Oh, what shall I update on thee, Thotprocess!

Seriously, I have no clue. All I know is if I don’t update, then the sky will fall on my head and crush me – thereby ending my life (rather, what’s left of it). Although I can show you atleast a 1000 people who would gladly have it that way, I still am important to this bunch of folks called family and friends. For their sake, I shall update this blog.

Easier said than done. So I use some photos to ‘inspire’ meself. What photos? Ofcourse the ones I took when I went to UK! Duh, don’t you know me at all?!!

In no particular order –

Whitby Abbey, England
Whitby Abbey, England

This one’s the spooky abbey at Whitby, England. Remember Whitby? The place in England were Count Dracula landed? No? You didn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Shame on you. Go away.

Next one is something we read about in textbooks. Say hello to the Prime Meridian of the world, at Greenwich, England –

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It’s found at the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich which true to what I read in my textbooks, is a small village type place with cobbled streets and little cafes and a big McDonalds right outside the tube station (Cutty Sark, if you wondered). They also have a maritime museum there and it was pretty awesome to see how maritime navigation and the equipments have evolved over time. Pity I wasn’t the sea-faring kind of person.

Next in the list of inspiring photos is the Diana-Dodi Memorial in London.  With the wine glass that she used and the diamond ring that he gave to her. Who would dare build a memorial linking the late Princess to Dodi Al-Fayed, that too in London?

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Dodi Al-Fayed’s dad, ofcourse. It helps if you’re filthy rich and own Harrods by the way. Again, pity I wasn’t the shopaholic kind of person. Neither was I rolling in money. So I just convinced myself that Harrods was actually a museum that shows how rich people live and what sort of linen and cutlery and fancy items they own. Helped.

Up next, Trafalgar Square, London. With the frozen fountain.

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This photo me took. Yay me. (One of the few times one was trusted with the brand new camera by the camera’s custodian and sworn protector.)

And so we bid adieu to England and enter Scotland. Oh, did I not mention I’d been to Scotland? 🙂

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The photo above is a view of Edinburgh city from the Edinburgh castle. Fantastically beautiful place, Scotland is. And the people were such a nice bunch (after the stiff-as-cardboard English peeps) and full of humor – their sole aim in life seemed to be having maximum fun with maximum scotch whiskey. Good aim in life, I should say.

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Above photo me took! View from cannon hole of the castle.

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We took a tour to the Scottish Highlands (the mountains to the north) and the journey was amazing. The rolling moutains, some with snowy caps and the famous Highland cows! (The Scots call it ‘Haidy Coo’ – for hairy cow). One of a kind trip – don’t ever pass up on it if you get a chance. Totally worth visiting.

And now for the very famous, Loch Ness. Loch is Scottish for Lake and Ness is the name of the lake. The monster living in this lake, therefore, is Nessie! How cute. (Picture below taken on a cruise on Loch Ness, trying to spot Nessie). There’s also a Loch Oich (the ‘ch’ is pronounced as ‘kh’, with a German-y twist to it) and the monster in this one is Oichy! Weirdly enough, there’s also Loch Lochy which in English would be Lake Lakey! (Info courtesy our tour guide.)

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They have lots of other lakes, all the way up to Inverness. The tour guide (also our bus driver) was this really fun guy, 100% Scottish and full of that typical Scottish perspective on anything in life and I think one of the reasons why that trip ended up being so good was because of his commentary. His knowledge of Scottish history was astounding and thoroughly interesting. You gotta be there to believe it!

And now we say tata to the UK and enter France! Well, it’s just Paris actually and this small village on the outskirts called Avon Fontainebleau – but hey, I’ve been to France now, so I’ll just say France, thank you very much.

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Pardon the picture quality, but it was taken from a moving cruise-boat on the Seine during those 10 minutes when the Eiffel is all glittery glitter. Happens every top of the hour apparently and we were fortunate enough to catch it when we were very near it.

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Like all tourists, we went up to the first and second landings on the tower for the absolutely picturesque view from the top. And the top-most landing (upto which tourists are allowed) has this information deck that points out the landmarks one is looking at in that direction, and the distance to the cities that come in our line of sight. How could I miss Hyderabad! Also note how Chennai is Madras and not Chennai 🙂

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Up next is Basilique du Sacré-Cœur du Montmarte, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmarte. Beautiful church, very traditional service (it was all French and we still sang along! Go figure) and well, beyond description actually. Worth the long ride on the tube from the city hub to this place.

