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

109 - Copy

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

RTP1

Treepie

BS

Starling

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Yellow footed green pigeon

CR2

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

Gethia: A perfect getaway

Where must you go to get a dose of quiet? Gethia.

Tired of the grueling work schedule and the 30 km X 2 everyday travel, we wanted needed a quiet place to recharge our batteries, to talk, connect and basically vegetate.   The Holi holidays found us on the road with packed bags heading north towards Gethia.

Gethia is a small and sleepy village in Nainital District.  The type where everyone knows everyone, you can count the vehicles on your knuckles and there is only one main road that cuts through the village.  Just the perfect place to absorb nature, relax and do nothing.

The road from Delhi to Gethia is smooth, except for one rather bumpy and rough patch. With 3 breaks, it took us 7 hours to get to our destination.  It was an uneventful drive with the person at the wheel and the other navigating.  Always one to ask the locals for directions, this trip made me acknowledge the true value of Google Maps. I am now officially a fan.

We stayed at Two Chimneys.  I think that’s the only place you can stay at in Gethia.  I didn’t see any other places, though I didn’t move around much and Google search doesn’t throw up any options either.

Two Chimneys came recommended by a friend who had previously enjoyed a lovely holiday there. Trusting his word, we chose to explore Gethia and Two Chimneys.

Two Chimneys is an old cottage from the British era converted into a tourist accommodation. It’s a fairly spread-out property and the developers have done a good job in utilizing the space they had at hand. There is a pool, a library, a common room with a music system and television, a big front lawn and a space for indoor sports. Basically enough to keep you occupied while you are there. Two Chimneys has only seven rooms to offer. But don’t be misled by that number. Most rooms are huge and have lofts or narrow passages that lead to hidden annexes. They can comfortable accommodate 4-6 people. I thought the architecture style was pretty exciting. The staff (mostly local) was friendly, helpful and  inquisitive in just the right dose about all visitors. The kitchen at Two Chimneys provides home-cooked meals. Besides the regular roti-sabzi-dal, they also create barbeques and Italian dishes. Quite a delight in a place so small.

Once you have checked in at Two Chimneys, there isn’t much reason to move out. The rooms are comfortable, the food is good and you are surrounded by beautiful nature.  It’s just the right environment to relax, read, contemplate and review life. It’s a good place to be in.

While at Gethia, we picked up a new hobby- bird watching. The cameras we own are obviously not good enough to capture flighty creatures that prefer to perch on the highest branches, but still it was an absolute delight to spot birds, make desperate attempts to get a shot and then study the pictures and identify the names.

 

 

A real fire place in the common room at Two Chimneys

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Mushrooms in tiers

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A serene Buddha overlooks the pool and the outdoor dining area

Anyone up for a cool drink?

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A fallen flower

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Cherry blossom

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Fallen leaves decorating the deck next to the pool

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A verditer flycatcher on a high branch

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Grey hooded warbler

Green backed tit

Three Magpies

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Himalayan bulbul with its distinct mohawk hairstyle

We visit Igatpuri

Going home is like a holiday. No morning rush hour, no pile of work waiting at the office desk, no managing bank accounts, bills, maid, dhobi. Everything magically gets taken care of.

Last time I visited home in December (Yes, this post is that late), the mother and I made a plan to go trekking. The idea of vegetating at home was very temping, but I needed to break away from the Del-Bom-Del circuit and we needed to do some fun, physical activity together to break away from the daily routine.

A short 3 day trip away from the city was planned and Igatpuri was the chosen destination. Unlike the previous times we visited Igatpuri, this time we drove down. A good decision since the Mumbai-Nashik road is just great-broad, smooth, and fortunately for us, with very little traffic.

We checked into a resort called the Manas Resort. Reputed to be the best Igatpuri town can offer, the hotel offered decent lodging facilities, but the food was just terrible and the staff slow and disinterested. Instead of  pleasing us (and other guests) by focusing on their service and giving their restaurant a complete overhaul (included hiring a new chef), the resort focused on offering New Year/Christmas delights- Dandiya night and Bhangra night. Nights we were not the least bit interested in. What we were interested in – decent food, responsive staff- was not on the resort management’s radar. My aunt visited the very same resort a long time ago and her experience was a lot better than our’s. Obviously,  this place has seen a decline in the last couple of years.

