All posts by thelostlander

getting lost in traveling through places and time...

Celebrating a mountain wedding in the Himalayas at Geu

The weather had gotten colder and windier when I woke up that morning at the Nako homestay. The met department had issued an alert for a possible snowfall in the next 48hours. After finishing my breakfast, I decided to head further up the highway. My intention was to drop by a village named Geu, enroute and reach Tabo for the night’s stay. Geu is a small deviation from the highway with no direct connectivity of public transportation. I enquired with a couple of people at Nako for a taxi and I was offered a round trip for Rs.4000. I didn’t want to return and having to pay that amount even for a drop seemed more since I was on a budget trip. I decided to take a chance and go there by myself. I boarded the next public bus until Geu cross and hoped to hitch a ride to Geu or hike up the 8kms road leading to the village. ‘Why so much adventure?’, one may ask curiously. “I wanted to see a mummy in India, the unknown, for which Indians travel to afar countries.” Not many people know that there are about five mummies in India itself, out of which the one I was going to see is of a Buddhist Llama. It is believed to be over 500 years old and has been there in the open without any preservatives.

After alighting at the Geu Cross, I waited at the small bridge for about half an hour, hoping for a ride. As the cold winds were getting harder to stand, I decided to start walking up the trodden road with my backpack. Just then, a pick-up truck came in honking behind me. I put my hand forward signalling them to stop. The driver told me that he was sorry as the seats were filled with more people than what it could accommodate. It seemed to me like they were a large family, all dressed up in their ethnic Kinnauri attire. I told them it was Ok for me if they let me sit in the trailer. “The weather isn’t good outside. You will feel cold.” He politely said out of concern. I told them I’d be fine and hopped on after he nodded an approval.

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The Buddhist shrine atop the hill at Geu

The drive along the next 7kms to Geu was as insane as it could get. The super bumpy road runs parallel to a river in a scenic yet landslide prone barren land. Hence, there is no tarmac and is filled with rocks and gravel all the way. If not the thick layer of thermals and my balaclava, I would look like a zombie doused in south-Indian sambar. I mean, there was a thick layer of dust all over me from head to toe, all thanks to the open trailer and dry winds. It was already noon when I reached Geu. The family with whom I had got a lift until there, invited me to join them for lunch. They had come there to attend the wedding of a family member, they said. It was a small hamlet with about 15 households and no hotels or restaurants. When I turned down their invitation telling I had to head back asap after seeing the mummy, they insisted me to join them in the celebrations and that something can be managed for the night’s stay. I nodded an unsure okay!

Next thing I saw myself doing was being guided into the dining hall with a grand welcome alongside a traditional Kinnauri Band baaja. The meal served mainly comprising of wheat bread, dry fruits and nuts was healthy and simple as per the norms of rest of India where a wedding food is usually heavy on ghee, oil and sweets. The welcome drink too was a subtle namak wali chai, being served from a centrally placed firewood oven in the dining hall. I was force-fed and taken care of as if I were a part of their family (and the village itself). There is always this special thing about the people in the hills, their hospitality would have no match. After the meal, the Bride’s village got ready to welcome the groom to Geu. He belonged to Hurling village. It was an evening of colour, music, dance and fun. I got to experience a tradition which I had never heard of until that evening… Just a couple of hours ago, it was not even in my faintest thoughts that I’d be dancing in the mountains along with the baraatis (the wedding convoy, as it is called in India). What an unbelievable experience!

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The Kinnauri women in their traditional ceremonial costume

After the baraatis were taken inside the house, A few villagers and I walked up the small hill where exists a Buddhist shrine. The mummy is housed in a small room alongside the shrine whose key was taken from one of the caretakers at Geu. When I got there, I was rather surprised to see this mummy comfortably sitting in the open room…. With no preservatives, no wrapped fabric and just a small glass case to keep it away from direct human touch of the visitors, it is still very much intact. Its hair and nails are believed to be still growing. While the locals with me offered their prayers to this mummy Llama, I was watching this INCREDIBLE piece of science and faith!

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The mummy Llama

With the setting sun and dropping temperature, the winds were getting stronger and we all headed back to the house. Each house was filled with so much chit-chatting and laughter going on, around the central fireplace where the guests were munching on the local snacks and hot brews. I was accommodated in a large warm room at the village’s only guesthouse. My stay was sorted for the day and I heaved a sigh of relief for the faint doubt I had until I had a confirmed place to stay.

Very unusual to a regular day in the mountains where all villages sleep early, the celebrations had only begun at 07.00.p.m. to say the least. The evening faded into night and the night became morning… The wedding was an all-night affair. There was food, drinks, dance, songs and so much fun as in any wedding. Everyone had lost sense of the freezing temperatures outside the hall. What was surprising? While there was so much fun and frolic inside the wedding hall, the men in uniform from the Border Security Force continued to perform their duties outside, walking around the village keeping vigil on infiltrators. “The Chinese territory lies just behind this hill”, a localite explained. “We have our kith and kin who are married off there. They are all Kinnauri and share exactly same culture as us. Sadly, they can’t come here to join the festivities because they are Chinese. It is not that we don’t meet, Chup-Chup-ke koi climbs the hill and comes here and goes off there occasionally. That’s why the BSF is here”, he said. It was 02.00.a.m. when I returned to the guest house with a few others to get some sleep before a long day that followed.

