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Monday, October 18, 2010

Manali Mania II

...And so, we set out on our next leg of our journey..We crossed Palampur and just a little away, we stopped at the Gau mandir which according to legend, fulfills the wishes of devotees who whisper their hopes and wishes into the ear of Shivji's cow. Most devotees did so after they prayed at the temple. Some young boys seeing that I was a non local, muttered amongst themselves as to whether Gau Mata would be able to understand my language!Well, of course she did!!

We headed out into the hills again, the views getting even better. It was a very long drive from Yol to Manali and we were expecting to reach Manali atleast by 5:30 in the evening with not too many stops. We halted at Kullu for lunch and despite sleep setting in, we kept our eyes open on the look out for stole emporiums. The emporiums had beautiful collections of Kullu shawls and stoles with intricate embroideries and lovely bright colours. They had a range of pashminas and though I always associated shawls with Ma, I ended up buying a couple for myself! They were so pretty!!

We arrived at Manali as the sun was setting and a chill set in with the evening breeze. We were putting up at this exclusive holiday hut provided to us by a VIP in the area with one of the best views around. We freaked out! There were numerous apple orchards around with red and green apples in abundance. We were behaving like monkeys, climbing the trees and jumping for apples! The majestic mountains around observed us in silence and sighed as we couldn't get enough of all of it..

The next day, we made a quick recky of the Solang valley where there were a couple of facilities for snow skiing, paragliding and cable car rides. Since time was short and we'd experienced each of those individual thrills elsewhere, we turned around and geared up for the journey back. The Rohtang Pass would have added to my list of passes I'd been to in the Himalayas but I would have to go back for it again as it had recently snowed up there and friends had asked us to avoid it during this trip.
We visited a family friend who'd set up a school in Manali and she regaled us with heart-warming stories from the highlands around. She also told us about how simple the people were, with one parent of a student (who'd recently done well in business and acquired himself good money) asking her for 5 pairs of uniforms for his daughter and who thought why they weren't of different colours and then there was this parent who called her up and asked her which shop he should buy the report cards from!People are very simple around here as most hill people are, and sometimes it is so heartening to interact with them, far from the maddening crowds of materialistic and impolite populace of polluted and commercialized cities and towns.
The Roerich Art Gallery at Naggar near Kullu is a cosy cottage which was owned by the Roerich family which has now been converted into a musuem. The paintings of Nicholas.K. Roerich are on display here which capture the beauty of the Himalayas. There are souvenirs of his paintings that one can pick up as a remembrance of the enchanting Himalayas long after one descends from its grand heights. His younger son Svytoslav married Devika Rani, the first lady of the silver screen in the yesteryears. Kullu, beside its shawls and apples is also famous for its wines and fruit juices and cartons of it are worth a grab..
We stayed the night at Palampur and on our last leg of our quick yet pleasing get away, we visited the Mata ki mandir which is very famous around the area. The idol is placed underground and one must approach it through steps which leads into a cave like structure which can make one feel very claustrophobic. However the darshan always helps one get over such phobias and finally, seeking divine intervention in our lives, we headed to the Dharamshala airport. The staff gave us VVIP tratment with an exclusive lounge. I loved the people here. We covered some other parts of Himachal from air with lovely views from the top and were greeted by the lovely monsoons that weren't ready to let go of Delhi this time around as we prepared to land, ready to fall back in gear for the next day of our daily routines in the city..

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Manali Mania!-I

It was a quick quick getaway.. Spanning over 4 days partly over the weekend, we had this ambitious plan to cover Yol, McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Palampur, Manali and if we could risk it, the Rohtang Pass.
The first leg of the journey was a night train journey from New Delhi to Chakki Bank in Jammu. Though we were travelling first class, the whole night was ruined by bedbugs which was earlier preceded by the most drab vegetarian meal i'd ever had in a long while. This was not to bog us down,( though we hadn't caught a wink) and we soon freshened up, catching quick power naps while the other got dressed. We then set out for Yol by road.
The Kangra valley is a beautiful expanse of hills and fields with women wearing brightly coloured salwar kameezes and chunnis dotting the countryside. The toy train came hooting alonside us bellowing clouds of smoke and then vanishing now and then around mountain sides and grass fields. The beauty of the state of Himachal Pradesh around this region can actually be enjoyed mostly during the long road journeys. Women with their fair skinned and flawless complexions are absolutely fascinating. The mountains tower over alongside as one drives around the lovely sun kissed fields and cosy cottages amongst perfect settings for breathtaking views.


