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Archive for the ‘Meanderings’ Category

T.I.A.

5:30 pm local time UAE.

My inflight movie had just gotten over. The display in front of me said that we had another 1:15 to reach Khartoum.

I noticed the flight status display. And then it hit me.

For 28 years, 9 months and 15 days, I had spent my life in one place. The gigantic continent that we call Asia. I looked again at the screen. Our flight had just flown over Jeddah and was just over water.

I opened my window ever so slightly, so as not to disturb the passengers for whom this journey was less momentous, and had chosen to sleep.

I opened my window to view a canvas of shimmering blue that stretched far away and melted into the blue of the sky. This sea of blue was the (slightly inappropriately named) Red Sea.

The fact that I could see water confirmed that I had indeed soared away from home. Having traveled all my life, I’ve never realized that I had a place and a home. That I actually have a place where I can say I have roots with no ambiguity whatsoever. My beloved Asia was gone. Chennai, Dubai, Mumbai, Sharjah, Bhubaneshwar, Muscat .. They were all behind me.

Right now, I could see the blue power of the Red Sea defeated by a coastline, a jagged brown one.

I remembered Leo Di Caprio from the Blood Diamond.

This is Africa.

And I am here.

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Part 3/3

We walked into Firangi Paani at 2 hours to midnight on the 13th of April 09.

Wow Surprise #1. They were playing Classic Rock – all the way from Beatles to Elvis to Floyd.

Wow Surprise #2. Happy hours from 10:00 p.m. onwards. Buy one get one free.

I can’t write much more about what happened. It would spoil the magic. Here’s my snapshot for keepsake.

gang-at-fpBest . Vishu . Ever

Mumbai Part 1 – Pleasantly Mumbai

Mumbai Part 2 – Chamber of Secrets

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I’m writing this from a hotel called the Gulf Flower Hotel. Shady wouldn’t begin to describe the place, but it has suprisingly spacious rooms, a fully loaded cable channel and most importantly, free wireless internet access. How great is that!

I found this sign behind my the door of room in the hotel. Click to see larger image.

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The managerally of city defense were kind enough to let me know that accident need only a few second or a part of it.

Of course, this was nothing compared to fantastic notice that was posted on the entry card which I had to fill when I entered the country. The hospitality was like no other I had ever seen. The text in red below is something unique to this hospitable place.

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I didn’t think it was serious, till I was shocked to hear many many dogs barking near the baggage control section. Dogs in the airport? It didn’t make any sense. Then I made the connect. Whew!

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Here’s my full list of things to do in Mumbai.

If you don’t live in Mumbai, then please press Ctrl-P and OK now.

Missal Pav

Missal Pav

Things to put into mouth

a. Wada Pav .. without forgetting the garlic powder chutney and fried mirchis

b. Missal Pav .. can settle for Ussal Pav

c. Pav Bhaji .. extra buttered pav and also munching a papad will count as a bonus

Dabeli

d. Bhel Puri .. always try and find new varieties – must look for Ice Bhel Puri from Man-Under-Tree outside Mulund (W) station

e. Ganne ka Ras .. 2 full glasses with adrak and lemon please.

f. Kala Khatta .. preferably from Juhu beach. While here, munching on a roasted corn cob would count as a bonus

Aamras

g. Any of the many chat items from Juhu beach. Items a-d above would have to be had from somewhere other than Juhu beach to be crossed out though.

i. Double Roti / Dabeli / Kachi Pav

j. Cutting chai .. roadside only

h. Aamras

i. Shrikhand

j. Dad’s special weird-flavored Kulfi from Thane (E)

k. Dad’s special Poori Bhaji from Panchan Poori Waala near V.T.

Must do while in Mumbai

a. Travel by local train

b. Visit Hard Rock Cafe / Firangi Paani

c. Use Mumbai and Bombay in two alternate sentences when talking to someone

d. Do the standard Mumbai kiss call when calling out to someone

e. Say something like “Mein tereko kya boltha haai

f. Pay the auto-driver by the meter and pinch yourself

If you think I should add anything more to this list, do let me know.

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Part 2

I haven’t been on an adventure in ages. People these days tend to get cooped up inside their houses or get piss-drunk in bars, and the great outdoors usually gets relegated to the great ignored outdoors.

