A rainy day- dog on my lap and a book

It’s raining, and I am sitting in my front yard with lots of plants. There is a smell of burning wood in the air. The smell I always associate with mountains and hills. The smell makes me nostalgic about travel. Thus, turning my attention to it. 

It’s a normal working day. Working from home gives me the liberty to work according to my own schedule.

I am a market researcher so analysis and reporting and understanding human beings is what I actually do for a living.

Yes, I like my job, it does wake me up in the morning. Some days are stressful, and some are not. I guess its true for you all.

But, it still isn’t what I want to do.

I miss the outdoors. I want to be out there, amongst the trees and the leaves, the unknown cities and the unknown treasures. The narrow road with an end to civilization, people nobody has heard of, places people have long forgotten, lanes still virgin from tourist traps.

I am sitting, I should rather move. 

Right now I am free, with nothing to do in terms of work. But I still don’t know how to find the opportunity that my soul craves. I feel restless and unsatisfied. When the weekend comes I crave working days while during workdays I want to throw back my legs and lie down and wish for weekends.

I have it all, yet I feel I have none.

I have stopped telling people about it. About my dreams, my cravings. They make fun, and they feel it’s not practical. But do I care?

Well, sometimes I do. I feel it’s a fantasy I have grown accustomed to while reading and watching movies, the two things I do so feverishly. 

At other times I feel motivated to work towards the goal in my free time. 

But now I am free, straining my mind to involve myself in exploring what I want.

But what are my next steps? Should I resume my office work? Should I continue reading Paulo Coehlo? Or should I read the e-book about past civilizations that I had been reading? 

jAISALMER:THE CITY OF GOLD

history

Jaisalmer is the west end of India where she shares a border with her neighbour Pakistan. In terms of size it is the largest city in Rajasthan, but in terms of population it has a handful. Weather patterns form one of the major reasons. Thar desert bears a scorching summer, where temperature reaches up to 50 degree celsius and winters are cold and windy. Apart from the Muslims, two Hindu clans of the ‘Bhatti’s’ and the ‘Rajputs’ reside here. They call themselves the descendants of Lord Krishna. The city is named after King Jaisal of the 12th century, who chose the highest point of the city to build a magnificent fort (Jaisalmer Fort), on which the city was named afterwards.

ARCHITECTURE

The city of Jaisalmer is a small area that seems to have arisen from the sand. Aptly named Golden city, the entire area is built with naturally occurring yellow sandstone. It’s as if the sand dunes have risen high to accommodate its residents. The only colour you can see is the huge branches of pink, white, red, bougainvillaeas in several nooks and corners. But fear not because the even when the houses are monochromatic these have one of the most finest, delicate and minute carvings you would have ever seen.

Passing by the road if often come across new facades being built where an expert hand is busy carving the stone in lingering rythematic moves.

It’s like every house seems to have been an abode of a king. 

Stone carvings in Jaisalmer

STONE CARVINGS, SOURCE:PEXELS.COM

This was my first experience of a golden city which resembled some of the pictures I had seen of Egypt and Jordan. Beyond the sea and the mountains, a desert city had a historical charm to it. The buildings seem to have been there since the beginning of the time but didn’t bear any grudge towards the past. The heritage seemed sleeping calmly within. Time had only added the necessary strokes to their elegance. Sometimes it seemed as if you have travelled back in time and might even come across some king or his subjects strolling somewhere in their ancient rags.

jAISALMER FORT

Jaisalmer fort stands as an example of the timelessness of the city. One can see a 360 degree view of the city while walking through the fort. Like everything else in this desert, the fort too had a winding path with narrow lanes leading up to the entrance.

JAISALMER FORT, SOURCE:SELF

A SNEEK PEAK FROM THE JAISALMER FORT

The area cohabits several other monuments including some Hindu and Jain temples.

CARVED JAIN TEMPLE, SOURCE :SELF

The narrow lanes are full of artisans, painters, book stores and souvenir shops. You could get fridge magnets, camels made with mud and lots of Rajasthani jewellery. I bought a hand-painted shirt of a Rajasthani man (often called ‘tau’) with huge moustaches. Couldn’t help, I am a sucker for souvenirs.  

