The Island of Lotuses – Sri Lanka

Island of Sri Lanka - Lush & Beautiful

Island of Sri Lanka – Lush & Beautiful

“The Island of Lotuses” sounds like a dreamland right? Indeed, it is one, it is the breathtaking Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is filled with lush landscapes, rising mountains, thick forests, and lakes with gushing waters. It is famously called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. We visited this lovely island a month ago and since I have been waiting to write about it. This post has all the best experiences I had while we traveled through its meandering roads passing through the most dense forests and enjoying the food all along.

Reservoirs of the Island

Moat around Sigiriya

Moat around Sigiriya

“Let not even a drop of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man”, were the words of Parakrama Bahu the Great. It is said that the first great reservoirs ever in the world were built in Sri Lanka. This island today has around 12,000 ancient small dams & 320 ancient large dams together with thousands of man-made lakes. Hence all over the landscape one sees small water bodies with gushing waters that help rice grow abundantly.

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

The Lotus Land

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Since the Sri Lankans don’t waste a drop of water, they don’t waste plucking their lotuses as well. Almost all lakes and ponds on the island are full of lotuses. Bright pinks and purples, serene whites and gorgeous reds flaunt their charm in the abundant waters. I was amazed to see how easy they grew all over and how they were so beautifully offered to the Lord Buddha. According to esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus and is one of the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism.

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A Pond full of Lotuses

A Pond full of Lotuses

Magic of Patangi

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi wood is used since ancient time for colouring in Sri Lanka. Its the most amazing wood I have ever seen. If added to hot water it provides a red colour; adding lemon will turn the colour into yellow; adding shell lime or Calcium will provide a purple colour. It just doesn’t stop changing colours! It is used as a natural dye to colour rugs or wood carvings which Sri Lanka is most famous for.

Devour, Slurp and Enjoy…

Sri Lanka is a food lovers dream. We were very excited to try different dishes. Spice and flavors, diverse assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, and heavy usage of the coconut was what we experienced through our trip. I am gonna write about the ones I enjoyed the most…

Egg Hoppers!!

Egg Hoppers!!

Hoppers!  I love the name and the dish even more! Hoppers or appa are a typical Sri Lankan breakfast. Thin pancakes with crispy edges made from rice flour, coconut milk and palm toddy or yeast. Wonderfully versatile they work with eggs, curries, chicken and vegetables. My favourite is an egg nestling in it.

Lamprais!

Lamprais!

Lamprais is an exquisite accomplishment in Sri Lanka’s diverse and fascinating cuisine.  This delicacy includes a  savory rice with onions and spices in butter or ghee rice and then cooked in a meat stock. Lamprais which originated during the Dutch rule consisted of lamb, beef and pork. But today most commercially made Lamprais have substituted Lamb with Chicken. And all of the above are lovingly wrapped in lightly toasted Banana leaves to make it a whole meal. Its simply delicious!

Making Kotthu - Street food of Sri Lanka

Making Kotthu – Street food of Sri Lanka

Kotthu was one of the best eats on my list. A typical street food which had flaky roti bread chopped with vegetables, meats, and/or eggs, resulting in a fried-rice-like dish. The chefs make it with a rare rhythm and performance. It’s a delightful little package.

So this was a small post on my travel through the country. All these above things fascinated me and I thought I should share it with you. Along with the rich scenic beauty, we also sailed through the ancient Sri Lankan architectural monuments of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigirya etc.  It was an unimaginable experience and would love to share more on this country soon…

How We Lived a Day in Istanbul… Food, Architecture & Its Inheritance

This sprawling metropolis with a huge cultural and architectural heritage is a melting pot of Eastern and Western history. The only city in the world which is transcontinental i.e located on two continents, Europe and Asia and has 3113 mosques! Isn’t that unbelievable? We had a a beautiful vacation in Turkey a few years back. We loved this beautiful city of Istanbul with its ample blue waters of the Bosphorus strait and the 7 hills with a mosque each.

Skyline of Istanbul

Skyline of Istanbul

While walking through its streets, it felt so much like being in India. The blaring car horns, the shrill sound of calling prayers from the majestic mosques, its busy streets where people seem all over and beautiful colourful spice filled markets. We experienced the lovely tram ride from the Gelata bridge to the Grand Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar

 

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

Constructed in 1461 Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is quite popular today. It has 3000 shops which store dainty Turkish artifacts in small tunnels which is a complete jumble once you enter. It was such a pleasure to see this labyrinth  complex with pushy merchants and colours which your eye would never know.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

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The most illustrious architecture I have ever seen till today is the Blue Mosque . The interiors are adorned with 20,000 blue tiles that fashion in fifty variations of tulip designs. It also has some extravagant resemblances of flowers, luscious fruits and perfectly grown cypresses.

Foooood!!

