The Mobile Iron Man of Kerala

It was when I was last visiting my mom in Kerala, I got to see him in person.   My mom used to tell me that he comes every fortnight to see if they need his services.
 
But nothing had prepared me for this!
 
 
 
This was a completely new concept!
In earlier days, we used to do all our ironing at home.  I only remember the good old electric iron and then came the steam irons which were a little more comfortable and helped us get a wrinkle free appearance.  Once we came to Delhi, there were people doing the ironing for an entire colony.  They would come and collect washed clothes from our home and take it to their shed which was usually in one corner of the colony.   They would  iron  all the clothes and keep them separate – house by house so it is easy for them to take it back.  And they would charge some money for this service – it started off from Rs.1/- per material to now almost Rs.10/- per cloth.  One gets to know the rate of inflation from these price rises!!
In Kerala, when we used to go as children, I remember having seen this iron metal box.  My grand mother and Aunts would put hot coals into this box so it heats up.   And this was used to iron the clothes then.
 
 
 
So, this complete transformation from ironing at home and then giving it to someone else to take the clothes for ironing to now a person coming with all the paraphernalia to your doorstep to do the service for you, was completely new to me.
 
 
It is a complete set.  The iron, the iron board, coals, etc.  The only thing he would need is clothes that my parents were ready to give and some water so he could spread it on the clothes for the steam effect.
  
Once he got the clothes, he would fire up the coals, and transfer them into the iron and then get busy with the work.   Once done, he would handover the clothes and collect his money and leave!!

De money ain’t zere

On Nov 8th, giving barely a few hours for scrambling, Prime Minister Modi demonetized Indian currencies of 500 and 1000 denomination. It has been 22 days since, and I have not been able to get cash from the bank. I have visited nearly 40 ATMs since that day, but the nearest I came to withdrawing money was day before yesterday, when I was the third in line, when the money, well, ran out.

I have a very nice neighbour who works in a bank and I have been using up my neighbourly credits with him to replenish my “monetary stock”. He still smiles at me, when I meet him outside, and I am hoping that he understands the situation and will continue to help us out.

The amount of intrigue that has gripped the nation on this issue is phenomenal. While everybody applauds the move to expose black money, these very same populace decries the efforts to stifle their legitimate transactions. And they are perfectly right at that. What right does the government have to tell me that I cannot withdraw my own money. The govt. made a blunder by squeezing liquidity beyond all permissible levels and now expects a population of 1.3 billion to somehow survive on barter and thrift.

The basic assumption that everybody is a culprit unless proved innocent is an unkind cut and the population is certainly annoyed with that premise. In Kerala, we have a saying, എലിയെ പേടിച്ചു ഇല്ലം ചുടരുത്, which roughly translates as, “It is foolish to burn down the mansion in fear of a rat.” Never in my wildest fancy would I have imagined that I would live to see the day when we have an elected government go into an economic tailspin simply to catch stashed hoards of currency putting crores of people into great financial difficulty.

Over and over an image is gaining ground that this government lacks empathy. The work of a mallet is being done by a road roller. I sincerely hope that there is enough home work that has been done to ensure that the “slight inconveniences” that this government calls this mayhem, does not translate into a virulent agitation. It would indeed be a Pyrrhic victory if the stone throwers of Kashmir were to be silenced, post demonetization, only for the rest of country to indulge in the same.

There is enough indication to suggest that the government is indeed trying hard to alleviate the suffering of the  people. But, these very steps look more like a fire-fighting exercise than any genuine attempt at alleviation. Shorn of pre-work, home work or even the classical hard work, the attempts are the desperate lungings of a deer mired in a quicksand. There have been murmurs in the corridors about the ill-preparedness of the RBI, which when shorn of the niceties that surround such soundbytes look alarmingly like a preparation for a fall guy. A country devoid of 83% of its currency, now seeking to push along its economy on trust, barter and thrift is a ready recipe for colossal damage at heartbreaking rates. Currently, the money is not there, and I sincerely hope that the situation improves. And don’t, for money’s sake, hold your breath. We are talking months, not weeks.

