Travelogue

Dublin Diaries – 6

Dublin Diaries – 6

Still Smitten

I think I am smitten by these affable people and the fascination gets augmented with each passing day. Why am I so smitten; what about the Irish fosters this feeling in me? This time around let me attempt a macro comparison. India – Ireland comparison make me melancholic. Ireland is a joyous place and so is India. So, I take a bit of detour this time.  Bitten by the travel bug, I can claim to be cosmopolitan. I have been in and out of many countries and transited through many more airports. I will limit this episode to my experiences at different airports. Practicing the ‘Last in First out’ approach I recapitulate my freshest anecdote first.

Last May, my daughter and I visited Vrads Sande in Denmark, for a meditation workshop. Our flight had a stop-over at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam; we had to pass through the whole immigration rigmarole and then board a different flight to Bilund, Denmark.

One thing I find most disconcerting about Non-Indian airports and comforting about Indian airports is the people! If I have a doubt or a question all I need to do is tap someone’s shoulder and ask! There is people everywhere and all have time to listen and assist. Anywhere else I am forced to read the whole notice board, look at signboards, follow the arrows, am sure you get the drift of my predicament here. This cautious following of arrows is very stressful and with another impending departure to my destination; these immigration lines are harrowing and unnerving, always. So, after dutifully following the labyrinth of arrows and notice boards my daughter and I were standing in this Schiphol Airport immigration line. I freeze at the mention of looking at maps and finding directions; my mind goes blank; hence I won’t describe my state of mind again.  

The officer looked at the passport, then looked at me, and again looked at the passport. I smiled, a natural reflex for me, even though I was inordinately nervous. He looked past my smile, unmoved and asked, ‘You are going where?’

I said, ‘Vrads Sande.’

Officer, ‘How long?’

Me, ‘Two days’.

Officer (with a very skeptical look), ‘You going back to India in two days?’

Me, ‘No, I am going back to Dublin, Ireland, which is where I am presently living.’

Officer, ‘You Indian, here for 2 days ONLY…. Let me see your return ticket!’

Now, his scrutiny and his unreasonably cold voice was getting on my nerves. I was getting a bit miffed with his looks and highhanded attitude too. Yet I calmly pulled out my return ticket and handed it over to him. He took his time scrutinizing and reassured himself that we were really returning! He asked my daughter also, the same set of questions.

I felt as if my integrity was being questioned. I was merely transiting and this person was making me feel distinctively unwelcome. I calmly took my stamped passport, mentally making a note to tell my husband NOT to book any more transits from this pricy place.

I was still simmering from the recent experience in Amsterdam when we stood across the Bilund airport immigration check. The officer was not as stiff as the Schiphol officer, but equally cautious and took her time inspecting my passport, Visa stamp, return ticket and all. In the span of just 3hours I felt unwelcome and totally robbed of my dignity.  I am sure, they were doing their duty.

These two episodes were like a déjà vu. I remember feeling the same way when we went to Singapore, at Changi airport, years ago.  And worse when we went to Adelaide, South Australia. Singapore, I did not mind that much. The queue was too long and most of the people before me were having language problem, understanding simple English in a different accent is a huge headache if you have frayed nerves and are tired from a long flight.  It was tempers galore and I was happy to just be done with it.

Adelaide is a different story. It was a long uncomfortable flight. Squashed in the middle seat with my seven-month-old daughter on my lap for 9 hours, was, needless to say, a one torturous flight.  We were going to meet my sister. It was Christmas time and my first visit to Australia. I had painstakingly bought gifts for every member of the family and carefully gift wrapped and named them.  Secondly, travelling with my seven- month daughter; the packing had only two sections; carefully wrapped gifts or my daughters milk powder cans, diapers and other accessories.  I was glad when we landed at the Adelaide airport, I would soon be able to stretch my legs, change my daughter pooh loaded nappy!

This is the only airport where I have seen sniffer dogs. Every suitcase is ripped open and every item searched thoroughly. This again is procedure, I agree; yet, having all my gifts getting ripped open and commented upon, left a bad taste in the mouth. Obviously, they found nothing suspicious. I kept requesting them to check through a few items; I had a screaming, restless 7month old in my arms, but to no avail. They stringently did their duty. When all was done, the opened bare suitcase was cast aside and I had to bundle everything back into the suitcase and shuffle out. Weary and exhausted I was almost in tears.

Now coming to Dublin airport.  We have been here a year now and been in and out of that airport about a dozen times.  The immigration officers are smiling and very friendly, that’s the first distinctive difference. They make you feel at home. They also ask all the necessary questions; the tone and attitude is not menacing though. My husband travels a LOT; lives more at airports than at home! The Dublin immigration officers recognize him and remember his name.

After checking my passport, the officer asked me how long we will be staying in Ireland.

I said, ‘Maybe three years or so, not very sure, sir.’

The officer smilingly said, ‘That’s great! Welcome, and hope this country treats you well!’.  

Now, that was the first time I was being welcomed so lovingly! Now you must forgive me if I continue to be smitten by this place and its wonderful people.

Dublin Diaries-4

Dublin Diaries-4

Labour of Love

Whilst writing about our friendly neighbourhood ‘cabbie’ friends, many other comparisons sprung to mind.  India and Ireland are replete with comparable contradictions (another jumble-word which jumps to mind). Don’t know whether it makes sense or not but I will try to frame the scene and elucidate better. I get all dewy eyed when I think of how much India is losing out on, and how much room for improvement we have and yet… With half the resources and one tenth or even less manpower, this country has emerged as a developed nation. The only difference is in the attitude.