 

Street Food!

Street Food!

While walking through the Taksim square one chilly day of our stay in October we saw a man selling steaming muscles. This friendly vendor offered one to us and promised it would taste out of the world! It is called the Midye dolma, sort of a munchy that comprises of muscles stuffed with rice. He told us to eat it with using the shell as a spoon… and indeed, it was the most flavoursome eats I ever had!

Awesome Tradition to Relax and Cleanse

The Famous Hamams

The Famous Hamams

 The age old and popular Turkish baths play an important role in Turkish culture. These often beautiful buildings provide a place to relax, refresh and revitalize, but they are also a place for local people to socialize. These baths have long been considered a place to purify the body and give your overall health and well being a boost. I am not a big fan of massages yet I didn’t miss a chance to walk through these Hamams and feel its luxury.

The Bosphorus

Bosphorus Strait

Bosphorus Strait

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

Oh what a wonder this Boshphorus is! It is a straits that connects Asia and Europe, also connects the Maramara Sea to the Black Sea.  We took a lovely traditional steamboat ride to enjoy the array of colours and scented breezes, its balmy waters and admire the palaces and old mansions commonly called as ‘yalis’ that adorn the Bosphorus waters.

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

While steering through this city…Dusk fell and the setting sun illuminated the everything, gently bathing it in shimmering golds and crimsons. Lights were switched on and the silhouettes of the mosques rose, ready to greet the moon. It was time to go back to our hotel and look forward to the next wonderful day we decided to spend in Trabzon on the Black Sea.

The Inca Marvel of the Machu Picchu on the Ridge of the Peruvian Andes

Peru is a land of wonders! It stretches from the rocky sea cliffs of Lima inward to the deserts of Nazca, climbing high into the Andes and plunging deep into the Amazonia! Its wonderful to see a country have so much geographical richness! And yes, its wonderful to be able to experience all of it! From the treasures of the country, we had a chance to visit the one called the Machu Picchu at 2430 m above sea level. This archaeological ruin is perched atop a mountain, mysteriously abandoned more than four centuries ago. It is a symbol of the power and engineering prowess of the Inca.

The Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu

This urban architecture and engineering of the Machu Picchu poses a lot of questions. How and why was this civilization built on such an inaccessible terrain? How did these people farm its emerald green terraces, and drank from its sophisticated aqueduct system? And why was it abandoned? In this post, I am going to tell you more about how wonderfully the city was planned and how everything made sense!

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The Holy Site
From what we were told, the Machu Picchu is located among the holy peaks. The surrounding peaks of the Wayna Picchu, Mount Yanantin & the peak of Putucusi are worshiped. Perhaps that is why the Machu Picchu was built where it was.

The Andes

The Andes

The Stone Work that with stood Earthquakes
The ancient wall of the Incas were made with blocks of stone which fit together tightly without mortar. They were so tightly interconnected that it is said that even a blade of grass was not penetrable.  These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top but are offset slightly from row to row. Peru is a highly seismic land, and when such disasters took place the stone walls moved slightly and resettled without the walls collapsing. Such was its perfection!

The Structure of the Walls

The Structure of the Walls

 Trapezoidal Doors & Windows
Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward at the top. This design detail help protect the houses from collapsing during an earthquake.

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Homes & Mountain supervene
The roof tops of the homes and buildings match the mountains behind them. The slopes coincide exactly with the mountain.  What makes me think is if it had some significance because it does not seem like a coincidence!

Houses of the Machu Picchu

Houses of the Machu Picchu

The Innumerable Terraces
The biggest problem here are landslides, unstable earth. Incas built more than 700 terraces which are fundamental to its longevity. Without terraces, the mountain would have slid and the city would have succumbed to disasters. The terraces which were not used to make houses served as farmland. This proves that the Incas  studied their site before building their civilization… most astonishingly without any writing.

Terraces close to the Guard House

Terraces close to the Guard House

 The Rocks Carved like Mountains
The Incas worshiped nature. Everything seemed like it came from what lay around the citadel. Most rocks have been carved exactly like the mountain behind it. The shape of the rock perfectly matches the mountain behind it. The Incas worshiped mountains, and perhaps visibility due to fog or cloud cover must have made them carve rocks to be able to worship them everyday.

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

 

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Sacred Waters
The Inca spring, in many ways, controlled the layout of Machu Picchu. The location of the spring was fixed, and the Inca engineers figured out the slope of the canals accordingly. There were 3 fountains and the first fountain was located next to the the Emperors residence who got the cleanest water.  We were also told that outside the walls of the Machu Picchu was a overhanging rock that catches the sound from the Urubamba River 1,600 feet below the citadel. This rock amplifies the sound of flowing water. All these little aspects ensure that water was certainly sacred.