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On the way back from the basilica, we took a quick trip to what seemed to be a ultra-decorated shopping mall. Galeries Lafayette. The Harrods of Paris, in my opinion. My jaw dropped at the huge christmas tree in the centre of the mall – all of 4 stories high with the most christmasy decorations!

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As always we couldn’t buy a thing ‘coz it was all so darn expensive. Well, another museum about the rich and famous, me thought.

Before we went around the usual tourist-y places in Paris, we did a quick run on Avon Fontainebleau to check out the castle used by the French kings and even Napolean. Huuuuuge castle, FYI!

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Took us hours to get through all the rooms which they have maintained with all the royal furniture and furnishings so one can get a feel of royal life! The tapestries were of silk and the ceilings were embellished in gold. No wonder everyone wants to be a king!

Back to Paris and back to the big guns – Musee du Louvre (Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa and Mona Lisa), Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris and ofcourse, Champs Elysees by night!

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The Notre Dame cathedral –

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And finally, the Champs Elysees –

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Then and Now

A month back when I was in London, I yearned for a snowfall – well, mostly ‘coz I’ve never seen one (sad, I know – but I’m a South Indian, the only ice I see is in the freezer of my refrigerator). But no, the weather gods were not so merciful and gave me nice & sunny days (much to the joy of the locals who’ll do anything for a sunny day). So it used to be like this –

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And you know what’s happening now? No? Well, the worst snow storm in 18 years, that’s what! So this is what it looks like now and I’m here in Hyderabad thinking why the heck I’m not there in London. Or why the heck doesn’t it snow like this in Hyderabad. Give me one good reason why and I don’t want the Equator and closer to the Sun crap, I need a better reason. Give.

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WTH!

On bridges and ferris wheels

[Date: 15 December, 2008]

Back to my tryst with London! Now before reading further, please know that this travelogue is more for me as a record of my travel than for the general public as a tour-guide of London. So if you see me gushing over silly things – well, that’s ‘coz they are the things that I’d like to be reminded of when I read these posts in, say, 10 years (by which time I think WordPress will cease to be a free-service!). If you have wandered here looking for information on London, I would suggest you check on some travel sites ‘coz this blog here is about Me, Me and Other Me.

Right, so I’ve been here a week now and the open-mouthed wonderous moments still happen. Last night it happened when I saw this house decorated for Christmas, with the fairy lights and tree and a huge Santa Claus. The other European city that I’ve been to during Christmas season was Rome and I definitely felt more cheer in the air there than I feel here.  I don’t know why!

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London Eye, view from the Thames cruise

Sunday saw us at the Tower Hill tube station, getting ready to start the tour of the big places, ie. Tower bridge, London bridge and London Eye. It was freezing, as usual but the excitement at finally seeing all the monuments one hears about was a huge help in overcoming the cold. We had a light snack of Fish n Chips (‘coz I wanted traditional English stuff!) and an almond croissant (heaven, to say the least) and set sail on a ferry that would take us on a cruise on the Thames. All the window seats on the ferry inside were taken, so we did the next best stupid thing – go to the roof, the open air seating area. The fact that the seats were made of metal and were wet didn’t help much with my already frozen backside. But the human body can do wonders if the mind really wants it to. So there we were, on the ferry, taking in the sites and clicking the occasional photos. There was one point during the cruise were one could see all 3 structures – London Eye, Big Ben and the Parliament House-Westminster Abbey – in the same frame – stupendous beyond reasonable levels!

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London skyline view, from the Eye

We got off at the London Eye  pier and got tickets for the 30 min ride on the giant ferris wheel. There was also an offer going on where we could get tickets for Madame Tussaud’s at a discounted price if we bought them along with the tickets to the Eye – the tickets were valid for a month and we could visit Tussaud’s anytime. Wonderful – one stone, two mangoes types! Apparently, such offers are usually available for most sight-seeing places and is a good save on time and money.

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Big Ben and the Parliament house, day view from the Eye

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Night view of Big Ben and the Parliament houses

The London Eye. Hmm, where do I begin! We did this first before seeing anything else in London,  so it became like a preview for the rest of London. And guess what? We were there by around 5pm, so lucky us, our way up the wheel was a daytime view of the city and by the time we reached the top and began the descent, night had fallen and we got a night view of the city! Who would’ve thunk!! A teensy weensy tip to keep in mind. The view from the wheel was mind-blowing as expected. At one point, we had a distant view of a triangular shaped object and we actually thought that was the Eiffel Tower. We still don’t know what it was.  Yeah well, like it matters.

