Stories By The Road

Stories By The Road

There was a time when I used to dread my daily commute to work. I felt it was a drain on my time, precious hours spent doing nothing. But somewhere along the way, I made my peace with it. After all, the choice to live in a metro does come with its own share of compromises.

But this morning, after over 6 years of negotiating Bangalore’s crazy traffic morning and evening, I discovered that I actually enjoy my commute.

It is time I get to spend away from distractions, alone with myself. Some days, I put down a to-do list. On others, I think up ideas for work. But most of the time, I look around me – at the people, the places I pass through. I take the same route every single day and some sights are so familiar, my eyes glaze over them. But any little change, any sight unseen as yet, makes me sit up and think – why the brown and grey dog who sleeps in front of the mall isn’t there today, a new billboard that’s come up near the flyover, a dum biryani shop that’s not open at its usual time…

Looking out of the cab window, I remember RL Stevenson’s poem From A Railway Carriage. Though the element of speed is missing (again, namma trafficku!) the similarities are not lost on me.

Here is a cart run away in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Looking out of the cab window feels like looking through a bioscope. I see fascinating snatches of the lives of strangers and trees, but never the full picture. And as the cab moves on, I am left to imagine the story so far and what could lie ahead.

A little boy with a large, oddly-shaped piece of thermocol board, possibly from the packaging of a washing machine or TV, waiting to cross the road. He tries once, twice, falls back, hops on one foot in impatience. A man on a scooter slows down for him and he runs lithely across, and in one swift motion, hits his friend on the head with the thermocol piece. The friend spins around and I see that he has his own weapon in hand, a 2-litre soft drink PET bottle. And there by the roadside wages a war so ferocious, the earth shakes under the heroes’ feet.

On the steps in front of an appliance repair shop lie the Four Musketeers. Four brown dogs so identical, they must be from the same litter. Every day, they lie in a row, each one’s head resting against the next one’s bum. Four little curled-up balls, sticking together against the world.

A married couple in their thirties quarreling loudly. She says something to him and tuns away. I cannot make out the words, but I gather that it is a variation on “Go to hell!” As she walks away, he runs after her, swings her around and kisses her on the cheek. She is confused, embarrassed, delighted, all at the same time. As he grins at her cheekily and walks away, she shouts after him. Once again, I can make out that the words say “Go to hell!”. But this time, they mean something else.

A tenement of makeshift houses with roofs made of tin and tarpaulin. Men, women, children, goats, and dogs live together happily, tripping over each other, shouting across the walkways raucously. The women squat by the roadside, washing their clothes and chatting. An old man sleeps on a wooden plank supported on granite planks. A dog is stretched out near him. A toddler wearing no underwear stands near the dog, knocking him on the head with a plastic bottle. For a second, I wonder if it’s safe. What if the dog is hurt and he hurts the child? Before I can decide, the toddler stops. And the dog sits up and extends his paw towards him, as if to say, “Hey, why did you stop! Let’s play!” and I realize they are brothers.

A banyan tree near a temple, its branches spreading luxuriously, benevolently across the road. A makeshift bench beneath it, on which sit two old men in white shirts and mundus. One of them has a towel around his forehead. The other wears a turban. One of them has no teeth, his cheeks are sunken. The other is weatherbeaten, his cheeks reddish brown from too much sun. One’s moustaches are long and drooping, framing his lips on either side. The other chews paan constantly. They sit there next to each other in companionable silence, two of a kind from afar. I wonder when I grow old, how many banyan trees there will be left in Bangalore.

A man near a petty shop urging a black and white dog to eat the dozen biscuits he has put down in front of her. The dog is clearly not hungry – she wags her tail happily and sits there, staring up at him. In an injured tone, he complains to his companions about her lack of gratitude.

Life, so beautiful, so magical, teeming all around me. And I marvel at what I would have missed if not for my daily commute.

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

I first came across Paul Fernandes’ work when I picked up Peter Colaco’s book ‘Bangalore’ and discovered that the delightful illustrations in it were by Fernandes. A little research showed me that he is to Bangalore what Mario Miranda is to Goa. As someone who’s been in love with Bangalore since the age of 15 and who wishes every few days that she could have grown up here in cooler, greener, slower times, I was instantly captivated. So, I made my way over to his gallery to see more of his work and learn a little more about the hip Bangalore of the 60s.

Richards Town is still one of those parts of Bangalore that retains its colonial charm – there are parks and trees, wide roads and pretty houses. His gallery is aptly and punnily titled aPaulogy and is housed in one of the said pretty houses. (I vaguely remember reading that it’s his own).

