Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010: A New Year with a New Prospective

As the last little bit of 2009 winds down, and the first decade of this millennium comes to an end, it's the time of year to reflect on the old, dream of the new, and commit to a re-alignment of life. It's the reason New Year's resolutions are so popular nowadays, everyone seems to make them but no one keeps them.

Most of the world is under a blanket of winter weather, which gives us a great visual of what's to come. The temporary death of the trees, the grass, and the crops, gives us hope the newness will emerge with even greater fervency.

So as the last week draws to an end, I just wanted to take some time (all week) to spend on reflecting on the beauty of newness. I have experienced A LOT of newness this year. Some good. Some not so good. But one thing will remain, the beauty of the hope all things will be made more vibrant in the new year.

Twenty Ten: Bring it on, baby! Over & Out for 2000 & Nine....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Vibrant Rajasthan - Udaipur

With the winters playing wicked games with us north indians, I was craving for some warm destination, where the sun had made its presence felt. I always wanted to visit the Forts in Rajasthan, the colourful and vibrant land of desert. I packed my bags and headed for the bright sunny skies. Going through some maps, I decided to start off with the lively city Udaipur. Dotted with exquisite marble forts and palaces, Udaipur showcases the rich history and architectural patterns of the Rajput Kings. Most of these forts and palaces were built in the medieval era by regal personages. I was completely overwhelmed to see the lavish interiors, royal decor and rugged exteriors of these spell bounding structures. Reflecting the lifestyles of the passionate Rajputs in the best possible manner, the City Palace stands over the Pichola Lake.

The palace was built by Maharana Uday Singh and later several palaces and structures were added to the complex by succeeding Maharanas. Various huge gates, the Mor Chawk (the peacock square), Armoury museum (exhibiting a huge collection of protective gears and weapons), Manak Mahal or the Ruby Palace (known for a lovely collection of glass and mirror work) and Krishna Vilas (displaying a rich collection of miniature paintings) are a few major attractions of the City Palace. The rooms of the Moti Mahal, Chini Mahal and the Zenana Mahal in the City Palace complex are superbly decorated with mirror tiles and paintings.

I then saw the renowned Lake Palace Hotel, located on an island on Lake Pichola. I also came to know that the Lake Palace Hotel was originally built by the Maharana Jagat Singh II in 1754. It is rated among the most romantic hotels in India as well as world over. I paid short visits to the famous Fateh Prakash Palace and Jag Mandir, which are known for authentic royal luxury. Almost all the major forts and palaces in Udaipur boast of the legends of their glorious past. These ancestral structures have witnessed several changes over the centuries and still they stand tall retaining the vibrant aspects of the age old cultures. If I start goin' into historical details... it would take me ages to complete the draft.
After going through these hyped touristic destinations, I snatched away some time to explore Udaipur, the inner city I had heard so many stories about. As soon as I walked out of the hostel, I found myself in the midst of a busy market. Colourful clothes, leather bound notebooks, hard carved wooden elephants and camels, stone carved ganeshas, colourful jootis, zari borders of old saris and so much for a shopper's delight.

Amidst the busy market I discovered these steps that reached quite high and ended in a temple far above. My curiosity led me to a marble temple of Jagdish (or Krishna) and spent some time there discovering the temple complex and its colourfully traditional Rajasthani people.There I found samosas, kachoris (those who don't know - a kind of snack popular in India) and tea, with fried green chillies and chopped onions... God! Does my mouth still water at the thought of it. Lemme' make it very clear, I am a big time foodie. Walking down I discovered many faces, many architectural wonders, ghaats, old bridges, mandirs (temples) and old houses or havelis. Curiosity and wonder not leaving us, I walked on and on…

The eateries were the most amazing discovery. All sort of food sells out there... Korean, Isreali, Mexican, Italian, Swiss, American, just name it. And yes you also might get a decent Rajasthani Thali there! Exploring beyond I found many small houses converted into cafe's that can hardly seat more than 8-10 people, but served all sorts of food, teaching how to draw miniature art. Even I tried my hands on painting with thin single hair brushes and learning how to do miniature art! I met an artist who did really good miniature work but gotta tell you it requires good amount of patience and good eye-sight ofcourse.

