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!

Travel isn’t what you think it is

“I feel like the world would be a better place if more people experienced a little bit of someone else’s experience.”

philip rosenthal

Whenever you plan on a holiday, you always have a ‘to-do’ or ‘must-go’ type of a list. If you are a tourist, these 2 lists are all you have. And if you are a traveler, you might have at least one of them.

We often go to see the mountains we have heard about, the island which is all over Instagram, the hidden gem of a forest we saw on Youtube, or a place that is simply ‘trending’ or somewhere we long to go due to some reason.

After narrowing down a destination, we often to jot down the places we would be visiting there.

But, what we don’t plan is ‘who’ we will be meeting.

We forget the human element surrounding our journey

DHANPAT, THE CAMEL GUIDE

After all who populated these beautiful landscapes and made them known to us? Who built the historical sites we are so eager to visit?  And who comprises of the cultural arenas we love to hang around in?

Yes, people!

Those who you meet when you land at the airport, the bus-stand or the railway station. When you hire a cab or an auto-rickshaw, the driver is excited to meet you. If you aren’t a snob and would love a conversation, he would love to tell you about his home city.

If you get lost and seek the help of those around, he would (more often than not) be out there to help you to the best of his abilities. But only when you are open, to the reception.

Some will simply care     

When I was walking on a snow-clad road in Kashmir, which was hardened by the decreasing temperatures and hence slippery, somewhere along the road a man dressed in his pheran (Long dress made of wool), having no connection to me, said ‘

madam side side se chalna dhere dhere

(Madam, walk along the sides, slowly). As I smiled and thanked him, I wondered, why does he care? That was my ‘city mind’ talking. Here, we see each other with the eye of a skeptic. Everybody around is there to either rob or hurt us, that is all!

A STRANGER ON THE ROAD

But traveling rings a different kind of a bell. Ironically, we are more comfortable with the people there, in an alien environment.

SOME WILL be happy to talk

“Because you know what happens when you say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning?’ You make a connection. And isn’t that what being human is all about?”

philip rosenthal

Talking to strangers on road, is like talking to culture in flesh and blood. You just need a hello, or khamma Ghani. That is all we said, when an elderly Rajasthani man came in while we were having tea in what came out to be his tea-stall. He has several tales for us, from the hardships of life in the Thar desert, to the honesty of people in the area. We did lost track of time and got up only when ours was the only voice on the road.

A VILLAGE ANCESTOR IN JAISALMER

Though natives have the most potent kind of a story. You also love sharing your experiences with fellow travelers.

As we boarded the long-tailed boat in Koh Lanta, Thailand, we saw a couple who greeted us with a smile as we hopped on. That was the only signal we needed, because after that we were transported to Canada and Japan, the two countries the couple belonged to.

some will seek respect

There are some people you meet on the road. While others who are a part of your holiday fever, the ones you meet at the ‘must-go places’.

An average Indian tourist always believes the locals are there to rob them or charge a hefty sum. I don’t say their allegations are baseless, but these are too general.

A cranky man, who seeks to go up a mountain because he read about its beauty in a blog, would simply want to go, would believe the owner of the pony should be ‘present’ at his ‘command’. The poor local man, would fight for his dignity and quote a sum he would be highly profitable in. That is because for him, you are a source of income only!

On the other hand, there’s another man. He calls the pony man, “bhaijaan kitne mein chalenge?” (Brother, how much will you charge?) and then begins to bargain, does so with an apparent ‘human touch’, one that makes the local happy because he likes a man who talks, that too with respect and love.

IMAN WITH HIS PONY

The native is there to help you with your travel goals, and earn some money. But if you understand the ‘help’ first and the ‘money’ later, you will see how he makes sure you get the fun equivalent to every penny paid. And in doing so, sometimes, they might go a bit too far.

some will make you cry

As it happened to me that I was being hand-driven on a sledge. While I enjoyed the comfort, along with the snow-clad Pir-Panjal Range, I saw a red drop fall on the snow, where the man driving my sledge walked on. As I informed him of his injury, he would merely wipe clean the blood, smile and moved on.

