Tuesday 12 February 2019

Wild Windy West

The ride route
25th Jan 2019, exactly one year after last ride in Kutch, we set sail for our coastal journey on a bicycle and in … Kutch, Gujrat, India! The deal was to go from Bhuj (Earth Quake fame) to Mandavi then on to Suthri via Pingaleshwar. From Suthri to Narayan Sarovar to Mata na Madh! Covering circa 400 KM.
Amit and I started on the evening of 23rd January from Pune to Mumbai to Bhuj by Train. This time we were little smarter, we took our ow n cycles couriered via Safexpress, shorter train journey and better class of travel ;)
On reaching Swami Narayan Vishranti Bhuvan, Bhuj, ate our lunch ( Vishranti bhuvan guys were not very impressed as we were late for lunch, no actually very late). Then we got on to assembling our bicycles with help of Neeraja, the Organizer and Nirav, the new rider. We took a spin till the airport to see if the cycles were assembled well. As it were, mine was not, so got it set by a local cycle shop. Small talk with locals help.

All the riders (5 of us) were now in Bhuj, after dinner, we got our tour T-shirts, Cookies from Cookie Czar and plan for tomorrow. It was ride to Mandavi, find some food there, take some rest (Why!) and go to see Mandavi Beach, a local Palace (Vijay Vilas Palace). The next morning, after singing our ‘morning raga’ we set the sails direction Mandavi. First stop on the route was not food or drink. It was flock of Pelicans, Painted Storks, Glossy Ibis, Lapwings, crocodiles and aah let me throw in a Black shouldered kite!
We stopped at one big pond, for tea and I was trying to get photos of common cranes, the tea fellow shouts and pointes to a crocodile at far distance, which meant it could have been just there where I was standing (pretty close to the water  ).
 We reached Mandavi, the stay was a Jain Dharmshala, dumped our stuff there (we carried our luggage in a Force Motors Toofan! And after vegetarian lunch at a Punjabi place! Had a siesta, nice. I dozed off in about 2 minutes. We then got ready, took our bikes and went to Vijay Vilas Palace, visited the beautiful building surrounded by indiscipline of the tourists. Sometimes (All the time actually) I feel these people should be locked in their house.
We went to Mandavi beach, Sunset was nice (though you have seen it a million times). Though on our way to the beach, I was stunned by the sight of ship building site. The wooden ships are not as big as cruises but, surely, they are 70-100 feet taller and much wider. I was ready to miss out the sunset on the beach. During this ride I always carried my DSLR camera with me.
Mandvi central
 I managed to reach the beach well within the time before sunset. Took mandatory photos and a time lapse of the beach. Only hitch was that my prop for the time lapse was my cycle and it was covering the sun :/

Vijay Vilas Palace

Terrace on Vijay Vilas Palace. Riders walking
Good thing about staying in Jain Dharmshala is that you will not eat dinner there (it is too early and does not have onions and garlic) , they close the kitchen at 1830 as per their religious tradition. Bad thing is that we could not eat breakfast the next day (I like my breakfast without onion and garlic)! Why? We were wearing cycling shorts this is also against their religious tradition! So, we found ourselves on the streets searching for food. Alas at 7 AM the Kutch folks don’t even warm up. 
Thankfully one place with one kind of breakfast and tea was the order of the morning. 

I almost forgot, when we were to retire for the day at Mandavi, a brilliant change of plan was made! Instead of going to Suthri and staying there, we stretched our ride by some 35/40 KM, to go to Naliya via Pingaleshwar! Why? Well near Naliya was the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) sanctuary, we could not have reached there early enough to have any possibility of sighting those birds had we stayed in Suthri. (FYA – These birds are on the verge of extinction as only 20 odds are left). Well the plan was good but it involved much more riding than our brain was informed of. At a point 18KM from Naliya, Pingaleshwar (Opposite directions) we decided to visit the Pingaleshwar beach and then go to Naliya.
A beautiful traffic free (Literally) road ensued for 18 KM of bliss. The area is covered with windmills so many of them. When you pass by them you can hear the sound of blades slicing though the blowing wind and shadows of the blades go over you! Did I say wind?, yes … I did. Windmills are good to see, feed our conscious with the thought of ‘save the earth with renewable energy’ but for someone on the cycles they also spell headwinds! Thought of save the earth? Gone with the Wind! #savetheearth
Pingaleshwar beach, there is nobody, no shops, no nothing. Blue water, Sea wind, white sand. It is actually around 3-4 KM from the Pingaleshwar temple. We had some nice group photos, individual photos, cycles photos. Time to hit the road. Before that we needed to hydrate ourselves with some clean normal tasting water. The shop at the temple had it!
I particularly get pissed off at the people who are managing religious places in India. They think all the dudes who visit them are in trouble and have come to this place to seek help from the divine. They are rude, impolite and many a times unhelpful to the visitors and seem to take pride in it. Part of the job profile I think.
I had a tiff with the guys at the temple as I was walking into it with my cycle. A guy very rudely told me to keep the cycle outside. I said okay, but you could tell me in nicer manner, as we are in a temple after all! Then after our visit from the beach, the same fellow was asking if we would like to stay at the temple for the night? I said plainly no! as people in this place do not know how to behave, won a point and took revenge … ha ha ha. At a temple when you should love all and be nice.
From Pingaleshwar to Naliya, the road was not as nice, but it was lonely, we reached after paddling around 25 Km to Naliya, On the way to Naliya we hit a pond  with a lone Flamingo, several spot billed ducks. After reaching Naliya, we were greeted by sight of Egg Bhurji which brought a sparkle in our eyes. Ooh it was nice!