Aqueducts  of the Machu Picchu

Aqueducts of the Machu Picchu

Nature & the Citadel
What we observed that through many windows and gates the Wayna Picchu made a perfect view. The houses were constructed in such a manner that it overlooked an aspect of nature… some could even see the Urubamba river. Even the terraces close to the guard house have been built in curves which makes this site looks mysteriously beautiful.

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

It just amazes me to know how Machu Picchu is… also known as the Lost City. We know so less about it yet the theories make this place a mysterious wonder.  According to me the Incas built this city of stone, without the aid of wheels or iron tools with eternity in mind.

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

 

The Chicago Architectonics

Everyday Chicago celebrates its life that runs through its restaurants, movies, music, people and its unique culture. But nothing defines the city more than its creative and technologically advanced architecture which is it’s identity.

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This post is a walk through Chicago’s boulevards exposing its architectural wonders and water ways which leave me mesmerized!

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It is said that Chicago River was a key element in the rise of Chicago from a sleepy lakefront town to the metropolis and major transportation hub that it is today. The Chicago River flows backwards, away from Lake Michigan, and the river is actually higher than the lake. I keep wondering how does a city that has a population of nearly 3 million has 300 bridges out of which 37 are movable and yet life travels normal on roads!

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While taking a river cruise through Chicago, you get to admire the great architecture of the skyscrapers. The view of the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the striking Chicago skyline is lovely. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice that you pass through 18 bridges in the heart of the city. Isn’t that something?!

 

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The Cloud Gate designed by Anish Kapoor is an interactive sculpture that graces Chicago’s Millennium Park. It reflects the Chicago skyline. Not only does it play tricks with the light and the sky, but allows viewers to become a part of it due to its reflection. Its just fabulous!

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While strolling in Chicago is one thing and admiring a view from the top is another. We had a chance to see this sweeping view of Chicago and the lakefront from the John Hancock Observatory. Apparently the building’s exterior is aluminum and glass with distinctive x-shaped external bracing which virtually eliminates the need for interior columns. It was simply sensational.

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Parading through the city and looking at these beautiful steel giants rise high above you is really captivating. Skyscrapers all along the Michigan Avenue reaching taller and taller is among the aspects and qualities that make Chicago a unique city.

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Chicago is a true demonstration of architecture at its best. I feel it is a wonder city with new wonders rising everyday!

Thanks to my dear brother Kshiteej for taking such wonderful pictures of this beautiful City. He does justice to my writing! 🙂

Puebla – Mole Poblano – Talavera & My Unlimited Memories!

When I think of Mexico, I think of Puebla and then unlimited things come rushing to my mind. Puebla was an experience where I saw, tasted and felt things for the first time in my life. You may be confused about what exactly I mean. Well it means I experienced this city in a very different way. All the things I did here in this beautiful colonial mountain city were the first time in my life! If you have visited this place perhaps you may agree with me.

Postcard from Puebla

Postcard from Puebla

While driving down from Mexico City with my dear friend Trinette whom I visited long time ago, we passed by the volcano of Popocateptl. I’d heard a lot of stories about it and couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. I’d never seen one in my life and she couldn’t stop telling me stories….I just wanted to see it and… really desperately! So..finally after a while, I see this imposing Popo as the locals call it! The sight of it was overwhelming. A stream of ash rose above the snow clad peak making it look magnificent and powerful. We waited by the highway and I watched it until my heart felt content. The best part was since it was seen from every part of Puebla since it stands tall at  17,802 feet. I’d decided to write a post on it because it also had a very heart-rending legend behind its stoicism. You can read up more about it on the “The Legend of Popo“.

Volcano Popocatepetl

Volcano Popocatepetl

So…this Popo, stole my heart and it was one of the best memories I carry until today about Puebla even before entering this lovely city!

Streets of Puebla

Streets of Puebla

Then came the warmth and welcome from Trinettes family. Along with it came good food of course! Then suddenly my mind jumps to best lunch I had with my friend Trinette and her Dad of Mole Poblano. On the streets of this city, in a dainty restaurant, a special dish of Mole Poblano was ordered for me. Can you guess what it was? It was a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce and certainly not sweet! I had the pollo en mole poblano which had a deep mixture of chocolate and chilli with chicken, two of the most characteristically Mexican ingredients. It also had a small side dish which I was unaware of. It was  sour-spicy-salty and asked my friend what was it. She said they are chapulines – grasshoppers! For a moment I couldn’t believe I was relishing them….but then..what the heck…I loved them! Food satisfies…Puebla certainly contributed! chapulines mole Until today, I have sweeping memories of this art which I love and still have it adorning my walls at home – the Talavera! This ceramic of Talavera, that garnishes practically every building, every patio, every square and even kitchens in this city! Here when I went to see potters make these beautiful pieces of art, I was told that a potter’s gild was formed and ordinances were laid down, that all of the potters that wished to produce Talavera had to follow. This was done so that the quality of the ceramics called Talavera was uniform and that this earthenware had a distinctive style and excellence. Until today, pottery from Puebla still holds a seal! I will really not do much justice writing about it, check out some of the pictures below…

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

more-talavera-frogs-23jan11 So…along the memory road, Puebla plays a very important part in my life. There was so much to experience here that until today I clearly remember every bit of it. Some day, I would love to travel back there and take in every moment slowly and embrace it once again!