From the moment I wrote that cabbie article, I have been wracking my brain to recollect one such memorable, informative or light hearted incident that I have had the pleasure of being a part of, in all my countless taxi experiences in India. Sadly, I can recall many unsavoury instances! I may have a few good ones too if I try hard and for long; but the point I am trying to make here is; I have not met a single, and I repeat, a single auto-driver who enjoys being an auto driver! A single taxi driver who loves his work and is happy with his job! Not just the taxi drivers, most people in my country seem to be stuck at their jobs. The joy on the faces I see anywhere I go in Dublin is in stark contrast to the harried, frowning expressions I encounter in today’s India. The people here seem to enjoy what they do, be it a menial job (did not dare to write ‘no-brainer’) like managing the cash counter at the local grocers or sitting behind the HR desk in an IT firm.  I can assuredly say that picking dead leaves all day to keep the streets clean cannot be a dream job. Yet, the Irish seem to add wit and joy to it; make it enjoyable for themselves and for the people they encounter.  Till I came to Dublin I never dreamt that being a taxi driver could be a chosen or happy job either. Yet every taxi driver is intelligent, very politically aware, witty and always smiling!

What the Hindu philosophy teaches us, about the Shat Sampatti (Sama:  the ability to control the mind, think objectively. Dama: applying the will to help control the mind, keeping the vices at bay, doing regular sadhana to succeed in this endeavour. Only if Dama is practiced properly, the will power will increase and therefore Sama can be achieved with relative ease.  Uparati: Being able to rise above all the dualities; even relinquish the feeling of ownership. Attain a state of balance and stability. Titiksha: The attitude of forbearance which refuses to be affected or shaken by pain and suffering.  Every situation is accepted with calm and equanimity; not moan with pain, rather endure with a smile.  Shraddha and Samadhana, the six behaviour traits) the Irish apparently live the first 4 Sampattis admirably.

Our Wild Atlantic tour this summer brought to fore many more comparisons. Somehow, our country despite having it all, seems to be lacking in everything. I accede that the natural beauty here is unparalleled but after completing the whole 10day tour I could only pick a handful of distinctively different places! Crag Caves, Hooks’ lighthouse, Skellig Island and then the countless spectacular beaches and mist laden mountains.  India has Himalayan peaks, the greenery in Kerala, beaches of Goa, desert in Rajasthan, the list can go on, each distinctively unique and memorable.  However, the upkeep, maintenance and efforts put in by the Irish government and the Irish themselves, to retain the pristine beauty is laudable, and that is the contrast point. Our monuments; I don’t think I need say anything. The Irish have more to tell with the little they have; the tourist guides kept us enraptured. They spun a yarn about every brick in the wall and leaf on the tree!  We visited the Hooks Lighthouse and were smitten by the guide. We visited the Ferns Castle in Wexford and the yarn spun by the tourist guide had us reeling all week! This fort is not even a fort really, barely a wall remains, the rest of the structure is long gone and yet the guide went on and on and he had more to tell!  The Irish have their own unique brand of dry humour and they brandish it with great panache.  All the places became more beautiful and embedded in our memory because of the guides and their narratives. That brings me to the comparative. I dreaded hiring a guide in India. They lack the enthusiasm and zest, their command over the language is pathetic, they simply rattle off the facts in a well-modulated drone.  In no time, I skitter away from the group and wander onto a personal discovery journey. ‘Athithi devo Bhavah’ (Guest is God) is our belief and the Irish are living it. Could it be the labour of love question again?

Another interesting thing that came to my notice was that we work round the clock, the only country in the world which is a willing beast of burden.  Rest of the world says they work five days a week and diligently work five days only.  We can say anything but the world knows that we are willing donkeys.  Maybe, this lack of work ethic never allows us to imbibe Labour of love attitude?

Like I have mentioned many times before; weather here is dismal, perennially wet, cold, and least propitious for any vegetation or agricultural produce. All they have is different kinds of cheese, meat, liquor of course and potatoes! On the other hand, India is bestowed with all the natural resources, we enjoy every season; each state in India boasts of a different cuisine, integral to its agricultural produce and prevalent culture.  Irish are known world over for their music, liquor, and their carefree nature.  A cabbie said, ‘The Irish smile just because they wish to, it is more for themselves rather than to please others’. Today, what are we known for? It’s the only country in the world which has it all, natural beauty, culture, history, resources, manpower… God’s couldn’t have been kinder and more biased towards my country! Even with everything in our favour we remain a third world, developing nation. Abundance has proved to be detrimental to our progress, individually and as a nation, simply because we lack the attitude. We probably need to learn to love first, give ‘labour of love, a fighting chance; and then the right attitude hopefully comes….?

Dublin Diaries – 3: TACSAI’ Tales –  Finally!

Dublin Diaries – 3: TACSAI’ Tales – Finally!

Writing about the Irish Independence took me through all the wrong alleys and made my last article a very serious one. I am keeping that part on hold and starting afresh on a lighter vein. So here comes, my Tacsai’ Tales.

I have already shared our first Taxi experience, on our way to the GNIB office (Immigration); the cheerful disposition our cabby had. Despite the horrible wind, rain and cold the taxi driver was cheerful, helpful and exceedingly smiling. That was the first time and I thought, he probably woke up on the right side of the bed, or had won a lottery, that’s why he could afford to smile through the unpleasant weather. Moreover, this weather must be like second nature to them so they can afford to be unconcerned was my last lame excuse.

Forget the weather and their ability to retain a cheerful demeanour through that unbecoming cold and extreme wind. That is just one tiny part. The other experiences I had with them reveal a ‘perfect character’. They exude a warmth which I have not been able to sense anywhere, world over. Not even in India, the country which is most known for its hospitality and giving nature.

