It usually begins with the packed bags.
Butterflies were waking up in my tummy as the bats screeched through the night sky. Neon lights flashed the coach number. Pretty pink!
The first stop was to be Chennai. Taxi ride to the Chennai Airport was a noisy blur. Music has always been a touchy subject for me. I needed very specific music, tuned to perfection to my moods. My playlist was full of oddities. Adelle to Anoushka Shankar. FM in Chennai was filled with- well- noise! I hate to say this. But I refrain from criticising music. Whatever form of music may that be. Everyone had the right to listen to whatever they wanted to hear. But I felt that, over the years- music has become more about being a “hit” rather than being about “music” itself. May be I am getting old... But it has been a long time since I have heard a song that has managed to “stay” with me in these recent years...
So- it happened like this. Appa wanted coffee. And I thought it would be funny to take him to Cafe Coffee Day at Chennai Airport. All those old stories about how his salary had been Rs 400/- in the 60s flashed in front of me when the person at the CCD counter said that one coffee would cost Rs 167/-. Well- it was going to be a great trip! I knew that- as we sat drinking coffee from the “Sangeethas”- Rs 40/- per cup.
I need another trip to Mumbai. This one was too short. So much has been said about the city. It had to be magical! “The City of dreams”- they call it in the movies. Unfortunately- there was not enough time! Some day- I dreamt- as we sped through the city- I would live in this city. I would go on a horse carriage ride in the night through the streets of Mumbai. I would walk to Haji Ali and feel the ocean breeze. Pigeons flapping their wings and flying up near the Gateway of India would become music. Pani puri at Chowpatty... now that dream- was no longer a dream! It came true!
After Pani Puri, Barf ka Gola (Kaala Katta- Of course!) and Pav Bhaji- at Chowpatty- we still had dinner at this Hotel “Exotica” in Thane. An aesthetically pleasing place indeed. And they had this person singing your favourite songs as you had your dinner. I personally would have preferred that the music came from some device rather than a person singing live! A musician deserves your full attention when he performs. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like the music concerts they have at weddings. A CD with instrumental music would be perfectly fine.
In future, when someone asks me- “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say ‘Pune’?”- I would reply- “Mawa cake from Kayani Bakery”. No cream. No fancy stuff. But that freshly baked- feel good- smelling as though it had soaked in some desi ghee- not to forget the smiling old man who handed over the packet- it was all – I guess- part of the process of making it- well- the Best Mawa cake ever!
When I look back- Pune had always been more about food than about the places I visited! Not to forget the home-made delicacies by my Chithi! Bakri, Chilly bhaji, Methi bhaji and what-nots! But there were also these Chikkis from Lonavla and yes- hotel Ozara. The story behind the Hotel Ozara is silly and simple. My friend had suggested I eat there. She had sent me these sufficiently motivating pictures of plates full of varieties of dishes. After we finished our sight-seeing at Lonavla- I turned on the GPS and it said that the hotel was about 5 kms away. We kept travelling for what must be around 18-20 kms and still the hotel was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately the driver was more patient than my mother who grew rather irritated with me as I kept saying 300 mts right... 600 mts straight... so on. When we finally reached the hotel- we were way past their lunch time and were almost the only people there. Still- they welcomed us in and served us! More than their food- it was their hospitality which left me impressed.
Darshan Museum, Pune. I am not a religious person and have little patience with “God-men”. My cousin who was acting as our guide around Pune too had never visited the museum before. So when the guard outside the museum said it was going to be a movie- for almost two hours about the life the mystic Swami Vaswani- I had half- the mind to leave and go visit Aga Khan Palace instead. But then we found that museum and movie was both to be seen together- we got curious and decided to stay for thirty minutes. We ended up staying there for two hours instead. Not the spiritual stuff. But the concept of the museum was very new to us! It was as though- we were watching the events in the Swami’s life happening in front of us! Holographic screens, interactive audio- visuals! A wonderful experience, indeed!
Temples somehow end up on our list of places to visit every time we take a family trip. This trip was no different. We visited Triambakeshwar and Grishneshwar temples. There were of course Sidhi Vinayak temple at Mumbai, Pune etc. Strange. When we hear about Grishneshwar temple being one of the Jyotir Linga temples- or about Kashi and the mysticism around it- there is a natural urge to experience these places. But when we actually end up visiting these temples, there is very little spirituality in them.
Ellora caves. It had been a dream. Walls that whisper the stories of the past... They say that it was all built by humans... I didn't believe it! My granny would say- "..A Gandharva came down and used a celestial Astra. A huge temple appeared full of statues and paintings this Earth had never seen before..."- Well- now that is more believable, isn't it!?
Up there- in the ceiling of the Kailasa temple- there is a sculpture of Shiva teaching Parvati to dance. He is shown- about to pull her ear for some mistake she made!
Though broken- there is a sculpture depicting a game played by Shiva and Parvati after they are married. The guide explained that Parvati had won- since the “Bhoota Ganas” belonging to Parvati’s side of the family have won something resembling a coconut (the sculpture was not very clear) and they are shown to be teasing Nandhi (the groom’s side of family).
Barely clad nymphs were depicted dancing. There were sixteen pillars and each of them had a unique design made on them! The whole temple was made as a chariot drawn by elephants.
A wall depicting the entire Ramayana story.
The other side was called the Mahabharata side of the temple. Various incarnations of Shiva and Vishnu depicted all around. Packed with tourists- there was nothing religious about the whole place. Still- the place felt far more spiritual than all the temples we visited!
Pune- Okayama Friendship garden. I hope I settle down in Pune- just to be able to walk around that place every day of my life!
A trip cannot be summed up and confined by words. As you close your eyes- you feel the green trees and fields flash across your mind.
The sunflowers looking up the sun, the gold fishes on those streams, the bridges, the fountains, pristine landscapes, tall trees, a sudden wilderness and flowers peeping through them!
They become yours and yours alone...