Shades Of Words


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Walking Tour of South Mumbai: From Churchgate to Gateway of India

Once you get over the shock of crowds, the humidity and the tangy sea breeze mixed with the smell of dead fish and sewage that permeates this megapolis, it is easier to open your mind to what Mumbai offers. To make sense of this vast throbbing mass of life you have to get to know it from the ground up and like all great cities of the world, the best way to discover Mumbai’s neighborhoods is by foot.

South Mumbai or “downtown” has traditionally been the drinking hole of the rich, the famous and the artistic. The newer districts around Bandra raised the bar in the recent years, but this area retains its sense of old world charm with style. A great place to start your downtown exploration is at Churchgate station, the terminus for the city’s western line. Try not to be overwhelmed by the numbers of commuters as you observe the chaos around the station where vendors sell everything from sandwiches to flowers to discarded flight headphones.  If you can stomach it, I highly recommend having a cup of piping hot masala chai and dosa from a vendor.  For something more fashionable, step into Gaylord Bakery across the road. I have never had their coffee, but their breads and pastries are the best in town.

From Churchgate, the Veer Nariman Road will take you to the Marine Drive promenade. Meeting ground for joggers, college kids skipping classes, lovers and retired old men, this is the place for quiet contemplation as you gaze at the vast Arabian Sea and the curving skyline of Mumbai. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts here.

After some soul searching head back on Veer Nariman Road towards Flora Fountain. This detailed sculpted fountain was designed and built by the Britishers pre-independence and in recent decades been the heart of a sprawling secondhand books market that lines the nearby pavements. More recently, the municipal corporation, in it’s over enthusiastic bid to keep the city clean, has been waging a war against street hawkers. As a weak sign of protest, few vendors can be spotted selling college textbooks and pirated books. But gone are the days where crossing two blocks would take you as many hours because with every step your eyes would fall on a book that you must own.

At the Fountain, take Mahatma Gandhi Road towards Colaba, but first spare a few minutes to admire the gothic architecture of the Mumbai High Court buildings and Mumbai University. The university clock tower is Mumbai’s own Big Ben and is one its most photographed sites.

MG Road ends in the Kala Ghoda arts district. Lined with galleries, restaurants and theatre this is the venue for the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival where hundreds of thousands of people turn up to attend free movie screenings and open air concerts.  On other days, it’s pretty quiet and the only two people that I always see posted outside the historic Jehangir Art Gallery are a palm reader and a guy who will write your name on a rice grain (why would anyone want that?).

Next door is the Prince of Wales Museum, which is now known by its much longer Indian name. I know museums are not for everybody, but I have always enjoyed ogling at the exquisite ceramic and pottery collection on the third floor.  Sometimes I wish the glass casings would magically disappear and I could claim some oriental jade pieces.

The Shivaji road from the museum will take you straight to the most important landmark monuments of Mumbai – The Gateway of India and The Taj Mahal Hotel. Both sites have seen devastating terror attacks in the past decade and while there are no apparent scars, it’s impossible to stand here and not think of those tragedies. I see hundreds of people milling about as if nothing has ever happened and I wonder if this is resilience or apathy.

At the docks, you are bound to be accosted for ferry rides. My advice, don’t take them. They are only fun if it’s a party on the boat and you are getting drunk.

By now you are probably tired of the heat and have just had enough of Victorian architecture. Gulp down a few cold beers at Café Mondegar, kickback, relax and watch a game of cricket.

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India May 2012 – General Observations

Things have changed over the last decade or so in India. There has been development, albeit a little skewed. The situation for people like me has gotten better. Unfortunately, people like me make a very small part of this very large country.

Anyway, I saw better roads, better airports and better malls. I don’t know how important it is to have better malls for the general well-being of the population, but there seems to be a lot of them. They do prove to be a popular tourist destination in most cases. I would like to say that they contribute to the economy but they more likely seem to contribute to traffic congestion in cities. Arguments could be made that they create jobs for people who work in them, but job creation is such a slippery statistic. What about the jobs that could have been created if the money had gone in development of let’s public transport or city parks? What about the jobs taken from people whose land was taken away to create the mall?  Anyway, that’s a different discussion altogether. Malls currently have become the “hang-out” spots for school kids and the unemployed.  As the divide between the haves and have-nots increases in India, I see these as major contentment disrupters.

The countrywide GMR revamping of the airports has been quite impressive. When we landed in Delhi’s T3 at IG International Airport we were quite impressed with the general look and feel. The immigration process was smooth and we were out of the airport fairly quickly.  I really feel that tourism in India can be an inclusive growth industry that boosts the economy at the grass-roots level and making India accessible to the world abroad is a step in that direction.

The roads are better. Travelling in North India, I spent quite some time on NH1 and I was happy to see our driver average at 100 KM/H for most of the way. Also known as the Grand Trunk Road, NH1 is going through major renovation, so we did unfortunately spent some time on the side of the road rather on it, but even then we made good time. To avoid the traffic and the dust on NH1, our driver, opted us to take us through the state highways.  State highways in India typically don’t have road dividers so overtaking is quite life threatening as one always has the chance of being hit by an oncoming truck. Of course, millions of people drive and survive every day so it’s a question of practice.  Even then, when our driver took the detour, I sent up a little prayer. I was again impressed by the condition of the inner roads and the average 80-90KM/H that  our car maintained on the  roads.

