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Monday, December 14, 2009

old tune

My friend Gagan called me up on Friday night asking me if I would come for the annual college reunion on Sunday. I said I'd go if he came for it; he was in Ludhiana and said that he would come for it, so we decided to meet in college for the annual lunch. Well, being my lazy self, I ended up getting out of bed only by 1 p.m and by the time I left the house, the lunch had been over for half an hour. We decided to meet at CP - me on my bullet, and he in by metro rail. we reached around the same time and decided to go to Blues, the famous college hangout. While drinking a pitcher apiece, chatting up an Australian guy, and realising that we must be growing old, we got to know of the south asian rock concert happening at purana qila. We decided to go for that instead of heading straight to JNU to finish the bottle of old monk that lay in my bag outside.

After asking for directions and stopping to pee on the way, we reached the place. It was amazing to look at - the sight of an ancient fort lit up in the diminishing twilight, with bands from four different countries playing rock music one after the other, people head-banging next to dilapidated walls, a layer of smoke adding to the mysticism of well-maintained gardens of a different age... one bottle of old monk split between four bottles of spiked coke... it was an awesome experience. There was a band apiece from Bhutan, Burma, Nepal and India... we reached just as the Burmese band was finishing up, to be followed by the Bhutanese band, which followed up a good performance by throwing out 'limited edition t-shirts of the King of Bhutan' to the crowd (around twenty pieces).

Both the bands were cheered by the crowd. Then came the highlight of the day...the Nepali band (1976 AD??). The amount of support they got was tremendous, as the first 6 rows were full of Nepalis, who ensured that the band from Nepal didn't feel that they were out of the Himalayas yet. There was one long haired figure sitting on someone's shoulder, going crazy and head banging and well, finally took her?? t-shirt off. ahhhh...sigh, while I looked for elusive signs of femininity, I realised to my great disappointment that the figure was male. Anyway, the Nepali band sang a lot of popular numbers (evdently), the most popular being this song (Nepali Ho!) dedicated to migrating nepalis settled at various parts of the world, going through this whole identity crisis, but who still were nepalis at heart...and got much support from the audience, more than avial, a band from Trivandrum that sang mallu songs.

After trying to understand what they the Mallu band was singing about for some time, I decided to skip the avial performance and head to JNU(after having stopped for one more song, as an oriental girl (who looked either Mizo or singaporean)joined them and sand a song (either in mallu or in cantonese - I have no idea, except that the girl was cute). As Gagan and I were walking out, we decided to look around the fort a little. We were intitially whisked off the path by some security sentinel, but as we took a detour into the gardens, we discovered a path that took us to the walls on the far side, where we saw the most fascinating parts of the fort... the thick walls, the labyrinths inside, parts being renoveted, the lighting showing us an awe-inspiring view of the main entrance. Some of the outlets were completely unprotected, leading to a steep fall of about a hundred feet. We felt like warriors standing proud at the invincibility of our fort, looking below at helpless wannabe intruders trying to scale the walls as we shot them down with our arrows :).

Then we found some stairs that led to the top of the wall... so there we were... walking on the walls of a fort built centuries ago, and then we reached a part where the wall was broken, and there we were... cursing the Britishers who demolished the wall with their powerful cannons and other assorted artillery... emperors looking on with woe at a destroyed fortress... well, we spent some time in this self- glorification, and then headed back down the stairs, walked around a little bit. All this while, there was a silent figure walking around us, sometimes a little ahead, sometimes behind... with a camera and a tripod stand, quietly clicking away from the myriad angles that the lights and shadows offered for us to observe. We ran out of places to see, and after hopping around a bit, I decided to approach this figure to ask him if he can help us keep a few memories of the trip. The figure turned out to be a mallu pilot who had just graduated. I have forgotten his first name now, and hope that Gagan remembers it, but his last name was Jose. He was born in '88, and must have just graduated from college, and was already placed with Decan airways. Jose refused to partake of the old monk as he never drank and drove...'NEVER' he said, but he was more than happy to take a few pictures of ours, while he was also happy when Gagan offered to take a few pics with him in it. We got a few shots before the lights were turned off.