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The Kinnauri men in their traditional ceremonial costume

I woke up at sunrise the next morning and got myself ready with my backpack. I had to find transportation and hence wait until someone was heading out of the village. From 07.00.a.m., I was walking up and down the village street because I had to keep burning calories to keep myself warm. The villagers noticed me and insisted me to have breakfast with them. Just as I was washing my plate, I heard a car. The Maruti 800 was already carrying more than its capacity. As I continued to wait, another pickup truck ignited its engine. It too was full. Yet, I found another pickup. The driver said he would go only after all the members came. I said I will wait with him for them to come. A good half an hour and three cups of tea later, the members finally arrived. I was again seated in the trailer with a couple of others on our way out. This time, the cold windy, dusty and bumpy drive was accompanied with some nice warm conversations with the mountain people. We arrived at Hurling; the groom’s house was a short hike up the hill from the main road. The family insisted me to tag along with them for the second day too. “You have seen only half of the ceremonies at the Bride’s village. Now, the convoy with the couple will arrive here to continue the celebrations at the groom’s house. We came early to see that all arrangements are in place before the rest arrive. Please join us.” They insisted. Hurling was halfway to my next destination- Tabo. As tempting as the invitation sounded to experience a complete mountain wedding, the fear of getting stranded in a snowfall made me decide to find a way to reach Tabo asap!

Thus, ended an experience of a lifetime- A wedding in the mountains! There is always magic in these mountains and its people that will keep calling me back again and again!

The Great Indian Restaurant Festival- 2019

If there’s one thing on this planet that knows no religion and no language, it HAS to be food! It can bind anyone across any boundaries.. While the world recently went bananas about the pricing of a pair of bananas at Rs.442, you dont have to worry about feasting at a luxury hotel. You can now get a healthy breakfast or even a grand buffet for the price of Rs.442.

Are you that foodie waiting for some pixie dust so that you could binge on that expensive buffet on your bucket list? Now, you can feast at any restaurant all of this month, without worrying about how much it is going to weigh on your wallet. Be it a casual snacking out with friends, a date over a cup of coffee or a lavish dinner with family..

Make this August a festival time for your taste buds, tummy and your wallet. ‘DINEOUT’ is back with its 4th edition of the Great Indian Restaurant Festival. With India’s largest dining out platform- ‘DINEOUT’, you don’t have to worry about shelling out big bucks to grab it at a restaurant of your choice. What can get better than relishing your favourite food? It has to be availing your favourite food at half the price. With the Great Indian Restaurant Festival running all through the month of August, I definitely call it the #MonthOfMore. Why? You may ask. That’s because DineOut is giving a whopping flat 50% off on food, drinks, buffet or the total food bill! Annd….. There is no minimum or maximum price limit to avail the offer. That means I can eat more of what I love.

Or are you looking for some mid-week motivation? Then, Dineout will be running Flash Sale during GIRF on every Tuesday and Thursday. Get Deals at just Rs.11.

Trying new food and restaurants has always been an essential part of my travels. With travel plans set for almost all my weekends this monsoon, I’m eagerly looking forward for the #MonthOfMore. With over 8000 top restaurants from across India participating in this festival, my cravings to try out new cuisines, food at new restaurants is sorted for the whole of August. This means, I’m gonna have more food, more happiness, try more restaurants, enjoy more good vibes and win more prizes and at the end, save more for another travel 😉

How to get this discount?
Download the DineOut app (Click here) and reserve your table today. Limited seats available. Bookings now open!

Participating cities:
DelhiNCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Goa, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Indore, Ludhiana, Nagpur, Kochi, Surat.

Festival Dates: 1st August to 1st September

Well guys, Or why not just host me at your city for a meal? 😉

Story of making my wish come true- Watching a Rocket launch

You know, I know, we all know… That what we know is NO rocket science 😛

I don’t know about the millennials.. But as a 90’s kid, I sure know how everyone who grew up in the Doordarshan era have lived through the excitement of watching a rocket launch on TV. It would be far from anything but a dream come true to watch one in real! That’s why I decided to explore the journey of the evolution of rocket science in India… and thus score off one item on my bucket list- to witness a rocket launch! (Click here to see my wish list)

India’s space history had a humble beginning in a coastal village called Thumba in the 1960s. India’s first rocket, the Nike Apache was assembled exactly where once stood an active church of Lady Magdalene. Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is now called as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) where a sounding rocket is launched on the third Wednesday of every month to date. As India’s space research requirements expanded, the need for a larger area laid foundation to the present day Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR at Sriharikota. This is where the present day larger SLVs are launched.

This year 2019 is particularly of my interest for 2 reasons. One- we commemorate the Golden jubilee year of the formation of ISRO; Two- It’s the centenary year of the father of Indian space science, Dr.Vikram Sarabhai. (Click here to read the complete story). How does the country celebrate it? By launching a rocket… India’s largest rocket, taking the payload to the moon!

<20-Mar-19>
On a random thought, I was reminded of someone distantly telling me about visitors being allowed to watch rocket launches at VSSC. I browsed through their website and immediately registered myself to witness the next launch.17-Apr-19 it was. My visit was confirmed by an e-mail on the following day. I was as excited as an electron. The next task was reaching there. Trivandrum seemed to be quite far as per google maps. It required a minimum of 4days for a return trip and working out any mode of transport to reach there was both expensive and time consuming. Trains tickets were sold out and flight charges were already sky high. I decided to wait for a tatkal train ticket or book a last minute ticket to travel by bus. I had planned to fall sick to office.

