Exotic Jaisalmer- the golden fort

“Sonar Killa” is a Hindi word for the golden fort, describes the beauty of this majestic site in the northwestern part of India. Jaisalmer meaning ‘the hill fort of Jaisal’ was once home to the Rajputs – a tribe of traders and warriors.
Located amidst the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer fort was built in 1156 AD by the King Rawal Jaisal.
While France awed the world with Romanesque, Gothic architecture and had begun the construction of the renowned Notre Dame cathedral; the Rajputs created this extraordinary fort with high tower, elaborate turrets, temples and palace filled with Hindu and Jain sculptures, a cultural localization. Rising close to twenty-five floors from the desert floor, the tall fort walls built with yellow sand-stone shimmer a lovely honey gold at sundown.
Apart from the golden fort, the city is famous for its mesmerizing “haveli” or mansions that once housed the royal families in town. The beauty of this place is its ancient yet culturally outstanding architecture. The gates carved from rosewood, pillars containing beautiful dance poses, arches and gazebos bear elaborate sculpted details of flowers, chariot wheels and other rich Indian designs, which shows a significant part of history in itself. This place narrates the remains of its royal past and a glimpse of life in an unspoken medieval era. After all, ‘banjaras’ – the gypsy tribe originated here, later migrated Europe and suffered genocide.
Legends state that this site was chosen on the advice of a Hindu sage, for its golden glow of the desert, forming a perfect camouflage to protect the city’s accumulated wealth against the invaders. Situated on crossroads of business and trade routes, the kingdom flourished by levying taxes on the merchants, travelling between Persia, Egypt and India. The Rajputs stayed independent for centuries, until Mughals invaded the city, yet maintained a good relationship. The kingdom, later faced a major recession, during the British rule due to upcoming coastal regions in south India, that were the East India Company’s vantage points.
Jaisalmer is the last of living forts in India, inhabited by more than 2000 families and thriving even today. The city had its first boost of tourist back in 70’s, after being featured in an Indian cinema. Despite the extreme climatic and peculiar travel conditions, this place remains one of the most visited tourist destination and famous showplace for celebrity weddings and events.
My trip to Jaisalmer with my family was one of the most memorable and exotic vacations. We flew into Ahmedabad and planned a road trip for the rest of our way into Rajasthan. We were welcomed by a few drought struck villages with endless barren landscape of cracked clay beds and vast emptiness; the essence of this place sure comes in small and surprising doses. One after the other, the emotions evoked by this landscape was out of the world for someone from the tropical southern India. Late afternoon, the day was blazing hot, when the dunes appeared at a distance, the air-filled with excitement, for it was my first trip to a desert. Longing to feel the warmth of the sand against our feet while we watch the sunset, we took the camel safari (A must-do in Jaisalmer). After a short, bumpy, and thrilling camel ride deep into the desert, here we were at the desert national forest.
Wind blowing over the ocean of sand hills reshaped the dunes constantly.  Walking on the sand was an exciting challenge; we played and rolled down the steeps of a nature-made playground in fairy-tale proportions. Tired and exhausted, we gazed the never-ending desert while the colors of earth and sky changed during Sunset in the horizon.
The sound of melodious chiraka’s music in the air, with a view of local folk artists dancing and entertaining at a distance made it a fabulous evening.
A silhouette of camel ridden by men wearing turbans, walking on the sand dunes and against the crimson red-blue twilight at the background was a treat to our eyes.
Our evening ended with a grand dance show by the local woman wearing “ghagras”- colorful swirling skirts, luscious local cuisine as we sat around the warmth of a bon fire while the desert temperature dropped drastically. A camp out on the dunes on that cold December night watching the sky lit by arrays of sparkling stars seemed dreamy. With a genie and flying carpet, the whole experience was almost like a sleepover at the Agrabah, a Disney creation.
Next morning, we unveiled the beauty of golden fort, walked around the oldest inhabited citadel, took a boat ride in Gadisar Lake to better reach the pavilions in the water-body and visited two famous ‘havelis’. While we explore the labyrinth of narrow streets, I realized a striking aspect of this fort city. The place is frozen in time, soaked in art and culture that has been the very definition of this place.  The walls were filled with hand crafted cloth dolls, carved wall hangings, silk patchwork quilt bejeweled with stones and mirror work, vibrant rugs and unique home décor items. Not just the streets, the local vendors too staged themselves as actors that lived in the past, dressed in turbans made of tie-dye and yellow scarf and ancient attires.
Several photo worthy moments admiring the brilliant life-style and I walk past the four corners in the bazaar, when a young girl approached asking, “Would you buy some bangles?” Her kohl-lined eyes sparkled in eagerness, when she handed over a dozen mirrored red bangles from her tray. Too hard to resist this wearable souvenir, I purchased it to make both of us happy.
Are the ancient forts and palaces just a mere remain of the flourished past? Or may be a lesson from ancestors, a window into the primitive art, life and culture? Don’t you wonder?
Originally written for  Featuring Magazine and published in issue 2.
featuring_magazine