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aPaulogy gallery in Richards Town, Bangalore

I felt like a kid at a carnival once I stepped in – it was full of fun and quirky Bangalore memorabilia – sketches, paintings, posters and tons of merchandised based on Fernandes’ illustrations. Most of them depict Bangalore of the 60s and 70s and the theme is nostalgia. The props used include some vintage furniture and decor and one small portion of the gallery is dedicated to Mumbai, another city that Fernandes has lived in and connects with.

SR and I definitely wanted to buy a keepsake, and after a long debate, chose his lovely coffee table book: Bangalore: Swinging in the 70s. Someday, when my dogs decide to finally quieten down and behave, I will use it as a coffee table book. Until then, here it stays in my cupboard, to be browsed lovingly and with nostalgic pangs ever so often.

 

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My bookshelf at home

Recommended for: Bangalore enthusiasts

Visit duration: 1 hour

Location & other deets: http://www.apaulogy.com/

A Night Trek to Anthargange

A landscape of rough grassy patches dotted with large volcanic boulders and rock formations. Naturally formed uninhabited caves. Wild flowers blooming in the thorny thickets under a wide, clear sky… that is Anthargange for you.

Situated in the Kolar district, 75kms away from Bangalore, Anthargange literally means “The Ganga inside”. It is a heritage spot, owing to the temples present, and also a getaway for adventure seekers.

This weekend, SR and I went on a night trek to Anthargange.

“Night trek? Can’t you go somewhere during the day?” was our parents’ first reaction when we told them of our plans. Being amateur trekkers, we were a little apprehensive ourselves, but we knew that a nighttime trek would be an experience to remember.

Though the tour guides had recommended track pants and cotton shirts, SR and I dressed in multiple thin layers and jeans, because both of us are prone to catching a chill. We also carried 1.5litres of water (split between the two of us), biscuits, a blanket each (again, not on the tour’s recommended list, but we know our bodies), and 2 torches.

The trip organizers picked us up at 10.45PM and the drive to Anthargange took about 1.5hours. We were part of a group of around 50 people. After a quick briefing, we were given sleeping bags and sticks.

The trek was along a narrow, rocky path flanked by tall grass and thorny bushes. Every now and then, we had to balance ourselves precariously on boulders and jump across pits. After a 20-25 min trek, we reached the caves. Leaving our sleeping bags and backpacks behind, we descended into the caves.

Last year, we had explored some caves in Shillong, but those had been thoroughly ‘civilized’ and had light fixtures to guide us in many places. Plus, we had negotiated them on our own, quite easily, without a guide’s help. The caves at Anthargange are classified as ‘Moderate’ in difficulty, and they were certainly more challenging than the Shillong ones.

Exploring the caves took about 45min, and afterwards, by around 3.30AM, we walked to the hilltop with flat rocks and patches of green, where we would camp out for the rest of the night. The guides set a couple of bonfires going with the same sticks we’d carried up, and we found a relatively ant-free patch of grass to lay out our sleeping bags.

The idea was to sleep till 5.45AM, by which time it would be daybreak and we would see the sunrise. Unfortunately for us, a thick fog rolled in by around 5AM and refused to clear. By 7.00AM, we gave up waiting, and started our walk back to the bus.

 

The tour included breakfast at a Shanti Sagar in Kolar (1 idli-vada, 1 thatte dosa, kesari bath, and pongal), which was quite good. Both of us slept off in the bus, which got us back home by 9.30AM.

All in all, I would rate the experience 3.5/5. The thrilling experience of trekking at night, the beautiful location, and the perfectly adequate arrangements (sleeping bag, breakfast) were the positives, and these made up for the annoying boisterousness of some of the crowd (drunken frolicking around the campfire)

If you’re interested in this trek or other getaways around Bangalore, check out escape2explore.com

 

Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

When I was googling for ‘Ulsoor Lake’ before starting to write this post, I came across the blog of a seemingly popular travel writer. She had written “[This] is a small lake, nothing remarkably exceptional… this place can be skipped.”

A sense of great indignation gripped me at once – how… how dismissive!

True – as that blogger mentioned, “it doesn’t give the feel of a tourist place”. However, this “non touristy” quality is, for me, Ulsoor Lake’s biggest attraction. The lake is a serene, beautiful place in the heart of the city, and as you glide away towards the sunset on a pedal boat, you will almost forget the fact that you are right here, in the middle of bustling Bangalore.

