Marvelous Melbourne

MelbourneG’Day, Mate!
These were the first words I heard as we stepped out of the Melbourne airport. As our heads turned to this cheerful
voice, a cabby stood beaming at my husband greeting in distinctive Australian style. We cheered back “Hello Melbourne!” and rolled our trolleys to the car park where our dear friend Andrew was waiting in his favourite multihued car to take us to his home.
Who should go to Melbourne? City Lovers, Romantic Couples, Beach Lovers, History Buff, Culture Seeker
Australia’s second city boasts plenty of first-class attributes, from its thriving arts scene to its tantalizing variety of ethnic cuisines.

“Nature has done everything for Sydney, man nothing; man has done everything for Melbourne, nature nothing,” a friend from the US to this antipode once noted. The glib witticism nevertheless captures an essential difference between Australia’s two largest cities. Melbourne may have grayer skies, and a muddy river in lieu of a glistening harbor, but no matter—nature’s withheld bounty has motivated Melbourne’s citizens to cultivate man-made pleasures. Hence the city’s reputation as Australia’s cultural capital. Theater, music, street sculpture, fashion, and other forms of artistic expression thrive here, alongside a cosmopolitan mix of cafés, restaurants, and pubs.

 Quip aside, nature has not completely ignored Melbourne. More than a quarter of the city luxuriates in verdant parks and colourful gardens. Though here again, the hand of man proves instrumental, for the jewel in the crown remains the 88-acre Royal Botanic Gardens, a splendid example of 19th-century English landscaping.
Melbourne is gifted with leafy parks and gardens. Vast and verdant, the manicured lawns and floral displays are scattered with elegant gazebos, cooling fountains and theatrical statues and structures. What’s more, they’re all within walking distance of the city and cost nothing to visit.
The Royal Botanic Gardens is considered to be one of the most significant botanical gardens in Australia. Its wide paths curve around sweeping lawns planted with thousands of plant specimens, a fern gully sits beneath a rainforest canopy and an artificial ornamental lake supports flocks of waterfowl.

Melbourne’s distinctive electric trams, stately Victorian buildings, and stylish wrought iron designs every where also evoke a European ambience. Immigrants, for their part, introduced continental pastimes: Yet, this being Australia, the city’s sophistication is offset by a refreshingly relaxed attitude.
Melbourne is a city of neighborhoods. Italian or Chinese, groovy or chic, bohemian or beach side—Melbourne has them all. Each has its own character instilled by the type of people who live and work there—émigrés from all over the world who have brought their customs, beliefs, businesses, food, art and style to the city. Nowhere have Melbourne’s successive waves of immigrants exerted more influence than in the city’s kitchens. One can dine out every night for a month without crossing the same cuisine twice, Food hubs include Chinatown (Little Bourke Street in central Melbourne) and Little Italy (Lygon Street in the suburb of Carlton), as well as Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street, renowned for its wide range of “multi-culti” fare. Distinctive cafés dot streets and alleys throughout the city. This multicultural city of almost three-and-a-half-million people is bisected by the Yarra River, near the point where it empties into the vast Port Phillip Bay, along Australia’s southeastern coast. Most attractions can be reached on foot or by tram.
Melbourne reveals its soul at street level. Pick up a self-guided heritage walking tour brochure, or join one of the many guided walking tours, with themes ranging from pubs to Aboriginal traditions.  World-class art hangs on the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria. Check out underwater Australiana, in the form of sharks, coral, and other marine life, at the Melbourne Aquarium. First-time Australia visitors (and especially their kids) might also appreciate the animal and Aboriginal culture exhibits and interactive displays at the new Melbourne Museum. Gain insight into this city’s obsession at the Australian Gallery of Sport, housed within the country’s most hallowed sporting venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

This city is, quite simply, a shopper’s dream. Melbourne’s gracious covered shopping arcades date from another era but sell up-to-the-minute goods, from urban street wear to sophisticated clothing, accessories, and gifts. International designers draw shoppers to the rather ambitiously named “Paris End” of Collins Street; check out the imaginative fashions at the New Zealand- based Zambesi shop. Boutiques on South Yarra’s elegant Toorak Road and swanky Chapel Street (the latter includes Australian fashion icon Collette Dinnigan’s feminine creations) attract the well-heeled crowd.                                                                 Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia
With more than 1,000 traders and spanning 17 acres the Queen Victoria Market is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. Whether one is looking for tasting wines, or shopping for Aboriginal art and didgeridoos, this 129-year-old market has it all. Open every day except Monday, Wednesday, and major holidays.

In the past couple of years, the number of Melbourne hotel rooms has increased significantly. Notable newcomers include the boutique Hotel Lindrum, decorated in inviting, neutral colors; the large, luxurious Quay West Suites; and The Prince, comprising 40 modern-decor rooms in a landmark art-deco complex at the beach front suburb of St. Kilda. The echoes of an earlier era resonate at The Windsor, Melbourne’s last remaining grand Victorian hotel.
DRIVE TO NEAR BY PLACES FROM MELBOURNE. and drove back
(soaking up the phenomenal views) along the most amazing Great Ocean Road. Down the Great Ocean Road trip back, I stopped to savor places like Loch Ard Gorge (where they did “The Tempest” on the beach), the amazing Twelve Apostles rock formations,  Apollo Bay … and so much more. I have not been to Sydney yet, but folks in Melbourne were exceptionally nice.
Melbourne is a great city for meandering around too and seeing whatever comes on the way. We got to see so much – historic swimming holes, Aboriginal meeting places, old boathouses. For those who like bike riding Melbourne’s bike tracks are excellent. I had great fun wandering around the old strip-shopping streets. They are rich with the flavors of the different migrant groups that have set themselves up here. Auckland Street, St Kilda; Sydney Road, Brunswick; Victoria Street, Richmond, Carlton; Hopkins Street, they showcase the multicultural side of Melbourne, great for shopping, inexpensive food, or just exploring.

