Sep 9, 2013

Verse from a Picture Post-card Land!

FROM a lofty Alpine summit look down upon this land,            
It lies there like a volume all written by God’s hand;                 
The mountains are the letters, as leaves the fields unroll,        
Saint Gothard is only an asterisk in this gigantic scroll.             


Hear how her song magnificent thrills in the beating heart,                             
Freedom! freedom! she sings so that all our pulses start:                        
By heavens! with such a harmony never sang daughters of earth,          
And they who join in the chorus are surely of heavenly birth
~ Count Anton Alexander von Auersperg


Have you ever been on the receiving end of picture post-cards – sometimes carrying a detailed message – sometime a brief one? Possibly, could you be one of those who take time out to buy picture post-cards at whichever place you visit, and promptly send to all the near & dear ones (just to make it clear – to the ones not travelling with you; you would agree it would be useless spending money for sending such post cards to your fellow travellers!)?


Well, either way, irrespective of the length of the message scrolled at the back of the post card, a common way to end these is with a simple “Wish you were here”!

Now imagine, you get to enter into one such picture post-cards.

Difficult to imagine? I am sure your answer would be, No! After all imagination is something all of us human beings are comfortably capable of.

Possible to enter such picture post-cards? For a muggle, not a believer in the magic world of Harry Potter, if you are a polite person, your answer would be an emphatic NO. For those otherwise inclined, the counter-question to me would be, have you gone off in your head?


Well, not really, because I have been into a land which is nothing short of a picture post-card.

As a result, when those nice people at  decided to run this contest called "Creating Happy Travellers", I could think of no other place but this one.

Land-locked, situated at a height amidst the mountainous region of Alps and its valleys, here exists a part of this earth, which is nothing short of natural beauty personified, and further enhanced by human efforts. This is a country, which Bollywood has made us Indians dream of romancing in.

Yes, this is about Switzerland – A country which inspired Thomas Campbell to go absolutely lyrical as he wrote

It was Sunset, ……
And lights were o’er the Helvetian mountains flung,                    
That gave the glacier tops their richest glow,                                   
And tinged the lakes like molten gold below.                                  

At The foot of Mountains
Earth’s features so harmoniously were linked,                             
She seemed one great glad form, with life instinct,                    
That felt Heaven’s ardent breath, and smiled below                  
Its flush of love, with consentaneous glow.                                   


Switzerland is where the nature can be seen in its resplendent glory – perhaps because the human beings have respected it enough and have styled their life so as to preserve its bounty. Be it snow-clad mountain peaks or the valleys – ever smiling in the language of flowers or the huge lakes inviting those at the banks to take a cruise to experience how free breeze feels like; Switzerland has it all, like the garden of Eden, without a lurking snake though, for making an entire family happy.


The best way to tour this lovely country is through its vast & very efficient rail network – whose punctuality & cleaniliness could come as a shock to most of us Indians. (Ain ji, trainen itni saaf bhi ho sakti hain?).

So, this is what we would do first, to pick up a Swiss rail pass for the family, and then, off we go, to celebrate a vacation that has no parallel in the world.


Running through the length & breadth as well as height & depth of this lovely country, the railways, literally, takes you to the places. In the process, they cross mountains, go through innumerable tunnels, run along the stream at a moment and suddenly taking you to the heights. 


If you find time from the pampering that the train staff gives you, including providing a live music performance, the view outside could be as varied as from the view of lake & mountains overlooking the train to the train overlooking a street where houses resemble a Lego-land.


Of course, each journey needs to have a purpose or a destination. An ideal destination to begin this happiness journey would be the Swiss Miniatur, a theme park located in Lugano, which provides you, at one place, all the attractions of Switzerland – in miniature form.


Lugano also provides one of the best vantage point for the breath-taking  landscape of southern Switzerland with a lake straddled by the mountains on one side, and a bi-secting drive through that takes you further down into Italy. 


The view, available from San Salvatore, can be accessed by reaching the top through a funicular - which while taking you to the top, also provides a lovely view of the Lugano town.


Situated amidst Alps, the country naturally provide a choice to those who are interested in experiencing being on top of the snow-clad mountains - without having mountaineering skills & the preferred destinations are Mount Titlis & Jungfrau. 


