Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

Islands in the sun

Ringing out the end of 2016 was made extra special by a family holiday to the Andaman and Nicobar islands. When I say family, I mean only 18 of us, ranging from little R at six months to her great grandmother at 87 years!! This time our excuse/ reason was my uncles 60th birthday. The last family holiday I went on was over a decade ago, so I was really looking forward to this one. The family has been all over India, to Kashmir, Darjeeling, Goa, Kodaikanal, Manali, Yercaud, Pondicherry to name a few places and Bhutan. My wonderful aunt and uncle were the movers, shakers and organisers of this trip. A big advantage of having a generation of retired folk in the family now, we were able to make our bookings six months in advance.

A short flight from Kolkata got us (and our 19 bags, pram, wheelchair and baby mosquito net) to Port Blair. After the Cholas, Marathas and Danes, Archibald Blair, a British naval officer, visited the islands in 1788 and the British began to use them as a colony for convicts. The adivasi populations were decimated in the “battle of Aberdeen”, where the British used guns against indigenous bows and arrows. The islands are home to both negrito and mongolid tribes, the Sentilenese, Ang (Jarawa), Onge, Andamanese, Shompan. Now their dwindling populations are over run by settlers from the mainland, from Bengal, Tamilnadu, and of course the defence forces.

We checked in to the Sea Princess at Wandoor, 14 km from the Port Blair airport, and were met with stunning views of the aquamarine ocean. The white coral sands were unbelievably soft, and we floated in the calm, lake-like, crystal clear ocean. The coconut trees and sea Mahua swayed gently in the breeze. The estuary and mangroves were beautiful too, but we stayed clear of them after we saw the signs saying beware of crocodiles! That evening we drove back into town to see the cellular jail. Rather depressing, if well preserved, the jail reminds us of the depths to which the human race can fall. The sound and light show was interesting, though a little long, and Om Puri’s voice booms out as the gentle old  peepal tree.

The next day, we took the ferry from Wandoor Jetty into the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. Only 2 of 15 islands are open to the public and we headed to Jolly Bouy. Grub island and Snob island sounded interesting too! We were guided by Murugan (originally from Madurai) who showed us the sights and sounds as we floated down between the islands to Jolly Bouy. Second only to the Great Barrier Reef, the corals and marine life here are stunning. We took a glass bottomed boat ride and saw a national geographic feast of fish, coral and underwater life. Irridiscent blue and red finger coral, sea lilies, anemones with clown fish peeking out, brain corals, star fish, purple lipped clams buried in the rocks, shoals of tiger and butterfly fish. Deeper out, we saw long blue fish with yellow tails and less coral since no sunlight penetrates the deep. After this brief introduction to the coral ecosystem, Murugan took us snorkelling. Absolutely delightful to see the corals close up, touch the sticky sea anemone and paddle around in the float. Murugan dragged us non-expert swimmers around and took us to see a necklace starfish. The forest department strictly keeps plastic out – you can hire water bottles (Milton and cello coolers like kids carry to school). So thankfully we get a glimpse of underwater paradise. And hopefully since humans are kept out of the other islands, the corals might have a chance of survival. It’s horrifying to think of the military activity around the Great Barrier Reef some years ago. Let’s hope we are more sensible here !! The marine interpretation centre, with model dugong and leather back turtles, is also worth a quick visit.

We celebrated the baby of the family turning 60 and watched the most stunning sunsets on the beach.

 Next morning we took ourselves with our IDs to the Port Blair jetty and were safely ferried across to Havelock Island. We stayed at the  government run Dolphin Resorts, right on the picturesque Vijaynagar beach. The rooms, the food, the wifi at the reception and the eating joints down the road kept us busy when we were not at the beach or swinging on the hammocks! The sunrises were stunning and had us out at 530am. The tides ebbed and rose, leaving us with a gentle lake of crystal clear water. The next celebration was a 38th wedding anniversary and we spiced up the hotel buffet with bamboo chicken and cognac soaked Christmas pudding!

We also spent an evening at the world famous Radhanagar beach and for the first time met waves. They swept us off our feet and crashed into the receding waves behind us. The dense green forested hills on one side and the setting sun on the other made it picture postcard perfect. We left a note on the beach for A who will be visiting next week! Hope the waves will carry it to him and the good weather will hold.

We took the ferry back to Port Blair, past Neil Island and spent a relaxed evening at the Sea Shell Hotel and new light house restaurant. Slipped in a little shopping at the government run Sagarika for shells, cowries, coconut shells, mother of pearl earrings etc and snuck into the Anthropological museum. It was interesting but could have been much better, with more info and their tourist publication gave a many laughs  with their descriptions of coral “reeps”!!

