Come September….

Yay!! September arriveth and summer goeth! If that is not a reason for me to celebrate I do not know what is! The fact that Summer recedes from this month on is enough to add vigor and excitement to my life! However besides this fact, there are several reasons to rejoice the onset of fall.

To begin with, ahem! ahem! Moi, the 102 Kgs (224lbs), plump personality completed a marathon! Not a full event, but what we have in the geography called Half Marathon event, which is more for beginners! Now for the more fitter personalities there, I know its a not a big deal, but please understand when I say that running with 102kgs on your back, as in on your body is bit of a task! Add to it the fact, that I have never run before this, let alone compete in any event. However, I was and am blessed with some awesome friends, and one of them, when couple of months ago over late dinner, I expressed my fascination with running, took it on herself to get me trained and ready. She devised all kinds of training plans, diets and kept egging me on. All of this when she was sitting 1700 kms from the city where I stay, working as the HR Director in an MNC, getting her house constructed and generally following up on all the lose tie ends of her life! If my completing the run is awesome, then the fact that Rups could get me up there and ready, especially from a confidence perspective was a miracle only she could have pulled off. I have not lost any weight and yes I practically crawled to the finish line, but I did it!!! I am so kicked. One of most amazing aspect of this marathon was that instead of being given medals, participants were given little India puppet dolls, made by the survivors of the Tsunami which hit Souther India, back in 2004. I loved it all and I hope to do more!

Ok, now for Bookish news – well, needless to say, I am falling BEHIND! August was a busy month. I played a host for a bunch of cousins; then myself went on a 12 day road trip across Himalayas and for the first time , the beauty so overwhelmed that I did not get much reading done. Then, there was the Read Along which I LOVED hosting, however research for its background, to help my fellow readers understand the socio-cultural context of the novel, took some time! As a result, I am now in September and need to play catch up like never before. To begin with, from my 12 Months Classic Literature Event, I have Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens to finish from July, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for August and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for September (September Theme – A children’s classic). For Reading England, yet another event I have neglected (I should stop saying that, considering I neglected  all my monthly reading plans!!!) I cover Berkshire with Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. This would be a re-read but I have not read this book in a loooonnnngggg time and I am in a mood for some fun books!Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event, I will go back to a novel, I started and then just stopped – Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cathar. If this was not enough, I continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and give Cleo company in reading The Brother Karmazov’s by Foydor Dostoyevsky and Jane Eyer by Charlotte Bronte Read Along, the latter, hosted by Hamlette. I have also bought some books and been gifted some over the last couple of days which I will atleast attempt to start this month; The Silk Road – A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and Jerusalem, A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

That’s the attempt plan for September….I know its a LOT, but I am hoping to conquer most! Happy September Reading!!!

All About The Absence

Hello! Hello! I know I have been away for nearly two weeks without a word, and some of you have been wondering where I have been! To begin with, a big Thank You to those who have been checking up on me; I really really appreciate the concern and feel blessed to have people who watch out for me!

I was away on a road trip all across what is considered the Himalayan Desert at about 15000 ft from the Sea Level. The region around 10th century used to belong to the then Tibet empire and still retains many of its culture and practices, which are especially evident in the Monasteries that are dotted all over the region.The place is called  and is a unique natural phenomena of a desert at a very high altitude,  located in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Spiti” means “The Middle Land” in Bhutia language, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

While Spiti River surrounds the valley, the region is in a rain shadow area and is devoid of the lush green vegetation that usually forms the landscape of the Himlayas. However the barren brown mountains in the backdrop of the clear and deep blue skies are absolutely awe inspiring and in their presence you are intensely aware of a power at work, which is much greater than those of the mortal man. And then after range and range of imposing brown mountains, there would be flash of green and all kinds of wild flowers and it would seem like some one had taken a crayon and painted the whole natural canvass.No wonder, Buddhist monks chose this region to deeply meditate and some of the most powerful monasteries of the Buddhism is located here!

I took this trip again with the absolutely brilliant Shibani and her team at Wonderful World and only they could have managed to infuse a sense of comfort when the conditions were anything but, provide luxury when none existed to begin with and ensure we get a feeling of truly experiencing Spiti and her culture with a well thought through and extremely considered plan. For 10 days, managing 12 women across adventurous terrain, Wonderful World, this time led by Pooja Sharma, ensured that we all got to do what we wanted and keep calm in face of crisis including when my flatmate and cousin decided to take photos anywhere and everywhere  delaying the scheduled arrival time. Pooja was also wonderfully patient in helping me navigate some of more challenging trails, which became challenging thanks to the 224lbs that I carry with me! This team remains a girl’s best travelling companion!