Next morning, we set out to find Great Indian Bustards as we are not sure if we will see them ever again, we could not! It was a sorry state of affairs. The sad irony is that the windmills and electric cables (who are saving the environment) and the main reason the Bustards are disappearing! At 11 AM, we set out for Narayan Sarovar, Headwinds, rolling roads, great vast spaces, sometimes green vegetations slowly took us to Narayan Sarovar. With no rains since 2011, Sarovar (lake) has not a drop of water. After negotiating with the hotel manager, we could get our rooms even before our tour leader with right paperwork arrived. After freshening up, we went to see the light house, the Shiva Temple and some nice photographs. Our tour leader and I were last riders coming back to the hotel and it was pitch dark. She told me she saw foxes, I thought I saw buffalos, it is a dry state, none of us were drunk.
Koteshwar Mahadev and light house on the far end

Dry Narayan Sarovar in the background
Nice Toran Hotel from GTDC, we left it the next morning, after Pohe, Tea. The next stop Lakhpat, fortified village, facing the gulf of Khambat. BSF soldiers with machine guns patrolling the territory. We were asked not to cross the walls towards the beach.

bicycle on the wall

walking up

This place was fairly empty as most people were out for a funeral or cremation of some one around the village. Lakhpat village is called Kot Lakhpat (Kot -= fort) and it is beautiful. Lakhpat is also very important Sikhism place as the Guru Nanak (Founder of the religion) stayed here was 32 days and his footwear is still kept there. The Granthi (one who reads the holy book) was gracious enough to allow us in the sanctum sanctorum though we wore cycling shorts. He could make a difference between, sports persons wearing shorts and someone who lost his way en route Goa. Believe you me, we had nothing to eat, had we not had food at the Gurudwara, the next food stop was, say, 35KM away on a bicycle. We ate the langar at the Gurudwara. At the Gurudwara, we met a group of motor bikers from Mumbai. We exchanged greetings and left for Mata na Madh.
It was a new hotel in Mata na Madh, dumped our stuff, quick shower, ready for the temple run! Ashapura Mata, the goddess of Kutch, this town is the headquarters. Thus, the name, Mata na Madh.
Quick Darshan, Kutch special Dabeli, we are ready for dinner. Gujrati man, running a Punjabi restaurant, speaking Marathi to us, was a living example of the unity in diversity! One of the ethos of Indian Republic.
When back at the hotel, we asked for morning tea to be served at 5:30 AM, the expression on the face of the dude was how about 07:00 AM? We settled for 6:30 AM but still we were unsure if he would give us the tea. We offered to make the tea ourselves and he agreed to give us the ingredients.
After making two rounds of teas and two rounds of morning raga! We set sail in the direction of Bhuj our last leg. 100 KM or something. Small stops for the breakfast we never got and numerous tea breaks, we reached Nakhatrana and we hit first restaurant which sold non vegetarian food. At 11 AM we were offered biryani. Though it is seemed odd to eat biryani then but it was very beautiful and tasty. So much so, I was riding my bike extremely slowly. I gathered some steam after about 15 KM, then there was nothing to hinder. We took small stops as dismantling the cycles and packing before sunset was playing on our mind. During one of the small stops we saw a soft drink place which was all new and shiny. They were to open for business tomorrow, officially. We ordered 4 fruit drinks and they were on the house. We wished them good luck!
Common cranes

Fafda and Jalebi
    Empty roads

Packing cycles 

We were back in the saddle, sailing towards Bhuj. We reached, had a celebratory cheer, photographs. We had clocked ~450 KM. At the place, Swami Narayan Vishranti Bhuvan, where we were staying, there was a wedding party, all dressed up, glossy and sparkling. We were greasy, sweaty and dusty in our cycling wear. It looked odd but we were victorious and happy and it showed in our body language. We, hoping for some attractive beautiful sightings in the wedding crowd, went to the wedding party area. Alas … there was absolutely nothing to cherish.
We just got on with packing our cycles, took shower, packed bags and ready for celebratory dinner involving proteins.
The ‘wild, windy, west’, second time in the row, gave me long lasting memories, experiences. 450 KM cycling along with beautiful company, extra ordinary nature, the BSF and sense of being near Pakistan border, the food , the colors, all mesmerizing. It makes me walk taller, happier, wiser and not to mention, balder, grumpier and tanned!
Thank you for stopping by! #wanderer #travelphotography

Thursday 20 March 2014

Bandhavgarh, The Tiger Country!