Within a month of coming to this city my daughter and I bravely dropped off my son to the airport at 4:30am. This is such a feat for me because I would not have dared this even in India. I am very apprehensive about cab drivers, to travel alone in their company that too at such odd hours made me very afraid.  My daughter and I hailed a cab and gingerly tried to ‘see’ if the cabbie ‘looked’ safe or not. But all that was not necessary at all; the cabbie greeted me warmly (another thing I am still trying to get used to, they all greet you, wish you and smile with a natural ease) and started a simple conversation to put me at ease!

Cabbie: ‘Hello there! Early morning flight is difficult, eh?’

 Me: Smiled agreeing.

Cabbie: ‘This is the safest place, you can travel at any time and be safe. Nothing to worry in this country!’

I could only smile and nod. Yes, this is a safe place and the cabbie was reassuring me; helping me be brave and stop wringing my hands daughter out of nervousness.  In my flurry, I forgot the right turn to my house. The cabbie very patiently took an about turn, no show of temper or irritation.

One other instance that comes to mind is my first visit to my meditation centre. Like it always is; it was raining incessantly, horribly cold and was still dark at 7:45 a.m. Being a Sunday the roads were totally deserted. This time I was alone, not afraid anymore. I did carefully map the ashram address on my phone; yet the horrible rain and poor visibility made me nervous. I was unsure if I could ask the driver to hunt the exact gate, so that I need not have to step out in the rain and dark and find myself in the wrong gate! The driver himself took care of my predicament. He drove up and down the said road almost 4 times till we did not locate the exact gate. The huge gates were closed and I was actually embarrassed to ask him to wait for me, I wanted to check if the centre was open, else I could return home in the same cab! The cabbie read my mind; he waited till I did my cross checking and confirming, saw me safely inside the gate, wished me ‘Happy beneficial meditation’ and drove away with a smile.  How could my heart not flip for such genuine people?

They have a lovey sense of humour too. Once we (my husband and I) had to go to the social security office. After our work was done my husband headed straight to work and asked me to a taxi home. I was expecting he would drop me home and then go to work; so this change of plan mildly irritated me and I plonked myself into the taxi in a huff. The cabbie probably noticed the small altercation we had and the way I bundled into the taxi.

He cheerfully greeted me, ‘Lovely day, eh!’

I was in no mood to notice the ‘lovely day’ but not wanting to be rude I said, ‘Yes, it is! But my boss says I need to go home! So not so lovely anymore!’

Cabbie, ‘No young lady! You are the boss! How dare your man not obey the boss!’  

I already forgot my irritation and smilingly said, ‘No, no, in my country Man is the Boss, not the wife.’

Cabbie, ‘No young lady, you are wrong here, wife is the boss! Not the husbandJ! Like in my house; my wife is the Boss! World over women are the ‘Boss’!’

I started to laugh, his words did not apply to my house but they were so soothing and I still had hopeJ. 

He sweetly continued, ‘Look at me, we were in London, had a good job and life! My wife was bored there! She ordered that we move here, where the whole family lives! Now, I have to drive this taxi, earn for her!’

I laughed out loud now and asked,’ your wife must be working and earning too though?’

He turned back and gave me a grave look and said, ‘My wife is the Languishing Lady of luxurious shopping and lunches. That’s all that she does dear, believe me!’ I could not control my outburst anymore.

A cabbie informed me that Dublin (which means the ‘dark pool’) is the English name for ‘Baile Átha Cliath’, meaning “town of the hurdled ford“. He even tried to teach me some basic Gaelic.

Another cabbie said, ‘India and our country have a lot in common. We started the first rebellion against the British and Gandhi carried forward the baton to India.’

These are a few ‘Tacsai tales’. There are many more; every time I step into a cab I step out with some new knowledge or a smile on my face, or both.

Dublin Diaries-2- TACSAI’

Dublin Diaries-2- TACSAI’



MY SILLY LOGIC

 

My journey in this city has many experiences; each more endearing than the other. Most of these experiences are with my commuters, the Taxi- drivers of this enchanting city. So, this one is about TACSAI’ (Gaelic for Taxi)

The first Taxi we boarded was to the Immigration office.  It was a wet, windy, cloudy, cold November morning! Our short hiatus in London had prepared us for the rain and gloom; we were gently getting acclimatised to the London cold too, so we were surprised to be caught by surprise! The wind took the wind out of our sails! It went right through us. Barely a few seconds in the open and we were shaking like leaves.  Hurriedly we bundled ourselves into the taxi (here we need not pre – book our cab like we used to do in London; you can ‘hail’ them with the wave of your handJ! Like we do back home, in India) and our very cheerful cabby greeted us thus, “Good morning! A Little wet today, eh! Where do you wish to go?”

The three of us looked at each other with the same thought reflected on our face, “Little Wet! This was ‘little’ wet for him.  He was very unfazed and admirably retained his cheerful demeanour!”  I always believed that the weather of the place dictates the mood and nature of the people living in that place.  Okay, I think I am veering away from the title. But, I must explain this.

For example, in India, Delhi has extreme weather (it is 45 degrees hot or 2 degrees cold, both summer and winter are harsh and inordinately dry) and the people are also extreme in their behaviour. They are extremely street smart, flashy, competitive and have the killer instinct. Whereas, Bangalore, with idyllic weather prevailing all year long, (it rains before it gets unbearably hot and the sun shines before one needs to go and shop for heavy woollen wear) the people here are laid back.  They believe in a calm, frog in the well kind of life. In the last 15 years that I have seen of this place there is minimal change, just the bare minimum they need to do to maintain the place. God has bestowed this place abundantly and made the people also very easy going. To take this analogy a little further; Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai is the financial capital of India. With so much money and glitterati the weather of the place dictates a sense of basic ethics. It has no extremes and yet it always keeps us on the verge of having to try! (I am unable to describe the Mumbai weather properly). The rains are heavy yet come in a very informed predictable way so people are prepared and plan accordingly. It has all the seasons. Summers last the longest and the rest of the seasons are interlaced with this one season. Similarly, most of the people, rich, poor, economically forward or backward, they all seem to find a place in this city. They all come together and all are hard working. The weather dictates toil, discipline and hard work and that is how most of the Mumbai people can be best described. I can go on with such analogies about people and places. Cold places usually have rigid, unyielding and a hard working lot. Whereas, in warm places the exuberance of the place and the life the people breathe into such places is palpable.