I was privileged to be able to spend a week in Melbourne on my first holiday to Australia and I instantly fell  in love with this city.  Everything in Melbourne made me feel at home.  It’s charming yet sophisticated, its casual yet chic.  I would never imagine visiting Australia without reserving few days for Melbourne.  I highly recommend this charming beach town.See you in Sydney soon…

Fact File

Although Melbourne’s weather remains notoriously unpredictable, the climate rarely hits extremes:  High temperatures average in the mid-50s (°F) in winter (June-Aug.) and in the upper 70s in summer (Dec.-Feb.).

 

AUSTRALIA -Ocean12: Apostles

During our first visit to Melbourne, Australia, when I heard someone mention the words “Twelve Apostles” at the tourism centre, the first thought that crossed my mind was of Jesus and his twelve apostles. Soon I discovered that they were talking about beautiful natural formations of lime stones on the picturesque Grand ocean road. As we both love long drives we instantly booked our seats in a coach leaving the next morning for “The Twelve Apostles”.

We left Melbourne next day and drove for about 5 hours along The Great Ocean Road to reach the twelve apostles by the evening as we were told that view during sunset was a not to be missed event there. Along this route were plenty of opportunities to stop, take pictures and admire the wonders of coastal erosion in the form of famous formations such as the 12 Apostles, London Bridge, Blow Holes, caves and steep cliffs. The drive itself was so exhilarating that we totally lost sense of time through out the journey

The Twelve Apostles are between the towns of Port Campbell and Prince town on the Great Ocean Road. These are limestone sculptures located along the spectacular Great Ocean Road, Victoria. The road itself is 400km long and follows the beautiful Victorian coastline through Port Campbell National Park and beyond to WarrAustralia Snambool.

The Apostles had their beginnings up to 20 million years ago with the forces of nature attacking the soft limestone of the Port Campbell cliffs. The limestone was created through the build up of skeletons of marine creatures on the sea floor. As the sea retreated, the limestone was exposed. The relentless, stormy Southern Ocean, the blasting winds and the constant action of the sea on the limestone slowly wore down the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed, rock islands up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore gradually leaving individual rocks. The cliff is still being eroded at a rate of about 2 cm each year, and in the future is likely to form more ‘Apostles’ from the other rocky headlands that line the Victorian coastline.

Originally they were named the ‘Sow and Piglets’. The Sow was Mutton-bird Island, with the piglets being the smaller surrounding rocks. The name was changed in the 1950s to the more majestic “The Twelve Apostles” to lure more visitors. Over a period of time even a few of them have fallen over entirely as waves continually erode their bases. A 50-metre tall Apostle collapsed on the 3rd July, 2005, which was just a day before our visit. Now there are only eight Apostles left standing.

In the early 2000s a visitor centre was built on the inland side of the road, to allow for easy parking and access to the best viewing area. Visitors to the Twelve Apostles begin their remarkable experience of the towering rock stacks from the interpretative centre. The $5.5 million centre has been designed to blend into the local environment and caters for more than one million people who annually visit the area. A tunnel through which we walked takes you under the Great Ocean Road to the viewing platforms. Extensive board walks and viewing platforms ensure visitors experience sweeping, awe-inspiring vistas and with perfect photo opportunities.

While any time of day provides great views, sunrise and sunset are particularly spectacular for the blazing hues created by rays of the Sun. We were there for an hour or so as the sun sank into the roaring ocean and the light changed, and brought a magic to the scene.

It really was great fun travelling along this route as the scenery was spectacular and there were plenty of great places to stop along the way

I also would like to emphasize that it was worth any amount of driving to get to this sea side and the apostles, in its scale and magnificence, an oceanic grand canyon.

 

During our first visit to Melbourne, Australia, when I heard someone mention the words “Twelve Apostles” at the tourism centre, the first thought that crossed my mind was of Jesus and his twelve apostles. Soon I discovered that they were talking about beautiful natural formations of lime stones on the picturesque Grand ocean road. As we both love long drives we instantly booked our seats in a coach leaving the next morning for “The Twelve Apostles”.

We left Melbourne next day and drove for about 5 hours along The Great Ocean Road to reach the twelve apostles by the evening as we were told that view during sunset was a not to be missed event there. Along this route were plenty of opportunities to stop, take pictures and admire the wonders of coastal erosion in the form of famous formations such as the 12 Apostles, London Bridge, Blow Holes, caves and steep cliffs. The drive itself was so exhilarating that we totally lost sense of time through out the journey

The Twelve Apostles are between the towns of Port Campbell and Prince town on the Great Ocean Road. These are limestone sculptures located along the spectacular Great Ocean Road, Victoria. The road itself is 400km long and follows the beautiful Victorian coastline through Port Campbell National Park and beyond to Warrnambool.

The Apostles had their beginnings up to 20 million years ago with the forces of nature attacking the soft limestone of the Port Campbell cliffs. The limestone was created through the build up of skeletons of marine creatures on the sea floor. As the sea retreated, the limestone was exposed. The relentless, stormy Southern Ocean, the blasting winds and the constant action of the sea on the limestone slowly wore down the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed, rock islands up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore gradually leaving individual rocks. The cliff is still being eroded at a rate of about 2 cm each year, and in the future is likely to form more ‘Apostles’ from the other rocky headlands that line the Victorian coastline.

Originally they were named the ‘Sow and Piglets’. The Sow was Mutton-bird Island, with the piglets being the smaller surrounding rocks. The name was changed in the 1950s to the more majestic “The Twelve Apostles” to lure more visitors. Over a period of time even a few of them have fallen over entirely as waves continually erode their bases. A 50-metre tall Apostle collapsed on the 3rd July, 2005, which was just a day before our visit. Now there are only eight Apostles left standing.

