Tag: #dehradun

Caucasian Holiday

“Georgia?!! Where is that?!”This was my sister’s reaction when I told her we were planning a holiday there during the spring break. I was not surprised by her reaction, I had myself come to know about Georgia as a tourist destination only about three years back when the intrepid traveller, my brother-in-law travelled there for a break. The erstwhile Soviet country was an unknown, visa on arrival facility for the GCC residents, however, changed its accessibility. Suddenly it became a destination of choice for the travel agents offering attractive deals. Almost everyone in my circle of friends in Dubai has either been or are planning to visit Georgia.

Our short trip started with a short three hour, very turbulent flight from Sharjah to Tbilisi. If you are travelling in spring/winter during day-time, try and grab the window seat. You will be amazed as the barren desert landscape changes to snow-covered mountains. Driving through Tbilisi from the airport to our hotel I was struck with a sense of déjà vu. The landscape was alien yet familiar. The mountains, the trees with a hint of green from the spring buds, the flowers blooming by the road all reminded me of Dehradun. Even the children who are not the most observant remarked on the similarity of the road with the one to Dehradun.

Our hotel  Shota@Rustaveli was sandwiched between the Parliament of Georgia and the No1.Public school giving us the views and the feel for the heart of the city. The children had a good time peeking into the classrooms if the curtains were not drawn fully across the window. In a trip lasting six days we had new experiences: playing in snow; new adventures: a flat tyre on a busy highway; new trials: wine tasting; new delights: experiencing Prometheus caves. We had a crash course in the Soviet Union, Stalin and the atrocities committed by the KGB, learned chemistry by finding out how the Stalagtites and Stalagmites were formed, appreciated the differences in culture at the Ethnography museum, found out about evolution and the cousins of Homo Sapiens at the National Museum of Georgia.

We were lucky enough to visit Georgia with the spring just starting, the weather was cold but not unbearable. Snow still fell in Gadauri, the mountain resort making it a winter wonderland for us, the snow virgins. To one, who is used to the artificial snow of Ski Dubai, the mountains covered with pristine white powder were like magic. The extreme cold notwithstanding, you could play in the snow to your heart’s content or if you felt adventurous enough, you could try skiing. Most of all, however, you were in awe of the spotless white and the grandeur of the mountains. You had to acknowledge the beauty of nature at it’s best.

Georgia is one of the world’s oldest wine producing countries and thus it is no surprise that wine tasting is an integral part of a trip to Georgia. I am not a wine aficionado, but even I was impressed by Georgian wine. Wine is made throughout the country, however, the region of Kakheti is more popular with the tourists. Winemaking, in fact, has been given the UNESCO status with different varieties of wine being produced in almost the traditional way. We were lucky enough not only to tour the Kakheti region but also experienced wine-tasting at “Pheasant’s Tear” a family owned winery. Though we didn’t see the vineyards laden with grapes ( it was spring, the vines had yet to bud), the views were worth admiring. Huge green and brown vineyards, the snowcapped Caucasian mountains in the distance and the brilliant crystal blue of the sky contrasting with both. The winery was something we hadn’t experienced before. Located on a quaint steep street of Signagi, you stepped through the wooden door across its stone threshold into a restaurant/winery with exposed brickwork, tables set for lunch complete with blue table covers and flowers in jars as centrepieces. We were served a platter of bread and olive oil with a young man offering us the range of wines made by them, from a dry white to mellow reds. He also explained from which region of Georgia the grapes were sourced, so that we could appreciate the subtle differences in taste. He rounded off with a shot of Cha-Cha ( very famous, very strong), which I politely declined. I had already tried more than five different kinds of wine and had passed my threshold limit long time back! My only regret, however, maybe we could have brought back a couple of more bottles of wine. (Traveller Tip: wines bought from boutiques/family-owned wineries are more expensive than the ones from the factory, though the former have a better quality.)