Bandhavgarh Tour
Our guide got a call from his fellow guide and he signed the driver. “Sahab, baith jaeeye humein nikalna hai’ (Sir, please sit down, we need to move) said our gypsy driver in a very low voice. We all kind of dropped into our seats and the gypsy moved at very fast pace, taking sharp turns, we reached a spot where there were other gypsys waiting in a pin drop silence. ;
Only voices of birds, spotted Deer and may be also barking Deer could be heard. And there he was at a distance we saw a stripped body lying on the ground in the bushes. She moved stood up and gave us some photo shots.
This was our first ride into the Bandhavgarh forest, we had the photos of tiger. We could not identify the tiger but it was a grown up male.
Bandhavgarh, is a fort and a forest surrounding it. The area is 105 sq km, fairly small compared some other forests or aka national parks. This is part of the government of India’s Project Tiger movement. Bandhavgarh houses some 65 tigers in total but the majority of the area is under core zone, which means vehicles are not allowed to go into that area. It is very important to be lucky as for the tourist the tiger spotting areas are limited.
We started our journey of 18 hours of train ride from Pune to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. This period being the festival of Holi, we had tough time getting rail tickets. Generally in India getting train ticket itself is an adventure. This was my first journey on rail after 1996! On reaching Jabalpur our mini bus was waiting to take us to the resort called Bandhavgarh meadows. It took us 200+ KM and 5 hours ride.
There are three sections of the park viz. Tala (the main village), Khatauli and Magadhi. Tala is supposed to be the premium zone for the tiger sighting. Our resort was about Dutch 5 minutes’ drive away, I say Dutch because Indian 5 minutes can mean half an hour as well.
We had booked four rides in the park, one in the morning and one in the evening per day. Morning ride was 4 hours and evening was 3 hours. After reaching the hotel, we had dinner and retired early to bed as we were supposed to get up at 4:30 AM. Next morning at 5:30 AM we all 11 of us were ready and got into our two Maruti gypsy, reached the main gate of Tala section.