London and most of the people in London seemed to follow my dictate, the logical conclusion I had arrived at after years of close observation, about the weather dictating the behaviour and nature of the people residing in that place. Thus, when Londoners rarely smiled, or seemed to be drowned in their phones. Nose buried and eyes boring holes into their shoes; it was not very surprising for me.  With that weather, wetness and gloom how much could anyone muster cheer and stay cheerful?! The rains lashed predictably every day, it was either dark , grey or cloudy , gloomy this was the little variation in the weather with which this magnificent city was endowed and in this variation how much cheer was possible? London’s weather and the people were in symmetry.

Dublin makes silly of my logic, defies it and its people are an absolute contradiction to my self – discovered profound theory.  To begin with the friendly cabby, who had not a care in the world and was unmindful of the rain, wind and cold. It rained incessantly for almost 3 months; a 30 minute or one hour respite may have occurred, when the God’s decided to catch their breath maybe; otherwise it was downpour, showers, drizzles or pitter- patter. But the people we met, all of them, no exceptions at all here (that is another endearing and surprising fact about this place) are cheerful, unmindful of the wetness and gloom. They greet each other, carry animated conversations, have a ringing infectious laughter in their voice and go jogging with raincoats on, their pets racing behind them, equally oblivious to the wetness around.  This scenario reiterates every time I step out of the house for a walk. There cheer and ability to just ignore the gloomy weather amazes me and I too have learnt to ignore the weather nowJ! ‘Wear the right jacket, my friend’: friendly Irish advice!  And it works!

How could I stop myself from drifting away from my TACSAI’ stories? Such is this place. It keeps breaking my self-made theories and never allows me to make a predictable guess.  This is just the tip of the ice berg. Irish food also deserves a separate article. Narrating my experiences and learning’s from the cab driver’s will follow first and then the rest will follow…

Dublin Diaries :  Videsi – Desi

Dublin Diaries : Videsi – Desi

Finally about Dubiln! That entire prologue was imperative just so you all know my state of mind! How this mind and heart tug war has continued to create havoc with its perpetual state of decision and indecision.

Here goes, no more dilly-dallying. We (my daughter and I) were not particularly eager to make the shift from London to Dublin. We had come to London with the mindset of staying for a year at least. Barely 3 months down the line and my husband was getting fidgety yet again!

My daughter had just settled in her new school, made a few friends and started to get some recognition and rewards. Secondly, after a lot of gripe, grumbling and cold –war (with better half of course) she and I had adjusted to the London weather. We had rather painstakingly familiarised ourselves with the bus routes, tube and DLR services and were pretty much independent now. We had done a major share of the sightseeing on our own with the able guidance of Google Maps. So, this big shift was again too soon and much unasked for. Whoever we chanced to ask and get some information on Dublin, we used to get a very standard response, ‘Wetter and windier in Dublin! Buy an extra raincoat and umbrella love!’ That itself was so depressing for us.

We enquired about local transport (the biggest plus point that we had ticked off in London), they said, ‘Dublin is a small place darling! Having a car is better!’ What would we do with a car! I do not drive and my husband is barely in town to chaperon us around!

So, we were basically going from a wet, cold, dull, unsmiling place to a wetter, colder, duller and thus concluded a definitely ‘sad’ place!  Why in the world did my husband make such decisions (yet to figure that one out)?

Anyway, two ‘grumpy grumblers’ and one ‘cheerful under duress’; we boarded the flight to Dublin.  It was very cold, and needless to say, raining cats and dogs when we landed. Every prophecy seemed to be coming true! With a sinking feeling and a glacial look at my husband, I hugged the coat tighter and braced myself to step out of the airport; to face the cold-wet-windy ‘new abode’ of ours.

Surprisingly, there is absolutely no similarity between the weather and people of this extraordinary place! The first person we spoke to for our rental car was welcoming, jovial and in sunny spirits! He was not just being courteous or polite, he was definitely very friendly, eager to help and interested in our wellbeing! He was totally untouched and in contrast to the cold, wet and windy weather! His disposition was warm, sunny and very soothing to my frayed nerves!

Ah! Maybe it was because he was in such a line of work; if he is not well behaved he won’t get customers! (My cold, sneaky and suspicious thought process!). I should not jump with joy, not yet.

The hotel staff was the same; happy, cheerful, smiling and ever ready to help. My thinking-, “Even they are in such a line of business! Etiquette is their bread and butter!”  Okay, so still no need to jump with joy! Real Dublin and its people HAVE to match the weather! How can they be so unaffected and unfazed and stark opposite; defying all odds, logic and reasoning? I need to see more of this place and meet more people before making any conclusions and forming a definite opinion.

We went for our GNIP card the next day, same story. Our taxi fellow was most boisterous, helpful and genuine.  We went house hunting, apart for one real estate agent (he was not cold or stiff, he was the typical ‘sales agent’ formal and to the point) the rest of them were like family; sweet, unassuming and gentle.  I was never made to feel out of place. They all seemed interested in my opinion and had time to chit-chat; no hurry whatsoever.  This was all strange and stranger by the day!

