Welcome to this travel blog which is inspired by the wandering clouds effortlessly gliding through distant lands. Sometimes almost still as if watching the beauty of the earth below and at times rushing to some place far away – as if on an endless travel mission. This is where I share my observations, experiences and thoughts gathered during my travels

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wonders with Bricks

When our daughter was big enough to take the adventure park rides, we decided to visit Legoland. We thought, even if she disliked the rides, she would have many other things to do at Legoland, given that she has enjoyed collecting and building with Duplo and later with Lego bricks. I remember she was fascinated when I got her a book from her library that explained how things are made at Lego factory. At that time, she had dreamt of working there when she grew up. So, a trip to Legoland was not only justified but it had become a must.

Taj made with Lego bricks
We visited the Legoland located at Carlsbad, California and decided to spend the entire day there even before the gates had opened. As soon as we stepped in, we knew that we were going to stand in front of every model that was on display and say ‘Wow, amazing how they’ve made it’. We got into a boat that took us for a ride through various models that have been constructed of the world’s different architectural wonders. We also walked through an area where they have recreated The Strip of Las Vegas, the swearing-in ceremony of President Obama, and other elaborate scenes like the opera, New York downtown, etc. There was a ride that took us through a safari where animals and birds were made with Lego bricks. Also on display were replicas of famous paintings made with small bricks.

Our daughter was anxious to experience some action. So we took her on her first roller coaster ride and then there was no looking back. She enjoyed it so much, that she wanted to experience the thrill again and again. The rides at Legoland are much easier than the ones at Six Flags or Disneyworld but they are just right for the uninitiated. While waiting for some rides, I remember her looking around and finding comfort in the fact that there were children who were a lot younger than her but were completely cool about taking the rides. That’s how our minds work, I thought. We draw comfort from looking at those who appear to be completely self-assured although we may not know if they indeed are and what makes them so. Unfortunately, our daughter could not take one ride, Knight’s Tournament, because it required her to take off her earrings which were sealed. But hubby and I took the ride in which a robotic arm stretches out over a moat and twists and turns at high speed. We had our insides completely shaken up.

The 3D movies screened were a big hit with kids, especially the one featuring Bob the Builder. There was a small exhibit displaying how the Lego bricks are actually built with total precision so that the inter-locking system is guaranteed for every single piece. It is claimed that only 18 bricks per one million do not meet their quality norms.

Outside the Imagination Zone, there was a huge model of Einstein. Inside, children were free to imagine and construct. Manufacturing these bricks is indeed a highly sophisticated process, but the process by which a child discovers the wonders that can be created using the inter-locking bricks and the process of actually creating meaningful models out of the bricks is no less sophisticated.

An Unforgettable Ride

Most travelers would have special memories associated with their travels – each evoking a different sense of emotion and some capable of transporting one back to the experience and recreating all the feelings associated with it. This ride will be among my top-five unforgettable travels at all times.

It was late November and early one morning I had traveled with a local colleague called Singh from Mirzapur to Robertsganj in Uttar Pradesh. The plan was that Singh would take me to villages in Sonebhadra district where Robertsganj is situated and introduce me to children who had been working in the carpet weaving industry. After interviewing them, we would head back to Mirzapur via Robertsganj.

A local private bus dropped us on the main road at a point nearest to the villages. Thereafter, we had to hitch a lift on a bullock cart going towards the habitations. As the bullock cart was stacked with hay, we had to sit on either sides of the driver. Singh began a conversation with the driver and as if he was under an obligation, explained what I was doing there. We got off at one habitation after thanking the driver and made our way to the houses. Everyone around seemed to know Singh and we went from house to house, habitation to habitation talking to children and their families. The children showed me looms on which they worked and how they wove intricate carpets. By evening, I had spoken to over twenty children and had collected data for my research. It was time to head back and we again hitched a lift on a bullock cart. This time, the cart was empty, so I stretched out at the back as Singh and the driver were lost in their conversation. This time, Singh did not have to explain the purpose of my visit because the word had already gone around.

