Sunday, December 10, 2017

DakshinaChitra @ Chennai

An ordinary work meeting with an acquantaince in Chennai led to a beautiful discovery, called DakshinaChitra. DakshinaChitra, which literally means 'a picture of South' is a heritage museum, spread over about 10 acres of land, in the city of Chennai, the capital city of the Tamil Nadu state, in southern India. A foreigner lady named Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan married to an Indian, started the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF) with like-minded people and conceived the idea of showcasing the heritage of southern India, here in Chennai. DakshinaChitra was born out of MCF. Its founder, as well as Laurie Baker, a renowned architect behind DakshinaChitra, went to all the four southern Indian states; Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, and literally transported houses to DakshinaChitra. Well, not entire houses, but as much as they could salvage, minus the concrete, but the doors, windows, roofs, tiles, kitchen / hall / bedroom and whatever else paraphernalia that they could bring. The idea was to showcase the culture of southern Indian through their homes.

The museum tells us that all the houses brought and reconstructed at DakshinaChitra had been given up for demolition by their owners. If the museum couldn't convince the owner to keep the house, the museum then purchased the houses from the timber merchants to whom the contract for demolition had been given. DakshinaChitra, then, entered into a contract with the merchant in which he agrees to install the timber, stone, laterite, tiles and any other salvageable material from the old house into the new construction for the house. The wood seen in these houses were cleaned several times before installation.


A drainage outlet to let the excess water out in the garden


 Tamilnadu merchant's house


The detailing inside a Tamilnadu merchant house 


 Tamil Nadu merchant's house. All the doors, windows, pillars and floorings have been transported from an existing merchant's house somewhere in Tamilnadu; dismantled and relocated here. It's a wonder how DakshinaChitra managed to accomplish that


 Inside a Tamil Nadu Brahmin's house


 This is an actual representation of a typical village street in Tamil Nadu. These houses, transported from Ambur village, belonged to the Brahmin community of Tamil Nadu.


 A Tamil Nadu Brahmin's house 


 A Syrian Christian home. The front of the house directly leads to the granary. And there is usually a cross at the top of the main door


 The detailing on the wood-carved ceiling of a Syrian Christian home


 Look at the beautifully carved bed in a typical Syrian Christian bedroom


 A Syrian Christian home is characterised by a "general emphasis on storage of food items, the well in the kitchen, the steeped roof and the long verandah". Christians make up around 19% of Kerala's population. 


 A latch found in a Syrian Christian home


 Inside the Granary. The cabinet with little drawers are where the species are stored. Notice the large storage bins at the top, made of clay. These large storage bins are also found in most Parsi homes, used to store pickles mainly and even rice / dal.


 The Granary (and the adjoining cowshed which is not seen in this picture); part of a Syrian Christian household. The British influence can be seen in the arches on the ground level.


This is a typical Chikmagalur district house. It was built by K.A. Mohamed Ismail in 1914. His ancestors had shifted from Turkey to Bijapur and later to Chikmagalur. The various artefacts in this home were outstanding. So well restored and well maintained.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Delhi diaries

It's been a long time since I have updated you about happenings this side. This past month, I've had the rare occasion to visit Delhi, three times. My first was during the Diwali week to see Delhi Diwali- my friends were our hosts- and the other two were work trips.




As an Indian, I've seen Diwali celebrations all these years. But I must say that the way Dilliwallas celebrate Diwali, is quite something. It is all very elaborate. The homes start to get decorated around 3-4 days before Diwali. On Diwali day, my hosts went to the Arya Same temple at Patel Nagar and a gurudwara nearby to light candles. Many people from the locality had come to light candles there.

Back home, it was time to turn on the lights and light candles all over the house. Then it was puja time. Although there were no guests on that day, there were guests on all other days over the Diwali week. One family would come, then another, and then yet another. Gifts are exchanged and looks like an old tradition. Nobody comes empty handed and nobody goes empty handed. It appears to be an old tradition. Wine and liquor flows and a lip-smacking sumptuous meal follows.

It's a back-breaking week though for those who celebrate Diwali with such pomp and vigour. Delhi homes are, anyway, so much bigger than those in Mumbai and on top of that elaborate decoration means that Diwali is a tiring tradition. I was just glad that I happened to be in Delhi during this year's Diwali as opposed to previous years' when fire-crackers were allowed. I am told the pollution due to the burning of fire crackers is usually so much that you can bare see what's in front of you a few feet away. This year, thanks to the ban on fire crackers, it was much better. Although fire crackers were back in full swing on the Diwali night, it wasn't as bad as previous years.