This is interesting, when I say it is a gate then I mean just an arch with forest officers noting down the numbers of the ID proofs of each tourist. Around the gate there is nothing for a fence. The gate is only meant for the cars to get into the national park. (I am using national park, tiger reserve, forest to mean same thing).  The gypsy driver is banned from entering the park if he (it is always a He) misses to come out of the park on time to the last minute.
 When we entered the park we were greeted by elephants and a mahout and wondering why they were there, we moved on. Watching along the herds of the spotted deer, Sambar Deer, peacocks and even we saw wild bore, walking around with the smaller ones. Chirping birds like magpie robin, bulbul, Leap birds were in abundance.  We always had a guide who would give us information about the flora and fauna of the forest. We crossed a gypsy who told us that they had just seen an Asian black bear.  We rushed as usual to the spot. We could have glimpses of the bear as it is a shy animal and prefers mountains and dense forested areas.
After the first ride’s drama of the tiger and bear spotting, we got out in time from the forest at 10AM. On reaching the hotel/resort we got into critique of our photos by each other and our photography experts. After brunch some retired back to the bed J or went for birding.
We were ready again at around 1:30 for light lunch and went for second ride of the day for three hours in the same section.
When tiger is passing the herds of Deer flees the area, this is no brainer, but they also make specific alarm call to alert others of the presence of the tiger. We were on our Tiger trail and saw pugmarks going in the opposite direction. We turned back and we saw group of pugmarks one of a grown up tigress and others of cubs. So it was a mother taking her children on a walk. But then the cubs’ pugmarks disappeared but grown up pugmarks were still there at a distance. This was an indication that the cubs were kept in the hills somewhere safe and the mother tiger was out on hunt. She would make a kill and come back to pick her kids up.
One forest employee helped us locate the cubs but they were in not motor able area and we were not supposed to step down the vehicle. Also we could/should not disturb the cubs, which were 2-3 years old. That is pretty big to harm anyone.
Suddenly the car stopped and driver and guide were asked us to shut up and they were listening to the alarm calls of the spotted deer. We followed the sound and came to a place where we could see a spotted deer wooing a female. This is also a mating season in the jungle. But then we asked the driver why would a male deer make a tiger alarm call to woo the female, Instead of mating call which is distinctively different? The answer was he has been eating too much of Mahua fruit (intoxicating forest fruit which when dried up and fermented make highly alcoholic disgusting drink, extremely common in the tribal areas), and now has confused the mating call with the tiger call! Men will be men J
Next morning, we heard spotted deer making an alarm call, and we followed it to see around 4 to 5 gypsys were waiting for the tiger or specifically Tigress. We parked our vehicle in such a way that the bush (Bamboo) was on our left around 5 meters from where we stood. This area was called Bodha Talao, We heard two spotted deer being chased by the tigress. One went to the Hillock and other ran just behind our vehicle crossing the path we were parked on. Our camera lenses were pointing to the exit of the bushes thinking that the tigress would follow the spotted deer. The tigress would have been something like few feet away from us. But nothing came out of the bush and we waited for good 15 minutes, in vain. We got information about other tiger in Bhulbhulaya, another part in the national park. Our second group who crossed us on our way to Bhulbhulaya went to Bodha Talao to check on the tigress and we went to Bhulbhulaya.
The tigress, we thought went to hillock to get the other deer, was actually in the bushes itself. Either we were over confident or just simple greedy for tiger sighting, but then again we could not walk into the bushes to check if the tigress was there or had gone to chase the Deer. This tigress, after some time decided to walk towards the same direction as we went but through the bushes and one point she had to cross the road and it was the same road on which our second vehicle was passing and they got a perfect sighting of the next prince of Bandhavgarh!
We were little disappointed but at the same time happy about the fact that our other colleagues could see the tiger from such a small distance. Our colleagues were saddened by the fact that we could not see the tiger. They tried to call us but unfortunately the mobile network in the jungle is not always available when you need it.
We checked the photos and it was a magnificent tigress, we chatted on the dinner table, checked the photos and received critique for our photos. The chatting continued to the camp fire where experienced people in our group told us tales of the tigers from different national parks then night went on. Who knows may be a tiger or two were listening to the chatter we were having and may be feeling glad that not all humans are bad and they also love tigers.
All said I went to bed with tiger on my mind, in my dreams and then in my thoughts for a very long time to come!
Thanks for stopping by!
Be cool, stay lucky!
Rahul Nene

Sunday 17 July 2011

The Ego Buster

Quite an adventurous night last night! Three of us walking in the moon light through a jungle between lonavala and Rajmachi for about 4 hours + in the rain from 2230 till 0300 hrs for around 17 KM (+ 17 KM back). For me that was an experience!
Everyone keeps saying 98% of the snakes in India are non poisonous but that is easier said than done as you pass under the cover of thick trees with braches trailing almost on your head. I was all thinking of snakes, foxes, leopards and robbers especially in the pitch dark areas covered by large trees! Thankfully we only encountered couple of crabs and beautiful display of light show by the fire flies in the bushes. Sound of violently gusting water from the mountains into valley did sound scary! The roots of trees extended over the road used to look like thick black snake Some strange noises made us aware that we are encroaching some ones territory. But with us we had a good friend and guide who knew what he was doing, Crossing large streams of water was an experience when you can't judge the level of water until you are into it. We reached our camp in at the bottom of Rajmachi fort, after a beautiful but scary experience walk. We were greeted by our friends who have been already there keeping the place warm for us. Then we thought it was little chilly so opened a small bottle of Whiskey to keep ourselves warm. But we could see the disgust on surrounding faces, so whiskey had to be shared.
Then after few hours of sleep we went around the place to check out how it looks in the day light and I was mesmerized yet again by the beauty of nature and also its power. All that looked scary few hours ago, was now all serene and beautiful. It makes you feel the insignificant and small. What struck me though, is the fact that same things when seen in the dark make you afraid of them and when seen in day light change the perspective by 180 degrees. So in the night you are afraid for yourself and may be things you posses. Come the sunrise and the tall mountains, mighty streams make you feel insignificant, weak and small and all your possessions seem worthless. You realize that the small fireflies were not entertaining you but only to kill pray or to attract the male firefly. The nature, the ego buster!
Be cool, be brave! Stay lucky!

Saturday 24 April 2010

Rahul of India (Remember Laurence of Arabia)

I am writing this blog because I had to cancel a trek tonight due to problems down below and had some spare time on my hand.
I decided to move to India for more reasons than one. One was to enjoy the mountains of the state of Maharashtra, enjoy the culture and history of the vast country and still be able to be the world citizen and travel around.

