Unknown Wonders of Vidharbha

Last weekend was spent in the part of Maharashtra which hardly seems like my state. Its not only culturally different but has an odd mix of Hindi and Marathi languages, which becomes a whole new dialect of its own. I had been there several times when I was young but had not noticed the variation. This time was different and had fun observing and learning about this side of the country.

My trip was very short, just two days. I didn’t have a very good idea of what was hidden in the box for me, whatever popped out, did surprise me to a large extent. In Vidharbha, we went to this small city of Chandrapur which has super thermal power plant, one of the biggest in Asia, and it is also known for its vast reserves of coal. They say that the entire city is dug up underground to excavate coal. The thought of having underground passages beneath you is quite an unimaginable feeling.

Mahakali Temple of Chandrapur

Tribal Carving of the Gond dynasty on Mahakali Temple

Carved ceiling of the Mahakali Temple

After lunch we decided to go to two places, the Mahakali and Anchaleshwar Temples. Though I am not a big temple person, I really enjoyed visiting them. The temples were built in the 1540 t0 1615 century by Dhundya Ram Sah a tribal king from the Gond dynasty. Both the temples were built of the east gates of the fort of Chandrapur. What amazed me was the architecture of the place. The sculptures on the Mahakali temple were a remarkable blend of Tibetan and Hindu figurines. For example, the lion sculpture had a strange mix of a dragons-like head. They were unlike Hindu carvings and depicted its tribal character. What I liked about the place was its very basic but at the same time bold and daring posts, pillars and structures. Though I did not enjoy the muck around the place, I did enjoy walking amidst the quaint shops selling vivid items like bangles, scarves, flowers, puja thalis, etc.

Trishul... Lord Shiva's weapon in the Anchaleshwar Temple

Display of bold and colourful bangles outside the Mahakali Temple

The next day was the most awaited trip, everybody was talking about it and was looking forward to it……it was the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserves and National Park. We started our day at 5 a.m. since a lot of people told us that there were sightings before day break. Our group split into two, one batch of slightly older people and the second one in an open Gypsy. The morning was crisp and frosty but that didn’t seem to bother us, after all we were excited to see the tiger!

The early hours of the Day in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserves & National Park

The grassland of Tadoba

We had an uninterested guide with us who gave us a little information about the forest. It is a deciduous forest of the Deccan Peninsula comprising of rich teak and bamboo trees. I was quite surprised to hear that the forest was as big as 625 sq/ km and had three gates – Tadoba-Andhari, Moharli and Kolsa. We decided to go to Andhari since it had innumerable water holes, therefore more chances of animal sighting. Our trip started on rubble roads along the Andhari Lake and grasslands as high as 6-7 feet. It was fascinating the see a strange mixture of tall grass on one side and dense foliage on the other. As soon as we got there, we spotted an old bison walking alongside the lake and enter the thicket. To my knowledge, bison live in groups and hence asked the guide about this one being by himself. He told us that when these creatures grow old, they are unable to catch up with the herd and tend to isolate. Even though they are isolated, they are not as often hunted by tigers due to their enormous strength and aggression unless a few decide to attack it in a group.

The old & lonely bison

Bison again...

A short while later, the guide asked us to stay quiet since we heard a screeching call perhaps from a monkey. He informed us that this kind of a call is let out only when there is a tiger on prowl. We waited for a while in silence but it was nearly impossible for us to see beyond 10 feet in to the woods. Since a lot of cars arrived during our wait, making a lot of noise, we did not catch any glimpse of the wild cat. Later we tried waiting along a few water holes but were not lucky enough to spot one. Though we did see the usual animals like the spotted deer, some more bison, crocodiles and peacocks. To think about it, there are only 43 tigers in the jungle of Tadoba and to spot one in 625 sq/kms of expanse is indeed difficult. Anyway though we did not spot one, we did have a fabulous time. We spent nearly 5 hours in the dense forest hoping to catch a sight of one!

Deer sighting

An Ancient Hanuman Temple in Tadoba

Our trip had more in store for us. That evening we decided to travel 20 kms north of Chandrapur to this little town called Bhadravati. Bhadravati is known for its 32 wells, 32 temples and 32 ponds. According to the residents of the area, a punishment was given to 3 brothers by one of the Gond Kings to build 32 wells, temples and ponds. It sounded more like a fable told to relate to the existence of so many wells, temples and ponds. We had 3 temples and Buddhist caves on our agenda for that evening. We started off with the most captivating part of Bhadravati, the 2000 years old Buddhist caves or Bodha Vaastu on the Vijasan hill. The caves have a very mystifying appearance. It is a cluster of 3 caves, all depicting the magnificent hand carved Buddha dug deep in to the rock of the Vijasan hill. The caves are basic, untouched and non-commercial, making them very appealing.