Got a chance to visit Rajghat where Mahatma Gandhi's cremation spot is there and so are those of many of our illustrious political leaders. It is a very peaceful place. Although it was searing hot, it was worth spending some time there. Mom and I also visited the Lotus Temple after which I gave her a taste of Delhi Metro, which is in my opinion, one of the best things in Delhi. By the way, I also now have my very own Delhi Metro pass. So yay! It feels awesome to just swipe my card and walk right in, instead of wasting time standing in queues. I am told the Delhi pass is now valid for 10 years, so makes sense since I go there every year.



 The Red Fort





Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Delhi




Humayun's Tomb


Humayun's Tomb


On my second trip, the Delhi Walk Festival was on, so that was a very pleasant coincidence. Anyways, I had enrolled for the Intach cycling tour of New Delhi, which was super fun. Intach takes great care and curates its weekend walk and cycling activities. Iteneries are well-planned and the hosts are always knowledgable. Here, in Mumbai, it is starting to make in-roads and have enlisted experts in their respective areas to do walks that they specialise in. So, Awestrich did its Parivartak (Social reforms; around Gamdevi and Opera House) walk, a leading lawyer once did a Chor Bazaar walk (you need someone experienced with Chor Bazaar to take you in and around Chor Bazaar and to the right shops, etc) and Alisha Sadikot did the Bandra walk. In Delhi, however, Intach is big and frequently organises weekend walks. I had attended the Rashtrapati Bhawan walk with Intach long ago so I am familiar with it.

This time, the cycle tour was also great. We stopped by Jawaharlal Nehru's residence (India's first prime minister; now a museum), but we didn't go inside. Then, onto the North and South blocks and the Rashtrapati Bhawan, home to India's President.

The next day, as part of Delhi Walk Festival, I attended the Humayun's Tomb walk. Our host was Ms. Sadia Dehlvi. She was a very knowledgable lady and enchanted us all with fascinating stories of Mughal-era Delhi and areas surrounding Humayun's Tomb, as also of Humayun and the tomb complex itself. It was an awesome 2-hour, early that morning. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Canadian Rockies: Day 11-13 (Vancouver highlights)

On day #11, I took the ferry and came to Vancouver. Much of Vancouver is filled with Asians. The whole 36 km distance between Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and my hotel in Burnaby, I could see see more Asians than Canadians. If you look out Vancouver from its downtown Canada place, it reminds you of Hong Kong; good and efficient public transport, waterways, tall skyscrapers, and so on. It's only when you travel in other areas of Vancouver, like Coquitlam, north Vancouver, it starts to look more American. It's a place that grows on you.


My first day's second half was spent on board the hop-on-hop-off bus. I didn't hop off, but just took the whole circuit of the main Vancouver city, soaking in many sights like the Stanley Park, Granville Island, Yaletown and China Town. Spending time at the Metropolis at Metrotown mall was a pleasure and finally got a chance to do some shopping. But not much, actually.


Day#12 was a day's trip to Whistler and back. This was the sight and village for 2010 winter Olympics. I took the gondola all the way up to the Whistler peak, took another to go to the other side of the mountain and came back down in an open-air gondola. Layers were necessary at the top, but otherwise Whistler was pleasant and warm.

Day#13 was largely family time. Some time at Lyn's Canyon with a family friend and then later dinner with another branch of my family at Coquitlam, rounded off a very memorable trip to Canada.


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Canadian Rockies: Days 11-13 (Vancouver)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria whale watching)

Canadian Rockies: Day 10 (Victoria)

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 7 (Lake Loiuse) 

Canadian Rockies: Day 6 (Banff national park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 5 (Banff)

Canadian Rockies: Day 4 (Glacier National Park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 3 (Waterton)

Canadian Rockies: Days 1 and 2 (Calgary)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria; whale watching)

After an early morning breakfast at the fantastic Jam Cafe on Herald Street (a must do when you're in Victoria downtown), I head straight for Springtide Whale Watching & Eco Tours office at the Victoria harbour. The waters of Victoria and Vancouver attracts a lot of marine life but none as spectacular and popular as the whales and sharks. If you're lucky, you can see the Orca whales (also known as the killer whales), Humpback whales, in addition to sea lions and eagles. But our aim was to watch the whales. There are several whale watching companies out there. All the whale watching companies have broadly two types of boats; the cruisers (family boats...they move slowly...have a seating area and an open-air deck) and the zodiac boats. The zodiac boats are lightning fast. I had booked a seat on the cruiser boat, but since it had not got enough registrations, Springtide requested me to shift to the zodiac boat. I was only too happy to.