Back on the main road, we waited for the bus to take us to Robertsganj. We waited and waited and waited, but there was no sign of any bus that would take us to Robertsganj. I asked Singh about the bus schedule and he simply laughed and asked, ‘what schedule, the buses keep plying until night’. That was not particularly re-assuring and I began wondering if Singh actually knew what to do in case the bus did not show up. It started getting dark and cold; and yet no sign of any bus. A couple of other people who were also waiting with us had gone off on buses taking them to some other place. I told Singh that I was willing to take any bus going to whatever destination as long as we got out of that place. But as luck would have it, after that there was no sign of any bus passing that way going in any direction. Singh and I were simply stuck and we had no way out! It must have been around eight o’clock when Singh also began to panic. He suggested we hitch a ride on one of the trucks passing by as several of them were headed towards Robertsganj. He had done it many times. I asked him how many times had his female colleagues taken a ride on a truck at night, he just gave me a blank look. I realized it was now upto me to decide- either get on to some truck and reach Robertsganj or continue to wait at night in the middle of nowhere. By the way, this was happening at a time when cell phones were not common and I did not own one.

After a few trucks and half an hour had passed, I made up my mind. I told Singh to speak to the next truck that passed and ask for a ride. The only condition was that he should not mention that I was with him to the driver and insist on sitting behind. He should not make any sign to me, I would just follow him. I stood far away from Singh and watched him stop a few trucks. He had a slightly long conversation with one driver and I realized that we had finally found a way out. Singh came at the back and as instructed started getting on to the truck. I quickly ran and followed him. For the first time, I realized that trucks are really built tall and I was athletic enough to climb up quickly and quietly without attracting any attention. The backside of the truck was empty and I sat quietly in one corner, covering myself with my dupatta. It was biting cold. Singh and I did not exchange a word. I looked up at the sky- it was clear and I could almost count all the stars. The journey seemed so long. Hundreds of thoughts passed through my head: where was I and where was I going exactly? Should one generally trust fellow human beings or should distrust underpin one’s interactions with others?  I thought of those closest and dearest to me; they had no clue where I was. The truck stopped at a point. Some men got in and then again at the next stop, some more. I wondered whether the presence of strangers should make one feel safe or unsafe. I was actually feeling neither. We finally reached Robertsganj which was in almost total darkness. There was no electricity! The truck stopped at a point and most people got off. Singh told me that we could get off too. I remember jumping from the high truck without the shutter being opened, telling myself that I would land just fine like a cat. When I landed smoothly, I remember the truck driver’s assistant noticing me and saying, ‘hame maloom nahi tha madam hai truck mein’. I did not know what that remark implied and I did not bother to think; I just thanked him for the ride and walked away. Singh found a cycle rickshaw which took us to the bus stand. We still had to go to Mirzapur. And as per Murphy’s law, the last bus to Mirzapur had already left. I had no intention of spending the night at the stand. I suddenly realized how hungry I was and how badly I wanted to go to the bathroom. I had actually not eaten anything after my breakfast at Robertsganj in the morning. I was so immersed in the interviews that I had not joined Singh when he had some grub at a local eatery. I asked Singh to take us to any hotel close by. I paid for two rooms knowing that Singh may not be carrying enough cash. We then ate a simple dal-roti meal. I called my contact at Mirzapur and told him that we would return the next morning. For some reason, he felt personally responsible for my situation and insisted on speaking to Singh and the hotel owner to make sure that I was safe and looked after. I called home and told my hubby that I was safe and gave him the phone number of the Robertsganj hotel in case he had to reach me. No point in alarming him with the details now, I thought.

I tried to understand what I felt exactly when waiting for the bus and when I was sitting on the truck. Was I feeling vulnerable, helpless, unsafe or adventurous? Why did I feel the way I did- was it only because I am a woman or was it because I thought I did not belong to that environment? I did not have answers then and I don’t think I have them even now. But when I look back, I think this unforgettable ride not only helped me to understand myself better but it also helped me repose my faith in the basic goodness of people.