AIJAZ WITH HIS SLEDGE

For the rest of the journey, I merely enjoyed walking with him while having a conversation, till we reached our destination.

After that, only his words lingered in my mind, the stained snow and I forgot all about the mountains.

some will make you laugh

In the hot deserts of Rajasthan, when the sun was about to retire, we were heading for the dunes. Our man, dressed in a sand colored dhoti-kurta with teeth that laughed all white, came with a shiny black jeep vibrating with Rajasthani folk music.  

As our car mounted on one sand-dune to the next, he would make a loud noise, encourage us to dance, and forget we were different. We drove in the desert for 3 hours and at that moment, we were ‘all one’.

ALI WITH HIS BEAUTIFUL THAR

We had already negotiated the price, it would have been less of trouble if he would drive us down, silently and let us seek our adventure on our own. And somehow he became a part of us even when we headed home.

His laughter and voice, where he sang his own name, “Ali, Ali, Ali” in delight, still catches our ear now and then.

The part played by the locals is not only to help you discover the city but to make sure you have a great time. And if trouble strikes, and you are kind yourself, then kindness shall prevail.

some will help you (without any motive)

You will agree how embarrassing it is to wait for your turn in the queue, get an order ready, and discover you have no means to pay the cashier! Well, that too in a foreign land!

As we finished our meal, we wanted a hot cup of coffee to power up our senses for another stroll in the cold streets of Sweden. So I got in the queue again and ordered 2 hot cups of cappuccino. Even after trying twice, all the 3 of my debit cards wouldn’t get approved. Being a cashless café, they wouldn’t accept any other payment mode. While I opened my mouth, for an apologetic cancellation, the man at the counter announced my order to be prepared. All wet in embarrassment I repeated that I couldn’t pay. The man smiled and said,

“I know mam, don’t worry, it’s on us!”

That didn’t happen to me, so far in my life, in my city, like ever! Is it related to the fact that I had complimented the food, only a while ago because I was genuinely too happy about it? Or would you say the locals-only care for the tourist?

I think, We are far too busy distinguishing people into races, religion, caste, country, ethnicity, locality. It is only through travel that you realize underneath the different skin color, features, built or clothes, is the same human in flesh and blood.

He or she is willing to welcome you in his/her home, shelter you, and let you feel welcomed. Not because you generate revenue for them, but because no matter the money, every human loves to talk about himself and learn about others.

And as human, when trouble strikes, people genuinely care.

some will come at your rescue

Like the time my brother forgot his bag on a tram in Stockholm and the next thing we see is, he sitting in a car and driving away. Later we were told, the man wanted to catch the tram, in order to retrieve my brother’s lost bag. That was a total stranger!

Or another time, when being lost in the all encompassing snowy landscape of Gulmarg, with no connectivity, we were trying to locate our cab driver. It was -6 degrees, our feet were wet and numb, and we were hell tired. Then again, two locals read our trouble, offered to help, and used their cellphones to locate our driver.

It might have been their loss, their loss of time, but humanity always prevails.

Perhaps, we often forget what is to be human in our daily lives. It is only when we see a new set of people, we are willing to be nice again. Though, it is true for only some of us, who are kind enough to ‘respect’ the other, rather than being skeptical.

I remember when my hostess in the houseboat in Srinagar came rushing to me with a heater, asking (in a relatively demanding tone):

Tumhara cap kaha gya? itni sardi hai , baal sara geela, bimar padhna hai kya?

(where have you left your cap? It’s too cold and your hair is all wet, do you want to be ill?)

She reprimand me like a mother, but why? I wasn’t paying her for keeping me healthy, she shouldn’t have cared, after all, I was just a stranger!

That is when I found what travel actually was and realized:

SOME will make you HAPPY , some will make you CRY, some will HELP you, some will CARE or some might just be happy to TALK,

because travel isn’t just about places,

travel is all about people!

