January 15, 2016

MicroAdventure - January

Hello dormant blog! I keep making plans to start putting together all the almost-long-forgotten material I have built up over the last couple years. But getting started is always a bit hard. Let's see how this year goes.

Last year I did a project to make a playlist significant to each month of the year. It was great fun and often challenging to think of themes and make the perfect playlist. In case you want to listen - here.

So, I was looking for something similar- a fun project to last me the year. I then discovered this. And now Alastair Humphreys is now my new inspiration. His list is tailor-made for England residents and I don't think some of his ideas are apt for the Indian context, so I'll have to make do with my own ideas for each microadventure (I don't even have a bivvy bag!)

Just two days after this breakthrough, I found a microadventure I could manage over the weekend, as well as three trip buddies as eager to get out of the city as I was and soon the bus tickets were booked! Seemed like a simple trip, but the spontaneity of it gave it extra points for adventure. 

Location - Kudremukh National Park
Plan - Hike to the Kudremukh peak

We arrived in the little town of Kalasa in the wee hours of the morning after an overnight bus ride (with a driver who seemed to enjoy the curvy mountain roads a bit too much!). For about half an hour we wandered the streets guessing constellations in the clear sky. A brisk walk was necessary to keep ourselves warm until we found a light on in a tiny tea shop. Hot teacups were perfect to thaw out our numb fingers.

Daylight brought some life into the town and after breakfast, we caught the local bus to the village of Balegal. On meeting the jeep guys, we were sadly informed that Kudremukh peak was closed to control forest fires. Having heard this before on a trek a couple years ago, this news was a bit of a downer. They suggested another peak to scale as an alternative- Kurinjal. All geared up and ready, we boarded the jeep. Quite unaware about what kind of trek this would be, it added an element of suspense. 

The level terrain started to ascend once we crossed a stream. We trekked a steady slope that cut through tawny grass lands, while a couple sambar deer watching us from a distance. The morning sun was quite high up, so the forest was a welcome break. Dipterocarp trees towered above us, moss hanging low from their branches, their buttress roots spanning large areas on the forest floor. Being dwarfed in these surroundings brought conversation to a halt. Has it ever felt like the trees are listening? 

Back into the grasslands, the last couple of kilometers zig-zagged up the side of the mountain bringing to view vast panoramas around every bend. The last leg was a bit of a push, as we pulled ourselves up over rocks on the steep peak of Kurinjal. The sheer expanse and magnificence of the surroundings from the top always remind me of the Creator. A combination of peace, feeling sucked up by awe and being alive - it only intensifies with each trek.

With time on our hands, there was no rush to get back down. We had time to appreciate the views again, the forest and the stream. The icy water was refreshing and numbing in equal measure. We built rock cairns (as if there was a need to contribute art) and picked up a stone each as souvenirs (with a slight guilt of displacing them). 

We took the remainder of the day slowly - enjoying home made food, drives through villages and walks along the ridge of a barren dam. Dusk came quickly and we found a portico to rest weary feet and discussed "Happiness" and anything else besides the city and work that we would have to go back to. 

February; what adventure awaits?! To plan, or not to plan: that is the question. 

October 21, 2015

Karaikal Passenger

Good morning and good evening from my daily commute.

Oh, the joys of a window seat on the train.

The city-scape and landscape with new detail on every journey.
The fields and the villages gradually changing into high-rise apartments and bridges under which unfortunate commuters wait in standstill traffic. 
The morning crisp breeze versus the evening sultry air. 
The sun setting into hues of red and purple.
Building facades transforming into light matrices.
Village mud roads into highways dotted with red and yellow.
The slow moving horizon and blur of faces thronging the gates of the railway crossings.

The deep chugging.
The shrill whistles piercing the air.
The tinkling of the key chain seller.
The clapping and coquetting of the hijras.
The vendors announcing their menus: lime rice, poori bhajji, idli chutney, samosas, bhel puri, muruku, peanut chikki and lots of chai.
The pleadings for seat space,"Auntie, swalpa adjust maadi."
The impatient sighs while we halt at railway signals.
Hungry, whining toddlers.
The silence of those with phones- eyes glued, ears plugged.