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Thames, view from the Eye

Once the trip on the wheel got over, we wandered around the area and it was like some carnival going on. Lots of shops selling trinkets, souvenirs and most importantly, food! Dutch mini-pancakes (with Nutella!!), pretzels, mulled wine, lots of German stuff (read pork, beef, etc. so we didn’t look that side much) and candies of all shapes, sizes and colors. A small note of caution: most often than not, candies don’t taste as good as they look, so watch out.  Safer bet would be to pick up chocolate colored ones and stay away from yellows and whites (well, my experience – both the colors tasted like crap).

Since it’s winter now, its fully dark by around 6pm and gets terribly cold. So we trundled to the nearest Tube station (I forget which) and took our train back home (yep, home it was!). We had dinner at this little Srilankan place called Hopper Hut and it was amazing – tapioca, chicken, fish, ridge-gourd curry, cashew-peas curry – divine for a palate that hadn’t had much of Asian food the last few days. I know it’s sounds weird when I say I came all this way to London and I still ate Indian food, but you know what? Once in a while, one does get sick and tired of croissants, donuts and muffins. And pancakes, toast and eggs.  Really, nothing like good ol’ rice and curd with a good pickle on the side.

Home was warm and cozy and I realized how the phrase ‘warmth of home and hearth’ came into being – no big deal in Souht India perhaps since most times home is cooler than outside, but here? Oh here, home is warm and homey!

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View from the kitchen window of our apartment

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View of the backyard from the bedroom window

And the moment I took off my shoes, I realized my feet were numb from the cold (this, inspite of woolen socks and a good robust pair of Reeboks). And as the numbness starting going off, the pains started! Now would be a good time to mention that I’m not much of a walking person in India, so all the walking here took its toll looks like. But hey, the good news? One gets used to it and learns to ignore the pain and keep walkin!

Next post, Paris!

Frozen food and frozen self

When my husband told me that it’s always overcast and/or drizzling rain in London, I thought he was exaggerating. Well, it wasn’t exaggeration people. It IS always overcast, if not raining. Of the time I’ve spent here, I can count the number of times I saw the blue of the sky or seen the sunlight hit the rooftops. Ohmygod, it’s such a gloom-fest weatherwise! Oh, the number of times I saw sunlight so far? Twice. In 4 days.

But enough cribbing about the weather. I think one gets used to it in a while and learns to ignore it and also make the most of it when it isn’t raining. So, here I am! In London.  So far, it’s been absolutely amazing. This is my first time in the UK and I kinda like it. It’s cold, yes, but if you have around 4 or 5 layers of warm clothes on you, you’re all set.

My most unforgettable experience so far has been the Underground rail transport system. Oh. My. God. If I can get even 50% of this kind of service in Hyderabad, I’ll kiss my car goodbye. The Tube is so awesome, it’s close to infallible! Ofcourse, if one hasn’t been here a while it’s a wee bit of a challenge to get to know the lines and the directions but it’s easy after the initial few mistakes. Like any first-timer in the Tube, my eyes never left the map on the walls of the train – what station is next, how many more stops to ‘our’ station, repeating the station name after the announcer – you’d think I was 8 going on my first train trip! If it weren’t for the fact that my husband actually found my behavior amusing, he would’ve downright asked me shut the hell up. Well, I don’t care anyway. I’m a pro now at navigating the Tube, hah! But if I were you, I wouldn’t bet my life on it though.

Since I’m a tourist here (though the spouse is here on work), we did typical tourist-y things so far. Which interestingly enough included a 3 hour stop at the neighborhood 24/7 supermarket, Asda. 3 hours, I kid you not. I felt like a kid at Disneyland, for cryin’ out loud! It was mind-bogglingly out of this world! After buying every frozen food known to mankind (since the kitchen setup in the apartment is virtually non-existent, and the only thing we used was the microwave), we trundled home laden with my loot. Life never felt better.