We flew out of the island, our hearts filled with memories of the beautiful ocean and our bags a little heavier with sand from the beaches! This is somewhere I will definitely visit again, inshallah!


Over Domberetta Mountain

Last week was filled with memorable experiences. We had the inauguration and book release of 8 Kuvi story books, the ‘Wadu Aju Kerina’ series. It was a momentous event, celebrated with by communities at H and K. We look forward to many more story and song books!!

A day later, A and me trekked down to J village. It’s about 8 km from school, and took us a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. We walked the narrow paths that have been made by the villagers, stopping to say hi to school kids and old students on the way at P and T villages. We climbed steep slopes, slid down paths, crossed the stream. We passed families making sun baked bricks, building houses, girls making palm leaf mats. The short cut path through the fields had been recently cleared. We thanked the many hands that made it so easy for us to walk down the hill. We finally reached J by 2pm just in time for lunch. The girls had left lunch for us and gone trekking up the ‘Domberetta’ mountain. We could see them on the top of the hill, tiny little  stick figures waving to us from the huge huge rock at the top of the mountain. We had lunch and set out to meet the rest at the top of the hill. We met a hunch backed lady roasting ‘paerka’ and she kindly shared some of the juicy seeds with us.

The boys were leading the way confidently, but it soon became apparent that we were lost. We pushed our way through the thorny bamboo, clambered over small boulders and stopped to enjoy the view of J village. We were still lost, and there was no sign of any path, but there was only one way forward – UP! We could soon hear the shouts of the gang ahead and in no time we could see then waving to us from the top! The view from the top was stunning. “You have to climb a bit more, right to the top” coaxed S.

We scrambled up behind them. We could see across the mountains, into the next valley. The villages on the other side, C block, with the fields ploughed or planted, thin dirt roads snaking through the hills connecting villages with their parallel streets and sloping roofs. The girls and villages kids has already scaled the big boulders on top and were resting in various nooks and crannies.

We struggled to the top, crossing narrow ravines and tall boulders. Over the hill, J was no longer visible, but H and G villages were pointed out to us. Adivasi villages blend into the landscape around them, like salt dissolving in water. The tilled lands around the village, at various stages of agriculture, give it away much more than the village itself. In this day and age, where climate change and sustainability are the watchwords of development, we have so much to learn from these hill and forest dwelling communities.

So after snacking on bananas and pressure cooker cake, and many photo sessions later, we headed down to J. The kids collected any trace of plastic and waste what we brought along. A lesson to us mindless consumers from the people who consume minimally and live sustainably. This time,  we refused to let the boys be guides and followed the village mothers instead. They showed us firewood collection areas, different sections of the forest for each clan or village. They used their axes to clear the path of branches and brambles. They told stories about the myths sounding the mountain. The kids of course raced down ahead of us, and we were very ably led down the mountainside by a lady who had a limp from polio!

We met the cows coming home, men walking in from the forests, women from the bore well and kids from playing at the stream. Electricity and PMGSY have not reached J but very house has a solar panel and a light. We met B’s sister. B is married into D village now,  and is the Sarpanch of that panchayat. Talk about the impact of MRSK! We walked to the well to bathe and wash clothes. The girls had strung up a clothesline line outside the brick kiln. A dinner of hot rice and kandulo dal (red gram?) before we sat around the fires and kept warm. Domberetta mountain loomed high in the darkness, glowing silver as a crescent moon crept up from behind. The stars shone bright, shooting off sparks into space. We slipped into our mosquito nets and settled in for the night. Thanks you S and A for a wonderful day. May the tribe of U ever increase!

Of marriages and market places

The season of weddings is here and we traveled to Bangalore for A&J’s wedding and again for A&M’s marriage. Interestingly both the A’s lived with me in BC in the latter half of 2011! Both weddings were beautiful and much love to the wonderful couples and their fun families. Here are some pics of the Z’s (courtesy NT and her vantage point from the choir stalls)

On our return trip, we stopped at the Madiwala market for veggies. Living in BC makes it almost impossible to walk past any green leafy vegetables without buying a few bunches. So I took a deep breath and took a few photos instead. We didn’t even reach the fruits, coconuts, paper plates and plastics sections of the long rows of shacks parallel to the main road. Of course the traffic and dust all added to the atmosphere (and to the atmospheric pollution!)

So what’s the link between marriage and markets? As my aunt told me she was asked in Kerala – Have you put her on the market yet? She did a double take, what? Who are you talking about? Cattle market? Fish market? It turns out she was being asked if her daughter was available for marriage. So much for modernity, India Shining and Smriti Irani.

But marriages and markets aside, I had a chance encounter which gave me new perspective on my 1.2 Billion fellow Indians and the immensely stratified society that we live in.