This trip was not meant to be  relaxing vacation, a day at the resort; it was arduous and difficult. Every day we would drive about 8 hrs or so and then hike some more km. As the altitude increased, air became thinner and simple tasks required more effort and sleeping at a different place each night and living out of the suitcase for 14 days was anything but easy! But this was one of those truly life changing epic trips and the majesty and the brilliance of the landscape sears your soul, until you find yourself introspecting and come away with a heightened awareness of self and the surroundings!

I know I will go back there and at some point, move to the valley to spend the rest of my life there. Until those grand plans materialize, I leave you with some pictures of its grandeur!

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P.S. None of the photos have been Photoshoped and the play of colors and shadow that you see is a complete natural capture!

Wandering Through 19th Century India

I got this book when I was planning to go for my vacation in end of March, but between other books and a suddenly hectic social life, I finally finished the book last week! I have been very very curious about this book and the timing appropriate as I was reading of events and history that would instigate the 1857 Mutiny in India, the historic event, which formed the backdrop of Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye, which I almost inevitably read during May – the month when the mutiny began! Emily Eden also fitted in beautifully with my Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event.

Up the Country is a series of letters and journals that Emily Eden wrote to her sister between 1837-1839 when, her brother Lord Auckland traveled from Calcutta, the then capital of British India to Shimla, the summer capital of British India and back. To give the readers a bit of a background, the Eden’s were a prominent aristocratic family of England and Lord Auckland her brother, was Baron Eden, of Norwood in the County of Surrey, and Earl of Auckland. He served as the Governor General of India between 1836-1842 and during this tenure, his sister Emily and Fanny accompanied him to India and served as the hostess for the Governor General. During his tenure, Lord Auckland made a land trip between Calcutta and Shimla and back to Calcutta, a combined distance of  approx. 4200 kilometers, with all the camp paraphernalia of elephants, camels, and camp followers, which took him 2 years in an era, before the introduction of railways in India. Emily Eden captures all the joy, irony and tragedy of traveling continuously for 2 years and living in the camp, with all the regal majesty that befits the representative of the King of England in India.We attend grand balls and picnics near the waterfall and can quite understand Ms. Eden’s lack of enthusiasm in acting as a hostess to the never ending series of dinner and balls that the Lord Aucland has to host or has to attend in every station/township they stop at during their travels. We read about The Pickwick Papers as they were published and as soon as Ms. Eden and her sister could lay their hands on them all the way in India. We walk through Bazaars as they pick up shawls and beautiful enameled boxes for spices. We also attend in parallel the colorful nautch girl performances put by the local rulers for Lord Auckland and walk through some of the majestic gifts especially in jewels that are presented to the British Government by them. There is trouble with the native  servants who are cantankerous, but never ever err in the their steadfast loyalty to the “Laat Sahib” and his sister! Their is the weather to contend with as well, harsh never ceasing hot burning plains of north India to the perfect coolness of the hills, to the camps awashed with the thundering monsoon rains! Emily Eden brings to life the ADCs, the Magistrates and all the great leaders of the Indian administrative service with anecdotes and dry ironic observations.We meet the great Ranjeet Singh and Shah Shuja in the most common and intimate manner and get to know about their pets and peeves as if they were next door neighbors and not the greats of history! There are lovely descriptions of the Governor General’s house in Shimla, before the modern day commercialization as well as some haunting descriptions of Qutub and its surrounding ruins!

History is testimony to the fact that Lord Auckland was one of worst administrators of the British India empire and his policies had far reaching effects and came back to haunt his subsequent successors, especially Lord Canning who was the Viceroy during the horrific mutiny. However Emily Eden’s account of the Governor General travels is filled with insight, laughter at absurdities of both her own country men as well as Indians and a very honest take on what is the expected duty of British to India. She has no patience with the women of a particular cantonment, who refuse to attend a dance because she invited some of Anglo-Indian (of mixed parentage) soldiers and the wives. There is much humor and irony at the expense of all including her illustrious brother and merriment at way some things turned out! Politics of course cannot be divorced from such a narrative and the reader gets some very interesting insights into the India-British interactions to understand why things went wrong! For instance, it is evident through out the journals, that both rulers of Punjab and Oudh (two of the largest principalities of India) sough British approval and partnership to govern their respective provinces and despite going out of their way to solicit, soothe and align the British dictates, in less than 6 years time, would see their territories arbitrarily annexed and they themselves being sent into exile. We also see that Lord Auckland despite his good intentions, had little or no understanding of the East and it comes through practically every page of Ms. Eden’s journal that they thought that their residence in India as some kind of penance and exile; while one can understand that for Ms. Eden, it cannot be excused in a man who was accepted the responsibility of the fate of 1 billion people.No wonder the Anglo-Afghan wars during his tenure were disastrous and wonderful cities that his sister’s captures in her journals would be completely annihilated in the aftermath of the mutiny! However, Ms. Eden’s narrative is a wonderful read and if at times, she comes across as intolerant, it is wise to remember that most men and women of England held far more racist views and she at least believed in fair treatment of Indians and equal justice for all, regardless of the skin color. Most importantly, this book is a wonderful and colorful description of a road trip, before automobiles and railways made road trips a breeze and one of the first and most authentic travelogues before travel books became a vogue! A must read for all India aficionados!