Are you someone who feels the same about travel? Are you more interested in ‘meeting’ new people, tell me down below!


Would love to have you back

a mind on holiday

With every sigh and fear,

In every foot trampling the ground

And soot laden heavy sight,

I wish something.

A space enlivening those arty pictures:

Of cotton soil, new born sky

A shore of corals and soft airy sand.

Day might pass in an eye’s wink

Clocks won’t scramble the veins of forehead

Motor might not trespass 

The ears making love with birds.

Voices may not hammer the drowsy sleep.

Somewhere sun might consummate the sea

Without a sonnet of love.

Drizzling would be silent

Song to a lover’s ear.

Heart would bear less force to pump.

A lap where sleep comes like breathe.

Where breath itself could be

Heard and played with.

No nightmare of forlorn darkness

May dread the day.

My lap too could be a cradle for someone.

A greeting to the life of nomads:

Sit in, lie down, and settle.

No ill fear of robbery, rape, riot.

An uphill drive towards the wilderness,

To the land unknown to the eye,

Where the land and sea end

And tranquil meets peace

Jodhpur-a travelogue of food served in antiques

What does it mean to travel?

Some say it is a journey in and a journey out.

When you go out and meet foreign, unknown places, you get to be more friendly with your own self. Not always, but an authentic travel experience always inculcates this idea. Especially when you get a taste of a new culture.

Bless our country, we have a new culture in every state.

the desert culture: Rajasthan

Rajasthan. A colorful land amidst soft brown sand. Be it in Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer or Jaipur you can taste different delicacies of culture in this rich land.

The very name Raja (king) -sthan(place) symbolizes a place ruled by kings. All around you see some beautiful architectural heritage. Speaking of the victories, defeats, treachery or extravagance of kings of the old days. This is what drives travelers like us to jump in and have a taste of history.

When you enter Jodhpur, you realize its fame is greater than its size.

In every country or state around the world, you have a fine blend of the old and the new. Where people are floundering their way to the future, they always have a pair of eyes looking back with nostalgia. It’s a wonder how we feel the future will hold happiness but always tend to look back to relive the past.

Surprisingly, it is always the old that drives people towards it. The new is all the same. The old is what made a difference to the new.

Jodhpur might have entered 21st century but it still holds on to the charming lanes of history. The place is still governed to a large extent by Raja Gaj Singh. When you enter the old city, you can see lots of old shops. Many of these selling heavily embroidered sherwanis’, named after Jodhpur itself. Dresses in natural colors made with block prints. The city also boasts of a legacy of the sport Polo which was and is still played by the king and his family.

Travelling to this city, made me less of a fan, of the future.

the king of ‘SAMOSAS”: SHAHI SAMOSA

The sun had already set in and hunger compelled us to find an eatery. What was better than starting with the most famous one?? We did what every traveler does- Googled. We found a famous, must-do eatery called Shahi Samosa. We called an Uber and went for it. As our car came to a stop, so did our hearts. What on earth has driven so many people here? It must be something lip-smacking delicious right? So, we stood in the queue (Indian version of it) while trying to help other foreign nationals (who were having a hard time), have their order first. We finally got a samosa and the traditional Mirchi bada wrapped in a piece of newspaper. We ate while trying to judge the taste vis a vis the overwhelming crowd.

A crowd gathered to taste samosa and history. With every bit of judgement, we came to a profound realization.

Sometimes, places pull you towards it. Specially if they have a voluptuous belly filled with memories.

It was not the taste that drove people but the legacy associated with it that dated back to 1984. People wanted to taste the history and not the samosa. Which by the way was an average.

Without realizing what lies ahead, we strolled around after having our samosa and soon entered the old city.

When you enter the old city area of Jodhpur, the majestic, symbolic blue city; you can feel history under your feet. If you ask where jodhpur is, here in these old, blue-colored cemented simple buildings.

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Lying close to the clock tower, this area comprises of narrow streets winding up and down to criss cross paths.