Driving along the Streets of Puebla - Trinette & I

Driving along the Streets of Puebla – Trinette & I

Talavera Fountain

Talavera Fountain

PS: Talavera Pottery stills plays a very important part of my life. While I lived in Dayton, USA, a dear friend of mine owned a Talavera store and I still have it all displayed at home. Adding two more photos below to show my fondness towards it!

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Talavera @ Home!
For more details, click on to http://www.lively-wood.blogspot.in/2012/02/imperial-compilation-hampi-inspired.html

Kutchchy Ethos

The charms of Kutch are embedded into its art. Against the backdrop of the white crystal deserts and the yellow grasslands, the Kutchchy people stride in grace with their bold colourful embroideries. We can see this in their clothes, over their walls, on their beds…almost any place around. Overall a fantastic mishmash!

White Desert of Kutch

White Desert of Kutch

There are two distinct forms of art which are typically seen in the interiors of Kutch – Lippan Art and Kutchy ‘Bharat’ meaning embroidery.

Lippan Art - Murals

Lippan Art – Murals

A Gleaming Amalgamation!

Lippan Art in the 'Bhungas' or circular mud houses

Lippan Art in the ‘Bhungas’ or circular mud houses

Among the many Jat communities in India, Kutchchy Jats are nomadic, separated from their fellow families in Pakistan. They rear cattle, breed camels and indulge in exceptional artwork. Through some family connections, we had a good chance to meet a Jat family deep into the Dhodro village. When we entered their courtyard, we noticed a cluster of round mud houses painted white with bright carved doors. They had thatched roofs and looked like the ones in fairy tales. We later learnt that all mud houses, commonly known as ‘Bhungas’ belonged to one extended family and each sub family had its own ‘Bhunga’. Wow…we were impressed because as soon as we entered one, it felt cool as if entering an air conditioning room. Not only that, it glistened with magnificent patterns and murals with mirrors embedded in them. The whole feeling of a warm welcome, the unruffled ambiance, freshness and the gorgeousness of these homes touched my heart. I couldn’t help writing about it.

Bhungas or Mud Houses of Dhodro Village

Bhungas or Mud Houses of Dhodro Village

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While trying to apprehend so much about how beautiful the ‘Bhungas’ are, I noticed how neatly everything was aligned and arranged. Looking at my baffled face the ‘sarpanch’ or the village head explained that murals on the wall are called Lippan. They make simple patterns with a generous use of mirrors and earthy colours. Usually mixture of donkey or camel dung and clay is used to make Lippan murals. It is hard to believe that donkey or camel dung can create such alluring work.

Lippan Art in a Bhunga

Lippan Art in a Bhunga

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Thread and Countless Mirrors

All over Kutch, we saw a spectrum of colours. Locals wear bright colours so that they can be spotted easily in the wide deserts. They have several types of embroideries like Kambari, Niran, Kherk belonging to different tribes in the region, etc. These patterns are known to be the most advanced and intricate. A lot of them indulge in skirt work and coverlets.

Embroidery of the Jats commonly called Kambri Bharat.

Embroidery of the Jats commonly called Kambri Bharat.

Typically, men set out with cattle while women embroider. These ladies prepare for tocher for their little girls. One such exclusive style of needlework that caught my eye was distinct from the rest. Apparently, it is known to be from Sind in Pakistan. There were rugs folded neatly which had small triangular pieces of coloured cloth stitched on the outer side with the actual embroidery being at the centre. This resulted in small and detached design from the interlaced woven fabric that stretched above the surface of the base cloth. I know it may be difficult to visualize what I just wrote but perhaps a picture might do some justice to my explanation.

A sculptor, a weaver and grandmother!

A sculptor, a weaver and grandmother!

I wondered how it must feel to have your entire life revolving around art. Its almost like you live, breathe, create and worship such a gift. I observed how women gossiped, took care of their children who chased goats while their hands moved swiftly over their needlework. Such incredible and perfected work was a boon! Hail to Kutch…inspiration unlimited!

The Walk into the Deep Wild Amazon

From Iquitos, we took a boat ride through the Amazon river spread wide and long. In an hour or more, we were asked to get off without much explanation. It felt a bit odd to expect what we didn’t quite expect! So begin here, are few days in the most dense and diverse jungles of the world – The Amazon!

