the iron and took up a corned in the house and pondered about how to break the news to my cousin. S was bound to be furious. More than her being furious, I was worried about what she would wear at night. She couldn’t quite turn up in the jeans and t-shirt at an event where all would be dressed in finest. And what was I tell her parents when I met them?? I was two years older than S, I was supposed to know what I was doing.

When S woke up from her siesta, she began getting things together for the evening. She asked me if the maid had come in the afternoon to iron the cloths. “She dint, I tried ironing your clothes. But I think I burnt your lehnga a little, S. I dint mean to but the iron was too hot for the light material of your dress I think”. Without a word S ran to the ironing board, pulled at her beloved dress, and looked at it with a broken heart. I waited for a barrage of reprimanding words. “It was gifted by dad, you know.” was all she said. That made me feel infinitely worse.  “What will you wear tonight?” I approached the topic I was dreading. “I brought along a spare dress. And mom’s stopping over here before she goes to the venue tonight, so she can bring me something from too.”  Ok so it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it to be- S would have something to wear, I would only have to deal with two sets of incensed parents- her and mine.

S wore her spare dress that evening, which for the record, I thought was nicer than the lehnga. To my utter surprise my fears of being pulled up by her mom were unfounded. All she told me was I needed to be more careful while ironing. I got a brief lesson on “how to iron clothes” by my mother but not much else.   Here I was expecting to hear a no end of my error, no matter how unintentional, and all I got was nothing!!  What can I say? I have nice family.

PS: Incidentally, have you read the Undomestic Godess by Sophie Kinsella? I recommend it. It makes a good read.:D

Gastronomically yours

I could write a post on Gujarat but I don’t feel like it. That’s not to say that the trip was uneventful but doing another trip related post isn’t exciting me too much right now. Plus that particular one has the potential of being rant-y in nature. And ever since I was bumped off IHM’s list (for very obvious reasons) I have lost the will to write long, whiney /rant-y  posts. So its not gonna be Gujarat, that’s for sure. What is it gonna be then? I don’t quite know. Something pointless and inane. Like the weather. Or the greeting cards on my soft board. Or my culinary skills..  Ummm…let’s see…

I think I am gonna pick the last option on my list. If nothing else, it will ensure that this post is short.< Now is the time when you heave a sigh of relief>. Let’s get a few things straight before I march into a discussion on my culinary skills. When I say culinary skills, I am specifically talking about the ability to cook regular food. Baking doesn’t count (not that  I am an expert of any kind in that field either) Regular food is the kind you eat at home- simple and deeply satisfying. And that’s basically the kind of food I can’t make. Give me a book with complicated instruction under the “Method” section and precisely measured ingredients and I will follow it to a t and produce satisfying results. Ask me to cook just like that and we have ourselves a serious problem. Indian food is all about the masalas . “Open the masala box and throw in the ingredients that appeal to you” is what all good cooks will tell you. Well I have tried that- opened the round stainless steel box and stared mindlessly at the ingredients for 30 seconds straight. I am sorry, no ingredient speaks to me. None what so ever. Which is quite sad really because at least half of my family cooks that way and produces fabulous results. That’s my mother’s side of the family, in case you are wondering. The father’s side is the science loving, uninspiring, ration kind that measures accurately and follows the exact same recipes for generations. Yes, that’s what they do, even for something as simple as mutter paneer that can lend itself to a thousand variations. It makes the food quite disgustingly predictable in taste, colour and texture, but it comes with a precious guarantee- that of the end product not flopping.  Unimaginative but safe. The mother’s side is where you will always get great tasting food but no recipes. No one has any fixed recipe for anything, you see. They just follow the instinct they are all blessed with and pick any combination of masalas and any group of ingredients for the tadka and voila!you have yourself a houseful of heavenly aroma and lip smacking, good  food.

