Tamia – Trees, Treks and Tranquility

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A weary jaded soul

stumbled onto heaven 

cocooned by maternal cliffs

and stone faced men 

sworn to secrecy

by an intuitive foliage

That is my take on a little gem known as Tamia, carefully concealed by the fame of the nearby larger hill station Pachmarhi.

We took the trip on a whim. Woke up one sunday morning feeling brighter than usual –  grabbed a bottle of water and started driving in no particular direction. All we wanted was to get away from the sultry Nagpur in August. An hour into our aimless drive we realized we seem to be on the route to Tamia in the Chindwara district and decided – what the heck? Let us go check it out.

After a 180 kilometer drive, which the vehicle seemed to negotiate like a hot knife through butter thanks to the extremely well maintained roads, we arrived at a sleepy little town where everyone seemed keen to give directions to lost travelers. People seemed to assume that either you wanted to head to the nearby Patalkot or Tamia’s illustrious cousin Pachmarhi. When faced with the shocking truth – that we actually wanted to be right where we were – they seemed nonplussed. Much later though I came to the conclusion that these people were shrewder than I first thought. Perhaps they were intentionally guiding away tourists so that the untouched beauty of Tamia remained just that – untouched.

We parked and walked up to the PWD guest house which offers the most spectacular view of the Tamia valley with the Satpura mountain range in the background. A light fog seemed intent on shrouding the beauty but the vanity of the valley refused to allow it to succeed. The temperature dropped around us making me hug my stole closer and I still don’t know if the slowing of my breath was courtesy the cold or the view. Miles and miles of green – a sight that never ceases to amaze the people who live in concrete jungles. If you concentrate hard and manage to eliminate the PWD guest house behind you – you can almost start to believe civilization hasn’t touched this place.

When we finally were able to tear our eyes away we took a stroll down to what the locals call – Chota Mahadev. A little cave temple situated a reasonable amount of perspiration away. Though there are steps down the mountain for the most part – there are areas which have to be negotiated the old fashioned way – hands and feet grasping for a grip. A tribe of monkeys gave us a proper demonstration of how it is to be done – sadly we humans had to do it our unskilled way. But as you descend 1.5 km into the belly of the mountain – the steep cliff faces on one side with the inviting valley on the other gives you the uncanny feeling like you are the only person in the whole world. At the bottom a small cave, enshrining a shivling, rewards your efforts with cold water courtesy a small waterfall.

Famished by our exertions we made our way to the homely MP Tourism guest house which offers a limited variety of well prepared vegetarian food though a tongue tickling chicken curry can be whipped up on request. Though this particular day we returned back after lunch – on our subsequent visit to Tamia we stayed at the  guest house which can  booked online quite conveniently. The rooms are adequate. No frills but clean. Since there are only 4 rooms ( with another 4 being constructed) – if you go with a big group you can have the whole place to yourself.

On a subsequent trip to Tamia we drove down to Patalkot located 1500 feet deep in the valley (Patal – means Deep)which is about 30 min away and rumored to still be inhabited by cannibalistic tribes. Sadly or maybe gladly we saw none. The inaccessibility that fostered the existence of these tribes no longer exists. Truth be told – the poor chaps may be extinct – more likely the result of our city dwellers cannibalistic tendencies. The Patalkot area affords beautiful views and simple hikes as well as a bit of climbing for those who would like to test their fitness levels.

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If Tamia is a not your final destination then at least it can be a worthy stopover en route to Pachmarhi. And who knows you may just decide not to go any further after all.

Praha..ha..ha..ha

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It is March, but the wind stings my face like millions of tiny needles recreating an embroidery masterpiece. I raise it to absorb the splendor of the statue overlooking one of the most impressive and historically important squares in the world. In the middle of magnificent Wenceslas Square, mounted on a pedestal is a huge statue of Saint Wenceslas riding a Horse.