Bodha Vaastu of the Bhadravati

Followed by the Buddhist caves, we visited the Nag Mandir and the Bahavani Mata Mandir. Both the Nag Mandir and the Bhavani Mandir had underground tunnels which connect to the Mahakali Temple in Chandrapur which is almost 22 kms from there. The Bhavani Mata Mandir interested me a lot. Before we left for Bhadravati, a lot of people described the significance of this place. We were told that the temple was dug out very recently. The people had a fair idea about the passage but did not know the existence of the beautiful statue of the goddess that lay beneath the Bhadravati soil. A local named Mrs. Borkar dreamt of the deity and eventually the location was excavated. They not only found the majestic, 6 feet tall idol but also two more idols of a “Nag and Nageen”. They were fantastic, crude and jet black.

Bhavani Temple of Bhadravati

I was overwhelmed by the history and intensity of this place. The strangest thing I noticed is that there is so much heritage in this part of the country and hardly anybody knows about it! Most of what I have written is from the facts we picked up from the locals. How I wish this could all be rebuilt, restored and more could be known about this lost past.

Two Tales of a City called Barcelona

I don’t remember how many of us went to Barcelona after our final exams but I think we were in 5 cars, 6 people in each – cramped, squeezed, sweaty but really looking forward to a good break after a week long studies! Hmm…what can I say about this city…in fact there is so much to say about it that I am confused about what I should say first.

Barcelona is a second city after Mumbai that never sleeps. Life swings high through the day and night and along with it swing people, tide and its festivals. What I remember the most is its vibrant city life and the connection it made to the city I live in called Pune that I brought back home with me. Since my title says “Tales of Barcelona”, I think I should start with them.

Ting. Elena, myself & Estela

Ting. Elena, myself & Estela



Moped Mania

Bikes parked on the road

Bikes parked on the road

In the previous para, I mentioned about some connection I got back home from Barcelona. Well the connection has nothing to do with the people, neither the culture and nor the city. The connection is with the enormous amount of mopeds that Barcelona has! Mopeds seriously rule the streets and alleys of this city. They have huge parking lots and lanes for mopeds. I was quite surprised because this was the first time I ever saw any city outside India which has such a huge moped population. I got so nostalgic that I missed mine from home. Since you can own a moped after you turn 16 while you can drive only after 18 years of age, the moped suits and whole bunch of youngsters in the city. The same story is duplicated in Pune. I am not sure of its statistics about how good or bad it does to the city but for me, it was some fact that made this city stand out from the rest.

We friends with the city behind us

We friends with the city behind us

Mugged in the Sleepless City

Well since we reached Barcelona late that evening and June being high season for tourist, we had no chance of finding accommodation and that too, a cheap one since all of us were students. After a 2 hours search, we gave up the idea of finding a place and decided to party all night and crash at the beach or in our cars for the time being till we got something for the next day. Everything sailed smooth, we partied hard all night, some of us slept in the car while some hit the beach and some benches around in the area. Until morning everything looked alright till I heard some commotion around. Since I was sleeping in the car with my windows rolled up, I came to know about the incident a bit late. My friends Elena and Cherry rose early in the sluggish hours of the morning to take a walk along the beach. Before they knew, they were mugged my a few youngsters. Cherry lost her money and the most important document she could ever lose, her passport! All of us came out of our vacation and party mood and realised how serious this was and how seriously we should find a place to stay that night.

We friends posing in front of the weird church Sagrada Familia

We friends posing in front of the weird church Sagrada Familia

As I am writing this about Barcelona, I feel a very strong longing to visit this charming city. Not that I spent more than 3-4 days there, but just the city and the experience we had, makes me want to go back to it. I miss all the friends I travelled with, I miss how jugglers juggled on the streets in the middle of a frenzied wild night, I miss the huge serving of paella, the Red Bulls we had to keep up through the hotel-less night, the sight of the weird church Sagrada Familia…..just everything about it!

Masquerade Carnival of Venice – Italy

Venice, a city that everybody dreams of visiting! Venice – A City of water, A City of Bridges and A City of Lights…..I think that is what I would call it!! A city which flows with the rhythm of the tide that changes every 6 hours. Since I lived in France, I’d intended to visit Venice at least once and first time I vacationed here was in the winters of February 2002, as a student with a real low budget!