I tend to take after my father’s side when it comes to daily cooking. I like clear cut recipes that tell you what you need along with defined quantities. And it’s not like I am the unimaginative cook because I want to be that way. I would love to be able to walk into the kitchen in the morning, use my magnificent imagination and whip up a delicious meal. I mean, who wouldn’t? But whenever I’ve tried to do that, I have failed. Miserably. Embarrassingly. I attribute the failure to three primary reasons-a-I have no sense of how much of which ingredient to use. If proportions aren’t given in the metric system- 10 gms of ghee and the like, I am lost. Even things like ½ C of onion don’t make too much sense. Exactly how much is a cup? What if your cup is larger than mine? Wouldn’t that make the major difference in the final quantity of the food prepared? Working by andaz simply doesn’t work in my case.(don’t tell me it  a cup is a cup and it doesn’t matter how large or small it is as long as you maintain the same cup for the entire recipe. I tried that and in spite of it had 3 batches of bread turning out terribly) b- Genes count for something, don’t they? I think my father’s side of the family has stronger “cooking style” genes.  While you will find some variations in the way people in the mother’s family cook,  there are absoolutely no variations in the way the father’s  family prepares food. Makes them sound pretty stuck up on methods and god awful boring but thats the sad truth. And thats how strong the genes in that part of the family are. Since genes count for a lot,  I believe I  am not really responsible for the way my food turns out( If you want one word for it, it would be bland). My genes are, and I cant do a thing about it. I love the way I can blame anything I dont like on my genes. c- I dont like monitoring anything- sabzis included. And you know what happens when we leave a vegetable to cook on the stove and forget to occassionally stir it.  Ask me to periodically look into cooking vessels and stir things around and I will carry an expression that will tell you how un amused I am with  the idea. I find it infinitely easier to pop things in the oven, set the timer and forget about them.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and that’s precisely why I aspire to cook like the mother’s family. Churn out food with enticing aroma that makes the first floor guys wonder whats for dinner,  create my very own recipes, twist old recipes around to make them more exciting- that kind of thing. I believe the day I will learn to cook the imaginative, fabulous, creative way, will be the day I will officially arrive. At least in the kitchen. There are a hundred other places where I need to arrive as well, but we’ll take it one at a time, ok? Anyway,  the arrival in the kitchen  hasn’t happened as yet.. but I am trying. In the meanwhile I will have to be content cooking from books that say “Take 100 gms of roughly chopped ,blanched tomatoes along with 50 gms of finely chopped onions 25.5 gms of minced garlic.”

Just out of curiosity, tell me, how do you cook?

PS: I cant believe I actually wrote 850 words on something as silly as cooking styles. This must be a record of sorts.

Tales from Ravana’s kingdom

Simply put, the week in Sri Lanka was pure bliss. Honestly I didn’t quite know what to expect from this trip.  I was just a happy trooper glad to be on a much needed vacation. Beyond that, I hadn’t given it too much thought. A vacation is a vacation I thought. But I hadn’t imagined it to be this good. I browsed the net and read up a bit before I left, I dint want to be completely lost. But really, seeing pictures on the net is one thing, and experiencing it is quite another.  

 

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There were two things that struck me when we arrived at Colombo. One that Sri Lanka is green. When you come from Bombay and you see tall, healthy trees in place of concrete matchbox like homes, it really hits you. And it pleases you to no end. I am sure even Sanjay Gandhi National Park is not this green!! Though I wouldn’t really know since I haven’t ever visited it.  Two, everyone wears skirts. When I say everyone, I obviously mean the women. But the sheer percentage of those wearing skirts is very large. It’s not like they don’t wear saris but it looks like the skirt is the most preferred dress.  And with reason. It a hot and humid country like SL, it makes good sense to wear comfortable, airy cotton skirts.

We visited 4 cities during the trip- Colombo, Katargama, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Colombo was more of a stopover. We stayed barely half a day before we headed off to Katargama by road. So our exploring Colomb099o was restricted to finding good restaurants to eat and some shopping here and there. We went to Katargama by car and en route stopped at Galle Fort. A beautiful large fort that hides within it what seems like a whole city! I found this pretty church made sometime in the 1700s by the Portuguese. The still hold service at the church every Sunday, which I thought was wonderful. But they also had lots of graves of people inside the church , which I thought was a little spooky. Cemeteries are often in the vicinity of the church but I haven’t ever seen a church that has graves inside it. I was marvelling at the architecture and its near flawless preservation till the time that the care taker brought my attention to the slabs underfoot, all bearing names of people who were 069laid to rest there.  It was a quick wrap up after that, all the beauty of the structure quickly forgotten. There was a museum a few feet away from the church that I was keen on visiting but couldn’t cause it had shut for lunch. A chance discovery while driving through Galle Fort was Barefoot and an antique shop. Barefoot has some lovely articles, books, souvenirs. I liked practically all I saw but wasn’t willing to part with money yet. The shop seemed high priced and at the beginning of the trip I was holding on to my money real tight. Who know what interesting things I might find on the way.  Things that I would like to possess. So a lot of oooh-ing and aaah-ing happened at Barefoot but not a single item was purchased.  The antique shop  that we stumbled upon lead to ooh-ing and aah-ing of a different kind. Look ma! They have porcelain cups and saucers! And wall clocks! And daggers!!! How cool!  My dad was as unimpressed as he always is with history.  Technology is his thing, so old dusty vases and daggers just don’t do it for him. But he showed utmost patience while we looked through each article on each rack. I think it goes without saying, I bought absolutely nothing at the shop. I did however tell the proprietor I liked his collection even when I couldn’t afford it and with his permission clicked a few pictures to file away in my world  travel history records.