Traveling in Time

The Classic Club announced its Classic Club is doing Spin#11 and I came up with The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Wells has been on my TBR for sometime and I was really happy to finally get the right inspiration to read his work.  I got hold of the book and was surprised to see that it was less than a 100 pages; but then most adventure novels of that era were slim reads ( King Soloman’s Mine to cite an example ) and thought it would be an easy read. However I did discover that, do not judge a book by its cover and what appears may not be a true reflection of what is and all those homilies can very much be applied to The Time Machine!

The novel opens with a gathering of gentleman at the Time Travelers house, where the latter introduces them to the Time Machine, which he has invented. To further understand and discuss the machine he has invented, the Time Traveler invites them for dinner next week. The group meets on the appointed day, but there host is missing. While they are about to finish the dinner, the Time Traveler finally staggers in with torn clothes and a bruised appearance and declares that he had traveled to AD 802,701 and narrates to story of the future of the earth. He tells them of two races that inhabit the future earth, the beautiful, simple childlike Eloi and the dark and ape like creatures that stay in the subterranean regions of the earth, called Morlocks. He tells the group how he had found himself stranded in the future and how his time machine had been hidden away and he shares his efforts to befriend these creatures and his efforts to finally get back to his own era, and the tragedy that was the price for this tryst.

The novel is  for sure a Victorian adventure tale, very much in spirit of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, King Soloman’s Mine and such like. It is in essence as stiff upper lip as it gets as the British narrator assess his situation and takes action that would for sure impress Her Majesty, the Great Queen Victoria. In terms of plot construction, the story is very linear and it follows the usual pattern of introduction, discovery, crisis and the end. However the concept of Time Machine in 1894 was in itself an originality and an innovation that H.G.Wells  richly deserves all the credit. The concept of Time Travel though something bandied about very commonly today, was unique concept, when Wells wrote his novella. There is much to be said about the author’s imagination as creates a world of Eloi and Morlocks as well the variations of earth in future that the time traveler stops at before finally reaching back to his own time. There is a sense of dread and darkness and fear in the narrative as well as a distinctly humane tone as the author gently tells us that the creatures of the future are  the culmination of all the actions of the man, partly good and partly bad. The only problem is the boyish adventure tone in which the hustle and bustle of Great Britain meets the dysptopian world. The very English prep school narration seems incongruous with the dark and creepy future world. There are times when the plot sags and there is just too much of discovering this and discovering that….one of the main reasons, why the book lay on my bedside for more than a month after the initial pages had been read!

Overall, its a good novel, but not a great literature. It deserves it cult status because of the uniqueness of the concepts rather than any literary brilliance.

 

In The Company of Magnificence…

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate and I set off for a tour to a historically rich but now ruined citadel in South of India, Hampi. Both of us are great travelers but due to various circumstances last year, we had to keep our wanderlusting in check. Therefore to say we were really excited about this trip is an understatement! The USP of the trip was we were travelling as part of a tour group of all women’s team organized by the brilliant Shibani Vig and her team at Wonderful World.

Women from all parts of the country flew in to meet at Bangaluru, the metropolis of South India, from where we all took began the road trip to Hampi. Per Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, the now UNESCO heritage site of Vijaynagar, the primary city of Hampi, was founded by two brother Hakka and Bukka when trying to flee enemy forces. They came across this mountainous – ridge range and met a sage who convinced them to establish their seat in this region! . Under the rule of Hakka and then Bukka, the empire became rich and went from strength to strength. The city flourished between 14th and 15th century and at its height it was the second richest kingdom of the medieval world after Beijing and way bigger and more prosperous than Paris or London. The Kingdom continued to flourish under the heirs of Hakka and Bukka, and especially famous was King Krishnadeva Raya whose reign saw a burst of cultural activities, including prolific writings in literature and the building of some architectural marvels. The empire declined after losing successive battles with the neighboring kingdoms of Deccan Sultanates in mid-16th century. The victorious forces plundered the city and destroyed the buildings in a long drawn systematic way. Today all that remains of this once great city are the beautiful and haunting ruins!