The Gondolas

The Gondolas

Before starting from Grenoble, we’d heard stories about the Venetian carnival that was going to happen around the time we would be in Venice. None of us had an idea about the magnitude and extravagance of this carnival. When we arrived in Venice early morning, the atmosphere was celebratory and saw a lot of preparation going on at the Piazza San Marco. The subject seemed to be on everybody’s lips.

The jam-packed Piazza San Marco

The jam-packed Piazza San Marco

The carnival began at 4pm on February 02, 2002. The tradition of the carnival began by masked artists who, with drums and torches, ignited the Carnival in the city. It was still day light when it all started and we couldn’t wait till it got a bit darker to see the flooding lights in the Piazza San Marco. It was very chilly but the hustle-bustle in the city didn’t make us realize the piercing wind. After the masquerade parade which traditionally opened the Carnival, a first toast was made to the reborn Carnival in the hall of the elegant Caffé Quadri. This apparently is the first meeting-point for everybody in costume. That’s when someone told us that the carnival dates back to 1162 AD to celebrate its victory though the celebration gradually grew and 1268 AD which dates the first document mentioning the use of masks. I was quite amazed with its aged history.

Daniel, Estela & myself, strolling through the streets & alleys

Daniel, Estela & myself, strolling through the streets & alleys

The drapes, costumes and masks looked classy and baffling at the same time almost scary, with the empty eyes, as if the people are mere ghosts. There were people dressed in icy 18th century noblewomen or boogeyman masks and long capes, etc. Inspired by all the costumes, we decided to by ourselves some cheap masks made of papier-mâché and some hats. Since the ones made by artists were way beyond our budget, we decided to buy ones that were sold by some street vendors and try to be a part of the affair. After actually wearing it, we realized how difficult it was to keep it on for so long.

Mask display

Mask display

As we moved through the crowd observing and enjoying the ambience and of the carnival, entertainment filled every square, road and alley and there are numerous masked parties and balls. We saw a lot of street plays, some acrobats done very elegantly by the locals with their fancy attire. The one thing I saw for the very first time in my life was an opera in a small opera house. Though I didn’t understand much of the technicalities, I quite enjoyed its intense dramatisation and denotation. At the centre of the piazza we also saw the masquerade ball. It was so unbelievable; it felt like being in the 18th century and actually witnessing the olden times. The couples just swayed so easy with their heavy costumes, some with and without masks. The whole setting was just so full of life and vigour, something I can never forget in my life.
All this made the time fly so fast.

Some of us again!

Some of us again!

It was almost midnight before we realised how late it was and how much time we’d actually spent walking around the place. The life in the city, at that point seemed unending and didn’t look as though the night was going to conclude the celebrations. In fact the deeper we got into the night, the more boisterous, animated and lively it got. I loved being a part of it, I realised how lucky I was to witness it all!

The Petite Luxembourg

View of Luxembourg

View of Luxembourg

Back in 2002, I visited this small country of Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with a few of my friends. This was the first time I ever visited such a dainty little country in my life. The world’s only constitutional monarchy neighbouring Belgium, France, and Germany. Reshma, Priya, Prakash and I just decided to explore this little country at the spur of the moment. On arrival, we were shocked to know that it has the highest income per capital of any country in the world.

View of Luxembourg

View of Luxembourg

It took us a few hours from Strasbourg to get to the Luxembourg city. I do not recollect what we did through the day but I wanted to write about the marvel I witnessed which was so splendid and enchanting that only pictures of the place might do a little justice to it. We saw a very very tall bridge passing through the centre of the city overlooking a very deep valley. I was a bit curious and stunned to see such a huge gorge-like valley. We all hurried towards the bridge to see how it felt to be so high up. As expected, the bridge is 153 metres tall with huge arches supporting a four lane road which connects the the two sides of the Luxembourg City. This bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge has become an unofficial national symbol of sorts, representing Luxembourg’s independence, and has become one of Luxembourg City’s main tourist attractions.

Reshma & Me on the Bridge Adolphe overlooking the  Pétrusse valley

Reshma & I on the Bridge Adolphe overlooking the Pétrusse valley

On reaching this bridge, we caught such a breathtaking view of the valley of Pétrusse beneath us. The Pétrusse is created by the confluence of the Cessange and the Merl rivulets had no embankments until 1933. Beside its riverbed, one can still see vestiges of the former Bourbon sluice, which was set up in 1728 to flood the upper Pétrusse valley in case of attack by the enemy. We stood there for a while, just trying to take in the beauty of this city.