Happy with whatever we had, we decided to bid adieu to the young warrior pilot from 'malluland' and went on to JNU, passing by the restaurant inside the purana qila gate where we had had chhole bhature and aloo tikki before going in for the concert. There was no entry fee for the concert, which made it even more amazing. The atmosphere was full of 'no big, no small, all equal in south Asia' and with this feeling of euphoric security and symphony in our hearts, we headed to JNU. With a little help from some auto drivers, we reached the 24/7 Dhaba, where we had paneer, dal makhani and roti. After this I dropped Gagan to an auto and headed home, singing 'NEPALI HO!!!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A whirlwind on a budget...cont'd.

So well, I woke up at 5:30, and got out of the lodge by 6:15...It was barely daybreak and most of the shops were closed, except for a few tea-stalls here and there...I hadn't carried my toothbrush with me, so I decided to clear my breath the old-fashioned travellers' way.. with a cup of tea... I looked for the loose change in my pocket (I had around 15 rupees in change the night before) when I realised that in my struggle with mosquitoes during the night, the coins had slipped out of my pocket, and I had forgotten to pick them up before I left...I considered it a tip for the lodge caretaker...the dinner had cost me 24 rupees (for two egg dosas) and these 15 rupees were gone as well. I had paid 10 rupees for the entrance to the temples at Mahabalipuram (which incidentally also gave me access to ten other places of national importance all across the country - quite impressive, I must say!!).

So in all, I had spent 210 rupees so far. Then I had tea for 5 rupees. Following this, I went for a stroll along the beach. The beach itself is very rocky, like the beaches in Mumbai, but the pavement is very welcoming, with benches every 50 metres. There was an intelligent blonde strolling around as well...(what? are you wondering how I chanced upon that rarety? It isn't rare, you see... there are loads of golden retrievers in India these days) Well, most of the town was still asleep while I roamed the streets... the only people awake seemed to be school students and their hassled looking parents...the town is extremely laid back with nothing much to do... I went around asking for the French Corner, expecting it to be full of sculptures and brilliant architecture...turned out to be a string of bakeries run by foreigners.

After roaming around a bit and confirming with a few friends that there was really nothing much to do there, and after having a few samosas, mini-samosas, and a doughnut (15 rupees in all), I took a bus to Auroville...The bus dropped me exactly where I had got off the night before, and I thanked my stars that I had decided to go to Pondy instead, coz that was just the point where the road branched off towards Auroville... Auroville was 8 kms away, with no buses heading that way. I didn't have enough money for the extravagant auto drivers, so I hitched multiple rides to Auroville...there isn't a lot to see there either, except that the whole concept of the village is awe0-inspiring...the Matrimandir looks glorious from the outside... to go inside , one needs a permit to be got two days in advance...the concept of the place is to create a universal village where people from all countries can live together in harmony without being bound by geographical or political boundaries...I was truly astounded by my lack of awareness about this concept...there are a lot of shops where one could buy handicrafts and souvenirs, but I just couldn't afford anything over there, not evn the post cards that cost 13 rupees a piece.

I tried roaming around a little bit, but cut my trip short because of two things... it was bl**** hot there, and plus, I met this girl from Cambridge who was staying there for a month who told me that there really wasn't much else to see over there. After giving her a few tips about places to visit in India, and receiving tips about how to get around Auroville, I hitched a ride to the beach, spent about half an hour there, and then came back to the ain road to wait for a bus to Chennai...I got 5 bananas for 10 rupees to pacify my stomach for the time being, and then boarded the bus to Chennai (55 rupees... It was a two and a half hour journey back to Chennai, with a cute foreigner sitting next to me (though I was too tired to even want to begin a conversation)... I got dropped off at the Chennai central bus stand, from where I took two connecting buses and then an auto to reach the hotel. I then dipped myself in the tub filled with hot water, had a bath, pushed myself to go have a meal outside, and came back and crashed...Less than 24 hours after I left Chennai, I was back in the city, and I had 70 rupees still left in my pocket...:)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A whirlwind on a budget!!