In the early 2000s a visitor centre was built on the inland side of the road, to allow for easy parking and access to the best viewing area. Visitors to the Twelve Apostles begin their remarkable experience of the towering rock stacks from the interpretative centre. The $5.5 million centre has been designed to blend into the local environment and caters for more than one million people who annually visit the area. A tunnel through which we walked takes you under the Great Ocean Road to the viewing platforms. Extensive boardwalks and viewing platforms ensure visitors experience sweeping, awe-inspiring vistas and with perfect photo opportunities.

While anytime of day provides great views, sunrise and sunset are particularly spectacular for the blazing hues created by rays of the Sun. We were there for an hour or so as the sun sank into the roaring ocean and the light changed, and brought a magic to the scene.

It really was great fun traveling along this route as the scenery was spectacular and there were plenty of great places to stop along the way

I also would like to emphasize that it was worth any amount of driving to get to this sea side and the apostles, in its scale and magnificence, an oceanic grand canyon.

Roman Holiday

06091187 - Copy Rome – The name evokes emotions much before one even thinks of stepping into its 2700 years of amazing history. Pretty much everyone enters Rome with a wealth of information, imagery and anecdotes of its famed monuments and the protagonists of its history. Perhaps this is the key to the charm of a city that seems to attract every visitor to feel part of its complex reality and its millennial history. Years ago, a dear friend of mine had invited me to holiday in his home in Rome. What’s more, he had also presented me a beautiful pictographic book on Rome to tempt me to visit & explore this fascinating city and to build my own depiction of it in an exciting and evocative voyage.
As soon as we drove in to Rome we parked our car at the friend’s home and used by and large the metro & buses for all sight-seeing, as driving here is hairy in the extreme and parking a nightmare. In Rome, it pays to just to get off the roads as the historic centre is relatively small and quite manageable on foot.  As we arrived on a pleasant October evening we stepped out instantly to get a feel of the city and to grab some authentic Italian pizzas and gelatos.
On our way back  as we strolled through the streets all I could find myself doing was humming Dean Martin’s ‘On An Evening In Roma’. Though I was walking with my family yet I found myself just floating  on my own, humming to myself, looking around, soaking it all in.
Next morning we set out for the eternal symbol of Rome, the Colosseum.  An architectural marvel of antiquity, Colosseum is an amphitheatre built for entertainment with gladiators and wild animals. Romans erected it in 8 years (72-80 AD). The 70.000 spectators that it could hold entered through the 80 arches at street level and could see the hunts with wild animals, executions of condemned criminals and gladiator combats. The underground section at the centre of the arena was used to keep the animals in cages. Until one is inside the Colosseum, its scale just isn’t apparent.  Everything is huge. This entire journal is an understatement for what we saw, the heights of history, art and romance, one of the zeniths of past civilizations in the world. Walking through the corridors of the
 
Colosseum I couldn’t help noticing its ambiguous and almost paradoxical attraction as on one hand it seemed to represent the best of the Roman civilization in the grandiosity of its architecture and on the other it seemed to convey its darker side in the cruelty of the shows that were offered here. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Treading along a few streets, almost completely by accident we stumbled upon the Pantheon, the sheer size of it completely took my breath away! Pantheon nearly resembles the fascia of a Greek temple while the interior is designed as a sphere inserted in a cylinder; the diameter and the height of the dome are identical, both measuring 43,30m. The Pantheon is also the burial place of the Italian royal family and of Raphael. It is amazing to observe the manner in which Rome has grown through the centuries around the Pantheon, incorporating and preserving it at the heart of its existence. Pantheon, built 1800 years ago, we were told is also a popular meeting place for both Romans & tourists, allowing people to perceive the presence of the many generations who have done the same in the past.
 
I believe in terms of historical sights Rome outshines every other place in Italy. Along every street there seems to be a 2000+ year old wall, church, monument or pile of rubble. The old adage states that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and I’d like to also add that one needs minimum ten days to see it all. Actually one can spend one’s whole life in Rome and still won’t be able to see everything there’s to offer. Though Rome is a vast city, the historic centre is quite small. Most of the major sights are within short distance from the central railway station, Stazione Termini facilitating one to walk from the Colosseum through the Forum up to Piazza di Spagna in few hours. All the major monuments are west of the train station and it is pretty easy to walk around with the use of a map. But even if one is lost in this city, one can turn around any corner and see something that’s two thousand years old right on the  face. 
That’s exactly how we came across the Trevi Fountain. A few moments ago, while walking on an adjacent street we heard some sound of water in the proximity. Just one turn around the corner, this magnificent fountain appeared as if a curtain was lifted in front of our eyes. Designed in the 18th century and built over thirty years, the Trevi Fountain is the celebration of water as a symbol of life, health and change.
 
 
 
Our next stop was another legendary meeting place for both Romans and tourists, Piazza di Spagna, famous for its theatrical staircase. The 138 steps in the staircase are animated by terraces and curved sections that create the effect of a waterfall precipitating into the square below. The Fountain of the Barcaccia represents a sinking boat placed in a low basin. At the top of the Spanish Steps is the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The streets that host the most significant fashion shops leaving a mark on the history and the culture of Rome depart in rays from Piazza di Spagna. 
 In the 17th century, when Palazzo Monaldeschi became seat of the Spanish Embassy, the square got the name Piazza di Spagna. That twilight was very lovely! We walked down the Spanish Steps and spent few hours just admiring, relishing the moments and trying to capture every magical moment on our cameras.
 