Valley of Petrusse

Valley of Petrusse

We couldn’t get enough of the gratifying of view of the city and also wanted to go down to the valley. We decided to take a local tour through the valley as well walk up some distance in order to just be and feel the beauty of this place. In this little write-up of Luxembourg, I am going to write less and put up more pictures. Hope the pictures do small justice to the charm of this petite country to Luxembourg.

Another view of Valley of Pétrusse

Another view of Valley of Pétrusse

Bail Pola – Festival of the Bullocks

Decorated bull on our way to Varasgaon

Decorated bull on our way to Varasgaon

Till recently, I had not heard of this festival called Bail Pola. When I came to know what the festival is about and why it is celebrated, I realised how ignorant and unaware I was! I was on my way to our farm at Varasgaon about 40kms from Pune. A beautiful, untouched and secluded hamlet in the hills of Sahayadri Mountains where time just flies looking at the serene landscape. Most of the people in this area are famers and celebrate a lot of local festivals. I will write about this place a little later but for now, I want to tell you more about this small celebration amongst farmers called Bail Pola.

Local Farmer with his Bullock

Local Farmer with his Bullock

The naughty one who refused to pose for us!

The naughty one who refused to pose for us!

Now “bail” in Marathi means a bull and this festival is celebrated to thank the animal for all the works it is made to do on the farms. It is celebrated in the month of Shravan on a new moon day, a month that has all its days auspicious according to the Hindu religion. Though farmers use mechanical equipments for farming, in many remote places of India bullocks are still used. This is the very festive occasion for the farmers to pay their respect towards their bullocks. My curiosity sparked when I noticed a lot of farmers walking their bulls so smeared with colours, draped with colourful shawls and so lavishly decorated with frills and flowers, balloons that we waited to ask what was actually going on. A local farmer explained that they were heading towards a nearby village to flaunt his robust bull where many others would participate. The village was also supposed to have a fair and some procession to celebrate this festival. He also said that they spent the entire morning to wash the bull and paint them with turmeric and decorate them. Since I am an animal lover, I was so thrilled to see these people rejoicing over an animal that was such an important part of their lives.

Another local farmer with his decorated Bullock

The one that posed!

The one that posed!

Just the very same day, we, volunteers of Blue Cross Society, Pune (animal welfare organisation) met to discuss our next agenda. My cousin, Kanchan who is also one of the volunteers, narrated a repulsive spectacle that she saw on her way to the meeting. She saw the same thing that I did, the bulls being decorated and painted but along with that, she saw something spiteful done to the bulls on the day that is celebrated for them. She passed through some area in the city where there was a bullock race which is solely entertaining for the people but unquestionably not for the animal. To add to the ordeal of the bulls, people burst fire-crackers almost a foot away from them, causing trauma and panic to the animal. She said that the animals were scared and tetchy which aggravated their masters. After she’s finished, I thought why amuse ourselves with something for an animal when it causes more trauma and suffering to it and to top it all, on its account! The same day that started with so much curiosity, fun and love for the animal, ended up with sympathy and helplessness. We being volunteers of an animal welfare organisation couldn’t do much but we certainly decided amongst ourselves that not only should we spread awareness towards cruelty done to animals but we should also inculcate these values in the younger generation to help us stop these practices.

White Water Rafting – Jay Kundalika!!

Start of our journey with Me, Kanchan, Kshiteej, Nitin, Sayali & Devaki clearly seen

Start of our journey with Me, Kanchan, Kshiteej, Nitin, Sayali & Devaki clearly seen

Its just yesterday…..I, along with 15 other friends, made a trip to the Kundalika river a little farther from Tamhini Ghat about 100 kms from Pune. I just couldn’t resist writing about it today since its all so fresh and clear in my mind. The lush greenery, the waterfalls, the muddy monsoon Kundalika river, and great company of so many friends!

Although Maharashtra has its raging rivers, most of them are seasonal and tend to flow between June and December. River Kundalika is fed by the excess water from Tata Power’s Mulshi Dam Project on hydroelectric projects and dams. Hence rafting is possible at the time of water release, usually between 8am-9am in the morning. I would say it has average rapids…maybe betwen 1and 3 and its fun and exciting for city people like us! We travelled a distance of 10kms and floated and swam for nearly 2kms enjoying in the weather and coolness of the river.