Canyons of Utah – Zion

UtahZiCertain things that happen in our lives are impressionable, memories of our road trip to Utah was one such thing. We were out for the thanksgiving holiday and  this was our first landing-place all the way from California. Zion, Bryce and Death Valley, a national park tour with an overload of surreal landscape and nature.
Rated the top national park in US, Zion Canyon is nature’s sculpture with deep sandstone walls carved by water and wind. The park offer endless options of hiking and canyoning for all difficultly level.

Riverside trail

Our day started with one of the easiest trail, yet an enchanting one. Zion was oozing autumn with crisp orange foliage against dark tree bark, gleaming golden in  sunlight. Our footsteps crushing leaves and the sound of river racing down was truly vivid on that silent morning, where the 4 of us were the only people deep in the valley.

river walk

Canyon overlook trail

Cutting the river-walk trail short after our reluctance to cross the ice-cold waters to head to narrows, we went to our next stop, Canyon overlook trail. This is a steep one but all worth it, you see, for it offers the valley view. One of the top things to do in one-day visit to Zion, I would say.

Canyon overlook trail

Way to Emerald Pool 

After about half a day in the park, we grabbed a bite and headed to emerald pool hiking trail. Although the water fall was not as expected around that time of the year, the trail is an interesting one. The rocky skull face narrows, slippery path caving into the mountain wall and waterfall trickling from above, made it enthralling and photo-worthy.
Narrows

Narrows

At the lower emerald pool, a drizzling stream of water creates this deep green rock that looks like precious stone. Thanks to my Leica camera for capturing all the beautiful colors, some of us were disappointed with a thin shower-like falls and the overhyped algae on rocks promoted as emerald pool.
Emerald pool

Emerald pool

One full day in the park, we were able to cover about 3 easy trails and spent some time at the community center. The true beauty of Zion is unravelled after hiking miles inside the canyon. It’s definitely a place that needs at least a week-long stay but for a lazy tourist like me who like to pose for photos and click a few, this was just perfect!

What your friends didn’t tell you about Goa

Sunglass,  Flip flops, Summer hat,  Floral tops and my “twisted pink” nail color! Packed and ready, on a mid-week morning, I grabbed my back-pack along with my laptop bag and headed out to work.
Oh! Dont be jealous now, this ain’t a post about my cool new Goan beach job as a snorkeling instructor. I’m just gonna catch a bus to Goa after the 9-5 grind. Yay!!!
Ask a teen or a 20 something and you will hear…” GOA means “Masti” ! Its party time, this beach vacation is all about fun.

               The Sun and the sand, with a drink in my hand, 

                                                                 No shirt, No shoes, but a tattoo on my arm!

The town shows a different face to different people, I’ve been to Goa over 8 times and experienced it newly every time. There is lets-go-beach-hopping Goa, Goan church architecture,  Goa for watersport adventure,  Tirth-yatra-temples tour and the ironic “I-hate-fish” vegetarian family trip to Goa in 90s.
You could just endup beach hopping with a buzz throughout your trip and return with a major hangover. Steering clear from the tourist-y hustle bustle, this time I had other plans. Discovering the quieter part and be with the one person I love the most, “Myself” 🙂

GOA 2012-002

Solo Travel …. Have you ever done that?
Up to this point, I used to think that people who travel alone are lonely introverts.  It puzzled me, but things change, people change. Or may be I just grew up a little more….Bold enough to explore the world alone and gather not-to-be-forgotten life experiences.
So, I’m just gonna…. Take a bus, hit the beach, listen to music and gawk at people (or dogs)
Two days before the trip, I logged online for travel deals. Of course! everything was sold out…  With long weekend just around the corder,  I found the only seat left in a sleeper bus from Bangalore to Goa.

GOA 2012-001

Now the accommodation…. Something I was very selective about on this trip. An affordable, beach accessible and mainly a safe place to stay.
While I browse online for last minute deals, I stumbled upon Cuponation – India’s largest online coupon portal. I usually find it hard to use a consolidator website but the user interface with Top-20 section on this site made this a cake walk. Reserved a stay with a half off coupon at Whispering Woods by the Verda, a 3-star resort with pool to lounge.
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Hangin’out at the calm shores of Anjunas, Tantra hut was my spot to watch the sunset and crimson glow of the beach sands. Soon I realized that solo travelers are never lonely, you will find a companion,  be it a beach or a local commute. A shack owner sharing stories of an evening with high tide at the beach , or an age old hair braider who saw the city change within a decade…..And sometimes,  its fascinating how people trust stranger with their personal stories too.

