Sunday, April 24, 2016

10 Literary Destinations for a Bibliophile

Book and Tea or Coffee - Bliss!
23rd April, which for now might be gone and forgotten, was actually World Book Day and I, being a bibliophile and a wanderer, could only think about how some places have been made so special for us by some amazing books. No, I am not talking about books like Lonely Planet or the Outlook, but I am actually talking about fictional books that made a place come alive with just words and stories based on these places. Imagine people wanting to visit Sleepy Hollow just because they read Sleepy Hollow, or wanting to visit Hogwarts (How I wish it was real!) because the whole story of Harry Potter revolves in and around this castle. Literary destinations, many a times are very real and today, after being 2 days late due to my office work, I share the top 10 literary destinations of in my bucket list! (Some I have already ticked off)

How I wish places in this book were all real!
10. Darjeeling – Not many have read Feluda stories; but for the ones who have – he was just as amazing as Sherlock Holmes and best part about Feluda Short Stories were the locations in the plot. Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi stories made me want to visit Kolkata for sure, but a couple of Feluda take – particularly Danger in Darjeeling, made me add Darjeeling to my bucket list. And it is one of the places I have ticked off!

9. Dehradun – No points for guessing who has made us all fall in love with Dehradun. Ruskin Bond is a genius when it comes to simplistic short stories, we all know, but he is a brilliant word painter and that is what made Dehradun so very famous and amazing in our minds. Don’t you all agree? And for people who have no clue - Till the trees grow in Dehra – this book is the answer to all the questions you have.

Ruskin Bond lives there too! (Source)
8. Verona – William Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet balcony scene get all the points for this one. The Capulate house, the description of the place and then you had the movie letters to Juliet to just coax you to visit this place one day! Na not a love struck fool, not a romantic either but I am a window and balcony lover. Crazy fixation I guess but Tuscan houses have this charm and Juliet’s house would surely have a bit more of it.

7. Dublin – Weird, Very Weird but so very interesting. James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses gives you a glimpse of a very grey but mystical Dublin with flickers of wonder here and there. Yes, he brought Dublin on the literary travel map and the city very well appreciates it too. Along with its many historic and modern attractions, Dublin also has a statue of James Joyce at North Earl Street which is a small gesture of gratitude for the man I guess.

Scared of Count Dracula? (Source)
6. Transylvania -  I talked of weird and interesting, so I had to talk of the castle of the first ever Vampire kids know of – Dracula! Bram Stoker, himself for Ireland, brought alive a sleepy misty down of Romania to make his ultimate creation, Count Dracula, immortal. The book has references to London too, but the descriptions of the Vampire’s Lair, his castle and the foggy town is probably what makes thousands of people visit the place every year. This one is a must visit for me!

5. Savannah – Georgia Savannah is still an offbeat place but when you say Gothic this place sure pops in my mind in seconds. Again a book not many have read, but a masterpiece just like Dracula - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, made this small town so famous that the major tourist attraction of this gothic town is actually Ghost Walking Tours! Need I say more?

4. Paris – Too much spooky? Let’s move to historical and interesting again! Louvre! Nope not Eiffel tower I want to go to Louvre. Dan Brown sure knows how to make ‘make believe fictional tales’. I still remember reading the Da Vinci Code and googling every bit about the historical landmarks mentioned there. And imagine my surprise and wonder when most of the places turned out to be true and the theories around them almost true! Maybe he ends his novels badly but his works are still my favourite!

3. Istanbul – Not a famous book, not even a great book but it took me from Amsterdam to Bulgaria to Istanbul and back to Transylvania because after all The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova was based on Count Dracula. This book is interesting but suffers a lot in flow. But you can forget all of it because the description of places, specially Istanbul can keep you going till the end and make you want to know more!

2. Vatican City – Confession: I never wanted to visit Vatican because I thought the place was highly religious and very crowded and the visit would be an expensive waste of time. Angels and Demons changed all of that in two night! The book was something no book lover would want to miss and it portrayed Vatican as a place that no traveler would want to miss ever! Yes Dan brown did it again. He made me add Vatican to my list and I am going to Vatican for sure.

Mr Holmes? (Source)

1. London – Baker Street, Pillars of Hercules, Globe Theatre, King’s Cross Station, Canterbury, George inn and many more. London has been made the Switzerland of Literary Travelers by many writers like Shakespeare, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Julian Barnes and god knows how many more. You love books? You love travelling? You want to see books come to life and not just stay in you r imaginations? London is calling. End of story!

I was tempted to add Russia - Russian Fairy Tales and Hobbiton Shire - Lord of the Rings to this list but both didn't really fit the criteria. For those of you wondering why Alaska - Into the Wild didn't make it to the list; I got the book almost 1 year back and still haven't had the chance to read it.

Anyhow, this was of course my list. If you love books and travelling tell me the places you would love to visit. And tell me of places I failed to add to my list!

Starting now!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Indore Diaries - Sarafa

This is at Midnight!
What comes to you mind when I mention ‘Night-life’? Parting, Clubbing? Some places are famous for that kind of night-life, true; some places like Mumbai are also famous for people roaming around Marine drive or carter road promenade. But would you guys believe me that Indore is also a city that has a night-life worth experiencing? A night-life that is jubilant, unique and a must do! Indories (people of Indore) are known for being foodies and their night-life is very much about it.

Close to 1:00 am, same place.
About a minute from the Rajwada entrance gate, right beside the wada wall is a lane in Indore that has the most popular jewellery shops of the city. They glitter with gold in daytime, of sorts, but at night the lane is lit up by halogen lights, CFL bulbs and stove fires! This lane, known as the Sarafa Bazaar turns into a street food lover’s paradise every night – from 8:00PM to 2:00AM.