 
 
 
The city’s Metro service is convenient for many of Rome’s sights and a bus ticket is also valid for the city’s Metro and train services. One needs to buy one’s ticket from a news stand or vending machine before getting on a train or a bus. Besides one can pick up a cab from one of the city’s many taxi ranks or phone one any time of day. But taxis are notoriously expensive and if one calls a cab, the meter is turned on as soon as you call, rather than when you are picked up. One can’t miss noticing the speeding scooters with more women riders than men on the modern Italian roads. It’s interesting to see them wearing big sunglasses covering more than half of their faces. 
A few minutes of walk brought us to the Roman Forum, the most important archaeological area in Rome, extending from the Capitol Hill to the Palatine. As far back as the 7th century B.C., the Forum was the centre of political, commercial and religious life. This was where the political, religious and commercial activities of ancient Rome took place. It’s truly amazing how much history this city has and how much is still preserved!   
 
 
 
 
 
 
Entire day, we walked around Roma, taking in the sights., threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, hugged a column at the Pantheon, walked through the Piazza Navona, and had a nice Italian feast in an Italian ristorante!!
A narrative on Rome won’t be complete without mentioning its pick pockets. Like many big cities Rome has a lot of pick pockets and thieves. Just have to be extremely cautious especially when in the public bus, on the streets or at the train station. The best way is to keep money in unusual places like in belts or in body pouches. Budget the expenses for the day, spread it in different pockets and use each pocket one by on as the need arises. I’d recommend all to carry an international credit card to avoid carrying more than a handful of Euros, for some small cafes and pizzerias will only accept cash but ATMs are widespread and easy to use.  Banks and post offices are the most reliable places to change traveler’s cheques and generally offer the best rates; Credit cards are widely accepted in Italy. 
 
 
 
One has to climb the famous capitol steps designed by Michelangelo to get an idea of the extension of the Roman forum and what it has been used for. In antiquity it was the centre of religious life in Rome and the site of several very important sanctuaries and temples. Today the Capitoline Hill is the centre of the municipal government of Rome, which is housed in renaissance palaces. The site is an important monument to renaissance art and architecture. From here we admired the sculptures of Castor and Polux with their horses. The ‘Piazza’ where these sculptures sit was also designed by Michaelangelo… The Capitoline Picture Gallery contains over 200 paintings from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The square is dominated by a copy of the bronze equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius and the elegant plinth was designed by Michelangelo.
A new passageway connects Piazza del Campidoglio to the terraces of the Vittoriano which offer a breathtaking view of the city, is now completely open to the public free of charge, including the Museum-Sanctuary of the Flags of the Armed Forces and the Museum of the Risorgimento that are housed in its interior. 
The icing on the cake was the evening double-decker bus ride that we did on the last day of our stay for a panoramic view of Rome. Unquestionably a pleasant way of to feel and get a sense of the essence of the “Eternity” of Rome: the historical continuity between the past and the present in an urban space in which monuments and buildings built in different periods coexist side by side.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 CLIMATE
Rome’s mild climate makes it comfortable to visit year-round; however, spring and autumn are without doubt the best times to visit, with generally sunny skies and mild temperatures (although late autumn, November, can be rainy). July and August are unpleasantly hot; from December to February there is briskly cold weather, although it’s rarely grey and gloomy.
Getting There and Around
Also known as Fiumicino, Leonardo da Vinci is Rome’s main airport, 26km southwest of the city. One of the most convenient ways to get into town is by the Stazione Termini direct train, which usually runs hourly from the airport.

Kashmir – The paradise on Earth

Published in: “Asian Photography June 2007   http://www.asianphotographyindia .com  as well as in Planet Powai magazine.

 At the sea behind NCPAAs a school girl I learnt about the “Paradise on earth” which is our very own Kashmir. Of Kashmir, it was said,  “Gar bar-ru-e-zamin ast; hamin ast, hamin ast, hamin asto!” (“If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!”). Now let me share the exhilaration we experienced holidaying in Kashmir. I’ve heard that a visit to Kashmir can partition one’s life into two halves- before and after Kashmir. True indeed, after a trip to this unforgettable land, one is never quite the same again.

Srinagar can be reached by air from Delhi or by road or by train. The nearest rail head Jammu is 300 kms away. By road from Jammu, the hills of Kud, Patnitop and Batote fall en route. This 293 km long journey passes through very picturesque landscape.                                                                                                                                          

The enchantment began when our plane glided through the majestic Himalayan peaks. What an elevating experience!  When the plane began to descend we got a spectacular view of the bright green fields and magnificent chinar trees but the first thing we saw as the plane touched down the airfield was an army tank. When the stepladder was being attached to the plane, we pulled out our cameras but were courteously told by the airline crew that photography at Srinagar airport is strictly prohibited. There was a strong army presence from the airport all the way into the city. Bridges, road junctions and other strategic locations were heavily manned by troops and regular ‘sweeps’ were carried out along the main roads. If one can ignore the soldiers, at once Srinagar is a compilation of images: a son-et-lumiere that tells the tale of the love of the Mughal emperors for this paradise valley, full of green rice fields, gardens in bloom, snow clad mountains, beautiful people and lakes rimmed by houseboats.                                                                    

 The Kashmir state, at the extreme north west of India, is bounded on the west and north by Pakistan, on the northeast by China and on the southeast and south by the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. More than 90 percent of the state is mountainous. From southwest to northeast the region contains the fertile Jammu and Punch plains, the coniferous Himalayan foothills from 2,000 to 7,000 feet, the heavily glaciated Pir Panjal range at 12,500 feet, the valley of Kashmir at 5,300 feet, the Himalayan ranges above 20,000 feet, the upper Indus River valley at 11,000 feet, the barren plateau of Ladakh and the remote Karakorum range. The Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Tawi are the principal rivers while the Dal and Wular are the major lakes. The climate varies from alpine in the northeast to subtropical in the southwest. The topography of Kashmir offers a wide variety of climate and vegetation making the state a wildlife enthusiast’s delight as well. No animal better exemplifies the character and concerns of mountain environment than the snow leopard. Another rare animal that is present here is the Hangul or Kashmir stag, one of the most endangered species of red deer in the world. The eco-system here is well balanced with animals and people coexisting peacefully and one third of the world’s true mountain animals belonging to these mountains.