THE SOUVENIR LANE, SOURCE:SELF

A SNEEK PEAK INTO THE LANE, SOURCE: SELF

THAR DESERT MUSEUM

THAR MUSEUM, SOURCE: SELF

After visiting the fort, we stopped at the Thar desert museum. The space was too small to be called a museum. However in an area of approx 800 square feet, a huge collection of historical artefacts awaited our attention. It was single handedly owned and cared for by L.N Khatri for whom preserving the past was more important than planning the future.

Among his preserves were an opium machine, wedding bangles, old letters exchanged between kings, huge brass utensils, an ancient refrigerator, grain storehouse and whatnot.

He told us how Jaisalmer was an important trade route that made these people rich. Because of the intense heat, houses were made of mud and cow dung because they have the ability to stay cold during summers and warm during winters. Certain old villages still use the technique. Married women were seen as a good omen, often dressed in several white bangles which they wear for life long. The most celebrated festival here is the Gangaur festival which is celebrated by married and unmarried women. 

PATWA KI HAVELI

Our next stop was Patwa ki haveli. A set of five beautifully carved houses built by five Patwa brothers. The Patwa’s were rich 19th-century merchants who traded in opium, gold and silver and therefore had left a similar mark on their houses. The 2-storeyed havelis had separate spaces demarcated as guest room, kitchen, toilet, storeroom and bedroom.

PATWA HAVELI, SOURCE: SELF

As you enter the house/haveli, you feel as if it is dressed in the wedding lehnga (dress) of the Indian bride. Carvings, mirrors, frescoes, and paintings have left no corner untouched,right from the walls to the roof. Most of the mirrors inside the haveli were known to have been brought from Belgium. The architect seemed to have compensated for the monochromatic yellow throughout the city. 

INSIDE PATWA HAVELI, SOURCE:SELF

THE END

While we retired to our hotel, again a yellow beauty, it was time to bid a goodbye to the city. It was hard to go back.So for a final treat, we dined on the rooftop restaurant of our hotel that had a view of the entire city and amongst the darkness, standing tall and unmistakable Jaisalmer fort in the centre.

The vast emptiness of sand still appeared dominant with few lights signalling the existence of man. Here man is still at the mercy of nature. Where she holds power and spreads magic all around, the poor man is unable to tame her might. That is what makes this place the golden age of the past. 

I had never been a desert lover and always opined myself as a beach or a mountain person. But somewhere along, the golden hues of the sand changing colours as sun rays filtered through them; the sandstone buildings having an eternal charm and also the simplicity of its people, had me enamoured.

Here’s a short-cut guide to our trip!

Would love to have you back!

A CITY GIRL IN LOVE WITH A TOWN

I was born a city girl. Having that typical access to renowned brands, famous restaurants, premium quality stuff, everything at the click of a button or a call. A city that has so much hustle that it is difficult to hear anything but the noise of endless horns or people fighting over nothing. Crowds swarming the streets and the endless wait for getting anything you want because there are several in line for the same.

Whenever these streets clogged my mind, I would sit back and watch a movie where the girl enters a jungle or somewhere in the middle of nowhere and could hear her own heart pump. Or else, a novel, a similar setting for a similar escape.

A new town

One day I got a chance to travel to a small town called Vidisha in MP. I had never heard of it but from a friend who was lucky enough to have it as his maternal hometown.

We reached there by train, what I saw in front of me was a world where things had a slow pace. The streets were narrow but not empty. And there was a silence that made the birds speak out the loudest. A chirp here and a flapping of wings there. I saw sparrows that had long left my city, jumping across the street for some bits of food. I saw jackals on the way too. Nature seemed to like this place.

The houses were old. The colors were dull. Nothing fancy, nothing proud. But what you actually call authentic. People still mingled around. Neighbors basked in the sun together and called out if they needed help. They were still living in the past I thought, but in reality their social lives were still preserved from the degradation we suffered, as city people.

The next day a friend took us on a town-tour. Who would have thought a town this small could hold such treasures?