This was my first draft on my rajasthan trip... hope to post more on it asap!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Packing for a journey

Whenever I feel lonely or disgusted with my daily boring routine, I extract myself out from the barriers of my home and proceed on a trip to rejuvenate my senses with fresh energy. So the time has arrived and finally I am leaving for a trip to Rajasthan, a state of India, which is popularly known as the "Place of Rajput Warriors", a place that seems suspended in time, dotted with old forts and palaces and where monkeys and camels still dominate the streets. It fascinates the senses: the colorful saris, the twangy sounds of the sitar, the exotic scents of spices.

One of my friends told inorder to have an intimate look at the state, avoid the tour buses and hitch-hike. So that thing is definitely in my mind, though pretty tough to follow sometimes from past experiences. I am planning to cover Jaipur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Ajmer, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. I am pretty sure about these places though I can’t deny of some later additions, which happens with me almost everytime.

There was a time, I’d pack days ahead of any journey. I’d start thinking about what to take a week before setting off, and be mentally piling things and considering gadgets and options. Those days have gone. These days, I’m more likely to have a vague idea what I’ll be taking, and then throw it all together the night before I go, because there is such a thing as leaving it too late.

Hope the weather would be alright. Forecast looks OK and not super hot which is a great sign for a great trip. Keeping a daily journal of a trip sometimes get a bit cumbersome and boring, so you can expect postings in the coming days once my journey comes to its end… summarizing my experiences in Rajasthan in greater detail about the most interesting events. Can't wait to get packed... so much to do!!

So gotta’ do less typing and more packing :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dracula stigma?

Well I am back in India…back to the grind after three months stay in Romania. The moment I stepped in Bucharest, I was flooded up with lot of questions… some answered and few still unanswered. One of the questions, which was quiet an over-rated was that of link between Romania and Count Dracula….Did u see him??…did u meet him??…how does he look like??…etc..etc.. I had enough of it and think it’s the right time to clarify this one, even if it took bit long. So, what about this Dracula stigma? Did such a person ever exist or was he simply a fictional character of Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel? In short, yes, he existed. However, the vampire notion is entirely fictional. Stoker’s inspiration for the Count Dracula character came from Vlad Dracul, a fifteenth century Romanian prince known for his exceedingly cruel punishments imposed during his reign. The most famous of these punishments was impalement, which earned Vlad the nickname “the Impaler”. Unfortunately, Vlad the Impaler’s original castle is nothing but a pile of rubble.

However, Dracula’s unofficial castle can be found in the town of Bran, about 20 miles south of Brasov. Bran Castle’s towering white walls, red-hued shingles, and threatening towers combine for a truly breathtaking site. The mystery and folklore surrounding Vlad Dracula’s involvement in the castle’s history add a sense of intrigue that will leave you hanging on the tour guide’s every word. You’ll climb through secret passageways, hear tales of violent battles and brutal impalement, and stand atop soaring turrets.

Romania’s most famous fictional citizen, Dracula, has certainly become a key promotional tool for the Romanian tourism industry. Even with the fallacy surrounding the Dracula myth, Romania’s tourism industry would be foolish not to use the legend of Dracula to attract visitors. So, if you’re feeling courageous and willing for an adventurous journey into the past, a rewarding and eye-opening experience is soon to follow back there in Romania, and who knows… maybe you turn out to be the lucky one and meet Dracula in person.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In my own apartment!

It's been almost a week since I updated my weblog! Since I arrived, in the very first week, I was so busy, moving into and fixing up and settling down in my apartment with around next to the Dambovita River, and up many stairs on the 2nd floor. I am in Romania! First thing which comes in your mind is “communist” concrete bloc apartment buildings ...WAIT A SECOND!!! Nope, in fact it was a royal stable - an installation for equestrian exercises, horse stables and services grouped in pavilions around a large square inner courtyard treated in the manner of Italian regionalism... luckily all these things are now in the pages of the past and was turned into student's dorms and state institution accredited for the activity in physical education and sports in 1950's.

