Lockdown: A Poem

I had a Google Pixel phone
As my photography's cornerstone
Two days before lockdown
Anger came like cyclone
To the floor Pixel was thrown
Screen cracked and it broke down
But I had to postpone
Travel to Ernakulam town,
the nearest pixel service center known
Since then 2 months have gone
I am still stuck in my zone
My beard outgrown
With the realization I should scale down
Emotions that moan
Which flood my scone
In a world so Sharon
When even the Ching Chong
Use pandemic as a weapon

Craving for Delhi food

Onasadya is just couple of days away but please don’t get me wrong for I am longing for Delhi delicacies these days. Though I was mesmerized by this historic city during my first visit in 2013, it took me another 5 years to finally gulp down those innumerable lip smacking food items. But I will have wait to for some more months or maybe another year to experience it again. Until then I will have to live with these sweet tooth memories.
Plenty of “top 10 Delhi food” articles come up during the google search and these posts will be very helpful if you are planning to explore Delhi food scene. And later maybe you yourself can post a “top 10 Delhi food” article. Lol

Dahi Bhalle – Natraj, Chandini ChowkNatraj Dahi Bhalla, Chandini Chowk

Shahi Tukra – Haji Tea Point, Chandini Chowk

Mango and Fruit Khulfi – Duli Chand Khulfi Wale, Chandini Chowk

 

Old Famous Jalebi Wala, Chandni Chowk

Karim’s, Jama Masjid

Lassis – Chandini Chowk

Dilli Haat – explore food from different parts of India

 

Here is some more Shahi Tukra for all those who have read this post. Have a great week!!!

 

Quaint Aazhimala | Trivandrum, Kerala

Sandwiched between the exotic Kovalam and soon to be international seaport Vizhinjam is the quaint little village Azhimala. While the place appears laid-back with the ringing of the ritual bells of Aazhimala Shiva Temple, the only landmark of this village complimenting the sound of waves washing up on the beach, it does attract quite a lot of tourists. There are a handful of tourist resorts in this area yet it isn’t touristy like Kovalam. Occasionally curious vacationers wander into the temple premises and with a mix of confusion and excitement roam around the vividly painted temple. The narrow sloppy path adjacent to the sarpakaavu that lies opposite to the temple leads to the cliff and beach.
Being about 20km away from Trivandrum makes it an ideal weekend getaway. Yet, ironically this was my first visit.

Purpose of a flower

A Flower bloomed
Lover boy plucked it and offered it his girl
The Flower became the symbol of love.

A Flower bloomed
A mother offered it at the temple for a pushpajali in the name of her child
The Flower became Prasad and protected the child from evil.

A Flower bloomed
They named it after the visiting VIP
The Flower became a symbol of diplomacy

A Flower bloomed
It bloomed across world’s largest democracy
The Flower became a symbol of nationalism for some and for others it became a symbol of intolerance.

A Flower bloomed
Nobody offered it to the temple, nobody offered it to his love, nobody named it after a VIP
Days passed as The Flower stood in bloom without a purpose.

The Flower began to feel sad and weak
She became pale and her petals began to wither
The Flower stood in bloom without a purpose.

She closed her eyes and prepared for the fall
She began to slip away into eternal sleep
A flutter interrupted her journey into the dark.

The fluttering continued and it finally awakened The Flower
She opened her eyes laboriously; the lights were blinding
A Tawny Coster fluttered in front of her
Like a child pleading for mother’s milk.

The fluttering continued and The Flower in a trice found her purpose
The Flower became happy and vivid again; The divine motherly nectar filled her body and soul
The Flower welcomed the butterfly.

Days passed, The Flower was still in bloom;full of nectar
More Tawny Costers arrived, then came a Lime Swallowtail which seemed to be in a hurry, then an Emigrant and more Tawny Costers
She welcomed the bumble bees too.

As they sat and drank milky nectar from her
The Mother Flower swayed rhythmically in the breeze and sang a lullaby that soothed her hungry children
The Flower realized her purpose

A BIG THANK YOU to all those who have read this post and have scrolled till here :-D. This is my first attempt at writing a poem (not sure if  this post qualifies as one). Cosmos flowers grow and bloom easily without any special care, in fact they remain in bloom almost round the year. But they are of less economical value compared to other flowers like roses in my part of the world. Though they are grown in gardens, people tend to be biased towards more fragrant flowers. 

Couple of weeks ago I saw a Tawny Coster on the flower and each passing day I was surprised to see the visitors – there were other flowers in the garden but those were ignored by them.  Later I read in a book about Indian butterflies that Cosmos flowers attract butterflies compared to prestigious roses or lilies. Honestly, I developed a “respect” for these Cosmos flowers and hence this post. The photos are taken in Google Pixel 2. 