Soon our eyes met a fort, kept high above the hills. As if guarding the whole area, which we later knew as Mehrangarh fort; and like following a ghost in the shades of the night, we followed its image.

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THE RUSTIC CAFE: SAM’S ART CAFE

We could make out the difference between this area and the rest of Jodhpur. The place felt like an old woman with a bony structure and a sagging skin. But she was smiling from her lips dipped in red lipstick and her eyes having the charm of a young women full of love. Though the area had remnant’s of old age, they were brushed up to live with the new. People had rented these architectural marvels and made hotels in them.

This is the core, where the seed lies. Even foreigners don’t shy away from wearing shades of indigo, mustard and other fabrics with block prints. Harems, lungis, palazzos for pants and bright colored scarfs’ wrapped around their neck. Just trying to merge with the surrounding. Rather than seeming to stand out.

When you enter such a place you want to take it all in. What is better than a cup of coffee?

Walking through the lane, Sam’s Art Café struck our attention. It was an art gallery cum café. Like a dungeon filled with relics of the past.

Inside Sam’s art cafe. Image source: Trip advisor

Everything inside smelled history accept the smell of a fresh brewed coffee. It was like going back in time with a cup in your hand. The owner, a native Marwari was a great talker. Everyone here was. He loved history and sought to keep the place untouched. Rather he dressed it with some old memories to fit in with the place. Dust laden bells, rustic swords, metal figurines, brass pieces and whatnot. The place was beside the heritage monument Toorji ka Jhalra. A stepwell, built in the 1740s giving it a perfect setting.

After having a hot cup of cappuccino sprinkled with Hazelnut, we were back on foot.

RESTAURANT IN A FORT: jHANKAR hAVELI

As we walked down the lane, we saw many boutique shops. The traditional block printing was used to create some latest fashion dresses in small shops, with artifacts around.

You can roam the lanes and not feel tired. No, it’s not too big a place. But a small quagmire that always brings you back at the same place. After getting lost for a while, we looked for a place to dine. It was called Jhankar choti Haveli. A dim-lit place, where sand met your feet and domes met your head and you sit in the middle. A house with 2 courtyards where somebody in the past must have lived. They would have sat on the floor and made chapati’s in an earthen oven. And here we were sitting amongst its memories, and trying to figure out how it must have been. We ordered the usual, dal and roti, though it never tasted better before. On every table were people from all over the world. You could hear different languages, gestures and choice of meals. Everybody taking this history in together.

Inside Jhankar choti Haveli. Source: Foursquare

As a traveler, you are bound to make mistakes. You are new to a place and sometimes even online sites deceive you. Our hotel fell far from this place, almost outside the city. We felt cheated when we saw foreigners living and sleeping under the old canopies. Watching the sunset and rise from old metal barred windows. We had no choice because we had pre-booked. But we only went to sleep there. Every other day, this place called us back, for yet more memories to take back with us.

AUTHENTIC FOOD IN A MODERN SETTING: gYPSY RESTAURANT

We visited many historical places, after all, we were in blue city. From the steep Mehrangarh fort, to the peaceful Jaswant Thada, to the majestic Umaid Bhawan. Each had a story, written by some who had been successful in making a place in history. We heard it all, felt the old buildings come to life but soon forgot the overwhelming flow of history. What was left to us is how we felt there.

When history overwhelmed us, we wanted to go to the new part of Jodhpur. We hired an autorickshaw and chose to knock at yet another restaurant known for its delicious food. It was called Gypsy restaurant.

Kadi Sogra thali, Gypsy restaurant

This one promised authentic Rajasthani taste but in a new setting. We had to wait 20 minutes like all others before entering the place. While people ate Punjabi, Sindhi, Jain cuisines, we went for Marwari. A platter called Kadi sogra. It comprised of Bajra roti, kadi, lehsun chutney, bajra ka halwa and gatte ki sabzi. To heighten our experience, we ordered another signature of the place, Makhania Lassi. This was a sweet lassi dressed in Kesar with white butter placed on top. After you have it all, you just need nothing but sleep. We ate Jodhpur and it was heavy for our Delhi-belly.