<28-Mar-19>
After many failed attempts at registering themselves for watching the rocket launch along with me, my friends got a rejection mail. Reason: ‘17-Apr-19 was a government holiday, VSSC will remain closed’, I was informed of what the mail read. Now, we were all in a fix. I had an acceptance and they were rejected with a reason. I called up the VSSC office immediately to get a clarification. I was told that the festival date was frozen after my registration and hence the April’s launch would be re-scheduled to a later date. So now, considering that 15-May-19 was the 3rd wednesday of the next month, the officer talking on the other end of the phone obliged to reschedule my visit to that day. My mother, brother and friends decided to join me on that day by registering themselves separately. All registrations were accepted and we were sorted. The next step was getting approval for my week long’s absence from office. It was fairly easy since it was still a month away and I wasn’t throwing a sudden surprise to my boss. Train tickets were available in abundance and we were all happy with confirmed AC berths for a return trip.

<11-May-19>
My cellphone had been blinking after an SMS was received. I reached out to read it, a SMS from VSSC it was. “The rocket launch scheduled on 15-May-19 has been cancelled due to technical reasons”, it read. We were supposed to travel to Thumba the next day. All our hearts sunk in for a bit. But then, yeah.. We were quick to accept the fact that “Launching a real rocket isn’t something like burning Diwali fireworks. There are a lot of scientific calculations that goes into it based on the fitness of the machine itself and geo-spatial positioning. These launches are scheduled monthly events and we can definitely plan to make it some other time. I’d rather surprise my boss by turning up for work even on a planned holiday”, I thought.

<15-May-19>
It was the day when I was supposed to be witnessing a rocket launch, in real. This day, I was pleasantly informed by a friend that ISRO had opened its gates for public viewing of satellite launches at Sriharikota. “Oh WOW!” was my first exclamation. As the World celebrates 50 years of man’s first steps on the moon this year, India was gearing up for one of its ambitious mission to the moon. The Chandrayaan2 was scheduled for a 2019 launch. “I shall wait for this one!” I had decided. I kept close watch on the launch date. As days passed by, the launch was declared to be on 15-July-19. The next task was to keep close watch on the registration link on the ISRO website. Eventually, newspaper headlines read that the registration lines for would go live on 04-July-19. Only 5000 people were going to be let in, on a first-come-first-serve basis. It being a milestone project, we had to be real quick to apply and lucky to get the entry passes.

<04-July-19>
I was up and waiting for the stroke of the clock at 12.00.a.m. But for my disappointment, the website had hung. Waiting until the server got better didn’t seem to be a good idea but I had my apprehensions about losing a chance. But the sleep gods had started to take over me. I set the alarm at 05.00.a.m. hoping to try my luck anyway. Surprisingly, when I woke up at 5.00.a.m., the website still gave the same regret message. I decided to try again after reaching my workplace. It was around 09.30.a.m. when the lines got better and I had navigated into the 2nd page of registration. With a surprisingly slow server of the ISRO, it was 10.00.a.m. by the time I had a confirmed entry pass for 3 people including my mother, brother and myself. My friends on the other end had failed to get the passes. As expected, the tickets were SOLD OUT in less than half an hour of opening the registration lines. I was LUCKY!

<14-July-19>
The trio comprising mom, bro and myself set out on this epic road-trip to see our wish come true.. We were driving to Sriharikota, to witness the launch of India’s largest rocket till date- GSLV MkIII, carrying onboard, the Chandrayaan2. The satellite was scheduled to launch at 2.51.a.m. that midnight / early morning of the following day. The last town before Sriharikota was Sullurpeta, 25kms away. All hotel rooms were sold out and we had decided to stay inside our car and make do with the available fuel station or restaurants when we had to answer a nature’s call. Although the entry to the launch view gallery was scheduled to be open at 10.00.p.m., we ensured that we reached there by 08.00.p.m. to avoid the traffic and the rush. When we reached there, the rocket garden at the entrance already seemed to be flooded with media-persons and the visitors alike. When this Bahubali rocket blasts off, the entire island lights up like day, the window glasses rattle in Sullurpeta, a visitor told us adding to our excitement. When the gates opened, we were among the earliest visitors who occupied the seats of our choice. We watched the crowd slowly pour in to the gallery and the excitement was only getting higher with passing time. We were still over 4 hours away from having our wish come true.

The Rocket Garden with the scale models of the SLVs

While the entire country was glued to their TV screens to watch a nail biting finale of cricket world cup in which India was out of the tournament long ago, I was part of a relatively smaller crowd that had gathered to cheer for India on one of its greatest mission to date.

At a distant sight of view, the red lights were blinking on the cranes and the umbilical tower at the launch pad. The emcee was building up the momentum for the final showdown. The cheer for India and ISRO reverberated in the gallery as the countdown and live videos of the satellite were displayed on the large LED screens.