GOA 2012

Talking about history, reminds me of my last stop before nightfall. Situated in the heart of hippie town, the “original” German Bakery. Mellow music, low lying seats, this place served a scrumptious dinner for vegetarian traveler like me who like the enjoy a picturesque ambiance and friendly crowd.
Next day, I took a local bus to South goa, making more memories to share. Travelling alone in India is usually belived to be a dicey but this trip proved otherwise. To stay connected and assure my family, I tweeted all along under #iTravelSolo.
If you are looking for answers in life, just be with yourself. I found mine, you may find your answer within yourself too….

How to enjoy your day trips in India?

Emotions are merely a reflection of our inner self. We, human see what we want to see…. Perception is everything! Sounds philosophical and its so not what I usually write about here, but its true… and I realized it lately. 
Being back in Bangalore after three years, we decided to see some places. Its early monsoon in southern part of India. Hiking trails are wet  and risky but the non-perennial rivers and waterfalls are not yet overflowing. Temple and museum are not our first choice either. Our best bet? Plan short day trips to nearby destination, but they activities ended soon. Away from the traffic and urban commotion, we often found ourselves amidst the calm villages and these are a few things I would like to do:
Watching butterflies in flower field
On our way to Shivanasamudra waterfall, we stopped by this gorgeous marigold field. The local farmers harvest the arrays of plants and we watched them pluck those flower in bloom. While I enter the flower field a pair of happy butterflies caught my attention. 
Marigold butterfly
Train spotting under the tamarind tree
The best part of being back home in India is the luxury of stopping our car anywhere off-road. And so we did halt under this (Puliyamaram) tamarind tree, to watch a passenger train pass by. 
Village hut and train
Picking mangoes from a roadside farm
Oooo… Mangoes! Raw, sweet and sour, crisp and tasty! I missed you guys so much out there in US! Summer ends by June here in India and so does the season for mangoes. Luckily, we arrived just in time to relish the raw or ripe mangoes this season 
To hard to resist, we stopped at a farm that was harvesting and asked if we could pick some mangoes and buy it. Unlike the cherry picking and strawberry picking farms in northern California and other parts of US, if you are an Indian you would know that farm guards usually drive people away from the fruit farms. These farmers happily gave us a bunch of handpicked mangoes. 
Mango picking
Walking the narrow paths of a paddy field
Living in a cosmopolitan city like Chennai or Bangalore, it ain’t hard to find the brand I want or the cheese I eat. But India, as you may know, is an agricultural country. If you drive a 100 miles from a well-developed area you will find endless farm land, small towns and villages. It remains unchanged, just the same as it was, for ages now! But its beautiful, acres and acres of land covered with fresh green plants.
The next stop…. A rice farm, walking through the narrow paths that separated the field was a challenge but we enjoyed it anyways. After all how often would you get a chance to do this.
Paddy field
Finding lone trees & strange rocks
This is just another activity that one may love while on a road trip. Finding strange rock formations and lone trees like this one at the edge of a cliff, carved by the river flowing below.  
Lone tree
Strange rocks
End of the day, anywhere you go in the world, you just need to have an open mind to enjoy the local flavor of the place you visit. This is not the first time I’m visiting these small time place, nor is the best time suggested. But I must say, being with my family and curiosity made these trips a rocking one!!!  Share your unusual trip story too…

Mother nature’s color palette – Utah

Red, Blue and Green with a dash of snow and Sunlight… Mother nature at work!
Defined by its beautiful landscapes, Utah is situated in the western America.
Wait…. why sound serious!? I’m talking about an awesome trip… to so-called “canyon” which is a range of strange structures and frightening figures. hmm… Something about the snow, water and the temperature forms the hoodoos. (eh…looked it up on wiki)
Wondering if it’s a photo or a painting? Vibrant hues of nature, captured at the right time of the day with my super awesome Leica. Okay! so here’s the story.
Nature's color palette

Nature’s color palette

 Almost a year ago but the memories of my trip to Utah is still afresh. A perfect road trip was planned with another like-minded couple like us and we arrived at this strangest little town call Hurricane. May be its the name or just the way this town was located amidst vast emptiness, halting here overnight was quite an experience. 
Hoodoos in snow