 

Photo series: A black and white forest | Nagarhole National Park in monochrome

Nagarhole National Park (Karnataka) is listed among the top 10 National Parks in India by fellow travelers and is a hotspot for cat sighting. Here is a series of monochrome photos taken during the safari at Nagarhole.

Animals have a black and white world. It’s the humans who have shades of grey in them.

Sambar deers

Gaur (Indian Bison)

Dhole (Indian Wild Dog)

Indian (Malabar) Giant Squirrel

Eurasian Hoopoe

Gray (Hanuman) langur

 

Photo: Reminiscent of the tsunami – Galle Fort Post Office | Sri Lanka

The historic Galle fort was devastated during the 2004 tsunami. Sri Lankan government financially backed by Netherlands Government did a commendable job in renovating the fort and heritage buildings. Galle magically recovered from the ill effects of the disaster and infact this small ruined section of the Galle Post Office was the only reminiscent of the tsunami during my visit in 2015 and I guess by now this would have also been renovated. If you are planning to visit Galle fort make sure to spend at least couple of days to enjoy this colonial gem in Sri Lanka.

Paradise at India- Myanmar Border | Zokhawthar, Mizoram

“We are going to paradise”

The ride from Aizawl to the border town of Zokhawthar was tiring. There are no direct transport to Zokhawthar from Aizawl. Shared Taxis go until Champhai and from there taxis can be hired for Zokhawthar. It took about 8 hours for the shared Tata Sumo taxi to reach Champhai and all those hours I was squeezed by rest of the 3 passengers in the last row and the winding mountainous roads with intermittent bad patches was aiding the squeezing. But the Mizos were very polite and never complained about the giant co-passenger from South India. In fact one gentleman who was travelling with his family bought me tea during the precious breaks during the journey. From Champhai it takes another 2 hours to reach Zokhawthar, the India-Myanmar border town which means I’ll be squeezed again. Sun sets early in this part of the world and the demand for a separate time zone for Northeast India seemed to be valid. But Government of India feels that it may arise the feeling of separation from rest of India in a region marked by insurgency while some people from Northeast use this stand as a political tool by pitching the fact the “mainland” people are imposing their will without considering the Northeast’s sentiments. Though a separate time zone can be beneficial it won’t be much helpful to my aching muscles and twisted ligaments. By the time I reached Zokhawthar it was pitch dark and the fatigue of the journey was overwhelming. I got out of the shared taxi, struggling to stand still and comprehend where I have reached. I overcame the urge to sleep on the side of the roads itself and the iris in my eyes slowly adjusted with the darkness. I quickly looked around hoping to find a hotel. There were no neon boards and the whole area was engulfed with darkness and it felt like I am at a small pit stop rather than a town or village. I could see the shadows of people, some still and some moving.
Rather than approaching a single person I shot my question into the darkness “Where can I get a room to stay”
A lady standing nearby was kind enough to respond but she replied in a local dialect of Mizo language.
I repeat the question in Hindi.
The lady this time raising her voice answered again in “Mizoian”.
Well make no mistake a vast majority of people in Mizoram understands and speaks Hindi and English and it was pure coincidence that I was striking a conversation with the insignificant minority.
I decided to cut down the words and rephrased my question with a single word.
“Hotel?”
Instantaneously her face lit up and beckoned to me to come over. She was standing inside a shop with rolling shutter and inside it there were some plastic chairs and tables. I could see silhouettes of couple of people sitting in the dark. While I stood there puzzled she repeated my question as an answer
“Hotel!!!”
I realized that this tiny dark shop in which she was standing was a restaurant. As the verbal conversation was having limited success I resorted to charades. I mimicked action of sleep and said hotel. She in return showed the eating action and said “hotel”
Not eat … I need sleep. I mimicked the action for “no” “eat”, “yes” “sleep” .
Decoding my message made her visibly happy. She murmured something to the fellow Mizos sitting inside in rapid staccatos and one man as if obeying an order came out and got onto his bike.
“Paradise” they both said. Their face were beaming.
The man said “Come on, we go to Paradise”
I got on to the bike of a complete stranger who is guaranteeing a ride to Paradise.
Mizoram is 87% Christian and it is common for the missionaries to promise a journey to Paradise.
Paradise he repeated euphorically while the motorbike wobbled through unpaved narrow path
“Paradise” he shouted. The bike was at unnatural speeds making me realize the drug menace in Northeast India. He sure was under the influence of drugs.
“We are going to paradise” he screamed as he took a sharp turn, the motorbike almost falling off into the ditch.
“We are going to Paradise” he repeated for the nth time. The fatigue stopped me from protesting. But my mind was full of thoughts about the imminent danger awaiting this journey.
“Paradise”
How can you be so sure man. First there will be judgement day and there will be some criteria to go to paradise right? Riding bike under the influence of drugs is punishable and what if God gives you hell instead of heaven. Hey wait… If hell is the opposite of heaven where did paradise come from. And I am not a Christian so my God might be judging me with a different set of benchmarks. So don’t give your assurances of Paradise.
The bike skidded and we almost fell over. My thoughts ceased. He began “We are going to …”
“PARADISE” I interjected and then we rode for sometime in silence through darkness with the headlight of the bike piercing through it.
Soon the bike stopped near a 3 storey concrete building, the only one in the entire neighbourhood. The rider while pointing at the building said with immense joy “We have reached Paradise”
Well man! I haven’t been to Paradise before but I have a strong feeling that they have downscaled due to economic recession.
“Rooms available” he said in broken English
Hotel Paradise was one of the very few options for accommodation and it was more of a homestay rather than hotel. The room, though a bit tiny, was clean and the bed had mosquito nets. As soon as my body touched the soft fluffy bed surface it surely felt like Paradise!!!
Paradise had its effect on me positively for I, just like the God, gave forgiveness to the bike rider who was high on drugs. After all he didn’t have any plan to ride his motorbike and he only did it to help me. Lol
Travel is not all about picture perfect photos and compelling travelogues. It is filled up with moments of realizations and unadulterated emotions. There will also be embarrassing situations where you make a fool out of yourself which is perfectly fine for you are outside your comfort zone in a foreign territory. But these moments are hidden from friends to avoid further mocking. Lol. But as wine of travel memories gets stronger I have gathered strength to share these funny moments and this particular incident happened in 2013 in Mizoram.