The hyperactive children clambering up the baggage racks.
The bickering, gossiping ladies with handbags that need seat space.
The uncles with their newspapers.
Vacationing families with packed breakfasts.
The commuters with their backpacks and emotionless faces.
And the dosing grandma whose head keeps falling on my shoulder.

The smells of onion chutney and tamarind rice.
Fresh jasmine and strong cologne.
Smelly feet and sweaty children.
And eucalyptus from the trees at the Ballandur Road station.

The bogey we share with invisible mosquitos and the odd cockroach.
Once a bird flew right through.
(So far no mice!)

The eyes of ladies judging my clothes.
Babies eyeing my bright blue phone 
My neighbours peering at the front cover of the book I'm reading.
And the nosy boy reading my text messages. 

Days when I can put my feet up on the seat in front of me. 
Days when seat space is a luxury, luggage racks become seat space and lap space become luggage racks.
And standing space and leaning space will have to make-do.

But despite all the excitement on the train- 
My favourite is thrill of a passing express train at the station.
Standing a few feet away.
Feet apart for balance.
The gust of breeze, the thundering of wheels. 
The monstrous engine barging through.
The streaks of blue, indigo and yellow.
Eyes squinting.
The platform quaking underneath.
The roof sheets shuddering overhead.
The station master with his green flag in silent adieu to a couple hundred passengers on another train from somewhere else going someplace else.

April 28, 2015

My Roman Holiday


The other day, I was cleaning out a cupboard in my room and I found a travel journal from a trip to Rome in 2002 when I was 11 years old. I remember being quite enthralled by the trip on a whole - the exciting history, architecture and art. But my travelogue dictates otherwise; I seem to have been more excited by all the new food we ate. I have listed out in detail everything we ordered at each restaurant. I was quite amused at my focus on the food so I've have typed out what I wrote. 

key- [additional notes]

My Roman Holiday

Thursday 21.02.'02

7:30 am - Plane was delayed 'cause of high winds in Rome - 1 hr. Take off about 9:00
Breakfast - Roll and cheese, plain roll, yogurt, sweet roll with almonds, jam and butter, orange juice and hot drink.
Flight was 2 hours.
Lunch - Special mushroom fettuccine, Ravioli, Onion Pizza, Veg Penne (first we got meat by accident)
Walked passed Colosseum, Santa Maria (Moses statue). Ate dessert whilst it was raining.
Supper - 2 pomodoro, 1 carciofi and aubergine fettuccine, 1 agliata coushette [sp. courgette] fettuccine (white)
Bed early (Hotel Aphrodite) 

Friday 22.02.'02

8:30 am - Woke up and had showers. Got coupons for Breakfast - sweet rolls and orange juice.
Bus to Vatican, St.Peters Square.
Lunch - 4 penette pomodoro, dessert and drinks, rolls and cheese.
Museum was closed. Climbed 346 steps (halfway was by lift). Sun down in the square.
Supper - Starters - fish my mistake, then changed to veg [I remember that we ordered fried zucchini flowers which came with anchovies], 1 ravioli (Rohit), 1 penne pomodoro with aubergines (TLC), Pizza with mushrooms (Mum), Pizza with aubergines (Dad)
Bus home.
Good night.

Saturday 23.02.'02

Breakfast - same
Pantheon, Trevi Fountain
Lunch - (small quaint rest.) 2 Risottos, pieces of pizza- roast potatoes and courshete [sp. courgette
Went to some Basilicas and looked at some of the Forum.
ICE CREAM for dessert.
Temple of Jupiter - disappointment.
Michele Angelo's Square.
Supper - PIZZARITO PASTARITO!! folded veg pizza (D), 1 farfelle white mushroom (M), 1 spirelli garlic pomodoro (T), 1 spinach ravioli (R) [I deciphered the drawings of the pasta to name them here] Big helpings.
[insert signature]
Played UNO

Sunday 24.02.'02

Woke up. 
Breakfast - Roll and juice.
Got a bus to the Colosseum. Got a piece of it (second floor corridor)
Then followed the map through the Palatine. I got a piece of it (Oval fountain wall near the dining room)
Lunch - Pizzas. R-Magherita, T-Aubergine (Melanzane), D-Funghi, M-Veg
Walked through part of the Forum.
Dessert - R-Lemon Cake, M-Caramel Cream and Pannacotta, D-Pannacotta, T- Choc mousse and Pannacotta.
No Supper.
Good Night.
Played UNO

