Sunday, May 19, 2019

Visiting Mumbai
(Day One)
The famed Girgaon Chowpati and Marine drive as seen from Kamla Nehru Park
          My kids wanted to visit Mumbai since a long time, but I was a bit sceptical about the visit, being more of a nature lover, I could not fathom any good reason for visiting another metropolitan City.  However, an opportunity arose when we planned a visit to Goa and hence I decided to accommodate my kid’s wish and planned the trip via Mumbai.

The visit was scheduled for first week of April, 2019 as there was no other appropriate window available during the year, due to academic issues of the kids.  Although it was perceived that the season would be rather hot in those parts of the Country, yet we decided to push ahead with our plans. 

            As planned we reached the airport and as the boarding was completed well in time, the Captain announced early take off, which was about 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.  The flight was uneventful and we reached Mumbai 35 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of arrival and landed at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal.  The availability of App based Taxi service has made a dent in Mumbai as well and one can just use the App to book your taxi at appropriate rates without hassling.  We had booked a hotel in the Santa Cruz area, as I was a bit apprehensive about the Mumbai’s notorious traffic jams and wanted to stay as close the airport as possible to avoid any kind of traffic trauma while taking my flight to Goa.
The approach to Worli Sea Link
             Having reached early, we checked into the Hotel room by noon and after freshening up had ordered early lunch and enjoyed a brief siesta, as the afternoon was quite hot.  Thereafter, we called for a Taxi for four hours duration and started for our evening excursion at around 4.00 P.M, to visit some parts of Mumbai, as we had planned to visit the famed Elephanta Caves the next day.  It was my wish to visit the famed ‘Siddhi Vinayak temple’ and accordingly, we first headed for the destination.  But enroute the taxi driver informed us that since the day we had chosen to visit was the New Year day in Maharashtra and locals celebrated it as ‘Gudi Pawda’ and that there would be a huge rush in the temple.  Despite his advice we decided to take a chance, as we had started at an off-beat time and decided to take the Worli sea link to reach early.  However, when we reached the temple complex, we found that the queue of the devotees had spilled right across to the road adjoining the temple and that it would take about 2-3 hours to visit the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, so time being a constraint, we decided to skip the visit and paid our obeisance from outside the precincts of the temple itself.  
The famed Siddhi Vinayak temple in Prabhadevi
            Siddhivinayak Temple is located in Prabhadevi area, near Dadar railway station.  This temple was constructed way back in the year 1881. The temple receives thousands of devotees on daily basis. The small hall or mandap has the idol of Lord Vinayaka or Lord Ganehsa who it is believed fulfils wishes of all his devotees.  While the huge wooden doors have sculpted carvings of the 8 manifestations of Lord Ganesha as Ashtavinayak, the inner roof is gold plated.  The beautiful idol of the Lord Ganesha is in black stone and stands in the middle of the sanctum sanctorum.  On the both sides of this idol, there are idols of the better-halves of Lord Ganesha known as Riddhi and Siddhi.
The Hanging Garden in Malabar Hills
            Thereafter, on advice of the taxi driver we visited the famed Hanging garden also known as Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens.   Hanging Garden is a layered or terraced garden, placed on the western top-side of the Malabar Hills, right in front of Kamla Nehru Park.  The garden offers some amazing sunset views over the Arabian Sea.  Established over a reservoir by Ulhas Ghapokar in 1881.  The garden is also popular amidst locals for walks and yoga sessions, as we found that there was huge crowd of people enjoying in the park.  It is one of the best places to enjoy in Mumbai tour. 
Panoramic view of Girgaon Chowpati from Kamla Nehru Park
           Thereafter, we just strolled across the road and visited the Kamala Nehru Park, which has a viewing gallery and therefrom one can view the entire vista of the Girgaon Chowpati/beach and the famed Marine drive.  The viewing gallery is a three storey structure and one has to use the staircase to reach to the top and is not an easy access for the old, as the lift was closed at the time we visited.  However, we enjoyed the views and shot videos and took photographs.
Families enjoying the evening breeze in Girgaon Chowpati
The food stalls in Girgaon Chowpati
As the Sun sets across the Girgaon Chowpati 
            Therefrom we headed for the Girgaon Chowpati and it was teeming with people as many locals had come to the beach to enjoy the festive mood of ‘Gudi Padwa’.  Located northwards of Marine Drive, the Girgaon Chowpatty/beach bustles with activity as a picnic spot, on all the days of a week.  One can not only indulge in fun activities but can also gorge on sumptuous street food of Mumbai such as sev puri, bhel puri, batata puri, pao bhaji and so on in the stalls that are situated on one side of the beach entry.  One is free to quench one’s thirst with fresh coconut water or various kinds of cold drinks or ice creams and local chuski’s being served by various stalls, each of which cries out loud for attention, not only as a metaphor but literally too, as various agents approach you vigorously with the menu card of their stall and harping on its’ specialties.  During our visit in the evening hours’, we found children and their families enjoying rides such as ferry wheels, taking a leisure stroll, riding a pony and enjoying the cool sea breeze by the sea side sitting on mats being rented out by agents.  Having enjoyed some local snacks at the Chowpati, it was time for us to head back home and since we could not locate any local Parsi Restaurant, on advice of the driver again, we picked up our dinner from the famed Lucky Restaurant in Santa Cruz area itself and the food served was really lip smacking.  Thus, ended our first day in Mumbai.