Anyway our stay was short and we kept our focus on the trek overseeing the shortcomings of our temporary residence. A short distance away from Igatpuri is Kalsubai- at 5500 ft the the highest mountain in Maharashtra and as per Wikipedia  the 10th highest  peak in the Western Ghats. On the evening of the day we landed at Igatpuri, we explored the area  and found the motorable route to the base of the mountain.It took  about a quarter of an hour to get the to Bari village, the starting point for the trek. The weather was clear and there was a mild winter chill in the air- just the right weather for an outdoor activity.

 

We set out early next morning with all the requisite gear- sturdy shoes, backpacks, caps,  food and water. 30 minutes of driving and we met the most unexpected twist of nature- fog. Thick, white fog. So thick that visibility was restricted to the extent of making driving almost impossible.  This is the Ghats, the sea isnt far away, who expects fog in a location like this? Everyone warned us of how cold it will be (and it wasnt), no one even mentioned fog. There is really no way you can predict nature- you can only submit to its power, request cooperation and pray you get it.

So pray we did, and driving at 10kmph with the indicator lamps blinking, we cleared the worst of the fog. Once we moved away from the Bhandardara lake area, the fog cleared considerably and by the time we reached Bari village, it was all gone!

Bari is a beautiful village. Green fields, farmers, cattle, children running around, hens all over the place.Truly rural. Bari -is the starting point for the trek- is a very small village and doesnt provide much. Its therefore best to come prepared with all your  trekking supplies -food, water and walking stick.  You can, however, stop for a small meal at one of the tiny restaurants (if you arent too picky about where you eat),  and buy some tidbits to eat along the trek. If you take your own vehicle all the way to Bari you can park it at the village school  if the school is not in session, or at the large clearing just at the entrance of the main village. People are friendly and will guide you to the parking space, the restaurants and the trek path.  You can also hire a guide but you dont really need one. The route is well treaded and easy to identify, plus you will encounter a lot of villagers going up and down the mountain, happy  to point you in the right direction. If its holiday season you will also meet groups of school and college kids.


Most people will tell you  it takes 3 hours to trek up to the top of the mountain. May be they are right, but it took us longer and we didnt complete the last leg of the trek. That could be because we stopped often, took a lot pictures, chatted with children and paid our respects at the tiny temple situated half way up the mountain. Our focus was not only to trek, but to also enjoy the nature  and absorb the peace and tranquility of a place far,far away from the maddening city.

Unlike the mountains we see in Himachal that are very green, the mountains in this part of the Sahayadaris here are quite bare. The trek itself is quite steep. The mountain is rough, rocky and rugged and to climb it you need to take steps of unpredictable and varying height,  straining on your knees on your climb up and your calves on your climb down. The loose pebbles and stones roll away unexpectedly under your weight and unless you are as sure footed as a goat, you are sure  to roll away with them a time or two! The last bit of the trek gets very steep-the rocky steps get harder to climb and there are some old iron ladders that one has to pass. The ladders were one reason we decided to not go right to the top. The other was that it had become very hot- an absolute contrast to the morning temperature. We’d trekked for over 4 hours and that was good enough for us!


At the top of the mountain is a small temple of Kalsubai and a 360 degree view of the entire area. Both of which we missed.  But we weren’t disappointed. The father was, of course, a little surprised that we hadn’t pushed to climb the entire mountain.The mother is usually known for her determination and it is rare that she leaves a task unfinished. I, on the other hand,  am not known for any such great characteristics, but I do lend full support to any task or project that the family takes up. But on this particular trek, we didn’t feel the need to reach the summit- that wasn’t really our goal.  We wanted to  engage in some physical activity, spend time amidst untouched nature, practice photography.  And all that we  accomplished.

If you ever want to trek up Kalsubai, here are some tips:

  • Weather: Avoid the trek in summers-its just too hot. In winters too try to finish the upward climb in the morning before  12 o’clock.
  • Equipment: Any study shoes are good  for this trek. If you have the kind of shoes Woodland makes, that great. Else you can also manager with regular shoes. You don’t really need a stick to walk up, but if you like you can use if for additional support.  A cap and sunglasses are a must.
    Carry a camera. There will be many sights that you would like to capture.
  • Food and water: Is best to carry both with you. It adds to the weight you have to carry, but  there isnt any other choice. There is no source of potable water on the route. You will have some villagers selling nimbu paani, but that’s avoidable. Ditto for food. Eat a good breakfast before setting out and carry energy bars, fruits, chocolate to eat on the way.
  • Company: Treks are time taking and physically taxing, take along non-fussy, chilled out, like-minded  enthu cutlets!