We had our stomach full and a satisfaction on our hearts. But our guts made us realize something.

We ate an authentic meal in a non-authentic restaurant. But all this while we were eating non-authentic meals in authentic restaurants AND WE REALIZED THAT It makes a huge difference.

Which one do you prefer is a personal choice! You either eat tradition or feel it. You taste it or see it. There was a dilemma in it, but the pull of tradition was harder for us.

BACK TO THE OLD LANES: mAN CAVE

It was a special day and we wanted to drink. Like any other wish, the old city, wanted to grant us this one too. We saw a rooftop bar; it was called Man Cave. Yes, we did think it must be a place where men might come together over drinks. But since we have entered 21st century, so surely females were allowed everywhere. As we reached the 2nd floor of the café, we saw a breathtaking view. We could sit here have a sip of Cosmopolitan while we gazed upon the Mehrangarh fort. Two native Marwari young men were singing English songs. The whole setting was jumbled up. An outsider wouldn’t make out whether he was in the 17th century or 21st.

Our experience made us realize, no matter how ‘new’ we become, we always crave for the old. We want new ideas, development, future but somewhere inside we have a deeply engraved love for history. We want coffee but while sitting among the dusty relics of the past. We prefer pasta but what if it came in a plate made of brass? We want music, but what if the musician sings amongst a view of a high hilled fort? We might have our foot in the future, but our hearts still beat for a taste of history.

Are you a history buff like me ?I would love to know more in the comments below.

Would love to have you back!

Would love to have you back!

Sweden in Spring-Inside an Impressionist painting

A year ago, on this day, my heart was pumping more blood than usual. I had a plane to catch at midnight.

A yearning for Europe was filled in me through endless movies I watched, those that were based in picturesque places in different parts of this continent. London was the first European country I had visited. Though somehow, it couldn’t charm me as Sweden did.

After a 14-hour flight (with a layover) we reached Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. The city was blessed with Freyr, the Norse god of rain when we arrived. The air had a chill and a bewitching peace.

When you come from a country like India; with swarming crowds, traffic confined roads, and an equally cluttered sky; you feel like entering a lightly stroked canvas, in Sweden. You can see the white of the canvas complementing the colors and shades in a way that it all turns out a masterstroke.

It was spine wracking cold, with winds so powerful that can blow you away, on top of that the rain. If you know what Indian weather and winters are like, you can understand what I was referring to.

As we rode towards our hotel in Normmalm, we felt like entering into a live painting. The trees aligned perfectly with the curving road and the overcast sky. And then, somehow it felt warm.

Such was the ambiance when we sat on the bus bound for our hotel while looking out for more. It seemed we got a special entry into this land. A place which we can have all for our own. A little piece of myself albeit in a foreign land. Untouched, unspoiled, filled with love.

After a short rest at our hotel, we ventured out to get some Stockholm dust under our feet. We soon found Klarakyrka Church which though closed, looked like a tall stubborn beauty amidst the sky, scattered with orange-hued hibiscus. This was a sign of impending sunset.

Soon, the clock went past 8 pm, but the sky was still awake. Though shops had started preparing for the night, leaving a few eateries for the nightcrawlers. After a lot of wandering, hunger took us to Mcdonald’s where the veggie burger made of beans and potato, tasted somewhat ‘new’.

We arrived in what was the onset of summer in Stockholm. Summer here means 16–18 hours of daylight. So, the sun stayed with us a bit longer than we were habitual of. It was a quarter to 9 and we finally bid goodbye to the sun.

“Night is dark and full of terrors” right? But I guess the red lady in Game of Thrones didn’t visit Sweden in summers. Anybody who witnessed the rise and fall of the sun here would say the fall is more dramatic and magical.

Stockholm sky at 11 pm

It is not dark, it is bright blue illuminated in the sky. Somehow behind the blue layer, a light bulb seemed to brighten the sky. I don’t know how to explain this, but it literally shocked my guts out. Such was the beauty.