At around 57 minutes ahead of the launch, the emcee’s voice dropped. With a pause she said, “The launch has been temporarily withheld due to some reasons. Anyway, we shall continue to do whatever we are doing right now, to cheer for this project.” Even before she could complete, another voice echoed in at the 56th minute. “This is the director talking from the control room. Due to a technical snag identified, this project remains called off for today”, he said. There was a sudden silence as the crowd sat in disbelief. The emcee too hadn’t seen that announcement coming and wasn’t really prepared to take that. She repeated the exact words of the director to the crowd. The audience continued to sit in silence. Clearly, disbelief loomed large. Every soul in the gallery hoped that it was a prank and Chandrayaan 2.0 was still going to take off in a few minutes. The emcee told them to disperse.I felt like my head was going blank and it felt like the emcee’s voice was fading out. I waited for the launch hoping it would take off after the crowd cleared out. “This project remains called off for TODAY”, I tried to understand what had just been said. “The mission was not CANCELLED, it was only POSTPONED to a later day..” I reassured myself. “I shall be back… to cheer for my country’s greatest scientists.. for propelling India’s ambitious mission..” I decided.

<18-July-19>

Amidst lot of speculations, the new launch date was set to be 22-July-19. ‘You can reconfirm your visit to the launch view gallery by clicking on the link provided.’ an email from ISRO read. I wasted no time in updating my entry pass as a constant smile of re-assurance prevailed over my face on getting to go again. Unlike my previous visit to Sriharikota, I decided to contain my enthusiasm this time. I didn’t care the delay, all I wanted was a successful mission.

<22-July-19>

Today, we are here at the gallery already at 10.00.a.m., we are the early birds who have come here to occupy the prime view seats, the drizzle of rain since morning hasn’t dampened our spirits. People are slowly trickling in, but they all seem to keep it a low key affair this time. The momentum was given a boost by Mr.K.Sivan, the Chairman, ISRO by coming down to the launch view gallery to meet and greet the enthusiastic crowd. We were all briefed about the unknown facts about #chandrayaan2 by Mr.Ranganathan, the project director for the stage 1 of GSLV mk III.

Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19

The first visuals of the Bahubali rocket all set for its trip to the moon from the launch pad finally appeared on the LED screens and crowd had started to get eclectic as the countdown started. And well, Finally the emphatic countdown has begun and we see everyone more confident than ever… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1……

The flight off moment
The flight off moment

It was SHEER sight of a lifetime… an impendingly roaring bright yellow mass of flame blasted off from amid the forest cover, separating itself from the umbilical tower.. A sonic boom travelled afar and within a few seconds, it disappeared into thick clouds. Although the launch vehicle lifted off at 2.43.p.m., the cheers from the control room came in 16 minutes later when the 3,850-kg spacecraft was successfully placed into the earth’s orbit and the first signal of separation was received from the satellite. CHANDRAYAAN2 on its trip to the moon, with a successful launch!

I’ve got Goosebumps all over me!

Happy Chandrayaan to ya’ll!

Here’s a quick summary of India’s mission of landing on other celestial bodies outside earth:

  • Circa 2008: Chandrayaan1, India’s first ever mission to the moon, put India on the world map for being the 4th country to land on the moon. Although it was functional for 312 days against the intended life of 2yrs, it was still able to achieve 95% of its expected tasks. That was HUGE for a first Indian- home made launch vehicle.
  • Circa 2013: Mangalyaan1 was a first for any country to have a successful landing on the Mars on a maiden attempt. What’s bonus? The orbitor that was designed with an intended life of 6 months is still orbiting around the Mars, well into its 5th year as on date.
  • Circa 2019: Chandrayaan2, India’s 2nd mission to the moon made it the first country to land on the southern pole of the moon. Why is this mission so important? This satellite will be launched in a GSLV MkIII, the largest launch vehicle ever built by India. The success of this mission will pave way with more thrust to India’s first manned mission to space- The Gaganyaan, which will also happen with the same launch vehicle.

Through these successful launches, India has created a niche for itself for producing successful space projects at lowest prices. These entirely indigenous projects which cost way lesser than several hollywood movies speak volumes of the capabilities of the scientists of my country.

As someone rightly said, so many countries have the moon on their flags, India is one of the only 4 countries to have their flag on the moon. There can’t be more reasons to applaud ISRO and be proud of India, my INCREDIBLE country!

From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch
From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch

A Land where Art is Divine- Pathanamthitta

Dense canopy of trees, swaying coconut palms, houseboats cruising through the pristine backwaters, wooden canoes of the locals fishing in narrow canals- Well, does this paint a picture of Gods own country? When opportunity struck, I decided to give the usual things a miss and explore a region that is least spoken about in the tourist circuit. A land where art is considered divine and celebrated in all its form- Pathanamthitta.

First thing I did while approaching Pathanamthitta was lowering all the windows of my car, to breathe in some clean air. With almost two third of the district comprising of forest cover, it is no wonder that Pathanamthitta is the least polluted city in India. The remaining one third is a combination of the city and plantations. We were heading to the homestay we had booked, not very far from the city centre. It was nestled in what the locals call as a residential area that was far from imagination of a city soul. The narrow roads were flanked by rubber, tapioca and banana plantations for most stretch and marsh lands for the rest. Bunches of jackfruits hung down from tall trees among several other tropical trees like litchi, rambutan etc. that had the fruit lover in me all drooling. My stay was at a traditional Kerala house nestled amidst a huge garden. Its wooden portico with clay tiled roof had me fancy struck.

