An Unforgettable Scuba Diving in the Andaman

Adventures are part of life and it is the exhilaration that makes it so unforgettable. Though, they tend to excite us; they cannot do away with the probable risks involved. And, when you live through those experiences, they only leave you wiser. One such escapade I took up during a trip to the Andaman Islands along with my partner-in-crime.

It was the month of December when I landed at this place of bright sunshine. I had an ardent desire of indulging into some scuba diving fun. And, there was no spot better for the scuba divers than hitting the sun-kissed beaches of Havelock Island. The recreational sport is not just about an idea of fun but it takes a lot of courage to go inside the deep waters.

You are required to be calm and composed inside the sea and relieving yourself from all kinds of anxiety before taking the plunge. So, before experiencing the ultimate, if I was a restless soul, taking up the water activity only made me better. Though, we all know that a lot goes on behind the curtains before the final show.

Once all the physical and breathing exercises were practiced under the guidance of a professional diver, the clock was set for my accompanying group. Wearing the rubber costume with the special glasses, we got the breathing equipment on our back and put on the artificial webbed feet. As I walked towards the deeper trench to witness the surreal, I felt a new confidence descending upon me.

Still, my heart started pounding over the upcoming situation. I was breathing heavily as soon as I put my feet into the cold waters with all the necessary water sports gear on. Although, I had a bit of trouble equalizing the air pressure in my ears as I felt sharp pain, I was soon lost in the aquatic life surrounding me.

I found myself swaying to the music of the ocean waves, as a swarm of colourful fishes marched past me. Clutching tightly to the breathing apparatus with my teeth, I was soon oblivious to the uneasiness when pointing towards the seahorse and octopus. I was moving like a log of wood without feeling any weight in the underwater silence.

At last, when I came out to the shore, the anxiety had vanished and it was refreshingly peaceful as my heart was beating in place.

 

My Experiments with Food

My food adventures seem to have no end in Delhi. Be it in my neighbourhood, my immediate precincts or the entire city; my explorations know no bounds. While wandering, first to come on my wish list is surely the Carnatic Café, a boon for those who love gorging on south Indian food at New Friends’ Colony Community Centre.

Dosa delight

Do not hesitate in trying out the rare Dosa (fermented crepe prepared from rice batter) varieties, which are prepared with much patience and expertise with each of them tasting heavenly. Equally sublime is the ambience of the south Indian village carrying an ethnic touch. Enjoy your Dosa with a glass of fresh lime soda or mallige (butter milk) sitting outside the semi-open kitchen to give you the feel of a modern day dhaba.

South Indian indulgence

Though, dosas are the star attraction over here, you may not forget the taste of the weird looking Paddu that includes the rice balls (fried in ghee) that appear like eggs to be served with the sambhar and chutneys of three colours. Quite enticing are the Upma as well as Uthapams too. Complete your meal with the lip-smacking, ghee-dripping Kesari Bath, a dessert that is fulfilling enough for two.

The place is ideal for a dinner at night if you like enjoying meals under the quiet, dim light with soft music being played in the background. Perhaps a restaurant with few tables but a hospitable heart, Carnatic Café wins over you with its warm and friendly atmosphere. Still curious to come again to relish the Malleshwaram 18th Cross Dosa, I proceed to explore other parts of the small yet beautiful market with lots more to eat.

The local trail continues

Ahh! The smell of hot, steaming momos, reach your nostrils at the entrance of the market after walking few steps inside it. Also known as dumplings, this dish of the Tibetan origin captures your attention with its appearance. They are the light and fluffy balls of dough that have been given a makeover to suit the spicy palate of Delhi. Talking of the best fusion, reminds me of those tried out in C. R. Park carrying the taste of Darjeeling.

The street vendors have adapted to the local flavor by offering crispy fried momos along with its Tandoor or Paneer variety, which are an instant hit with the customers. You can also enjoy the servings with mayonnaise, extra spicy dip and the sprinkling of chaat masala according to your choice.