The hidden treasures

Sometimes little things make big differences. Likewise, travelling on the bike, smelling the air mixed with the scent of flowers, was a choice that fate brought on us.

The drive itself was liberating. As the town unfolded, a whole new area with virgin expanses of green came our way. Trees making canopy on the roads, as if to provide shade to the riders in the heat. The air was soft and fresh. The people had a curious but a simple quality to their faces. Not the kind of pride and disgust you come across in the cities.

We visited Udaigiri caves and resort. It was like travelling back in time when people used to live in harmony with the nature. Nested besides the forest it contained several Hindu and Jain relics dating 5th century AD. Magnificent, as if untouched. You could explore it, on your own accord without the hustling of tour guides or people incessantly clicking pictures. You could see how those that came before you lived and worshipped. Even peacocks and peahens found it suitable to reside in.

Udaigiri caves, Source: Tales of a nomad

Our next stop was Bijamandal. A whole new whole world of the gods opens up and you sense something sacred in the site. A temple and then a mosque, the site still holds the memories of the past, afresh. Walking a bit further we found a small water harvesting pit that one can mistake as a magical place much like Game of Throne’s House of Black and white.

Water reservoir aka house of black and white, Source: Self

The whole area is unexplored and still so pure from people who trade history. It numbs you because the vast expanse of the site is such that it makes you look so little and so unimportant, thereby humbling you.

On a 15minutes drive from Vidisha was another unexplored gem called Sanchi stupa. Yes, the picture that you find on a 200 Indian Rupee bill that is a symbol of Buddhism. The vast expanse made by King Ashoka in 3rd century BCE still holds huge idols of buddha but with the kind of calmness that he always preached. We even trekked a bit down to see if we find some unknown relics residing in the overgrowth surrounding the area.

Sanchi Stupa, Source: World heritage journeys

An enthusiast of history or shall we say, a proud lover of his humble town, our guide was a friend with whom we were staying. He had a passion for things only heart can see. He made the journey alive. We travelled several other places, discovered hidden temples and known farms all through his eyes.  His passion was pure and his love for his town, quite clear.

Sometimes, when I sit back still, try to hear those sparrows or the rustling of the leaves, I am reminded of the town and its passionate eyes and I almost forget if I was a city girl ever! And my eyes feel the bitter-sweet longing.

Did something like that ever happen to you?

Would love to have you back!

Skol! to the medieval town of vikings!

“Oh, there is so much to see here, I want you to see everything but I don’t know how to show you the directions”

Freyr, a swedish local

With a silvery overcast sky, the cold wind crept to our legs, finding ways to slide inside the leather boots or under the wool of the neck scarf, having already turned ears to apples. No, it wasn’t winter here in Stockholm, but the onset of summer. So, one could not blame the winds but our bodies accustomed to the comparatively mild winters of Delhi. Amid this cold raining on us, we were warmed by the very path we were walking on. The Vasabron bridge in Normalmm was an entry gate to a picturesque art. On both sides of it lay historical buildings in architectural brilliance, but with a touch of vintage, classic and not the old per se. They had a beauty that only time could bestow on them. Beneath the bridge, the Lake Malaren flowed like an old crone walking, but as you go near it you realize it has the ferocity and power of time itself.

WITNESSING HISTORY ON VASABRON

As your feet get numb in the cold, walking fast is the only way to keep them warm. But the canvas ahead doesn’t allow you to do that. It calls attention, tells you to stop and admire the beauty around. Though, we had but only a short eye contact because our hunger for more was far from being satiated. 

The Vasabron Bridge over Lake Malaren,  Stockholm, Sweden
The Vasabron bridge over Lake Malaren, Stockholm, Sweden

As one high rising marvel was sitting next to another, we matched our feet to it. Since we began walking, without a route or a map in hand, we had offered ourselves to the lost streets.

Suddenly, at the other end of the road, the concrete roads stopped, it had reached the threshold of history. From there on lay the cobbled streets with invisible marks of hooves that might have carried men and maidens all over the city.