The commendation certificates given by famed personalities on walls of Lucky Restaurant 

Here is the link to a short video of this part of the visit
© S Roy Biswas

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The enchanting spring in the hills

The enchanting spring in the hills

The revered  flower of the  Kumaon  hills - Rhododendron - a flower that is the symbol of spring
 As I had described in my previous blog regarding the harsh winters, as a first-hand experience, having had the good luck of experiencing all the seasons in the hills of the sub-Himalayan regions.  As the harsh winters withdraw gradually, there is a feeling of deja-vu all around in the hills, as the life stirs up afresh.  The long closed roads start opening up, coupled with the days getting more sunshine and warmth.  However, the most spectacular dispensation is the bursting forth of the still leafless stone fruit trees with flowers in their thousands, painting the entire landscape in pinks, whites and all other hues.  It is a spectacle that is to be seen in person to imbue its beauty and is known as ‘Cherry blossom’ all around the world. 
The cherry blossom season in Japan - courtesy National Geographic from internet
A festival associated with the heralding of spring season is held in the first day of Chitra month, known as the ‘Phool dei festival’.  There is something very fascinating and unique about this festival of flowers that is held during the springtime. On this day, young girls carry out most of the rituals and they are the most eager participants. In some places though, this festival is like a carnival and the celebrations go on throughout the month. Dei, a special ceremonial pudding made of Jaggery (gur), white flour and curd is offered to everyone.  During the festivity, the young girls pluck the first flowers of the season. They not only scatter these flowers in front of their own doorsteps but also at the doorsteps of the other villagers. It is believed that these flowers are the indications of good luck.  Little girls and boys go to every house in their village with plates full of rice, jaggery, coconut, green leaves and assortment of flowers that are aplenty during season.   The girls place flowers, rice and jiggery at the doorsteps of houses they visit, thereby putting forward their good wishes for the prosperity of the household and are given blessings and presents like sweets, fresh jiggery, rice and money in return. The girls shower   flowers and rice on the doorsteps while singing the following chant :
Phool Dei, Chamma Dei
Deno Dwar, Bhur Bhakar
Vo Dei Sei Namashkar, Puje Dwar

Representative images of the festivities - taken from the internet
 Cultural experts have linked this festival to that of Romans in which people used to mark the festival of flowers in the name of their deity Flora. The celebration of Phool Dei in the Kumaon region has been linked to the ancient Romans’ festival of flowers by Y.D.  Vaishnav in his book on Uttarakhand’s culture.

Here is an attempt to bring to my readers (through photographic presentation) of the spectacle the unfolds in the hills during the spring season –

Spring time bloom - Pear flowers
Spring time bloom - Plum  flowers
Spring time bloom - Pear flowers
Spring time bloom - Apricot  flowers
Spring time bloom -Apple  flowers
Spring time bloom - Pear flowers
Spring time bloom - Apple  flowers
Spring time bloom - flowers just beginning to bloom
Spring time bloom - Plum flowers
Spring time bloom - flowers shot in 1990's
Spring time bloom - Peach flowers - shot in 1990's

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The enchanting winters in the hills

The enchanting winters in the hills

After fresh snowfall the mountainsides are covered with snow
As I had described in my previous blog regarding the monsoon season in the hills and that I have had the opportunity to experience all the seasons in the hills of the sub-Himalayan regions.  As monsoon has an overall soothing affect overall, albeit the incidents of cloud burst here and there, which is rather an exception than being a rule.  The winters, with its snowfall, brings in a sense of serenity into the hills.  The winters are harsh and most difficult period of the year for those residing in the hills.  Whereas, the autumn season that is the transitional phase, between monsoons and winters, heralds in a pleasant season in the plains, as the heat subsides gradually, on the other hand the same transitional phase ushers in the winters in the hills.  Starting with end September, as the monsoon retreats, it brings in snowfall in the higher reaches and the gradual drop in temperatures.  During earlier times, by the end of October, heavy woollens were out and if the weather remained inclement, even fireplaces or angithis (a Hindi word meaning - a traditional brazier) were lit in the houses.  Winters being harsh for persons living in the hills & mountains, as it is a period when there is no local commodities are available and at times not even accessible.  Everything has to be stored up for the harsh winter months and disruption of water (due to freezing of sources/pipes) supply and electricity (after snowstorms) are a common norm.  As the winters approach, the trees start shedding their leaves (in autumn) and the entire landscape appears as scorched brown.  However, after the snowfall, everything is covered under a blanket of white snow, providing for a surreal atmosphere that is a treat for the eyes of the occasional visitors from the plains below.  This snowfall is essential for the stone fruits like peaches and plums etc. and almost like a manure for their plentiful yield in the summers.  Here are some poignant and embellishing photographs displaying the many moods of winters in the hills -