We arrived at Yol at around 12:30 or so after having set out early in the morning. Yol is a sleepy town and an army cantonment, a pretty place with pretty people. Though it was raining in Delhi, we were greeted with warm sunshine and pleasant weather throughout our stay there.



We could hardly wait to dump our bags and get to McLeodganj, the residence of the Dalai Lama. I'm a big fan of his. If everyone could think as simply as him, the world would be a much simpler and better place to live in!Sigh! We made it to the Tibetan school cum muesuem called Norbulingka, just short of McLeodganj in good time and took a tour of it, voluntarily guided by a handsome young Tibetan man. The school was where they taught the exotic art of the tangkha paintings and embroidery! It takes one about 3 years to master the painting techniques and upto 6 years for copper sculpturing of the various gigantic, majestic statues we see in various monasteries around the country. The students, mostly boys were deep in concentration with their piece of artwork. I liked the way they were listening to Tibetan rock(or something similar) on their headphones, not a bit distracted with us going around the room, clicking pictures like Japanese tourists!

A Tibetan poem that can be read in any direction..

The setup is lovely with authentic Tibetan/ Buddhist architecture, water bodies, a monastery, a doll museum and an emporium.


The Church in the woods was our next stop. Amidst a thicket of jungles beyond, it stood out ancient and very British. It was a lovely setting as if out of a children’s fairy tale.. Hansel and Gretel comes to mind. We arrived at McLeodGanj, starving and excited. Hunger got the better of us so the loot in the market had to wait. We were suggested to try Jimmy’s Kitchen for Italian food but we opted for the Tibetan Kitchen. Like they say: ‘When in Rome, Do what the Romans do!’ We ordered noodles, chicken momos,thukpa, a Tibetan patty and chicken soup.  The momos were yummy and very authentic and we generously helped ourselves. Smug and cosy, the kitchen left the same effect on us, so we prepared ourselves for a nice shopping workout while Papa went off for a snooze. It was getting cloudy and the clouds came in quietly, enveloping us snugly while we walked through the streets packed on each side with Tibetan memorabilia and souvenirs inviting us into almost every shop. The shops were tightly squeezed in with clothes, cloth bags for the cause of a Free Tibet, incense, essential oils, tangkhas, prayer wheels, prayer flags, jasmine pants and jewellery.

The scent of Tibetan incense is a heavenly fragrance which surrounds your senses and you can’t ignore tranquillity setting in. Women are very friendly and people love animals around here. Young women were picking up stray puppies to adopt them. I find the Tibetans an exotic group of people headed by the Dalai Lama. He’s one of my surviving idols I have to have to meet besides Queen Rania of Jordan.

The Church in the woods

The shopping spree was not long enough for us to soak in the essence of the place. The real quintessence is to walk around and laze about for a couple of days, discovering the little pizza place which can be accessed on foot, sitting for hours over coffee at German Bakery and maybe waiting outside Dalai Lamas palace to catch a glimpse of him when he’s in town..?   

The day had been quite striking and we yearned to stay on. Yol heralded us in the setting sun and we spent a quiet evening with family friends. The breeze was light and as we prepared to turn in for the day. We slept like heavy logs until the first ray of dawn the next morning..

Dolls at the Doll Muesuem

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Life Store

Imagine if we could pick out the exact life we wanted to lead from a store. There would be hangers of different lives, a hanger for the 'Adrenalin pumped' life which would make life adventurous, filled with travels all over the world, to the Antartic to watch the aurora borealis or to scuba dive in Seychelles, parajump or climb the Himalayas; the 'Elegant life' with a walk in wardrobe filled with Chanels and Diors, with evening tea parties, elaborate shopping sprees and London apartments; the ‘Diplomat’s life’ where one becomes an automatic leader of the country he/she chooses and has a strong say in issues that matter; the ‘Hippie’s life’ with not a care for the world, develop fads, adopt a religion to experience it for a while and then move on; a ‘Film star’s life’ complete with the paparazzi; the ‘Princess’s life’ with diamond tiaras, horse riding and playing ‘Queen of Hearts’ etc to name a few

One could choose goals for life as well and the life package could help one with that. It could help with improving one’s karma throughout life and help attain the higher self during this lifetime while learning the lessons this lifetime has to offer.