I must say I missed the mountains when I was in the Netherlands. How can you blame a country for that, which at places is 15mts below the sea level?
But when in India,

I got a chance and group of people from my university collage whom I had not met for good 10-15 years. It has been brilliant walking in the mountains and just enjoying the nature, some times rugged and other times soft as green velvet. I like the life of a trekker where you sleep, eat on whatever is available and be friends with whoever is available. It is a very simple life and away from the busy city life more near to nature. This also gives me a chance to see the historical artifacts monuments on the way.
The mountains I visited were forts from the legendary king of the region around 300 years ago.
You can visit http://picasaweb.google.com/rahulanene to view the pictures of Mahuli, Brahmagiri, Jivdhan and Harihar. More to come are Ratangad and many more.

I could have spent my current spare time in making some adjustments to the bunk bed of my son but you know what, in India you can get people to get these things done. So why bother and I am not very fond of drills and screwdrivers.

Now talking about culture of India, I went to visit Rajasthan, the land of culture and extravaganza of colors. It is land of large palaces, forts and people who have laid their life to keep their word. But also the land of kings who let their daughters to marry muslim mughal rulers to keep their kingdom and their subjects and the land where kings like Rana Pratap fought all their life against these same oppressive rulers. People who managed to save their kingdoms managed to build beautiful palaces and forts as they were never on the run. Forts in Jaipur, Jodhpur Jaiselmer are brilliant. As Rajasthan is land of kings, to fulfill the hobbies of these kings they have created number of parks for hunting. Thankfully they are now wildlife sanctuaries. Notably Ranthambore, Sariska (by the way had I had a daughter she would have been named after Sariska!) for legendary tigers and Bharatpur for birds, the natural ones of course, I mean the ones with feathers and colored beaks, I mean the ones with feathers, guys I mean the ones which fly!

There are many more places I still have to visit in India. I will update once I have found money and been to more places.

Now for foreign travels, well the plan is to visit Jordan, when I don’t know but I am looking around. Find money, find time and it should be good season to visit! Gosh.

More later! Life has plenty to offer!

Thanks for stopping by, stay lucky and keep breathing the special way!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Spring is in the air

Christmas is long gone along with New Year's eve. The skiing holidays are nearly over and the year is well on the way. The colder, shorter days are getting longer, crocus flowers peeping out of the ground and baby sheep
jumping about on lush green grass drenched in soft sun shine. Well in short the spring is in the air!
A few weeks ago, we were driving to the UNESCO site of Kinderdijk,
along the tremendously monotonous Dutch country side. This should normally be an experience which does not fall under exciting! Not this time though, this time I noticed the signs of spring (may be it is the age!). It was a profound shock to realize that for years I took these things for granted! Until this time spring served only one purpose i.e. respite from colder winters!

Since I noticed this change, I can now hear the birds singing (which to me was just chirping until last spring). The most innocent face of spring I believe is that of the lamb! It definitely fills me up when I look at little sheep (lambs) jumping about in the fields.

The chicks (not human beings of opposite kind) are supposed to be the symbol of spring which of course we all know also denotes the Easter. If you did not remember then toy-r-us, McDonalds and Coca colas of this age would make sure that you do.

For Western Europe, most common give away of spring is Daffodils. These humble flowers grow everywhere and boy they grow fast. The yellow flowers with green leaves

and grass are a wonderful combination to look at. I wonder if ABNAMRO bank has copied their colors? Daffs have been very special to me as it was my first encounter with spring. This goes back to 1997 spring where one fine day when sun was shining is a chilly air I saw all 10,000 of them. The looked exactly as described by William Wordsworth in his poem. This goes to show that William Wordsworth was a great poet same can be said about the poem GawatPhulaa (Grass flower as per freetranslation.com) by Baalkavi. These poems must be good because I remember them after all these years!

The Netherlands is a very small country, but it has the most visited attractionthe Keukenhof of majestic tulips
which grow from 23rd March till 21 May. I go there every year some times even twice or thrice. Dutch think I am going loopy!

When I reflect upon the years gone by! I can say Europe has very distinctive seasons. But the part of India I come from does not have a drastic change in seasons so I cannot really pinpoint the changes in spring. I can remember though a pair of robins would have little ones during the spring on Parijatak tree (Night Jasmine if you believe Google) in our front yard. My father would never allow us to disturb them. Parijatak,

I suppose, also blossoms during this time. But again I might be completely off the track here. For an Indian, the spring is marked by Mango blossoms! Every house hold readies itself for the eminent Mango fest in May. Indian heart and culture is dominated by vibrant colors.

I think that is why the holi, the festival of colors, is celebrated to complement the changing colors of Mother Nature.