We started our day very early, around 4:30am. We were 16 of us, all friends. The idea of so many friends coming together was very kindling and didn’t make it difficult to rise even earlier than that. We’d booked a 17 seater bus and headed off towards Mulshi. We reached a shanty shack where they organised all rafters, explained the commands and procedures. The fun part started at this point when all the above was done in the flooding rains. Reluctantly, everybody got wet and geared up for some more….

A picture taken through the windshield of the bus

A picture taken through the windshield of the bus

The Crew

The Crew

Our whole team was divided in to two rafts – one with Rhuta, Amit, Maithily, Danish, Kshiteej, Kanchan, Devaki & Prasad and second with Bipin, Harshada, Mahesh, Nitin, Sayali, Shreya, Eshana and myself. We started off as soon as they buzzed the siren from the Tata Power Dam to catch the right water level and current of the Kundalika. The whole crew had stired up several emotions, some thrilled, some scared and some all set! We sailed rapidly, intermittently and smoothly through the river and just when everybody gained confidence, we had a small knock-off with one of our members! One of the guides or instructors from another canoe, pulled Sayali off from the canoe to add some thrill, giving her a shock of her life!!! It was sure some adventure for her. Well amongst us, she had her first good taste of Kundalika!!

Way back to finality

We rafters

A part of the Crew

A part of the Crew

We passed rapids named Pampas, Rajdhani Express, Butterfly, Morning Attack, Jonny Walker, etc among which Jonny Walker and Morning Attack being the one with the most chances of the canoe capsize! Later we got off from our canoes, swam and to be very succinct, hung out with each other in the water since our life jackets did us good. The Kundalika river rushed us through the rapids and what would take 2-2 and a half hours, took us just about 1 hour and 45 mins to reach the finality. We then carried our raft and set off walking towards our bus. Thereafter, changed and set off towards Green Gates Resort to fill our empty tummies!

The lofty valley of the Sahyadris

The lofty valley of the Sahyadris

Since most of us were tired and sleepy, we dozed off for a while. I couldn’t keep my eyes shut for too long since the monsoon made the countryside so enchanting with its magnific mountains covered by dusky clouds and downrushing wafterfalls which covered these mountains so consistently! The whole rhythm of the terrain was soothing and breath-taking! The most amazing sight we saw were the canyon amidst the Sahyadris, so lofty and upright that we got off our bus and gazed into its mystic contour.

A breath-taking view of the steep nameless canyon

A breath-taking view of the steep nameless canyon

After all the gracious views we saw in the Tahmini Ghat, we had some good food at Green Gates Resort and walked up to the a stretch of land that one of my friend Amit owns. It was a very scenic climb to the top of the green hill which gave a splendid view of the Mulshi dam backwaters. By then everybody was very tired and sleepy since our day started at 4am. It was nearly 3:30pm before we started off for Pune all happy, satisfied, exhausted and moreover rejuvenated from our mundane lives.

Mulshi Backwaters

Mulshi Backwaters

The Waters of Hawaii – Snorkel Trip

Hawaii Islands

Hawaii Islands

A collective wonder of volcanoes, forests, ocean and wildlife lay in the islands of Hawai’i’. It is surely one of the remote archipelagos on earth. Hawaii is a cluster of 8 islands called Hawaii – the big Island, Maui – the valley isle, Kahoolawe – the target isle, Lanai – the pineapple isle, Molokai – the friendly isle, Oahu – the gathering place, Kauai – the garden isle & Nihau – the forbidden isle. Each island is known for its specialties and beauty of its kind.

Molokini Island

Molokini Island

Aerial View of Molokini

Aerial View of Molokini

While halting in the isle of Maui, we got a chance to snorkel in the deep seas. We chose to go to the island of Molokini about 2 ½ kms from the mainland. The island of Molokini is an extinct volcano in a shape of a crescent which provides protection from waves and powerful currents, making this area one of the top ten dive sites in the world. It is said to be a home for nearly 250 species of fish which are found nowhere else on earth. Our day begun at 6 am in the morning with a perfect weather taking us through the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean. I had no clue about what we were about to witness, something so magnificent and unimaginable! They were the humpback whales swimming, splashing, playing and enjoying the warm waters of the island. While talking to a local on our boat, he mentioned that these whales come to the Maui waters to protect and teach their calves to survive since the water is warm and safe from the rest of the ocean. It was over-whelming to see 45 foot long whale spouting water through its blow-hole giving us a fantastic view, just what you see on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. Being in that moment and capturing the site is beyond any explanation.