After lunch yesterday, a few of the family decided to walk over to JP for a coffee. We sauntered down the road and into the restaurant at JP. Which being a heritage building, has a lovely welcoming notice that ‘Arms and Ammunition are not allowed’. We had 5 pairs of arms between us but they let us in.

The other notices that caught our attention were the ‘so and so weds so and so’ signboards. We could even see one lovely couple posing for their official photographer. We ordered our coffees while the happy couple walked past the restaurant. Suddenly some creaky gears turned in my brain and I put two and two together to get twenty two. “I know that bride” I announced, “she visited us in BC last year!” And yes, of the 1.2 Billion Indians who could have been getting married at JP in Bangalore, this bride turned out to be A’s classmate, an engineer-turned-teacher who had visited us in BC! Small world of only a Billion people?! Or is my social class and status so exclusive that fancy heritage hotels, top universities and institutes of excellence are populated only by my tribe of upper middle class Indians?! Probably is, I’m afraid. Still, I went over and said my hellos and good wishes to the gorgeous bride, wonderstuck at the serendipity of life!

Happy New Year to you all!

Gone to the dogs

Last week, we adopted 2 stray puppies. Their mother had littered 7 at school and S brought home 2 cuties. One looks just like the mother, so we assume the other must look like his dad. They keep us entertained – playing with each other, chasing their tails, chewing on toes (including ours) and sleeping in all kinds of awkward positions. For names we have swung between a range of suggestions from family n friends – like radius-ulna, extension-flexion, pluto-goofy, coffee-decaf, coffee-toffee, chicory-peaberry, whisky-scotch, charm-strange (which are quarks!). We haven’t quite decided yet, though coffee-toffee is winning right now. They answer to anything right now.

Two little brothers whisked away

Far from their family they made their way

Eating, sleeping, they love to play

Two little brothers here to stay!

Two little noses, four bright eyes

Innocent curiocity, bonding ties

Wagging tails, jumping up high

Love comes home in doggie disguise!


Are you going to Boyonika?

Ikat, sambalpuri and bomkai

Hand woven craft of Odisha

She is now a true love of mine!

(With extreme poetic license and apologies to Simon uncle and Garfunkle as T calls them!)

Yesterday we went on a shopping trip. I’m the worlds worst shopper (only second to JCO, who claims he’s allergic to it and his nurse tells him to avoid it at all costs!) but Boyanika is such a wonderful place that even I can spend hours and hours there. And of course rupees and paisas too!

Boyanika (pronounced “boy-O-nika) is a chain of cooperative stores run by the Odisha State Government department of handilooms, textiles and handicrafts. There’s an outlet in Rayagada, and thanks to the new road, it’s only an hour away from us.

Being in Boyonika is like stepping inside a Jackson Pollock painting: Splashes of the most vibrant colours everywhere! Earthy reds, browns, purples. The light beige of tussar. The bright oranges, blues and pinks. Dark greens and purples. We were immersed in a sea of fabric waves, floating on bales of rumals and bundles of lungis. The little square checks and miniature konarak border contrast with the long straight bomkai borders.

Ikat is a generic word for the process of binding threads together and then dyeing them in pattern before they are woven into fabric. This is a process called resist dyeing, where the patterns emerge as some threads are dyed and some resist dyeing. Batik and tie-and-dye are other forms of resist dyeing, all techniques used in South and South East Asia.

Ikat weaves are found in many Indian states and Sambalpuri ikat is one of my favourites.  It was popularised by Sri Radhashyam Meher as baandha art. Weavers cooperatives in villages in Sambalpur were encouraged and Boyanika is one of the results of this movement. As ST says, if every Indian bought one set of handwoven clothes every year, there’d be enough work for ALL our weavers. Today, after threatening to repeal the Handloom Reservation Act, the Government has fortunately left it alone (and will be moving on to higher priorities like land, minerals and mining I assume).

So, next time you’re going shopping, remember the weavers and their skilled hands, remember Boyanika!!

Oh, and we also managed to squeeze in a short trip to the ant hole :) Though the water levels have gone down and muddy, its still such a beautiful place. Thanks to the unseasonal rains, it all green green green! Enjoy!

A silver lining 

Every cloud has a silver lining. silver liningSudden rain after the heat of a summer’s day – magestic silk cotton tree at BC

Vice or Advice?

Some speak in word

Some speak through deed

Some people are not heard

Some voices only plead 

Some rant, rave and yell

Like a loud clanging bell

But her voice is soft and kind

Speaking inside each mind.

Today make time to stop

The endless mind chatter and drop

Your judgements of those

Not quite on their toes

Let gentle advice come out on top! 

Don’t miss the Church bell suspended from a steeple made of two metal rail tracks. 

Adra, a small railway town in West Bengal, where my dad’s family lived in the 1950s

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