Aug 14, 2012

Rise and Shine...O Sleepy Soul!

The day had started as usual for this grubby-looking nymph, pursuing its prey in the water, when latent so far, but now active, a genetically timed impulse for the metamorphosis hit it.  The moment it had been moving towards unknowingly for so long was here. 

Long? Well, the length of time is always a perception, measured by us human beings in our own currency.  From that perspective, it was almost four years ago when this nymph had hatched out of one of so many eggs that its mother had dropped in the water. Since then this mass of water was its universe. It was little aware of the world beyond. However, soon that was to be the past, as its DNA, evolved through millions of years, was propelling it towards the purpose it was hatched for.

If it had a fear about the change in the surroundings, I am unaware.  All I am aware is that it was living in the moment, accepting the impending change as a given, knowing well that this metamorphosis from a nymph to a well-honed flying insect, is not only taking it away from the safe harbours into unknown, but is also leading it to the final few months of its life.

It looked for a suitable reed, found one and climbed through the stem out of the water. Emerging out of the reed, and the water, it started breathing as it came in contact with the air. Shedding its skin of the nymph stage, it stepped out in the world. Its immediate act was to perch atop the reed, swaying with the breeze, drying its wings in the warmth of the Sun, reveling in the open vast new ambience, before it would take off in hunt for its prey & its mate.

While taking a stroll, a sudden splash of an array of iridescent colours caught my attention. Getting closer to the reed cautiously I observed this creature with elongated body & gossamer wings and remembered what Louise Bogan, an Amercian Poet had written:  

Dragonfly With Those lenses

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.

Yes, the nature is abundant with variety when it comes to creatures great and small, each one having their distinctive presence. Yet, like a Jamini Roy painting, it’s the eyes of the Dragon Flies, and their diaphanous wings reflecting colours in the Sun, that draws ones attention to them.


They are one of the oldest, fiercest and skillful predators on the planet. In fact, there hardly exist a few creatures on the earth now that predate dinosaurs. Their agility during flight, especially their ability to move in all six directions, while flying at a speed of about 45 miles an hour, yet using only two of their wings at much lesser speed then a normal fly would do, is nothing less than a magic. Their illustrations in the manuals of Leonardo Da Vinci while he conceptualized a Helicopter as early as 15th century, is well-known.  A lesser known & now being well-researched fact emerging about them is, like birds, their migrations across the oceans & continents. 

Having traveled alongwith the evolution of earth & human beings, it is no wonder that different cultures & civilisations have perceived them differently. Japanese, with their country also known in history as Akitsushima (the Islands of Dragonfly) have revered them, made them a part of their life, with the Samurai using them as a symbol of power, agility and Victory.  Chinese believe that they are a good luck charm who bring with them prosperity & harmony.  Amongst Native Americans, they are a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Burmese utilised them for killing the Yellow-fever spreading mosquitoes.


Ferocious predators they may be when it comes to insects, but they seem to do so smilingly. Sporting a toothy grin always, (which also gave the entire group their biological name Odonata - toothed ones), make them look as if they have just been caught in a mischief. Yes, I like them, and not without a reason. It could be because of this image of a red dragon-fly which got me my first-ever prize in a photo-contest.

Red Dragonfly Geo

It could also be that I truly find fascinating their visual system that dragonflies have been bestowed with. The nature's remarkable & awe inspiring engineering is a complex system comprising of about 30000 lens, each of the lens capturing the sensory perception around it, which gets analysed by its brain to create a 360 degree vision. 


But..more than any other reason, what makes a dragon fly special for me is that it makes me realize the incredible creative forces which are manifest behind the existence itself - be it a dragon fly or us human beings.

Putting the life of us human beings on a parallel plane, a dragon fly makes me understand: the hidden latent potential in our own soul that awaits the moment when we would rise out of the mundane life; striving to fulfill the purpose for which each one of us exists in this universe. Soaring on the wings of our own intelligence and efforts, we would dazzle the world with a display of those amazing arrays of colours that only we can. And it is not difficult. All that we need is the willingness to leave the safe harbours when that moment comes, shed the shackles that keep us in the stage of a grubby looking nymph, reflecting at life with a compounded all encompassing vision, and explore the depth & vastness of our selves, our Universe.