The day after the trek we headed back home making a stopping over at Nashik  to visit Trimbakeshwar temple.   The line in front of the temple was ten miles long. It was as if all of India had chosen to visit Nashik that day.  Christmas holidays are a terrible time to travel! We said our prayers from outside the temple and headed back home. We will have to make another trip to visit the  temple.

And that, my friends,  was how I spent my December holidays this time. One holiday over and I am already ready for the next one.

Mangalore magic

An unplanned trip

To an unexplored land

With tall coconut trees, sandy beaches and friendly people

A trip that worked out despite the all of slips-ups

One that promised peace and tranquillity, and delivered

I am back from a short trip to Mangalore. And what a trip it’s been! Del-Bom-IXE-Bom-Del  -all  done in a span of 6 days. I’ve been passing through Mumbai airport too often I think. I  now recognise every tile on the airport. Quiz me, if you like.

It didnt start off very well. I reached home to realise I had forgotten to bring along some very important documents  that had to be submitted at the bank in Bombay within the next 4 days.   A mild heart attack later, a solution was found.  The spare key at the landlord’s was brought into action. The house was opened, the  cupboard keys were  retrieved from their secret hiding place and the papers were located on a live call from Bombay and couriered by the 2nd floor tenant, now my best friend.  The aunt was requested to receive the courier for us in our absence.  She kindly agreed and we headed off to Mangalore for our 2.5 days of tranquillity.

We reached the airport later that day. Much to my horror and embarrassment I was stopped from entering the airport by the security. I had the wrong ticket in hand- my mother’s.  Frantically rummaging through my bag I encountered another copy of  mother’s e-ticket, mine was not to be found.  Panicking, I called up the father for my  PNR number. He gave it to me but I didn’t need to use it, since by then I had located what I believed was  my ticket to Mangalore.  I showed  it to the  lady officer and was allowed in. The joys of traveling together on tickets booked separately are immense, I said to myself.  Once inside, the panic passed, the heartbeat slowed, and  I took a good look at the ticket.It said  25th October, Del-Bom .  I had the wrong ticket, one I had already used to travel to Bombay the previous day, and I had passed security. Freaky.

The lady issuing boarding passes was, not surprisingly, amazed at how I managed to walk into the airport with an incorrect ticket. I told her my PNR number and she issued me a boarding pass.  She suggested next time I misplace my e-ticket; I get one printed out at the airlines counter at the entrance.   To avoid problems with the  security, she explained.  Mangalore is a small town, I hope you have your return ticket in order, she said as she handed me my boarding pass.

 Of course, I smiled back. And just to make doubly sure (for my mother’s sake, not my own)  I check  my bag for the ticket.  Two e-ticket print-outs  for the mother. None for me. Oops. What now?

In a manner in which only my mother can operate, she exited  the airport after engaging the security officer in a dialogue, headed to the airline counter and got a print out of my return ticket. What if she’s right and we really don’t find a print out facility there, she asked  me on her return. Then, she ordered me to hand over all documents, tickets, photo IDs to her. Not without reason.

It got better after that. Except for the fact that the re-chargeable batteries of my camera refused to get re-charged.  We had another camera so it wasn’t all that bad.  I did not get to  take any pictures, but  that’s fine. Two people with two cameras would have  looked silly anyway.

Pictures say it best. So here they are, courtesy the mother.

The airport. When was the last time you saw a parking lot like this?

The sky is my canvas, said God. At least in Mangalore. He couldn’t say the same for Bombay or Delhi.

Supari. The edible kind,not the kind referred to in Bollywood films.

Coconuts.Everywhere.

Fields reach out to touch the skies.

A shade of green sandwiched between two of blue.

Golden  fields of rice.

Crabs. All. Over.The. Beach.

Dead wood.

The case of the curious kids.:)

Blue flowers to match the  blue skies.

Kuwain ka maindak.Quite literally.

With past connections with ducks, how can we not take a picture of a duck when we see it?

Glorious food at gloriously low prices.  Here’s proof. We paid under  Rs.100 for a meal for two.  The restaurants were not fancy but the food was good,driving home the point of how much we overpay for eating out in big cities.

 

NB: The courier reached  on the same day as we did. And to everyone’s relief I was able to get all the work done before returning to Delhi.

Oh!the tragedy of it all!