A spontaneous stopover

Another snack that can be light on your pocket, is the spicy double egg roll with vegetable fillings and sauces. What brings me to this place is the need to kill the fire in my belly at Open Oven. Get a quick bite of the molten truffle brownie or the chocolate mud slice served hot. Set below the stairs in a secluded corner of India mall, the shop is an ideal sit-out for two. My idea of adding to the bonhomie is ordering for the dessert over a casual chit-chat during one of those cool, breezy evenings.

An Unending Love Saga Crafted in Stone – Taj Mahal

There are three things that will intrigue you about India – its vibrant culture, the lip-smacking food and of course, the Taj. Such is the aura of this excellent piece of architecture that will keep calling you to Agra. My love for the stunning mausoleum kept on growing every time I saw it.

A live example of dedication, love and purity, Taj Mahal has been carved out of pure marble and semi-precious stones with perfection. A pathway along the reflecting pool full of fountains will take you to the breathtaking tomb where the Queen, Mumtaz Mahal, lies to rest in heaven along with her beloved, the King, Shah Jahan under the cenotaphs. Taj Mahal recites an unending saga of pure love, far more interesting than a romantic tale based on fiction.

Different shades of the Taj

It is truly the beauty personified at its best and reflects various shades. If you get lucky enough to keep staring it while it changes colours, then the shades of pink at dawn, the milky white shade at dusk and its golden colour under the moonlight will leave you speechless. Also, there are different overlapping variants, which are reflected throughout the day as well as during the cycle of seasons.

Poetry in stone

A fine blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, this wonderful masterpiece seems to be a poetry expressed in marble. The tomb is not just a universally admired symbol of love, but also, an example of scientific excellence and an architectural marvel.

I recollect my story of admiring the Taj with accounts of its detailed craftsmanship and exquisite calligraphy, not to forget, the references to its structure. From the minarets carrying a slightly inward tilt to the structural symmetry or the perfect inlay work, everything catches attention to detail and nothing can be replicated again.

The imposing edifice

It is said that the entire monument complex took almost 17 years get completed in 1648. The complex comprises the mausoleum itself, the mosque, along with the guest house as well as the main gateway towards south and the cloistered outer courtyard. Ustad Ahmad Lahori played the main architect in the construction of this great building that grew worldwide in magnanimity and popularity.

Standing tall on the banks of the Yamuna River and amidst a sprawling mughal garden, the main monument capped by a huge dome; is enclosed by four minarets tilted inwards, making it appear like a white blossoming flower.

A symbol of undying romance

The splendid building was erected as a result of the efforts of around 20,000 workers who toiled day and night to help the King Shah Jahan realize his dream of immortalizing his love for his favourite wife. He left no stone unturned in commemorating the unfortunate demise of his wife. The sculptors were called from Bukhara, stone cutters were required from Baluchistan and calligraphers were invited from Persia and Syria to construct the grand tomb. His efforts bore fruit finally when the grand edifice took shape with the help of numerous carvers, calligraphers, inlayers, painters, masons, stone cutters and dome builders.

Some Street Food for Thought

Walking past the facades of crumbling houses in the Chandni Chowk has been one of my favourite pastimes since the time I have been staying in Delhi. Reason? The bustling bazaars that catch your attention and the aromatic cuisine that beckons you. This place is thronged by a number of namkeenwallahs (snack-sellers), halwais (sweet-sellers) and paranthewallahs who inspire you to discover their culinary secrets to success. Therefore, the variety of street food scattered through the narrow lanes of this area cannot be given a miss.

Give yourself a parantha treat

Relishing the deep fried paranthas served with pickle, chutney and aloo subzi is a must to do thing on the rain-drenched days. Here, you can enjoy your stuffed parantha meals in various varieties comprising matar (peas), gobhi (cauliflower), bhindi (lady’s finger), mirch (chilli). Also, there are additional flavours of carrot, radish, cashew, almond, mixed and fenugreek.