Entering the crocodile’s mouth:old town

Without having any idea about the place, and eager to enter into a time machine, we booked a ride into the past. The streets opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, getting narrower as you move inside. At one point you feel you have reached the endpoint, but where the mouth ended the stomach began. It was a quagmire of lanes, definitely imperceptible to a first-time visitor. But it was a place where one could get lost for a lifetime. Somewhat like Harry potter’s Diagon alley. You do expect to find Hagrid buying you a white owl and a wand to do your magic.

Narrow streets of Gamla stan, lined by Cafes
Entering the crocodile’s mouth-Narrow streets of Gamla Stan lined by cafes

The lanes of Gamla Stan or old town, were full of small, cozy cafes inhabited in tall three to four-storied colorful buildings. It was like entering a garden of architecture with flowers for buildings. Sometimes here and there you come across dwarf cafes, it’s as if they lie in a cave. You soon reach a small tunnel smeared with the color of terracotta. You would want to stay inside it and pretend it’s raining outside.

As you cross several lanes, brush yourself against some Swedes and some tourists, they all feel drunk with beauty, a smile permanent on their faces and eyes sparkling with peace and ecstasy. You do realize you are in a Scandinavian country, the happiest people on the planet. 

The scent of the stalker

We had been walking for long and it was getting cold as the sun had closed its curtains to the clouds. There was no silver shine, but a grey shroud.

In every nook and corner, we were being followed. An ending aroma of coffee never seemed to get tired of the chase. It charmed us to savor a cup, and when it became unbearable to wait any longer, we went for it headlong. As we narrowed down our options, we soon found one where from tall glass windows you could see people huddled together with dim yellow lamps, seated on leather couches with what seemed to be a replica of elf skin. Needless to say, we entered the Espresso House and ordered cups of coffee with a Swedish Fika. 

I don’t know whether it was the coffee itself, its companion, or our intoxicated senses that the coffee tasted like melted beans, with an aroma so strong, a wine couldn’t have stood against it. Nothing, simply nothing could have satiated us, like a fragrant cup in a warm café full of happy-looking faces calling for conversations. But we were like children full of curiosity and so we ventured out from our warm nest.

POSTCARD BUILDINGS: POINT O

Stumbling your way across the lanes, we reached what is called point O, officially called Stortorget. On all four sides, you see postcard buildings of yellow, orange, green, cream, grey colors with a small area in the center. It was actually the site for the Stockholm bloodbath in the 1500s. But now, it was like a peace summit, no matter the Nobel Peace Prize Museum lies in this very square. In the center of the square stood a triple-layered cylindrical stone edifice with 4 devil’s mouths on all sides from which water trickled down. Besides this, stood a musician who with his saxophone tried to make the wind reverberate with symphonies that hitherto were cold and harsh. As we were failing to locate the best angle for a perfect shot in the square, a familiar tune reached our ears. Of all the songs in the world, the saxophone sang- “Kal ho na ho”. It was like God speaking to you, telling you to live and store this very moment inside your heart because this might be the happiest, most beautiful memory of a foreign land. We had reached the brim of delight.

The Song

After which every emotion just overflowed. 

Point 0 or Stortorget in Gamla stan, Stockholm, Sweden
Point 0 or Stortorget surrounded by colorful buildings on all sides

In between the cafes, a large portion of the lanes was filled with souvenir shops. Moose horns, moose horn cups, Vikings helmets with horns (again made of moose), woolen caps with moose embroidered on them, all symbolizing their national animal called Elk/moose. You can’t suppress your childish whim to enter and experience it all. 

It was time when the day had already changed into its night robes. But like an insomniac, it would not sleep until 9pm here. It’s just that the day was changing its moods and now it was a time to relax in the receding twilights or the happy pajamas.

JAZZ AMONGST VIKINGS: cafe sTAMPEN

Our feet were begging us to get back to the hotel but our hearts wanted to sleep right on the very street, not wanting to enter the 21st century again. This was good, this was warm, the lanes were actually a barrier to the numbing winds.

When God placed your head, much higher than your heart then you tend to be more realistic, especially in a foreign land (though it had started feeling like a newfound home like you had dug up your ancestry and found you have Scandinavian roots).

