Monday, October 17, 2016

Nainital



Nainital is a beautiful hill station in Uttrakhand surrounded by mountains with an emerald green lake of the same name. Nainital district  is also called  the lake district because there are many lakes in the region. I have many well -loved memories of this hill station which I visited with my parents.
 There are many scenic spots in the region and one can spend several days touring them in the comfort of taxi or buses available.One can stay at hotels according to one's budget, restaurants  offering various cuisines are a top favorite of tourists. Small as well as large shops are well stocked with ready to wear clothes, dresses and woolens like caps, sweaters, mufflers .  Souvenirs made of wood  like clocks, walking sticks , toys and candles are sold in many shops.
Nainital is easily accessible by road , one can reach Kathgodam by train and take a taxi or bus to the hill station. Pantnagar is the closest airport . One can see the awesome mountains from Kathgodam, the winding hill roads take us through the lush green scenery with halts at tiny stalls selling fruits and steaming cups of tea and snacks. It is difficult not to stop and admire the scenery and breathe in the fresh unpolluted pine scented air !
 Day one- reach Nainital  in the afternoon , relax in hotel room , take a walk on the Mall Road , shop, take a boat ride in the Naini Lake and take in the local ambience or take the aerial ropeway to see the awesome Himalayan range !
Day two- visit Bhim Taal , Saat Taal , Naukuchia Taal by cab, Taal by the way means lake .
Day Three - Visit Mukhteshwar  and see the orchards, temple and trek to see the waterfalls.
Day Four-  Nainital has a high altitude zoo ,one can also visit other popular points /spots like    Dorothy Seat, Tiffin Top, Snow View all situated atop the mountains in Nainital itself. Horses are available on hire, the aerial cable car goes up to the Snow View , the more adventurous can enjoy the trek.The local , helpful  guides and tour operators offer many other day site seeing trips.Car parking is available in some hotels and public parking lot is also there in Mallital. Vehicles are not allowed in the evenings on the Mall Road  leaving the road free for tourists.
 Personally I have not had the pleasure of taking the cable car as the queue is pretty long and it operates only during the peak tourist season. I remember trekking to Snow View , Dorothy Seat with my father  and walking around the lake, not to forget the pony rides. Even today we can see the colorful yachts  skimming the surface of the lake like butterflies! The tiny stalls lined the Mall Road earlier too. This time we visited the old local book store in its  antique stonewalled building also housing the Billiard Room. It was a pleasure to see the lake facing Public Library busy with people , a rare site indeed in today's world. The Band Stand where people gathered in the evenings to enjoy music lies vacant, the parade ground is used by kids for playing and parking cars.
   All in all Nainital has a lot to offer to all age groups . Summer is the peak season, people also come during Dushera vacations and to enjoy the snow fall in winter. Light woolens are required at all times as the temperature falls significantly even after a short shower , one can see locals attired in sweaters round the year ready to face all eventualities!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Delhi- Mukteshwar road trip

   This year we decided to go by road from Delhi to Mukteshwar in Nainital district and it was an unforgettable experience no doubt! It  was an unplanned trip just after the jungle fires with the news channels  showing fire dousing operations in full steam and it was  heartening to see the trees bravely sprouting new leaves.
 We started early morning and stopped for breakfast at food halt with well known food chain restaurants catering to all tastes from burgers to pizzas! After gorging on pancakes, burgers etc we proceeded to Rampur and took a turn leading to Nainital , a well known popular crowded hill station. More of that later.
Mukteshwar  is a beautiful gem nestled in the Himalayan range in the Nainital District away from the hustle-bustle . Situated at an impressive altitude of 2286 meters in the Kumaon range of mountains , it is around 343 km from Delhi and is well connected with an airport at Pantnagar.
The road is spotted with wayside stalls selling fresh  fruits like guavas, apricots and sugar cane juice.We drove down on winding pine lined roads with an enthralling view of the graceful mountain ranges.The crisp unpolluted cool mountain air did wonders for our pollution weary souls! We stopped at Bhimtal to admire the serene lake and take photographs and proceeded to our destination.
 Mukhteswar is  full of fruit orchards, well maintained resorts and lodges and pine tree lined roads. Its a sight to see fruit trees overladen with ripening fruits like apricots, peaches growing in abundance. The local people are gracious and friendly and one can shop for local products like apricot jam,pickles and  woollies.
  The weather is cool and pleasant leaning towards chilly in case it rains .It snows in winter and most  resorts offer lodging and boarding making it a pretty relaxed vacation . It was a pleasant surprise to see  exotic flowers  in nearly all houses and resorts. Hydrangeas, foxgloves, calla lilies, fuchsias ,snowdrops, pansies, petunias, poppies, hollyhocks bloomed in profusion. Roses is all colors and varieties graced verandas and gardens. It is an enchanting and picturesque scene complete with wooden chalets with sloping roofs and well maintained gardens.