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Enroute to the homestay

Surprisingly for me, Pathanamthitta hosts some of the largest annual religious congregations in the world. The Sabarimala yatra and Maramon convention are next only to the Haj. Giving a pass to the famous backwaters of Kerala, I had driven this far to explore its vibrant and divine culture and art. My plan for the first day was to visit two of the 108 Divyadesams, both located in Pathanamthitta. I had arrived at the Aranmula Parthasarthy temple, particularly for a tour of a foundry that makes the historical ‘Aranmula Kannadi’ (Click to watch the video). This GI tagged handicraft is culturally important in the state of Kerala. The know-how of making it is endemic to Aranmula and limited to the descendants of only one family who now live around this temple. Unlike the familiar glass mirrors, these are finely polished metal sheets. Watching these men toiling in their workshop to bring an alloy to life, which is integral in all Malayali celebrations was like living a dream for me.

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Left: moulded metal sheet before polishing; Right: Polished & finished mirror

A short drive away from there was my next destination: Thiruvalla Srivallabha temple. With its ancient wooden architecture, this beautiful temple sprawls on a huge area. Here, the prayers are offered five times a day and the last prayer was specifically that interested me the most to visit here. Kathakali is performed inside the temple premises everyday as a form of prayer to put the deity to sleep. I was like a little child in wonderland who lost track of time watching this performance that went late into the night.

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A traditional Kathakali setup at the Kochi international airport

An early morning drive to Gavi or Konni elephant camp is what I was recommended for finding a piece of nature. Charalkunnu, Kakki reservoir, Perunthenaruvi waterfalls are few of the other nearby places that tourists usually visit. But I decided against it all and while away some time exploring the neighbourhood of my homestay before checkout. It was as calm and peaceful as anywhere else. While sipping a cup of Kattan chai, I was reminded of my previous trip to Alleppey. Hundreds of wooden canoes measuring over 100 feet, long enough to be called snake boats, gather from across Kerala to compete for the coveted title. Each boat carries at least hundred oarsmen, all singing the Vanchipattu in chorus. Breathing the heavy air filled with anxiety of the spectators, it was a lifetime experience. Like Alleppey, Aranmula too hosts one of the largest boat races in Kerala. The Aranmula race is held on the last day of Onam as a celebration of Lord Krishna crossing river Pampa.

Boat Race finals (22)
The oarsmen ‘”Women” from Alleppey

I had planned my return route to Kochi such that I could cover some of the interesting landmarks along the way. The first stop was at Kalloppara, where an ancient Hindu inscription exists inside a church. I had read about how two faiths co-exist under the same roof that houses a Bhagavati temple and a Mary’s church. But my drive through the streets of a residential area ended at a bridge that connected Kalloppara. It had collapsed during the floods that ravaged Kerala last year. Having three rivers flowing through it, Pathanamthitta was one of the worst affected.

I hit the main road again and headed to Thiruvalla. Since it was dark the previous night, I was there again to have a look at the famed mural paintings on the altar of the Paliakkara Church. The church at Paliakkara and Niranam (my next destination) both have their history dating back to the arrival of St.Thomas in India in 54.A.D. This trip was all about an amalgamation of art and tradition. Be it wildlife, religion, architecture, history, art or culture, I believe Pathanamthitta has something for everyone.

(P.S.: I’m against the idea of taking photos inside any place of worship, as a form of respect to its sanctity. Hence, I do not have any pictures from the interiors of any place of worship)

Fact File:

  • How to reach: The nearest airports are at Kochi and Trivandrum. Kottayam and Alleppey are the nearest Railway stations. KSRTC buses and taxis are available from these places to reach Pathanamthitta by road.
  • Get around: local buses are quite frequent; Taxis can be easily availed.
  • Best time to visit: September to May (Anytime apart from monsoon)
  • Stay: Luxury hotels are sparse. Cheap and Budget hotels are available in plenty considering the pilgrims who come here for Sabarimala yatra. Homestays are available to experience the true essence of Kerala.
  • Must do: Attend a Kathakali performance, visit a mirror foundry, Bathe elephants at Konni.

Taking travel inspiration from busy bees

Aren’t honeybees good inspirers to travel? In a lifespan that’s as short as just a few days, they find a new place every day, explore a new flower every minute and taste new nectars on every flight! All this while still performing their assigned duties without having any complaints. Living a sweet life while being as busy as a bee!

It was curiosity that led me to learning about bee-keeping. This curiosity was a summation of multiple experiences accumulated through the years of childhood. I have been raised by my grandparents where honey has been an essential part of my life. We used it as a dip for breakfast and as a rice-mix for lunch, as an energy drink with hot water or even as a medicine with brandy or pepper corn. And yeah, stashes of several bottles went packed as souvenirs to guests who visited home and to friends who lived far away. You can call this honey with adjectives like pure, organic, handpicked, homemade, etc. ‘Coorg honey’ it was, after all!

Grandpa was personally enthusiastic about this particular hobby of his. I was often smitten with curiosity when he returned home with either a swollen face or with swollen hands. When I went nearer to him to check for his condition, he would only greet me with a warm smile and a piece of honeycomb dripping with fresh nectar. While at home, he would be busy with his bees in 75+ boxes that were kept around the house. It used to be a festival day for the family when drums of honey used to be extracted from his boxes all by himself. While at his favourite place- the Abbi estate, it was customary for him to have a daily look at this massive ‘Honey Tree’ as we called it, the single large tree where bee hives were formed annually. It was the family night out, an annual event that we all looked forward for. Honey tappers from a specific tribe called ‘Jenu Kurubas’ used to be called in, to climb the tree in pitch darkness on a no-moon night. The family camped in the darkness at midnight on the damp ground of the coffee estate with the rustling sound of the waterfalls in the background. While as a kid, I was amused with the spectacle of blue lights falling down from that tree, only as a grown up adult I realize the lights were indeed bees that were falling down after being smoked up in the process of honey tapping. And not to forget some odd days when he would pick out snakes from mud crevices that he had put his hands to collect honey from. And then there were days, when we made friends over a bottle of honey. These were customers who came to grandpa’s makeshift shop at Abbi falls with their unique ways of testing the quality of the honey sold there! Each customer, a unique character and every conversation, a story in itself.