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 The second stop on the way to Katargama was at Hikkuduwa. We hired a boat with a very lean, muscular looking boatman(if the man has a motor boat is he still called a boatman?even when he doesn’t row?) a loaf of complimentary bread and our cameras. The boatman’s limited English and our completely absent Singhalese made communication very difficult.  The boat had a glass window at the bottom through which you could look down at the sea. After leading us well into the sea, he pointing at the glass saying “see!see!”  When we tumbled over each other to find the exact target that he was pointing out to us, he would say ” All coral. Dead coral055” Thank you very much, I dint come all the way into the choppy ocean in this rickety boat to see dead coral. We couldn’t find too many thriving coral reefs. I wanted to spot vibrant, healthy ones, the kind that they keep showing on Discovery. Dint find any of those. Even the ones the boatman said were alive dint have resplendent colours, but we did find some pretty fish!  Or maybe the fish smelt the bread and swarmed around the boat eyeing a piece or two. The shimmering fish met Discovery standards. I am not complaining about the lack of coral reefs, I am quite happy with the fish, I am but wondering if we killed them due to environmental pollution or something.  

Being a pilgrimage for Hindu and Buddhists alike, Katargama was a very peaceful place.  Its a small town and mainly offers the famous Murugan Swami temple along with a few monasteries.  We visited the temple at aarti time and we quite baffled by the aarti procedure being followed there. It was very hot that day so I was running low on patience and the aarti was going on and on. That too with the curtains drawn! I was a bit annoyed. I am used to seeing an idol when I walk into a temple and if I find the curtains drawn I expect them to be opened at the time of aarti. That’s how it works, at least in India. So it just feels odd to pray looking at a curtain painted with the picture of the god. Locals tried to explain to us that in this particular temple you aren’t allowed to see the idol. It always remains veiled. Woookay, if that’s how we do it here, then that’s how it will be done! So for the first time in my life I tried praying looking at the picture of Lord Murugan painted on a curtain while my mind kept wondered trying to imagine what the idol looked like. But I must say this, the lack of a visible idol dint take away from the tranquillity of the temple.  We also visited one of the large monasteries adjacent to the temple. I loved the smell of incense that enveloped the monastery and the idols of Buddha that were placed around the periphery of the main dome of the monastery. For those not too keen on temple hopping while at Katargama, there is the Yala Natural Park that promises exotic birds, deer and leopards.  Early birds that my parents are we opted for a 5 am safari instead of the 5 pm one. The hour that it took to get to the park in an open jeep was spent partly dozing and partly in awe of the beautiful, constantly changing landscape surrounding me.

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The birds were truly exotic- multi hued, chirpy and active inthe early morning hours. We spotted a few Jungle Fowl. Its the national bird of SL and is nothing like the fowl we see here.  It has an elaborate plumage an attractive red in colour.  We encountered shy deer, lazy crocodiles, birds of all shapes and sizes, kinda ugly looking wild boars and elephants families.  The leopards aren’t exactly morning people so we dint find even one of them but we met their tribesmen, the jackals.  Not too bad for a safari I think. We took a breakfast break right at the seashore that touches one part of the Park. This was the section of the national park that was badly hit during the tsunami. The authorities have installed a stone slab in memory of those people who lost their lives to nature’s fury. The jeep driver informed us with a big smile “Indian doctor coming tsunami time. Helping Sri Lanka. Very good.” It felt nice to hear that. A cordial relation with neighbours is always a good thing.

The next town on the map was Nuwara Eliya. And what a town it was! What Nainital is to us,  Nuwarea Eliya is to  SL. It’s a popular hill station that is visited by natives and foreigners alike.  Its known for its tea plantations. I have never seen so much tea in my life! Imagine finding hills covered in tea shrubs everywhere you see, with the odd woman here and there hand picking tea leaves. Tea doesn’t have any particular smell when it is grown but it does paint the entire landscape a breathtakingly pretty green. The women working in the tea plantations 284are more than willing to stop working for a few seconds and pose for the camera  with their bags of freshly plucked tea hanging over their backs. I guess they are used to tourists and their touristy demands J As evening descended upon us we began giving investing in woollens a serious thought. There was a nip in the air. Ok, more than a nip in the air and our cotton clothes weren’t offering much protection. When we had arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, we were told we could use the heater in the room.  I laughed to myself. Who needs a heater? The weather is just perfect. It not cold, its  pleasant. By 7 pm the heater was running and it was doing no good. It was more of a show piece I think kept to add value to the decor of the room. They dint want to leave the fireplace (all colonial hotels in Nuwara Eliya had fire places)empty so they stuck a heater that had the shape of a stack of wood longs in. Its a different matter that a heater with works on like 20 W doesn’t radiate much heat. We longed for the shawls dumped along with odonils in the bed boxes at home that never see the light of the day. After much discussion we chose to brave the cold, layered  up in additional t-shirts and chunnis  wrapped around us. No, we dint do that because we wanted to test our will power against the onslaught of nature, but mainly because we knew we had no place to store any more woollens at home.  The following morning we crossed the lake at the centre of the town. It was like a typical picnic spot -hoards of school children (wearing sweaters, please note), families on boat rides, mother running after toddler with the fathers clicked pictures. None of us was keen on a boat ride, so we gave that lake and its allure a skip and went to what is believed to be Ashok Vatika, the place where Ravan had kept Sita after abducting her. Some Indians have contributed to make a small temple there. There aren’t many people who stop by at this particular place so there is no noise, no chaos, just one pujari, two-three visitors and a 404fresh water stream gurgling in the background. The caretaker asked us if we were from India and then himself came forward and told us we could take pictures. Not a general practice at the temple, but for Indians he was volunteering to bend the rules a little.  We said our prayers and then headed to Kandy. On the way, we stopped at a tea factory that was set up by the British in 1800s where we purchased a few kilos of tea to distribute the entire khandan and got a conduced tour to tea processing at the factory. I picked up a few souvenirs from the tea factory- tiny ceramic tea pots and a few mugs.