The last straw came on my first day of walking. In London ( I apologize, but I must make this comparison) we walked miles and miles ( my daughter and I, and we had fun too) but not a single time has anyone even stopped us to ask for directions, much less to smile or give a cursory nod even.  Here, I barely reached the main gate and someone passed me by with a broad smile and, ‘Hello, How are you? Lovely weather today! ’

I literally turned back to see if someone else she knew, was behind me. She couldn’t possibly be talking to me! But, she was talking to me, smiling so beautifully.  I cheerfully greeted her and said, “Hello! Yes, beautiful day!” and we parted ways.

I went further down and some other total stranger pleasantly greeted me and moved on. By the time I returned home my jaw was stretched and hurting with the amount of smiling I had done in the last one hour!  This had not happened even in India; forget London! For a while I forgot that I was the ‘videshi’ here. I was at home.

It is cold, it is damp, it is cloudy, there is no sunshine for a whole week at times; it gives full room for everyone to walk around with a long, gloomy face, with nothing to look forward to. Yet people here are happy, in competition with no one, very content with life.  Everyone is warm, welcoming, uninhibited and open. The air here is filled with inherent joy or the attitude to seek and spread happiness. The people stole my heart and I feel at home!

I know I am a’ Videsi’ yet my heart feels very ‘Desi’ here. This place has taught me many things. I discovered that Ireland and India have a lot in common. But all that is my forthcoming articles. Please continue to read, ‘Dublin Diaries’

Shades of Grey…London Hues

Shades of Grey…London Hues

About London again, this is where I am presently residing, (I am posting this article from Dublin, Ireland; wrote it when I was in London!!!)  the discovery is ongoing and a daily affair.  I started my sojourn in London with a heavy baggage of misconceptions. Thus, my learning starts afresh every day. I am enjoying breaking my own misconceptions and I am also enjoying confirming a few home truths I received before I landed here. Even with so much preparation and warning some things about this place continue to strike me odd and still continue to surprise me.

The first is the rain in London, it surprises me still. God simply decided to pour in these parts of the world; for reasons best known to HIM alone, that is all I can say. Every day, very expectantly, my daughter and I check the weather status, praying for some sunshine and a respite from this pervasive wetness and gloom.  There is a silver lining on some days and we excitedly plan our day. It happened twice in the last three months. Nevertheless, the gloom failed to mar our indefatigable good spirits and my daughter and I toured London in the rain. Rain became our constant companion. We started enjoying the rain and the wetness. It came to a point where we stopped checking the weather report. It did not matter anymore.  In an auto mode both of us planned our day, packed our kits, raincoat, jackets, cap, hood , umbrella et all and headed out to paint the town red!

Paint the town RED! That brings me to the second aspect of this city which continues to amaze me. The color of the houses or buildings in this wet land, they are all grey, all of them! God decided to give this city a gloomy, dark, dull, wet weather round the clock. The residents decided to augment the gloom a bit more by coloring all the houses, office buildings and shopping complexes uniformly in one of the most drab, lifeless colors one can ever imagine, GREY! Being one of the oldest economies of the world, the History of this place is Ancient! Almost every alternate building is marked as ‘Historic’ ‘Pre-Historic’ ‘Ancient’ or ‘Heritage’!  They all are a part of the past and look aged too, so it is very acceptable that they are all colored in the typically stone grey color. Many have moss or fungus covering because of the incessant rains. Stonhenge, National Maritime Museum, London Bridge, London –eye these are all old –old sites and are in ‘grey’ which is very understandable to me. But the newer constructions like O2 (Theatre complex where the likes of AR Rehman perform!), Shard (The tallest building in London which a panoramic view of the whole city from its terrace) the metro stations; all of them are grey or tinted grey glass finish! How weird is that! Houses, we re-do our interiors every 3-5 years, right? How many of us repeatedly paint them the same color; that too of all the colors why choose ‘shades of grey’ every time? India has a ‘pink city’, a ‘golden city’, a ‘blue city’ and these three colors are from the same state, mind you!

It’s as if just because God gave them a grey climate to live in, and live with; they have acclimatized so beautifully that they need no second color at all! They abide by the God’s dictate! The most popular jackets in London are Black or white! In the initial days my daughter and I used to be jumping and eager to visit the shopping malls, Harrods, Zarah, Debenham’s. Two trips were all it took. We searched high and low, every section of these places, clothes – black or white or some mix and match shades in between like off white , cream, grey etc. very very rarely we spotted a pink or a –sea green ( we bought those!). That is all. Even their crockery cutlery is mostly white! No second color choice in that section! My daughter’s school dress is Black! My husband’s office attire is Black and blue (the company he works for has color Blue; nothing to do with London preferences hereJ). The umbrellas are mostly black in color and the raincoats too! Goodness!

Funnily, the sports shoes come in all colors you can think of! From fluorescent orange, to dark green, to light pink, to a deep magenta and you are spoilt for choice! That was the surprising part! Now, when we visit a restaurant the usual practice is to remove the coat and hang on the coat hanger. Then, settle down comfortably in the cozy ambience and have your meal. When you are about to leave you reclaim your coat. The first time we were five of us, all in black coats, and all hung in the corner. Imagine my plight when I went to collect our coats…  I took one look at the endless black, black and black coats; beat a hasty retreat and sent my better half! If he picked the wrong one he had only himself to blame! I was safe!

The best is yet to come! London is such a wonderful place that sightseeing is kind of mandatory! Staying indoors because of rain, distances etc is a shame and a total loss to the visitor. So we did do a lot of sightseeing, and sightseeing entailed the next natural event of ‘memory collection’; or photographs! The first day we went out, we clicked many pictures and put them on Face book, sent to ‘family’  ‘wats app’ group and received many compliments ‘wow’, ‘beautiful’, ‘amazing, etc . Next time we went sightseeing, we again took pictures and as we started to upload the pictures we realized that they looked the same as last time! The first set was near Thames River (near our house, in Greenwich area), it was raining that day, so the jackets were there, and it was my daughter and me! The second set was near London Bridge, so Thames River again, raining too (obviously) so jackets were the same and it was my daughter and me again! Both set of pictures looked exactly the same!! Same people, same clothes, same place too, uh! So much for seeing London and different places in London!

