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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Lost and found

via Daily Prompt: Toothbrush

I was all of 8 or was it 9?

I don’t remember exactly . We were  on our way to Araku valley this was way before it became a tourist spot filled with hotels.

My mother’s friend’s friend had been kind enough to open their doors to us for those few days.

There was a single train running from vishakapatnam to araku valley. As my parents carried the luggage I broke free from them and raced ahead trying to be the first one on the platform. I was out of breath by the time  I reached the platform and turned back with a huge grin to look at my parents.

My smile faded as I realized I couldn’t see my parents or sister anywhere.  I tried to retrace my steps and studied the sea of faces, trying to single out my parents.

A woman approached me ,she was shabbily dressed  with a child clinging to her resting his head on her shoulder, “Are you lost? “ she asked . I dint reply since I remebered all those lessons in school warning us about interacting with strangers.

I observed her apprehensively, she had a tattered make shift sling bag with an old toothbrush, a comb and a small packet of biscuits in it.

Tell me where are you headed?  I told her where we were going and she said she was traveling  in the same train.  She caught my hand and we went to wards the stairs leading to another platform.

Just then I heard a loud voice calling out my name,  I turned in the direction  of the voice and saw my anxious father standing atop the stairs with a a relieved expression. I waved to the lady and ran  towards my father, we hurried back to my mother who was already weeping imagining the worst.

Needless to say all’s well that ends well.  We reached Araku valley and had a splendid time there.
This post is in response to the Daily post prompt toothbrush.

Staying fit on the road

I walked into the doctors office and went through the customary weight and  BP check up.

The nurse loudly announced my weight and height for everyone to hear, not really caring that I was cringing in embarrassment especially when she mentioned the weight .

I racked my brains thinking of how I had put on ten kilos in such a short time.

I realized that with all the travelling and work I never really made time to exercise and of course with the plethora of snacks that seem to be so readily available these days ,it was getting harder for me to say no to the delicious yet unhealthy food .

I promised myself that i would chalk out a plan and stick to it to not only lose weight but also become stronger and healthier by altering my lifestyle in the following ways.walk
1. Walk. Walk and walk some more:

As far as possible, K and I try to use the local transport and walk as much as possible when we travel.  For starters it helps that our average step count per day when we do this is easily a whopping 18,000.  Another thing it does is it helps you experience the place better and truly take in the essence of the place you are traveling to when you walk around and who knows what hidden treasures you may find on foot which would have been most likely missed when you sped past in a car or a two wheeler.

2. Eat local :

We are big believers in eating local wherever we go. Of course sometimes vegetarian options are a little hard to come by.  As much as possible we try to eat the local delicacies and the food that is specific to that region because I have observed that the food in the mountains vary from the food in the plains and the coastal regions since the people there cook according to the climate and their particular nutrition needs. I have noticed that I tend to be healthier when eating local produce and local food which inadvertently makes it a more fulfilling travel experience.

3. Stay hydrated :

I drink like a camel on normal days. So it becomes particularly tough when i can’t guzzle water as usual thanks to the unavailability of clean restrooms while on the move. This time when I was on the road I Soaked a spoon of sabja seeds (sweet basil) and drank the water and the seeds. It Was enough to keep me hydrated and is also known as a natural coolant of the body.

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4. To snack or not to snack!

One thing all  of us who travel will agree on is that as soon as you sit in a train or car or whatever vehicle you get hungry like crazy. Especially the urge to open that bag of chips or to dig into those piping hot samosas.

This time I was  prepared when the samosa vendor walked by,  I had brought my own bag of healthy goodies like Cashews,Almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, roasted peanuts and Fruits.  These snacks are healthy as well as full of fiber and ensure that you feel fuller for a longer period of time.

 

5.Slipping in a workout

I often try to do a short workout depending on our sightseeing plan for the day. Let’s  say we have a lot of trekking or outdoor activities planned for that day I just do whole body stretching exercises ,or if its just going to be something less outdoorsy before starting out i do some whole body free exercises. It helps to have a specific sequence of exercises already planned out along with the hold time and the number of sets/repetitions.

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5. Apps:

There are some must have apps available for android as well as ios that help plan specific workouts depending upon the results you want to achieve. I personally love sworkit and musclematics. There are some apps that help you log the food you eat to help you better understand where you could be slipping up, my favorite is my fitness pal since it  also helps you log in and calculate traditional Indian food as well which I eat on a daily basis. Activity trackers are a great way to be motivated to stay in shape since you can literally take it with you anywhere and everywhere.

6. Travel friendly equipment :

I know the word equipment conjures up images of heavy machinery. Relax!  I’m not asking you to lug around stuff when you,re trying to have a good time.  I’m talking therabands and resistance tubes which are a great way to tone up your upper limb muscles and core as well. They’re easy to carry around since they occupy very little space and are very light.  It Pays to work those arms too since the more muscle mass you have the more calories you burn.

7. Make exercise fun:

Try to include as many outdoor fun activities while travelling so you can mix fitness with pleasure. Most of the hotels have swimming pools ,gyms and some form of outdoor sports, so work up a sweat while enjoying yourself. If you are a long term traveler look around for a dance , zumba or a martial arts class.

So try out these 7 simple ideas and let me know if you have some tips that i could add to this list.

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.

Why i chose to travel

​”Why do you travel so much ?”    My colleague asked incredulously as i signed yet another leave application and hurried to human resources.