 The return journey was awesome with clouds swirling on the road and rain showers making an appearance and blowing away the next minute. The locals are always clad in woollies knowing full well that a spell of hot weather would be followed by rains bringing on the chill again.It took us approximately 8-9 hours each way with snack breaks etc but totally worth it.
Mukteshwar is a bit off  the beaten track and maybe that is the secret of its pristine beauty!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Diwali Recollections


          Diwali was a major festival in our household, it heralded the onset of winter and preparations began much in advance. Shopping expeditions to buy candles, decorations, fire crackers were planned well ahead.  Fire crackers like rockets and bombs were Diwali staples, anar, chakris and phooljari were considered good enough for kids only.
     The house was given a thorough cleaning ,old  unused stuff was relegated to the store room but rarely sold to the local kabaddi. The store room held many treasures for kids, one could find relics of the W W II like my uncle's water bottle, knapsack , old magazines, books and other equally  interesting things.
     The main Diwali day was spent cooking yummy food, sweets, making  a chowk  for Lakhsmi Ganeshji  pooja at home.  My Mom wore her special  beautiful black  multi -colored printed silk sari for the  Diwali pooja and looked gorgeous ! Dinner  was a lavish  affair with festival specials like puris, sabjis, dahi vadas and kheer gracing our huge eight seater dining table. After dinner fire crackers were let off  in the lawn . Next  day was spent in getting the debris of firecrackers cleared , burnt out candles , diyas removed from parapets and walls and visiting relatives and friends.
   The second day after Diwali was celebrated  as Bhai Duj or the festival where the sister applies tilak on her brother's forehead for his well-being and prosperity .  The drawing room/living room  furniture was rearranged , the carpet covered with sheets in accommodate the guests. The myriad  snacks and sweets  prepared earlier were laid out on the dining table , plates , cups and saucers made ready for serving tea to guests . My aunts and their families joined in the celebrations and were warmly welcomed.
  Post lunch we all got ready to welcome relatives and friends who joined in the celebratory game of  cards  Playing cards was mandatory , small fortunes were made and lost amidst lots of fun and gaiety and innumerable cups of tea prepared by my Bhabhis and myself as Mom was given the privilege of relaxing with her guests.
   The youngsters gathering around in the dining room helping in looking after the guests while the elders  played  cards and enjoyed themselves. Later I was lucky enough to be allowed to join in as my father's banker making neat stacks of small change for him!
The evening saw the guests leaving for their own homes , exchanging warm wishes, bringing to an end the festival of lights Diwali.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Winter Musings


  Winter has arrived and it reminds me of the long lazy days spent reading, chit-chatting  or just enjoying the sun drenched  front veranda at home long ago.My father had marked a sundial on the wall for my Mom so that she knew the approximate time while relaxing from her household chores.
  The spacious veranda was the hub of all humdrum activities and often visitors commented that it could be converted to a room ,it was done years later after my Mom passed away  putting  an end to the veranda activities and an entire era.Our veranda had a set of comfortable cane chairs and a divan , knitting reading , studying  ,eating peanuts , listening to cricket commentary on the transistor and keeping a watch on the gate were some of the activities indulged in by various members of the family as per their interest.
    My Mom was a great letter writer and maintained cordial relations with all relatives with letters full of family news.The important letters were read and reread and kept aside carefully for future reference. We kept an eagle eye for the friendly postman to do his morning and afternoon rounds and drop much awaited letters in the postbox installed at the gate. It also meant frequent trips to the post office to buy stamps and other varieties of postal paraphernalia.And yes, who can forget the cards -Birthday, Diwali, New Year, all selected  with care and handwritten with love instead of wishes being posted on  FB ! Dozens of cards were purchased  well in advance , wishes handwritten and envelopes addressed , stamps stuck by kids as being the least important jobs.
   Now of course people hardly ever know the address of any relative  as all invitations are given verbally on mobile phones and info exchanged thru  emails and FB :) , house address is not required anyway as engagements, marriages , functions are held in hotels and other venues with the home kept out of all celebrations.No chance of any relative dropping in later unannounced !!!!!
  Winter flowers and veggies were lovingly tended during the day and most visitors happily went home with cauliflowers, cabbages, radishes etc freshly picked from the back garden. The front garden had a lawn, perennial roses and seasonal flowers , a guava tree which gave awesome guavas during winters !
   