Then even if life is brief, like a dragonfly’s, it will be meaningful. This is what Ruth O'Neill means when she wrote Lesson from A Dragonfly:

For the dragonfly knows it lives a brief life this way
So I learn from this creature to live wisely each day

(For those interested in reading the full poem of Ruth O'Neill & a few more pictures, please visit the link given below: )

Jun 8, 2012

And the romance lingers on…

The flight from Madrid was short & peaceful for all those aboard – except me. I glanced at my family – my wife and both the children – the happiness of having already been to Greece, Italy & Spain apparent on their face. Yes, the journey so far was good and very enjoyable. But here I was, like a winded up clock, though more with anticipation.

It was almost after seven years that I was about to see her. Seven long years! It was business that had brought me to Europe in August, seven years ago. I was on my way back from Venice to home at Mumbai, when I sighted her first during a stop over. Now, this could have been an after-effect of my having had an early morning lovely ride in the Adriatic Sea.  Yet, despite having very little time at hand on that stop-over that I could spent with her, it was enough for me to remain hooked on to those lovely memories.

Painting at Dorsay 8

However, with the aircraft taking me closer to her, my emotions were all mixed up. I was tensed wondering if my romance at first sight just the fleeting moment of fancy? Will my decision to spend almost a week with her, alongwith my family, a bit too courageous? So many thoughts & questions were clouding my mind when the aircraft – descending from the clouded sky brought me down to the terra-firma.

The pulse was seriously beating rapidly now as we disembarked, the feet moving faster so that I can see her. And then that first look at her and all misgivings just disappeared. She still had the same alluring charm and intrigue around her which had mesmerized me seven years ago. In fact, if anything, the passing of time had done wonders to her.

Woman in Black

And at that moment I was ready to let the whole world know that I fell in love again - with the City of Romance – Paris!

Paris Overview

No one really knows why Paris alone is called the city of Romance. I am sure there are places as good if not better. Yet, it is Paris which has been bestowed this honour since ages. And justice it does to this honour. There is a palpable attraction in the city that weaves its own magic – like an enchantress from the old magic fables – and keeps one hooked on.

Trocadore from Top of eiffel Tower ls

Behind the enigma of Paris lies its being at the centre of some of the greatest events that have resulted in change of course for the entire European history. Having been established by the Gauls, attacked and invaded by Julias Caesar, civil wars, religious struggles between Protestant & Catholic movement, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, destruction in both the world wars, taken over by Nazis in 1940 and liberated again in 1944  - Paris has seen it all. It has been caught up amidst some of the most fiercely fought wars & political /monarchial skirmishes. Each time, Paris rose to a glory, there were setbacks, and like a proverbial Phoenix, it again rose from its ashes to even greater heights.

Sacre Couer

To me, as we traveled through one of the most tourist friendly city, the charm of this city lies in its deep rooted love for art, culture and freedom. The Renaissance period in Europe and the French Revolution in late 18th century coupled with the ever modern outlook of the Parisians has created a mystical aura for the city.

 Paris Arch De Troimph

A series of monarchies have undoubtedly left its impact on the city’s architecture and yet there is continuity. Despite being a modern Megapolis, the Notre-dame and the Louvre made during 12th to 14th century still look in sync with the the Arch-de-Triumph  and  Pantheon of 18th Century.

 Fountain at Place De La Concorde Paris ls

Even, La Madeleine – a Greek Temple in the middle of Paris built in 18th Century by Napoleon with Corinthian columns – and an Egyptian obelisk in the centre of Place De la Concorde, covered,  with hieroglyphics depicting the great life of the pharaoh Ramses II, just makes the city that much more interesting.

Eiffel clouds

Towering above all these is the Eiffel Tower, reaching out to the clouds in the sky – a perfect vantage point to experience the city.

Paris has a superbly developed infrastructure – capable of taking you with ease from any one place to another. But essentially it must be experienced on foot.

