Welcome view


Welcome to the view
The setting sun, behind the Aravalli hills, viewed from the entrance to the viewing area at Sajjangarh /  Monsoon Palace

I wanted to write about the stereotypical portrayal of Rajasthan – a traditionally attired instrumentalist, strumming his Ravanhatta and playing Raag Maand and perhaps the most popular, and misinterpreted Rajasthani folk song “Kesariya Balam”. But I’ll shut up this one time, and sit with the Rajput royals and look out for the monsoon clouds atop Sajjangarh in Udaipur.


In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Layered – explore the interplay of texture and depth.

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The House by the lake


As we scouted hotels near Lake Picchola, we were caught between conflicting traveller reviews—those that spoke of magical lake views, and others that complained of poor hygiene and stench. Considering that we were traveling to a city with lots of water, during monsoon, we decided to keep ourselves away from Lal Ghat.

We browsed through OYO rooms and zeroed in on the cryptic “OYO Homes 062 Fatehsagar Lake”. For reasons better known to OYO, the website does not provide the exact name of the hotel or the location without a confirmed booking!*

After confirming our booking, we looked for reviews of the property. There weren’t as many ratings of the house as compared to the other hotels, but all of them positive. Well, we would find out for ourselves.


Our flight landed in Udaipur half an hour before time; the air was cool, much cooler than the muggy national capital we had left behind; the scenic Aravalli range surrounded us throughout the drive to the city—a beautiful start to our trip.

Our talkative cabbie, Chetan, seemed to know a lot of touristy information on Udaipur—as did all the other rickshaw drivers we rode with. One would think they were all getting paid to promote tourism! None of them, however, had heard of Khudala House. So, we followed the map and gave directions. When we were near our destination, we caught sight of water for the first time—and what a beauty she was! As our eyes feasted on the beautifully blue Fateh Sagar Lake, growing ever wider in front of us, the GPS lady quietly said, “turn left, and you will arrive at your destination.”

Khudala House
You have reached your destination.

We hopped off our cab and walked around the driveway. The property may not have had a lake view, but it was royally beautiful. Walking to the right, we were greeted by a row of statues posing against a great green leafy wall.

Musicians
Musicians

Ahead of us was a neat lawn and dining tables surrounded by flowering plants and bonsais.

Too early for dining
Waiting for diners

And behind the lawn was the grand entrance to the house.

1559AD

Our host, Mr. Dhanajai Singh, later informed us that the house was built in 1941 by his grandfather. About 35 years ago, his father, and present owner Capt. Jaiveer Singh added more rooms. The majestic original structure has now been leased to the restaurant 1559AD.

We walked back to the front gate and towards the newer, smaller (relatively speaking, of course) building on left of the driveway. A loose curtain of painted bottles and a stone wall decorated with divine statues marked the division between the old and new.

Divider

Here too, the visual delight continued. A beautiful lawn outlined by balsams in full bloom and surrounded by dozens of bonsais.

Lawn and porch in front of the rooms
Fresh after a spell of rain, the lawn awaits company

Our host graciously allowed us a complimentary early check-in and gave us very helpful tips on sightseeing in Udaipur, including the recommendation of a morning walk at Fateh Sagar, and advice of exploring the Old City on foot.

Plants, great and small
A few of the many leafy occupants of the house

Our room was spacious and included a big bathroom, a dressing room and our own backyard! We ate home-cooked breakfast in a common dining room filled with interesting objects and memorabilia. Abhay, the soft-spoken housekeeper who single-handedly looks after all the rooms, took care of all our requirements. And then there was Bully, the boxer, whose droopy eyes looked at us curiously (I heard him bark only once). The owners were very warm; and sans the presence of impersonal staff and eerie hallways that are characteristic of hotels, we felt at ease during our stay.

The restaurant 1559AD is as beautiful inside as it is outdoors. We were too busy admiring the ambience and relishing the food to take any pictures (actually, we had left our phones behind in our room next door, and regretted it!)

Way to the back
Path leading to the back

Rickshaw drivers did not know where Khudala House was. So we had to use nearby landmarks to explain where we were staying. Once we came to the T-point in front of Fateh Sagar, we told our driver, “turn left, and its right there!” “Yeh to 1559AD hai,” (this is 1559AD) our driver said. “You should told me this before.”

During the three days we spent in Udaipur, we were mostly tourists. But at the end of the day, we came home.

Playing around
Playing around

* When I did a new search a little while back, our comfy homestay’s name was very much mentioned—though there were other properties with cryptic names. I don’t know if this hiding of names is a random thing. Any ideas why OYO does this? If you know anyone there, could you ask them to change this?

Photos taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.

From jeans to sleeves


I love denim – its casual and cool attitude, texture and multiple shades of blue…  I’ve always wanted to work with the material, but I dreaded even the thought of sewing. So invariably I asked my mom to create things like this beautiful pencil holder.