Though most things about this trip have been absolutely spiffing (yes yes, one is practising the ‘other’ English just for the heck of it), one thing I don’t like so much is the getting-ready-to-go-out bit. I have one set of going-out clothes and thermal wear on, a sweater on top, a woolen stole around my neck, a pair of gloves and then the rough-n-tough woolen jacket. And then the monkey-cap-thingie. And my trusted chapstick and ear-plugs. And the woollen socks and shoes (goodbye to the times of wearing the first pair of sandals you see and walking out the door in India). The worst part? Inspite of all this, I’m a frozen block of ice by the time we reach the Tube station, a mere 5 minute walk from the apartment. So much for wearing protective gear against the cold. What nonsense!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the London Eye. And how I was on the verge of hypothermia sitting on the open terrace of the ferry that took us on a Thames cruise. Interesting it was, not to mention freezing. I lived to tell the tale, evidently.

The Queen says hello

The weather is as gloomy as it can get. Rain is in the offing. It has been for the last 2 days, and maybe it does rain at night – I wouldn’t know. It’s been 2 days since I saw the Sun, 2 whole days since the touch of sunshine on the barren trees and autumn-hinged bushes.  The sun, here, is just an entity that must exist somewhere above for there is a day and a night and that’s pretty much it. One doesn’t have to see the sun to know it’s there!

I see the housetops from my room and it looks like it’s taken straight out of a fairy tale, perhaps it’s made of gingerbread! It’s 7 in the morning and the street lights are still on for it’s still too dark to be morning. I can’t see past my neighbour’s house, the fog is everywhere! The little courtyard with the defunct fountain has a thin layer of mist dancing on it. I can see a bird flopping down beside the fountain, on the green lawn and I wonder what bird it is. It looks like a mynah, with its yellow little beak and the urgent skips and hops, but I’m no ornithologist!

See, the thing is, I don’t know what bird it is. Just like I don’t know what tree it is that’s still green while the rest around it are brown. I don’t know what bush it is that’s pale golden and rusty brown, or what car it is that’s parked right by my window.  I can’t say what time it is just by looking outside!

I don’t know ‘coz I’m not at home. This place, this isn’t home. But if home is where the heart is, then yes, this is home for now. For the next one month.

London. Of the Bridge, the Eye and the Big Ben. Of royalty and chivalry. Of suppers and teas, of cucumber sandwiches and fish ‘n chips. As old as an Empire that once ruled the world, as modern as the most used most stupendous system of rail transportation that I have ever known.

Thereby hangs another travelogue…

And, oh, I went by Buckingham Palace and the Queen says hello!

Travelogue – 2

Travelogue Part 1 – Darjeeling

(Long post ahead – proof that I’m the biggest chatterbox you ever had the misfortune to read)

The 4 hour drive from Darjeeling to Gangtok was awesome beyond words. Like I’ve mentioned somewhere before, the color of an unpolluted stream of water surrounded by green valleys is, indeed, aquamarine. The Teesta starts its journey from some glacier up in the Himalayas (or so I think, my laziness reached new heights of late so it prevents me from even googling or Wiki-ing this piece of information – beg your pardons!) and keeps us company all the way up to Gangtok.

Aquamarine Teesta!

Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim. Remember how we used to falter when we had to mug up the state capitals of the North-eastern states? Tripura-Agartala, Nagaland-Kohima? I forgot Manipur, sorry. Anyway, Sikkim shares its borders with 3 other countries – China, Bhutan and Nepal (Tibet is part of China, you see), so the Indian Army is omnipresent. It has 4 districts – North, South, East and West – and the reason I know this is thanks to our taxi-driver-cum-tourist-guide, Lama. I was so appalled with myself when I didn’t even know what language they speak in Gangtok that I asked even the most silliest of questions (like what do you guys eat?) to know more about their culture and life. Oh, most people speak Nepali by the way and the staple food is rice and noodle-like things. And no, there is no language called Sikkimese.

We stayed at the Royal Plaza in Gangtok – and we got a room with a view! True star-hotel standards including the expensive food and no seperate non-smokers dining area (which I feel is a horrible horrible thing ‘coz I cannot stand cigarette smoke).

Room at Royal Plaza, Gangtok

The view from our room was absolutely amazing. We could see the tiny brook (Teesta, again) flowing between two valleys and also the cable car between two hills.

View from our room, and the tiny brook is the Teesta

We took the 20 minute cable car ride, mostly over part of the valley and a busy city street. Not as scenic as the rides would be in Darjeeling (which they have now discontinued), but for a first-timer like me, it was still neat. I told you it was a trip with lots of first-times!

Cable car ride over Gangtok!