So, we were headed back to the hotel. While walking on our way back, we heard loud music leaking out a vintage-looking bar. Well, our head might be driven by us, but as for the heart, God drives that one, so, amen.

As we entered it looked like a tavern, for one sec you expect men with long crimson beards, ragged clothes, dancing away their fatigue. Until 1880, a premise of the church, the bar had a cellar that dated back to the 17th century. Stuffed animals and antiques hung from its ceiling with permanent dust of antiquity on them. There was no room to look down at the floor, people occupied every bit of it. It wasn’t crowded but plump like a juicy grape. Somewhere between these hung small lamps, with enough light to see your companion next to you. Built-in a narrow longish space, on one side, was a bar with a handsome Swedish man you can mistake for a Viking. He had tattoos all over, with his hair braided in a ponytail, his beard reached the most part of his neck and his blue eyes were other-worldly. Only when he spoke, we realized we weren’t dreaming. He wasn’t the Ragnar, Bjorn, or Ivar from the Vikings series of Netflix, but a 21st century Swede bartender. As we placed our order, he informed us to quickly grab a space because the performance was soon to start. 

Cafe Stampen, Gamla Stan, Sweden
Café Stampen, Gamla Stan (Picture credits: Stampen, official website)

Jazz, I might have overheard the term often, without giving it any specific attention. So, when the band started performing, I didn’t hold any expectations. I didn’t even know what type of music it must be. The all-boys band had the most energetic one for the singer. As he began moving, the wine inside us felt more intoxicating. With every foot he tapped, our weary feet followed. The air inside was dancing. A maddening ecstasy, of dancing to new rhythms in a dark, warm old space was my entry into the world of Jazz. Even after his performance ended, the music wouldn’t leave our ears and our feet wouldn’t stop moving. In a blurred vision as we re-read the name of the bar, it was called Stampen. And, all the way from that bar to our hotel, all we did was to stamp. 

Jazz

THE REAL VIKING HIDEAWAY: aIFUR

We stayed in Stockholm for 7 days, for which for at least 4 days we went back to the time machine and hopped for a ride to old-world charm. Every time, we experienced something we didn’t before. There were hidden treasures all over.

One of our most valuable finds was a Viking Café. It was hidden from the main street. You need to climb down several steep steps of stairs to find a wooden door with Aifur, the Vikings café written in a unique Viking font called Floki.

Aifur, the Vikings Cafe, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
Inside Aifur, the Vikings Café

As you enter, your jackets are no longer necessary. There is a rush of voices filled with the overpowering scents of candles and coffee. Yes, candles were the only source of lightning in the dark dome-shaped café which could easily have been a subway for anti-social dwellers. Withstanding its name, the café had left no stone unturned to take their customers into a Vikings tavern. Wooden stools casually aligned the walls, wherever there was a space, leaving little room for people to pass by. There was no room for interior designing, but rustic, antique space with vintage as its only design.

You might call it ‘cramped’ space, but the experience was almost liberating. It’s like a couch full of loved ones, hygge on the full course!

People in small groups occupied the upper berths, while down below several feet long wooden tables had large groups chatting and eating. The chairs had moose skins over rugged wood. Though for you to see that close, your eyes will have to strain a little. The roof was made of brick like the rest of the space, with small wooden Vikings ships hanging all over. Wooden mugs and what seemed like Elkhorn mugs were there. If you are someone you just entered you will feel it’s a full house, but somehow you would still want to wait no matter how long, for no matter how small or cram-ish the table to fit in. You ought to taste the Viking here. Coming to Sweden without the Viking experience? It’s like a wine without grapes.

So, while our tea emanated an aroma of spices filled with wooden notes (probably from the cup), our coffee was bare black. As we ordered milk with it, we got a cold cup and we were told that’s the way it is here. With no scope for a further bargain, we added the cold milk to the hot espresso.

I need not tell you what was the taste, you know it already! Yup, melted beans, strong and smooth, the cold milk couldn’t hinder the experience, it rather made it novel. Who could have imagined having something like this, and still get a similar experience? But again, was it coffee beans really?


Have I missed any of the hidden jewels in Gamla Stan? Do let me know in the comments below!

Would love to have you back!