Orchestra in the Garden

Walking through the streets lined with open air cafes, browsing through varied re-prints of art and cityscape,visiting some of the most beautiful parks full of Parisians and the tourists enjoying the summer warmth, one can but not help breathing in the city’s vivacious energy.

Carrousel Arch at Louvre

Various statues & sculpture all around lend their own magic to the city and yet are unable to draw your attention away from the marvelous facades of the buildings around which mesmerize you in.

Louvre facade throiugh Pyramid

And like statistics, what these building hide inside is even more interesting. A must visit on any itinerary are the Louvre, Musee-de-Orsay and a number of other museums – including the ones dedicated to art of eroticism and fake articles!

Inspiration from masters
Though it is Mona-Lisa which is one of the chief attractions for everyone visiting Paris, I found the city a real treasure trove for art lovers.  Rodin’s sculptures, Salvador Dali’s abstract forms, Van Gogh’s poignant history through his painting and Da Vinci’s genius are only a tip of what lies inside these museums – an inspiration always to the current generation of artists.

Artist's Inspirations

As if the days spent in visiting all these are not exciting enough, the evenings of Paris make it further interesting. Sitting in the open air bus and passing through – by now – a well illuminated city – is another sight that cannot be experienced elsewhere in the world. Adding to this is a must visit to any of the well-known cabarets, including Moulin Rouge – the birth place of Can Can dance, to actually experience the meaning of word “Effervescence”.

Lady in Pose Musee D Orsey ls

While, we, the adults, were going gaga over the city, and kids were getting treated to a history and culture lesson, the high point for the kids were the 2 days spent at the Disneyland Paris. In fact, though distinctly not Parisian in style, the Disneyland still manages to be an extension of the city. Roaming inside Disneyland with all kind of joy-rides available around you can bring a child out of an adult too.
 mini-P1020074 ls

For me, despite having spent one full week in Paris, it was just not enough. But for the time being our itinerary was already chalked out and there was no option but to take off to our next destination. I was still hooked on, and yet trying to decipher why Paris is so romantic.


I think the answer lies in the city’s attitude to life - everything in life is a celebration – and a celebration at a grand scale but without pompousness. Hemingway had written if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.

Painting at Louvre 1

Small wonder that another five years have passed since I last saw her and yet, I can still close my eyes and feel the vibrancy and the unmistakable sense of pulsating joy. I am eager to see her again, be with her, explore her nuances, understand the enigma, because for me, my romance with Paris still lingers on…

Apr 18, 2012

Is Jam Ka Nasha Abhi Tak Hai....

(I know the title of this post does sound a bit cheesy but this alone could express my feeling of intoxication about this city whose tale I am going to narrate. I am sure you will get intoxicated too as you read along  & browse through the pictures.)

This was not the first time that I was visiting this city, but was the first one as an urban yayawar!

Unlike a traveler for the purpose of commerce, this time, the perspective was different. Yet, as we reached the town, I was realizing the similarities this city shares with my hometown, Mumbai.

The winter afternoon being used by the people – children, teenagers & adults alike, in playing cricket, resembled any of the numerous gullies of Mumbai. In fact, rather than Mumbai, this city should have been the Mecca of Indian Cricket – what with 2 of the premier national level tournaments named after the great crickters of the country, who happened to be the rulers of this erstwhile
Princely State. But it is not!

It is a lesser known fact, but after Mumbai, this is the only city in India having all three wings of Defense, i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force. However, it still does not get the prominence which Mumbai gets!

As a coastal city, it also could have been the premier port town of the country. No doubt, it is a busy harbour, and ideally located, but a premier port? No, it is not!

Jamanagar Ships

Of course, it is the Oil Town of the country, with world’s largest crude refinery located near the town. Yet, in the world of commerce, the city is not a frontrunner.

And yes, migrants do favour this city, but these are a different variety of migrants - the feathered ones who come flying from far away across the mountains & oceans.

