Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gokarna: Weekend

I guess, life had to show-off how cool it is and so it took me to Gokarna last weekend. Sand, sea and good food, I felt I landed in a dream!

First Impression

Spanish breakfast @ Namaste

In fact, right after I landed in Gokarna, I headed to the breakfast table where I hogged an enormous Continental breakfast and settled down in a chair to satisfy my sensory organs.Unlike the photos, Gokarna looks prettier in real. The rocks jutting out of the sea, clean sands, a hippie-ish crowd, laid-back air: Gokarna was just setting the trap for us.

Only after familiarizing myself with my surroundings, did I go to Namaste Cafe to rest a while. It was a shack, not a hotel room; basic huts with good toilets and basin taps that have a direct outlet to a bucket outside where you can see the toothpaste froth you created all over again.

Sunlight and the Shack @ Namaste

After an hour of blissful sleep with the sun rays lightly dancing on my face, I had the desire to watch the sea again. So, off we went to the beach. It was a Friday and hippies, locals and cows were mingling in peace. Yes, cows. You know, Go-karna (literally translating into 'cow's ears') is really a heaven for cows; they roam without restrictions and sit on firangi's beach towels if they want to with no force strong enough to shoo them away.

So, anyway, as the shadows started getting lengthier, we decided to go on the famous quoted trek from Om Beach to Half-Moon Beach.

Now, we are no trekkers; in fact, we are two Garfields, and two minutes into the trek, we almost regretted the idea of walking, *sweating* jumping rocks, *panting* avoiding branches intent to slap your face *perspiring* or slopes determined to let your feet slip. But soon we crossed the woods, and there we stood at a narrow path etched at the side of the hillock, several meters above sea and all around us we saw nothing but the pristine sea, sparkling like diamonds in the afternoon sun. We held back our cursing tongues. This trek is worth the trouble and believe it from non-experienced trekkers like us, we reached Half-Moon Beach without a single scratch.

On the Trail from Om to Half-Moon

I have heard one can trek the other beaches too, but well.... let others do that. Our quota of adventure was full and we headed back to Om Beach on one of the boats. We revived ourselves with beer and towards evening, we climbed one of the small rocks on the beach and watched the sun set. It was a gorgeous sight.

The Perfect Sunset

At night, the waves got bigger, louder. The music was soothing, the breeze made sorrow disappear and we dined as the lanterns danced happily about us.

The next day, after another ginormous breakfast, we sat on tree-boughs and watched life with a third perspective.
Fishy Talks

After a while, we took a boat-ride that gave us a tour of the beaches around that place. The sky was a perfect blue, and so was the waters. The boatman made small talk and the sea breeze made us tolerate the burning heat.

Captain of the Boat
Moksha Cafe's Fish in Lemon Garlic Sauce 

We then strolled the entire Om-shaped Om beach, settled in another cafe, some more chilled beer and ate the best Fish-in-Lemon-Garlic-Sauce ever! (Moksha Cafe gave us moksha) Life was perfect.

Ramu on the Shore
I had read in a few blogs that shack-owners and locals are racists to Indians; I absolutely dismiss such banter! Of course, when you are enjoying your evening in peace and the next table, filled with compatriots, are determined to let you know that they can curse in English and loud, even the most patriotic of us will raise a dissenting eyebrow. On the other hand, the locals are an absolute friendly delight. They like to make friends and are a happy-go-lucky bunch. In fact, one of the guys selling beads on the shore struck up a conversation with us and while going away, gifted me one of his beaded necklace as a parting gift.

I would suggest that when you go to Gokarna, leave your prejudices behind, adjust to rooms without window panes (we had to!) and accept life in its simplicity and you may discover once again how simple and beautiful life is.

Shine bright like a Diamond
Gokarna, you have mesmerized me with your quaint charm... I long to sit by your cafes, feet up, chilled beer by my side, watch waves and philosophize during your gorgeous sunsets. And something tells me, I shall do precisely that once again, very soon!

Om Shanti Om

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lalbagh Annual Flower Show 2013- Feast of Flowers-

Technicolored Zinnia 
Still in a trance with the feasts I had with my eyes early morning today. I went to the bi-annual Lalbagh Flower Show that happens around 26th Jan and 15th Aug every year.

This year, it was inaugurated last Friday, i.e.18th Jan and shall be on till 28th Jan. I know the crowd can get heavy during these shows; I have seen long queues and experienced the wrath of traffic jams, thanks to it; so, I thought I did a smart thing my turning up at 9:30AM (the gates open at 9AM) on just the starting days of the show. Wrong! Many people are smarter than I. But thankfully, I skipped the push-and-pull crowd. By the time I left (11AM),the crowd was thickening and it was getting quite hot in the glasshouse!

Enough of my talks..... now, let the flowers speak!

China Aster


Eiffel with Roses: The Perfect Love

Antirrhinum Snapdragon


Ooty Garden inspired arrangements

Sasural Genda Phool


The fav: Tiger Lilies!