India Gate

India Gate is one of the not-to-be-missed monuments of Delhi.  It is actually a war memorial built in the memory of the Indian soldiers who gave their life during the First World War at various parts of the world – France, Persia, Africa, etc.  Names of approx. 13000 soldiers are inscribed on the structure.   It is an imposing structure built by Sir Edwin Lutyen and has similarities to the Gateway of India in Mumbai and Arc De Triomphe in Paris.  There is another structure built nearby called Amar Jawan Jyoti in the memory of all the unknown soldiers.
Soldiers guarding the monument and the Inscriptions of names on the wall 
This structure also holds importance during Indian Republic Day when the Prime Minister and other dignitaries pay homage to all the soldiers who have laid down their lives for the country at the Amar Jawan Jyoti.  The entire celebration happens around this place on Republic Day when the retinue of soldiers parading on Rajpath starts from Rashtrapati Bhawan and passes through India Gate.
We cross India Gate as we travel around the city because it is almost right at the centre of  Delhi.   On normal days, we can see huge crowds around this place, some visitors, some tourists and some who just come and have some relaxed time sitting in the gardens around.   In the evening, the whole place gets lighted up and is a beautiful sight to watch.

Trip to Bikaner and Deserts of Rajasthan

It was one of those chilling winter nights in February when some of our friends got together to decide where we should be spending our weekend!  We took the plunge and said we’ll join and there we were, with a bunch of youngsters on an adventure trip across the desert of Rajasthan!

We took a train from Delhi to Bikaner.  We were all packed in woollens, scarves, coats and jackets.  We reached Bikaner early morning and met with our tour guide.  He took us to a house in Bikaner where we could freshen up, have our breakfast and then proceed on our journey into the hinterlands of core Rajasthan. The breakfast I had that morning was one of the most unforgettable ones. We were served home-made stuffed parantha with achaar (pickle) and curd.  But the parantha was so delicious and yummy that we stopped counting after sometime.  We even had to shed our sense of shame in asking for more as the paranthas came in hot from the tawa at regular intervals. Once we were sure we could not have any more, we got ready to hit the trail.

We were taken in a jeep to a place from where we boarded these big and huge camels.  It was the first time i ever got so close up to a camel.   But everyone was cheerfully going up, so I decided to go too. Once we were all perched up, the safari took off.  We were accompanied by a cook and 2 people who were to serve as supports and guides.

As we kept moving through the villages and then fields, our fear of the animal and the height slowly abated.  I was scared more of the camel coming behind me whose mouth was frothing than the one I was perched on so precariously.  I saw my husband and children too some distance away.

Since this was a group of friends, we kept joking and laughing all the way and therefore did not feel bored or scared too much.  Alone. I would never have made it!   We had to be on constant vigil, holding tightly to the mount and making sure we are sitting straight so that we don’t slip away from the sides.  Anyway, after about an hour or two of this traveling on the mount, we reached a spot where our guides decided to halt and cook our lunch.  .

While our guide and cook prepared our lunch, we tried to walk up a mound and see the desert which was still a little green.  I was quite amazed at the kind of agricultural innovations that were being done in these parts if the state.

We had roti that was cooked on fire and vegetable sabzi.  The food was coarse but tasted good as we were quite tired.  After lunch we started off again and it took us about 3 hours more to reach the small camp where we were supposed to be spending the night.

We made a bonfire and sat around as it was getting chilly.  The wood that was arranged for this was wet huge log and it took a long time to flare up and provide us some warmth. The cook who again got busy with dinner was a very funny guy.  He kept us entertained with singing songs and conversations in broken English.  According to his standards, he was quite well versed in speaking and handling English speaking visitors.

 

Dinner was again the same stuff and we were not quite enthused.  It was very very cold and just the thought of going into the tents with those muddy blankets kept us awake for a long time.  Finally, when we could not stand any longer, we decided to turn in.  We went with our jackets and coats on into the blanket to cover ourselves from the cold but it was no big help.

Finally, everyone got up in the morning groggy eyed and tired and we were relieved by the thought of getting up and going back.  I guess we were not made for the desert life!   We came back by a Jeep and again dug into the refreshing breakfast experience of the previous day.  This time it was methi parantha with achaar and curd.   Finally, we bade goodbye to our gracious hosts and Bikaner!

Best time to visit Bikaner is between December and February as the sun is not too hot.  However, as we found out a little late, the night is chilling and killing!! Definitely not for the faint hearted!

Photo Credits : Vinay Kurien, Delhi

Santana Beach Resort, Goa

When we were planning a family trip to Goa last year, we kept searching for the right place to stay and finally we arrived at a decision to stay at the Santana Beach Resort at the Candolim Beach looking at the reviews and ratings in Trip Advisor.