Azalea Trail

Spring time in Tyler, Texas is very special. Azaleas are in full bloom and the entire town gets ready for the annual Azalea Trail. Until I heard about this annual event, I had not even seen how Azaleas looked like. But the pictures in the brochure available at the hotel lobby looked very pretty and the description of the trail itself seemed interesting. It talked about how homes with private Azalea gardens also participated in the Trail and opened their doors to visitors. The season was coming to an end; so we decided to head out to Tyler and catch a glimpse of the Azaleas before they withered away. This was also a good way to beat the jetlag as we had reached Dallas just the previous evening after over 20 hour travel from Bangalore. Fortunately, hubby who was driving had reached Dallas earlier and was hopefully not going to sleep behind the steering wheel over the two hour drive to Tyler.

The Visitors Centre at Tyler gave us a map of the trail which was about eight mile long with actually two main routes that one could take. The weather was beautiful and so we decided to walk as much as we could. We decided to start from where we had parked and follow as much of the trail route as possible without getting rigidly bound by it. The private gardens were beautifully spruced up for the show. Many local young girls dressed in old fashioned gowns were seen sitting around the houses inviting visitors. As the event includes a competition for the best private garden, folks take a lot of effort to make theirs look special. Pink hued Azaleas clearly dominated all the gardens. It was hard to imagine how within the next few days, the Azaleas would wither away and the gardens would suddenly become bare.

We walked around, took loads of pictures and sat on tyre-swings whenever we got tired of walking. After lunch, we decided to drive and cover the remaining part of the trail. We realized  that the city as well as private homes invest a lot in making sure that the Azaleas are showcased well and that the visitors not only get to enjoy the springtime blossom but also witness the intimate culture that Tyler has created surrounding their Azaleas. Despite the competition among home owners for the best Azaleas, it seemed as if they knew that the competition was helping them to collectively present the best to the visitors. What a wonderful way to preserve and re-affirm a sense of community, I thought. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Carpet

Cannes is synonymous with the International Film Festival which it hosts every summer. But the glamour and glitz of this city goes beyond films as it is a popular destination for the rich and the famous across Europe and beyond. Hundreds of expensive and beautiful yachts are lined along the Meditarranean coast and one cannot help peeking and trying to get a glimpse of the luxurious interiors of the yachts. Our visit to Cannes was timed just a few days before the Film Festival. We had decided to drive from Nice where we were staying as there was no question of booking any hotel anywhere in Cannes during the most expensive season. 
Outside the Palais des Festivals  
Spotting Celebrity Hand Prints

We first went to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès which was getting spruced up for the Festival. We could not enter the Palais so just hung around checking out the pathway where several film celebrities are said to have left their hand prints. There was an interesting installation of an old camera wrapped up with extra film roll near the pathway. Within the next few days, we knew the entire place would look magical and become a pilgrimage centre for celebrity watchers. We moved on and walked along the La Croisette lined with palm trees and flower gardens on one side and the deep blue Mediterrannean on the other. We managed to find a public beach and watched how every establishment, whether a boutique, a hotel or a restaurant, was preparing itself for the Festival. Pictures of movies to be showcased were splashed on billboards. But surely, Cannes has got to have life outside the Festival. 

View of the Palais and Yachts from the Hill

We decided to visit the Old Town Le Suquet and walked up the cobbled path and up the hill. This place was so different from the happening La Croisette that we were glad we took the detour. The Old Town was sort of laid back and had a life of its own, with shops, eateries and old houses. The travel handbook we were carrying talked about a church on top of the hill and we decided to go all the way there. The Notre Dame de l' Esperance was not only located in one of the most scenic spots, overlooking the city of Cannes and the Mediterranean below but its stone structure with huge gates had some interesting interiors as well. Contrary to the city below, there were only a handful travelers who had bothered to come to the church and we were enjoying the solitude. From the top, we could see the city getting ready to lay the red carpet and large hoardings publicizing the select films. Far away, the Mediterranean was dotted with white yachts, some sailing away while others just coming in to join the big party round the corner.