From the airport we drove straight to the Dal lake situated approximately 25 Kms away. It is the world famous water body that has been described as Lake Par-Excellence by Sir Walter Lawrence. It is the Jewel in the crown of the Kashmir and is eulogized by poets and praised copiously by the tourists. We got down on the Boulevard road lining the Dal Lake. It is host to the world famous Shikaras (boats with canopies) which carry people around the lake and to the houseboats. The charm of Kashmir is staying in floating houseboats. These vie with each other with a variety of eye catching colors, embellishments, fancy names and are maintained in great condition with electricity and an efficient plumbing system. They range from economical to extremely pricey ones, catagorised into Deluxe, A, B, and Economy .

The shikara which transported us to our houseboat was very exquisite, adorned with silk and lacey curtains, multihued floral designed, velvet cushions and our boat man played Kashmiri music adding up to the grandiose. Our houseboat was too very beautiful with 3 bed rooms, a living room and a small balcony. The host family living just behind the boat was very friendly and pampered us by giving us lot of care and service.                                          

  Dal Lake changes its moods and scenery right through the day and after every few kilometers. At the crack of dawn the lake was scintillating like an expanse of gold, during the day it was shimmering with the dazzling light of the Sun and at dusk the entire water was set ablaze by the red light caused by the setting Sun. But nothing is comparable to the magic the night brought along as we were privileged to be on the Dal lake on a full moon night.

The first morning we went to the temple of Shankarcharya atop a hill located at 1,100 ft. above surface level, also known as Takht-e-Suleiman. The Shiva temple here was constructed by Raja Gopadatya in 371 B.C. and is the oldest shrine in Kashmir. Dogra ruler, Maharaja Gulab Singh, constructed stairs up to the temple. From the top we got a magnificent panoramic view of the Srinagar city’s busy thoroughfares and shimmering blue lakes.

Then we drove to the Mogul gardens which include Nishad Bhaag, Shalimar Garden, Chashmashahi Garden. All these gardens have exceptional assortment of flowers.

They have their own magical charm in the sparkling ripples of cascading streams and fountains, limpid pools and airy pavilions laid out for the pleasure of the Mughal Emperors. Nishat borders the Dal Lake and was laid out by Asaf Khan, Empress Nur Jahan’s brother. Chasma Shahi, the Royal Spring, with an illuminated garden, is the smallest. The spring from which it derives its name is credited with medicinal properties. Shalimar, the Abode of Love, was laid by Emperor Jahangir for his beloved Queen Nur Jahan and is the most famous of the three gardens.

 

The Dal Lake can be viewed in its full grandeur by walking or cycling down the boulevard road. The lake itself offers a world of recreational activities. One can spend days in and around it without ever getting bored. There are provisions for Kayaking, canoeing, water surfing, skiing and angling or one can just laze atop the decks of the houseboats. Near our boat there were lush wild gardens of lotus and water lilies with tiny birds perched on them. The noise of all the crows cawing and frogs gurgling was nicer to wake up to than the honking of Mumbai traffic. The Dal is connected to three other lakes by a series of canals bordered by lilies and little houses and shops on stilts. We took a shikara to shop around these stilt shops selling silks, woolen shawls and handicrafts.

 Shopping at Srinagar is a handicraft lover’s delight. There is great beauty in Kashmiri artifacts: paper Mache, lacquered and painted in floral designs; wood carvings and screens; fine carpets in typical oriental designs; silks and woolen shawls embroidered in traditional paisley and crewel work. The Kashmir Valley is also known for its fruit orchards where dry fruits such as almonds and walnuts are grown and processed locally. In the city there are lots of tiny shops along winding streets selling everything from dry fruit baskets to fine handicrafts to silk shawls. We could find everything from street food stalls to cybercafés in the market place.

 It is said Srinagar is as much imagination as it is fact, for every season offers new vistas to this city of great antiquity. Spring breathes life again into a frozen world and the air is heady with the fragrance of a million flowers that blossom on trees, shrubs and creepers. Summer heightens the effect and autumn is poignant in its colors of warm introspection. Winter brings with it snow and as sometimes the Dal Lake freezes and beneath a leaden sky, roasted chestnuts turn the atmosphere aromatic with the promise of warmth and comfort.

 Next we drove to Gulmarg. Gulmarg, or meadow of flowers, is an apt term indeed for this idyllic flower-laden meadow located at an altitude of 2,730 meters. The climb begins through fir-covered hillsides and at a viewing point we got a spectacular view of snow-covered mountains almost within touching distance. A few more miles and we could see the towering peaks above the meadow, that were covered with dense forests of tall conifers and gigantic fir and pine trees, all vying with each other to touch the azure skies. On a clear day one gets breathtaking views from Gulmarg: fields of rice; clusters of walnut, pear and mulberry; meadows, ridges and forests that lead to the snow slopes of Khilanmarg; the majestic Nanga Parbat peak over a 100 km  away. We took a Cable Car (Gandola) ride, which takes tourists up to Kongdori. Gulmarg boasts of the world’s highest and Asia’s longest cable car. The ropeway has 36 cabins, ferries about 600 tourists to and fro the Afarwat peak.