Last week, I teamed up with my mother-in-law to turn a pair of old jeans into a laptop sleeve.* This was the first time that I took up a stitching project and it was quite the ride. Denim isn’t the easiest material to work with, especially if one has never stitched before—first with cutting open the jeans, then running it through the machine, and the occasional need to reopen messed up stitches. To complicate things, we attached the zip after stitching all other sides—bad idea. It should have been the first thing to be done up.

After we stitched everything up, we realised that the zip would rub against the laptop constantly, and it would be necessary to add some piping inside. Again, a lack of planning. With the multiple stitches bunched up at the corners, we extended our simple project by adding a small patch that doubled up as a pen and zip holder. To finish things up, we tidied up by putting in a few stitches by hand, and then trimmed all the loose threads.

For two-and a half days, we stared at the fabric; measured the laptop and fabric multiple times and drew chalk lines; had mini debates and discussions (no, there were no arguments, thank you); threaded needles; pulled the sewing machine apart to remove knots; lost the thread and threaded the needles again; stitched, reopened the stitches and stitched again; turned the bag inside out and then right side back up; and finally packed the laptop in. Phew!

Today, I am proud to introduce you to our new laptop sleeve!

From jeans to sleeves
Click / tap on the image to view them all on Flickr

This one was made using one leg of the pair of jeans. One down, one more to go 😉


* My mom is super happy I decided to give sewing a try. And now I won’t be able to ask her to take up my sewing ideas. Bummer.

Images taken with Motorola Moto G3 and collage created with Befunky.

Keeping level


Of Udaipur’s many lakes, the Fateh Sagar takes pride of place. While lake Picchola has the exotic lake palaces, Fateh Sagar retains the beautiful backdrop of the Aravalli hills.

“Well, you’re on vacation, but if you are early risers, I recommend taking a walk along Fateh Sagar. The roads are closed for vehicles till 8 am for morning walkers,” our host Dhananjai at Khudala House advised us.

I remembered reading about the beauty of sunrise at Fateh Sagar on an online travel forum. And so, on a Sunday morning, we set our alarm for 5:30 am, unlocked the House’s front door and sneaked out.

A few minutes later, we crossed the barricades to enter a walker’s paradise—the lake on one side; a rock-cut wall providing shade from the heat of the sun, on the other. We joined hundreds of locals walking briskly along the cordoned section of the road.

We walked leisurely, admiring the still boats basking in the golden light of the rising sun, the soft rustling of the gentle waves, the cool atmosphere, the seemingly endless hills washed green by the monsoon rains and the clean environs.

Awaiting duties
Awaiting duties

 It had poured heavily over the past two days—a kind of rain that would have brought Delhi NCR to its knees. And yet, the streets of Udaipur were devoid of waterlogging. Even Fateh Sagar’s water level remained constant.

When we first came to the city, our hearts were set on lake Picchola, having been enamoured by its ghat and the surrounding architecture. Making our way from the airport, our talkative cabbie Chetan had said, “You come to Udaipur, the main lake is Fateh Sagar. The boating is good here too, and reasonable. Picchola is okay… famous for the palace. But the real beauty is in Fateh Sagar. It is 20 kms if you want to go all around it.” At the time, we dismissed his words, but as the winding roads revealed the breadth of the lake and the distant hills, we understood what he meant.

Over an hour into our walk, there still was no sign of the sun. But what was that? The sound of water. A waterfall? Noone mentioned a waterfall in these parts.

We reached the end of the cordoned section, and there she was, not-so-quietly going about her job of making sure the water doesn’t spill out into the roads. I’m not sure what this structure is called—a sort of dam, I suppose, to control the level of water.

Fateh Sagar lake overflows into the Aravalli hills
Fateh Sagar lake overflows into the Aravalli hills

Nearby, a middle aged man with a mesh paddle was busy cleaning the lake—the ‘filth’ mostly comprised of leaves. Standing on the bridge, we soaked in the misty spray of the ‘waterfall’ and watched the calm water of Fateh Sagar spill out into the bushes on the other side.

The tank is overflowing!
The tank is overflowing!

And behind the bushes, we saw our sun—already up, waiting for us. We wondered if this was the viewpoint that we were supposed to have reached an hour earlier. If you happen to visit Fateh Sagar for the sunrise, perhaps you could shed some light on this matter. On the other hand, if, like us, you get caught up along the way admiring pretty much everything and miss the sun rising from behind the hills, here’s our takeaway:

The sunrise isn’t a view. It’s an experience.

Sunrise at Fateh Sagar
Sunrise at Fateh Sagar

In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: share with us the structure of something typically overlooked.

Photos taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.

Table for two


A cool breeze, clouds playing hide and seek with the sun, the sound of waves to one side, and the interiors of a palace on the other, a panoramic view of palaces and havelis and the backdrop of Aravalli hills – perfect, no?

Table for two
The corner tables at Jag Niwas Island Palace, Udaipur

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: What kinds of images and emotions do corners evoke in you?

Photo taken with Motorola Moto G3

Still standing


“What’s that?” I asked our friendly cab driver.

“Oh, that’s nothing. Just some old ruins,” he replied in a laid back tone, that could only be described as Goan.