Humpback Whale of Maui

Humpback Whale of Maui

After our experience with the humpbacks we came across the most loving, playful and popular fish of the big seas – yes, I am talking about the dolphins! They frolicked, flaunted and danced in front of our boat. It almost felt as though they were trying to please us or as if they have put up a small act before us. Whatever it was, the spinner dolphins did their best to impress us to the core!

Dolphin frolicking around our boat

Dolphin frolicking around our boat

Finally after an hour and a half, we reached Molokini.The island was so accurately crescent shaped that it looked more carved than a natural one. The backdrop of the island fell 300 feet into the sea. The people of Hawaii believe that many sunsets ago, the powerful fire goddess Pele fell in love with a handsome Prince. Unfortunately, a charming gecko also had eyes for the Prince. An angry Pele Continue reading

Passport Crisis

In the last couple of months, I went through a lot of problems concerning my passport. I have written down every detail of my trouble just to get this document. Below is the article I wrote to send it in the media. Thanks to my friend Vidya Ranade from Pune Mirror who took up this issue and got it published today, Aug 25, 2009. Here is the link Getting Passport re-issued was an agonising Task

Article in Pune Mirror Aug 25, 2009

Article in Pune Mirror Aug 25, 2009

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My Article

Why should getting any document that shows our identity become so complex and annoying? Not only I wasted time, but my energy, money and came home with a doubt of ever receiving my passport! What I shall write ahead of me is not for me but for all the people who go through this awful process of acquiring a passport – a small identification of being an Indian to travel abroad.

It all started with the necessity to re-issue my passport which is going to be expiring in Dec 2009. Since I had to get it done this year and had some time at hand, I thought I should apply it a little beforehand. I got the reference of an agent from my friend and decided to do through them. As per the requirements, I was asked to produce several documents in original form and their copies. After I submitted my documents, I was quite at ease and assumed that the agent would take responsibility of my passport process. I was also told that I would get a call from the Police Department for some identity verification within 8 days. I somehow knew that it would be certainly more than 8 days as living in India, not a single procedure moves at an expected pace. I waited for nearly 20 days and a little later than that, a woman comes to my door and hands in the passport to me. I was quite surprised to receive my passport within a month without the police verification. She asked me several questions and refused to leave. I was a bit confused and assumed she wanted to some reward, as it is very often said, for delivering my document. I did not pay heed to her hungry eyes and asked her to leave. I opened my passport and saw a stamp stating Emigration Check Required (ECR)! Now according to their procedure graduates do not need this stamp and I am not only a graduate but have acquired my Masters Degree too! I should have got a stamp stating Emigration Check Not Required! This was my problem number one; the second began soon after that! I called my agent to deal with the issue and he too did not pay heed to my problem and simply asked me to do it on my own. I was annoyed because I’d already paid up and was wondering why I appointed an agent when I ultimately have to go and wait in lines for the procedure. Anyway, what had to be done was unavoidable and I decided to keep calm and follow the procedure.

The next day, I got a call at 8am in the morning from the Shastri Nagar Police Station to visit them in order to get my verification done. I was not instructed about the procedural formality despite asking about the same. As per the instructions, I went there to find out that they needed 3 photographs of me along with PAN card as my identification. I realised that I would obviously have to make a second appearance as my Driver’s Licence, which happens to be another official government document, was not accepted as adequate proof of identification. I was asked to come at 6pm the very same day. With a lot of adjustment at work I went back to the Police Station sharp at 6pm to find out that the senior officer was not available before whom I had to make my appearance. Well I was asked to come back again at 10am the next day! I took the phone number of one of the officer in charge and called him before leaving the next morning. Thankfully he told me not to come since the senior officer was again not available. I was surprised to get a call later that evening from a constable in charge to come to the Police Station at 6pm, with less than an hour to spare, the very same day. Finally, on that day, I got my verification done within 10-15 minutes after spending so much time travelling back and forth.