An interesting billboard seen from the hill in Old Town

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Urban Retreat

In the heart of downtown Fort Worth, Texas, it is refreshing to see an attempt to break the monotony of the concrete jungle with an artistic use of stone and water. The Water Gardens designed by architect Phillip Johnson is simple yet extremely elegant.  We were roaming around downtown Fort Worth and thought it might be a good idea to find this place and relax for a while. Standing on the adjacent street, we could barely imagine what was in store. As we moved towards the Gardens, we first came across the ‘quiet pool’. The water was absolutely still and the trees lining the pool gave it a very serene feel. 

Perched on top of the Mountain with my daughter
Next to that was a huge stone structure simply called Mountain. With high steps, it looked somewhat formidable but we climbed up without looking behind and without the support of any railings. It may have been a little unsafe, but seeing others sitting right on top, my daughter was a bit emboldened.  Sitting on top, we could see that the structure made interesting shadows on the adjoining walls. We then followed our ears and the sound of gushing water that lead us to the ‘aerated pool’ which was a set of several fountains.  Light breeze carried tiny water droplets from the fountains towards the onlookers and this unexpected spray was most welcome on a summer evening. Next to this was the ‘active pool’ which I found to be the most exciting of all the three pools. It consisted of a set of steps or terraces winding down into a pit with water falling between them. The steps were wet and we had to climb down very carefully to reach the bottom. 

Making way to the bottom 
Standing at the lower most level, with water cascading from all sides, one gets an interesting perspective of space – the dynamic motion of water and the static presence of the solid rock steps. After spending a long time watching this wonderful sight, we decided to climb back to the streets and move on. Before joining the maze of streets, we stopped and turned back to catch a glimpse of the hidden urban retreat. We saw nothing but just heard the sound of gushing waters.

Mystery Church

Some places have the power to transport you straight on to Hindi movie sets when you first encounter them– like the yellow mustard fields, huge mansions with high staircases, temples with lots of bells perched on hill-tops and many more. My visit to the partially submerged Holy Rosary Church at Shettihalli near Hassan, Karnataka, transported me straight on to the sets of a horror film by Ramsay brothers.

We had found this church mentioned in some corner of our travel guide; yet, we decided to check it out. It was close to evening and the clouds had started gathering but that did not deter us from going ahead. We drove as per the directions but had to ask several people along the way for the ‘Shettihalli church’ as it is popularly known. We almost missed the narrow mud track that takes you close to the church. There was no one around. We parked at a spot and walked through the high bushes along the mud track until we reached an open area from where we could see the submerged church. It was built by the French over a hundred years ago and is now submerged under Hemavathy reservoir. From what I understand, the church is not always submerged under the water, but it was hard to imagine it that way as it looked like it was frozen in time. The dark clouds, the still waters and the eerie silence around added to the spookiness. We were the only ones around and I am sure even a slightest sound could have freaked us out. The longer I looked at the church, the more I got convinced that there must be hundreds of stories lying buried within its walls – stories of hope, belief, pain, destruction and fraternity. Stories that beckoned travelers like me, but left us unsettled looking for answers.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

In the wrong lane!

A few years ago when the swine flu epidemic had made everyone suspicious of those arriving from Mexico to the extent that some had even got quarantined on returning to their home countries, we almost got ourselves into an utterly stupid situation. And all because we missed taking the right lane!

During our trip to San Diego, we wanted to drive southwards and see the international US border with Mexico. None of us had ever seen an international border and therefore we were quite keen on checking it out. So on one weekend when Interstate 5 was busy with people driving to Mexico, we decided to venture as close to the border as we could. Just before crossing the border, the I-5 provides an exit on the left-hand side that one can take if one wants to take a U turn and return back to US. And guess what, we missed taking that lane and ended up in a lane that was entering Mexico through the border check and passport control booths. As soon as we got onto the wrong lane, we realized what had happened. Cars had started lining up behind us and we were in the long queue on the way to Mexico. The thought of getting Mexico stamped on our passports and the implications of having to go through health check-ups upon returning dawned on us. We decided to reverse the car and get back into the lane taking us back into US. When we saw that the cops were not too happy with what we were trying to do, we tried to explain and asked them to let us reverse. “Do it at your own risk” we were told. Alright, that is good enough for us as long as you do not give us a ticket, we thought. And then with some maneuvering and some ‘desi-style’ driving, we got back into the lane which took us back into the US. Qué alivio! 