Travelling through Georgia I was struck by how familiar the country felt. Georgian words for tea, sugar, cashew etc were similar to the words we use for them in Hindi. The script though new, looked Indic(in fact some of our friends also remarked on its similarity to a particular South-Indian language). The flavour of the food was also similar, Georgian cheese is salty like Halloumi but its texture is quite like paneer. A variety of beans is known as “Lobiyo“, any North-Indian will notice the familiarity with our “Lobiya” though don’t expect the same taste. Beggars are quite common, especially around the churches.If you take out your wallet for even a second be prepared to be swarmed by them! On busy highways, especially the one on the way to Bojormi there are street markets selling cane artefacts, farm produce and the ubiquitous wine, quite reminiscent of the highways of India. We even bought a sweet bread with raisins from the roadside, still warm from the oven. A walk through the main Rustaveli Avenue has outdoor cafes jostling with roadside vendors selling books, flowers, souvenirs and even freshly squeezed juice, not unlike any of the main thoroughfares of Indian cities.

Perhaps the fact which was most remarkable was that they still remember Raj Kapoor! If they recognized you as an Indian they would say  “Hindi?!Raj Kapoor!!”. Of course, after that, they would try and sell you something.

Georgia does have its own set of challenges for the tourists. The biggest challenge is the language, an English speaking guide is an asset as most people do not know/ converse in English.Though people do try to help, even ordering at McDonald’s gets to be a bit of a challenge. For vegetarians, the options are quite limited. The most common easily available dish in a Georgian restaurant is the “Khachapuri”, a Georgian bread with cheese. If, you were however like me whose palate was not impressed then potatoes and salads were your best options. We did, however, find a wonderful desi restaurant near our hotel and thus our cravings for dal roti were satisfied.

The pros however far outweigh the cons. Georgia is a wonderfully beautiful country with history and people still untouched by the idea of looting of the tourist droves. It is only a three-hour flight away from UAE and no time difference. Plus it offers something to do for all kinds of travellers, from people who want to experience natural beauty to those who are adventurous and wouldn’t mind some hiking to those who would want to just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by…….

 

Rain in the hills

It is raining cats and dogs(as the popular saying goes)in Dehradun since afternoon. As I am writing this sentence there is a loud, long grumble of thunder from the clouds and rain is drumming down on the roof making my mother increase the volume of her Television as her favorite serial comes on. The boys have missed their daily game of cricket, making them cranky. I, on the other hand, have been in a pensive mood.

(picture from unsplash.com Abhidev Vaishnav)

The sounds of thunder and the rain pattering down, the whole atmosphere is making me nostalgic for my grandparents home where I grew up. I miss my bed next to the window, where I would sit with my back resting on the wall  ( it used to be heaven in winters, snuggled in the razai). The sound of the dripping raindrops from the leaves of the frangipani tree of our neighbor. I miss the dampness of my grandmother’s room, the green of the moss growing on the mango and litchi tree.  Hating to walk under the same trees as the raindrops from the leaves would splash on you invariably getting in the collar of the school uniform making it highly uncomfortable. Finding mushrooms sprouting on the trunks and branches of the litchi tree and marveling on their toadstool shapes. Cleaning the water off from the cement seat on the roof, so that I could study outdoors and also look at the sunset.  All the creepy crawlies would come wriggling out making us avoid the kitchen garden patch, remembering to close the screen door else the rain insects would come in drawn by the light, making us swat them with rolled up newspapers. Lying awake after the lights were switched off, hearing the crickets and the jhingoors, trying to watch the jugnus flit by in the dark garden. If perchance there was a thunderstorm in the night, I would spend half the night awake, watching the zig zagging shapes of the lightning fascinated by it, a fascination that I still have. Not understanding at the time how powerful God is, to create something so beautiful and yet so awe inspiring. The alacrity of the electricity department of Dehradun in switching off the power at a single rumble from the clouds. The days when we reached sopping wet to school despite the raincoats, a hazard of going to school on the bicycle, packing our school bag with an extra layer of plastic to protect the precious books. The countless days when it used to alternately drizzle, rain and pour intermittently till you would long for the sun to come out. The brilliant blue of the sky contrasting with the white fluffiness of the clouds when the sun would finally shine; the mountains a dark, sharply etched silhouette against the horizon, the trees, a luxuriant green.