Monday 25.02.'02

Checked out, kept luggage there, had breakfast.
Went to Vatican Museum. Saw [Creation of Adam] and spiral staircase.
Lunch - (Piazza Navona) M- Cream Gnocchi, D-Melanzane pizza, T&R- Spaghetti Pomodoro, M&T- Funghi Pizza
Collect Luggage
Train to Airport
Sky bridge. Gate 28 changed to 20.
No veg supper.
A.Kirra picked us.
Back Home.

I looked through the photo album from that trip, but my Mum seems to have only taken pictures of monuments and paintings and none of the food. Here's the coolest one from the set - the spiral staircase of the Vatican Museum.

March 10, 2015

A Brief Visit

Sri Lanka boasts the works of famous Architect Geoffrey Bawa. I had heard of him in college, but barely knew anything about his work or styles. I definitely did not know that he had a brother who was a landscape architect who designed his own home on a 5 acre estate near Bentota that he's named 'Brief'.

Two brothers, the offspring of Sri Lanka's elite society, initially educated for non-design careers but both of them have created masterpieces; each an obvious imprint of their personalities.

I am glad I visited this before Geoffrey Bawa's estate 'Lunuganga'. Although in overview, I preferred the grandeur of Lunuganga, Bevis Bawa's approach to create an intimate design is far more relatable. As soon as I entered the iron gate with those Narnian stone gate posts and through the archway to ring that bell to announce our arrival, I was instantly a wide-eyed nine year old again.

We began our walk through the gardens first. I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt like Mary Lennox when she first discovered the secret garden. Little paths winding almost unnoticed through the trees and shrubbery, making acute turns, up and down staircases, opening up unexpectedly into little clearings of refuge as if to say 'No, you are not lost. You were meant to find this'.  

I am so glad this wasn't a guided tour. It would have totally cut out the fun of discovery. The walk through the gardens was not meant to be hurried through. We had to slowly meander through this maze otherwise we may have missed spotting the stone frog and other little sculptures perfectly camouflaged in the foliage, the turtle shaped fountain spout, the earthen pots collecting rainwater from the trees above them, the little circular ponds and stone slabs for seating, stone mandalas, and of course those huge stone ball newel caps at the ends of the stairs; but those were not hard to miss!

The seemingly unruly garden design is obviously intentional. It seems as if it is an attempt to bring a human scale and understanding into the expanse of a dense forest of rubber and cannon ball trees. I especially loved how natural patterns were used in the man-made constructions. The stepping stones, table tops, walls and tiles all imprinted with leaves and other things from the garden.

And then, suddenly through the maze of staircases and terraced lawns we reached the bottom of a long stretch of tiered waterway leading up the house so perfectly framed by the bamboo thicket.

December 31, 2014

This is the New Year!

Hello again at the end of another year! Too fast, way too fast. Too many good things happened this year, and too many things to be thankful for. 

Like every other year, there have been new experiences, new people, hellos and goodbyes and plans that worked and plans that didn't work out. But I know that He has been there through it all. 

So, I'm going to skip the retrospecting I usually do in my usual year end blog posts. Instead of the 2000 word essays on life, this year I'm sharing some motivating lyrics by Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino. Here's an exciting song to bring in the new year. :)

Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now
And I will give the world to you

Speak louder than the words before you
And give them meaning no one else has found
The role we play is so important
We are the voices of the underground
And I will give the world to you

Say everything you've always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
'Cause in the end we have each other
And that's at least one thing worth living for
And I will give the world to you

December 24, 2014

For December

Season's Greetings!

My favourite month of the year was as perfect as could be this year- from Christmas music programmes at church, carol singing through the nights, a campfire party with orphan kids, family time and lots and lots of cooking and baking.

I've put together a compilation of my favourite Christmas music of this year. It's undoubtedly my favourite music genre. There was so many good songs this year, so I decided to choose the best and make my first playlist on 8tracks.

