Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny! What distracts you?

via Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny!

As i read the photo challenge prompt, i thought about what usually distracted me from work.

I have to be honest when i say whenever i am at work or painting  or writing ,its hard for me to be distracted.

However, lately i have been craving for distractions, not from work ,but from the continuous flow of thoughts that  occurs from overthinking.

So when i want to distract myself from the incessant chatter in my mind,i know that the one sight that works like a charm is the vast open sky.

I feel a sense of calm take over as i watch the sky and the wind tosses my hair in whichever direction it pleases.

I particularly love watching the sun set; because each sunset is different and magnificent in its own way as well as for the reassuring calming affect it has on me.

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Sunset ,Crystal river-Florida
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Sunset- Marina Beach-Chennai
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Sunset-Chennai
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Sunset-Chennai
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Sunset-Chennai
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Daytona beach -Clear skies
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Sunrise-Valparai-India
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Dusk- Ocala-Florida
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Mid day-Hyderabad

 

Photo Challenge: Elemental

via Photo Challenge: Elemental

It was the first week of June.

The  southwest monsoons had set in, everyone was talking about the rains, the news channels, family from different parts of the countries.

However, Chennai remained the same. I knew that monsoon in Chennai was usually during October  to November, yet a small part of me kept glancing at the skies for the slightest sign of rainfall.

I finished work very early that day and walked home in the sweltering heat, the afternoon sun shone on me mercilessly my colorful umbrella provided little comfort as I trudged on steadily.

I reached home and watched astonished as the skies darkened and cold winds tossed everything in their path to a side.

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I ran up to my terrace and reached just in time to catch the first droplets that made their way to meet the scorched cement.

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It all happened at once, as I looked up I caught sight of five white pelicans flying towards me and watched in awe as they flew so close by with the dark skies as their backdrop.

I had the best time ever dancing in the rain and watching the different reactions it evoked around me.In the distance I saw a woman hurrying to get the clothes off the washing line,  children from the nearby school chased each other in the rain,  the puppies next door barked in confusion and the coconut trees swayed gently with their arms outstretched to the skies.

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Hyderabad an old world charm

via Daily Prompt: Spicy

The city of Hyderabad is famous for irani chai, Charminar, spicy biriyani and pearls.

I love this quaint city with its old world charm and slow paced lifestyle which makes visitors feel at home.  So when I was given the task of showing K around ,I decided to take him to these places that I felt captured the essence of this city so well.

1. Charminar :

All tourism posters of Hyderabad show this lovely monument located in the old city. Interestingly it was erected as a token of gratitude to the gods after the plague affecting the city had come to an end in 1591.

Surrounded by bazaars and thronged by people on almost all days I thought K deserved to see this place when it was quieter in the wee hours of the morning. So the two of us woke up early and admired the Charminar as It stood  like a sentinel watching the residents stir awake as the sun rose. Visitors are allowed in between : 9am -5:30 pm and can climb up to 1 floor to be able to Get a panoramic view of the surrounding marketplace, the mecca masjid a few feet away and the hustle bustle below.

Source:wikipedia

2. Govind bhai’s dosa:

Come Sunday my friends and I would head out for  breakfast to Govind bhai’s food stall.  It was located in ghanzi bazaar opposite Agra sweets just around the corner to Charminar. Since K and I were already in the area and were famished we went over and we patted ourselves on the back for the good decision. His tawa idlis and butter dosas were to die for. The stall opens at 6:30 am and closes at 1 pm. He has an outlet in Banjara hills as well on  road no 14.  Off late other dosa places around Hyderabad have started emulating his style of cooking, however I personally felt that his dosas are unparalleled.

3. Laad bazaar:

A trip to Charminar and Hyderabad is considered incomplete if you don’t venture into Laad bazaar. The bazaar stretches across..  And K surprisingly insisted that he wanted to go shopping in Laad bazaar . The sheer variety of wares being sold there took me by surprise.  Semi precious stones, dress materials, sarees, bangles, bindis, jewellery, kolhapuri chappals, decorations, dry fruits, pearls and all kind of food. The best way of exploring the bazaar is ofcourse on foot so you can take a look at all the stores, just make sure you strike a good bargain.