Where was I supposed to be today?

Nepal.

And where am I today?

In good ol’ Bombay.

Why?

Because.

Well, I could give you a better explanation than that, but its too much of an effort. It’s a long Bollywood style story with lots of twists and turns, and last minute surprises. And really, who is interested in the story? The bottom line is my chhutti stands cancelled, my heart broken.

Tell me my next vacation will come soon.   Like tomorrow .

The mega post

As I sit down with my steaming cup of tea to write this post, I wonder when was the last time I took a three week break from this blog. Umm..Never. There is always a first time for everything, isn’t there? And with good reason. Work’s been a bit crazy. Everyone in the family has for some reason decided we are their favourite relatives and we’ve managed to get invited to meet the same set of people an obscene number of times in the last month or so. The conversation is beginning to get as repetitively boring as the menu. Plus there have been an issue with sharing the laptop. When the mother takes the laptop, I am struck by inspiration. When she hands it back to me, the inspiration magically disappears. Either that or I am too tired to reply to emails, much less write out a full post. Now that we are finally doing a post, I think we’ll just do a mega-post to  make up for all the missing posts.

Before we  officially begin, have you noticed the new header yet?  That’s thanks to dear Soli who took up my request and created this great header for me. I love everything about it- the colours, the graphics and yes, the trademark silhouette that’s so Soli.  I think after over two years of blogging, this blog deserves a customized header.  Thanks, Sol. I owe you. May be we can find a way to work off my debt…Urrm.. Would you accept payment by way of cakes/cookies/warm wishes?

While I’ve been away from the blogging world I have been catching up on my reading. I have read 3 books- Smoke and Mirrors by Pallavi Iyer, Shopaholic Ties the Knot by Sophie Kinsella and Brining up Vasu: the First Year by our very own Parul. All three very different, all three wonderful. In Smoke and Mirrors, Iyer writes about her experiences as an Indian working in China and reveals through her book many unknown facets of China- its culture, the education system, food, religion, industrialization, Indians in China, politics,  just about everything you can think of.  Truly offering an insider’s view, the book unravels some of the mystery surrounding the fascinating country. Iyer draws insightful comparisons between China and India. If you think of China as a fascinating country and would like to understand it a bit better and get the inside story, reading this book would be a good idea.

In Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Kinsella does what she’s best at- telling a story with tons and tons of humour, the kind that has you in splits. Having read an abridged version of The Undomestic Goddess, I had sampled Kinsella’s style of writing and her brand humour but reading a full- fledged book, is a different experience all together. A riot to be exact. I can’t decide how much of the plot I should reveal, in case you want to read the book, I think it would be sufficient to say the book is about a shopaholic who has it all going right for her till such time that she decides to tie the knot. Incapable to come to a decision about what kind of wedding she wanted and thoroughly enjoying the experience of shopping all things disgustingly expensive, she allows her mother and mother in law to organize parallel weddings in two parts of the world. That’s when things begin to spin out of control. I wouldn’t want to disclose more.  Read up to know more! 😉

 Reading Bringing up Vasu was a joy. Most of the blog world has read it by now, I am quite sure, but the Crossword here took its own sweet time to bring the book to its shelves. If you read Parul’s blog as I do, you are bound to find a common thread between the book and the blog. It is autobiographical in the sense that it takes from real life, adds a little fiction to it and presents a concoction that is this very funny, warm book that you are sure to enjoy. If you are first time mom, more so. As per a first time mom I shared the book with, there are just so many things you can relate to in the book.   I have said this to you earlier, but let me say it here again Parul- Great job!! I think you were meant to write!

Speaking of Parul. Here’s what she sent my way-an award! One that declares me to be a superior scribbler. Let’s be honest here. Scribbler, I am. Superior, I am certainly not!! But thanks Parul. Coming from a real author, it means a lot.

Another award that has been in the closet for a long time is the one Niveditha had handed me. It was given so long ago that I can’t even come up with believable excuse to explain the immense delay in putting it up here. Sorry Nivs, I know its long, long over due but here it is at last!!

I am passing on the two awards to- Hitchwriter, Vimmuu( do you even do awards ??), Soli (nope, its not coz you made me that header),Monika, Indyeah and Colour me sunshine .

And now  to bring close this pos to a close, a few title-less pictures from the almost forgotten trip I took earlier this year.Enjoi!

!

 

 Note:Image credit for books, Google Images.