Yes, in a way, this city is almost like Mumbai, but something differentiate it from Mumbai, and how! There is essentially a lazed & laidback kind of ambience that is all pervasive in the city of Jamnagar, an absolute anti-thesis to the urgency led hectic life of Mumbai. Perhaps, despite all the similarities, this alone has somehow ensured that it has not been able to achieve the status of the Mega-city. And that perhaps is the reason why this city is way ahead of Mumbai when it comes to nature-watching, specially birds.


It has been said that when you look at a city, it's like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it. Well, as we approached Jamnagar, with almost 48 hours to spend, before boarding the train back to Mumbai we were looking at our aspirations as the birdwatchers; the hope was that Jamnagar stays true to its much prided reputation amongst birders.

There was a feeling of curiosity & excitement, coupled with the fear of unknown as we went exploring the city & the areas around it. Stating that our aspirations were fulfilled would not be doing justice to the true charms of the city. Jamnagar’s bird population is largely centered around a couple of sanctuaries, away from the city & at the beaches near the mouth of its Ports – Bedi Port & Rozi Port.

At Lakhota Lake - Dalmatians and Cormorants
But unlike other urban areas, the the surprise packages of Jamnagar’s birdlife are the pockets of birdlife within the city. Lakhota Lake, a man- made lake at the heart of the city, & the wasteland near Jamnagar Railway Station allow an eyeful feast of birds for eager watchers.


At both these places, one can get much closer, than any other place in India, to Pelicans, Flamingoes, Cormorants, terns, Ducks & waders – all busy in their own routines. With proximity to the coastal area, as well as shallow fresh water lakes within & outside, the city did look promising. We, out to explore the birdlife, chose Khijadiya & Narara as the preferred destinations.

Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary


In a direction towards Rajkot located at a distance of about 12 km. from Jamnagar lies Khijadiya bird sanctuary. These are two fresh water lakes, which were formed by reclamation bunds. On one side of the bund fresh water lakes are formed by water which drains from Ruparel and Kalinri rivers.

Khijadiya Panorama 2

On the other side of the bund, large creeks flowing from the Gulf of Kutch are located. These creeks support mangroves and other marine vegetations on the Gulf side, thus creating a unique wetland eco-system, found nowhere else in India.

With this kind of diversity in the eco-system, the avifauna life was also of varied nature, where nothing could have looked out of place.


Oriental white-eyes & Paradise Flycatchers were at home as much as the varieties of waders were.


Black Necked Stork flying in a hurry surely was a familiar sight for a mumbaikar, experiencing it everyday as thousands of us hurry through to reach our work stations.

Amidst constant patrolling of sky by the Marsh Harriers, River Terns and Brown Headed Gulls,


Pelicans kept taking off & landing with precision like the huge aircrafts.

Great Crested Grebe, for whom this place is a breeding ground, alongwith cormorants, coots, pochards, teals & pintails using their diving skills for fishing & Indian coursers and larks tilling the field in search of their food at the same location are rare to find, but was a common sight here.

Neelgai_in_jamnagar crop
The wild boars, Neelgais & Jungle cats managed to complete the picture.

Marine National Park - Narara

The earlier winter morning we had headed to Narara Maine Sanctuary, the first ever of its kind in India. Narara is situated at the mouth of Gulf of Kutch, at a distance of 60 kms from Jamnagar. As the tidal water recedes, it leaves behind the mudfats & live corals stretching for almost two kilometers. Though wading through the sea water gets tiring &, with backpacks & a camera, a bit cumbersome, the pleasure of getting close to the marine life makes it really worthwhile.

Just beneath the surface lies the treasure of numerous creatures within reach, including the live sponge, crabs, sea anemones, sea urchins and sea slugs.

Puffer Fish Normal

Puffed Up

Of course, not to forget a variety of fishes - starfish, brittle starfish, puffer fish to name a few, and  


the octopus that could be picked up easily but was difficult to hold onto.

Crab Plover

Naturally, the place is also a hunting ground for a number of waders, storks & herons. The most prized catch though is of Crab-Plovers, a strikingly beautiful coastal bird that is a regular winter visitor to the coasts around Jamnagar.

Western reef Egret

The salt panes around Narara also provide the sightings of birds, including Great White & Dalmatian Pelicans, Black tailed Godwits & Western Reef Egrets.