4. Birla mandir :

This temple of marble has been built by the birlas and is located on hill fort road.  The best time to visit is early morning  to catch the sunrise or just before The sun sets.  The main shrine is dedicated to lord venkateshwara and goddess padmavati,however there are shrines for the Buddha, lakshmi,ganesha,shakti ,shiva.

Source:wikipedia

5.Bhongiri fort :

Tribhuvanagiri as it was originally called, was built in the 11th century by the chalukhyan ruler Tribhuvanamalla vikramaditya the sixth.  The fort is built on  a monolith rock which was recently discovered to be a batholith(which is a large igneous rock formed beneath the surface of the earth due to the intrusion and cooling of magma). Apart from being steeped in history this monument also offers adventure lovers an opportunity to try activities such as rock climbing and rapelling thanks to the rock climbing school located at the base.

Source:wikipedia

6.Tank bund :

Hussain sagar or tank bund as its locally referred to, is a huge man made lake in the center of the city.  There is a statue of the Buddha in the middle of tank bund and government boats  ferry visitors  across to the statue. The Buddha statue is said to be the largest monolith in Asia.   There are 33 bronze statues of famous people who have played instrumental roles in their respective fields on the tank bund road. In the evenings the entire road around tank bund is lit up in lights and appears like a necklace, lending it the name necklace road.

 

Source:wikipedia

7.Taramati baradari:

Located near Golconda fort this place  was built especially for Taramati who was the favorite courtesan of Abdullah qutub shah. The hall has been designed in such a way that her voice could be heard clearly while she sang all the way to Golconda fort Located 2 km away. The pavilion has 12 doorways that allowed for cross ventilation and also kept the hall cool during the summers. Present day it has been converted into an auditorium.

source:wikipedia

8.Salarjung museum:

Located on the southern bank of the Musi river,this is a lovely museum to visit especially on a hot day when you would rather be indoors. The  salar jung museum is believed to be the largest one man collection to be known and had many notable artifacts from all over the world. My all time favorites are the veiled Rebecca, the double statue of Mephistopheles and Margareta and the cuckoo clock at the center. The museum is the perfect place to spend hours marveling at the elegance and the creativity of the human mind and is sure to take the fancy of  many a dreamer.

Source :wikipedia
Source:wikipedia

 

Have you been to Hyderabad? I would love to hear about which place you hold close to your heart,do write in.

Flashback-Araku valley

via Daily Prompt: Casual

As we traveled by the train from Vishakapatnam to Araku,our excitement knew no bounds.

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source:wikipedia

The long train weaved in and out of the many tunnels along the route and we screamed for fun whenever we passed through the pitch dark tunnels.

Araku valley was considered to be an offbeat place in those days and not many people used to visit it.  So there weren’t many options  available when it came to accommodations. During a time when home-stays were not heard off ,a kind acquaintance of ours invited us to stay with them for the entire duration of the trip.

We rented bicycles and rode around the valley exploring the nearby villages. The valley was covered in mist and small stalls serving hot tea and snacks opened up early in the morning.  Most of the day was spent leisurely strolling around, playing with the fluffiest most chubby puppies we had set our young eyes on or cycling casually  in the valley. We were lucky enough to witness the celebrations of the tribal people who lived there performing their famous dhimsa dance; they  also sprinkled water that was presumably mixed with plant dyes as we passed by and asked for coins in exchange.

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Dhimsa dance. source: wikipedia

There is a special museum showcasing the lifestyle of the tribes that live there, their artwork, cooking utensils, their head-gear etc.  The museum is spread over two levels and is quite unique as it has been constructed with mud and clay.

Our host had children who were our age which worked out great for us since we had playmates throughout our stay at Araku. The next day our host took us as well as our playmates to chaparai waterfalls,  it wasn’t exactly a waterfall in context of height;  it was more of a stream cascading over smooth rocks. We were lucky to be the only ones there and we spent the entire day frolicking in the water and had a small picnic on the banks of the river.

I hear its overcrowded these days and could use some cleaning up, thanks to all the litter left behind on the banks by inconsiderate tourists.

Araku valley is perfect for just relaxing and enjoying the simple things in life. Located just 115 km away from Vishakhapatnam, it can be reached by bus,  train and the newly introduced vistadome coaches which are glass roof coaches that provide a panoramic view while traveling to Araku.