After absorbing the glory of the statue, we dart into a by lane to escape the chill and enter Lucerna Palace…

As we look around for a place to sit down and grab a cuppa, my astonished eyes land on another incredible sculpture hanging from the ceiling. St Wenceslas again. This time mounted on an unmistakably dead horse strung upside down. A mocking replica mere yards from the original.

And that in my opinion is the summary of Prague.

Paradoxical.

Cheeky as Hell.

Incongruously Modern.

A city that oozes culture and tradition and balances all that with modernism of a wacky genre.

The insolence of David Cerny is not just tolerated. It is celebrated.

As is with every city that imprints itself onto your consciousness – prague has a character.

Prague is that 47 year old dude having the customary mid life crisis. But instead of just getting a punk haircut and a tight T-shirt that would sit snugly around his paunch, Prague went out and bought a Motorcycle. And then spray painted it Pink. And now drives around heritage buildings with a sexy leather clad chick riding pillion at break neck speed sticking out his middle finger at hapless tourists.

He is a cheeky one. This fellow. He lines the streets with spurious absinthe selling shops and sniggers at gullible tourists who drink the stuff. For himself he reserves the best Beer. And drinks it by the barrel.

The woman at the local chocolaterie is his accomplice. She will turn up her nose when you ask her about her wares…. but you will forgive her every look of scorn when you put those pralines in your mouth and they burst into liquid sin.

He has a wicked sense of humor. He invites tourists and then ensures that all the signage is in Czech. And then enjoys his own private joke as the idiots look from one pillar to the other and then to their maps and then back up again, till they give up with frustration and enter the nearest pub and order a beer to calm their frayed nerves. Then they head out again and stumble from one incredible sight to another – all by serendipity – never by plan.

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He sniggers as they go looking for the Jewish quarter and reach Old town square and as they go walking to St Wenceslas and find the Franz Kafka sculpture. Somewhere in the middle of looking for Narodini Divaldo they find a humongous naked woman ( IT IS a sculpture .. tsk tsk … dirty minds) sticking her glistening breasts out in the middle of the street.

Prague takes ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ to a whole new level. He thrusts his scorn and his desire and his lust and his love in your face. Hell.. he even thrusts out his bronze penis out at you as he pisses in front of the Franz Kafka museum.

If it is too much for you – well – clearly that is your problem alone. He isn’t going to tone it down. Deal with it.

Of Massages, Masseuses and Madness

Steaming Pig.

Like every other touristy place, traveling to Kerala is fraught with cliches. And you have no choice but to succumb. And believe me – it is not always bad to do that.

The cliches usually involve a houseboat, the back waters, fish curry and a customary Ayurvedic massage.

Now massages in general involve a lot of undressing and creams and rubbing etc. But you haven’t experienced a massage until you have experienced a true blue Ayurvedic one.

It began innocuously enough with the dainty little woman telling me to get undressed. She handed me a little white handkerchief and I thought how very thoughtful considering the balmy weather until I realized that was not a handkerchief. It was a strip of cloth which is supposed to conceal the one part of my body that won’t be massaged. At least not in the respectable establishments. Now considering I am not an overly endowed woman I was still wondering by what stretch of imagination did they think that that fabric was enough to conceal anything ! It was something that would give a G string a complex. Anyway to humor her I went along with the idea and tied the little fabric to myself and then realized – Oh perhaps they mean it as part of meditation. You are supposed to relax to the point where the fabric feels like it has expanded and engulfed you and shrouded you with modesty.

So I lay down on the smooth table and waited. A lot of shuffling later she came back with a barrel full of oil and then began the massage, complete with my squeals because well… I am ticklish.

By the end of it – I felt like a deep fried croquette of sorts. You could have put me out in the sun, warmed me up and eaten me. If you weren’t on diet of course.

At the end of the massage she pointed out a little black box. I was supposed to get up and walk to it. Walk ? Walk ?

As I raised myself to sit up and swung my legs to the floor… I literally SLID off the table. Slid! and then swoosh skated on my bare feet in the general direction of the box… arms flailing all over the place. The horror struck woman tried to grab me to prevent me from falling to the floor  but instead slipped on a pool of gooey oil and went slippery sliding after me.