For me, adding this new dimension to my travel stories was more of an emotional journey.. With the passing away of Granpa, the charm and life that his favourite place held too passed. The ‘Honey Tree’ eventually saw the ground leaving our family to buy honey from the market. Having relished the finest nectars from high tree trunks, deep mud crevices and those handpicked from the several bee boxes kept around the house, our family like all others are really not sure of the quality of those available in the market. That’s when this thought of setting up my own bee box struck me along with traveling in pursuit of knowledge sharing. These things led to me developing an interest about learning about honey bees and eventually respecting these tiny creatures more and more. I think being born in a community of nature worshippers gives me an instant connect with things that are natural and essential for our existence. Home is where primary and the most essential education starts and for me, Grandpa has been the main reason for one of the finest childhood lessons and home education I have picked up.

Albert Einstein said, “The Earth will come to an end in just 4 days if there be NO honeybees on this planet.” Honeybees are such an important part of our very own existence on this planet, Save them! Get in touch with an expert before you get that beehive removed from your concrete dwelling. Alternatively, get in touch with me for I would be more than willing to give a talk for awareness in your community. I signed up for a workshop to learn this art of bee-farming, and a certification came as a bonus. I did my course with ‘HoneyDay Bee farms’ who are thorough professionals and extremely knowledgeable in the field. They work with farmers right from the installation to extraction to marketing thus assuring you a 100% purity in their products. Go try them out!

Love Biriyani? Here’s one from every Indian State

Biriyani is one dish that needs no introduction. Although the earliest roots of Biriyani can be traced back to middle-east, Biriyani was brought to the Northern India by the Muslim rulers who largely settled there and the Arab merchants who came to the southern India for trade. Today, Biriyani is more of an emotion for every foodie. Hence, an essential part of Indian food culture. Anybody visiting India has one thing to strike off in their list of ‘To do in India- Eat Biriyani’. But, India is a country of diversity and in no way can the humble Biriyani be left behind without being different. While Biriyani is a very generic moniker for this spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation of rice, it comes in various forms. These forms are born out of the local influences of available ingredients, regional cuisine, rice variety and flavor preferred. There are mainly 2 types of making it: Kucchi (Raw marinated meat is cooked together between layers of raw rice) and Pakki (Meat and rice are separately cooked with all the spices and served together). While Biriyani is predominantly a non-vegetarian dish, it has been over time tuned for the vegetarian masses. Some versions are named after the place it originated from and some are synonymous with certain families or shops that created the variants.

So, while you enjoy exploring India, here is something for you to try out at each of the 29 states of this huge country- Biriyani.