November 21, 2014

eMi2 - Delhi

Continuation from Part 1 - Dimapur

I have visited Delhi on several trips in the past. Having seen most of the usual tourist sights, I was definitely keen to see more of the city. I was lucky enough to have two friends who lived in the city and in close proximity to my office and with whom I got to see more of the city.

We reached Delhi late. We spent the 3 hour transit time in the airport (and even parts of the flight) working on the final presentation. We were blessed to be part of a service at the Infusion church the next morning. The music worship session was so uplifting as was the rest of the service. It was such a warm and inviting congregation. We presented an overview of the project to the team and the church members who wanted to listen. We followed it with a more detailed discussion later. Thankfully it was received positively.

I got to visit Hauz Khas village on the first two evenings. To me it seemed like Delhi's version of the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka - historical architecture plus the quaint alleyways of fashion boutiques, tea cafes and vintage art galleries and all that hipster vibe!

The Hauz Khas monuments consist of many different 13th century structures- mosques, tombs and pavilions all built around a lake. We didn't get to spend much time exploring and we had to weave in and out of dozens of canoodling couples to get a few pictures.

Walking through the narrow streets (definitely no setback rules at all here!) it's so tempting to peek into every store. If I lived here, I would spend many evenings wandering in and out of them. This kind of window shopping is actually fun. So much variety of art in so many forms from hand painted clothes to leather suitcases, wooden chests to psychedelic coasters, retro movie posters and bonsai plants. Loved the random strange graffiti all over the place and was pleased that I found a funky stationary store to buy a bright orange notebook. 

We stopped at the famous Elma's bakery for cake. The cafe was spread over three levels with a narrow atrium connecting them. I love cafe's like this one - quirky decor, soft jazz music, extensive menus and good cake with lots of cream!

We had the team debriefing session and the had our final dinner at a Hyderabadi restaurant. I won't forget the facial expressions of everyone as they tried my jal jeera drink for the first time. It was like those videos that people make of giving lime to babies!

It was quite sad when our team started becoming smaller, but we had new fun people at the office to bond with. I really enjoyed the work setting - starting the day with music and prayer, continuing to work on the project by putting together what we had already worked on and drawing up the designs, a fun lunch break when the little kids dropped by and board games over dinner. It really felt like a big office family. 

I've been looking forward to food in Delhi so much. Having been in Sri Lanka the past year, I had to satisfy all the cravings for north Indian food in these two trips. I relished all the yummy meals from the tiffins at work to the chaat, fried momos, kulfi and jelebi, aam panna, the paneer in various forms, the dhal makhani and kadhi pakoda, the channa bhatura and everything else too. 

We went to Old Delhi one morning. The Jama Masjid was beautiful despite having to hop around barefoot on the burning hot ground. We walked down the bustling Chandni Chowk with so many "tour guides" stalking us (was bound to happen with the non-Indians in the group) towards the Spice Market at Khari Baoli. Countless wholesale stores with piles of dried fruit, nuts,  and sacks full of dried chilli, pepper, corriander seeds. We were all in tears, coughing and sneezing. Struggled to see and breathe, but it was quite an experience with the smells and colours and all our sinus' were completely cleared out by the end of it. 

November 19, 2014

eMi2 - Dimapur

The highlight of this year was undoubtedly the week I spent working with an awesome team on the Acts Institute project in Dimapur, Nagaland and the two weeks of work that followed in Delhi.

Ever since I heard about this organization- Engineering Ministries International, I decided that I would definitely plan to work with them sometime in my future. I found myself on their website many times while at work in Sri Lanka, but was never really sure how and when it would work out. One day, after much thought and prayer, I wrote to them asking to be part of a project, despite being a project for which I would have to cut short my stay in Sri Lanka by two weeks. 

It all worked out perfectly. In a few weeks, plans were all sorted and all tickets booked. I packed up, left Sri Lanka, reached home, unpacked, packed again and was off to Nagaland. I met the team in the departure lounge in Kolkata. Such a diverse group of people. We had traveled from a variety of countries- Canada, America, Germany, South Africa and Sri Lanka. We had different qualifications and different levels of experience, but were all there for one goal- to volunteer our time and abilities to design the Acts campus.

Nagaland was the furtherest East I have ever been. Despite being mostly a hilly state, our project site was in Dimapur which was a flat area at the foothills. I knew little about the Naga people and had mostly heard that they ate everything that moved- from dogs to frogs to beetles. I was a bit unsure how I would find vegetarian food. 