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source: wikipedia

Borra caves are also a must see while visiting either Araku or Vizag as they’re one of the largest cave systems in India.Home to irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites it was discovered in 1807 by William King. The caves are open from 10 am -5 pm with lunch break from 1pm -2pm.

 

Araku valley is definitely one of my favorite places that i have been to as a child and i am curious to see how it has changed as time has passed; Has it been exploited by the uncountable hotels and resorts that seem to be springing up like mushrooms or have they managed to preserve the integrity of this place that was once only frequented by the zany traveler, who visited and quietly went by without disturbing the balance of this place.

Yercaud- A tryst in the Shervarayan range

The itch to travel started a little too soon this time.

Eyebrows were raised when we announced we were going away for the weekend ,yet again.

Anyway, this time we were joined by my dear sis. We boarded a train at Chennai and five hours later we were at Salem. From Salem to Yercaud you can either travel by a bus or a car.The skies darkened as we ascended the Shervaroy hills and Salem city twinkled merrily in the distance.

We were shivering by the time we reached our room at TGI star holiday resort.The resort was situated down slope from the main road and about ten minutes away from the Yercaud lake.

We checked in and dragged our trolleys up slope to our rooms,we passed by a campfire and an open air theater they had in the common area of the resort.People huddled around the fire and watched keenly as they played Bahubali 2 .We spent some time at the campfire,walked around a bit and fell asleep exhausted from all the travel.

We were up by 5:30 am the next day and walked to the lake which was also called the Emerald lake owing to its green color.Since it was so early we were the only ones around the lake and we watched the sun rise from the mountains behind the lake.The tea shops and tiffin centres started opening serving hot food which beckoned to us invitingly.

We made arrangements to go sightseeing that day with a cab driver we had met when we arrived in Yercaud.

1.Shervarayan temple:

Our first stop he informed us,was the Shervarayan temple; the locals placed idols of their god Shervarayan and goddess Kaveri in this cave temple and people from all the 67 villages surrounding the hill, came to worship here. The cave was rumored to extend all the way to Coorg. We arrived at the temple before anyone else did and had to stoop to be able to enter.once inside there was enough room to stand up.There were two small idols adorned with flowers and a small lamp and incense stick burned next to them. The mouth of the cave is enclosed in a frame and adorned with bells. A  few feet away from the temple is a raised viewing platform from where you can see the mist rising up from the valley below.IMG20170626094442

Along the same road is Bear’s cave which we couldn’t see since it requires special permission to visit as it is located in  Norton’s estate.The cave is said to have been used by Tipu Sultan during war time as a hideout.

2.Sri Chakra Maha Meru temple:

Next we stopped at the Sri Chakra Maha Meru temple which had been built recently.  This temple has the largest Sri chakra in the world. The presiding deity in this temple is  Sri Lalitha Thripoora Sundari. The temple is serene yet vibrant, sitting amidst coffee plantations and pepper plants.

Read in detail about this temple here: Sri chakra maha meru temple

3.Sri Rajarajeswari temple: The Rajarajeswari temple was dedicated to a beautiful powerful goddess as well.

4.Karidiyur viewpoint:

Karadiyur literally means bear town,since it used to be the home to many sloth bears.However now it is a hamlet and We had to walk through a dirt road to reach this viewpoint. It is actually a short walk of maybe 10-15 minutes, however the three of us kept stopping to look at butterflies ,at jamun trees, at centipedes and so it took us a while to get there. Since it was a public  holiday,it looked like most of the people from Salem had ventured out for a picnic. We can see Salem, and Mettur dam from this viewpoint. However the most memorable thing about this place was seeing an entire tree filled with butterflies ,whenever a breeze shook the tree they flitted out and hovered around the branches it was mesmerising to watch.IMG20170626113109IMG20170626113022IMG20170626110321IMG20170626110047IMG20170626110248

5. Pagoda point:

I was curious when the guide told us we would be visiting pakoda point next.We laughed when we realized that he was referring to the pagoda and not the indian snack pakoda!  The pagoda point got its name because of the piles of stones placed there which look like pagodas;the British people used the pagodas as landmarks to identify the route from the plains to the hill top. Ayothiapattinum and Attur are visible from this viewpoint.The atmosphere there was similar to a fair/carnival with lots of rides,stalls and games to entertain tourists.