The next day brought in a sky that was washed in sparkling wine. The sun had a sleepy presence and the wind was gushing with energy. As we walked towards the Vasabron bridge, we realized how artistically the city has been constructed around it. No matter which direction your lens hovers, you find a picturesque landscape emanating history.

Under the bridge flows, Lake Malaren which had a rather ferocious personality, one is gripped with awe and fear at the same time. When I reached its shore, it came across running, as if to hug me. No, not a casual hug but a tight cuddle.

We spent 7 days in the city, not one went without the sky showing us magic tricks.

The weather always takes up the front seat, whenever I am on a holiday. Somehow it is the spices to your food. And even when Swedes don’t do spices much, the weather here, especially the sky, is no short of an impressionist painting

While taking a stroll at night, whenever I gaze at the sky here in India, I could see Sweden’s peacock blue making a guest appearance for me, and that’s a magic door of memories.

Have you experienced such a sky anywhere or have been to sweden ever?

I would love to know in the comments


Would love to have you back!

Would love to have you back!

Book review: Eat pray love

Often times when you completed a book and totally fell for it, and it had been written way back, you ask yourself, “ Where were you all these years? How were you surviving without it? Did you even exist before?

Oh! with teary eyed and a gulp in my throat, I tried to make peace with the fact that the book is sadly over, not OVER, but READ. Its like my mind telling me-: “Go back to work Sonika” but you still feel you are reading, still there, in Italy or India or Bali.

Whenever a movie is based on a book, people prefer the short journey of 1.5 or maximum 2.5 hours (as in Bollywood). They don’t prefer reading. Well, Eat Pray Love came to me when in my desperate times of imaginary travel, I wanted to see Rome. That’s when google brought me to this movie. I watched it, once and then again when the longing struck me. 

One day while I was listening to a Ted talk, I realized I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book Eat Pray Love, which was adapted into the movie. She completely captured me through her words, such that I was heartbroken when she had done talking. I realized I had to read the book, no matter I already visited Rome along with Italy, twice (not India of course, because I live already live here).
It would be a lie if I told you Liz wasn’t Elizabeth Gilbert or that the tale was merely fiction. Liz was the same Elizabeth when I was listening to her. She had a grit, cheer, satirical, happy, sad, introspecting, skin piercing use of words, that I realized went into the book through her character.
The tale is one of a journey inwards. There are times when you cry and laugh simultaneously and don’t know why or if its a sad laugh or a happy tear. Its more like bathing under hot shower or rather lying in a hot tube of water and introspecting. Talking to yourself, talking to god, making sense of your life and goals, all the while surrounded by warmth.

You must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way you will know god”

Her words penetrate into you like a good wine. You smell something really strong that stirs you up. And then you take a slow indulging sip, savour the taste. After a while you realize YOU ARE LOVE, everything is love and you are in a dizzying affair with yourself and your life and everything or everyone that surrounds you.
It isn’t a tale of travel to 3 different places, its a tale of finding yourself afterwards. Its filled with humour that makes you ‘literally’ laugh through your liver. Its romantic as much as the cobbled streets of Italy with its feverishly handsome young men. But its also like spiritual cleansing, the one that leaves you all brand new as if you were cloned into a fresh new human being. It is also lingering, you want to wander more, you don’t want to stop. Its like talking to a person for the first time and building a connection so strong that time passes by and you never knew what all beans you have already spilled. It is also like your best friend and confidante. Sharing your feelings, reflecting a little bit of you.

I was not rescued by a prince, I was the administrator of my own rescue”

Most of all, the tale is empowering. It makes you fall in love with yourself. It makes you realize that you can cry alone, fight with your mind, feel lonely, devastated but only you have the power to stand up again. Its how you feel when you successfully waded your way through a merciless traffic (Indian of course!) when you dreaded driving in the first place.

You feel pride, you feel YOU and you sit and smile.

Would love to have you back!


Would love to have you back