Jam Cafe

The ride on zodiac boats is very thrilling. It is like a race car on sea. It is safe for kids, but you cannot move around or get up when the boat is moving. It is 28 feet long and can seat only 12 passengers. We were taken to the dock where the boats were. All zodiac boat passengers were then divided into two groups (one group for each of the boats) and were given thick full-body suits. We had two cute kids (siblings) who were only too excited to wear the suits and get onto the boat. After a brief safety demonstration, we were in the boat and started. The first few minutes the boat went very slowly. There is a speed limit to all boats within the bay area. Specific areas are also demarcated for the sea planes for taxiing, take-off and landing. The boats can't swim or cruise in such areas. Once we were out in the vast ocean, we picked up speed.

We saw the Humpback from a great, great distance. The giveaway? Snorting of water from the whale's nostrils coming from the underneath and jetting out like a water fountain. We started cruising towards it, but then our boat's captain got a call that a family of Orcas were cruising elsewhere. So we decided to turn and go in the other direction. After cruising for about another 45 minutes or so at full speed, we saw a family of 4-5 Orcas cruising. It was fun to watch them, but it was from a great, great distance. And when Orcas cruise, they come out of water very briefly and the go back inside. They hop and jump and forge ahead. We followed them for quite a distance and then left them and returned back to the shore.

Did I enjoy my first-ever whale watching experience? Not really, but I am glad I did. Whale watching is not the same experience as, say, a wildlife land safari. The land safari can give you continuous glimpse. In a whale watching, you are over the sea, but the creatures are under the sea. You only get a glimpse of the whales and sharks when you are out in the sea and if you're lucky. Don't expect to see them continuously at a stretch.

Orca whale

Land safaris also allow us to get much closer to the animals, without them knowing or feeling our presence. Also, in land safaris, many times the wild animals get used to human (tourist) presence, so they don't mind. But in sea safari, we cannot get close to the creatures because we are in boats and that disturbs them a lot. So, keep in mind these things and tone down your expectation for a whale safari. Will I ever go in another one? Ofcourse, I will. Because sea safaris are not to be had in India and how many times would I go to places where there is whale watching. So yeah, definitely, looking forward to another whale watching experience.


Canoe Brewpub in Victoria

Lunch was at the marvellous Canoe Brewpub, an excellent suggestion by my hotel. Located in downtown Victoria on Swift Street, it is on the banks of the harbour. There is an indie air-conditioned sitting and an outside al-fresco sitting. I preferred to sit outside and right next to the water's edge. The restaurant brews its own beer and I was offered four varieties. Lovely thai rice and chicken (very different from the Thai food in India) and a lovely dessert made for a stomach-filling and a very awesome lunch. I took the rest of the day off and retired in my room.

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Canadian Rockies: Days 11-13 (Vancouver)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria whale watching)

Canadian Rockies: Day 10 (Victoria)

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 7 (Lake Loiuse) 

Canadian Rockies: Day 6 (Banff national park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 5 (Banff)

Canadian Rockies: Day 4 (Glacier National Park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 3 (Waterton)

Canadian Rockies: Days 1 and 2 (Calgary)

Canadian Rockies - Day 10 (Victoria; Butchart Gardens)

Time to embark on the solo leg of my trip and it started off with an early morning flight from Calgary to Victoria. Air travel within the US and Canada often gives us the opportunity to fly by smaller aircrafts. My Calgary - Victoria flight was on a Bombardier aircraft; a single aisle with 2x2 seating aircraft. We flew over many ice fields before we landed at Victoria. a good 45-minute to an hour ride to downtown Victoria landed me at my hotel. But since I was about four hours early, I left my baggage, freshened up and left for the Butchart gardens. That's the first thing we tourists do when we are in Victoria.