6. Retreat point:

The Retreat  was founded in 1945 by the brothers of Don Bosco.  The main building is a place for students of the religious order to stay and study.  The public had access only to the football field.It was by far my favorite place  since we were the only people there and we sat down and took in the beauty of the hills from the end of the world bench there. The sun suddenly shone on us and we were able to have a look and figure out how to work the sun dial on the grounds.

7. Ladies,Gent’s and childrens seat:

We visited lady’s , gents and children’s seat, I know the names are a bit strange! We were caught in the rain and they were overcrowded so I just couldn’t wait to get away from there.

Children’s seat had three different viewpoints located far enough from each other so everyone had their space. The rain stopped and we walked down from children’s seat through the horticultural farm to the rose garden. The horticultural farm was beautifully maintained and we came across some women warming themselves by a small bonfire they had started. We chatted with them for a while they told us about the local fruit that grew in abundance like the jack fruit, fig trees, avocado, pepper and aatu kaal kalangu loosely translated as goat hoof tuber since it looks like a goats hoof. Rose garden was full of rose trees as the name suggests.IMG20170626152324

Day 2

8.Emerald lake:

The Yercaud lake  is one of the main attractions of this small hill station.The boathouse opens only at 9 am. There are rowboats,peddle boats and motor boats available for rent for varying prices and time duration’s.The motorboat and rowboats are manned by people from the boathouse.So we opted for a peddleboat.

The ride around the lake itself was fun, and we even spotted a man line fishing we tried to get a closer look but backed off when it dawned on us that we might scare the fish away. Once we got off the back we went to where he was fishing and he showed us his catch and told us he used jamun as bait.

Since we had time to spare we checked out the deer park adjacent to the lake.

9. Handicraft/perfumery: We loved the handicraft store right opposite the lake.They had a delightful collection of wooden toys, pens, utensils, combs,agarbathi stands, wall hangings and every variety of tea and coffee imaginable. They had a lot of spices, perfumes and even sherbets. Always one to try new things K bought a hibiscus sherbet which ended up being really delicious when we added a dash of lime and ginger.

10. Explore the town on foot:

We enjoyed exploring the town on foot ans were lucky enough to come across a house where wedding celebrations were afoot.What struck me were the Eco friendly decorations that were used to adorn the doorways. They were all biodegradable and natural,so they were prettier than anything human hands could have designed.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga day -Flashback-Kerala-Sivananda ashram

It was  5:30 am and i  was bombarded by the customary whats app messages first thing in the morning.

A dozen at least, wishing me “good morning”, the words imprinted on pictures of pretty birds or cups of tea.

And one message wishing me a Happy yoga day.The message took me back, to the time when I was first introduced to yoga.
I still remember begging my parents to let me go to yoga camp for the summer, with some other kids from school.
My parents hesitated, I was after all just a child how would I manage away from home for an entire month.
After a lot of cajoling they finally agreed ,and I set out to spend an entire month in  yoga camp at Kerala, when i was all of 9 years.
We took a train from Chennai to Trivandrum and a car to Neyyar dam where the yoga ashram was situated.

Located on top of a small hill the sprawling premises were filled with tall trees and long halls with high roofs. Since it was the first day ,parents were allowed to have dinner with their kids before they headed home.
Dinner was served in a traditional style on plantain leaves and the parents,teachers and students dined together in the dining hall.
Our parents  soon bade us farewell and we were left to our own designs. We were assigned cottages and 4 students had to stay together. The cottages were neat and simple with 4 wooden cots and chairs.

Every morning we were woken up at 5 am with half an hour of meditation on the banks of the Neyyar river, followed by an invigorating session of yoga asanas. It was soon time for breakfast,i was assigned to the morning batch of student volunteers who had to serve food to the other students, teachers and ashram residents.

The students at the ashram were taught the essence of karma yoga, whereby each student was assigned a duty such as serving food at different meals or helping out in some simple chores around the ashram . This was new to most of us kids there,since we were so used to being taken care of; funnily it instilled  a sense of responsibility in us and we strived to do whatever task we were assigned, to near perfection.