Miniature Roses

The entire set-up

By and by, this Glass House of Lalbagh, where the flower-shows are held, was built in 1898, and is inspired by the London Crystal Palace. Accidently, yes, accidently, London's Crystal Palace caught fire, so it's Lalbagh's miniature, inspirational model that you will have to visit if you ever yearn to visit the Crystal Palace. Fact brought to notice by Mr. Vijay during my Lalbagh walk which you can read more about here

A Walk to Remember

Saturday morning:

6AM: Alarm *R-I-N-G-S* Screen blinks 'Snooze (5mins)/ Dismiss'.

I am so very tempted to click 'Dismiss' and roll under my duvet to resume my interrupted dream. But something nags from within; tells me that it is not work you are going to, but a botanical garden you had been planning to visit since long; tells me that the early-morn fresh air would do the-lazy-you some good; moreover, you wake at this hour every work-day, so don't give half-baked excuses.... 'Oh shut up, crazy-head; and fine, I am waking up!' and with this, I dismissed my alarm and crawled out of bed.

7AM: As directed, I am at the Double-Road Gate of Lalbagh Botanical Garden. This is the second time I am entering the garden (in seven years, mind you!); this place is considered to be an important part of Bangalore's heritage, tourist-frequented and just 4kms from my house. Still, second time it is.

In fact, the first time I went to Lalbagh was a forced visit in company of my uncle who booked my ticket at a Bangalore Tour Agency for a day-tour and I glanced around the Garden without much thought (the 2PM sun can kill anyone's thoughts anyway!). I wanted to visit the Garden again, yes, to do justice to it but I never could find the time or company.

The 'Rock'
Then, like we all stumble on the Internet, I came across a group that engages in walks in different parts of the city. And one such walk happened to be in Lalbagh Gardens every weekend. Perfecto! So, I e-mailed them and they answered me promptly with the details and here I was, walking through the tunnel of pink bougainvillas towards the Rock (the hillock) where I was suppose to meet the rest of the group.

It wasn't difficult spotting them; theirs was the only group with flyers and was a motley group of sorts. I mean, why would a respectable looking elderly Punjabi couple, a Asian backpacker, three girls with sweat pants on and an elderly man donning a cowboy hat be standing together at 7AM unless you provide me a better explanation?!

Mr. Vijay (cow-boy hat included)
Anyway, the man wearing the cowboy hat, was rightly assumed as Mr. Vijay, our guide for the day, and I introduced myself. While we waited for the other walkers to join us, he explained a brief history of the monolithic rock at whose foothills we stood, touching on Volcanic eruptions, Continental Drift and Tipu-Sultan in the same paragraph (you can read more on this here) Mr. Vijay was passionate, he got the group listening attentively to him and soon afterwards, there joined us a Dutch guy with his travelling uncle and aunt and three other guys, one of them turning out to be related by 3rd degree in a friends' circle (sigh! small world).

I had the notion that this walk would be a fast-paced walk since Lalbagh is quite huge; but it turned out to be a slow walk concentrating on one part of Lalbagh; which is favourable, especially when Mr. Vijay is talking about these interesting facts about plants and their history, of warrior tombs and Mughal gardens. I couldn't have walked, panted, listened, understood and thought in the same breath.

It was fun to hear our Mr. Vijay speak. I found his way of speaking inimitably interesting. It went something like:

"You think this tree is Indian?", he points to a tamarind tree and asks the group. We nod vigorously. Dude! South Indians use tamarind everyday, and we are sure it's been in their cuisine for ages. Mr. Vijay smiles and tells us "Tamarind actually was brought in from the Middle-east." We are big-eyed, and he explains on the route and how it came to India and finally says "The tree, however, is so associated with India that it is called tamarind, meaning Tamr-hind; Tamr meant date in Arabic, so it essentially translates into 'dates of India'". And we smile at his simplistic style of explaining... that's Mr. Vijay for you!

The Strangling Fig
He began the same way on the blooming Bougaenvillas, the cyprus trees, eucalyptus, and many plants which I thought was Indian in a way that the species was found in India and were transported to other parts of the world. Well, it turns out, it's the other way round.

And the only tree which when pointed at and asked "You think this tree is Indian?" and the answer (finally!) was a correct yes was the Banyan tree, which is a variety of the Fig tree (another fact I picked up from Mr. Vijay!). In a quick span of time, he showed us different varieties of Banyan trees. He also explained the strangling nature of a Banyan and showed us a live example and how and why it may happen. He showed us Banyan trees with weird, beautiful leaves, ones with pouches in their leaves. My favourite Banyan tree of all was the one that according to Mr. Vijay looks like a Salvador Dali painting!

Salvador Dali' in nature
Flowering Trunk
Besides these, he showed us trees that flower directly from the trunks and has something called candle-sticks (green beans, I say) and trees whose leaves can be boiled to give a tea-like flavour. He showed us the tallest tree in Lalbagh and how he, along with a troop of school boys, measured it. And he showed us photographs of the leaves on which ancient scriptures were inscribed, showing us the live tree and explaining us the process. Mr. Vijay was a walking encyclopedia on trees, so it came as a surprise that he was no botanist but a person passionate about trees. Simple.