The Amazon River

So off we got from our boats. We were told that we would have to walk through the jungle to get to our lodge.  The morning sunlight streaming through the dense canopy of the jungle felt warm and mysterious. Leaving the Amazon river behind, we started walking through tall tress embraced with ferns, creepers, dew captured by cobwebs all accompanied by a chorus of unusual birds. It was a beautiful warm day and it all began well. Our eyes tried to see everything around and our ears hearing the calls of the wild.

Walk through the dense Amazon

I am not sure how long we walked but perhaps we did for sometime. The fellow who guided us, brought us to this unusual town, which didn’t really seem like one. We walked into a circle of huts which stood tall, almost 12 feet from the ground. When we climbed up to peer into these homes, it surprised me how basic people can live with! This house had a thatched roof with walls that ran only 4 feet tall. There was no furniture, just 2 hammocks, some pots and clay stove. For a moment, it didn’t look like a home! I asked the guide what sort of lifestyle is this. He explained that the houses were always above the ground to protect them from snakes, rodents and other animals. Due to its warm humid climate all through the year, these houses did not have walls. The flowing breeze keeps them cool. They hunted, farmed, bred animals, cooked and lived simple!

The unusual houses if the tribals

A peek-a-boo into an Amazonian home!

Along the way, we walked listening to the flame-back woodpeckers hammering tree trunks unperturbed by us. Slowly we walked into a denser part of the jungle where the squirming insects and mosquitoes found us. Every now and then, we flapped our hands and thumped our feet to avoid bites. Several times during our walk, our guide rubbed his palms on tree trunks which seemed to be a nest of some insect. These mud nests had holes drilled through them and these insects crawled out after he rubbed his hands over them. After he did it a couple of times, Bipin asked him what was he up to. He casually replied saying that these were white termites and when rubbed against your skin, they keep insects off. We were shocked to know that termites could keep other insects off! Then he showed us the difference between white and red termites, red termites being dangerous. This worked, it was miraculous! We strutted along the way…less bitten and comfortable!

Bipin cautiously rubbing his hands against the termites

Deeper we went, the denser it got yet we came across another house in the middle of nowhere.  There was an old man lying in his hammock and a woman sitting on the ground washing something. Suddenly, between to two, something moved. Something large, yet flat and very slow. I almost jumped because it somewhat camouflaged into the pale white soil. And then it seemed clearer, it was the sloth! Wow…I loved it the moment I saw it. I was scared to touch it though somehow I knew it was friendly! Suddenly the woman grabbed it by its collar which was made with palm leaves and dragged him closer to her. It must have been its fastest walk ever! 🙂

The tribal & her pet – Sloth

Got my hands around the little fella – baby sloth of the Amazon

When we started towards our lodge, we came across a man lying right behind the hut. He looked drunk and wasted. The guide and the old man exchanged some conversation. Curious as much Bipin is, he asked what was wrong with him. The guide explained to us that the night before, there was some occasion because of which all villagers from villages around had gathered and partied hard. They decide such gatherings and prepare ahead of time. They pluck this fruit which looks much like the passion fruit. They all sit and chew it  together, collect it in a large pot and ferment it. Then later, it is guzzled down on occasions. The alcohol content in this is so high that apparently the next day, there is no activity in the villages. And yes,it seemed evident! 🙂

The fruit which is chewed, spat out & fermented & then drunk to celebrate occasions!

So along we went, reached our lodge with so much to share already.  The next few days went on riding through the eerie ponds full of weeds, excursions through the forest at midnight, a hunt for piranhas into the Amazon river and eating & drinking yucca fries, wild boars and coconut water. Loved it and above all experienced it!

Our guide who passionately tried to make us experience the Amazon to its fullest

The Wine World in my Eye!

Whats the first thing we think about when we talk about wine? Is the taste, type or the region? Well I think of France though I shall talk about others as well! I know I have a great connection to this country since I studied, ventured and worked for a little bit amongst the Alps. But even then, France is one country predominantly known for its wine! But tell you honestly, Italy is the biggest producer of this majestic drink!

Wines around the World

Let me explain why France is so closely associated with wine. It is because, it is the first country which protected its reputed wines with tight regulations. And since French invented them, we should turn our attention first to France. Fortunately, I had a chance to study them to a small extent. In my two years, I knew that France had vineyards in regions like Bordeaux, Loire, Beaujolais, etc. I tasted many wines and learnt a little from my experience and the techniques of finding out how good the wine is. Pairing it foods came in a bit later. Some of the popular regions in France that I had a chance to visit and taste one of the best wines in the world were from the region Bordeaux, Alsace and Rhône.