Japanese make most of their much awaited spring fest of Hanami (flower viewing) which is nothing but celebrating the very existence of cherry blossom. But it is also an excuse for wild drinking and karaoke singing under Sakura trees. Women in
their kimono and men (mostly legless due to overdose of Sake’) walking or should I say dragging around the Sakura trees would be a sight to behold. But then again I am imagining this all as I have never been to the land of rising sun or should I say Toyota, Nissans and Honda 

I wonder what the Norwegians’ do when then come out of ghastly winter of exceptionally long nights and drastic temperatures! I wish to share Glimpses of
Norway on the site below http://www.norway.com May be it will tell me/you what they do to celebrate spring.

Australians/New Zealander/people of Kiribati on the other hand are preparing for warm clothing as the winter dawns on them. I have even heard that they plan Christmas like celebrations just get into the winter mood.

Dear reader, I have not been to many countries and hence it would be great if you could share your experiences of spring celebrations. Please drop a line if it is worth your while.

I truly believe that every part of on this earth is beautiful in it's own way (This does not include the likes of fancy shopping malls, fast food restaurants etc) and stopping a moment and enjoying what the nature and the different cultures have to offer won't be complete waste of time.

So if you can celebrate and enjoy the awakening of Mother Nature, breath a little, live a little and open your heart because the spring is in the air.

Thanks for stopping bye. Stay lucky.


Wednesday 11 February 2009

La Cité de la joie

On the New Year eve, after a late night of rather disappointing firework display in Brussels, we hit the road the next morning heading towards La Cite du la Joie! New year ! New morning! The (second) women (in my life) from the navigation system, was not feeling too clever, and would not show us direction to Paris :(. Using my near pigeon navigation instinct and help from Belgian couple (who actually bothered to set foot out on a New years day) we managed to hit the right road and navigation woman got in mood and lead us to Paris in about 4 hours!

It was 2 PM and no point in going to Disneyland!,which was the excuse of the trip to Paris. So we headed to Paris for a trip down the memory lane.

Few stops of metro from Chatelete Les Halles to Montparnasse Bienvenue sort of set the tone for the evening. A 100+ years old metro system is NOT designed for a baby and pram and before we knew our backs and biceps made it clear that it was a bad idea! Changing metro or for that matter just coming out of the station is lot of work. Montparnasse is giant metro/train station and on an average it would take 10 minutes going up and down the stairs number of times and then finding yourself on the wrong end of the street makes you want to scream!

Living on 41, Rue du Cherche Midi and celebrating turn of the millennium in Paris was special. Not many French people get to live in center of Paris and we lived there for more than year! Thus the plan was to visit the places where we worked, dined and lived!

Finally we were in front of the L' Tour Montparnasse. The building where both of us worked was in front of us and it brought back the lovely memoirs of La Cite' de la Joie! Tragic the film might be, but this city is a city of joy and was I glad to be back there! You bet!

It was my first time in France and first encounter with French language and people. I was living alone in a studio apartment in Odeon (Near Saint Sulpice if you have watched The Da Vinci code then that is where Silas kills the nun.) It was a small studio apartment on 5th floor and as very few buildings in Paris have a lift it was climbing staircase up and down everyday. I lost quite some weight in those 30 days.

Alberto Pizza, the gyros joint, the bakery where I used to pick up croissants for 50 centime (now 10 times more expensive) each! Then there was a hippopotamus outlet on Boulevard de Montparnasse. These were the places we used to go for lunch in Paris. Paris tops the list of most number of Michelin star restaurants in a city. And no I have not been to any .
But in general food in Paris has been great.
Typical French dishes I love would be first and foremost confit du canard! A preserved duck breast with most delicious sauce and can be bought in a can!! I think this is the only food, except pasta-sauce, I would by in a tin. It is generally served with French Fries (I would seriously be upset if you think French Fries are the ones sold in McDonalds) Second is the list is Crepe Sucré or salé with du cidre. This is a simple sweet or savory pancake along eaten along with a jug of apple cider.

This is a typical dish from Northen / North western part of the country. Soup a lónion will be the third in number which can be number one dish if you find yourself in the middle of winter. Incredibly fatty and equally delicious soup, is always served very hot in a even hotter soup bowl. A very cheap version of this French onion soup is served outside of France. This soup looks like an onion clear soup with pieces of fried (burnt more like) onion swimming in the soup. This French Onion soup along with French fries should be banned and people should be given a life sentence if not capital punishment. Best memories of soup a l’onion is from a restaurant on Mont Marte and cofite du canard in a restaurant on boulevard Montparnasse.