 

Gulmarg gets snowfall periodically from November to April, sometimes above 15 feet. Hence, Gulmarg, is an equally popular destination in winter as well. It gets coated with a blanket of thick, soft snow, turning its gentle slopes into some of the finest ski slopes. The resort has one T-Bar Lift, three modern ski lifts and a chair lift. The beginner’s slope makes learning easy, with perfect snow conditions and a gentle gradient. Trained instructors are available and equipment can be hired. Skating, curling, and ski bobbing are some of the activities offered. White Christmas celebration and winter festival including ski competitions are held every year in Gulmarg with much fan fare. During summers, Gulmarg is a golfer’s paradise. Its international lush green golf course is the highest in the world. Equipments are available on hire for the visitor allured by the golf greens here. Gulmarg was also, once an important trekking base and the Gulmarg-Khilanmarg-Apharwat-Alpather is still a great trek. We were told that the trek to Alpather Lake which is lake 13 Kms away from Gulmarg can be interesting as this lake remains frozen even in June.

Finally after treasuring all cherished memories of this glorious location we reluctantly headed for our way back home. Flying out also involved heavy security and a mile from the airport the security checks began. At one point we and our bags had to get into a bomb-proof building, a mirror-check was done under our car and our bags were put through an x-ray machine, this was the first of three other x-ray checks. It was all very efficiently and politely done.

While we were waiting for flight at the lounge of the Srinagar Airport, we were already making plans for our next visit to this wonderland, nestling in the lap of the dazzling, snow-capped Himalayas. The Kashmir valley is undoubtedly a jewel in India’s crown. Over the years, Kashmir tourism has come a long way, it has evolved to love and look after its tourists, fulfilling their every demand. So now tourists were everywhere, soaking up all that Kashmir has to offer – the walks, the pony treks, the shikara rides at sunset on the Dal Lake. The lofty snow clad mountain ranges, sylvan landscape and remarkably good-looking people make this state a virtual paradise. An inspiration for so much art, music and poetry, Kashmir is also honeymooners’ paradise, a nature lover’s wonderland and a shopper’s dream come true. We are very passionate about Kashmir and believe it as possibly the most beautiful place on earth. We highly recommend people to visit this mesmerizing state. And once you have visited Kashmir, you will agree that what began as a dream lives on as an unforgettable experience I am wondering how to pen the exhilaration we experienced on our visit to this heaven on earth.

As none can express the splendor of Kashmir in few words or few images, here we present a glimpse of the Kashmir that is really as exquisite and as intoxicating as heaven. Now to reach this heaven one has to first get to Srinagar, the capital of J&K State. One can either take a direct flight from Delhi or take a train to Jammu and from there a bus to Srinagar. The hill resorts of Kud, Patnitop and Batote fall en route this 293 km long picturesque route. The 2.5 km long Jawahar tunnel allows road access to Srinagar even in the winter. We flew from Delhi. While on board we both were lost in the reminiscences of our past visits. Suddenly we were shaken out of our reverie by a crew member serving snacks. Now the plane started descending and we were thrilled to see it approach the valley covered with lush green carpeted earth and the magnificent chinar trees. But the first thing that caught our attention on landing was the presence of military personnel with guns in the tarmac. As soon as we pulled out our cameras to take a picture but a crew politely informed us that photography at Srinagar airport is strictly prohibited. Once out of the airport a friendly taxi driver drove us to the picturesque Dal Lake.

The Dal has been portrayed as Lake Par-Excellence by Sir Walter Lawrence. Eulogized by poets as well as tourists it is the most beautiful lake in Srinagar. We stood mesmerized on the Boulevard road lining the Dal Lake watching the Shikaras (boats with canopies) carrying tourists around the lake and to the houseboats. I must say that the most charming part of holidaying in Kashmir is staying in these houseboats vying with each other with an assortment of bright colors, embellishments, fancy names and yet maintained perfectly with electricity and an efficient plumbing system as well. A very exquisite shikara adorned with silk and lacey curtains, multihued velvet cushions transported us to our houseboat and our boat man played Kashmiri music complementing the grandiose. Our boat had 3 rooms, a hall and a small balcony. The host family living just behind the boat was very warm and pampered us by giving us good care and service.Next morning as soon as we woke up we were served nice English breakfast and Kahva (Kashmiri tea). As it was lovely morning we decided to visit the temple of Shankaracharya atop a hill, Takht-e-Suleiman. The Shiva temple here was constructed by Raja Gopadatya in 371 B.C. and is the oldest shrine in Kashmir. Dogra ruler, Maharaja Gulab Singh, constructed stairs up to the temple. From the top we got a great panoramic view of the Srinagar city’s busy thoroughfares and shimmering blue lakes. Evening we drove to the Mughal gardens – Nishad Bhaag, Shalimar, Chashmashahi Gardens. These gardens full of exceptional assortment of flowers, have their own magical charm in the sparkling ripples of cascading streams and fountains, limpid pools and airy pavilions laid out for the pleasure of the Mughal Emperors. Nishat which borders the Dal Lake was laid out by AsafKhan, Empress Nur Jahan’s brother. Chasma Shahi, the Royal Spring, with an illuminated garden, is the smallest. The spring from which it derives its name is credited with medicinal properties. Shalimar, the Abode of Love, was laid by Emperor Jahangir for his beloved Queen Nur Jahan and is the most famous of the three gardens. As the Mughals celebrated beauty, they created symmetrical gardens adding a further dimension to the valleys of Kashmir.