A little history

According to Wikipedia, Ulsoor Lake was originally built by Kempegowda II in the 17th century and is the only surviving tank built by Bangalore’s Gowda kings. The lake, in its present form, was built by Sir Lewin Bentham Bowring, then, the Commissioner of Mysore, sometime between 1862 and 1870.

It is fed mainly by rainfall and covers an area of 123.6 acres. Its average depth is 19 feet and the deepest section runs to 58 feet. It has several islands.

Halasuru – What’s in the name? 

I found this interesting anecdote about the origin of the name ‘Halasuru’ on Wiki. Reproducing it here in its entirety:

There used to be a jackfruit orchard near the Ulsoor Lake, and the Kannada name for jackfruit being ‘Halasina Hannu’, the area came to be known as Halasuru.

A jack fruit orchard in Bangalore city. SIgh!

The Park & Boating

The lake is bordered on one side by a park and walkways. It is open to the public from 9AM to 6PM. There is no entry fee (we were charged Rs 15 for parking but did not get a receipt; so, I am guessing it’s all unofficial!) and pets are not allowed.

ulsoor lake

ulsoor lake

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Glimpse of Ulsoor Lake from the park

ulsoor lake

The Mayura Halasuru Boat Club allows boating until 6PM. (Each trip is a maximum of 30 mins. So, by 6PM you have to bring your boat back to the jetty) They have pedal boats (2 seater & 4 seater) as well as motor boats (min 10 people). There is also a small eatery (ice creams, cutlets, biscuts & snacks) near the park’s entrance.

We visited the lake at 5PM on a weekday, a time we thought the lakefront would be deserted. Surprisingly, there was a steady stream of visitors – college students, evening walkers and families.

ulsoor lake
Evening walkers

Another interesting thing about  this park is that almost every bench was occupied by couples of all ages, and… …almost every couple was engaged in PDA! Surprisingly, a lot of them were middle-aged and saree/mundu wearing! I would have thought that these benches, located in full view of the traffic on the road, would not be the most amenable places for an expression of louvve, but hey, what do I know! My days of romance got over 5 years ago. 😛

Boating

We opted for a 2-seater pedal boat (Rs 100 for 30 mins). The Mayura representative was very helpful: in fact, he asked us which language we could understand and proceeded to explain the boat controls & rowing rules in the language we were most comfortable with. We were also given life jackets in good condition.

To our far left was the military-governed area of the lake, monitored by personnel of the Madras Engineering Group of the Army. So, we were advised to not venture out to the far left. To our extreme right, the lake surface was covered with a variety of algae and it was practically impossible to see the water beneath the plants. We decided to stay clear of that side too. This still gave us a wide expanse of water to explore, and we set off.

The boat ride was amazing – there were hardly any other boats apart from ours. The water was green and nearly opaque. I wondered just how deep the lake was, and felt just a twinge of nervous anticipation. The lake was dotted with various islands with funny names such as Buffalo ganj and Pasina ganj!

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An unnamed ganj (small island)
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Daddy long legs! 🙂

In the countless romances I have read, the hero and heroine often drive off into the sunset. (SR and I got a chance to do this last year in the Rann of Kutch, but that’s a story for another time.) At Ulsoor Lake, we rode off into the sunset. On a boat.

I think I will now let the pictures speak. 🙂

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View from the jetty
ulsoor lake
Rowing practice
ulsoor lake
Dusk

Let me close by misquoting Jeanne Moreau:

“To go out with the setting sun on a quiet lake is to truly embrace your solitude.”

* Jeanne Moreau is an award-winning French actress. Don’t worry – I didn’t know either until I googled. 😛

Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

When you think of Bangalore, what names come to mind? Lalbagh? Cubbon Park? Malls? Visvesvarya Industrial & Technological Museum? As someone who has wanted to live in this city since the age of sixteen, and who is privileged to be living here now, I am constantly on the lookout for what defines Bangalore – its culture, heritage, history and future. I rely a lot of online reviews and information to research and understand attractions.

This is the first of a series of articles I am planning to write to explore the lesser known attractions in Bangalore. My other condition is that I will be reviewing places that are either free or low budget. For example, I intended to visit Bangalore Palace, but decided not to when I found out that its entry fee is Rs.225 per head. Definitely not meant for the average Indian!

The first on my list is the National Military Memorial on T.Chowdiah Road, next to the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain.