In Paris the restaurants serving food from others parts of the world have also adapted to the liking of French society. Normally French people would eat with chopsticks when they go to a Chinese restaurant. The Indian restaurants also make an effort to make the place look neat and tidy. The presentation of food is better than any other Indian restaurant in Europe. One day I went
to an Indian restaurant. I was presented with starters and salad as decoration. I ate the starter dish as well as the decoration. The waiter looked at me as if water was on fire!

The French colonial pallet, is represented by numerous North African, Middle Eastern cuisines, also adds to my French food experience. I would prefer Lebanese food (Mezze) or Mediterranean food to anything else. Moroccan tajin and couscous is also pleasure to eat. The Lebanese restaurants are mostly located in/near Emil Zola quarter of Paris. It is like Tapas, bunch of small dishes all served at the same time without any fuss. Make sure you eat this very slowly to enjoy and more to the point to finish the food.

As a good food fan I am, I also have developed a liking for good films. In the early days in France, I watched French TV and films (especially the films by Louise du Funes like Grande Vadrouille, Les bronzes (snow, desert road) etc. If you are feeling low, best remedy is to watch one of the films! French also have a good taste in music, perfumes, fashion as you must have heard or seen. A perfect suite seen in Paris, is not to be seen anywhere. I like YSL suite but weather I can afford it or not is a different cup of tea.

French men and women are generally impeccably dressed. When I worked in Paris, French men used to carry a small briefcase to house news paper! I found that thing quite distasteful. The working day starts by shaking hands with male colleagues and kissing (!) female colleagues. This is something you would do in other countries as well but the French do it everyday twice! That is a bit too much. What worst is when a group of people gathers in a restaurant, first 10 minutes are spent on greeting and kissing each other.
Lunches in Paris were special, we used to take 1.5 hours of lunch in various restaurants around workplace. All good warm food and in France a descent salad would fill you up quite well. All those restaurants mentioned earlier were our usual hangouts for Lunches!

Brasserie, in France, is same as a public house (aka pubs) in the UK. It is common meeting place for people from the area. Even to date Brasseries display news headlines on a board outside. They would serve drinks, salads warm food etc. Brasseries take name from their brass lined furniture. French waiters are very skilled people. The waiter would make sure that all dishes are removed from the place in one go single handedly (I mean using both hands) and always with smile. French waitresses on the other hand would find it difficult to smile and my research shows that it is not just me but generally their attitude stops them from smiling.

Generally everyone complains about the French for being complaining by nature! But I found them very friendly and open. They sometimes do wake up on the wrong side of the bed but then who doesn't? French were the first people who invited me for dinner at their home. As a very typical European culture I entered the house through the back door and kitchen. This in Europe means a informal friendly welcome!

Mention of France brings wines, perfumes, fashion, clothing etc into one’s mind. Just the thought of people spending a lifetime mixing flavors, fragrances to create a good wine, perfume, mixing colors to create new shades new cuts and making a costume fills me with joy. French have been knowingly or unknowingly competing with US and UK. It can be le Coq Sportif, Lacoste against Nikes,Reeboks or Peugeots, Renaults versus Fords, Airbus versus Boeing, French open versus Wimbledon and US Open, Alain Bernard versus Michael Phelps. This competition has gone too far and they are also selling arms to bad guys in Africa just like US.

We were walking on these small roads, alley ways in and around boulevard de Montparnasse and all these memories flashed through my mind and felt good. We kept on talking about things on our way back to hotel. A cold, wet and windy miserable day well spent down the memory lane!

From the land of castles (From the Sun King Louise XIV of Versailles to Micky of Marne La Valleé) and the city of joy, this is me signing off!

Thanks for stopping by!

Stay lucky!

Monday 29 December 2008

Home where your trouser is ??

I write this blog during Christmas weekend, when the roast chicken (not Turkey??) along with a tad heavy red wine sauce and accompaniments has been a treat! But the leftovers for the next day were a bit too much.

On the dark, crisp and cold Boxing Day morning while when looking over a frozen small canal, I see in the darkness someone riding bicycle in freezing temperature! To me that sums up the Netherlands, a country of very down to earth and simple people and canals.

In general people in Holland are physically heavy (not fat) with normal height for both sexes being above 6 feet. I think it comes from riding bicycle and race to get most sunshine in a densely populated country ;). All said the people are friendly and most tolerant in the world. As you might know this is the country of bicycles every household has one or more. Even today I am amazed by the fact that children as young as 9-10 years ride a bicycle on a wet, windy, cold freezing day so do the older population in their 70s. Parents would not drop their children to school in their BMWs but instead they would accompany them on their bikes!

The Dutch language is like its people it sounds very heavy and even harsh. I remember during my early days here, I overheard, what can be called an intense, conversation between two men. It looked like they will exchange punches soon. But later it turned out to be conversation over someone who was gravely ill. As harsh it may sound, but the language is rich with uitdrukkings or sayings, punctuations and once you know it then you know it is a beautiful language.