Post breakfast,we were taught Sanskrit by an endearing man who could only communicate in Sanskrit and a bit of Malayalam. Since most of the students weren’t from Kerala a major portion of the class would be spent trying to decipher what he was saying. In the end he did manage to teach us a small song in Sanskrit,that all of us religiously sang together at the beginning of every class.
Lunch was also a simple, very healthy vegetarian affair. The hardest part of the entire stay for me was that we weren’t allowed to drink plain water! The only water available was a kashayam (infusion of spices in water) which was very bitter and always hot, courtesy to the boiler in which it was stored. Luckily my 9 year old self refused to dwell on things that I din’t like and always seemed to focus only the simple pleasures life had to offer.

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In the evening we were usually taken outdoors for a trek around the area or to nearby places to explore the region. We had swimming classes on alternate days, but sadly I never really put any effort into it and could just float for a few seconds in the water.
We would return to camp a little tired from all the activity of the entire day and till dinner time they gave us comic books to read, or we could write letters back home followed by satsang or prayers.
We also had a lot of talent shows,excursions to places around Kerala, competitions and other fun filled activities.
I still have vague memories of the experiences at the camp such as how we nursed back a baby squirrel which had fallen out of its nest, hearing the roars of the tigers across the lake from the Neyyar wildlife sanctuary, visit to Kanyakumari, the treks through the Western Ghats, the letters from home and the people we met from different parts of the world(adults and children). The one month long stay away from my parents,taught me a lot of bitter sweet lessons,that continue to stay with me till date.

Sivananda dhanwantari ashram also offers teacher’s training course as well as yoga retreats that span a period of two weeks for adults. I sometimes reminisce with K and my parents about my stay there and wonder how it would be to go back as an adult to their two week retreats.

 

 

Throwback-Amritsar

Amritsar, the name had such a far away feel to it.  I had only read about it in my text books.
I could not contain my excitement as we made our way to the Railway Station since my cousin was traveling with us as well.

My cousin, my sister and I were of the same age group and the day long journey to delhi and from there to amritsar held a lot of scope for fun.

We kept ourselves busy playing Uno,charades, making frequent trips to the pantry and talking about everything under the sun. We reached Delhi and took another train to Amritsar from there.

Amritsar was a lovely city ,so new but something felt familiar about it. We made our way to the famous golden temple. It appeared truly mystical to our young eyes, situated right in the middle of a water tank,covered in gold with a marble  walkway to enter it. All the men, women and children had to cover their heads with a cloth as a mark of respect as was the custom in sikhism. And for those who didnt have a head cover, they were provided free of cost at the entrance by the volunteers.

We stood in line to enter the gurudwara and as we neared it ,we could hear the sounds of harmonium and low chanting coming from within. We made our way to the sanctum and saw that musicians and ‘Granthis’ were reciting from the ‘guru granth sahib’ . We were allowed to stay for a few minutes and then ushered to make way for the other devotees.

We spent some time walking around the  tank which was filled with beautiful koi carp.

There is an ancient ber/jujube tree within the temple complex that is believed to be holy. According to the legend the leper husband of bibi rajani was cured after bathing in the pond under the tree.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit the guru ka langar, where volunteers prepare and serve free meals to devotees the entire day.

We were on our way to Wagah border,the only link between India and Pakistan prior to the opening of the Aman setu in Kashmir.

We were filled with a sense of excitement, as well as fear when we knew we would be going to the border. All sorts of movie scenes played in my head imagining what would lie ahead for us.

We were greeted by a massive iron gate with seats on either side of the gate.  We hurried to get the best seats possible. It was almost sundown, the ceremony began. It involved elaborate gestures, thumping of the boots and was fascinating to watch. 45 minutes later the ceremony ended with cries of ‘Jai Hind’ on the Indian side and a similar call on their side with both the flags being lowered simultaneously and the soldiers shaking hands.

This ceremony was started in 1959 and has been carried out every single day  at 5 pm as a sign of good will between the two countries.

The following day we visited Jallianwallah Bagh. There stood a tall memorial in remembrance of all the victims of one of the most heinous massacres to have taken place.

People had gathered to celebrate the sikh festival of baisakhi in Jallianwallah Bagh which was a public garden. General Dyer of the British army ordered his troops to gun down these unarmed men, women and children. Since there was only one entrance, escape was impossible and those who weren’t gunned down, jumped to their death into the solitary well within the garden. The visit had a really sobering effect on all of us and reminded us of all the atrocities that humans inflict upon one another when they forget their true selves in the name of false pride and ego.
As the Dalai Lama rightly said love and compassion are necessities not luxuries; without them humanity cannot survive.