Bordeaux

Wineries in Bordeaux

Upstream the Garonne river provides the damp climate suitable for botrytis. A little later I shall explain what this word means but for now Bordeaux sweet wines are the most celebrated wines of its kind. Because of the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, this region experiences humid misty mornings during the arrival of autumn relieved by the late sunshine during the day. This gentle process of dampening and drying is ideal for this wine. This is how my knowledge of Bordeaux Sweet wine began. My friend scrapped out 3 bottles of wine from his basement. I was impressed by his mini cellar since I didn’t know how important and valuable wines are for the French! He preserved his precious preserves! He made me taste all 3. They looked different though they tasted quite the same. I was confused, I thought they all were from the same family of sweet white wines but couldn’t identify anything. Then came the surprise! He told me that those bottles were 15, 11 and 7 years old! He gave me a small tip on these wines. He said they last for 20-30 years and the very top ones are virtually indestructible! They turn rich yellow to burnished orange and then distinguished deep brown..all still edible! I could only say one thing – ripe and rich was the wine from these 3 bottles as we drank under the deep blue skies with  Gruyere and goat cheese fondue!

Alsace

Enjoying the Wines of Alsace

A place of great history and a constant tug-of-war between France and Germany, has left this region culturally distinct. It is a unique blend of both the cultures and grape varieties. They produce medium or very dry wines. Though I am not such a fan of dry wines, I didn’t want to miss a chance to taste one. After I did, I thought they had a deep colour and a fine aroma with rumbustious alcohol content. Just a glass did make me a bit tipsy! But, right after that I was fed a rosé, which had pastel pink colour and I loved it. It is one of the most famous wines in Alsace called the Pinot Noir! Since I lived in this part of the country, this wine was in abundance! I was happy to know that I liked something from here as well!

Rhône

Grape picking and choosing the best ones!
Honestly, they all looked the same to me! 🙂

North and south Rhône are known for their spicy, rich reds and intriguing whites! I had never tasted spiced wines before. Infact I didn’t even know something like that exists since India never had a big wine culture back then. In Grenoble, the city in the Alps, and the wonderful place I lived in, had a cozy pub which served wines only. I guess they had about 100 different varieties. A bunch of us who practically had no knowledge of wines ended up here and got a bit greedy in tasting everything that we thought sounded cool! Fortunately, the bartender realized our sense of nonsense and started recommending what was different and which could suit our taste buds. Since I was the obvious and the only Indian around, he asked me if I wanted to taste something spicy! I was just happy with the word spicy and asked him to bring it on! As always, I was asked to smell and then sip. It smelled a bit heavy but slowly after a few swirls a musky grape smell arose from the glass. Then came a subtle taste of wine. It made me reminiscent of India, my land, my home!

United Stated of America

Wines from the rest of the world seem to attract me after my experience in France. The next place I ventured was the Unites States of America. And of course that is the Napa Valley in California. I realized that people here were very enthusiastic and were so willing to encourage people to drink wines and also went out of their way to help understand this drink. California is the epicenter of the US for wines. Vineyards spread from north to south along the cool hillside on the side of the ocean. Again a new wine was introduced to me, the Zinfandel! I was surprised that my knowledge of wines didn’t take to me this one, so what was this? A red-purple wine, high in alcohol, with heavy fruit concentration  was this wine! It had sub categories in this like the blush which tasted like a little sour raspberry punch, then a flavour strangely herbal and what not! Despite the fact I liked it, I thought it was made for style and fanciness!

In the Napa Valley – California

Cincinnati

Meier Wines – known for 45 types of cherries

The Meier Wines is a little winery in the heart of Cincinnati. A very cozy place with the best sherries and port wines. They had so many varieties that I couldn’t really count them on my fingers. They had 33 Cream Sherry, 11 Pale Dry Cocktail Sherry, Ruby Red Port, 22 Golden cherry and the list goes on. All these wines are unique to this place. This winery sprouted in the early 19th century and is still going strong. is best known for its 44 Cream Sherry and produces over 45 kinds of wines and a premium line of sparkling non-alcoholic grape juices. The uniqueness of this Cream Sherry comes from its ageing process – it is aged in whiskey barrels and this subtle taste of whiskey makes this sherry interesting. The other interesting fact, especially for people staying in USA, is that Meier Wines ships their product to your doorstep.  The only memento we carried back with us were its simple wine glasses.

Canada

Ice Wine from Canada

During one of our trips to Canada, to the beautiful city of Toronto, we had a chance to taste a very interesting variety of wine called Ice wine. Chilly as it was outside, we rushed into a local winery to warm ourselves. We hadn’t come across anything like an ice wine before. Even though it was ice cold, it did soothe us from the windy chill of the city. This wine was sweet tasting which is made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vines. The grapes are usually picked very early in the day, around sunrise, to ensure the grapes are in frozen condition. These wines are very crisp and refreshing, as if they have trapped the freshness from the morning air when the grapes were picked.