Lesson learnt:  Try to stay in the right lane, even when it is on the left.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


One of my biggest regrets is that I have still not managed to visit the Taj Mahal. JJH2WKEJSWDE
I feel terribly embarrassed when I travel around and meet people who have seen the Taj and they make a face when they hear I have still not seen the most popular tourist destination in India. Agreed that it does not take much to go and see the monument which is just a few hours drive from Delhi where I go several times; but I have now started to believe that there is some kind of a jinx associated with my visit to the Taj.

In the past, I had made all arrangements to visit Agra not once, but thrice. On two occasions, the booking amounts were refunded due to last minute cancellations by the organizers and on the third occasion when I had planned to go independently, I ended up loosing all the money paid for a two night stay in a room overlooking the Taj. Anyways, I have now rationalized this jinx as a trip I am not destined to undertake yet! And I also believe that longer the wait, sweeter would be the experience!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Mediterranean Magic

What do you do when you have a whole week to laze out in Saint Laurent du Var located along the French Riviera? Absolutely nothing! I tried doing just that for a couple of days. I was practically spending the entire day on the pebbled beach with my daughter doing nothing, except eating, stretching, strolling and basking in the beautiful weather. My daughter and I had found a nice patch under the palm tree for stretching ourselves and a mall at one end of the beach called CAP 3000 from where we could buy food and beverages. We were completely happy just sitting around and absorbing the sight of the blue Mediterranean waters and the colourful surfers bobbing on the waves. One could also see the airplanes taking off and landing from the Nice Côte d'Azur Airport. The air-strip is so close to the water that it seems as if the planes are about to land on the water.

But doing nothing can also become boring for those who are used to poking around and seeing new places. So, my daughter and I decided to go on a ‘hop on-hop off’ sightseeing tour of Nice. The tour started at one end of the famous Promenade de Anglais of Nice. The footpath on the Promenade is as wide as some of the roads in Bangalore and as most people tend to flock the Promenade, it has earmarked space for all- walkers, runners, cyclists, skaters and bystanders. I accidentally strolled into the lane earmarked for cyclists and got a friendly nudge. We waited for our tour to begin and were given a brochure indicating the route and the stops the bus would take. Since we had the whole day, I decided that it would be worth hopping off at every stop. Although my daughter was not too happy with this idea especially because we were the only ones hopping off at some stops, she had no option but to follow me. We saw some beautiful mansions on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean, churches belonging to different denominations, the Nice port and statues along the way. One of the important stops where many tourists hopped off was the Cimiez monastery. The monastery has housed the Franciscan order since over four hundred years. It has one of the most beautiful rose gardens I have ever seen. The flowers were so huge that they could cover my entire palm and the colours were so bright and unique that I wish I could take pictures of all. The fragrance was so sweet and strong that it had filled the entire garden and had surely clung to our bodies as well. Close to the monastery is the cemetery where the great painter Henri Matisse is buried. The Matisse Museum is located nearby and we took some time to go through the amazing collection of the artist, including his sketches, paintings and sculptures. The museum also showcased some of his personal belongings and publications related to his works. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the tour and after the Cimiez stop, I did not mind just sitting on the open deck bus and missing the next stops. 
Aerial view of Nice
My daughter, however, insisted that we spend all the remaining time in one of the parks close to the port, where she could get her share of swings, slides and running on the lawns. This time, I readily followed her. I loved to see her mingle with other children and feel completely at home in absolutely new surroundings. For her, the Nice tour was now complete. Back on the Promenade, as we waited for my husband to pick us up, we were caught in a bad thunderstorm. With upturned umbrellas, we managed to run to the nearest restaurant. The sun had set and the semi-circular Promenade was getting lit up as the rains continued to lash over the Mediterranean shore. Suddenly, I was reminded of the Queen’s Necklace getting washed by the monsoons in our good-old Amchi Mumbai.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Tribute to Human Dignity

Slavery is perhaps the worst form of human rights violation and it takes much more than breaking the chains of bondage to actually restore the lost dignity and self-worth of an individual. I realized this a few years ago, when I was visiting Dakar, capital of Senegal.