Kashmir’s splendid apple gardens

“En route Gulmarg you will pass through fields of apple trees. The sight is spectacular and I am sure you will love it. Don’t miss it Sir!” Adil, my cab driver and guide for Kashmir, spoke with overwhelming enthusiasm.

The Kashmiri winter was nearing its end in February 2014 but it was still capable of striking my bones yet the thoughts of the spectacular apple garden decorating the Kashmir valley made me warm. Initially I was sceptical to visit Gulmarg as TripAdvisors have posted mixed reviews about the visit at this time of the year as Gulmarg will be messy due to slushy snow. But Adil’s words were promising. Along with Gulmarg, he was also pitching for Sonmarg and Tanmarg but due to budget constraints I struck off the latter two much to his dismay. Yet he continued rhymic gaga about Gulmarg-Tanmarg-Sonmarg all along the journey from airport until we reached the banks of Dal lake from where I got onto a shikara to reach the cosy Kashmiri houseboat. The rest of day was spent effectively by visiting the four Mughal gardens in Srinagar. “Mughals made Mughal gardens and God made Kashmir’s Apple Gardens” Adil declared while we rode back to Dal Lake’s shikara point.
The next day we started early towards Gulmarg and Adil resumed the narration about apples and snow. The excitement increased as he announced that we are nearing the apple fields. I took out my camera while Adil stopped the car besides a group of leafless trees plastered with snow.

“Where are the apples?” I asked, puzzled and hoping against hope.
“Apples have been plucked away. You have to come during summer to see them” Adil replied keeping a straight face.
I scrutinized his face for sarcasm but found none.
“How can you be so sure that these are apple trees” I asked, even though it doesn’t matter whether it’s apple or oranges.
“Well sir you can find that by checking the leaves” Adil’s reply was prompt.
I once again looked at the leafless tress.
“Well, there are no leaves to identify”
“Oh sir! For that you will have to come during summer. Then there will be both apples and leaves on these trees. Trust me, Kashmiri apples are the tastiest apples in the world. If this was summer you could have plucked one right now.”
Now that the vivid scenes of splendid apple trees vanished before my eyes I seriously began to doubt the scenes at Gulmarg. What if Gulmarg is messed up with slush right now? It would have been such an irony if Adil tells me that I should come in “summer” to see “snow” just like the case in apples. But I was relieved to see fresh snow which has fallen early in the morning along the valleys. There was no point in getting angry with Adil for apple fiasco as sometimes one gets too much fascinated with his place and tends to forget the fact that some of the scenes depend on the seasons.

Kashmir displays different character for each season. In autumn the poplars that line up along the roads of the valley turn yellow. It turns white and grey with plenty of snow during winters. The spring bring back the colours to the valley and in summer everything is bright and vivid with abundance of sunshine. It’s been 4 years since my visit and I am longing for a summer to visit Kashmir again to see apple trees with apples in proper

I wouldn’t dare to call this post a travelogue, instead I guess “travel bloopers” is the right word. Have you experienced these kind of bloopers during your travel? Do share it as a comment.