We noticed that the Dal Lake can be viewed in its full grandeur by walking down the boulevard road. The lake changes its moods and scenery all through the day and after every few kilometers. At the crack of dawn the lake was scintillating like an expanse of gold, during the day it was shimmering with the dazzling light of the Sun and at dusk the entire water was set ablaze by the red light caused by the setting Sun. But nothing is comparable to the magic the night brought along as we were privileged to be on the Dal Lake on a full moon night

The best time to visit Kashmir is during the months of March to October, which covers three seasons i.e., spring (March-early May), summers (early May- August) and autumn (September-November). The blossoms of spring, the cool weather of summer and the gold and red hues of autumn all provide the peak season for Kashmir travel. From December to early March is the winter season, when the entire valley wears a white blanket of snow. For those who enjoy cold weather and are interested in skiing, winter is the time to be in Kashmir .Gulmarg, or meadow of flowers, is an apt term indeed for this idyllic flower-laden meadow located at an altitude of 2,730 meters. The climb begins through fir-covered hillsides and at a viewing point we got a spectacular view of snow-covered mountains almost within touching distance. A few more miles and we could see the towering peaks above the meadow that were covered with dense forests of tall conifers, gigantic fir and pine trees. On a clear day one gets breathtaking views from Gulmarg: fields of rice; clusters of walnut, pear and mulberry; meadows, ridges and forests that lead to the snow slopes of Khilanmarg; the majestic Nanga Parbat peak over a 100 km away. We took a Cable Car (Gandola) ride, which takes tourists up to Kongdori. Gulmarg boasts of the world’s highest and Asia’s longest cable car. This ropeway has 36 cabins and ferries about 600 tourists to and fro the Afarwat peak. Gulmarg, is an equally popular destination in winter as well. It gets coated with a blanket of thick, soft snow, turning its gentle slopes into some of the finest ski slopes. Skiing, tobogganing, ski- bobbing are some of the activities offered here, with instruction and equipment facilities. The resort has one T-bar lift, a chair lift and three modern ski-lifts. The beginner’s slope facilitates learning, thanks to its perfect snow conditions and a gentle gradient. White Christmas celebration and winter festivals including ski competitions are held every year with much fan fare. During summers Gulmarg is a golfer’s paradise as it has the distinction of offering the highest natural golf course in the world at 2890 meters. Gulmarg-Khilanmarg-Apharwat-Alpather is a great trek. We were told that the trek to Alpather Lake which is lake 13 Kms away from Gulmarg can be interesting as this lake remains frozen even in June.

After the terrific trip to Gulmarg we returned back to our boat to enjoy a few days more in the Dal Lake. Near our boat there were lush wild gardens of lotus and water lilies with tiny birds perched on them. The noise of all the crows cawing and frogs gurgling was nicer to wake up to than to the honking of Mumbai traffic. The lake itself offers a world of recreational activities. We spent days in and around it without ever getting bored. There are provisions for Kayaking, canoeing, water surfing, skiing and angling or one can just laze atop the decks of the houseboats. The Dal is connected to three other lakes by a series of canals bordered by lilies, little houses and shops on stilts. We took a shikara to shop around these stilt shops selling silks, woolen shawls and handicrafts.

Shopping at Srinagar is a handicraft lover’s delight. The Mughal also left behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among the people, making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts the world over: paper Mache, lacquered and painted in floral designs; wood carvings and screens; fine carpets in typical oriental designs; silks and woolen shawls embroidered in traditional paisley and crewel work. The Kashmir Valley is also known for its fruit orchards where dry fruits such as almonds and walnuts are grown and processed locally. In the city there are lots of tiny shops along winding streets selling everything from dry fruit baskets to fine handicrafts to silk shawls. We found everything from street food stalls to cybercafés in the market place. It is said Srinagar is as much imagination as it is fact, for every season offers new vistas to this city of great antiquity. Spring breathes life again into a frozen world and the air is heady with the fragrance of a million flowers that blossom on trees, shrubs and creepers. Summer heightens the effect and autumn is poignant in its colors of warm introspection. Winter brings with it snow and as sometimes the Dal Lake freezes and beneath a leaden sky, roasted chestnuts turn the atmosphere aromatic with the promise of warmth and comfort.

The Kashmir valley is undeniably a jewel in India’s crown because it has captured within its territories the quintessence of all the elements that poetry demands of nature, awesome grandeur, serenity, a wild profusion of colour. The lofty snow clad mountain ranges, sylvan landscape and gorgeous people make this state a virtu alheaven. An inspiration for so much art, music and poetry, Kashmir is also honeymooners’ delight, a nature lover’s wonderland and a shopper’s dream come true. We are very passionate about Kashmir and believe it as the most beautiful place in India that’s why we have decided to go again to visit Pahelgam , Amarnath and Ladhak And once you have visited Kashmir, you will agree that what began as a dream lives on as an unforgettable experience…

HENNA

Since the Bronze Age, the tradition of using henna to adorn women’s bodies has been customary in the Mediterranean regions. The reference to decorating women with henna during marriage and fertility celebrations is found in several legends around the planet. The ancient correlation between women and henna as body art is the origin of the Night of the Henna, now celebrated worldwide by Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Zoroastrians by decorating the bride with henna to express their greatest joy. The word “Henna” comes from the Arabic name for Lawsonia inermis, pronounced Hinna. Henna produces a burgundy dye molecule, lawsone which is primarily concentrated in the petioles of its leaf. This molecule has an affinity for bonding with protein, and thus has been used to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool. Henna’s indigenous zone is the tropical savannah and from Africa to the western Pacific border. In the Indian subcontinent, it’s known by different words such as Mehendi in Northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh whereas in South India, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, it is known by its Tamil name, “Marudhaani”. Henna has numerous conventional and commercial uses, the most common being as a dye for hair, skin and fingernails.

Flowers of Henna have been used to create perfume since ancient times. Henna is commercially cultivated in India, Pakistan, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Bangladesh. In India, at Sojat, a town in Rajasthan, henna is cultivated in large scale with over 100 henna processors making it India’s largest “Mehendi” production city. Seventy percent of its produce is exported to all over the world. The body art of henna is made by applying henna paste to the skin. This paste is prepared by first drying henna leaves and milling them to powder and then mixed with lemon juice to a toothpaste consistency and kept aside for 6 hours. Oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender are added to improve its colour on the skin. In South India, fresh leaves of henna are ground instead of using the dried powder. Henna paste is applied with a one of many traditional tools, including resist techniques, shading techniques, and the modern cello wrap cone. Once applied to the skin, Lawsone molecules transfer from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin. Though henna stains the skin within minutes, the longer the paste is left on the skin, the more lawsone will transfer. Henna paste will yield as much dye as the skin can absorb in less than eight hours. Henna tends to crack up and fall off the skin quickly, so often it is sealed down by dabbing a sugar & lemon mix over the dried paste. This also adds to the colour by increasing the intensity of the shade. When the dried paste is removed the stain will be orangish the colour but it darkens over next three days to a reddish brown. Steaming or warming the henna pattern too will darken the stain during the time the paste is still on the skin.