To all those interested in All Creatures - Great & Small, I would recommend a visit to Narara. Experiencing the marine life from close quarters is an obvious reason for such a visit. But more important, as one stands amidst water with only the shades of blues & whites all around, the soul reaches out in unison to other creatures around, making you feel getting closer to the God. On the second thought, this stands true for the city of Jamnagar itself.


As the train departed for Mumbai at a leisurely pace, the last sight of Jamnagar was the large flock of lesser flamingoes, in their symphony of pink & white. That I was tempted to pull the chain & get down to be left behind among those glorious feathered creatures is stating the obvious. That I did not do it was as much out of fear of breaking the law as much because of the promise to self of visiting this place again..and again.. and again…!!

Mar 9, 2012

Sweetest Songs are those..

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand year

I was not in the hills but I could hear the sound of music in the shaded groves at the bank of the Cauvery at Ranganathittu. The thick canopy formed by a variety of trees had come alive with the constant chirping of the birds when my ears, by now tuned to their sound, picked up a note which was discordant & different. As a bird song goes, this one was not really much to talk about, neither really sounding sweet nor musical in nature  – just an extended chatter kind of. Yet, it was different, and, unlike other sounds, this one sounded very close.

I went about trying to locate the source and noticed him near the jetty at Ranganthittu. He was busy collecting food, a juicy looking & possibly delicious caterpillar from the grass, getting ready for soon to come breeding season, but noticing my presence, he decided to disappear in the bamboos.

Soon his call sounded again– this time much closer, and lo, there he was, just a few steps away from me, on the pathway again looking for the grub. But now instinctively he was keeping an eye on my movement, too, without ceasing to chatter. While I was fascinated with his small and subtle, yet lustrous presence, he was probably very irritated of my intrusiveness. Quite possibly, the initial chattering could have been his way of admonishing me, for my unwittingly having walked into what he thought was his territory.

From whatever this lovely bird was feeling, one thing was clear—having accepted my presence as something unchangeable, he had decided to move on with his life. For him, the moment was important. While being cautious, there was no way he was going to let a mere human being weans him away from his ardent task. Soon, he was hopping from one bough to another, busy chirping & singing, happily & constantly, as he kept looking for & finding juicy morsels.

Talking about the chirping & singing of birds, it was one summer evening in June 1820, when just like me, Percy Shelley, one of the most gifted poets among the English Romantic poets, came across a skylark singing happily. Being the poet and a brilliant wordsmith that Shelley was, this incident led to him penning one of his most cherished poem “To The Skylark” – a poem that expressed his desire of learning from the skylark the art of being happy.

(As a trivia, the poem contains a well known line - Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. More than a century later, in 1953, lyricist Shailendra was inspired by this to pen the mukhda of a Talat Mahmood-Dev Anand classic from Patita: Hain Sabse Madhur Woh geet Jinhe Hum Dard Ke Sur Men Gaate Hain).

While I cannot get you an image of the skylark who inspired Shelly, let me take you back to that beautiful bird who was my companion at Ranganthittu for some time. A  brilliant combination of Blue, Orange & White, he is called Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, named after the wife of Colonel Samuel Richard Tickell, a British Army Officer of 19th century, and himself a well known ornithologist. You can cherish the extracts from “to The Skylark” by Percy Shelley while enjoying the beauty of this lovely bird on the link given below:

Happy weekend



Feb 29, 2012

Dimitri - The Greek Guide

This article is my entry for Around the World with Expedia contest hosted by Indiblogger and

Driver:     (noun) somebody who operates a motor vehicle

Guide :     (noun) somebody who supervises a tour.
(transitive verb)  to steer a vehicle, as well as to help somebody learn something.

Taxi:       (noun) a car, usually with a taximeter, whose driver is paid to transport passengers

What is one word in Greek for all of the above?

Have you turned into compiling a dictionary on your blog or is it some kind of quiz contest?

I was expecting you to ask. No! I have not started compiling a dictionary here, nor is it an effort to showcase my knowledge about the language.  Actually, I am just trying to arrive at the exact role that Dimitri played for us in Athens. 