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Qutub Minar


Qutub Minar ,a World Heritage Site , is  located in Mehrauli , Delhi is a must for every tourist. The visitor is greeted by the well maintained historical monument and its green lawns and pathways. A nominal amount is charged as entry tickets and the meandering pathway leads to the awesome monument which is a marvel in architecture. Its said that the top few stories fell due to ravages of time and nature,even today the beautifully sculpted Qutub Minar  leaves one speechless.
The Qutub Minar's construction was started in 1192 by Qutub-ud-din Aibak ,the first slave king and completed by his successors Illtutmish in 1368  and finally Feroze Shah Tughlaq added the fifth and the last tower. It is said to be built upon the  ruins of the capital of the  Tomars and Chauhans. We can see the surrounding buildings and courtyards strewn with the remnants of the previous structures which were used to in the construction.
The red sandstone Minar is approximately 73 meters tall with 378 steps and is decorated with intricate carvings and religious text. Earlier visitors could climb up  winding stairs and view the surrounding locales  but now public entry is disallowed.
The Qutub Minar complex also houses the Iron Pillar which is equally famous and has inscriptions of the ancient Hindu period.A mosque is also located in the same premises.
Many Bollywood movies have been shot in this complex and Qutub Minar and tops the list of  every Delhi tourist . It also makes a dry history lesson come alive!
Delhi Metro connects this historical attraction to the rest of Delhi , there is also an E-ticketing facility and parking area for vehicles.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dhanaulti Trip



This year we decided to visit Dhanaulti a small hill town away from the hustle and bustle of over crowded ones like Mussorie. We wanted to find a small untouched  hill resort with a  pristine snow view , towering pine trees and  unpolluted air.
Dhanaulti near Mussorie seemed perfect as it is a small hill resort with few good hotels, small quaint shops , roadside tea -stalls and eateries on the winding pebbled road.
 We also found two well maintained Eco-Parks   with a small cafeteria offering tea,biscuits , pakoris and Maggi noodles.A nominal fee is charged as entrance fee and easy pathways lined with beautiful flowers, shrubs await a visitor. Wooden huts, swings and slides have been provided in the open clearings as the entire area is hilly and ideal for climbing , the top of the hill offers an awesome view of the snow clad of the Himalayas.
The local people are friendly and  helpful ready with directions , though its difficult to get lost in a single road town!The mornings and evenings are cold even in May , light sweaters and shawls are a  must.
Our trip was a big hit with all the family members big and small,we could not get enough of the pure mountain fragrant air and congratulated ourselves on our good choice of a hill resort!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Clay Garden

I love flowers,period ,perhaps this has inspired me to create clay flowers which do not wilt and stay fresh for years.
One of my students asked me as to how I could identify  flowers and their parts like stamen, calyx,sepals and of course petals , the credit goes to my family who always maintained a well tended garden.There were seasonal flowers for winter, summer and even monsoons! It was but natural to create flower arrangements for the house using the flowers available.
We had a beautiful garden planted with seasonal flowers and perennial flowers like roses, bougainvilleas , hedges, shrubs and also a well tended vegetable garden like most of our relatives and friends , my friend even had a green rose climber! 
Fortunately I can identify most flowers as the gardeners were kind enough to tell me the names of the various flowers. 
Lucknow  has a famous Botanical Garden , flower and plant sellers put up stalls in every nook and corner of the city and are well versed with their craft and give full details of the height and flower size of the plants , also how to look after them.
Nowadays few people have the luxury of having a spacious garden , gardeners are also a lost breed.Apartment living does not allow much scope for gardening, lack of sunlight and space is a major hindrance. One can have a balcony garden but sunlight is  a must for growing flowers,ornamental plants do not interest me.
Luckily I  stumbled on clay flowers on the internet and started making flowers, what should I make today ?