People ask me why I come to India during the rains, I reply that I come because of the rains.While most of us agree that Dehradun is no longer the sleepy town of the nineties, one thing which is still familiar is the rain. Monsoon was and still is a magical time in Dehradun. The world turns green with new growth and moss (most tenacious here, found all over, including the outer walls of the houses). It is damp, it is musty but it is very very familiar. As familiar as the fragrance of adraki chai and crispness of pakoras. It makes me long to be that young girl again, with the bed by the window, whose only worry was to reach school with dry shoes and dry books.

If music be the food of love, play on

 

This is most cliched, oft repeated sentence that can hear/read about music. It however is  absolutely true.

Music plays at important role in my life, you can call it passion even. I cannot imagine a day without listening to music. Whenever I am irritated,stressed, depressed or bored I just need to pick a book ,switch on music and all will be right in my world again. You can even know the time of the day with the type of music being played in my house. If its something religious then its early morning, radio means its not yet 10 a.m. , Adele means I am trying to get through some chores which I detest doing, old Hindi songs means its late night and I am unwinding.

To ask me to pick “a” song that means a lot to me seems like looking for a needle in a haystack. I have about three thousand songs in my iPod, more keep releasing everyday and the app “Savn” is always there for  something new.  I have songs ranging from NoorJehan to Rahul Sharma to Lana Del Ray.

All songs have a special meaning , a special feeling attached to them.

Some evoke memories of days gone by, simpler times when I used to listen to the songs played by our next door neighbor. The feeling of nostalgia when I listen to “ankhon hi ankhon main” . I feel I am transported back to our verendah in doon, the summer afternoon, the fragrance of  the garden in bloom ,the song being played by colonel uncle and me being taught by my grand father how to read. I remember the long forgotten memories of my baby sister trying to hum the song along and my grandfather and me sharing a chuckle over it. Memories of colonel uncle, a gentle soul and his lovely grand daughter , a very dear friend in those times. The regret of not holding on to a friendship , a friendship lost to distances when she moved to USA.

The song sung by my cousin so sweetly for my grandfather that I too wanted to learn it. Whenever I hear that song  the image comes to mind of her sitting on the sofa, singing , my grandfather nodding his head in appreciation and the pin drop silence in the room. I did learn the song , the tune and the lyrics but never had the courage to sing in front of everybody.

Some songs are my father’s favorites and his voice  sings along in my mind  whenever they play. They remind me of a time when he would sing along the radio while getting ready to go to work. Whenever I play those songs the distance between India and UAE seems less and I can almost feel him beside me.

There are some which are special to us , as a couple. The first song we danced on, the song which both of us love, the song which he sang for me. The compilation cassette which he made for me, the iPod (which by the way is more precious to me than all my jewelry)  which he gave me as a gift, understanding my love for music. They all hold a very special place in my heart. They bring back memories of young love, of special dinners, the joy of being in love and being happy like there was no tomorrow.

So how do you pick? Do you pick the one that inspires you or the one whose melody haunts you for a long time or the one that makes you want to get up and dance or the one that reminds of some one or some place dear?

So what will be on my list? Will it be “Take My Breath Away” for the meaning it has for both of us? Or will it be “Seasons in the Sun” for it lyrics? Will it be “I have a dream” as that was the first song I taught to my son for a competition?

No music means no karaoke nights to break the ice and having fun. No music would mean no more fights between my sons and me about what to play in the car. No music means no rush of  memories when a favorite song plays. All I know is that if there were no music  our lives would be empty and colorless.