Dimitri who?

I am sorry, now I have evidently managed to confuse you. Usually I always begin at the beginning, a very good place to start. But today seems to be a day when you find yourself stuck in the middle –perplexed whether to read ahead with a hope that I may clear the confusion or just skip this blog, and find something more interesting.

(with a glare that could kill..) Do you intend to get to the point or should I really find something better to do?

Ok, sorry.  No more diversions. Actually the Expedia ( has organized a competition wherein travel bloggers are required to submit stories on interesting people they have met while travelling in India or abroad. Given this opportunity, it is just fitting that I’d write about Dimitri.

For this let me go back to 2007. We were planning a trip to Europe in May that year & our first halt was scheduled at Athens.

Sir Richard Francis Burton had said - Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. So, glad I was, but, the more I read about Athens, the more I got to know about the infamous Greek taxi drivers and that started worrying me. That is when I came across George the Taxi Driver’s website.

George? I thought you were talking about Dimitri.

(My turn to glare with a look that could kill!) Listen, I am getting to Dimitri, provided you stop interrupting me. 

George & his organization comprising few Greek Taxi Drivers were recommended highly for their skills in ferrying tourists around. After a few email exchanges we asked George to provide us his services during our two days stay in Athens, which he readily agreed to.

So here we were climbing down the stairs of the Hotel at the appointed hour to meet George when I received a call from him. With an impeccable command over English, he apologized, expressing his inability to be our taxi driver personally. However, he had made the necessary arrangements and someone from his team was waiting outside the Hotel with the vehicle. We were a bit disappointed as well as irritated, but there appeared a suave and handsome Greek (‘he looks much better than most of the bollywood heroes’ was whispered aside between my wife & my daughter).

Can I see his picture please?

Sorry, I do not have a picture, but you will have to take my word (rather my wife & daughter's word) for it. However, if you continue reading, I will share some of the pictures that we took during that trip. Now, if I may get back to my blog.

So, this was the beginning of our two days’ association with Dimitri during which he was what a perfect guide should be: A good host, looking after your comfort as a representative of his country, an enjoyable companion, ready to provide you with insights of the land & people who are strange to you; knowing when to keep his counsel & leave you in peace; providing advice when sought, ready with delightful courtesies & surprises.


Dimitri was all of these and much more. He chalked out an interesting itinerary for us over two days, taking us to places like Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio, Epidaurus, Sounion & the City of Athens itself. If his command over the history, geography and the architecture was simply amazing, the effortlessness with which he could explain the difference between Doric, Ionic & Cornthian columns to us or speak to us about the history of Mycenae actually made me wonder why he was not a teacher.


His take on the current Greek politics & economy, which sounded like a local crib to me in 2007, proved to be so insightfully right as the events unfolded in the year 2011.


It was not only his knowledge about his own country that was astonishing. Rather he seemed to be taking equal interest in India. It was he, who actually made me realize the deep rooted connection & similarities that India & Greece – two ancient civilizations – share at the fundamental level – a plethora of Gods for all occasions, the journey of Alexander in his bid to conquer the world, and Democracy.


There is one memory, sharply etched in the depths of my mind, which increased our admiration for Dimitri. He had driven us to the Attica Zoo, a large, delightful zoo. Unaware of how large it would be, we had asked him to wait for us for half an hour, after the course of which we would have returned.


However, time galloped along, and we ended up having taken about 3 hours! After we came out, we found Dimitri patiently waiting for us, in spite of the sweltering heat. He brushed aside our apologies and was eager to show us the rest of his beloved city. Patience was just one, of his most admirable qualities!


While dropping us at the Hotel on our final evening in Athens, he hesitantly brought out a small packet – a gift for my daughter – about 10 years old at that time, an amulet to ward off the evil eye. The gesture was so thoughtful and yet not at all unexpected from Dimitri. As we hugged & parted company, I realized that while he was the perfect host we hardly got to know much about him. It was too late by then to find out. However, I promised myself that sooner or later we will visit Greece again, this time to explore the kingdom of Alexander with the help of Dimitri – my Greek word for a Taxi-driver-cum-guide.