So when I asked Chandu to suggest a place to go to and he suggested Kanheri caves, I jumped at the opportunity. I had read about Kanheri caves from another blog (1) . The post was as surprising as it was inspiring. I had never heard of Buddhist caves inside Mumbai’s city limits. The possibility of exploring something that was an auto-rickshaw distance away was thrilling. I guess in some corner of heart I still have a little bit of Jupiter Jones. (A shout-out for anyone who gets that one)

I think we managed to do everything differently from the blog I mentioned earlier. We arrived at Sanjay Gandhi National Park at 8:30 a.m. and managed to find a restaurant opposite the gate that served us some yummy Missal Pav, Idlis and super sugary cutting chais that weren’t as cut out as we’d expected them to be. I was happy to have my missal and cutting chai as these were two things in my Must-do-in-Mumbai list. If you’re wondering whether all the other items were foods, you’re bang on the money.

Slobs that we were, instead of taking the 5 km trek to the caves, we waited for a bus to pick us up. There was one everyone hour starting 9:00 a.m. Something that looked like it had been a contraption used to transport prisoners not too long ago pulled up near the gate and we herded ourselves in. The ride down was pretty bumpy, but as I had mentioned earlier, I was in love with the all the colors.

We were dropped a little ahead of the caves and we had to hike it up for a kilometer or so. Carrying water and grapes for the trip is a great idea. Water for you, grapes for the monkeys. While you hike up, you’ll see plenty of monkeys, who will walk over pick grapes from your hand as if they were expecting it.

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Other than the monkeys, the rest of the walk should leave you breathless, especially if you are the types who would prefer a missal pav early in the morning to a nice walk in the woods. Our party did their best to huff and puff as much as they could; myself included.

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Other than the 4 of them, there was also a dog who faithfully escorted us all the way to the top. I tried to remind everyone of how a Dog Walker had accompanied Yudhishtira up the mountain in the Season Finale of the Mahabharata (5) . I tried to tell remind everyone in that episode at the end of the climb Dog Walker transforms into Yama and with¬† very heavy breathing (long walk up) says “Dude, I’m you’re father”. Star Wars picked it up much, much later. Also in the episode, all the people walking with Dharmaraj fell down and died during the climb. I started to tell my gang that I was the noble guy and I would survive, meaning that all of them would fall down and die, but luckily I realized that the dog analogy would blow in my face. I limited myself to grunts and huffs.

The sight to behold when we reached there was amazing.A big thanks to Anish for this panoramic stitch. Click the pic below for a better view.

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The cave above is the first cave that one sees as soon as one finished the journey up. This one is labelled Cave #1 and there is one just beside it labeled Cave #2. Naturally I thought that this would help the monks of yore know where they had to go when they had to. What we didn’t realize till much, much later was that there are 109 caves cut beautifully into the rocks. I say beautifully because the precision and simplicity of the cuts are perfectly counter-balanced by the detailing of the sculptures and the aura of the place.

The word Kanheri apparently comes from the words for black in color. I guess the person who had named it had just discovered the meaning of the phrase “Gotcha!” because there was nothing really black about what we saw.

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In the foreground above, you can see a Vihara (2) which indicates that the monks used to pray here. In the background, one can get an idea of the beauty of the place, as you have sculptures carved all over the wall. Like I said, simplicity juxtaposed with detailing. The caves date back to 1st century BC to 9th century AD. In hindsight, it was nice to be walking in something that was being used in the same era as Christ. (Did I get that right?)

The #2 cave reminded me of Hamunaptura. If you remember the scene from The Mummy where they discover the lost city for the first time, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Check this out.

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After a while, Chandu and I went trekking a bit higher and it was then we saw how big the place actually was. William Wordsworth would have done a Ctrl-H on his poem, replacing Daffodils with Buddhist caves if he had seen the sight. Too bad I don’t have a picture to show you. But do not despair, I have put together a nice slideshow for you. I have been waiting for a long time to test out the slide show capability of WordPress. Even though it is 3rd party, if WordPress recommends something(6), you’d know it was good.¬† Please do let me know what you think.