Barrels for picking the early morning grapes needed for Ice Wine

Switzerland

The Wine Cellar

Apart from its natural beauty, Switzerland does have a wine culture. Somehow, they have vineyards long its border with France, Germany & Italy. It is believed by the rest of Europe that Swiss wines are very expensive. Since I lived on the borders of France, I got a chance to visit the city of Geneva quite often. Sometimes it became a backpackers trip, sometimes a clubbing trip and once with Bipin. Since I went there so often and since I was picking up so much about wines, I decided to spend a bit on a bottle of Merlot red. Infact I am not too fond of Merlot but nevertheless I wanted to own one. This was the cheapest and it permitted my students budget. I was told that this came from a region called Ticino which was almost Italian. When I went back to Grenoble, I decided to open it with some friends. I had quite made up my mind that I would not like it, but to my surprise, it was different and had a very pleasing after taste. It was light and grassy with a tinge of the oak barrel taste.

Turkey

Mulled Wine of Turkey

Turkey produces a lot of wines despite being its Islamic population. I was quite surprised! I was also told that it is one of the first countries to produce wine. Anyway the one wine I had in Istanbul was a mulled wine which tasted delicious even when it was warm. On one of our last days in Turkey, we decided to have a nice dinner in a cozy cafe or a restaurant. I think we picked the prettiest cafe restaurant on the Taksim Square of Istanbul. Since it was a bit chilly, I decided to taste the warm mulled wine. I had never heard of this before! Apparently, this wine is made by heating and mixing wines, liquors and spices and is traditionally had on holidays. I was excited to taste this one and also surprised to be served in a coffee mug! The chilly weather, cozy cafe, my loved one and warm cup of wine. It was bliss!

Along with the the usual wines and blends, Turkey has a vast choice of fruit wines. Apple, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Apricot, to name a few. These are quite interesting especially to people new to wines since these are sweet and fruity. We did get a bottle back – one of the locally produced Pomegranate Wines, made an interesting after dinner dessert wine.

India

A pretty display barrel

Yes yes India! 🙂 Wine is an emerging culture in my country! A glass of wine hardly was heard of 10 years ago! Now, it is considered as a sophisticated drink and rates higher than other alcohols . People here still don’t have complete knowledge of wines but generally prefer white wines since they are a bit sweeter. Now and then, we go for a lot of wine fests which happen often during the month of November and December. So, wine and cheese marks the end of every year!

During one of the wine fests, I gathered some information that I didn’t quite believe. As soon as I came back, I looked through google and was astonished to know that wine was a part of India during the Harappan civilization. It was called Somarasa and was consumed during religious festivals. It sounds very strange indeed because generally Indians do not consume alcohol on the day of a religious festival.

The lush greens of the Sula Winery

Then, a  few years back we visited the Sula vineyard in Nasik, north of my city of Pune. A beautiful lush greens, neatly aligned grape vines looked gorgeous! The whole ambiance of the place was pretty. I think Sula wines did bring a small revolution among Indians and introduced the wine culture. From my knowledge it seemed like they made good wines. None of the wines were hazy and didn’t have floating particles in them. The swirl gave a a crisp aroma which made me believe that wine has begun its journey in India.

I agree that I don’t have a far-fetched knowledge of wines but these were some of my experiences and memories of this mystique drink. I think once you pick out the flavour and store them in your memory, you can enjoy it better. Also, I believe that if you like it, just sip it!

PS: Botrytis are infected grapes by strain of fungus. Damp conditions are needed for its growth. 🙂

For a cool wine quiz, click on to http://www.lively-wood.blogspot.in/2009/07/all-about-wine.html

The Dance of the Whirling Dervishes

Two months back, while I was touring Turkey, I stumbled upon the Whirling Dervishes in a place called Konya. Sounds mysterious right? These dervishes spin, spin and spin, with the equilibrium I have never seen before. The lighting was low and warm, creating a mystic and non-intrusive atmosphere. This sect is so different and unique that I decided to write about it.

Sema Ceremony

The Mevlevi or the whirling dervishes are a Sufi order founded in Konya,Turkey by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian. They are also known as the Whirling Dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of God). The Mevlewi believe in performing their dhikr in the form of a “dance” and musical ceremony known as the Sema, which involves the whirling. The participants are called semazen.

The Green Masouleum of Rumi, Konya

The Sema ceremony represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection. The dance indicates turning towards truth, growing through the channel of love, deserting ego, finding truth and then arriving at Perfection. The dervishes are extremely graceful. While whirling, their arms are open, right hand faces the sky which indicates the ready to receive God’s beneficence. The left hand is directed towards the earth. This ceremony is divided into 7 stages, the eulogy to the Prophet, the drum sounds, followed by instrumental music, the greeting of dervishes and lastly the whirling. The 6th part is reading versus from the Quran and ends with a peace prayer.