I told my great pati-dev (spouse) that I now no longer needed dresses! I needed jackets and more jackets in all shades, every possible shade of black-white – grey. Till then, no pictures for family and friends, only happy sightseeing of this history enriched wondrous place which never ceases to surprise me!

London Journal

London Journal

My London days have just begun and so bear with me, readers, all my writings will now be the hues of London. To be candid, I came here with many prejudices and misgivings. England had ruled my country for 200 years, looted, plundered and left it with a begging bowl. Today we are a third world nation and London is the land of developed rich. Thus, England never featured in my good books and I have a very cynical view of anyone who settles here. Probably why God decided to send me here, to be able to wash away all this idiocy and be realistic, live in the present and enjoy what is, rather broods about what was.

I settled in with great enthusiasm and gusto, new country and living up to his reputation my husband chose a very beautiful locality to reside. We are very close to The Thames River and the Greenwich Meridian, the 0 longitude – Latitude line is a place we pass by everyday!  This is very historically rich and every road has a story to tell kind of a place. And, lucky for us, we could come in the summer months, where the weather is at its best behavior.  The first month flew by speedily. My daughter and I were at our adventurous best and managed to visit the important landmarks. We downloaded the app for bus routes and found our way.

This sightseeing month we did manage exemplarily well because we had the app on us. The timings of the bus, the directions, the next stop, route everything is marked and comes up immediately on this app ‘City Mapper’. All we used to do was type the place we had picked for the day and press ‘search’. In a flash, viola! All the options come up with  beginning with how long it takes to walk, then the bus- train routes available, then in case we wish to hire a cab what would that cost us.  A rain safe route also is given and that was our biggest thrill; discovering this ‘city mapper’.  This is the fun of a developed country.  Within a month though we had exhausted most of the routes and the city mapper has worn its charm. This is a vice of a developed country! Boredom sets in even before the enthusiasm can bid adieu properly.

We now knew which bus to board, where to alight and what time the next bus came and so on and so forth.  So, we had shifted to our next interesting task on hand, observing the other passengers.  A very interesting observation was: ‘people here rarely smile’. Most of the faces look hassled or brooding.  Everyone had their noses buried into a book or the damn phone. Everyone had earphones plugged in as if it was a part of the ear itself.  Phone and earphones are ubiquitous and people talking to each other are like the appearance of ‘Hailey’s comet’! Babies had the pacifier stuck into their mouth; so the most crowded bus also is usually eerily silent. So, apart for an occasional ‘sorry’ (when someone is asked to make way) and ‘thank you’ (when someone vacates a sit for an elderly person) our 50 minute bus ride was in absolute silence and stiff boredom.  “Nobody looks at anybody anymore, even if they do; they have suspicion written all over their faces.” (This was a co –passenger mumbling to himself; I was totally in agreement with his disgruntled mumbling)

 

In India, asking for directions and making friends on a journey is like second nature to everyone. By the time we left our house and reached the destination we would have made friends with the taxi driver, the security guard, and asked directions after every 5-7 minutes and made friends with all of them too. I am not that social a person to begin with and I definitely do not ask every second person for directions either. But this sharp contrast of totally relying on the phones and never ever asking anyone for help had me stumped. I spontaneously would look up and smile or try to strike a simple conversation and the response is very akin to London weather; cold and windy (not forthcoming to say the least). They have people from all over the world and maybe that makes them very hesitant too, the lack of awareness of culture and rules of the place is a handicap. And when the technology is so advanced and omniscient they may wonder why this harried looking silly – smiling woman is trying to chat up with them. What could they possibly know which the phone in my hand could not answer?  Funnily, the bus drivers also are strictly aware of their routes and their stops only, ask them about any other route or if this bus is close to some area, they look blank and clueless.

Now, my present test is, by the time head back to India, will this place rob me off my smile or will I succeed in making a few friends and pass the smile on. Will keep you all posted as it goes; latest is I am kind of blending with the place or adapting to London ways. My daughter has earphones glued to her ears and I have started to read on the bus. Let’s see when the weather changes and I can dazzle this place with my sunny smile. Wish me luck.

Disclaimer: The picture is a download! but I have many answers for that question:)

NathDwar

Naath Dwara means ‘Gateway to the Lord, Sri Krishna or Sri Naathji’. Dwaar meaning gateway and Nath meaning the Lord, this divine form of Lord Krishna is most riveting, ornate and spectacular.

Naath Dwara is a small quintessential town in Rajasthan state of Western India. It is about 48km from the city of Lakes, Udaipur.  The town per se is dirty and wears a rather dilapidated, unkempt look but as one nears the temple precinct the narrow lanes become invisible to the devotee and the whole focus is dramatically shifted to the temple and the resplendent beauty of the Lord Sri Naathji.

This is the only Idol of the Lord dating back to the 14th Century, a 7 year old infant incarnation of Krishna. The idol was originally worshipped at Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna. It is believed that during the reign of Aurangzeb fanatic Muslims were very intent on demolishing temples and annihilating all Hindu presence. Fearing the destruction of the Temple, the idol was originally shifted in 1672 from Goverdhan Hill, Mathura along the Yamuna River and retained at Agra for about six months. Later the Lord found His final abode in Nathdwara on the banks of Banas River in Rajsamand District, Rajasthan.