This was the end of the third problem and could not forget about the ECR issue that needed to be resolved. I was calm and prepared for the next step towards getting my passport in order. I decided to be before time in case of the usual waiting in line and government delays and routine. I believed it to be a very simple and straightforward procedure to get this changed since the error had occurred from their side. I went to the Passport Office at Senapati Bapat Road, Pune with all the necessary documents to get my passport corrected. I stood in line for nearly 45 minutes even though I was there before 10am which is the commencing time of the office. By the time I reached the entrance of the office, some officer told me to fill out a form. I did not have glue with me when I approached the counter. I agree I was negligent in this case but none of the procedures were clear to me in the first place. When I stood in line to submit my form albeit without the photo, the officer across made a very obnoxious gesture for me to go away and threw the papers at me. I was offended but did not react and turned back to do the needful. I walked out of the office and asked a person where I would get my photo glued to the form. I was told that the shop nearby charged Rs. 2/- to use their glue. Isn’t that unbelievable? It wasn’t about giving Rs.2/-. It was about going through so much stress and torture at every step just to get a simple passport! After I came back to re-submit my papers and asked the officer when I would get my passport, he barked by saying that how was he supposed to know. I asked him his name which he refused to disclose and asked me to leave again gesturing obnoxiously. I was furious by then and made it clear that we should be treated respectfully and do not deserve to be screamed at. He was not only talking with me disrespectfully but to all the people who were standing in line with me. I got my receipt and walked out deciding to go to the press and media vowing to bring the procedure into public eye. The question here is, was it my fault that I got an error of ECR on my passport? I am spending time, effort and money in fixing a problem for which I should not have been bothered and on top of it, ill-treated. I am not sure how the system works but as an individual and a citizen of this country, I have the right to get my document done with no hassle unless there is some serious concern from my side.

This is not just for me but for all the people who have gone through these issues and will go through them for the next innumerable years. This nuisance as I should call it should be put across to the masses. As I said earlier, we as citizens just demand basic rights, simple and straightforward, which in fact are complicated and without a solution!

Passport Crisis

Passport Crisis

Lush Greens of the Monsoons – Pawankhind – India

I just got back from my trip to Pawankhind, a place quite untouched yet, and unbelievably green in the monsoons. The place is beautiful and worth a visit in the rainy season. Its about a 5 hours drive from my city, Pune. I couldn’t help but write about it in my blog because never in my life have I seen velvet-like greenery, so lush and so captivating that it seems so unreal. Every hill, tree, grass, and a square inch of land has various shades of rich green. Of course, it comes with a whole bunch of leeches and other insects but its worth the sight. I don’t want to write much, I would rather have you see pictures of what I am talking about……hope you all agree with me!

The lush greenery

The lush greenery

Another random picture captured on our way

Another random picture captured on our way

The above first picture is one of our drives through the mountains of the Western Ghats separating the Konkan region from the Deccan plateau. We waited every 10 feet to breathe in the stunning view of the verdant landscape.

Aerial View of the Pawankhind Dam Waterfall

Aerial View of the Dam Waterfall at Pawankhind

We got this magnificient view of the waterfall from our resort.

View of the Waterfall at Pawankhind

View of the Waterfall at Pawankhind

The waterfall in the picture is vigorous and enchanting. It was worth a view!

The Forest of Pawankhind

The Forest of Pawankhind

What surprised me was the dense jungles of this area. I had not imagined such a dense forest exist in the middle of Maharashtra! I know my state has a whole lot of jungles, but this was way more dense with tons of leeches, red ants and insects that I have never seen in my life!

A Beetle

A Beetle

While in Pawankhind, we hiked down to a place called Pawankhind (khind means pass) known after the heroic deed of Bajiprabhu Deshpande. This small pass (truly speaking, it is hardly a pass!) through which Bajiprabhu Deshpande, one of the Sardars or lieutenants of the famous Maratha king – Shivaji lead his troops and fought a rear guard battle in order to help Shivaji escape from Panhala Fort (fort close to Kolhapur). He was the hero who sacrificed his life for his king and country. This place is steep with an astounding view of a waterfall.

Pawankhind is a small pass where Bajipraphu Deshpande fought a war for the popular Maratha King - Shivaji

Pawankhind is a small pass through which Bajipraphu took his troop and fought a war for the popular Maratha King - Shivaji

We decided to hike through the fringes of the forest. Since we weren’t very equiped and the forest was full of wild life, we decided to explore the areas around the lake. Thats where saw a small swampy area adjoining the lake. After taking a deeper look, we realised that its actually a patch of quicksand. This was my first experience or view of how quicksand looks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go too close it due to the heavy, weedy and thick vegetation.

The quicksand in the fringes of the jungle

The quicksand in the fringes of the jungle

The two pictures below are just somethings that I found very cool and different while we were walking through the jungles.

Shell with a fern growing inside

Shell with a fern growing inside

Raindrops caught in the web

Raindrops caught in the web

Below are some panaromic pictures of the rish green landscape, forest, lake and waterfall!