Kandy has the famous tooth relic shrine of Gautam Buddha and that’s the first thing we saw there after hunting for a hotel. The sheer number of people queued up at the shrine tells you how important it is to the Buddhists. Of all the places we had visited so far, this was probably the most crowded. We had to stand in the line for more than half an hour before we were allowed to go to the main section that housed a tooth of Buddha. I couldn’t see anything though. It was too crowded and the tooth was very well covered in ornate cases. But still, it was a beautiful shrine with carved wooden pillars, painted walls and ceilings. There was a separate hall towards one side of the shrine that had depicted pictorially the history of the shire and how the tooth came from India to Sri Lanka. Fascinating stuff.

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Towards the end of the journey while driving back to Colombo airport, we made two stop overs- one at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and another at a Government run spice garden. SL has many of these spice garden, some run by the government and others privately owned, where a variety of medicinal plants are cultivated and processed into usable forms of medicine. A young boy studying to be an Ayurvedic doctor was our guide and introduced the plants to us. Some of the plants like pepper, cumin, sandalwood are found in India too but he also introduced us to some indigenous plants, the names of which I have conveniently forgotten!Btw,that below is a picture of a cocoa tree.

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The elephants at Pinnawela were cute beyond belief. Well kept and healthy looking, we visited them while they were enjoying their 5 pm meal.  We found some really young elephants that were more interested in playing by themselves that eating, some slightly older ones who played or rather wrestled with each other and some older, more mature ones who looked over what was happening around them rather seriously. Elephants have such character .After observing them at close quarters for a while, I was amazed to see how human like they can be in their behaviour. I think, with their eyes they all look so sensible and wise.

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That in a nut-shell was the Sri Lanka we visited. Do I think you should go there? YES! I am not being paid by the Tourist Department of SL’s government; I have solid reason to back up my suggestion.

a) SL is near by. It’s as close to Bombay as say Calcutta. Plus you get a visa right at the airport so that makes it really convenient.

b) The people are really nice and I am not just saying that. I found everyone polite, soft spoken and willing to help (with or without the language barrier!).Generally everyone seems to be calm,composed and polite. May be its because they have idols of Buddha all over the city. It must be calming the mind or something.

c) Talking of language, English works just fine most of the times so the inability to speak Singhalese or Tamil doesn’t take away from your trip.

d) The country is quite tourist oriented so its not a problem at all to find a decent hotel, a good restaurant or touristy places and activities.

e) The general maintenance of building whether private or governmental, historical or modern is impressive. We visit the Taj and find it in anything but the best condition but when you see even a small monastery in SL, you find it painted, clean and well kept. I agree that SL is a much smaller country so its probably not as hard to maintain it as India. But its not only about the size of the country, its to do with the attitude of the people. We dint find a single name scratched on the walls, dint find litter on the road and dint find people cutting in the line( except at the tooth relic shrine where two women with small babies cut the line. Considering that their kids almost looked new born and the place was really crowded, I don’t really object)

f) Sri Lankans seem especially nice to Indians. Security is tight at most places but when they see Indians, many times they don’t ask to see the passport. Instead they smile and ask “Where from?” When you say “Bombay”, their smile gets broader and they say “Shah Rukh Khan” or “Sachin Tendulkar”. For all the stern look and combat gear they are as star struck as any one of us.

g) If you like sea food, SL is the place to be. You will find sea food everywhere.

h) The Indian rupee is stronger than the Sri Lankan one. If you are a compulsive shopper, that works to your advantage.

Those are good enough reasons to make a trip, if you ask me. So  tell me now, where did you say you were going for your next vacation?