We could take loans or pay for the products in EMIs. We could exchange after 14 days if we wanted to lead another life.

Would have been fun..

If one is reeling under emotional or work stress, one could just go into the life store and pick out the life he/she’d rather be living for a while or change it for good. Mood lifts are guaranteed.

One could have bespoke lives carved out for themselves with a little bit of every type of life or one could be an archetypal. One could choose the country where one would like to belong or set up base. The life package would have already set everything in place! Of course the life store comes with *Conditions Apply

One wouldn’t be able to change his/her physical appearance or personality. The person remains the same. A good condition applicable! One ought to love thyself that much!!

The Life label..any takers??

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fashion Capitals

My stay in Dimapur was ruined due to the Bharat Bandh as shops all around were closed. Dimapur and Shillong are the hubs for the best deals in fashion in the northeast! However I did explore the lovely bamboo resource centre in the capital that caters to bespoke exquisite furniture, machaans and Gazebos. It was a fun tour with my newly made exotic Naga friends Wabang and Makshi. I made up my mind to pick out a machaan or gazebo exquisitely designed for my future home.

Little Naga baby
We toured the Assam-Nagaland section via Jorhat, making way to Mokokchung back in Nagaland. The border expanse is beautiful with tea gardens on both sides of the highway. Road conditions are quite pathetic with frequent landslides especially during the monsoon season, but the scenic beauty of the place more than makes up for it. Enroute to Mokokchung, we stopped over at Wabang’s grandmother’s house who showered us with a warm welcome, tea and sweetmeats. She was smiling away and was so excited to see us. Her whole family was very friendly and opened their hearts to their guests. There was a framed picture in her living room that said ‘Behind every successful man stands a woman, telling him that he’s wrong!’. How true! ;)

She recited a little prayer for us in Nagamese before we set out again. The lush green hills and meadows were a fresh green and the breeze made for ideal travel weather! We stopped over at isolated roadside kiosks on the highway sometimes just a single one selling fresh fruits. The freshness, sweetness and fragrance of the papayas, pineapples and passion fruits still lie uncontested amongst these fruits that I’ve savoured everywhere in the country. 100% organic produce is a compulsion as farmers cannot afford fertilizers; a boon for consumers like me! We used to end up buying up the whole stock on our journeys and leave the fruit seller a happy man who would have made a little fortune for himself for the day.

We stopped over at one of the many abundant waterfalls and as we stood clicking pictures I asked Makshi which animals inhabited the area, to which Makshi smugly replied “ No animals..All eaten”!!!. Nagaland though richly endowed with natural beauty and lovely people is an animal lover’s nightmare. There is a ‘keeda market’ in Kohima which I obviously struck out of my list which could give competition to the other ‘keeda markets’ of the world but this is not my favourite topic so I’m just going to move on..

The Whispering Winds resort where I was staying is a cosy and classy resort that overlooks the hill town of Mokokchung. We arrived at the town around 5 so I rushed to the market. I hardly made it on time. The apparel fashion stores were already shut. I was so disheartened, I took a whole tour of the mall, stooping in front of each of the store displays, longingly looking at the pair of turquoise shoes I absolutely adored, shimmery tops and colourful bags. Alas, they were out of reach. After much deliberation I pushed myself out of the mall and walked into a restaurant serving momos. To my disheartened shopper’s added woe, i was told they served only pork momos. Clearly, it wasn’t my day. However, not to miss out on the many more things that Mokokchung had in store for us for the evening, I walked into the twilight, toddling the streets of one of the fashion capitals of the northeast. The girls in Mokokchung are known for their stylish ways and are they haute!

The resort had cooked us an authentic Naga meal(customized to my various food hang-ups- I just can’t take chillies and they had to cook either chicken or fish only). According the Makshi, chicken and fish were vegetarian for him. Pork was the real thing. The food was similar to the meals I’d had in Aizawl and Itanagar-plenty of bamboo shoots and boiled vegetables. When in Nagaland, please specify you don’t want chillies else it’s a taken and only after a request would one get a moderate concoction of spice. The Naga chillies have been recently discovered as one of the hottest chilles in the world so you know what to expect..

There was this tiny but well maintained museum maintained by a lady which has a collection of all authentic Naga articles used by her ancestors and others. The museum houses the ‘World’s smallest Bible’ and exotic pieces of jewellery, shawls, utensils, spears, knives and tribal hunting gear amongst other curio. It is definitely worth a visit.

