Friday, December 16, 2016

Winter Wish Well – Kashmir

White washed, painted with numerous shades of cold blue and white, beauty of bareness and dead grooves that would bloom again in spring and still a land alive in every sense. Some days back it snowed in Seattle and I was transported back to a beautiful state of India. If you thought Spring or Autumns are the only time to visit the cold Himalayan beauty of India again, think again for now I would give you five reasons to make you believe why you have to visit Kashmir during winters at least once in your life!

1.   The white wonderland
Kashmir is better than Switzerland during winters. To experience snow that has fallen months ago and to experience snowfall – the feel is really different. Imagine making snowman in fresh snow, fall and create deep snow angels in soft, yet to settle, fluffy snow, to gaze outside your window and see the snow pile on vast fields, pined trees and your window sills while sitting with a hot cup of Kehwa and hot burning Kangri – the only time to get all this is during winters! Even the other areas that do not have snow, have a backdrop of white washed Himalayas and a shade of winter that is stunning in every sense.

2.  No crowd, No fuss
Since due to common belief, winters is termed off season for Kashmir Tourism and hence all the places you venture to would have very less crowd aka welcome to a non-touristy Kashmir. This means you get heavy discounts on almost everything there and at the same time get to interact with locals as much as you want because people are not in any hurry to attend to hordes of tourists that they usually do during the other times of the year.

Source -

3.  Enjoy food the Kashmiri way
Local food around Srinagar get a lot more Kashmiri during winters than in any other season. It is not like you can’t get local delicacies during the other seasons but during winters the street food gets more local flavoured and lets go of the Punjabi, Lucknowi touch and well imagine hot kebabs on chilled winter nights. You get the fun right?

4.  Ski and Sledge
Let’s go the eskimo way. Okay, no, but just the touristy way. Sure in other seasons you get the orchards of apricots, you may see arrays of Tulips and Saffron, you may also see sprawling fields of paddy and grass but winter is the only time you would see endless rows of snow laden slopes that are fit for skiing and sledge rides. Why travel all the way to Switzerland, Alaska and Austria when you can get it all in your own country!

5.  Kehwa and Kangri
I love to do local stuff!!!  I know you guys must have figured that out already but still I love doing local stuff and one of the best moments I had in Kashmir during my trip was – roaming around near Sindh Nallah in Sonmarg with a kangri in hands and sipping Kehwa all the while. You can get Kehwa in Kashmir all-round the year but it is primarily a winter drink. Long story short, I was doing what the local villagers of Sonmarg were doing at the Sonmarg bus stop and I totally got the point of it.

Winter is when Kashmir gets the most real and the warmest in terms of hospitality! I loved Kashmir in winters and feel lucky to have experienced the place in that season! What about you guys?

Also for those of you who are anxious about the conditions in Kashmir right now – life has kind of come back to normalcy but locals need a lot of support and positivity to forget the last five months. From personal experience, I can tell you people over there are really nice and kind and a few friends who traveled there recently have confirmed that it is pretty safe to travel to Kashmir now.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winterfest at Seattle Center

Current entrance to Seattle Center
April 21st 1962
A huge tower topped with a flying saucer look alike observation deck. A couple of huge halls close by. A set of huge white arched structure act as gate to future. A huge ground full of people, 200 at first, 20,000 eventually and at a point some 2M people had shown glimpse of greatness that was paving way for some amazing stories to come. Musical notes with splashes of water dance to tunes of success and achievement. A fast train whizzes by all this, ready to transport people to a new era of technology and globalization.

The International Fountain and the Space Needle
Fast forward to 8th December 2016
The huge flying saucer, called the Space needle is the pride of Seattle and the symbol of this beautiful city. The white arched gates still stand but are gates to IMAX and the science center. The huge fountain, called the international fountain, still plays music from different parts of the world and makes water and people dance to those tunes every day. The fast train now has company of music thanks to EMP museum or MoPop – Museum of Pop Culture. The big field now has more halls than ever, most dedicated to art and craft and some to recreation. But what still hasn’t changed is what this place stands for – people!
Seattle Center Park Way
This amazing place is Seattle Center!!!
Started in 1962, for Seattle’s World Fair – Century 21 Exposition, Seattle Center not only entered the 21st century 38 years in advance and in full glory, it has only thrived and become more about people over the years. If you check Seattle Center’s website it says – ‘Seattle Center creates exceptional events, experiences and environments that delight and inspire the human spirit to build stronger communities’ just like it did when it was opened to public for the first time in 1962. And after being in the campus 3 times now, I can totally vouch for the authenticity of their claim.