The Churches of Old Goa are staple tourist fare. And like diligent tourists, we paid a visit to the most famous of them all – the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the adjoining Se Cathedral. Both sites had ingredients one would expect from a medieval church – massive in size, walls engraved, high ceilings housing intricate chandeliers and a presence that makes you speak in whispers, lest anyone else hears. With the sea of humans, though, the churches were reduced to fancy backgrounds for selfie enthusiasts – even with signboards and staff members explicitly asking people not to take pictures with people in them.

Making our way out of Se Cathedral, I noticed a lean brick tower in the distance.

As we made our way around the streets of Old Goa, the tower became taller, and then hid behind some trees.

The cab driver looked in the rear mirror. “There really is nothing there. Just ruins.”

I looked at my fellow travellers hoping for at least one of them to share my eagerness to visit that lonely tower.

After a few minutes the driver asked, “You want to go there? We can make a short stop.”

As soon as we reached, I jumped out of the car with a new friend. With others waiting, our instructions were clear. Go there, take a few pictures and head back as soon as possible!

Up close, the tower revealed itself to be just a fraction of what it must have been a few centuries ago. There was a large open space in front, and a large hall just behind it. At its fullest, it may have been much grander than the more illustrious buildings we had just visited.

‘Ruins of St. Augustine Complex’ read the signboard on one of the large stone bricks. Built in 1602 and abandoned in 1835, this church collapsed within the next few years. The silence of the space seemed to speak about its neglect and the lost grandeur.

Amid the spectacular ruins, not all seemed gloomy, though. A few pillars along the side of the fence spoke of survival even as the rest of the land stood barren.

I longed to spend more time within the hall behind the tower, but felt contented that I had the opportunity to visit. I grabbed my pictures and hurried back to the cab.

Back home, on digging around the web, I came across an interesting story surrounding the Church. In Hunting for a Georgian queen in Goa Srinath Perur writes about a martyred Queen, and the search for a missing relic that continued into the 21st century.

And a bonus bit of trivia – the eerie song, Gumnaam hai koi was filmed at the ruins.

***

In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: what is guaranteed to distract you? What is your “Ooh, shiny!”?

Unacceptable


Sometimes, there are things we may like to do that are completely unacceptable to social norms. And so we avoid it.

For many, that is the way of life – to live someone’s version of life. Sometimes, that someone is a voice within us, fooling us into believing we’re in control.

What happens when you take the plunge and explore the other side of what is unacceptable?

Running away
From opportunities
From challenges
From suffering

Breaking down
Of the heart
Of barriers
Of walls

Streaming tears
Of sorrow
Of melting joy
Of realisation

What if, on closer inspection, what used to appear unacceptable, may in fact, be more acceptable?

Inertia


We’re always told to think before doing anything. If possible, think twice.

But what if we don’t even know what we’re going to do? How does one think about it?

Like when we’re nervous, blurting out words without even knowing what we’re about to say next.

Like the social animal who knows just the right words to strike up a conversation without even knowing you.

Like the high ranking official on a podium who reacts to emerging situations without prior preparation.

We’ve all been in these situations. It happens in speech, as it does with other forms of expression – the artist, musician, actor, and writer within us reaches out by bypassing the neurological highway and surprising us.

Here is one of those moments when my thumbs tapped away without my knowledge:

The world spins around
Nothing makes sense
Inertia worsens this hell.
Leave. Move
Before it’s too late
Or fall into your shell.

They say that the universe has a way of communicating with us. That the world sends messengers to guide us along the way.

Sometimes, the messanger is sitting right inside us.

Payasam for the independent Indian


On 15th of August 1947, the British left India. Atleast that’s what we like to believe.

Consider the following:

At a geopolitical level, we stand fragmented, perhaps permanently disabled, fighting against our neighbours, with whom we share a common heritage.

At an institutional level, we inherited a corrupt bureaucracy that mostly enjoys fat salaries for warming the bench; a political structure that upholds the time honoured divide and rule policy; large organisations that spew communal hatred to further their own interests; and a system of reservation for ‘backward’ castes which is supposed to end discrimination, merit be damned.

Even at an individual level, given that we want to teach kids only English (along with other European languages); dream of an MBA from a foreign university; drool shamelessly at NRIs during family get-togethers for matchmaking; and are obsessed with ‘fair skin’, I wonder, are we really independent?


Meanwhile, yesterday, I made some payasam on occasion of a birthday—of a very interesting person. He is quite dark skinned and born to a community regarded as ‘Other Backward Classes’. He has a luxurious palace, but give him beaten rice and he’ll be absolutely thrilled. He used to steal butter as a kid, but I believe he has outgrown that, what with today’s salted low fat, low sodium stuff on sale.

He didn’t have any fancy MBA, but that didn’t stop him from leading a small group of warriors to victory over a mighty army.

His name is Krishna. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Oh you have! Quite the ladies’ man, no? Please do take a generous helping of this aval payasam—a delicacy made from beaten rice, milk and jaggery.

Aval Payasam
Happy birthday, Krishna!