Historically the Netherlands has been in trade, importing goods/slaves from Eastern Asia, India, Africa to even South America. Present day New York was owned by the Dutch and had name New Amsterdam which was eventually exchanged with Britain with a small country called Surinam in South America. Hence the names in New York suburbs are similar to the cities in Netherlands Brooklyn (Breukelen), Harlem etc. Does it show that the Dutch were stupid? I think no, because then New Amsterdam had nothing to offer where as Surinam has Aluminum, Bauxites and then very important commodity, the slaves. I think it was a very good business decision.

VOC or East India Company existed at the time of British East India Company. VOC made numerous voyages towards India Indonesia and once in 1672 when docked in Surat, an artist on the ship made a portrait of Shivaji Maharaj while he was on Mission Surat. For all maharashtrians this is the only known picture of Shivaji. Just to put it in perspective, it is the same picture that you would see history text books. This picture is published in a book called Oude en Nieuwe Oost Indien by Francois Valentijne. This book was first published in early 18th century (1702 or something). I had a fortune to see the print and even read one of the later editions. I even had a plan to trace details of the ship, the captain and the crew members and figure out who made the portrait. But it has been shamefully futile :(

The geography of the Netherlands is nothing spectacular, it has a descent looking countryside but within about 10 minutes it really gets boring. Vast flat lands with rural houses, occasional church, grazing cattle and frequent appearance of centuries old wind mills along with the not so elegant new ones is what defines the countryside for this low lying country. Of course I cannot under estimate the sheer beauty and skills involved in growing tulips and other varieties of flowers.

Keukenhof is something we visit year on year and the charm of its beauty will never fade away.

The society is as any other. There is a class of people who live in huge houses and drive in big expensive cars and then there is a middle class who buys a row house or sometimes even semi detached or detached house. Drives reasonably descent car and pays taxes. Then there is lower class which lives in subsidized housing drives relatively old cars and makes both ends meet. But generally everyone in Holland rides a bicycle. You can buy a bicycle from 3000 Euros to absolutely nothing! 3000 Euro bike would be a very good bike where as in Amsterdam you could buy a bike for 30 Euros from a junkie who nothing but breaks a lock of a parked bicycle and gets it to you.

This is what we can call a tolerant and forward thinking society in real sense where prostitution, soft drugs and homosexuality is accepted. And Noooo, not every other Dutch person is gay and every third person is a junkie and every 5th person is a prostitute! If you go to red light district the most visitors are foreigners from other European countries and of course from Japan! It is quite funny to see Japanese people listening to the guide and then nearly reaching to take a picture of a women in the window! Guide stops him and so does his not very impressed wife. Coffee shop is a regular site in the Netherlands and they sell no coffee but cannabis and other soft drugs! Once an acquaintance went to Amsterdam for gay parade with his parents! Are you out of your mind??? I said. Then I remembered a dialogue from a bollywood film Dostana ‘Love is blind but not so blind that one cannot differentiate between man and a woman!’
Some less known facts about the Netherlands is that it is the first country to legalize lottery around 700 years ago. Also arguably the only country with odd currency denominations, Dutch used 2.5 guilders coin, 25 and 250 guilders bill. I have never seen 2.5 Indian rupees or French Francs or US dollars ever. As a foreigner living in the Netherlands one can participate in local elections and vote! Utter nonsense! The health system here is as strange as other things the patient would not go to the doctor unless he has suffered for good few days and doctor won’t prescribe a medicine if patient is too early! 80% Dutch women prefer to deliver baby at home!!!

Of all what I find depressing is the food and dressing habits in this country. As this country is known to be simple and practical the food is so boring that it can actually kill a foreigner of boredom. The typical breakfast is brown bread, ham and cheese along with glass of milk. This can be easily repeated for lunch. This is the only country where I see grown men drink multiple glasses of milk during the day every day. The dinner is little more colorful! The dinner would normally consist of cooked vegetables, boiled or roasted potato’s and piece of cooked meat.

During winter you can eat Ertewen soup (green pea’s soup) with smoked sausage, this is a typical Dutch dish for winter along with mashed wild cabbage, potato and butter. Also eating row fish called harring along with spoonful of onions is a customary. A typical Dutch family will go to South of France or Spain and will make sure that they have enough stock of Dutch cheese and potato’s! Other not so typical Dutchies would dismiss this idea outright.

This has been my home for best part of last 10 years and thus I have so many things I can still share with you but I don’t want to kill readers of boredom so I will sign off. Do I feel that this is my home I can say yes! Home where my soul is not where my trouser is! India is my other home where my heart is!
Thank you for stopping by!