Hoodoos in snow

A fresh start, the next morning, we visited the Zion canyon for day hikes to emerald pool and other secluded places were a glimpse of the movie 128 hours. Viewing vacation photos of Utah on our friends Facebook, listening to how they rave about the Bryce, just build more tension and exception in my mind.
Honey gold sunshine

Honey gold sunshine

…and yeah! I was so not disappointed. You can stand by the canyon for hours together watching no form of life or activity yet you wont get enough of the beauty of this place.
Later that night, while we drove back from Bryce canyon, I happen to glance the sky. To my surprise, I could see a million stars!  No kidding…When my husband and friends realized this,  we stopped the car at a safe spot somewhere off the road for sky watching.
Sunset at Bryce

Sunset at Bryce

Wow… vast emptiness, pitch dark  moonless night and we could actually see a part of our Milky way galaxy with our naked eyes. Shooting stars… Spotted  meteoroids with the  help of iphone sky-map geek squad. Oh… What an experience!  
Uninformed, unplanned and spontaneous… that’s just how life should be..Right? As for us, this incident  made our night and this trip more romantic 🙂 

Cherry blossom and crochet earrings tutorial

Ahh… What a relief??? All those jackets, scarves and shoes, its time to go back in! While the rest of the world is busy spring cleaning, we couldn’t stay home any longer.  After all time waits for no man! And so doesn’t the cherry blossom, here at the Brooklyn botanical garden. Four months of visiting the city on weekly basis and I must say this was the best day out. 

Brooklyn cherry blossom

As you walk through the garden, the array of cherry blossom takes the center stage. Standing against the blue sky and the green grass, the view is breath taking. All you would want to do is lie down and soak up the Sun or maybe picnic and watch random New yorkers and the cute kids running around.

While you breath in the beauty of this place, make sure to loop the Japanese garden. This small landscape is prettied up with warm arch bridge, the weeping higan cherries in full bloom hanging low over the shimmering pond. Sakura Matsuri, the annual cherry blossom festival is on April 28-29 but the plants are past peak bloom, so don’t wait up visit the garden soon!

Japanese garden

Easy crochet earring

My design inspiration

Kiran absolutely loved the garden, especially with his macro camera. His photographs are so inspiring both to improve my photography skills and a muse for my creations! Amongst the cherry blossom and vibrant tulips, these pretty daffodils with yellow center and soft white petals was rare find this late in April.

Spring crochet earring

How about a simple earring that you can do-it-yourself! You can be a newbie in crochet or trying out jewelry making. 

Things needed:

  • Left over yarn – lightweight or thinner
  • Crochet hook – F/ 3.75mm or smaller
  • A pair of french ear wire
  • Jump ring – 2
  • Flower bead or pretty flat bead – 2
  • Flat nose pliers

DIY spring crochet earrings

Crochet pattern (Simplified):

  • With F crochet hook, make a slip stitch, chain 4 and join to make a loop
  • Rnd 1 – Chain 2 for height and 11 double crochet around.
  • Join to the 2nd ch of the 1st height, knot to finish and chop off the yarn. 
Earring making:
  • Using a flat nose plier open jump ring away from one another NOT wide and apart.
  • Insert crochet disc, the flower bead and the ear wire loop in the same order.
  • Close the jump ring and repeat the steps for the other pair. Done!
Visit your local spring garden, make these simple earrings and wear them proudly!

Exotic Jaisalmer- the golden fort

On a cold december evening, I packed my bags and headed out to the Bangalore airport with my mom and brother to met my dad in Ahmedabad. The story line goes back to 2006 when I still lived and worked in India. I remember this day vividly, probably because I got a call confirming a job offer, I had interviewed for early that week. Early next day, while we drove from Gujarat, we witness this diverse landscape, drought and poverty struck lifestyle. Yes, we were heading into the Thar desert situated in Rajasthan and our destination….. Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer, the ancient city of  hill fort located in Rajasthan, attracts tourist from all around the world. I managed to capture the beauty of this place with a basic Olympus camera, I believe it turned out good enough.

A man playing Chikara, very melodious, folk string instrument. Within the fort walls, the streets were filled with vendor selling local art and handicrafts. Aren’t these colorful cloth dolls beautiful?!

 This is a shot of the golden fort. It seems in 1100s, King Jaisal built this fort with yellow sand-stone to camouflage against the desert. 

Jaisalmer

The camel safari, the artistic structure, evening dinner with Rajasthani folk dance and music makes this place a unique destination for tourism.

The photo on the right shows me and my brother, rolling, playing in the sand dunes before sunset. It was a wonderful vacation….  I came back, accepted the job offer and worked for JP Morgan Chase for a year and realized that dreams do come true. So much fun, those were the days…life was so easy!