Halfway through the walk, we rested under the Salvador Dali tree and he gave us pouch-packs of either Mango Juice or Spiced Buttermilk to fuel ourselves.

Blooming Amherstia 
By the way, the tree that fascinated me the most was the flowering-tree, Amherstia nobilis  also known as the Pride of Burma. The (clever!) discoverer who found this tree in the Burmese forests named it after a royal member, Lady Amherst, and hence, appropriately received promotion in rank. It seems, so uncommon is this tree's sighting in the wild that during the last century, it was seen only twice in the Burmese forests. Anyhow, this tree had found its way to Bangalore's Lalbagh and to our luck! It was in bloom! Red, like a chandelier, orchids bloomed out of the tips of the branches. It was such a beautiful sight! I picked up one of the fallen flowers and later on, pasted it on a diary I presented to my mom who is an avid gardener; I thought it was a nice touch since she loves flowers.

Anyway, the tour ended with a breakfast at MTR. At around 10:30AM, we were out of Lalbagh and walking towards MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room), another of Bangalore's heritage. However, I was on a mission to watch The Hobbit at IMAX and not willing to miss my first IMAX experience, I quickly said my goodbyes but not before I heard the entire breakfast menu which had from Kesari Bath, the famous Grape Juice to Dosas, Idlis, Dessert, and the ever-craving filter coffee... What I gave up for IMAX!!! Gotta come here once more!

By the way, this tour (inclusive of that fabulous-sounding breakfast) costs Rs. 500. And.... if you join the walk for a second time, it's Rs. 350. And... and.... wait for it.....!.... for the third time, it's FREE!... just pay your breakfast bill!

That, in my opinion, is an awesome deal and one I am willing to avail. Thank goodness, I did not turn my back on my alarm, I had a wonderful morning, a first insight in the world of trees, met a passionate man and gained so much more than I ever thought!

I totally recommend this tour to anyone who visits Bangalore. It is too rich and fulfilling an experience.

Our group of walkers

And you thought only Kangaroos have pouches
For details on this walk and various other walks, visit Bangalore Walk's official website

By and by, I visited the bi-annual Lalbagh Flower Show this weekend and shall update photos soon :)

Lalbagh on a crispy December morning

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sweet as Sugar and everything nice

Alice in Sugarland

Not that I am a crazy lover of cakes, but I like to be surrounded by cakes once in a while.

My mom has this legendary story doing the family rounds of how I, aged 6, splattered myself like a spider on the glass display of a sweet-shop and refused to disengage from the glass unless I be fed with that cake with the pink icing!

You see, I have had my "cake moments"

However, now that I am a seemingly grown-up woman, I don't go around splattering myself on glass-displays anymore but the mad glee in my eyes when I see cakes still persists. Old habits, modified, but hardly dying.

So, when I went to this Annual Cake Show that happened in St. Joseph's Auditorium last month, my eyes shone with mad glee all over again. The Cake Show was part of an exhibition that had everything: from cars to roti-makers, from solar-heating systems to salad cutters. They even had those hoop games, you know, the ones when you try to hoop numbers with rings, add those numbers and get the pre-numbered gift (My dad had bought quite a few 'gifts', the best being a wall-clock, the common being several tongue-cleaners). They also had the shoot-balloons-with-rifle game; the rifle was more like an oversized pistol in the hands of my grand-sized companion.

Well, anyway, not straying too much from the cake show, I did have my moments of gape and gasps.

The gape happened when I saw this beautiful 6" height model of a cake whose hands looked perfectly human. On second thoughts, I wondered if they purchased a mannequin and dressed it with icing.


And then I saw this joker, who despite his exterior happiness looked like it had ulterior motives... Those cold eyes... Evil, I tell you! *gasps*

Anyway, the cakes were quite nicely done, but somehow not as good as I thought it'd be, especially the central theme on Religious Unity. It was neither original, nor appealing.

What was original and definitely appealing was the guts of a wicked kid who passed through the iron bars and entered the cake arena. He then ran through the four corners of religious unity and gave security a field day. Brilliant! I was half-expecting him to bump into one of the pillars of religious unity or atleast lick the sugar off. But, well... nevermind!

Central Theme on Religious Unity
King-size cushions

My village, folks :P

It was not a bad show at all; in fact, it was quite colourful and pretty. I guess my disappointment primarily lies in the fact that I could see the cakes, and not eat. The show had only ONE stall whose cupcakes didn't appeal at all.

Anyway, a first happened: first cake-show. That's not bad at all.

So, after the quick round of the other stalls, we played a round of those hoop games and lost terribly (Kudos to dad for bringing home those tongue-cleaners!).

'Course, to see and not eat is something rather saddening. So to make a perfect ending, we went to Matteo and dug into their heavenly Tiramisu. I still say "Do you know Tiramisu is made of Ladies Finger?" when I eat one. And hence, with this, I had my "cake moment".
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