So there I was, drinking with some friends at a pub at Chennai airport, whe I discovered two grandaunt, who I was supposed to meet the following day, stayed half way down the road to Pondicherry... and well, that I had flown into Chennai with some hash in my pocket...hahaha... anyway, so I decided to go meet my grandaunts - the religious one and the cool one... once that was over, I decided to take a shot at Pondicherry from there... my aunt suggested that I visit Mahabalipuram instead, so I decided I'd do that on the way to Pondicherry...I had 500 bucks in my wallet and I had to go to all these places and come back... I somehow convinced everyone that I'd done such 'unheard of' things before...I messaged a couple of friends who had been there before for tips about places to visit, etc. I boarded the bus at 3:30 in the afternoon; one of my friends told me that the temples at Mahabalipuram shut at 6:00. I reached the place at 5:00 p.m.. I was lucky to get an Ac bus that took me there for 36 rupees...the conductor told me to take an auto to the 5 Rathas temple and then the same auto to the temple on the beach... The auto guy asked for 80 bucks, while I couldn't afford more than 50... so I walked briskly, buying a pack of hide n seek on the way to satisfy my hunger for the moment.

I reached the temple, which was quite impressive... large monolithic structures... I was amazed at the fact that so much could be done from one single rock...the I found the same auto guy outside (obviously he had got someone else there for some price) who said he would take me to the beach for 30. I had no choice as it was already 5:30.I quickly went to the temple at the beach which was very pretty, with several chambers glorifying Shiva's was 5:55 when I reached the caves - the last of the places to visit...the guard didnt let me in initially, but I talked my way in... promising that I would hurry up... the caves were nice exercise and had lots of very interesting sculptures... who says that the Greek Gods had all the fun?...our dudes had quite a happening time themselves...most of the caves glorified the trimurti, while one shrine was dedicated to ganesh... oddly colourful amongst the other stone structures...I was in the premises till 6:45, when it just got too dark, and having seen almost all the caves, and the lighthouse, I decided to jump over the fence and head out... I made my way to the bus stop on ECR (East Coast Road) that connected all these places...waited for a bus to Auroville, as a friend had mentioned that the beach shacks there would be CHEAP!!!??? The buses were too crowded for my comfort, as another friend informed me that it was a two hour journey at the least... an hour later, as the bus got progressively fuller, I decided to take the next bus that arrived, partly also coz there were some cute foreign chicks who were to do the same as well...being the good samaritan, I had to help tem communicate with the locals...and I caccompanied them till auroville, and sat at the doorsteps of the bus for the most part.

At Auroville, we parted ways, and I found out from a helpful, well-spoken local that the CHEAP!!!??? beach shacks were at least 400 per night... maybe even 600... He suggested that I go to Pondy instead where I would get something for 250 or even less... My friend's research further informed me that I could get accommodation for around 150 at Pondy... and that you get beer for 60 rupees till 11:30 at liquor stores...the bus ride to auroville had cost me another 32 rupees, and the bus from Auroville to Pondy took another 3 rupees. I reached Pondy at 11:00 pm to find the wine shops wide open. I asked at one lodge, and a single room with an attached bathroom was for 150... I asked at another, where the rates were the same... half-heartedly, I asked the guy if there was anything for less than a 100. He looked at me blankly, and even as he shook his head, asked me what time I would leave... I said as soon ats it was day - 6:am...he gave me a room for 100 bucks... as it had been booked by someone from 6:00a m onwards... I went n had food and thought of buying a bottle of beer, but for once in life I was too tired for beer...I had two egg dosas... my first in life..and went to the rooma and... no I DID NOT sleep... battled with the mosquitoes for at least an hour...till I finally fell asleep. I was fighting with the mosquitoes even as I slept... till the guy knocked at my door at 5:30 am...