It is all about holiday spirit!
Ever since I started writing about Seattle on my blog, people have asked me why I haven’t written about main tourist areas of Seattle, and I always thought when I did start writing about touristy places in Seattle I would start with Seattle Center, but had not found the right opportunity yet. Thanks to the ongoing Winterfest in Seattle Center, here I am and I would tell you all about why you should visit Seattle Center and not miss Winterfest if in Seattle during December.

Winterfest is celebration of holiday season at Seattle Center, that starts just after thanksgiving and goes on till new year’s every year. I attended Winterfest this year on Black Friday and I do not regret letting go of shopping for some hours to be part of community and the holiday spirit for a few of hours. Winterfest has an ice rink for ice skating that I saw kids and adults enjoy equally. Many who didn’t know how to skate also didn’t mind spending the 8$ for falling, getting up and making memories with their friends and family.

Ice Rink
The train station was just the prettiest art display at the armoury. Tiny train, plane, hot air balloon. Some dancing damsel, a happy man skating over a frozen lake. Some children playing in snow, some people enjoying just nature. Festivities, music, and daily life – the train station display had it all and it just felt so real at time, maybe because of the whole holiday decoration of the armoury or maybe because of the carols being performed in the background.

Train Station Village
There are many musical and dance performances lined up every day at the armoury for the whole day, most troupes local to Seattle. Seattle is known as the city of performing arts and Seattle Centre Winterfest gives a chance to local groups to shine and display their art. 

When I visited Seattle Center, I was reminded of my childhood thanks to the tons of Christmas Carols performed by Snow Globe - Kristin Chambers and Puget Sound Acapella Choir.

Train Station Village
Apart from performing arts, display art is also huge in Seattle and at Winterfest, ice sculpting that happens every Saturday for the whole month is pretty huge! Sadly, I went there on a Friday and hence could not see the sculptures. But I did get to spend a lot of time at the International Fountain and I loved every minute of it. You can actually go down and drench and dance under this huge fountain! 

Holiday, snow and music
I did go round and dodged some water sprout due to the super cold weather but there were kids who were getting drenched even in this weather! But anyhow listening to Arabian and Russian music and watching the 20 or so water sprouts synchronizing with the music was kind of soothing – something that took me away from studies and stress of the upcoming finals week of my college. And street performances near this fountain just redefined ‘Seattle meets world at Seattle Center.’
Last Autumn Shades
Well long story when in Seattle, do go to Seattle Center; not just to Space Needle, the Chihuly Glass Museum and EMP but to Seattle Center as a whole! And if in Seattle during December – Get the feel of Seattle, Holidays and Winters all in one place! To know more about Winterfest check here -

The huge Christmas tree at armoury! 
P.S.: I would be telling you more about different places at Seattle Center in separate posts.

A snowy happy Holidays to all!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Just That - New York, New York

Welcome to the CITY!
After quite a long time - I finally have another guest writer on the blog today!
I love featuring guests posts that are raw, frank and have different perspectives of places or travel. Last time my guest writer told us about a trek that finally made him confident about about solo travels. This time I have a writer who saw New York beyond the obvious by actually visiting the obvious 'New Yorker' Places! Something funny, something amazing, something not cool - here is a raw take on New York by a new guy in the town intending to give a lot of first timer tips and links to people visiting the city!

Guess where in New York?
Guest Post By - Kafkaesque

If ever there was a better time or an ironic time to write about New York (Trump’s home state where he lives in golden luxury in the middle of 5th Avenue), I couldn’t find it. I was in the Red Apple for about 3 months for an internship and I wasted no time in exploring the city. 

City of Skyscrapers right?
It was as close to a homecoming as possible with New York’s fabled subways, the breakneck pace at which people go nowhere to; reminding me of Mumbai every alternating second. I got to do a lot of things which a “proper New Yorker” gets to do. The day immediately after I landed, I visited the Frick’s Museum for a book signing by one of my favourite authors: Julian Barnes. 

Frick's Museum
Cue *high-pitched fan-girl shriek* The museum, among one of the better ones among museums, houses rare art collections of the late industrialist Henry Frick and other educational events. The tranquility of this place is beyond compare; and I saw artists trying to recreate what Rembrandt, Bellini, Goya, Vermeer, etc. had created decades back. (If anyone is truly interested in painting forms, you should check out this movie reliving Vermeer’s unique way of painting)

Statue of Liberty! Not really that exciting.
The following day, I went to the Statue of Liberty (you should buy tickets in advance here) and the Ellis Island. With the amount of history seeped into these two places, it’d be a dream for a history buff and a soporific slumbering trip for one who is not. (I fall in the latter category) This trip takes about an entire day.