On the last day of my stay in Dakar, I thought I had experienced Dakar closely enough.  I had wandered through the downtown, I had shopped on the streets, spoken with NGOs fighting against female genital mutilation, gone to the beach and managed to see the sunrise from a tip facing eastwards, had drank the juice extracted from bui fruit of the Boabab tree several times over and had also heard an inspiring speech by His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade - President of the Republic of Senegal about his vision of growth and development. Yet, the visit would not have been complete if I had missed seeing Goree Island. So with some ten hours to spare before taking the flight home, I decided to head for the Goree Island.

The place is historically significant because the slave trade across the Atlantic is considered to have started from Goree Island and it is also recognized as the UNESCO Heritage Site. I had a friend from Cuba to give me company and we took a ferry from the port to the Goree Island. As we approached the Island and were waiting to disembark, I came across something I had not seen before. At least fifteen boys, all between the ages of nine and twelve years, were swimming in the waters below and came close to the docked ferry. They shouted out to draw our attention and asked us to throw coins which they could dive under water, fetch and keep for themselves as their prized earnings. Every time a coin was thrown (given the height of the ferry, the denomination and currency would have been barely visible to the children) there was a mad rush towards it. The tourists were getting ‘entertained’ watching the children scramble for the coins. This continued for at least five minutes and at the end of the show, both the tourists and children seemed to feel disappointed. We waited on the shore and watched as the children came back, some wrapped in towels and others still dripping, counting their earnings and waiting for the next ferry to arrive.

On the island, we first headed towards the House of Slaves. Although the island has other museums and buildings of importance, the House of Slaves is clearly the most visited. At the entrance, I roughly recollect the words that were displayed reminding us that even if the entire sky were a sheet of paper and all the water in the oceans were ink, it would still not be sufficient to write down all the sufferings that the slaves underwent in the House of Slaves. This stone building painted in red with a small wooden entrance was built by the Dutch in 1776. As we entered into the building and stood in the courtyard, we could see the two semicircular staircases that led up to the traders’ quarters on the first floor. The traders standing here made decisions about buying and selling of slaves after examining those produced before them in the courtyard. On the ground floor, there were separate cells for men, women, young girls and children. Each cell was very small and dingy having only small windows with bars. All the windows faced inwards and none of them faced outwards towards the Atlantic, depriving the slaves of even a glimpse of  the flying birds in the open skies. Men who were underweight and physically unfit were kept in a separate cell until they were fit enough to be sold. There was a weighing room where slaves used to be actually weighed before being put on sale. The chains attached to an iron ball which kept the slaves physically bounded were also on display. At the end of the corridor was a gate which opened into the Atlantic Ocean referred to as the ‘gate from where no one returned’.   Through this gate, the slaves were sent off on their long journey to the New World.

I stood there trying to see beyond the horizon and trying to imagine what it must have been like for those who went through the gate and those who dreadfully waited for their turn. Coming from different time, space and context, it was very difficult for me to fully comprehend and feel the tragedy borne by so many persons on the same premises where I was standing. We walked back to take the ferry to Dakar. Still lost in my thoughts about what I had witnessed at the House of Slaves, I came back to my senses after hearing the children cry out again for coins to be thrown. Slavery, I thought, may have been abolished but can one say the same about exploitation?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Salad Bowl

No wonder Salinas is called the Salad Bowl of America. It is claimed that over three-fourth of all the lettuce is grown in the Salinas Valley which is located in Monterey County, California. Driving from Monterrey Bay toward Salinas, one can see large tracts of farm lands growing lettuce, fresh fruits, vegetables and vineyards. Farming is largely mechanized and it was interesting to see a few farmers ably managing large fields through automation and technology.