We were hosted by a lovely couple who took care of us for the week in their beautiful house. It was quite the opposite of the simple accommodation I expected. We were treated to multiple course meals (which included tasting the Raja mirchi- the world's hottest chilli!), a large air conditioned office for our work space and a swimming pool for afternoon chill time! 

We visited the site of the project early that week. 70 acres of agriculture land banking the Chathe River with the ranges of hills in the distant. We had to drive through the river to access the site. We planned out the site, dividing the land up into the various zones for the institute.

Working on this project was such an enriching experience. I have never been part of an architectural project that was Christ-centred. We shared personal testimonies and we spent a lot of time in worship and prayer for the project. We discussed design strategies over mealtimes and in the pool and spent late hours rendering site plans over mint green tea.

One of the mornings, we visited the village close to our site. It was really nice spending time with the local families. It was a small community and we joined them for a worship in the strangest, most interesting church building designs I have ever seen. A strangely proportioned aluminium and paper mache dove. Nagaland is a predominantly Christian state (90%) and it was nice to see the area dotted with churches.

November 18, 2014

A Slice of Decadence

Gino D'Acampo describes his 'La Bella Caprese' recipe as 
"... the best chocolate cake EVER."

I made this cake a long time ago. The rich ingredients of dark chocolate and almond flour would probably classify it as a occasion cake for when we had guest over, but I made it in the middle of the week for no special reason other than to satisfy a craving for decadence. 

The cake is made up of just 5 ingredients and a very basic method. Melt 250g of dark chocolate (I used Bellarom 70% dark) and 100g of butter in a double boiler.

February 24, 2014

Noted Finds 03

Past posts- Noted Finds 01, Noted Finds 02

One of my favourite things to do is discover new music. I can sit for hours and hours on music blogs. YouTube suggestions let me wander through all possible genres. I start off with alternative or classical or some of the popular sides of indie and always reach this really cool side of YouTube from where I have discovered Marble Sounds, The Narrative, The Cinnamatic Orchestra, Mogwai, The Best Pessimist and other beautiful bands that I wish were not so unknown. Yet, in a way I'm a bit happy that they are unknown because then I feel like part of a small privileged few. 

Today's selection, however is not all from that 'special' side of YouTube, and are not all new groups, but are new finds. My music discoveries the past month has had a few standouts. Here they are:

Arcade Fire- Reflektor / Photograph

I know what you are thinking- this band is not at all new. They have been around for almost a decade. But their new album Reflektor with it's varied track list of great vocals and accompaniment from the talented bunch of seven came out last year with some very good reviews.

But the reason I've included this group in my list is for their amazing soundtrack to Spike Jonze's recent movie, Her. I just loved the simplicity of the soundtrack and how closely it intertwined into the script. I've posted a clip from the movie with the piece 'Photograph' so you can see just how well the two were amalgamated.

Sleeping At Last- Snow

What a beautiful find this was. I was watching some modern choreography one day and this song was what they were dancing to. Sublime. The band is a solo project by the super talented Ryan O'Neill. Sometimes his brother helps out too. I went through some of the older tracks. Such interesting ideas for EPs. I liked 'Atlas' the most. Each track transported me into space. I could fall asleep to them drifting off past stars and planets.

X Ambassadors- Unconsolable

I only found this group yesterday. I was mostly of the opinion that the new alternative rock groups were far inferior to the older bands, but after listening to their 2012 album, 'Litost', my thoughts have changed a bit.

Here's a song from their newest album, "Love Songs, Drug Songs'
Read an interview of them on TheMusicNinja here.

Laura Mvula- Green Garden

What a voice. So soulful. The singles she's released are far from the usual mellowness of soul music commonly tagged retro soul. Her music is the perfect foot tapping initiator. So much so, that I always feel like getting up and dancing. Almost.

'Nobody out there, but it's okay now. Bath in the sunlight, don't mind if rain falls...'

Finally, to complete this list,

LAYLA- Yellow Circles

Totally random find. Only a few tracks to her name, but each praiseworthy. Waiting for more from her. Website- here

(all images are from various sources and not my property)