The ice fields we see from air between Calgary and Victoria
Victoria, at first impression, looks for most parts a large bunch of villages that have come together to form the city. The so-called glitz of a typical Canadian / American city is reserved for its downtown area. Rest of Victoria is very green and it looks like a hilly region, though not mountainous. There are cute cottages and homes spread across the length and breadth of Victoria, especially as I see them as drive down in my double decker bus to the Butchart gardens.

Great Eggfly butterfly

White Tree Nymph
There was a small stop to be made, en route. But the Butterfly gardens turned out to be more than just a small pitstop; it's a beautiful place to learn about- and see so many- butterflies. It's a large greenhouse that they've made it into a forest with dozens of butterfly species such as Lacewing Butterfly, Blue Morpho, Green Moss Peacock, Giant Owl Butterfly and the Giant Atlas Moth, which is so large it is seen to be believed. We saw birds like Blue & Gold Macaw (a type of a parrot, but very colourful as the name suggests) flamingo in its specially created stream, in addition to the Green Iguana, Red Footed Tortoise and Poison Dart Frogs. Several different types of insects such as Leaf Cutter ants, Malaysian Dead Leaf Mantis and spiders like the Burgundy Goliath Bird Eater were also there.

Monarch butterfly
The Butterfly garden is just 2 kms short of the Butchart gardens. Typically, take a joint ticket that enables you to get off at the Butterfly garden enroute to the Butchart gardens. Then, once you're done with the Butterfly garden, you can get out and take the same bus company's hop-on-hop-off bus to proceed towards the Butchart Gardens. Bear in mind that you must get off first at the Butterfly gardens first and then do Butchart Gardens. Do not do it the other way around because on return, the bus doesn't stop to pick up people from the Butterfly gardens.

Butchart gardens area where the original limestone quarry once stood
The Butchart gardens are beautiful. The gardens were once upon a time, a quarry that belonged to Robert Him Butchart who came here for this region's rich lime deposits , to feed the cement industry. Once the lime deposits got exhausted, Robert's wife, Jennie started to grow gardens in different corners around the home (which I believe now is the central gift shop, gallery and coffee shop) and its grounds. Eventually,

Butchart gardens
Amongst the many mini-gardens here, there's a Rose garden, Japanese garden and an Italian garden. The coffee shop is good and I had a sandwich and a delicious chocolate ice-cream. By 3 pm I am dine and I glad to catch the bus back to Victoria and relax in my lovely hotel room, overlooking the clock tower.

Butchart gardens

Butchart gardens 
Butchart gardens


Butchart gardens



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Canadian Rockies: Days 11-13 (Vancouver)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria whale watching)

Canadian Rockies: Day 10 (Victoria)

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 7 (Lake Loiuse) 

Canadian Rockies: Day 6 (Banff national park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 5 (Banff)

Canadian Rockies: Day 4 (Glacier National Park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 3 (Waterton)

Canadian Rockies: Days 1 and 2 (Calgary)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper and Athabasca Glacier)

Today is the last day of the tour. We left Jasper early morning on the way to the Athabasca Glacier. We had to reach there by 9 am so that we could avoid the large crowds. All through this trip, we had seen glaciers (including the Studfield Glacier we saw from the bus after we left Jasper), but we never got a chance to walk on one. Athabasca Glacier was that rare glacier where people are allowed to walk. The glacier- like all other glaciers- is receding, and we were shown the mark at which it  had reached at its peak and where it is now. That was quite a difference. In another 20 years time, we were told, Athabasca Glacier would be no more.

Athabasca glacier

We alighted from our tour bus at the visitor centre opposite at the foothills of the glacier and boarded the glacier service special bus that takes us close to the glacier. From there, we take the special red bus that takes us on the glacier. The wheels of this red bus are huge that enables the bus to walk- it looked more like crawling than walking- on the bus. At one point, the road's descent (or ascent, depending in which direction you re going) seemed rather steep. It reminded me of Hong Kong's peak tram.

The red glacier bus that takes us onto the Athabasca glacier

Walking on the glacier was fun. On the way to the top- in the red bus with giant wheels- we spotted a large group of men and women who were hiking all the way up to the glacier. The bus driver told us that there is only a designated area on the glacier for people to get off and walk as the ice is weak on many areas. If you step on such places, the ice may give in and you sink inside and drown in icy cold waters down below. That's scary!