Shibani is one the most thoughtful and considerate tour planners I had the good fortune to travel with and this trip was no different. The trip was led by the amazing and extremely patient Liane Ghosh and since we were traveling to a city of great historical importance, Shibani, even got us a personal historian to talk us through the great buildings and monuments! We set off on the bus with some articles on history of Vijaynagar which our historian had written up and just add an element of fun, he had even procured some comics, whose plotlines told the readers of the history of the city and tales of its denizens! Even the hotel Shibani had sought out for us was a testimony to the taste and elegance of team’s planning – instead of some ultra-modern luxury resort; we stayed at these wonderful cottages of Uramma Resort, Anegundi. This resort run by a philanthropist who aims at creating better lives for the villagers around Hampi, by trying to offer better healthcare and educational opportunities. The profits from the resort goes towards education of the youth as part of the broad program of the Uramma Trust. The resort is not fancy, but has all that is basic and comfortable. There are no televisions or bars, but the rooms are sparkling clean, beds super comfortable and a wonderful and obliging staff that is willing to do anything make your stay memorable. Staying at Uramma Resort, you get a feel of what it feels like to stay in real South Indian village surrounded by the marvelous vegetation, with some wonderful views from the green grounds of resort that overlook the majestic landscape of Hampi. We reached the resort, extremely late after several wrong turns and going round the circles, thanks to the drivers who claimed they knew everything when they actually knew little. We did manage to get a view of the magnificent sunset at Tungabhadra reservoir and that view alone made up for all the delays!

Sunset

(Picture Courtesy – Liane Ghosh)

Nevertheless after dinner had been served which by the way, was absolutely lip smacking delicious, we were all extremely sleepy and we called it an early night, looking forward to the morning of fun and adventure.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The next day we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and started off right after breakfast for the historical explorations. We crossed over to the other side of the town via a ferry (not my most favorite mode of transport, with high levels of hydrophobia), but have to admit that the ride was smooth and easy.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The first site that we visited was the magnificent Vitala Temple.  The temple was built by the King Deveraya in 15th century and was enhanced by the same famous Krishnadeva Raya. The temple is dedicated to Vitala, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu and the architecture once again shows the elaborate and the artistic creation of Vijaynagar that combined science and art to create these mammoth creations for a single rock cuts. The temple is surrounded by 4 madapas (entrances) of which 3 are still standing. The temple complex consists of many shrines and halls made of stone with intricate carvings that depict both Hindu legends and social and economic lives of medieval India. The stone chariot standing in the middle of the temple courtyard is breath taking and carved with graphic detailing. It’s dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The main hall of the temple was closed due to maintenance, however its outer walls again testify to some magnificent sculpture. There are set of pillars in complex that are carved out of some kind of resonate stones and legend states that at the height of festivities these pillars were used as musical instruments to be played in accompaniment to the hymns. Even today, the seven pillar emit seven different sounds of the musical notes of different density and volume. The temples today stand as a testimony of not only what was brilliant, but also show case the systematic destruction that was undertaken once Vijaynagar fell.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

We walked from the temple along the ghats (banks) of the Tungabhadra River. Some of the most beautiful scenes opened up to us …long narrow caves that suddenly open upon a scene of high ridge plateau on top of which sat a magnificent architectural creation.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The second important destination of the day was the Virupaksha Temple. This is one of the oldest functioning temples of the region. It was originally built in 7th century and later enhanced and renovated in 14th century by the Vijaynagar rulers. The temple consists of the main sanctum, a hall and open pillared hall and three chambers. The eastern gate or the mandapa is 50 meters high and this nine tiered entrance consists of some of oldest and most elaborate carvings.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

As we neared the temple however, my legs decided that they had enough and I managed to twist my ankle and pull my muscle at the same time. (Don’t ask me how I managed this medical marvel!) After much ado, my flatmate and I came back to the resort and after spending hours soaking in hot water and several painkillers and muscle relaxant dosage, I was finally able to walk again. (Thank You Liane/Sabeena for that amazing muscle spray and medication!) The fact that I was travelling with a wonderful troupe was brought home even more by the fact that the moment they reached the resort, the made a beeline for my room to figure out how I was doing and what could they do to make me more comfortable. Further ministrations and care, and I was finally ready to venture forth and join everyone else for evening dinner at Hema. Hema is a dimly lit shack where you get the most delicious Shakshuka and sizzlers. After gorging on some of this great food, we were back in the hotel for some rest, looking forward to-day 2.

Since I had limited abilities, I did not visit all that was planned, choosing only selective venues to explore and therefore to do justice to all the greatness of Vijaynagar, I make over its retelling to my bestfriend/flatmate/sister-in-crime, mentallynailbiting in the next post!