The mode of “Bridal Mehendi” in Pakistan, Libya and in Indian diasporas is increasing in intricacy and embellishment, with new enhancements in glitter, gilding, and fine-line work. Thousands of designs are drawn by henna artists according to the occasion and the demands of customers. In parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sudan, even the grooms are decorated with henna. In Rajasthan, grooms get designs that are often as elaborate as those for brides. Traditional as well as contemporary henna artists good money through this art. Even women who are discouraged from working outside their homes in some countries, find socially acceptable yet lucrative work doing henna. Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, as well as India have women with thriving henna businesses. Celebrations like Purim, Eid, Diwali, Karva Chauth, Nowruz, Mawlid, pregnancy, birthdays as well as weddings are incomplete without henna as part of the festivities. Whenever and wherever there is merriment, there is Henna!

~ by Arundhathi on October 30, 2009.

‘Truthfulness’ for Constant Remembrance magazine

19-11-87- NainitalQuite often truthfulness is understood as being truthful in speech alone. However, truthfulness in the right sense means the perfect integration of our three faculties, our mind, our speech and our action. Put differently, our speech or our action being at variance with the mind is untruthfulness. It is not just about “speaking the truth” but real truthfulness is “feeling” the truth as well.  If we express one thing through our speech or action and feel different inside our hearts then we are not being truthful. It’s somewhat akin to putting fancy packaging on a bad product. Therefore always our thought, speech and action must be in concurrence and in harmony with each other.
In the Hindu scriptures, Truth is defined as “That which is unchangeable”, “That which has no distortion”, “That which is beyond distinctions of time, space, and person”, and “That which pervades the universe in all its constancy”. There are numerous references and explanations of truth by ancient sages that elucidates various facets of truth, for instance, “Satyam eva jayate”(Truth alone wins), “Satyam muktaye” (Truth liberates),  ‘Parahit’artham’ va’unmanaso yatha’rthatvam’ satyam (Truth is the benevolent use of words and the mind for the welfare of others, “When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him (Patanjali Yogasutras, sutra number 2.36)
Truthfulness encompasses in itself various qualities like honesty, reliability, faithfulness, trust worthiness, fairness and justice etc. among the other higher forms of values. For example if we take just one of them, honesty, is to be truthful at all planes of consciousness: physical, mental as well as psychological. Truthfulness necessitates unfailingly speaking the truth and honesty brings in the ability to be ever sincere, never lying, cheating or taking unfair advantage etc. It also leads one towards a life of high level of integrity and trustworthiness.  As these are quite similar, it helps to turn to their subtle nuances. Doing good to others through thought, word and deed comes due to the righteousness, compassion and truthfulness in our heart. For instance, a greedy heart cannot bring about happiness and welfare to others. As truthfulness is a product of a heart only that is free from selfishness, avarice and anger etc. it is important to remember that our outward reactions always come from our inner guidance alone. Therefore it becomes imperative to be truthful at all times to maintain the purity of one’s thoughts.
However at times speaking only the precise factual truth or revealing the truth of things can be a difficult task. It calls for a great objectivity as well as neutrality because the mind distorts the truth for a variety of reasons and in a numerous methods. Often people avoid truth out of fear of the powerful, to hide their inabilities, failures, faults, to protect themselves or in order to gain by dishonesty. Another common cause of untruthfulness is unwillingness to take action or express the truth of things due to inertia. More serious causes are deception, jealousy, wanting to harm another, weakness of moral fiber, etc. In addition to this there are innumerable motivations that cause people to consciously exaggerate, distort and lie. Exaggeration and distortion is used to gain self importance, conscious lying is to rejoice from a trouble caused to others by a lie, lying in order to manipulate or exploit a situation etc. If one has any of these negative traits first one must identify the source and ways to vanquish these tendencies. By concerted efforts life can be reorganized by practicing the values of Truthfulness.
In the present-day world many have the wrong notion that if one practices a life of complete honesty one would someway lose in business and in material life. The truth is, not being fully honest and truthful blocks the divine energy flow into one’s work and life. Though practicing truthfulness in all aspects of life often requires a lot of courage, psychological strength, endurance and efforts, all endeavors are rewarded in some way by life thereafter.
Truthfulness has one limitation that has to be always kept in mind while practicing truthfulness in speech. One must be responsible, cautious and take into the consideration, the maturity of the listener before speaking truth. Some truth if not presented with prudence and discretion can create a shock, sorrow or turn a person violent.  Another example of truthfulness where a serious trouble may arise is when someone though speaking truth begins to voice one’s immoral or destructive thoughts polluting others.  So truthfulness, now we see, is not merely accord between mind and speech. It means voicing good thoughts that are beneficial and valuable to the society in a pleasant way. Elegant sweet words are not most important even if they are required the most important is truthfulness, being in harmony with oneself and all expressions emerging from a truthful heart.
By understanding the right meaning of  truthfulness and applying it systematically in the daily life it is possible to triumph over bad habits of dishonesty, deception, jealousy, desire to harm, etc. and achieve a complete truthful life that will reward by bringing in positive responses and results in everything.  Truthfulness can eliminate most of the obstacles in our life path, bring long-lasting accomplishments and is a fundamental means through which our spiritual goal can be attained. In simple words, a peaceful heart is the best reward of truthfulness.