Of course, for those, inclined for a bit more adventure, there are also opportunities to go for skiing destination around. The truth is, a few hours spent in those lovely mountains can create an impression that may last lifelong, and no one would be surprised by your reciting the poem by Johann Uhland:

The mountain is my own domain:
It calls its storms from sea and plain;
From north to south they howl afar;
My voice is heard amid their war.
      The mountain boy am I!


If the end of one of the most ardous rail journeys in the world through these mountains has left you tired, there is always a cruise through lake Lucern, to refresh the body and the mind.

Lucern lake and the city at its banks, is one one of the most romantic locations in Switzerland, inspiring someone like William Bowles to write:

SHORES of Lucerne! where many a winding bay      
Shone beauteous to the morn’s returning ray;     
Where rosy tints upon the blue lake shone,         
And touched the rock with colors not their own;      

P1020315 Bridge at Lucern

A perfect trip any day would end with a stroll around one of numerous small lakes, with setting sun, spraying its beams, making the shadows longer. Yet, in a land like this, melancholy would be far, far away


These scenes, these sounds,
could many a joy impart,
With sadness mixed.
The wandering youth, whose heart
Was sick with many sorrows,
resting here At such an hour,
forgot his starting tear;

This setting Sun, would be the cue for me to send a picture post-card from this land of beauty to all you at and the only thing scrolled at the back of the card would be:

Thank you for making me go down my memory lane for taking this journey. 

Wish, you were here too!

Jun 9, 2013

Main Ek Baadal Awaara..

(This is second part of the two part blog wherein I have tried to capture, through words and images, my fascination & passion for the season of rains - specially in parts of Western Ghat. The full article has been published in Terrascape's June 2013 issue).

The clouds gather over the sky – the storm matched the rains. Lightning and thunder wouldn’t  stop. I am writing in candlelight with the window partially open. But within me there is great joy – in the force of the storm, in the shadow of the clouds, in the sound of the thunder, a deep wave rises in my heart. I feel like doing something – at least think of an impossible imaginary event.

This was Tagore, in one of his letters, written obviously on one of the rainy days. As I woke up today morning, the mood outside my window was similar, and hence an impossible imaginary is what I would love to indulge in – becoming a yayawar raincloud straight out of Wordsworth’s poem, wandering with the breeze, travelling to the nooks and corners – nay, peaks & valleys of the mesmerizing Western Ghats.

For a traffic-harried Mumbaikar, looking for a quick recharge, around Mumbai itself, there are numerous opportunities to enjoy the season; 

It could be taking a therapeutic and soul-cleansing shower under the numerous waterfalls that dot the landscape around Mumbai by mid-Monsoon season;


Or trekking to any of the innumerable peaks around where journeying through a green carpet is as enjoyable as exhilarating it is to reach the top of the peak - making one really experience what the phrase 'joie-de-vivre' really means.

05_08_20129436023668 C

Of course, the top of these treks, also provide a panoramic view of the natural beauty around - giving one the understanding of the magical transformation that raindrops - the harbinger of life, unravels on the earth.

 Sarasgadh Panorama 2_1

My preferred destination, though, if I were really a cloud, and could travel at the speed of the thought, around Mumbai would be the undulating land-mass around Wada & Vikramgadh and see the rain creating an outpour of streams that gush through the field, dry & dusty just a few days ago, but now with the balmy weather, creating a perfect place for lounging as nothingness all around just envelops you. I have not heard the sound of raindrops falling as distinctly anywhere else.

P1250905 Crop

With the wind changing its direction, this cloud could drift towards Konkan, remembering Uran which, before its demise, was a place with juxtapositions; a perfect setting for the monsoon to showcase its charm:  a village resembling an extended family of a metropolis; being closer to JNPT port leading to loads of heavy traffic, including goods trains. Yet, just crossing the railway tracks could unravel the vast open tracts so serene that it percolated deep down in you. 

Uran on a _Rainy_Day

Rains would make this landscape absolutely right for an artist to indulge in her art – painting, composing music, photography, dancing, nothing would have looked out of place here. A few showers could bring Uran alive every monsoon till a couple of years ago, man’s hunger for constant growth & development slowly led to its life ebbing away - forever now.