A Little History

This park is said to be India’s first  memorial for war heroes who died for the nation post-Independence. The ambitious project was announced in 2009, but its progress was impeded by numerous delays and obstacles. After missing around six deadlines for inauguration, it was finally thrown open to the public in 2013. However, the memorial is still under construction in parts.

Apart from exhibits of military/defense systems and equipment, the park has a 207 feet high flag pole, supposedly the tallest in India. The national flag remains hoisted at all times and is well-lit. On a day with a strong breeze, the sight of the Tricolor fluttering is magnificent.

Photo courtesy: K. Gopinathan. Source: The Hindu, 24th Jan 2014

(I did not get a good shot of the flag – so, sharing another publicly available image.)

Entry Details

The park is spread across 7.5acres and has two entrances: one from T.Chowdiah Road and the other from Ali Askar Road. Funnily enough, the route or location of the park is not on Google Maps! It is open from 6AM to 9AM and from 4PM to 8.00PM. There is an entry fee of Rs.15, which includes charges to watch the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain. There are two shows daily – at 7PM and 7.30PM.

The Park

The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the park is just how green it is. Not dark, wild, junglee green like Cubbon Park, but a brighter, mellow  green. There are wide boulevards flanked by expanses of lawns.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Though the park was, by no means, empty, it did not feel noisy or crowded, possibly because of the open layout and the sheer expanse. If you sit on one of the benches flanking the walkways, you can hear the steady drone of traffic on the surrounding roads. Yet, you get a sense of peace and solitude.

You can even hear bird calls – twitters, cheeps, chirps, warbles, screeches… Given that I am a newbie when it comes to recognizing birds, I merely sat and tried to classify each bird call by the adjective that suited it the most. 🙂

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore   Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

On weekends and holidays, you can see a crowd start to trickle in by around 4.30PM and thicken by 6.30PM in time for the musical fountain to start. We had visited the park once before on Sankranti and waited for an hour for the fountain – unfortunately, there was a power outage in the area and the show did not happen at all. What was annoying was the fact that the park attendants let 300-odd people cool their heels for such a long time without intimating the cause of the delay or expected time of start.

As time passed, people began to leave in droves. We were among the last to leave, and only when we reached the Chowdiah-side gate did we understand the reason for the no-show. The good part was that park officials returned the ticket cost to all the disappointed visitors. (We did not ask for a refund as we felt that the Rs.30 could be our contribution to the upkeep of such a beautiful park!)

The BDA (the body responsible for developing the park, must necessarily make arrangements to meet such exigencies. Also, if online reviews are to be believed, the fountain invariably starts 15-20 minutes late. So, go prepared for delays!

This is what the fountain and the open-air amphitheater facing it look like in the daylight.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Military/Defense Exhibits

Currently, there are around 15 military and defense exhibits in the park. These include actual tanks, missiles, rockets, airplanes and carriers. Though the exhibits, by themselves, are impressive, they are not accompanied by name plates and descriptions of history, construction and use. We saw visitors amble around, pose for photographs and walk away without knowing anything about the equipment. This is a real pity!

The first (and possibly the simplest) step the BDA must take is to put up description boards for each exhibit. Later, guided walks and audio-guides can be provided. This would make the visit a lot more informational.

I was lucky to be accompanied by SR, who, I discovered, is somewhat of a walking encyclopedia of military and warfare. Here are some of the exhibits we saw:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
One of the tanks on display at the Memorial
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
(L to R) Brahmos, AAD, Prithvi, Agni – the four missiles from the House of DRDO!
national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain
EFA Mobile Bridge
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
PSLV

Towards the Chowdiah entrance, there is a children’s play area called the Energy Park, created jointly by the Karnataka Renewable Energy Department Ltd. and the Horticulture Department, at a cost of Rs.1.5 crores. The idea of the park is to teach children about the laws of physics, and especially about renewable energy, through playground equipment. Again, this park has been touted as a first in India.

Unfortunately, most of the equipment is dysfunctional or rusty/broken. Online articles suggest that the park fell into disrepair within a year of its launch in 2006. I am surprised and disappointed that today, 8 years later, nothing has changed. Of course, this does not seem to be keeping children away. They, thankfully, have an infinite capacity to amuse themselves on the most meager of entertainment options – or at least, they would if we don’t trust phones and tablets into their hands to “keep them occupied”.