For your snack love

Another local favourite, which you will love is the chaat with variants including aloo, papdi and fruit chaat. Apart from that, savouries like Gol Gappe, Kachoris, Samosas, Pao Bhaji, Aloo Tikki and Dahi Bhallas make you keep coming here for more. Wondering how they taste? Well, I would not be able to tell you as you will have to taste it yourself and judge for it gives you a pure blissful experience.

For those who love meat

Being a self-confessed vegetarian, I have not really tried the non-vegetarian delicacies but ask any food lover who wants to try out something new without restricting his or her choices, and you would not be surprised to hear the same. My friend who hails from Rajasthan, goes gaga over every lip-smacking dish she tries out in this old locality of the capital. Be it the fried chicken, aromatic kebabs or the fresh fish, you may savour any of them with delicate rumali rotis (paper-thin bread) available at throwaway prices.

The most popular non-vegetarian delights offered in the area are Nihari, Paaya, Reshmi Kabab, Butter Chicken, Shammi Kabab, Mutton Korma, Tandoori Chicken, Murgh Musallam and Shahjahani Korma around the Jama Masjid area. Of course, who can forget the flavour and smell of the butter chicken, cooked in red tomato gravy making it creamy enough to melt in your mouth.

For your sweet tooth

After a hearty, spicy meal, you can treat your sweet tooth with the delicious desserts present in varieties galore. A rich and scrumptious Rabri Faluda is always on my wish list whenever I happen to visit this place during my leisure time. You will surely be compelled to eat, indulge and repeat after enjoying the sinful kulfi in varieties of kesar, kewra, rose, pista, mango, banana or pomegranate.

A plate full of hot jalebis made from pure desi ghee, is equally refreshing. Talking of sweets, there are a lot more places to explore in this area, said to be ages old. Try out the Sohan Halwa and the Badam Burfi that are heaven on earth and a startling discovery, khurchan, which is the leftover scrap made with milk that kept on boiling seems to be created in oblivion.

Sweeping the Dust Off My Old Summer Vacation Diary

Today is a windy morning and I happen to stumble upon my old summer vacation memories of childhood while trying to get rid of the dust over my belongings. So, I tore off a page and decided to share the excerpts…..

Vacation Diary : From Imagination to Enlightenment

Spending summer vacation without doing anything is also an art. But I still stand out as I made a constructive use of it by sleeping, eating, my trip to Bodhgaya, Bihar and Jaipur, Rajasthan. So think my vacations were put to best use.

Sleeping gave me dreams with innovative ideas, chance to visit places which I can’t even think in my dreams, do what I want to without caring for anybody or anything. It allowed me live my aspirations, my fears, my instincts. Isn’t it funny? I wanted to go for snorkelling right away. So I kept sleeping for few more hours enjoying myself. Exciting but strange that even I was trying this adventure for the first time, I knew what I had to do. I was ignorant of the fact that my mother kept waking me up throughout. But can any other idea be more tempting other than that at that point of time? Unaware of the happenings around me, I was sailing into the sea of self-imagination.

And wow! gorging upon good food. It gave me nothing but good 8 kilos to put on. Blessed are those who can eat anything and everything without worrying to shed those extra pounds. Chocolates, ice-creams, cakes which the anorexic models can only think of as nightmares.

I was so elated to visit Bodhgaya, the place where Lord Buddha got enlightenment. Deciding right away at 10 o’clock in the morning and half an hour to get ready and take off created an atmosphere of chaos inside my house. Nobody can beat that experience. It was kind of a long drive as Bodhgaya is just few hours away from the heart of Patna. Basking in the glory of the scorching sun I kept asking for the directions with my family. It was a rejuvenating experience alongwith the post reunion joy. The wonderful view of Pretshila Hills in the background and the monastries established by different countries on both sides of the road. The conversation with the humble Buddhist monks and capturing the moments with my camera were a delight. Surprised to see the Mahabodhi tree in its reinstated form, Lord Buddha’s footprints under the tree and the Chakramana where he used to take a stroll during his enlightening days. After wandering all over the place ate my heart out at a roadside dhaba with hardly any electricity and a thatched roof as appetite overcame all odds.