Uran Final Days

The Monsoon is no time however to be melancholic; rather it is the season to rejoice & engage in fun & frolic, the way nature does. This is the time when the paddy fields colour the earth in all possible shades of green, the reddishness of the earth more pronounced, ponds reflect the clouded sky, while the clouds reflect the Sun-rays through a rainbow, all adding to the reverie that Monsoon engulfs you in. 


A perfect morning after a good overnight pouring of rains unveils a scape which is difficult for me to describe. So, let me paraphrase Dickens:

Heaven above was blue, speckled with cotton white clouds, and earth beneath was green; the water in the lake glistened like a path of diamonds in the sun; the black-winged stilts poured forth their chatter across the ponds; occasional flocks of birds soared high above the reeds; their clamour filling the air.

Early Morning post overnight rain

While this imaginary cloud travels to southmost part of India, the continuing shower outside take me back to Gibran’s  Song of rain:

I am dotted silver threads dropped from heaven
By the gods. Nature then takes me, to adorn
Her fields and valleys.
I am beautiful pearls, plucked from the
Crown of Ishtar by the daughter of Dawn
To embellish the gardens.

Rain waterfall Crop

Heaven is where the rain drops from, to the parched earth, and heavenly it is in God’s own country – Kerala. I see no exaggeration in the tagline that promotes tourism in Kerala, and how can I, one who loves rain so much.

Kerala receives rain from the advancing monsoon, from the retreating one too, and also in between. For that matter, the rain clouds are the visitor almost all through the year. Now this is the kind of pouring that keeps the state clean & temperature cooler than what it would have been – lying so close to equator. It also feeds generously the eco-system comprising of perennial waterfalls, rivers, backwaters and highlands of Western ghats, all sloping down towards Arabian sea to its west, beckoning bewitchingly to the tourists. 

A Walk in the clouds in Kerala
It is difficult to decide a perfect pastime for a rainy day in Kerala, as the choices are many: Just driving through the clouds in the hills;  lounging the day away into a hammock on a beach or taking a safari through Periyar river, enjoying its wildlife;

Seeking out Frog-mouths & Malabar Trogons in elephants infested forest of Thattekkad;


Waking up to the soothing singing sounds of Malabar Whistling Thrush with clouds perched atop my balcony;


Strolling with an umbrella and plucking leaves for the next pot of tea from a tea-garden, or the lazybone that I am, just retiring into the valleys to understand what Gulzar meant when he wrote – waadi men goonjti hui khamoshiyan sunen.


Of course, when it is the season of rain, I find plenty of choices of destinations - most of them yet to be explored by me. I do look forward to the journeys to those, hoping to  experience another facet of the country in the monsoon. The desire is to travel and wake up yet another morning in yet another place listening to the distant thunders & raindrops falling on the roof, bringing alive once again the Song of Rain:

I am the sigh of the sea;
The laughter of the field;
The tears of heaven.
So with love -
Sighs from the deep sea of affection;
Laughter from the colorful field of the spirit;
Tears from the endless heaven of memories.

Jun 2, 2013

Sun, Sun, Sun, Barsaat ki Dhun...

The year was…! To be truthful, there was nothing much special to differentiate the year. It could have been any of the years of 70s. The month was of June - the early days of June. This train was chugging along, with a growing up boy sitting in the 3rd class hot and humid compartment, peeping out of the window at the world going by the tracks - a ritual he had got habituated to. The summer vacations would take him to the towns in Rajasthan & Uttar Pradesh, to his grandparents & to be a part of a horde of cousins. Away from the school, those were the few weeks every year which he looked forward to. Returning home now with the heavy heart, missing his time with cousins, he was dreading the opening days of his school.

As the train sped along, the changing landscape outside improved his mood. The fields were greener with well-filled water bodies. The horizon was getting darker, despite it being early part of the day, the air was cooler and wet, pleasing petrichor whiffs arising out of raindrops falling on dry earth refreshing his soul. Excitedly he called out – Maa, Baarish ho rahi hai....Bambai aa gaya!!!


That child was me, and the rains were what made Bombay special for me. This was much before Bombay became Mumbai, and of course, much before I got acquainted with Gibran & his Song of Rain, else I would have recited:

I emerge from the heart of the sea
Soar with the breeze. When I see a field in
Need, I descend and embrace the flowers and
The trees in a million little ways.
I touch gently at the windows with my
Soft fingers, and my announcement is a
Welcome song. All can hear, but only
The sensitive can understand.