We enjoyed watching the sprinklers programmed to start watering specific patches of the farm on rotation and my husband could not get enough pictures of these. After going around downtown Salinas and checking out the National Steinbeck Centre and Steinbeck House where the author once lived, we decided to experience the farm life and headed towards The Farm. 
Cutouts outside The Farm
Strawberry farm

Lettuce Farm

In fact, while driving on Highway 68, we had spotted the large sculptures/ cut-outs of farmers erected outside The Farm and this had really made us curious. We reached the place just as it had started pouring so we could neither go on a farm tour nor do anything in the petting area which had a few farm animals. We were bound indoors- mainly in the area where fresh produce was on sale. Suddenly, a few more families with children trickled in and the entire place got ready to stage a puppet theatre show. It was magical to see the place transform completely and recreate the life which was actually being lived outside. The story was simple and revolved around the farmer’s life. Our daughter was completely immersed in the make-believe world created by the puppets and somewhere along the line I actually felt disappointed because I thought I had lost the child-like ability to get immersed in make-believe worlds. At the end of the show, fresh-cut fruit was offered to all on the house. Being a small town, most people who had assembled there knew each other and they quickly started socializing and were quite surprised to hear how far we had come from. The heavy downpour by then had reduced to just a drizzle and we went out for a walk on the slushy farm. For dinner, we picked up a veggie sub and without thinking too much just ordered for LOTS and LOTS of lettuce. Could we get enough?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chapel in the Hills

At the foot of the Black Hills in Rapid City, South Dakota stands a beautiful place of worship, simply called Chapel in the Hills. It is a replica of the Borgund Stavkirke of Norway with Stave architecture and built with fir wood. Inside the chapel, there is not much room to accommodate large congregations but we were told that the chapel does conduct evening services and weddings. The lush green lawns surrounding the chapel were impeccably maintained. I have always heard that the physical environment can influence one’s state of mind. At the Chapel in the Hills, I truly experienced what serenity of a place could do to a tired mind. In such a place, one can feel nothing but peaceful. Sitting quietly on a bench outside, I was trying to take in the calmness of the place and breathing softly so as to not disturb the stillness around. Just then, I heard the chapel bell ringing and echoing through the Black Hills.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Looking for the Past

Last week was particularly hectic with back to back travel from one end of the country to another with a short stopover at home in Bangalore. Flight delays, increased travel time and lack of sleep had started making my body sore. But I was eagerly looking forward to the last leg of my travel-destination Trivandrum! The work that I had come to do in Trivandrum was significant and therefore exciting in its own right. But the fact that I would get an opportunity to revisit my childhood memories (something that I did not have time to do when I made a day trip to Trivandrum last month) was what actually kept me going. Arrangements for my stay were made at Kovalam and I could see the expansive Arabian Sea, high and mighty waves behind the silhouettes of curved coconut tree trunks, right from my room. Heavy rains made the place look unbelievably charming. As soon as we wrapped up the day’s work, most colleagues naturally headed towards the beach. For me, the beach could wait, and I headed towards the city. I was on a mission to locate the house where I spent my early childhood years.

About twenty years ago, I had gone on the same expedition with a friend and had managed to even visit the family living in that house at that time. They had graciously allowed me to look around their home, touch and feel the nooks and corners, the pillars and the coconut trees that still stood upright.

The cabbie was not too happy to hear the inadequate address he had to take me to but agreed to help out as soon as he knew the purpose. After a couple of inquiries, I realized that the address which was sufficient forty years ago for directing someone totally new to the city may not be adequate now. After some more fact finding, I actually found someone who knew the compound. With great expectations I made my way there only to find nothing that matched what I was looking for. Tall residential apartments now stood where my home used to be once upon a time. Asphalted roads had come in place of mud tracts. I wasn’t disappointed; I was actually heart-broken. I took one long look at the changed landscape, wondering if I had been wrong in expecting to find my quaint old home hidden by the coconut trees. I got back into the cab and asked to be taken back to the Kovalam beach. Sitting on the rocky shore, I watched the huge waves rising distinctly and merging seamlessly - an endless and timeless process.