I cannot the miss the chance of talking about my Jaipur trip where I mostly shopped around Johari Bazar. Can anything in this world replace the pleasure of shopping for a girl? Well, I am more like the opposite kind but this question explained my situation as I went on a shopping spree after an year long interval. Searching through Johari Bazar, I came across a famous shop where relished my life’s first rich kulfi-faluda. Who will believe this place full of life and customers swarming, stood the adversities of a major terrorist attack? Either you catch up a movie at a City Pulse (mall) PVR or a movie at Rajmandir, known as the most beautiful picture hall in India; Jaipur shows the way, giving you the blend of traditional culture and modernity. This fusion or blend is reflected from the royal palaces turned into luxury hotels. Tired of seeing pink all over which started giving me an eye sore, I headed for sightseeing to the City Palace to catch a glimpse of the extravagant lifestyle of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Truly these summer vacation experiences left me wiser.

The article was also published in Jamia Journal. Thanks to the Editor, Khalid Jaleel.

The Bold and Revered Konark Sun Temple

If you are a traveller wandering in Konark, all roads may take you to one of the architectural splendours in India, The Sun Temple. This place carries an air of mystery as the Sun God seems to have descended on earth exuding the matchless aura while riding his huge solar chariot. Even the time stops here to pay obeisance to the presiding deity sitting atop his chariot with 12 pairs of wheels, which depict the 12 months of a year. The seven horses pulling it refer to the seven days in a week.

The Kalinga style architecture takes you back in time when you explore the temple complex including natamandira (the Dancing Hall), bhogamandapa (the Hall of Offerings) and jagamohana (the porch). It is not just a wondrous place of pilgrimage but a masterpiece that has been intricately carved with details. Here, you will seek solitude to understand the unspoken language of stone and to hear the silent music that reverberates through the timeless ruins. The sweet melodies playing in the air can turn any tourist into a poet and make him scribble verses showering praises on the magnanimity of the carvings, which are scattered all over the temple walls.

This travel destination is an eclectic mix of spirituality and sexuality, which are juxtaposed in such a manner that there is merely a sign of vulgarity as the holy site is full of images sculpted with Kama Sutra lessons. Most likely, the imposing structure gives away a message that conveys the pure bliss experienced by a soul during its union with the divine. The monument exterior consists of the life-size sculptures of voluptuous women who strike seductive poses symbolizing an indescribable charm and delicacy that cannot be mistaken for feebleness. The seductively posing figures mark the overlap of erotic art and the spiritual atmosphere, which leads to an amazing contrast. The art work was a bold and innovative move in the 13th century when sex was a forbidden subject and which continues being a well-kept secret even today.

This revered spot is inscribed with colossal statues comprising deities, humans, mysterious beasts, floral designs and aquatic monsters. Call it a place of worship for Hindus, a site to explore for historians, a humble muse for poets or an unending inspiration for art lovers, Konark Sun Temple seems an eye treat for all.

A fine instance of craftsmanship belonging to the reign of King Narasimhadeva, this magnificent monument was once known as Black Pagoda, owing to its dark appearance and the frequently occurring shipwrecks along the coastline, which is in the vicinity. The splendid edifice was gradually eroded and buried under the sand but later on, it was reinstated to its present form during the British era.

The British archaeologists restored this stupendous piece of architecture that continues to enthral the tourists till date. Though, the turbulent sea waters and the fierce winds played havoc with the ageless structure; still, it withstood the test of time to tell tales of the popular legends associated with its construction.