It was 1:00 in the afternoon and time to bid adieu to Kanheri. We had some lovely nungu (3) from a nice lady at the bottom of the climb down. This was one item I had forgotten to add in my list before. The punjabi girl in our group had never seen this before much less eaten it. If you’re eating/slurping/drinking nungu for the first time, the experience can be a little disturbing. After you’re done peeling, the gooey fruit core reminds you of everything you don’t want to be reminded of. Put once the white jell-o touches your mouth, you’re hooked. It is probably the best fruit to munch down in the summer. The punjju took it like .. well .. as a punjiu takes to nungu (henceforth).

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Cheers from Kanheri

(1) The post that inspired: Ms. N’s blog on Kanheri Caves

(2) Kanheri Wiki : Where I picked up the word vihara

(3) Nungu Wiki : This site is a bit technical but you could read The Hindu’s ways to eat nungu

(4) Karsub’s full list of What-to-do-when-in-Mumbai

(5) It’s not about the hike : The Mahabharatha episode being referred to

(6) Slideshows recommended by WordPress : I tried and liked Slide

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Pleasantly Mumbai

Part 1

Though its been just a year since I last visited Mumbai, I can’t remember the last time I actually managed to explore so much of this dynamic city and get so much accomplished in one trip.

My flight landed at Mumbai at 2:00 am in the morning. Pre-paid taxis were the only way to go I was told. I spent an hour waiting in the line. Not for the line for the taxi, but the line to get a receipt to get in the line to get a taxi. Every 10 minutes or so, a man would run out and come back after 5 minutes. Later I learnt that as part of his enhanced job description, he had to sprint to the taxi stand and get the license plate numbers of taxis waiting there, so that he could assign them. Idea! Cellular have obviously never seen this place – an ad is just waiting to be made here.

I said weary hello to the aging taxi driver and waited for the crude mumbaiyah language to ravage my ear drums. Instead – “Namasthe. Kahan thak jaana hai aapko“. Aapko! Not tereko? Such bliss. The guy was a Lucknowi who had managed to retain the chastity of his spoken word in this verbally promiscuous land.

After waking up my hosts, I settled into bed at 4:00 a.m. only to find my self wide-eyed at 9:00 a.m. Coming to Mumbai, I suddenly realized how much my life had been starved of color. Bright yellows, reds, greens. I just could not get enough of it. I loved watching the big lorrys that had a huge red rear-side. Reminded me of I.R. Baboon, for those who know what I’m talking about. In the afternoon, when we went shopping, I found a bunch of people with metal vels (pointed rods) stuck between their cheeks praying in front of a temple and running off somewhere. More than the pain of watching them, what I noticed was the color.

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Imagine coming from a world where everything you see has been coated with a generous dose of brown. People with such variegated (I like that word) clothes, colored buildings, etc. It was colorful ecstasy. I would have probably died of shock if I had come during Holi.

That night, we went to a place called Morocco. When I heard the name, I pictured a dimly lit chic place with a heavily scented aroma lingering all around. The waiters would be dressed in fancy dresses but would display a lot of attitude. The ambient sound would bear a steady murumur from all the tables which would accompany pleasant Arabic music.

I was as close to the truth as the spoon in my kitchen sink is to Pluto. The place we went was called Morokko. There was no entrance per se. For some time you were out of Morokko and then suddenly you were in. The music seemed to struggle to find its meaning. For a while the DJ would play sad Hindi music. Then, he’d spot a pretty girl in the crowd and switch to some really good English house numbers. After a while, someone would get around to breaking it to him that his payment for the night was also being effected by recession. You’d think the music would get somber then? No way. We’d have to endure a remix of a remix of Darde Disco. Towards the end of the night, he started playing Bappi-da music. I wasn’t surprised that it was the only music I enjoyed that night.

If you feel you need go upto someone and say “I bet you that I can get you to poke a fork into your eye”, then not many places could help you win that bet better than Morokko. Waiters materializing at the pop of your fingers may be wishful thinking, but for that matter, anything that is related to service would firmly remain in the relams of Utopia. You might consider getting up and walking over to the kitchen to place your order yourself. But you’d quickly give up hopes of that when you realize that that would take you closer to the speakers with the ahem delectable music.