Rain Forest

Rain was a savior for me because, during the vacation in Northern India, enjoying those juicy & delicious summer fruits, devouring the spicy & sinful chaats and desserts, being outplayed in every sport by those taller & better built cousins, for me, a child living in that filmy city Mumbai, there was very little I could boast of about the city. Except, Mumbai’s local trains, the film stars (I see Amitabh outside his Bungalow everyday – was one of oft-repeated boasts) and the rains. We get rains first, for longer period & more than what you can even dream of – was one of the constant refrain.  

Joy of monsoon

I was in love with the season of monsoon – getting unexpected holidays due to water-logging that rain would bring, wading through the water, sometimes knee-deep, enjoying those barbequed Corn cobs & the pakodas, trying to catch the crabs & tadpoles, playing gully cricket with rubber balls on the wet pacy tarred roads hoping to be ready to face the pacers of Australia & West Indies someday, were just a few of the indulgences. If these sounded like a typical urban monsoon life, reaching out to the nature was not too far:  getting drenched under the seasonal waterfalls at Powai & Vihar Lake & trekking through the green lungs of Mumbai –Aarey Colony & Sanjay Gandhi National park, were the perennial favourites.

Freshly Showered

 In love I am still with the season of clouds and look forward to its onset, using any opportunity to get drenched in the rain though not as persistent as Alexander Frater who chased the Monsoon from the southernmost tip of India till Cherrapunzi.

However, my travels over last few years have made me realize that starting from the southern end of Gujarat to Kerala, there exists a landscape, though increasingly dotted with concrete jungle, that is beautiful always, and becoming more so when it rains. Proverbially, over here, normally it does not rain, rather it pours, creating a magic that is difficult to be contained in words though I will give it a shot (albeit in next post on this blog) - and hope that like a parched earth looking towards the cloudless sky, awaiting the rain, you will be indulgent enough to look forward to my travelogue through the western ghats.

Mar 4, 2013

Mohabbat to Ik Jaaveda Zindagi Hai..

The day had begun well. Flight had left Mumbai on schedule. Captain had already made his customary announcement from flight deck. The air hostesses, an efficient bunch - and pretty too, had completed the serving of breakfast. If this was not enough, my customary cup of morning coffee had further added to mellowing of the mood, when I peeped out of the aircraft window. Cruising at an altitude of 30000 ft watching the Sun rays reflecting on the clouds below was a sight to behold, and the jukebox on my laptop chose that moment to play Jaaveda Zindagi, a beautiful song talking about love that is an eternal life itself.

Shama ko Pighalne ka Armaan kyun hai..
Patange ko Jalne ka Armaan kyun hai
Isi shauq ka imtehaan zindagi hai

With me way above the clouds, my mind wondered about the idea of “love” itself. (I suspect, those pretty faces around may have contributed a bit to such musings!) 
All religions talk about love and so does all cultures. Yet there is an essential difference. The love which religions talk about is existential, while the cultures – despite deriving themselves out of religions, propagate the love which was limited in its approach. Whatever be the reason for this, as rightly pointed out by Osho, this led to the categorization of the love and in the bargain converted a deep divine emotion into a single layered feeling. 

Love, rather than being a verb, generally has been treated as a noun, and hence an object. Love became what could be desired, what could be attained and possessed. And here we, the human beings lost out on the love which could be eternal.

It would remain so till we decide to peel the layer, go beyond the possessions and explore its other dimensions. This is the dimensions that the sufis spoke about. But much before the Sufis, our own mythology spoke about Radha & Krishna for whom love was not an object; rather it was an act of immersing oneself for the beloved, without seeking fulfillment or reciprocation.

 31_01_20133927035446 C

Such was the love which Gibran described so succinctly:

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

31_01_20133920035439 C clouds sepia

As I continued watching the resplendent play of sunlit sky on the clouds, I thought of the true eternal love – that of the Sun & the Earth. The love about which Hafiz wrote:

Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth,
"You owe me."
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.

So here is to the love that is an act of bringing humans close, an act born not out of demand; but rather of remaining aflame so as to provide light to the beloved.