Temperatures dropped quite drastically during the night with rainfall and strong winds. Standing atop the balcony of my room at the Whispering Winds, I saw the whole town lit up on the hillsides and slowly after the clouds blew away, the stars quietly came out and shone brilliantly on the July night. I yearned to stay on but had to head out to Kohima the next day..

Shopping in Kohima was just about managed as I reached the city as the shops were closing down. I sure missed out on a lot but picked out a psychedelic bag which was a riot of colours! There were stylish boots on sale for a 1000 bucks, punk tshirts, eclectic accessories and arrays of belts. While scuttling down the street trying to hit as many stores, Makshi was enjoying himself, pointing out frogs on sale on the street-side garnering my expressions and exclamations!

I had visited the Kohima world war cemetery when I was 4 but couldn’t make it that day as it was already closed by the time I headed there. It is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is only the second war memorial of its kind in India. There’s a famous inscription on the War Memorial stone that reads:

When you go home

Tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

I didn’t want to turn in too early though it was an early start for the next day so my friend Wabang took me for a late night city walk, spotting shooting stars. I had been lucky in Aizawl but that night it had rained and the city acquired a dreamy countenance with a lovely breeze and the fragrance of wet earth. Thus ended my sojourn with another awe-inspiring region of the country tucked away amongst the quiet hills- that play whispering winds and shadows in the day and soiree with the stars at night..

Monday, August 9, 2010


I have been using fashionandyou to shop for things in the past and I can say its a fairly decent site with pretty good steals..Do join up! Happy shopping!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Aizawl Waka Waka!

An aerial view of the Lengpui runway
I followed the approach of my plane towards the Lengpui Airport in Aizawl keenly. Its wonderful to land amongst the hills..The drive to Aizawl from Lenpui was about 1 1/2 hours and a young Mizo taxi driver approached me and proceeded with my baggage towards his van.I started speaking to him in Hindi and I was given a blank look.I asked him "English or Hindi?" ."English please Ma'am" was his reply. 

Biker dude shot from far above(my room)
Aizawl's skyline is dotted with numerous churches and as we wound up the hairpin bends,the bustling city greeted us.Aizawl is another bike crazy city. Both men and women are extremely fashion conscious and don't mind paying hefty amounts to stock their wardrobe with the latest clothes and accessories, from Gucci, Fendi and D&G copies, impeccably replicated from Bangkok,Hong Kong, to the smartest boots and stilletos which have featured in Vogue(atleast immaculately copied). Women are stylishly smart and walk around in boots with Burberry-competing trench coats.(It wasn't winter when I was in Aizawl but it had gotten pretty cold due to the rains).The booty is however overpriced in Aizawl as compared to its counterparts, Shillong and Kohima.  But of course very very worth the money if you had to shop for the same things back in Delhi or Mumbai.
Young women own fashion and accessory stores and I was first greeted in Mizo before they realized I wasn't a Mizo.Then they would rumble on in English. I tried to bargain a lot but its pretty useless. The maximum they'll bring down the price is a 50 bucks on a pair of shoes.I picked up yellow stilletos,criss-crossed ballerinas, a royal blue bag that reminded me of the Lady Dior and a  couple of tops which were neo-styled. A young gal about my age showed me a couple of rings,earrings and chains at her store and as I was trying to recollect where I had seen similar stuff,she read my thoughts and said "Aldo?".That was it..!

I stayed at the Hotel Ritz in the executive room with the best view.The number of pictures I've taken of the same view in its various hues, tints and cloudbursts is not funny.I would just go on clicking and the next second I would realize I haven't captured the vista enough. Tinntinnabulations from far away churches, another of my favourite tunes in the world,sounded so exotic with the clouds bursting into my windows and the soft strains from 'Wavin' Flag' drifting in from the lane which was far below as the hotel stood on a winding road few 100 meters above the lane below. The populace is football crazy or rather the'd be called 'football fanatics' with incidences of people punching their TV screens if their favourite team lost!Though the city closed down by 9pm(shops by 5:30pm), the football frenzy went on until the 'wee hours' of the famed early north east Indian nights.