PLEASE NOTE: There are a few states in India where I have not yet visited and hence do not have sufficient information about the local Biriyani flavours. It will be greatly appreciated if you can help me fill up these empty spaces by dropping your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Andhra Pradesh– Doodh ki Biriyani is something that stands out from the rest of the list in flavor and colour. Here, the meat and the rice are cooked together in milk instead of water. Vegetarians can drool over Avakaya Biriyani. This is made by mixing a raw mango and mustard oil pickle with steamed basmati rice.
  2. Arunachal Pradesh(**Need help)
  3. Assam– Kampuri biriyani is a delightful recipe that has originated in a place called Kampur in this north-eastern state.
  4. Bihar– Champaran is a culturally important region in the country that also gives its name to the popular non-vegetarian dish of the state. The flavours of Champaran mutton or Ahuna mutton goes well great in our list. What makes its preparation stand out is the usage of black pepper corns, desicated coconut and whole bulbs of garlic cooked along with the meat. The garlic pulp is then squeezed into the preparation.
  5. Chattisgarh(**Need help)
  6. Goa– With a large number of influences from the erstwhile Muslims, Portuguese and the Saraswata Bramins of Konkan, Goan traditional food is an amalgamation of many cuisines. The Goan fish biriyani is a must try (the fish used may differ) which derives its flavour from coconut and red kokum. It is light on spices.
  7. Gujarat– In a state where vegetarianism is largely preferred, Memoni biriyani comes as a surprise for mutton lovers. It has its origin from Sindh, the region in Pakistan with whom the state shares its border.
  8. Haryana– Although, this state doesn’t have a biriyani it reckons itself with, its long association with the capital city, Delhi can be spoken about. Delhi Biriyani itself has so many versions depending on the part of the city it originated in and the purpose it was created for. Nizammuddin biriyani, Shahajanabad biriyani are a few to name. There is yet another twist to it in the form of the Achaari biriyani. Here, rice is mixed with pickles (Achaar in Hindi).
  9. Himachal(**Need help)
  10. Jammu & Kashmir– Its large association with the Muslim rulers has lead into the creation of the Kashmiri Biriyani (non-veg) or the Kashmiri Pulav (vegetarian dish). Mutanjan biriyani is a dish that stands out in the entire list as it is a sweet form of the otherwise spicy biryani.
  11. Jharkand(**Need help)
  12. Karnataka– Susprisingly, my homestate has all the influences. The Northern part of the state is known for the Kalyani biriyani that was created by the Nawabs of Kalyani who ruled the areas around Bidar district. This is a delicacy cooked with buffalo meat. The coastal part of the state has its influence from the middle-eastern traders who eventually invented the local forms. Beary biriyani is named after the coastal trading community and Bhatkali biriyani with its taste influenced by the Navayath cuisine.
  13. Kerala– The Northern Kerala (Malabar region) is known for its Thalassery biriyani and Kozhikodan biriyani, the middle part of the state has its lesser known dish called Rawther biriyani, created by the Rawther family who lived around the Palakkad area. The Kuzhimanthi biriyani, a form of Yemeni rice is slowly catching up with the locals in and around Cochin. All variants have been largely influenced by the immigrants and traders from the middle-east. Vegetarians, don’t worry. You can dig into delicious plates of Kappa biriyani (tapioca) and puttu biriyani.
  14. Madhya Pradesh– Although this state does not have its own biriyani form, Tehari biriyani is prepared all over northern India. It is the vegetarian version of the Mughlai biriyani which goes by different stories of its origin.
  15. Maharastra– While the Mughals have influenced the spicy Aurangabad biriyani, the Bombay Biriyani is a world apart with its tangy and sweet taste derived from the kewra, potatoes and plums used in its preparation. The Bohri patra biriyani, a name derived in combination of two words- Bohra (the sect who created this recipe) and patra (leaves of colocassia) is a hidden secret of Mumbai.
  16. Manipur(**Need help)
  17. Meghalaya– Although this state doesn’t have a dish called ‘biriyani’ on its menu of khasi cuisine, Jadoh is a dish that’s very close. It is a spicy preparation of rice cooked either with pork or chicken. What sets it apart is that all its ingredients are cooked with the respective animal blood (pork or chicken) instead of water.
  18. Mizoram(**Need help)
  19. Nagaland(**Need help)
  20. Odisha– while there is nothing specifically called the Odiya biriyani, what comes close is the Cuttacki Biriyani, created by a restaurant in cuttack. With the flavours largely derived out of Bengali influence, the ingredients are cooked in Rose water.
  21. Punjab– Punjab doesn’t have its own biriyani recipe. Its proximity to the Pakistan borders gets it the Sindhi biriyani and the Bohri biriyani.
  22. Rajasthan-Jodhpuri Kabuli is a vegetarian recipe deriving its name from the city of Jodhpur in Rajastan and Kabul in Afghanistan.
  23. Sikkim(**Need help)
  24. Tamil Nadu– While the Nawabs of Arkot influenced the famous Ambur / Vaniyambadi biriyani; the thalapakkatti family created the Dindigul biriyani and the business community of Chettiars brought in their knowledge of spices giving form to the Chettinad biriyani.
  25. Telangana– Hyderabadi Biriyani needs no description. Available in both the kacchi and pakki forms, it was patronized largely during the nawabs of Hyderabad.
  26. Tripura– Although not a native dish, it can still be recognized with chevon biryani due to its proximity to Bangladesh. The chevon biriyani or Dhaka biriyani is the Bangladeshi twist to this incredible rice preparation.
  27. Uttar Pradesh– Influenced by the Awadhi cuisine, the Lucknowi biriyani is flavourful and a burst of cinnamon to your tastebuds. Its lesser known relative is the Moradabadi biriyani.
  28. Uttarakhand(**Need help)
  29. West Bengal– Last on the list, but one of the most popular forms in the country is the Kolkata biriyani. With potato as it’s key ingredient, this preparation of subtle flavours is influenced by the Awadhi cuisine.

You are not a Bengalurean if you don’t know this

Do you google for offbeat things to do in Bengaluru or Offbeat places to visit in Bangalore? When friends visit you in Bengaluru, what do show them in the city?

Click here for your list to plan your weekends in Bengaluru

With the city growing into being popularly called as the IT city, Silicon city and the Pub city of India, a pub-crawl to one of the hundreds of breweries and restaurants in the city is a must on every visitor’s list to do in Bangalore. But these are for the millennials of Bengaluru. If your visitor is someone from the 90s or perhaps older, the pubs might be of little interest to them. They have probably grown up hearing about the garden city’s rich green and red canopies of Gulmohars, filter coffees and pleasant weather. They perhaps had relatives from yester years either working or studying in Bangalore as it was reckoned with talented people, better job opportunities, some of the premier organisations of the country, rich cultural heritage, polite and soft-spoken folks etc. In either case, anybody who has lived in this city for a little over a couple of years likes to call him/herself as a ‘Bengalurean’. That’s like adding a price-tag, it kind of gives them a sense of pride!

Talking about the second category of visitors, often when friends and relatives visited Bangalore with 2-3 days in hand and asked me to take them around, I used to wonder as to what’s there to show them around for so many days. The hugely popular Vidhana Soudha and high court complexes, the Lalbagh and Glasshouse, Tippu’s summer palace and the Bangalore palace are landmarks and historical monuments that can all be done in a day. The old charm of Cubbon park and the famous Boulevard of MG Road that boasted of being the city’s lung-space and shopping hubs aren’t the same any longer.

So, this led me to exploring the city and what I found is something that EVERYONE who claims to be a Bengalurean must know! What’s the use of associating with a place or thing when you don’t have enough knowledge of what you proudly brag about in your social circle? Isn’t it?