Now imagine if an outsider were looking through a window.

An almost naked woman..Oh who am I kidding … A naked woman slipping and sliding around a room followed desperately by another oily looking woman trying to lunge at her (Shakti Kapoor would have been proud).  This fracas lasted all of 20 seconds perhaps but for me, looking to avoid landing on the hard floor butt naked – it seemed like an eternity. Finally ugly black box saved me as I lurched towards it and held on for dear life. And did not move for a whole minute as I thanked all the saints in heaven who protect hapless naked women.

When I finally got my breath back, the masseuse came up to me sheepishly and with big doe eyes said something in malayalam which  I assumed was an apology. Either that or judging strictly by the tone, she was saying “How you doing?” Joey style 😛

She then proceeded to cocoon me in the Black box. One of those funny looking steam baths where you are sitting in a box with only your head protruding out.  As I sat there looking like a corpse trying to wiggle out through its coffin I contemplated the scene of the crime. The oily table, the greasy floor, the unctuous diminutive woman… my pinguid head minus the body( the reverse of a headless chicken)… I started to giggle. And couldn’t stop for the longest time.

It was the most eventful massage I had ever had.

Forget the oily smell that wouldn’t leave me for 2 days – the laughter was well worth it.

I tipped her well and promised to return. This time with anti skid slippers.

Oh and I finally understood the purpose of the little strip of cloth.

It was like one of those charm bracelets. Only difference is that you wear it around your waist.

You don it for luck and laughter.

I enjoyed both.

Venice – An Old Long lost Lover

Strolling through Venice at midnight….. Even her most vociferous detractors couldn’t possibly resist the charm of a reticent Venice minus her hordes of lascivious suitors on a quiet full moon night…. where the only sounds are of your own footsteps along deserted ancient alleys accompanied by the sighs of exhausted heaving gondolas resting gratefully under silent ponts… 

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A place so often photographed and so often written about – that you arrive at Venice and find it as familiar as an old long lost lover… There are no surprises – except perhaps the initial mild shock at finding that odd strand of grey hair at the temples or a couple of wrinkles near the eyes altering forever the image of evergreen youth in your mind. But when the mob of tourists settle in for the night…and the canals and alleys are bereft of their needy clinging humanity – and the tiny frothy white waves lick the sides of gondolas tucked in for the night… and a full moon covers everything in a soft blanket of mellow lighting…The signs of age melt away and you begin to rediscover the reason why you had loved her/him right at the beginning ….

No the canals don’t stink. It didn’t the two days in august that we were there anyway.

Yes the gondolas are almost always manned by incredibly handsome men.

No two days are not enough.

Yes it has every romantic cliche possible but you would have to be a very very jaded person to resist them.

No we did not do every single touristy thing.

Yes we will return.

Tuscany

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I am sure we died and went to Tuscany heaven albeit with truant WIFI connectivity. Perhaps sensing our reluctance to pinch ourselves for fear of breaking the spell, the conscientious bees around take an occasional gentle jab or two at us in a bid to help us realize that this is in fact Real and not just an unimaginably beautiful dream.

In an ideal world – you would circumnavigate the globe and when your feet are weary and your soul is overwhelmed – you would arrive in Tuscany.

You would lie on the dewy grass and close your eyes and heal.

Amid blooming sunflowers and fruit laden olive trees.
Amid sated bees and purring kittens.
Amid drunken vineyards and wild berry bushes.
Amid yellow sunshine and a flirtatious breeze.
Amid meandering paths on mountains and the shade of a cypress.

When you feel hungry you would pluck a wild berry and feel the flavor of an unwashed wildly grown fruit – pop in your mouth.

When you feel thirsty you would drink the wine that grew out of the ground where you lie…

When you tire of too much peace (if that is possible) – you would drive down to civilization – maybe Florence – take in a renaissance painting or two and drive back up to your haven to recover from the heady feeling of having indulged your senses too much.

When God finished creating the world – he rested on the seventh day.

I am reasonably sure he rested in Tuscany…..