Close-up of a Whirling Dervish

The Music & Dance - Sema

The description of these Mevlevis is almost impossible. They are not only graceful but immersed in their dance. What astounded me was they spin for so long in one place, at the same pace without going off balance or even bumping into another mevlevi near by. Some members of the audience had travelled across the world to see the ceremony, whilst others may have stumbled across the performance.I have attached a video from Youtube to understand it better!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnunfciSr7k&w=420&h=315]

My Journey into Sikkim

Sikkim - Land of Simplicity & Colour

Our country India is known for its diverse culture, topography, food, people, overall an existence of its own. Sometimes it makes me wonder, how one nation can accommodate so many virtues at the same time. I think we are very fortunate to be in a land which has so much to offer.

Hanuman Tok - Gangtok

In April 2009, I got a chance to visit this beautiful state of Sikkim surrounded by Tibet, now China, Bhutan and Nepal. Amidst the Himalayas, the state is no more than 7110 sq kms with winding hilly roads and beautiful people originating from Nepal & Tibet. I will not go much into the geographical details of the state because that is something we all can find on the internet. I would love to talk more about its people and the experience I had through those few days.

To-be Lamas

Sikkim is heavily influenced by Tibet and its culture. Most of the people in Sikkim have direct origins from Tibet and have migrated to India in the last 100 years and more. The place is so surreal, untouched, spiritual and colourful that I couldn’t help but write about it. What touched me most here, in this little lost paradise is the simplicity, discipline, honestly and modestly of people. On our first day in Gangtok, we realised that people here are very shy and self-conscious. I wanted to know more about them, about their lifestyle and eating habits and everything that I could gather. Even though they seemed withdrawn, I did not stop asking my list of questions. Hence slowly and patiently, I realised and comprehended the life and living of the people of Sikkim.

Traffic regulations due to landslides

It all started with a small incident while we were on our way to Lachen, a little town up north of Sikkim. Since the state is still building up its infrastructure, the road conditions are unpleasant. To add to it, there are frequent landslides which hinder the transport to some extent. Coming back to our journey, we came across a huge landslide due to which there was traffic congestion on both sides and delay in our travel was unavoidable. After a while, the debris was cleared just to allow one car to pass at one time. According to the mountain traffic rules, the cars going uphill get the preference due to steep slopes and hardships of the windy roads. And hence the uphill going cars started their ascend slowly. Since we were descending we were waiting in queue for our turn. What astounded me here was the patience, and respect that was given to all the cars coming up. Not a single car blocked their way, instead made sure they get ample space to drive carefully. We waited till all the uphill cars passed giving them ease and time to clear the damaged section of the road. What kind of a scene would you see in Pune for that matter? People honking, pushing their way, clogging and creating so much nuisance to make the situation shoddier. Dodgy road conditions, delays and inconvenience did not one bit upset its people, they continued to respect what had to be respected in order to support the situation, not worsen it. That got me thinking, isn’t there so much to learn and comprehend?

The home-made Tibetan Dinner

The warm locals who fed us the wonderful homemade Tibetan meal.

One more incident took place which really touched my heart. Throughout our trip, we ate roti and vegetables and the usual food. I really wanted to eat the traditional Sikkimese food which is very hard to find unless it is cooked by the locals. To our surprise, our travel agent invited us to have Tibetan dinner at his place. Now when I say Tibetan, I should make clear that most of the Sikkimese people are Tibetans and share similar culture and food habits. He took us home, a simple home traditionally decorated with local artefacts. On our arrival, we started with a local beer-like drink called Chhang. Barley, Mustard and rice are semi-fermented and stuffed in a bamboo called Dhungro. Then boiling water is poured and sipped through a narrow bore bamboo pipe called the Pipsing. It’s one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had. It is said to be the best remedy to ward off the severe cold of the mountains and reputedly has many healing properties. Followed by the drink, we were served shisnu or nettle soup, Churpi – Yak cheese cooked in red chillies, phing or glass noodles with mushrooms, hot steamed momos, Phagshapha, a pork dish made with radish and dried chilies, dhal and rice which is a staple food and lastly, fish fry and chicken curry of which I do not remember the names. The best surprise was, for desert, they cut open a water melon imported from Maharashtra which seemed like an exotic fruit for the locals. After this huge meal, we were not only over-whelmed with their hospitability but very touched with the effort they put behind making us taste the best of their cuisine. It just showed how lovely and welcoming the people of the eastern Himalayas are, they just need time but when we give that to them, they give us a lot more in return.

Chhang - beer-like drink made with barley, mustard and rice stuffed in Dhungro or bamboo

Hence through my trip, I learnt more and more about their art and culture and lifestyles of the people. As I mentioned earlier, that our country is so fascinating and versatile yet we all are termed under one – Indians!