After the fall season, the hills attain a burnt brownish hue
After fresh snow in Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh) in 1950's (photograph shot by my father Late J.N. Roy Biswas)
Photograph of 1980's of the same spot (scanned image*)
Photograph of 1980's of Kasauli bus stand (scanned image*)
Photograph of 1980's of Kasauli Church (scanned image*)
Getting some warmth from the blaze
The road less traveled in the winters
It is snowing up there
The tree tops covered after fresh bout of snow
Even birds face difficulty in foraging for food during winters
It gets treacherous even to climb moderate slopes after the snowfall
The first to receive the snowfall are the higher reaches
Even vehicles slip in the snow, making movement difficult
Even foot roads get covered with slippery snow in winters, blocking one within his home
{(*Scanned image) - these photographs were purchased from the Shimla Studios in Kasauli by the author & copyrighted to avoid illegal further use.}


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Monsoons in Kumaon – a pictorial display of the mood

Monsoons in Kumaon – a pictorial display of the mood
As the monsoon clouds drift across the valleys and the mountains
              I have had the privilege of growing up in the hills, having been born and brought up there and also having had my education up to the middle level, in one of the pristine hill stations of Himachal Pradesh.  The hills are a place where one can experience all the four full seasons, along with the two transitional seasons of Spring & Autumn, of the natural cycle of seasons.  Having now spent a better half of my life in the plains of Delhi, I can clearly distinguish the difference between the nature’s glories that spreads its splendour in the hills, as compared to some drab seasons of Delhi.  In the hills, one can distinguish the seasons distinctly.  Starting with Spring, which heralds in after the harsh winters, there is a nip in the air, but also a distinct feel good factor, as the day temperatures get steady and pleasant, accompanied by the same, with most of the stone fruit bearing trees being in full bloom, with flowers of different shades and hues covering the entire trees and creating an aura of pleasure and happiness all around.  After the gaiety Spring, comes in the summers that ushers in a feeling of gay abandon.  Gone are the heavy woollen clothing and as the days gete hotter and longer, but bearable and nights are short and sweet. After summers move in the monsoon season or the rainy season and as the clouds move in, one can experience the intensity of the rains, which is such that torrents flow through the roads, as if some seasonal rivulet has sprung forth.  This abundance of water paints forth all the hills in all green and it is one of the spectacular visual experiences that one can have amongst the four seasons, other than the winters that is also truly spectacular.  Although not a favourite season for the tourists and thus, only those who stay in the hills enjoy its beauty.  The present narration is a pictorial depiction of the spectacular scenery that unfolds in the hills during monsoons –
As the rain clouds loom over Ranikhet
The clouds stretch from the plains to the hills - view of Kosi River along Corbett
Tufts of clouds lay scattered across the Ranikhet valley
Clouds drifting in the Nainital valley
Cloud cover all across - view from Bhatrochkhan
A panoramic view of the cloud filled valleys on Naintial
View of the river valley near Garampani in Naintial district
Cloud cover has just lifted - Nainital hills from Bhimtal road
A tuft of cloud suspended mid air - Nainital hills from Bhimtal road
Just after a fresh bout of rain, as the clouds part - view of Ranikhet hills from Timila village
As the clouds envelope - view of Nainital hills from road to Khairna
As the veil of clouds part, some village homes become visible again - shot from Timila village
After fresh shower of rain everything around is dripping with pure water
After a fresh bout of rains, even the grass collect some water
As the monsoon clouds loom large - shot on way to Almora
Just after a bout of rain, the cloud cover clears over Almora
How green is my valley - monsoon green - view from Bhowali village
As the rain clouds drift in - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
Panoramic view of the rain clouds drifting - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
As the rain clouds envelopes the valleys - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
As the clouds hug the hill sides - - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
Rain clouds nestled in the hills & valleys - - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
Another view of the rain clouds enveloping the valleys - - view from Timila village of Teh.Ranikhet
Rain drops like diamonds scattered on leaves after rain
As the clouds descend upon the Bhimtal lake
             I will follow up this blog with similar pictorial depictions of the other seasons in the hills, in my ensuing blogs, to bring out the distinctiveness of the six seasons that one experiences in the hills.