 

My school trip

I had learnt cycling quite young and could be frequently seen cycling like a maniac to the grocery store 2 crossings away to get stuff for my mom. To my dismay though I had to wait till I was in 6th grade to start going to school on cycle, I had to manage in the auto with the auto uncle (frankly I detested going to school in an auto, too many children and not enough space to even sit properly, not to mention the hierarchy of the grades!).

Finally the day dawned lovely and clear, it was my first day of 6th grade and I was going to school on cycle all by myself!!(Of course the fact that the cycle in question was my cousin’s hand me down and already getting a little small for me was not even registered by me!!).Off I went zooming on the road, my legs pumping the pedals were full of energy and soon I could see the gates our hallowed school. Suddenly the front wheel went off the road onto the side and I tried to get back on the road.
I found myself flat on the road, I had actually maybe for the first time ever fallen from my cycle! So thus ended my first day of going to school on a cycle by visiting the infirmary and getting the dressing done.
This was by no means the last day though, I continued to go to school on cycle (even in a city like Chennai and on the main roads there). I had many more adventures, I used to go alone and sometimes with my group of friends, all of us girls chattering like magpies and cycling along. I don’t think that it is possible any more to cycle in groups of five or more and occupy the full road. In fact I don’t think it is anyway possible to cycle to school anymore, all the students now have scootys. I wonder though if they get the same thrill that I used to get when I used to cycle back home and time myself ( I have actually done it in 7 minutes!) or the sense of camaderie when one of girl’s cycle chain needed fixed and all of us would get our hands greasy and dirty(not to mention the scolding from mother for getting grease on the white uniform). The soaking in rain during monsoon when the downpour used to make raincoats redundant and there would be water in the shoes too! The wait for other people to come and pick up their cycles as they have fallen in stack and yours is of course the one at the bottom. The burn in the legs when you are pedaling furiously as you are running late for school and of course the power of scheduling when 5 girls could meet at a pre-decided time at a pre- appointed place and no mobile phones to coordinate the whole thing!

Ah the power of reminiscing, I can still feel the wind whistle in my ears as I pedal down the roads of Dalanwala!

p.s. in all my years of cycling to school my most detestable days were when I had to go with my sisters…..they were never ,ever on time!

How Green Was My Valley.

” Dehra  was a green and leafy place. The houses were separated by hedges not walls and the residential areas were crisscrossed by little lanes bordered by hibiscus or oleander bushes”.

                                                                                                             Ruskin Bond

( Friends from small places)

This was the Dehra my father grew up in. This was the Dehra I was familiar with though some walls had come up between the houses and the leafy places were getting fewer.

This is not the description of Dehra anymore. All I see around me are houses , tall palatial buildings  with their gardens hidden behind tall walls. I see cars parked on lanes because the people while building their palatial houses forgot to build garages. I see old canal on E.C. road covered to widen the road, but still no place for the people to walk.

In the Dehra I grew up in I could see the mountain from the rooftop of our modest one storey high house. I could see whether it had snowed in Mussorie or not. I saw spectacular sunsets in which hues of orange,yellow ,blue ,gray all blended together. Now from my rooftop I am lucky if I catch a glimpse of the mountains, sunset…..have yet to see one.

People say it is the march of time, the town has to progress , infrastructure needs to be provided to people. Seems to me that progress has somehow become synonymous with cutting down trees to build luxury apartments affordable to a select few (beware if you are planning to invest in any,Dehra is in high seismic zone) . Progress seems to mean more vehicles on the road so that you are barely able to walk ( or cycle!). Progress seems to mean garbage all over the city , even in the river beds, choking them. Why cant progress go side by side with nature? Why if some trees are cut down for a road and equal or a greater number of trees planted to compensate for that? Why cant affordable ecofriendly houses be built which blend in rather than stick out like sore thumbs.

While I was writing this a bird perched on the wire high above our house started warbling. It’s lilting music made me realize that maybe all is not lost still. There is still some hope as long as the birds sing.

If only the people would stop and listen to their music