Food habits are very similar to Arunachal and Nagaland with lots of smoked foods,pork,bamboo shoots and boiled vegetables. I sampled the curries with fish and chicken and went about the town on foot. Its a wonderful way to get to know a place that way.Theres a whole new pleasure in it..I saw a tiny fast food joint with a couple of stools as seaters and a non-northeast Indian man and Mizo woman behind the counter.The menu was simple:

Veg Roll
Egg Roll
Chicken Roll
Egg Chicken Roll
Mutton Roll
Pork Roll(If I'm not mistaken)

Each for about a 30 bucks.The joint clearly had a large clientele as both the young and old crowded in and stood by the side walk to await their orders.A middle aged man walked in(he must have been a Marwari) and asked for the veg roll.The man who was frying the wraps behind the counter dismissed the order saying "Veg nahi milega"(U won't get vegetarian food here) in an exasperated tone. The man looked around lost,and headed out of the joint;clearly he'd come in seeking the famed rolls.. 

I picked up a roll and was impressed..Theres a small cafe near the Chanmari Church called Glenary's which is a cosy hangout.I met Mimi there who's a pretty Mizo belle with an air of friendly consonance .We caught up over coffee and she apprised me with city trivia and all things Mizo. The aroma of warm ginger cookies and the glass panelled walls that provide a view of the street make it a comfortable haven to admire the rain and people busily moving up and down the street. The lanes are pretty narrow and the traffic jams in the city are a common sight especially in the market areas.

I had to push off to the airport early next morning.My taxi driver(who had driven me to Aizawl) had requested me to call him for the ride back.He had very politely confirmed with me the previous evening via a text message -"Miss,its tomorrow morning 7 am,Ritz Hotel.Right?".Sure enough he arrived on time as I was checking out.The airport staff arrived with the keys to the airport 15 mins after I had arrived at the airport.We'd passed them hanging onto a rickety bus on our way there.Slowly one passenger after another arrived and my driver bade me goodbye"Please come again Ma'am,and I'll be here when you come next" :) 


I met the same airhostesses and pilot on my flight back from Lilabari to Guwahati. He seemed Mexican, a la-Santana with a classic wool packer hat and trendy wraparound sunglasses.He had stepped out of the plane to stretch his legs and walked back the aisle from the back of the plane,ready for his next flight. After the emblematic security rehearsal, we were airborne.

Agartala is a pretty big city. The best hotel in town was the Ginger Hotel .If tourism is to be developed in the north east(which has tremendous scope),more investment needs to be brough in. It is a pretty expensive city with prices of vegetables like cauliflower costing upto Rs 150 per kg!I met a descendant of the royal family who despite his medium height, had a regal air and a handsome face. He reminded me of the director Ang Lee.I have hardly come across any Tripuris in my stay and journeys all over India so Tripura was a mystifying and unknown state for me. 

The Ujjayanta Palace(now the Assembly House) is a lovely white building in the heart of the city. In fact Tripura has numerous tourist destinations if one had an itenerary of a couple of days.Neermahal,an imperial lake palace in Udaipur,53 km from Agartala is only one of its kind in Eastern India. People look and speak Bengali and Tripuri.For lunch, it had to be authentic Tripuri food so I walked into a local restaurant where the men served me with a smile never once leaving their lips. I hogged on rice, a tangy dal curry and a hilsa and mustard curry which is out of this world. Its very similar to the Bengali and Manipuri preparation of the hilsa with mustard. The waiters were so happy seeing me eat so savouringly ,they brought me more curry and I didnt have the heart to resist because it was delicious!

Slumping onto my car seat,I asked my driver to take me to the Bangladesh border which is very close to Agartala.I was dozing off when I heard loud honking and an array of trucks right in the middle of the road. I got off and headed out to the border check point on foot. It was fun standing at the border line. I was getting on the nerves of the BSF guard who kept asking me to stay on the Indian side of the border. I was too excited to care and kept 'accidentally' stumbling onto the Bangladesh side of the border much to his annoyance. I fulfilled a bucket list wish of 'Being in two places at once'  at the cost of the enraged guard whom I thanked profusely as I was leaving. There was an Indian side with the tricolour fluttering away and the Bangladeshi flag just a few meters away,heralding the inconspicuous path to Bangladesh that looked not an iota different from its Indian counterpart.I wondered about the philosophy of having borders at all..

My evening flight out of the city was another highlight of my trip with my rendezvous with the same airhostesses yet again whom i met for the third time over 4 days and who instantly recognized me. As I took off, the gleaming border lights on the fencing between the two countries,sent me an inkling to come back to explore this undiscovered territory..