Seriously it’s quite nice inside. We have a nice entry, two bedrooms, living cum dining area and tiny kitchen (actually a passageway). The bathroom is kind a nice. We had a washing machine; well it’s not there anymore, a good terrace to hang the laundry outside to dry, like everyone else.
What to say?? Worst of all, , OR best of all, I cooked very first time in my whole life! Romanian food is largely pork, chicken, salami, cheese, cabbage, and potatoes. The national dishes are cabbage rolls, called sarmale (“sar-ma-lay”), a sort of cornmeal mush called mamaliga (“mama-leega”), and Papanasi, traditional dessert recipe from Transylvania. They don’t like spicy food AT ALL, and still, being an Indian, I want spicy food, maybe not that hot. I managed to score some “hot salt, spices” and Indian food courtesy a friend back from India staying in the same apartment. The local folks usually shop every day, and eat whatever is in season.
I've been doing a LOT of walking, so I'm probably losing weight, hopefully. Unbelievably, I have high-speed Internet at dorm and a cable television. Soon I’ll have a new cell phone…I guess, after my first cell got stolen somewhere in bucharest.

Everyone in Romania adores flowers, gardening, all growing things, babies and animals… ESPECIALLY DOGS! But some things are funny to me: they always carry flowers upside down, with the stems up (I wonder if the flowers actually stay nicer that way), all hamburgers and other sandwiches include the french fries INSIDE the sandwich, pizza doesn't have any tomato sauce and hardly any cheese, but it's always served with Romanian ketchup, dulce (sweet) or picante (spicy). Most women wear very high heels, tight low-cut clothing, and care a great deal about fashion and women of all ages often have reddish, almost maroon-colored hair. I’ve heard that Romanian women are the most beautiful in the world, and it’s likely true!!

The stories of the communist years are really scary, the dictator’s control lasted for forty years, and finally in December of 1989 the people revolted and killed him and his even crazier wife. So this country has only been independent for 17 years!

Being a part of EU for past 2 years, modern conveniences are also arriving fast. They are expensive, but they are here. In some ways, three months seems like a very long time, and in other ways it seems like home here. I hope someone manages to come and visit while I’m here….you never know!!

I went to quite a few places around Romania like Sibiu, Sighisoara, Sinaia, Constanta..etc..etc…This weekend probably will be going to Brasov located in the central part of the country, about 166 km from Bucharest. I’ll be back soon with more escapades of my Romanian travel….soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Escapades of Romania I

It has been quiet a while I have been inactive in this blogging arena. I think it’s the right time to strike the keys of my keyboard, fill ink in my sketching pens and markers….and start jotting down the excerpt from my experience…a travelogue!!

Romania, well first thing which strikes our mind are - land of the Dracula (a myth of course…I figured it out myself after coming here); home to the mysterious Transylvania region, where vampires are said to appear from fog-covered castles set high in the desolate mountains towering above rural villages.

In reality it is quiet a mesmerizing and charming experience to come here and in some way or the other become a part of this beautiful European country for three months. The enchanting landscape is spotted with picturesque windmills, articulate monasteries, and ornate churches, all perched in an untamed, mountainous terrain that rolls across Eastern Europe.

In August of 2009, I embarked on this European internship travel journey all alone from Mumbai (India) after completion of my internship tenure back in Pune. I would be working here in an architectural firm for almost 80 days. After almost 16 hours of travelling, I finally landed in Otopeni international airport, nestled in the capital city of Romania - Bucureşti.

I was picked up by Mihai, an ex-student from the architecture university. We loaded into a Renault mini-van and pulled onto the crowded city streets and boulevards. We were passed by dozens of miniature and luxurious sport vehicles, zipping between lanes and around corners. Modern day innovations exist harmoniously with Old World ways of life. It was absolutely fascinating. As I would soon discover, the country’s splendor is both amplified and haunted by the remnants of a fierce era of communism. Under communist control for more than 40 years, the cinder-block buildings still fill Romanian cities, but the preservation of Moldavian and Gothic architectural styles give the country a timeless feel.

For first few weeks it was pretty tough on my part to adapt to the food, roads and the ROMANIAN language. It was probably among the first of the romance languages to split from Latin, greatly influenced by Spanish, Greek, Turkish, German and Hungarian!!

The other international interns, who were incredibly warm and generous, welcomed me with open arms. In fact its all because of them that I don’t feel lonely staying thousand miles away from my home. Over the next few weeks, I became engrossed with the Romanian culture and the language.

The people are quiet hospitable though the same doesn’t apply for everyone, the tourism industry is bit underdeveloped at the moment but would definitely catch adequate pace in the coming years..

By this write-up I suspend my almost one year long mourn… Remember this is just the pilot write-up for my travelogue, I’ll be back soon with more escapades of my Romanian travel.