The waiter species found in this restaurant are the masters of subtle communication. One of our group ordered chicken with pasta. He was given chicken … with no pasta. He called them again to inform them that they had missed the pasta. They apologised and took the dish away. After a many many minutes, they returned with the corrected dish. “We are extremely sorry Sir. Here is your order. Enjoy”. Chicken … without pasta. Our friend tried to correct them again, but realized that the waiters were actually trying to convey to us that we had better eat the chicken or else suffer dire consequences. Considering that not much around us could get any dire-er, we weren’t really keen on finding out what other torture mechanisms they had going on. We ate the food, paid the bill and left.

The night finished with an exciting trek up 8 floors of the stairs of a building to reach a friend’s house. The lift did not appreciate that people called it a lift, demanded that people find the Hindi equivalent of the word and call it that, and shut down for the night. We had some lovely coffee and wonderful conversation till 2:00 am in the night.

When we came out the moon was full and shining.

What a perfect way to end the perfect day,

my first day in Bombay!

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Abra forever

This post has nothing to do with any item of clothing. Go back here for what you were searching for.

“Two roads diverged in the woods and I,
I took the one with the lesser toll, and that has made all the difference.”

I have been in the UAE for more than a year now. Yet I have never ventured to the famous Dubai Creek. It brings back a lot of childhood memories. Memories that have faded now, but stuff that comes back sometimes. The Dubai Creek is a passage of water of that divides two very important parts of Dubai – Deira and Bur Dubai. While one can use many of the motor bridges and tunnel to cross this passage of water, there is one way one way which brings back too many memories. That way is the Abra.

The Abra is a small motorized ferry service to cross the creek. Made of rickety wood, it has been in service ever since people can remember. There are many of them that pile up on either side to make the short journey from one side of the river to the other. All kinds of people pile up on the Abra. Men, women, children, Pakistanis, Indian, Americans, Europeans. Everyone is equal on the Abra for the short 5 minute journey. Everyone is one dirham. What a wonderful world that is.

I usually try to make it to the temple in Bur Dubai on the weekends. This weekend I parked on the Deira side. I was afraid to ask where the Abra taxi point was, as this was as common knowledge as knowing which country you were in. I mustered up some courage and asked a super-polite Bangladeshi who pointed me in the right direction.

When I reached there, I asked a Filipino lady if I had to get a ticket. She raised an eyebrow, then smiled when she realized I was genuinely asking and smiled when she told me “Everyone pay one dirham, go past!”

Just when I made it to the taxi point, a boat pulled up. The tamil guy driving it jumped out as it bumped its way along the quay to come to a halt. He whistled and everyone ran. Not like for a Mumbai train, no! Everyone ran in a line. I prayed I would get the seat in front. I intended to click away to glory. I was lucky. The guy walked around and collected his

As we made away across the beautiful, glimmering waters it struck me that I was the making a journey made by another man roughly my age some years ago. I choked on the thoughts, but a boat passed us, and the people waved and took our photos as we returned the favor. The sun was setting fast and the long fingers of sunlight caressed the water as our boat patiently cut across. All around boats were going up and down.

I reached the other side and found that the Abra taxi point on the Bur Dubai was very close to the temple. It actually dropped one of right in the middle of a renovated souq area.

I was expecting the journey back to be even more breath-taking. I wasn’t disappointed, not in the least. The sun had left for the day, and the moon was out on patrol. While I couldn’t have the pleasure of a full moon, there was still enough of it to lighten things up. As we made our way back, lots and lots of gulls flew past our boat, forgetting that we were there, and changing their flight paths only at the last second. As the light completely withdrew, formation after formation of gulls made their way across the sky.

The lights were on all over. The big boats that were looking so dull when I had arrived, had now lit up with colorful lights. They offered Dhow cruises – a night dinner for people, while driving gently along the Creek.

You can see more pics of the trip at my photoblog.

As I reached my car, I realized that the trip has been wonderful for one important reason. In 2 hours, I had traveled my land, sea and air. I drove my car, rode the Abra and my heart soared.

When I came back home, I searched for the one pic of that guy who had made his way down the creek years ago.

~ From ~

Somebody Sr.

~ To ~

Somebody Jr.

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