Photos: Let’s Football! | Siem Reap, Cambodia

The evening scenes at esplanade in Phnom Penh was same as any other esplanade around the world – fellow Cambodians were leisurely spending their time gazing at the Mekong river flowing in relaxed way as if mimicking the attitude of the people. As the day was turning golden, someone from the crowd brought about 3 footballs into the scene and the inactive souls transformed into a bunch of energetic beings in no time. They, Men and Women, Young and Old, Strangers and Friends, were “enlightened” by the spirit of Football.

Pictures taken on December 30, 2015

(S)He – Kiri, The Outcast | Uganda, Africa

“Do you know why Kiri is kept in a cage, alone and away from rest of the chimps?” The caretaker enquired

It was a sunny afternoon and the “zookeeper for a day” at Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe (Uganda) was proceeding in an amazingly awesome way. During the first day in African soil I had pleasant interactions with a cheetah, Edward –the cute baby elephant, Charles – another young elephant, giraffe, and even rhinos. Now I guess you would agree with my “amazingly awesome” adjective!!! Just when I thought I won’t be able to handle anymore African awesomeness I was told by the caretakers that next I’ll be taken to Chimpanzees’ shelter. Uganda and Rwanda offer trekking opportunities to watch Gorillas and Chimpanzees in the wild but exuberant price of packages were too hot to handle for the humble backpacker from Kerala. So I was more than satisfied with the opportunity to interact with chimps at Wildlife Centre.

The caretaker for chimps was a bit slow at first and seemed uninterested in entertaining visitors. But then he slowly opened up and became talkative.
“Each animal here has a name. We call them by their names” he said. “We don’t treat them as animals. We all have become emotionally attached. And they too trust us very much”
I nodded in agreement. I could feel that he was getting emotional. In front of us the chimps were being playful in their territory surrounded by a water moat.

“Chimps can’t swim and they are afraid of water” he announced and beckoned me to a large cage adjacent to the building.
A lone chimp sat inside the cage. Caretaker’s approach excited the chimp. The excitement triggered a series of swings and jumps. I was trying to capture all the action but was struggling to shoot due to the metal grills of the cage. The chimp looked older than rest of the pack. Her fur has greyed and thinned.
“Her name is Kiri. Do you know why only Kiri is kept inside a cage, alone and away from rest of the pack?” He threw the question at me interrupting my vague attempts of photo capture.
“She might have some infection and is undergoing treatment?” I answered
“No”
Kiri retired to a hammock after exhausting the initial excitement.
“OK. She is too aggressive?”
“No!!!”
“She is too old???” I shrugged. I have exhausted my guesses.
“This Chimp is a hermaphrodite” he said with a hint of sadness in his voice.
So? Is this the reason to keep the chimp in a cage? Why can’t Kiri interact with rest of the chimp gang? After all hermaphroditism is not infectious!!! I almost sputtered out the words.
The caretaker as if sensing my vexation said “We rescued her from a black magician. She was held captive and was relentlessly tortured”
He took out the banana and beckoned her and in a fraction of second she was leaning against the grills of the cage.
“Did you notice that her fur has thinned? That black magician used to pluck it out and sell it. People believed that it brought good luck” his voice was grave
Africa with a myriad of beliefs and superstitions considered anything unnatural as an item for worship. Hermaphroditism is a phenomenon in which an organism has the reproductive organs of both male and female. It is very rare in Chimpanzees and in fact Kiri is the only recorded hermaphrodite chimp. And though Kiri has reproductive organs of male and female, neither are fully developed.
He was still teasing her playfully by not handing over banana and she was pleading with her eyes.
He continued “The fur turn grey when chimps are under immense stress”.
That explains her aged appearance!
He then handed over the banana. Kiri is delighted.
“But why is she still kept in a cage” I enquired
“We introduced her to the woman pack first” he said “but they got frightened and did not accept her to the pack. Then we tried putting her in male pack but all the males except Zakayo (Died 26 April 2018, 54 years), the oldest chimp in captivity in Africa, attacked Kiri. So we had to keep her in this cage for her own safety.”

The DNAs of Chimps and humans are 96% similar and it appears that the similarities doesn’t end with genetic structure itself – The way humans and in this case the chimps treating someone who is “different” from their peers seems similar – attack and outcast the individual for his/her appearance. Kiri being the only hermaphrodite chimp doesn’t have a community to help her or to speak for her rights. She is alone with the whole family turned against her. But thanks to her distant cousins, the humans of UWEC for bringing her back to life.

We two stood in silence thinking about Kiri. Kiri too was silent possibly thinking about more bananas. While I was about to say goodbye to her she gave a quick smile – the subtle smile of a fighter who endured hardship and believes that the world is still a good place to live; a motivating smile to all those individuals who are alone fighting the battles forced upon them; the smile that said “Be strong and Hold on!!!” The smile that transformed into a deafening bellow of survival.

Goodbye Kiri

Another version of the Kiri’s life is posted on Daily Monitor Uganda. You can read it here