One really old permanent sweet shop
Some permanent food shops of the lane prep for the whole day and start their services at 8 while others set up their carts and stalls in front of the closed jewellery shops at the same time, and the most interesting part – even the places of the carts and temporary shops are fixed since what seems like forever.

Look at the amount of stuff already sold out.
Imagine there are stalls like Joshiji Ke Dahiwade which apparently started in 1977 and Saawariya ka Bhutte Ka Khees or Sabudana Khichdi that started in 1983 and these two are the most famous of the oldies lot because they somehow manage to finish their entire stock by the end of each night.

Okay, they were just super yummmm!
From sweets like jalebi, rabdi, gulab jamun, malpua, mung daal ka halwa etc…, to snack items like Indori poha, bhutte ka khees, kachori, dahiwada, samosa, dosa, sabudana khichdi etc… you will find it all here all cooked in ‘Desi Ghee’. Along with these there are plenty of fruit stalls and Lime and Coconut water stalls in the lane.

Before this, I didn't even know about Bhutte (corn) ke Khees
People of Indore – Men, Women and Children – love this place for sure because in the hottest of days, or even during weekdays you would find these lanes crowded with people savouring the street food flavours of India.

Healthy Options! Anyone?
The area is pretty safe and you wouldn’t even be bothered by the darkness and the nearby sleepy empty roads, 2 minutes after entering this place. Parking is not available in the lanes post 8 and there is police security at both the ends of the lane. 

This ain't a Jalebi, it is a Jaleba!
Also what I found out from one of the shop owners (where I was enjoying sweets) is that these people have some sort of association and have rules due to which only food cooked in healthy oil or ghee can be sold in the area. I am not one to authenticate their claim, but yes I can tell you this, I am not a street food person and I didn’t fall ill after hogging like crazy over there!

It is believed that Sarafa Bazaar started during Ahilya Bai Holkar’s rule and even the food bazaar was famous back then as shop owner’s food paradise. Though there are no records to prove it was a special part of Indore back then, it surely is a very unique distinguishing part of Indore now! Like Rajwada tells you about Indore’s glory, Sarafa tells you a lot about Indore’s culture. And one thing is for sure – When in Indore, eating at Sarafa is a must!

Food at midnight!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Indore Diaries – Time Gone By

The Royal Chhatris at Rajwada, Indore
Indore, one of the most prominent cities of the heart of India, Madhya Pradesh, is a city that has been added to the recent future smart city list but the place still prides itself for town-ish feel and its royal history. The present city had been founded in the late 15th century and has been growing ever since, and the town tells you all about it. Narrow and busy lanes, temples at almost every corner, old havelis in shambles, royal palaces and sudden change in scenario with flyovers and small IT parks – but it is the part of Indore speaking of the time gone by is the part I loved the most!

Rajwada - A place that every Indorian loves!
I had first been to Indore 10 years back for a wedding and all I remember of the place was Rajwada, the heart and soul of Indore. Back then this royal palace of the Holkars was partially open to the public and had a huge garden with a fountain and a lot of benches. The crisscross path that ran between the lawns ended at the entrance of a huge temple which is believed to be the personal prayer place of Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar and the rest of the fort was closed. 

A wooden window on the stone walls of Rajwada
I remember munching popcorn sold in the compound and staring at the burnt windows and pillars of the palace, which were apparently burned down during the 1984 riots but were examples of both Mughal and Maratha architecture. Though now entrance to the wada is limited to area covered during the sound and light show in the evening, the grand entrance still is worth admiring and the whole of the market area of Indore is established around this structure, hence it still remains the heart in every way for Indore.

Lalbaug Palace

The sign of Royalty!
The other palace in the area which was supposedly connected to Rajwada through a hidden tunnel is Lalbagh Palace. Still grand, still lavish, still stuck in the 1900s, it the era just before the royal splendor vanished. Every pillar, every room, every item in this place tells you how grand the lifestyle of Holkars was. They did lose a lot to British, but that didn’t hamper their royal way of life and Lalbaugh Palace with its European touch is a living proof of those changing times in the history of India. Imagine back in the 19th century, this Palace was known for housing furniture and ornamentation of Regency and early Georgian style and had a ballroom that held a lot of parties. I wonder if they actually lost anything to the British government!

Cascading pillars at the Royal Cenotaphs - Krishnapura Chhatris
But none of these royal residences had the beauty and the calm of the royal cenotaphs next to Rajwada. Krishnapura Chhatris stand tall, silent and peacefully (even after being in the market area!) on the banks of the Khan river, displaying the elegance of Maratha Architecture. These cenotaphs are memorials built on the cremation spot of the Holkar rulers who moved to Indore after it was made the capital of the Holkar Dynasty, followed by their defeat from the British. 

Closed doors of faith at the Chhatri
The three Chhatris belong to Maharani Krishnabai (stands independently), Tukoji Rao II and Shivaji Rao. The structure also has a prayer hall but it does not have a very religious atmosphere. The best part of these cenotaphs is its delicately carved arches and pillars which are very similar to Mughal architecture but the carvings, when noticed carefully tell you that they are non-Mughal. The brilliance of the artists I tell you! The Chhatris contain life size statues of these rulers but mostly remain closed, while the temple is closed post afternoon.

When you fall in love with the architecture and go crazy clicking!
Sad part about the Chhatris is that they are the least maintained of the three Holkar structures, but the most beautiful according to me, and the Khan river which has been reduced to a garbage dump surely tarnishes the magnificence of the structure and the experience altogether. Still I won’t lie! I loved travelling back in time, of sorts, in Indore and I wish someday soon the river is back in its old form and we can feel the clock stop completely when we visit these places again.

Indore without temples and prayer areas - so not possible!