Bits from MET

Not London Bridge
Among the free and cheap things you can do in the following days; there is the Brooklyn Bridge (best visited at night; better yet during 4th of July fireworks), Bryant Park, Central Park, Central Park Zoo, George Washington Bridge (only if you’re driving through it), the NY Public Library (skip this one if you don’t get time; it is on the opposite end of the city), the NY skyline from the Hudson Waterfront (Riverside Drive) at New Jersey; and *drum-roll* The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

One of the best views of the city for free!
Don’t miss the Met, at any cost, even if it is the only thing you do. It’s quantifiably the best kept museums from around the world and entrance fees are paltry (you can pay a minimum token amount of 1$ to get in) There are a few things you shouldn’t miss at the Met. 

The ever busy Times Square
Times Square is a passing phase; the same way non-Mumbaiites get bent out of shape about the Victoria Terminus. See it once, you have seen it all; but you’ll still love the electric energy when you walk through the place. Among the other free things; you can catch Stephen Colbert and John Oliver; both of whom host their Tonight Shows from the middle of NYC. (Free tickets here and here respectively) 

That is just a small not very expensive Broadway Show Set - Phantom of the Opera
John Oliver’s tickets are notoriously difficult to procure (a friend of mine reportedly tried every week for 6 months and she still couldn’t get it) Among the more expensive and artsy things to do in NYC; there are Broadway plays (I have seen 3 : “Wicked” – Amazing, “An American In Paris” – so-so, and “The Phantom of the Opera” – a well-its-the-longest-running-Broadway-show-so-you-have-to-watch-it kind of show) Front row tickets are crazy expensive (goes from 200$ to a long running show to a reported sum of 30,000$ for Hamilton’s last show) but oh well, where would we be without online lotteries. If you have to catch at least one show, make it “The Book of Mormon” or “Wicked”. Thank me later. 

Heights and Lights
Among the other expensive things that fall in the you-have-to-do-if-you-are-visiting-NYC-for-the-first-time feeling  are the Rockefeller Center “Top of the Rock” view (32$ here)

I loved MET more than anything!

Phew. That was a lot of information in a single breath. I hope you enjoy your stay in NYC as much as I did.

You know where now.

PS: If you have more time to explore the east coast, I suggest visiting Washington DC and Pennsylvania for its history; Atlantic City for its casinos and other things (*ahem*) and Boston for the suburban hip life. (all places are within driving distance) 

No New York trip can be complete without the New York Cheesecake! 
Do not miss Junior’s cheesecake (their traditional NY Cheesecake is yum) and their Red Velvet is second only to Cheesecake Factory’s. Also, keep your eyes open when you walk through Broadway and Times Square. There are a lot of art demos and live shows happening. See this.            

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Vavs of Gujarat - Adalaj ni Vav

Just the right amount of light.
Last week I told you about the most exquisite vav aka step well of Gujarat. This week I am back with another step well, smaller than Rani ni Vav but no less beautiful.

Unlike Rani ni Vav, Adalaj ni Vav is all about patterns
At a distance of about 24 kilometres from central Ahmadabad, just off Ahmedabad – Gandhinagar highway there is a dusty road that leads to a village. And there suddenly you read a huge banyan tree and a temple and there it is, Adalaj ni Vav. Prior to going to Adalaj, I was warned by a lot of people about how dirty the place was and how bad their experience of Adalaj was, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a clean courtyard leading to the step well.

Pillars and Pillars
And there it was – a small gated entrance to an intricately carved step well – Step well of Adalaj, or like it is locally called Adalaj ni Vav. Built in late 15th century, Adalaj ni Vav was also made by a queen for her king, at least technically. According to famous folklore – the well was started by Rana Veer Singh Vaghela, as a place where travellers and locals could rest and get water from. But before he could complete the construction of the well, his kingdom was attacked by neighbouring sultan – Mohammed Begda and he died in the battle. 

Tree of life is a prominent feature of Adalaj ni Vav
When Mohammed Begda later saw the queen of the kingdom, Rani Roopba, he fell for her and asked her for marriage. Rani accepted the offer but also said she wanted to complete the well before the marriage and asked Begda to help complete the construction. Bedga obliged and thus the 5 storeyed brilliance came into existence. But soon after, when it was time for the queen to accept matrimony, she killed herself, presumably by jumping into the well. Tragic end right?

Do you see the Kalash and the flower motifs?
Somehow, while this step well’s history is tragic, locals see it as a sign of love and pride, since Rani Roopba was known to be a proud Rajput and she lived and died for her king! But whatever be the story, Adalaj ni Vav still stand strong and is immensely beautiful. The amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic elements in the carvings hard to miss and for people who do not know the story or get saddened by it, it is sheer delight.