Huh!? I had never really thought about it.
It felt natural to me to be traveling to a new place or to visit my folks whenever I  had enough vacation time.
So i was caught off guard when she posed me that question.
I looked around and realized that travelling was not the obvious choice for most others at my workplace or anywhere else.
I remembered my childhood when my parents would walk in and announce that we would be leaving for Goa, Delhi or Badrinath ,yet again during our vacations . We would try and reason with them that we would rather stay back  with grandma and play with our friends. ( friends and cousins were the only thing that mattered to us when we were 10).
“Sorry guys the tickets are already booked, come and pack your bags”,my mom would reply cheerily.
Ultimately my sister and I would end up having the best time ever during those biannual trips to different places around the country. They were enriching and we learnt a great deal about our history and culture when we traveled,than through our text books.We also ended up seeing the happier,relaxed and younger versions of our parents during those trips.

Fast forward to today and I feel a familiar thrill when I sit with K and coordinate our leaves, book hotel rooms, pore over train timetables and pack for the upcoming trip.
Its so thrilling to be traveling,never really sure of what is coming up next, to never be rushed to meet deadlines,  to try new food, to spend the entire day soaking up the culture of the place and the people, to listen to their tales and ambitions,to be able to stand still and look at the rising sun from amidst dew kissed fields, to spend an entire day just bathing in the waterfalls, to spend an entire night gazing at the stars, to spend the day discovering a new place, to lounge around your tent doodling and drinking hot tea,to be able to saunter through a new town; the kind of freedom travelling offers  to one’s spirit is second to none.IMG_2607

Travelling subtly takes you out of your comfort zone,prior to travelling so much ,i was a shy person not really the most adventurous,but being in a new place surprisingly made me feel and act more brave i tried out a lot of adventure sports i normally would have steered clear of.  IMG_3599

Travelling made me a more relaxed ,easy going person. It made me realize that the stuff we usually fret and worry about isn’t all that important.I found out much to my surprise that it is OK if things don’t go exactly as per my plan,in fact sometimes the unplanned stuff is way more fun and memorable.

As  Miriam Beard once said“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” 

 

Offbeat things to do when in Pondicherry

I woke up shivering as the wind blew in, through the open door.

I looked around groggily and noticed a faint orange glow in the distance.

K called out excitedly, “Hey its almost sunrise, lets head to the beach”.
It was December and one of the best times to visit Pondicherry. The weather was cold as compared to the usual hot and humid climate as was the norm. We had visited  many times before and wanted to spend this weekend doing something more offbeat.IMG_0863

We were lucky to be living a few feet away from the beach, at a hatchery in Markanam. The wind was howling and we pulled our jackets closer as we walked towards the beach.
The sun rose steadily as the ocean shimmered,in beautiful shades of orange and pink. We were the only people on the beach,except for some young boys practicing somersaults a few feet away; we watched some fishing boats in the distance laying out their nets. We walked for a while and chanced upon some driftwood which still had some sea anemones growing on it, we came upon some voodoo dolls, beautiful shells, turtles and the most interesting varieties of crabs that kept getting washed ashore by the gentle waves. Soon the fishermen hauled in their catch and started sorting them out. K spoke to one of them and they offered to take us out to sea and show us a nearby fort.

Since it was low tide ,the ocean was calm and we climbed into the small fishing boat and as we went a little deeper the waves crashed on the side of the boat ,spraying us with water. The fisherman killed the motor and we just floated in the water for a while to see the direction of the flow. To be right there surrounded by the sea on all sides ,makes you so still and also fills you with great peace.The boatman showed us some mangrove forests in the distance and told us that  although he had a MCA degree, he earned more through fishing and decided to live here as opposed to the city since it was  also his hometown.IMG_0732

We were nearing the shore and the ruins of a small fort appeared in the distance. This fort looked picturesque even though it was in ruins, built during the Mughal era between 1736-1740 AD it was under the control of the Nawab of Arcot. It was given to the French and then lost to the British who demolished the fort in 1760. It used to be the main port of trade for the Arcot nawabs . There was a mint here, which was later shifted to Pondicherry. Soon other tourists started trickling into the fort by the time we had reached the shore. It was called Alamparai fort and at the centre of the ruins was a mausoleum. The fort proved to be a photographers paradise and soon there were cameras everywhere, people bringing out their picnic baskets and some venturing to climb to the top of the fort.IMG_2169

We went back to Markanam checked out the salt flats and went to the olive ridley turtle hatchery nearby. It was humbling to see the efforts put in by the locals to save the turtles and protect them from predators and some inconsiderate fellow humans.

The next day,we decided to spend some time in Paradise beach.
True to its name this beach was more like an island and was accessible by boat from the Chunnambar boat house located about 8 km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. The white sands and the blue waters gave the beach an exotic look. Since there is an entry fee, it is not as crowded as the other beaches around Pondicherry . We enjoyed playing in the gentle waves and enjoyed a yummy though somewhat expensive meal at the shacks that are present on the beach.  There were some very crude shower and change areas. The last boat back to the boathouse was at 6pm. We headed back to Chennai vowing to come back and try our hand at surfing and SUP soon.DSC_1639 (2)

 

Focus-Weekly Photo Challenge-Driftwood  

 

IMG20170108065644I am posting this picture in response to the Daily post’s weekly photo challenge. This shot was taken during our trip to Markanam,  a village near Pondicherry . As we strolled in the beach watching the sunrise,  this piece of driftwood was washed ashore and we were humbled when we saw the life that it sustained and how perfect  they are just by ‘being themselves’.  Nature never fails to amaze me.

Read more about this trip here;Offbeat things to do when in Pondicherry