Getting “Sarkari” work done is still a pain in India. Ever since I was a kid, I have had this urge to take a mop and broom and sweep the government offices clean. Allegorically and literally. I don’t know why they are so dirty.  It does not matter if it’s a post office, or a registrar’s office or the RTO, the office space is covered in dust, grime, brown files and filled with cheap but durable steel furniture that has been greased and re-greased over the years.  Kapil and I had to register our Hindu wedding and even though we are way over 18 years old (the legal age for getting married in India), the law requires that our parents be present for the registration! Seriously! The entire registration took 2 to 3 hrs in which we filled multiple forms and it got over “so soon” because we knew someone.  The whole attitude of the officers in the Government of India is as if they are doing us a favor and not their jobs. Why is it that way? Why does such little power go to their heads so soon? Don’t they want to get rid of the clutter on their desk and move work efficiently and smoothly?  Why would you want to do a job badly on purpose? Why would you want to be incompetent?  For years, people have argued that these jobs are not well paid and the motivation to do well is not inbred. I say bullshit. These jobs are more secure and better paid then some. There is no excuse for the inefficient.  I am sure if the government employees were to get double the paychecks the attitude towards work would not change. I do hate making these generalist statements but you step into a govt. office and the sense of lethargy hits you and even if there is one hard-working guy he is not going to get noticed in all the rot.

So some things change, and some remain the same. I was afraid that India was going to disappoint me. That I was going to all go “NRI” on it and hop around drinking mineral water and act shocked on how horrible everything is – as if I am seeing it for the first time. I am glad to discover that I had not forgotten anything. I was neither more or less forgiving of the situation in India. It is what it is.

I can either live with it or run from it or change it.


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India May 2012 – TAKEN ABACK, BUT STILL LOVING IT

I was in a shock of total five minutes when our car left the Delhi airport driveways and hit the main road. Somehow, the state of the Indian traffic and the congestion had passed into deep recesses of my brain and it was pulled back into the front with a jolt. As our cab weaved in and out of insanely blocked lanes, my heart skipped a few beats. However, in a few minutes I could locate some system in the madness and my nerves calmed a bit. Even though I was taken aback, I was surprised to how less severe my reaction was.

I was back in India after being abroad in the United States for almost 3 years, and it felt good.  It was 40C at 1.00 AM in the night and we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Oddly, I felt alive and full of energy just like the chaos around me. I said so to my husband.

“You are suffering from jetlag” – sez him, ever the cynic.

Well, maybe so.

Of course, this is still Day 1 and I am absolutely kicked about everything – the sounds, the lights and the people. Not all of it is good and a lot of needs to change but I don’t feel the need to run away from it yet.


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Srisailam – The Temple Town near Hyderabad

There is not much you can do on a weekend in Hyderabad especially if you are single and bored to death. There are only so many rounds of malls, restaurants and pubs that one can make.

A good weekend getaway is what you need to shake out the monotony of the city and Srisailam is the perfect place if you are looking for fresh air and peace.

Located 232 kilometers from Hyderabad, reachable by road, Srisailam is your atypical south Indian temple town. Home to one of the 12 jyothirlingams in India , a trip to  Srisailam is worthwhile even if you are not religiously inclined.

Taking the car on the Srisailam state highway, one whizzes pasts lush green farms dotted with bright orange marigold fields. The highway is not really busy and the occasional roadblocks are caused by mats of drying grains or village people doing dishes or laundry on the sides.

Not to be missed is the ‘Malaytirtham’ waterfall that comes some 50 kms before Srisailam. It’s a hidden spot some 8 kilometers off the highway. To reach the waterfall one has to climb down some 100 feet and this is not recommended for old people or people with babies. Remember you will have to climb up too! Though you are not allowed to enter the waterfall you can play around the streams. Completely untouched by tourism or habitation, it’s hard to believe that this place is so near to the bustling city of Hyderabad.

Located at the banks of River Krishna, Srisailam lies in the midst of the dense forests of the Nallamalai hill range. The drive gets prettier as you head towards the Srisailam Tiger Reserve Sanctury which spans across an area of 356,000 hectares and sprawls over five districts of central Andhra Pradesh.

As you enter the forest reserve area, the air gets cooler and the road gets quieter. You often find yourself poking out to the window hoping to catch sign of some exotic wild animal amidst the dense vegetation. The Srisailam sanctuary has safari facility for visitors which is reasonably priced at 500 rs/- per jeep ride. However owing to the nature of wild animals and their unwillingness to appear in front of curious eyes, it’s very rare for anyone to actually spot any living creature at all.

As you near Srisailam , the sight of the long and winding river Krishna takes your breath away. As your eyes fall on the Srisailam dam and the 200 MW hydroelectric power plant that it, you cannot help but be impressed and awed. You just have to get down from the car to drink in the sight before you. A very narrow bridge take you across the river to Srisailam where you drive uphill to reach the town. There is very little to do in the town itself except for walking, sightseeing from several view points and the round of the temples.

Sirsailam is best visited in the October to April time frame and remember, the journey is more fun than the destination.

 
 

 

Some good links that can help plan your trip better

http://www.indiasite.com/andhrapradesh/srisailam/

http://srisailam.co.in/

Things to keep in mind

  • Carry food for the road, restaurants are few and of highly questionable hygiene
  • If you are planning to stay overnight , book a room in the several hotels in SriSailam. APTDC guest house is also a good option.
  • To get to Srisailam you will have to cross the forest reserve checkposts whcih have restricted timings for entry. So confirm those before you travel or you might be stranded on the road!