Bangalore (as every someone from the Old Bengaluru likes to still call it) is a city that has witnessed its growth through harmony between technology and rich history. It is one of the earliest technical hubs and home to some of the premier institutions of the country. The museums in Bengaluru are proof of its association with science and the heritage buildings scattered across the city are testimony to it’s history. You are not a true-blooded Bengalurean if you haven’t been to these places in the city!

NOTE:
• These places are picked from across categories and hence are listed in no specific order or choice. Rating them against each other would not mean any justice.
• All these places have been personally visited, studied and documented by me. However, these are places of certain confidentiality and hence, photography is prohibited.

ƥ What if dinosaurs were replaced by aeroplanes in Jurassic park?
HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. Get yourself amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all the things associated in this subject of fantasy. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).

>• How about a meal cooked in a Hydrogen plant?
Well, I didn’t even know this thing all the while as I feasted on the sumptuous plate of idlis for 5Rs. every morning for breakfast during my fellowship at the Indian Institute of Science. Interestingly, I used to be surrounded by the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food cooked at the same place where a bunch of people discussed a war plot in history. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of US aircrafts during World-War II. And, the kitchen of this tiny vegetarian restaurant on campus made hydrogen gas to supply for the US fighters during their battle with the Japanese. Eventually, the need for skilled personnel in aeronautics by the HAL workforce at this facility to help the US forces, lead to the establishment of what is today known as the Aeronautical engineering department at IISc campus.

∆• Ever wondered how you could touch someone’s heart and tickle a human brain?
A visit to India’s first ‘Human Brain Museum’ located on the premises of NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) can help you do just that. NIMHANS is India’s premier and apex medical institution for mental health. The museum has a large collection of brain samples of several animals and human beings suffering from various forms of mental and neurological disorders. Not just that, the visitors taking a guided tour of the museum get to hold and feel various human body parts, ranging from brain, spinal cord, heart, lungs and the like. It was indeed an experience of a lifetime for me to hold it in my palms (without a degree in medicine :P). Another information centre on the same campus gave me a walk through the history of NIMHANS thus leading me to my next destination: The Mysore Bank building.

>• What if you were counting coins at a Lunatic Asylum?
Don’t be surprised! Mysore Bank is a popular landmark located at Bank circle in Gandhinagar and is one of those few places in the city where a vending machine dispenses coins of various denominations if you fed it with currency notes. While you were busy at it, you might not have taken note of the fact that the very building where the bank functions today used to be the first mental hospital in India, established in the 1800s by the Mysore Kings. Country’s first institution for Post-graduation in Psychiatry was started here eventually leading to the establishment of NIMHANS.

ƥ How does a ticking clock look if all characters from fairy tales danced around it?
People from far and near flocked to Lalbagh as the word about ‘The Garden clock’ spread wide back in those days without YouTube and WhatsApp. That scientific marvel was a seven-meter-wide solar powered clock ticking on a dial made with flowering plants and popular characters from fairy tales like snow-white and the dwarfs dancing around it. This is a functional clock till date and speaks volume of our country’s strength in technological evolution. The creator of this unique time-machine pulls me down to my next destination: HMT watch factory.

>• Have you stacked up your ‘time-machine’ to go back in time?
While I spent a couple of years living in this locality surrounded by the HMT(Hindustan Machine Tools) properties like the HMT officers’ quarters, HMT sports club, HMT theatre etc., I also remember the time when I was brought back to time (read it- ‘Back to life’) by the doctors at the HMT hospital when I had once gone into coma or my blood pressure plummeted down or whatever that was! All the memories aside, HMT has opened their museum in the locality to showcase the journey of the company. HMT watches are those perfect souvenirs that truly represent Old-Bengaluru as they say it was the country’s timekeeper (Read complete article). Since the original manufacturing company of these watches has shut its functions at their facility at Jalahalli, the last few pieces are being assembled at their factory outlet/showroom itself. Go, grab your piece of old times from Bengaluru before stocks last.

ƥ How often do you come across a Military museum?
Well… Bangalore’s association with Indian Military system dates to centuries and what’s of my particular interest is that India’s oldest regiment of the Corps of army engineers is headquartered in Bangalore. The Madras Engineer Group (affectionately called as the ‘Thambis’ of the Indian Army) have their regiment’s history and achievements chronicled at the ‘Madras Sappers Museum’ located within the premises of MEG centre. However, it is not open to general public and special permission from the Army is required for entry. Once an opportunity had struck me to participate in a city walk tour to this area and the army blood inside me had this Bengalurean beaming high in pride. So, here is one thing from MEG centre walk tour that led me to my last but most important bits of Bengaluru’s history: The Kempegowda towers.

>• So, that brings me to my last question: How big is Bengaluru?
It is believed that Kempegowda, the founder of Bengaluru had got four watch towers installed to mark the four corners of the original Bengaluru. These towers were located at elevated places so that he could get a good view of the entire city from these points. One is installed within the MEG premises near Ulsoor, one at Mahakali temple near Hanumanthanagar, one atop the Gneiss rock inside the Lalbagh gardens and the last one inside the Ramana Maharshi ashram near Palace Orchards. Well, it is unimaginable how this city has grown beyond these corners today, but our pride of ‘Namma Bengaluru’ knows no boundaries…

Do you agree?