I have to say that we were not disappointed.  We did have a fantastic time!  The resort was right on the beach and we could just stroll down to the beach after our lunch and spend as much time, strolling and lazing around at the beach, picking up shells and just being in the water and enjoying the waves to our hearts content.  It gave us an opportunity to really enjoy and feel the essence of being in Goa!

  
The service was decent, the breakfast was varied and had a good spread of continental and Indian. We had Goan fish curry at lunch which tasted good.  The rooms were clean and bathrooms tidy with clean towels when we checked in.  We were lucky to get a room with a kitchen attached, though we did not use it as we were out most of the time.  It has a separate swimming pool for adults and children with beautiful lawns, properly trimmed and maintained with lots of coconut trees and other plants.   It looked beautiful even at night.
Another thing that we really liked about this place was that it was really close to Fort Aguada and we could take a tour of the Fort by taking a short walk through the beach.  We saw people indulge in para sailing and other evening sports at this beach.  It has a great beach shack too.  This place is also very close to the famous Kingfisher villa and  Vivantaby Taj – Fort Aguada.
 The price is very decent for the facilities that are on offer.  We would definitely like to go back and stay there once more if we get a chance!!

 

How to get there

We can take a taxi either from the Goa airport located at Dabolim which is 46 km from Fort Aguada or any of the two Railway Stations – Margao and Vasco Da Gama.

Santana Beach Resort on Google Maps

 

The Hill Station of Kerala – Munnar

A visit to Kerala is incomplete without visiting the famous hill station of Kerala called Munnar.  It is part of the Western Ghats falls in the Idukki district.  The name Munnar actually means three rivers.   This is a place where 3 rivers (Mudhirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundaly river) come and join together.

During one of our annual vacations to Kerala, we made this journey to Munnar by renting a car.  It takes about 3.5 hours from Kochi via Adimali.   It is an uphill drive through a natural forest with a view of the most picturesque valleys and waterfalls.

 
 As you climb up, you can see the clouds on top of the mountains enveloping the peak and then slowly as you keep going up, you can feel the clouds kind of settling in on you as well.  It is a wonderful feeling when you realize that you now are part of the clouds that you saw when you were down.   As you come closer to Munnar, you can see the landscape has changed into smooth slopey mountains, trimmed and parted in columns and squares.  The tea gardens are spread wide across mountains and as you inch closer to Munnar, the temperature dips and you start feeling a little cold.
A glimpse of Munnar Town
Munnar is a very small town with houses scattered across the mountains.   You can have a good look at the entire town from one of these mountains.   We stayed at the Mar Thoma Retreat Centre on the Mattupetty Road.   It was a very comfortable cozy place and once we had freshened up, we were on our way to see the Mattupetty Dam, or as some call it, the Madupetty Dam. The dam is nearly 13 Kms from Munnar town. Further ahead is a beautiful tourist spot called the Echo Point. The river enveloped by mountains all around was a beautiful sight to behold.
The catchment basin for the Mattupetty Dam.
Look at the shaven banks that show the level to which the basin fills up when the dam is full.
Mattupetty Dam

 

Munnar on Google Maps

If you are making the trip from Kerala, the nearest airport is Nedumbassery at Kochi.  The nearest railway station would be Ernakulam or Aluva.  And then take a taxi or cab.  It is about 110 Kms from airport.

Interesting tidbits on Munnar

  • The blooming of Neelakurinji. This tiny blue flower (Strobilanthes kunthianum) blooms every 12 years and spreads the entire mountainscape of Munnar and is a phenomenon worth clapping ones eyes on. The flower with 40 odd varieties bloom mostly in shades of blue, and thus the name. Neela in the local language stands for the colour blue and Kurinji the local name for the flower. The blooming of Neelakurinji usually starts from August and would last up to October. After 2006, we can expect another blooming in 2018. Book your tickets!

 

A visit to Kochi in Kerala

We usually get into Kerala via Nedumbassery airport at Kochi and therefore Kochi or Ernakulam is the first place that helps us get used to this beautiful lush green countryside.    The ride from airport to the centre of the city takes about 1 hour.   There are multiple options to indulge oneself in once you get to the city…   Depending on what time you get into the city, you could plan for a visit to the marine drive. It is an advisable option to go on a boat ride on the marine drive which is a famous hangout place for kochi people.   The marine drive is built facing the backwaters.  On your ride, you could see different parts of the city – views of sky scrapers, the Bolgatty Palace, the cochin shipyard and the rainbow bridge.   It is serene and beautiful to sit back and enjoy these picturesque scenario.  
  