Athabasca glacier
After a brief lunch halt, we visited the last lake of the trip, the Peyto lake. Unlike the Moraine lake which had an unmistakable greenish hue, the Peyto lake had a dark blueish hue. It was one of the prettiest lake I had ever seen. It was also our tour guide Robyn's favourite lake and we finally saw the lake she was talking about throughout the trip. And I could see why she loved the lake so much. The star like shape the lake shore had taken on one end was very interesting.

Lake Peyto
That done, we headed back to Calgary from where we had started the trip. This time, we stayed opposite the Calgary international airport. In the evening, we had our farewell dinner with our friends, followed by a good night's sleep.

End of a very memorable Gate1 trip of the Canadian Rockies and I left for Victoria the next day, on my own, with very fond memories.

--------------------------- xxx ---------------------------


Canadian Rockies: Days 11-13 (Vancouver)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria whale watching)

Canadian Rockies: Day 10 (Victoria)

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 7 (Lake Loiuse) 

Canadian Rockies: Day 6 (Banff national park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 5 (Banff)

Canadian Rockies: Day 4 (Glacier National Park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 3 (Waterton)

Canadian Rockies: Days 1 and 2 (Calgary)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper National Park, Spirit Island)

Jasper was cold. It was around 1 degree C in the night we were in the Jasper. The next morning felt very cold too, at about 5-6 degrees, and we had to put on layers while in the bus itself. But we were told it would warm up in the day. But if the first thing in such weather that you're going to do is to take a boat ride in a lake, you better warm up. We went past lush green forests and Athabasca river to reach our first stop of the day; the Medicine lake. It was cold and foggy and we couldn't see the lake shore from afar. Boats were lined up, all decked up and ready.










After a brief washroom and cafe stop- I wasn't the least bit hungry as we just had a heavy breakfast- we were in the boat and zipping. Two girls were in charge; one was driving the boat and the other was the guide explaining us the significance of the medicine lake and the Spirit Island. Medicine lake owes its popularity, to an extent, to Kodak. Peter Gales' image of the Spirit Island- which is at one end of the lake- and which was taken from a Kodak camera was hung at the Grand Central station in New York in August and September 1960. This island is held to be sacred by the First Nation people and hence we weren't allowed to step on it. But there were enough pathways on the shore to take pictures of it.

On the way back, was a hidden jewel that Robyn took us to. It was a canyon- called the Maligne Canyon- that appeared out of nowhere. It was quite deep, befitting a canyon, with only a narrow crevice from the ground level from where we could see the canyon and admire its depth.

Lunch was on our own back in Jasper town and my friend and I walked through the town, searching for the right place. We chose an A&W burger outlet.

A couple watering their plants at the community garden
In the evening, we took the Sawridge Inn shuttle car to bring us to town. Since this hotel is 2 kms away from the main town, it has a shuttle facility to take us to the town. But the return trip is on our own. Both my friend and I love to walk, so it was a pleasure to walk back after a very light dinner (soup only actually, as I wasn't hungry). On our way, we came across the Jasper community garden. It's a local municipality-owned place where tow residents cane take up plots and grow plants, flowers and fruits. We met this old couple who had a plot there; the wife was caring their large, white dog who she said came into their lives, the husband was watering the plants. Residents who don't have space in their houses to grow a garden can take up plots at a community garden. Indian cities would do well to have such community gardens; it's one idea I would like to import into India.

Jasper community garden
Jasper community garden



Jasper community garden


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Canadian Rockies: Days 11-13 (Vancouver)

Canadian Rockies: Day 11 (Victoria whale watching)

Canadian Rockies: Day 10 (Victoria)

Canadian Rockies: Day 9 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 8 (Jasper)

Canadian Rockies: Day 7 (Lake Loiuse) 

Canadian Rockies: Day 6 (Banff national park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 5 (Banff)

Canadian Rockies: Day 4 (Glacier National Park)

Canadian Rockies: Day 3 (Waterton)

Canadian Rockies: Days 1 and 2 (Calgary)

DakshinaChitra @ Chennai

An ordinary work meeting with an acquantaince in Chennai led to a beautiful discovery, called DakshinaChitra. DakshinaChitra, which literal...