Couldn't help but think about the bittersweet story of this place.
The while the statues of Adalaj are not as elaborate and prominent as Rani ni Vav, beautiful floral motifs are etched everywhere, almost like some complicated heena design. Also the structure of Adalaj ni vav is way more symmetrical than Rani ni Vav, probably because every level was to serve like a resting place for many travellers. Think of an open air but shaded olden day’s hostel for travellers – that is exactly what this vav was.

Welcome to history
Today the Vav surely isn’t a hostel but it sure sees a lot of travellers, doesn’t it? Luckily due to Gujarat Tourism’s efforts of keeping such places clean and preserved, the number of tourists to Adalaj ni Vav is rapidly increasing. Gujarat has many other Vavs also, but Rani ni vav and Adalaj ni vav are the gems of the state, or at least I felt so.

Jharokha's aka watch windows at Adalaj ni Vav

How to Get There?
It is about 24km from Ahmedabad Airport.
Closes Airport, Railway Station – Ahmedabad

Best Time to Visit
Late August to February – Avoid the summers as the area heats up a lot.

Have you been to these step wells, or any other? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Vavs of Gujarat - Rani Ni Vav

First glimpse of the majestic Rani Ni Vav
A small town, that kept fading away into a village as our car moved ahead, and we were greeted with a huge lush green lawn. I visited Patan, some months back to visit one of the World Heritage sites of UNESCO and this is how it looked at first. But after walking for 10 minutes or so on that lawn, I was astounded by what I saw. A wide deep gap in the ground, layers and layers of steps, and some carvings visible even at that distance; but this was nothing compared to what I was to witness as and how I got closer to Rani Ni Vav.

When ruins speak
Rani Ni Vav is one of the most exquisite step wells of India. Step wells are believed to be inspired by wells of Indus Valley Civilization but they became prominent architectural structures in western India sometime in the late 7th century. Step wells were not very ornate in the beginning and were built with the sole purpose of storing water and providing a common place to public to gather and get respite from the harsh sun of the semi-arid region. With time, merchants and kings got involved in building more vavs in the area and started carving and detailing them, some still present some lost to the sands of time.

Some of the many sculptures inside
Rani Ni Vav is one such Vav of that era but instead of a king, a queen built it in memory of her King, hence the name. Build in the 11th Century under Solanki Rule, it is said that Queen Udaymati built this step well in memory of her husband king Bhimadev. 

Can you believe they were carved on stone in 11th Century? 
According to locals, queen wanted to do something great but beneficial to others in memory of her king and the royal Wazir told her about building the step well. Though the usage of the well is not known for a fact, due to the structures and statues in the Vav it is speculated that the well was used to religious purposes.

A very well preserved Maa Durga Statue
Most of the Vavs in Gujarat are believed to be made like an inverted temple for worshiping sanctity of water and Rani Ni Vav is no exception. But what makes it stand out among all the Vavs of the region is the level of detailing the pillars and the walls have. The vav has 7 levels that are heavily carved and have about 800 sculptures!
One of the statues depicting Kingly life and ceremonies.
The sculptures in the Vav range from various kingly ceremonies to the 10 Avatars of Vishnu, to the sculptures of the Devis and Yoginis. Every statue is brought alive in stone by the ornate carving and would never fail to impress the visitors. The last level around the actual water well is the most detailed of the lot and unfortunately unreachable. But even the sight of it leaves you mesmerised, trust me! 

Statues of Goddess are everywhere
I didn’t even realize how time passed away while I was admiring the artwork of the old locals of the area. Even the pillars, carved in shape of Kalash – traditional pots, tell you a story!

Don't the Pillars also tell you something?
Rani Ni Vav was silted by Sabarmati and was recently excavated by Indian Archaeological society between 1960 and 1980. Due to this the carvings are still very well preserved and protected, and the Gujarat Government plans to keep the place that way! Being a gem in terms of architecture and one of the cleanest Heritage sites of the world (thanks to Narendra Modi’s love for cleanliness) few years back it was added to UNESCO Heritage sites list as well. Oh! For people who say Taj Mahal is a symbol of love due to its architecture, India has many structures to give it tough competition and the leading one in that list for me would be Rani Ni Vav.
Humans, Gods, animals and emotions, you can find it all on its walls
Does this convince you enough to visit Rani Ni Vav? A lot of you would be travelling to Gujarat in the next 2 months for Rann Utsav; keep Ahmedabad and the Vavs in mind if you wish to explore the state beyond the Rann. I would soon let you know about another Vav in the area!

Every stone literally speaks or art, culture and heritage
How to Get There?
It is about 125km from Ahmedabad Airport.
Closes Airport – Ahmedabad
Closest Railway Station – Mehsana Junction

Best Time to Visit
Late August to February – Avoid the summers as the area heats up a lot.

Just look at the detailing of the stone statues!