The other place you could make a visit to is Fort Kochi.  A visit to Fort Kochi and Mattancherry peninsula with Jew Town will take more than a day, it is preferable to stay in one of the lodges there.   It is the original Kochi from where the city expanded to the suburbs and now more people live in the other side of Kochi than Fort Kochi.   It is almost like going back in time again.   The small roads, pebbled streets, old buildings, churches, synagogue, café, the chinese fishing nets etc. all take you back to an era that one feels a little out of place.  It is as if we are intruding into someone else’s life.  But it is an interesting peek, anyhow.
  
There is an entire spice market along the coast which is part of the fort. You could go around the town during the day to visit the Dutch cemetary, Police museum, St Francis church were Vasco Da Gama was once buried and then head back to the other side of the city by evening.
 
  

A walk down memory lane – Trips to Kerala, God’s own Country

Visiting the beautiful countryside of Kerala with its lush green cover was always a source of immense happiness and joy for us as children.    We would start planning for the annual trip much in advance. 
 

Kerala is a completely different visual experience from any other part of India.  We should prepare ourselves to behold the beauty of the green paddy fields lined with coconut trees, sloping and curving up, waving at them with its huge long leaves.   The rivers and ponds scattered with water lilies and lotus.  Little white egrets, herons and storks can all be seen standing in the fields to pick up their treats from the water below.  There would be all kinds of birds perched up on trees and the electric lines.  Some of the ponds would have a swarm of ducks wading and quacking around.  We  were quite lucky to spot some kingfishers near the ponds perched up on a tree once. 

When we used to go to Kerala during our summer vacations as children, we would get busy with our cousins.   It was a getting together of friends who meet once every year for a few days.   Our days would start off with making excursions to the paddy fields lined with streams of water.  It used to be difficult walking through the siders and our legs would keep going into the mud and slush.  As children who are not accustomed to these areas, we would have to catch hold of our cousins and walk after them slowly.  They were more comfortable as they were used to walking on these slushy areas.  The more slowly we would walk, the deeper our legs would go into the wet soil.   There used to be a lot of fishes, tiny ones and small ones wading in those streams.  We would carry bottles and plastic covers to catch these little tiny creatures.  By the time we all came back from our escapades, we would all be wet from head to toe.  Everyone of us would be scolded and shooed off to clean up and take a bath by our parents.  It was fun watching those little fishes wade in our bottles with clear water for days after that.
As children, we used to take our bath out in the open.    There would be a platform created near the well and it was a community bathing experience!   We would have a bucket and a pulley tied at the top of the well.   It was fun when we had to gather water from the well using these.  We would throw down the bucket tied with a rope and looped through the pulley.  When the bucket hit the water deep down, it used to make a loud noise and then we used to peek down to see the bucket slowly vanishing into the water and then getting submerged.   This was our indication that we had to pull the bucket right up with filled up water.  Pulling on the rope used to be an effort, but each of us wanted to show our might and therefore, we used to take turns to do it and would want to do it the maximum no. of times. We would lift out the bucket with the water and pour it into bigger buckets or else splash it on the others standing around.  And there would be so much squeals of laughter and mirth.  And then our parents would come and scold us for pulling out more water than was needed.  It was another task for the parents to get us all out of our bathing trips.

Once clean and in a little presentable state, we would head towards the kitchen from where lovely aroma would be wafting out. For us who were coming from Delhi, Kerala delicacies prepared in abundance of coconut was a treat!   We would all sit down in a row on the floor and have our meal, sometimes in the traditional way of eating in Kerala, on banana leaf. These days, though the experience has become rare.   Though the elders used a plate, we would insist on having food in banana leaves.  The lunch would be served by the ladies of the house with lots of koottaans (vegetable accompaniments), curries and papadams with rice.  Rice in Kerala is usually the thick red rice.  We would make a little hole in the middle of the rice for the curries and then top it with ghee.  It would be like a little pond and children loved to play even while they were eating. 
   