There are two main tourist spots that are must-see when we come to Gangtok – Changu Lake and Nathula Pass. Changu Lake is at a height of around 13000ft above sea level. It’s a beautiful lake surrounded by snow-clad mountains and during peak winter, the entire lake freezes over. 2kms upward from Changu is a place called Baba Mandir. Now, don’t mistake it for a religious place – it’s nothing like that, it’s also totally bizarre and in a way, spooky. The temple is dedicated to an army officer who died sometime around the Indo-China war in the 70s and who’s spirit (yep, spirit – ghost – atma – whatever you wanna call it!) still guards the regions surrounding the Indo-China border. He still gets his pay from the Indian Army, he goes on vacation for 3 months in a year, there’s an Army jeep that picks him up at his home everyday and drops him at his post and brings him back in the evening. And no, he is not alive!!!! Well, when our driver told us this story for a minute my husband and I looked at each other not knowing if this person was indeed dead or alive!

Baba Mandir

The biggest, most awesome part of this entire vacation was…SNOW!! Ok, for all you folks who live in places where snowfall is as common as sunshine, well, not so for me. I live in South India where even rainfall is a big deal. So, ladies and gentlemen, I have now officially touched snow. Yeah, took me this long, I know. There was snow around Changu lake and Baba Mandir was entirely covered in snow, rather ice ‘coz the snow had melted and frozen back! That kinda made it too hard to play with, so my plans to build a snowman a-la Calvin unfortunately did not materialize! 😦 Well, there’s always a next time.

Snow clad mountains – the lake on the right side is Changu

Apart from the usual parks (and a greenhouse!) and view points (Tashi view point – for a view of the Kanchenjunga), the other highlight of Gangtok is the Buddhist monastaries. There are two main monasteries – Rhumtek and Lingdum. The former is the biggest in terms of number of monks and the latter was gifted by Jackie Chan! Nice, no? Now, our taxi driver also told us a lot about Buddhism and how the monasteries work. Did you know that every Buddhist family has to – has to – send one male child to the monastery to be a monk? Yeah, it’s not like how it is in Christianity – its not voluntary. The children are as young as 3 or 4 yrs old when they are sent. Also, when an elderly person dies in the family, the family then has to go to a monastery and bring back a child monk and pay for his upkeep and studies. I guess it brings about a whole of community-dwelling kind of feeling in this religion.

Rhumtek Monastery, Gangtok

Lingdum Monastery was bigger in size than Rhumtek and the surroundings were more newer. The monasteries get their funds from the Govt. for their day-to-day affairs and also as donations from patrons. They contain the prayer halls, classrooms, living quarters and cafeterias for the monks. It was a very englightening experience to see a different culture and religion that we only hear about!

Lingdum Monastery – the monks were doing a kind of dance to the accompaniment of music!

We spent 4 days in Gangtok and that was more than enough – we even had a day off where we didn’t do much of sight seeing. The weather was very very pleasant (as in not bone-chilling-cold) and the city was really nice. Hey, did I mention we watched Dhoom – 2 there?! Yay, we did! There are 2 movie theatres (only) in Gangtok, and one belongs to Danny Denzongpa! Our taxi driver was really sad that Sikkim’s only claim to fame were Danny Denzongpa and Bhaichung Bhutia (who unforunately was ‘bought’ over by Bengal!).

So 4 days in Gangtok, and we were back down to Bhagdogra and then to Calcutta. I wanted to keep this for last – Calcutta is the most polluted city I’ve ever been to! No offence to any Calcuttans, I’ll never go back to the city if I could help it. It was so dirty, so polluted, the buildings haven’t seen a coat of fresh paint in decades and everything was covered in dust!! To make it up to ourselves, we indulged by going to Saurav Ganguly’s restaurant, Saurav’s, in Park Street. Dada was busy with his Ranji Trophy, so we didn’t see him 😦 The restaurant was nice – spread across 4 floors, each for Indian, Chinese, Conti and a Pub-Dance-floor. Only highlight of Calcutta – apart from a visit to Victoria Palace ofcourse.

Dada’s picture at the entrance of Saurav’s

Phew, long post, wasn’t it? Don’t be sad, it’s over finally! 🙂

So that sums up our week long trip to Darjeeling and Gangtok. We went during the off-season, so it was a bit colder than pleasant. The peak season is around April-June and then Sep-Oct. But if you need snow, you better be here in winter!

Amazing places, totally worth the time and money spent! It’s only when you go on trips like this that you realize that our country has soooooo many different cultures and climates all packed into one compact country called India!