The lush green landscape of the area

The lush green landscape of the area

Panaromic view of the backwaters of Pawankhind dam alongside the dense jungle

Panaromic view of the backwaters of dam alongside the dense jungle

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The Cuisine & People of Peru

Map shows Iquitos, Cuzco, Ica (Nazca), Lima

Map shows Iquitos, Cuzco, Ica (Nazca), Lima

I had always heard a lot of stories of the exotic Americas and when I got a chance to visit one, it was almost like a dream come true. This exotic location that I travelled to was Peru or the land of the Incas, a beautiful country with so much natural beauty and tradition. Their cuisine and people really fascinated me… I think it was the colours, deeds, display and simplicity.

Despite the influence of European colonialism, much of the native South American cuisine remains a mystery. Moreover, I can define it as a marriage between European and South American gastronomies. Peru demonstrates the interrelation brilliantly where the native ingredients are mixed with the Spanish, Arabic, African and Oriental influences. The typical ingredients of the Incas are potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers and aji (pronounced like arhi) a typical hot chilli, corn, rice and beans.

Our journey started after we landed in Lima, the beautiful capital city of Peru along with Pacific Ocean. The city had its touch of modern influence on it and hence did not see the crudeness and life of the actual Peru. I saw a lot of its striking colours and display of the gastronomy in the smaller towns of Nazca, Aguas Calientes or for that matter in Iquitos in the Amazon. On our way to the impressive ruins of the Machu Picchu, we stopped at a small town of Aguas Calientes. It was a small town in the middle of the gigantic Andean mountains with the most fascinating colours and displays in foodstuff. Being an artist who is influenced by colours this place was a paradise or me. Before starting our journey to the grand Machu Picchu, we decided to buy some fruit for our long day. While strolling through the markets, we saw several fruit stalls loaded with variety of fruits flaunting their freshness and colours. The fruits were arranged so creatively with all their colours matching against one another that I wanted to have them all. We often see this in India too in different fashion, maybe on carts or in juice bars, etc, but this was more fascinating since all vendors had them displayed in their own style and pattern and unique in their own way.

Roadside fruit stall - Aguas Calientes

Roadside fruit stall - Aguas Calientes

Chicken is not the most staple diet in Peru but what caught my eye in Nazca was something strange. I am not sure what the local had in her mind but whatever it was, it was surely funny and memorable. We were sitting in a small roadside shack and sipping the Chicha Morada, a drink extracted from purple corn, when I spotted this lady. She was carrying a beautiful, healthy rooster in a shawl tied around her shoulders. They both seemed happy and comfortable in their own place. The rooster sat comfortably in the pouch of her shawl while she walked elegantly, feeding him the corn and cheese she munched on. It was such a hilarious sight to see them both so much at ease with the arrangement.

Lady carrying a healthy rooster

Lady carrying a healthy rooster

maíz y el queso fresco - Corn and fresh Cheese

maíz y el queso fresco - Corn and fresh Cheese

Chicha Morada made from purple corn & Chicha de Jora made from white corn

Chicha Morada made from purple corn & Chicha de Jora made from white corn

As we travelled across from the coast to the Andes and then to the jungles of the Amazon, we had some other experiences which seemed fun, daring and nostalgic. As soon as we landed in Iquitos, a city on the borders of the Amazon, we saw some amazing similarities between India and this part of the country. All over the place people kept staring at us. We had no idea why, until we walked down the markets of Iquitos. We were so surprised to see Bollywood posters and cds all over the place. Perhaps not too many Indians travel to this side of the world because people asked us questions about our country and its culture, cuisine, clothing, etc. Not only that, we also saw bikes and autorickshaws just like we see here, in our country. It was so amazing to see a part of us half a globe away! This was one side of the Amazon; the other one was more adventurous. On the streets of Iquitos, we saw a guy skewing one of their delicacies, orange and black fuzzy caterpillars. They were alive and kept in basket. People seemed to savour its taste and texture. Bipin also decided to try one and thought it was crunchy on the outside and gooey in the inside. Right next to the caterpiller shack was a guy selling coconut water, just the way we see it in India! I have travelled to so many places but Peru was the only place where the coconut water was sold in its traditional way instead of bottles. It was the nostalgia that made us drink the fresh water of the coconuts, two each. That whole day was spent talking in our brief Spanish to people, understanding their way of life, tasting different dishes like the Yuca potatoes, alligators, caterpillars, etc. So much like India and such a distance away, it’s remarkable how similar and dissimilar we are!

Delicacy of the Amazon

Delicacy of the Amazon

Motorcycle seen very commonly in India

Motorcycle seen very commonly in India