Every day there were different things to do and experiment.  Our cousins used to take pride in showing off and we were quite eager to just learn from them with all the excitement and wonder.   Our grandmother used to have cows and calves bound in a shed called Eruthil.  Early morning someone from the house would be busy milking the cow and the children all sitting around watching the process.   Then they would play with the little calf that was deprived of his meal for the sake of these children.  There would be hens and lot of chicks.  They would have to be released early morning from their little house called the “kozhikoodu”. The chicks were fed with broken rice.  For city dwellers like us, these little chores were all new experiences and we would want to do all these things with the elders.

Some days we would go on an excursion to the open fields where lots of tapioca plants were planted.   There used to be lots of small dragonflies which they would call ‘Thumbi’.   Our cousins would catch them and tie their tail to a long thread and then they would make it fly and we would all follow the Thumbi’s.
The Tapioca Plant
Tree with Jackfruit

 

The pepper plant
  





Humayun Tomb

The long Lodi road from Safdarjung Tomb ends rather tamely at the Sabz Burj right inside the roundabout, or what is now popularly known as the Neeli Chhatri for its spectacular blue dome. Take the second exit and you are already inside the Humayun Tomb premises. A short walk and an entrance ticket later, we entered the chirpy grounds. I was accompanying my cousin from Kerala on a tour of Delhi and were now at the famed Humayun’s Tomb.

The Humayun’s tomb is preceded by tombs of lesser known personalities, but the fun fact is that they are far better preserved. We were told that the Aga Khan Foundation along with the TATA trust had been engaged to restore the monument to its pristine past. And it was pretty evident.

The squeaky clean pathway that leads to the Humayun’s Tomb

Past the domed gate lay the Humayun Tomb.

The tomb stands on a terraced platform. You can climb up to the platform to enter the tomb. We went in October and the pleasant climate was perfect for viewing.

The tomb has two stories. But the entrance to the upper floors are closed. I am sure there was a time when these were open to the general public, but that day it was closed. 🙁

Humayun’s Tomb, apart from Humayun’s grave, also contains graves of other royal members of the Mughal family of the time.

There are gates on all four sides of the tomb, which gives it a unique quadrilateral look, something of a uniqueness with subsequent Mughal architecture, especially that contains tombs.

We enjoyed our visit and after packing our memories in an electronic plastic card, we made our way to the next destination. More on that later.

Our Visit to the Lotus Temple

As we exit Nehru Place under the Nehru Place Metro Station towards the Lotus temple, the roads begin to slightly deteriorate. This road definitely needs layering. As we bank left into the road that leads to the Lotus temple, the temple perimeter becomes visible with a lovely fencing that is both aesthetic and useful. The morning sun reflected the temple in all its splendour.

I was taking my cousin, who had come from Kerala, to see a wonderful architectural wonder in modern Delhi – the Lotus Temlpe, the worship abode of the Baha’i community in Delhi. Created in the shape of a flowering lotus, it is an architectural wonder and was opened to public in 1986. It is situated east of Nehru Place, south of East of Kailash and north of Kalkaji. While technically, the place where it stands is called Baharpur, everybody calls it Lotus Temple!! The regular flow of visitors, including a vociferous group of schoolchildren, was picking up as we made our way into the premises. The entry is designed in such a way as to let the visitors view the exterior for an extended period of time before they can enter the sanctorum. Verdant gardens envelop the surroundings and this autumn morning, they were in a colourful riot. 

  
A flight of tastefully crafted steps lead up to the entrance. The structure itself is surrounded by pools of clear water. We came to know that these help keep the sanctorum cool. Footwear is not allowed inside the sanctorum. However, we were provided bags to keep the footwear.
There are nine gates that open into the sanctorum and we entered through one into the coolness of the great hall. Silent and majestic, it was a beautiful experience. We sat in one of the many benches that are provided inside the hall. After a few moments of meditation we explored a bit and then made our way out. The bags were returned and after the many customary photo sessions, we made our way back to our car.

Some facts about the Lotus Temple to help you make your visits more enjoyable

1. Visit towards the evening. The light show is a must-see!
2. More than 20% of the total electricity requirement of 500KW is generated through solar panels.
3. There is an elaborate arrangement for water conservation throughout the premises.
4. The pools cool the sanctorum even in the most fiercest of summers.
5. Photography inside the sanctorum is disallowed.
5. Entrance is free.