It is also believed that Nathdwara Temple was built in the 17th century at the exact spot ordained by Srinathji himself. When the Idol of Lord Krishna was being transferred to a safer place from Vrindavan to protect it from the anti-Hindu, iconoclastic vandalism of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb; when it reached the spot at village Sinhad or sihad, the wheels of the bullock cart sank ankle –deep in mud and refused to budge. The then present priest concluded that this was the place The Lord chose as his future abode and thus casino online the present was built under the protection and supervision of the then Maharaja Raj Singh of Mewar. Since it was His Mansion or Abode, this temple is also referred to as “Haveli of Srinathji.” It is said that the Lord took 32 months to complete this journey from Agra to Mewar!

This temple, also known as Nandalya, is designed in the lines of Nanada Maharaja’s (Krishna’s Father) temple in Vrindavan. A Kalash (the five metal pot) is on the top of the temple and is adorned with casino online Sudarshana chakra along with 7 different flags.  The 7 flags are representative of Lord’s sakhis. Since this is also a haveli, typically like a palace this temple also has many rooms. Now each room is meant for a different purpose and the devotee crosses all these rooms before having the actual darshan of the Lord. The rooms are Doodh Ghar- where the milk for the lord is offered and stored; phool ghar- where flowers can be offered and are stored, likewise the Beetel ghar for Pedha ghar for sweet meats, mishri ghar for sugar and Rasoi ghar which is the Lords functional kitchen to name a few! There is a jewellery house, a kharcha Bhandaar or a treasury a Baithak or a drawing room and also an Ashwashala, a room for chariot.

The festive air and the elaborate rituals surrounding the worship of the idol, the white walls on the inside are covered with modern paintings, the Pichwai style painting among others; make the pilgrimage to this temple site worthwhile. The aroma of flowers wafts through the minute one step inside. The temple employs about 1000 people who work dedicatedly. The lord is eternally sparkling, bejewelled and well dressed in royal splendour another unique feature of this temple. Drums and trumpets go ablaze announcing the Darshan timings and the lord’s attendants wear the attire worn during the past era.

Shrinathji, as this place is popularly known after the presiding deity, is a significant vaishnavite shrine pertaining to the Pushti Marg or the Vallabh sampradaya or the Shuddha advaita founded by Vallabha Acharaya. Vitthal Nathji, son of Vallabhacharya institutionalised the worship of Shrinathji at Nathdwara. Devotees visiting this shrine must be prepared for a long wait if they are unaware of the timings; the first Darshan is at 5:30 am.

Srinathji temple has 2 ancillary temples (Madan mohan and Navneet Priya) within the same compound. The main idol is made of marble and depicts the lord lifting the Goverdhana hill on his little finger. One can also see the image of a cow, snake a lion and 2 peacocks carved by the side of the Lord’s head.

Beginning at 5:30 am the temple has 8 darshans in a day; each lasting an hour. Collectively called Ashtaya, individually they are  Mangala, shrigar, Gwal, Rajbhog, Uthhapan, Bhog, Aarati and Shayan.  The divine manifestation of the Lord synchronises with the name of the darshan and the reason why the Lord manifests thus is explained.

Holi is celebrated with great fanfare here and the other important occasions are Diwali, Janmashthami and Annakuta (worshipping the Goverdhana Hill) festival. Rose festival in April is another festivity worth being a part of in Nath Dwara.  Thus, October November and March April become the ideal times to visit this holy place.

Baba Dhaam

Baidyanath Jyotirling temple, also known as Baba Dham and Baidyanath Dham is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the most sacred abode of Lord Shiva. According to Hindu Mythology the demon king Ravana worshipped Lord Shiva and in an attempt to appease the Lord began offering one head after the other as sacrifice. Pleased with Ravana’s devotion and sacrifice Lord Shiva descended to earth, played doctor and cured the injured Ravana. Since here, in this place God descended as a ‘Baidya’ or Physician (doctor) the place got its name, Baidyanath Dham; the place where the lord played Baidya.

Apart for the story attached to the name, many other interesting beliefs are attached to this most unique temple. This temple is contesting with 3 other temples for the enviable spot of being one amongst the 12 Jyotirling temples in our country. Some schools of thought believe Vaidyanath near Parali in Andhra Pradesh to be the Vaidyanath Jyotirlingam. Other schools of thought claim that Kiragram in Punjab and Dabhoi in Gujarat are the Vaidyanatha Jyotirlinga temples.

The uniqueness just begins here and everything about this temple is different and unlike any other temple in the world.  The origin of Baidyanath Dham is full of antiquity.

According to Shiva Purana, it was in the Treta Yuga that the demon Ravana, King of Lanka, meditated upon Mahadeva seeking that the Lord should permanently reside in Lanka. Shiva got pleased and permitted Ravana to carry His Lingam (a symbolic from of stone tinctured with circle of light) to Lanka, warning Ravana to not to let go of the Lingam till he reached his destination.  If he does have to let go of it then the lingam would get fixed at that spot forever.

On his way back from Mount Kailash it was time for Ravana to perform his Sandhya Vandanam and he searched for someone to hold the Lingam for him till he completed his pooja. Lord Ganesha is said to have appeared in the disguise of a shepherd and offered to hold the Ligam, but only for a little while. As fate would have it, Ganesha called out Ravana’s name 3 times saying he was tired and would like to relinquish the Lingam soon. And by the time ravana returned from his pooja the Lingam was set on the banks of the river and the shepered was nowhere to be seen.