However, for the children to actually learn something about energy or physics, instead of just playing on the swings or the sand pit, the park needs urgent maintenance and restoration of the equipment.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

The park is still under construction – there are many underground structures of glass and steel that are standing empty or being used to store building material. This is one such empty structure:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Impressions

I am a sucker for beautiful spots, and I believe parks are the lungs of Bangalore city. So, just for the sheer greenery and calm the park offers, I would keep going back.

But I do not think it does justice to its name – a national military memorial. It is a shame that such a beautiful memorial, with so much potential, is being ruined by red tape and inordinate delays. A little more attention, a little expedience – that’s all it takes to turn this into a lovely tribute worthy of those it seeks to honor.

Wayanad – Green Earth

This is a photo essay of our trip to Wayanad, a place we would love to visit again and again. I will let the pictures speak for themselves… with a little aid from the captions.

Sunrise
Sunrise
Dog... in the Morning.
Dog… in the Morning.
Tea estates.
Tea estates.
Coconut, plantain, paddy. Quintessential Kerala.
Coconut, plantain, paddy. Quintessential Kerala.
Pastoral scenes.
Pastoral scenes.
Karalad Lake. Where you find inner peace.
Karalad Lake. Where you find inner peace.
"I'm never talking to you again!"  Avian Tiff.
“I’m never talking to you again!”
Avian Tiff.
Tirunelly temple.
Tirunelly temple.
Steps leading down to the papanashini at the Tirunelly temple.
Steps leading down to the papanashini at the Tirunelly temple.
Sunset.
Sunset.
Amber skies.
Amber skies…
Along forest roads.
Along forest roads.
Kerala monsoons.
Kerala monsoons.
Memories. Like clinging raindrops.
Memories. Clinging like raindrops.
Walking the night in silver shoons...
Walking the night in silver shoons…

Bucket List

I spent the better part of the past 2 hours creating a bucket list of places I’d like to visit before I die. I searched for the best pictures I could find online and inserted them into this blog so that later, they would inspire me to save more money and leaves to realize these dreams. 🙂

As I tried to pen down a few lines about what fascinates me the most about each of these places, I realize that most of  it stems from the books I read and the experiences I had as a child.

1. Kaziranga  Visited in Feb 2015

Motivation – I read Arup Kumar Dutta’s thriller – The Kaziranga Trail – when I was in class 6. Not only was it a scintillating read, but it also gave me glimpses of this beautiful national park in the easternmost corner of our country.

Hope to see – rhinos and tigers in the terai

Kaziranga-National-Park

2. Sundarbans

Motivation – Premendra Mitra’s shikar stories.

Hope to see – the Royal Bengal Tiger on a cruise along the Brahmaputra with its crocodile-inhabited waters lined with mangrove forests.

sundarban-khulna50c8165674dac

3. Kumaon

Motivation – Ruskin Bond. His tales of life at the foothills of the Himalayas caught my attention first; and then, I started reading more.

Hope to see – The snow-capped Himalayas, still blue lakes, lush green forests and quiet towns with colonial-style bungalows

kumaon

4. Udaipur

Motivation – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Hope to see – lakes and palaces in grand, romantic settings

Udaipur

5. Gir

Motivation – can’t pinpoint to a specific memory or entity; perhaps my usual obsession with wildlife!

Hope to see – lionesses hunting

Hope to hear – a lion roar

gir

6. Bali

Motivation – 1 INR = 200 Indonesian Rupiah 🙂 Perhaps Eat, Pray Love also (just a little)

Hope to see – temples, beaches, paddy fields

Hope to get – lots of massages!

bali

7. England – the countryside

Motivation – Began with all the Enid Blyton stories I devoured between the ages of 10 and 17; then Agatha Christie’s novels; and all the British cozies I’ve ever read and watched.

Hope to see – a quintessential English village, complete with a vicarage and market; meadows; moors

ruralEngland_2616380b

8. Switzerland

Motivation – Heidi. Both the book and the Japanese animated cartoon based on the book.

Hope to see – the Alps

Titlis-Obwalden-Switzerland

9. The Masai Mara & Serengeti

Motivation – Amma used to read out to us, ‘An African diary’, a serialized  travelogue by Zachariah, a Malayalam writer, that appeared in the Matrubhumi Weekly; through his words and her voice, the many sights and sounds of Africa came alive in our dining room every week. Now, it is part of my very being.

Hope to see – the wildebeest crossing; hunts; life on the endless plains.

tnz_serengeti_main

I’ve stopped with 9 places on my list – that gives me a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. A lack of closure.

Perhaps it is for the best – I can now start searching for #10! 🙂