Another story goes that Gods conspired and begged Lord Vishnu do play some trick because if the Lingam reached Lanka then there was no stopping Ravana and his further destruction of the world.  So, Lord Varun entered Ravana’s tummy giving him an unstoppable urge to release self and at the nick of the moment Lord Vishnu appeared in the disguise of a Brahmin and offered to hold the Lingam till Ravana released himself. Ravana took too long to relieve himself and the Bramhin placed the Lingam and disappeared.  Ravana tried to push, nudge, lift the lingam with all his might to no avail; and out of sheer frustration and anger he kicked the lingam on top and pushed it further down into the earth.  Ravana immediately realised his folly and casino begged to be forgiven but what was done could not be undone and thus Baidyanath Dham came to being. The lingam has a small denture on top and is practically inside the earth; only the dented top is what is visible to the devotees. This jyotirling is also known as ‘Manokamana Ling’ because it was Ravana’s wish that was being fulfilled by the benevolent Baba, or Lord Shiva.

The origin of the temple and its present day structure also has colourful history attached to it.  The temple is famous since the 8th century AD, the last Gupta Emperor, Adityasena.  Later during Akbar’s reign Man Singh is believed to have visited this temple regularly; he is said to be the one who got the tank excavated, the Mansarovar tank of today.

This temple passed on through generations and in the 18th century due to a political turmoil the temple is said have fallen into the hands of Nawab of Birbhum  and then after the East India Company came in 1788, Mr .Keating, the then collector of Birbhum restored the temple architecture and handed it over full control to the high priest.

This sacred place is thronging with devotees throughout the year and has more than 7-8 million devotees; a world record, during the holy month of shravana. This particular month people offer water of the holy Ganges to the deity; the water is collected from Sultangunj. Sultangunj is about 106km from this temple and pilgrims cover this distance on foot carrying 2 sets of clothes and the holy water. An unbroken human chain in saffron- dyed clothes stretches all the way from Sultangunj to the temple. All the pilgrims address each other as ‘bum’ and some devotees pledge to cover this 106km distance overnight, non-stop. They are called Dak-bum’s. Many villagers set up camp on either side of the trail selling food, shelter and massage oils. The tired bare foot pilgrims relax, get a massage done and walk on with renewed energy.

Another unique thing about this temple is women can visit this place during the shravan month particularly, even if they are having their monthly cycle. Secondly, because it is Bhole Baba’s temple one can see almost every other pilgrim smoking ‘ganja’ and lost to the world around!

The queen of Nepal (seeking a child) is also said to have covered this journey once and it took her the whole month of sharavan to cover the 106km.

Babadham is located in N.E. Jharkhand, 4 miles from /Jasidih station on the Eastern Railway.  It stands near G.T. Road connecting Delhi with Kolkata. Regular passenger buses ply from Ranchi, Bokaro, Jamshedpur and other places.

Hotels are innumerable but since this is a very small place, it is better check properly before choosing.The website: www.babadham.org/shrawan.php has detailed information about everything pertaining to this holy place.

 

Parashuram temple

Kumbalgarh in the state of Rajasthan, India is most popular for its fort, the invincible Kumbalgarh Fort. The fort is a just the tip of the iceberg and this wondrous town has amazing places to visit and bowl the visitor with awe and excitement. One of the most amazing of these places is the legendary Parashuram temple.

The Parashuram temple is located inside an ancient cave wherein sage Parashuram dwelt for some time during the Treta yuga. He is also considered to be the 6th avatar of Lord Vishnu. This temple is where he meditated after seeking the blessings of Lord Rama.  To know Lord Parashuram a little better: He is the avatar of Vishnu, pupil of Shiva and the descendant of Lord Brahma himself, so he is also considered to be Trimurti in some parts of India and worshipped thus. He is the only avatar who lived to see and meet His next avatars also, namely Lord Rama and Lord Krishna.

This remote temple down the hill is about 25-30kms from Kumbalgarh or about 14km from Sadri village. The taxi reaches up to a point on the hilltop and then there is a 2-3 km descent from this point to reach this natural beauty in the foothills of aravalli mountain range. The temple is very small and rather out of the way so not many people know about it or visit it either. It had a very worn out and dilapidated look, rather unkempt; with an occasional villager or a rare tourist making the descent or the climb up to return to their hotel. We went, thanks to the resort PR manager and enjoyed the experience.

This temple sits in a cave 3995 feet above sea level and has naturally formed figures of Lord Shiva and his son Lord Ganesh on the rock inside the temple. The temple is also unique, because it is not a temple exactly the way temples traditionally are. There is a natural break and opening in the rock which has a Shivaling; which again is believed to be naturally formed (Swayambhoo) jutting out from the surface of the rock. It is believed that Lord Parashuram used to use this tunnel online casino within the rock to go up to the river’s banks to collect water and return to this cave and worship lord Shiva. On the top is the shape of a cow’s udder where water flows continuously drop by drop and falls on the head of the Shivaling.  The priest will also inform you that the source is from nine kunds or ponds which never go dry (one cannot see the ponds though). It is estimated that approximately nine lakh pilgrims visit this temple annually.
The temple priests as well as the local residents have many stories to narrate which are interesting and insightful. One of them is that till about 75- 80 years ago the udders used to be dripping milk on the lingam. The milk gradually changed to water and during the transition time there was a continuous flow of water and milk, or thin milk as the priests put it. Another belief attached is that if a childless couple prays here and a drop of water falls into their hands while they are praying, they are sure to beget a child blessed by the Lord very soon!

Till the recent past this temple did wear a rather forlorn look but Rajasthan tourism and the popularity of Kumbalgarh Fort has resurged life into this place in heaps and plenty. Festival days like Maha Shivaratri and Shravan are celebrated with a lot of fanfare and rejoicing. A large crowd gathers and pilgrims from nearby places keep coming to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and pray for children and prosperity.

Fairs are organized twice a year, one on the Shravana Shukla shastami and saptami (6th and 7th) usually falling in the August or September when a large fair is held. We went in the middle of June, peak summer but the heat of Kumbalgarh is bearable and this trek can be completed in 3hours time. One should start early and get back to hotel before the sun peeks up. Enjoy and feel exihilarated:-)