Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The hills are alive.....

It was time for rejuvenation......so off to the hills, specifically, to our favorite destination Sonapani......special not only for the breathtaking natural beauty, but the company of good friends (the hosts) including the most lovable Tibetan mastiff, Jhumru!

We took an early morning train, reached the last railhead Kathgodam in 6 hours, then the 2 hour drive uphill to Sonapani, in time for a sumptuous (as all meals are there) lunch. A magnificent sunset is followed by a display of the brightest stars in the clearest sky, and twinkling lights of the town of Almora across the valley.

The next day saw incessant and heavy rainfall, punctuated very briefly with faint rays of sunlight. Finally, the latter triumphed in the evening, and we went for a visit.

We awoke on the last day to a breathtaking and indescribable view of the might Himalayan peaks covered with snow. Visible from left to right was CharKhamba (of Kumaon), Neelkanth, followed by the famed Trishul (the trident of Shiva) flanked by Nanda Devi (Garhwal) and finally the Nepal ranges.

All too soon, we had to leave...soaking in the beauty of the snow clad peaks that followed us till Ramgarh......not hard to believe that the Him
alayas are indeed the abode of the gods.

February...it's springtime!

The month got off to a good start at a personal level, with a 3 day Pranic healing retreat.....contrary to common perception, it was not a grim affair, with plenty of fun-dancing-feasting-shopping (as the photos testify!)---of course with intensive spiritual practises and learning.

Spring in India is called Basant, and Basant Panchmi or Saraswati Puja is the festival celebrating the Goddess of Learning. People traditionally wear yellow (to signify the colors of spring), offer prayers and flowers and share a meal of "khichdi"(rice and lentils, and other accompaniments). Children are initiated into reading and writing by the priest, who makes them trace a sacred letter on a slate (which is possibly becoming obsolete now!)

So it is the time of the year to soak in the colors and fragrances of the bewildering varieties of flowers at the Mughul gardens, against the backdrop of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India. The gardens are open to the public from mid February for a month, but having learnt from experience that the famed tulips last for a very short while, we were there within a day of the opening!

The first stop is at the herbal garden, which houses medicinal plants like tulsi, brahmi, aloe vera and peppermint. Next comes the bonsai garden, which I personally do not like because of the unnatural way it's grown. Walking past it, one hears strains of patriotic songs, to the rhythm of which musical fountains enthral visitors. Further ahead, a left turn suddenly opens up a vista of color and symmetry, with the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the background. The national flag fluttering on top is a reminder that the President is at home! (it's taken down when he is travelling).

Walk past rows of tulips---red, red and white, purple, yellow;

Designed along the lines of the famed gardens of the Mughuls, there are fountains and narrow waterways intersecting each other.

After a round of the main part of the gardens, walk out through the rose garden, with exotic varieties on either side---admire the Granada,        while the wall is ablaze with Golden shower creepers.

A sudden breathtaking view awaits as one walks out of the rose garden to the borders of the Circular garden, ablaze with beds of different colors. The large marigolds at the exit are a brilliant gold.

The last stop is the spritual garden, named because the trees and plants here are mentioned in the religious scriptures. There is the Asoka (mentioned in the Ramayana), fig,

(opposite the garden is a stall showcasing the fruits and vegetables grown organically in the Rashtrapati Bhavan gardens, as well as the essential oils distilled from the herbs grown there.)

As we leave the gardens, planning to return soon, we see lines of school students walking in.....one just hopes that these youngsters will learn to appreciate and conserve the rich natural heritage that is ours, and which city dwellers are deprived of.

Goddess Saraswati 

At the Pranic healing retreat
Spirituality can be fun!

Musical fountains at the Mughul gardens keeping pace to the tunes of patriotic songs!
The gardens, with the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the background 
Layout of the gardens

The tulips are always a great attraction, specially as they're in bloom for just 15 days

The rose garden , which boasts of a variety of species and colors, from around the world

common name: Golden Shower

The Circular gardens

The Spiritual garden with plants associated with religious epics, or with a spiritual significance, 

The Sita Ashoka, ref: The Ramayana

January --grand finale

For me, the highlight of the month (on the 30th) was a heritage walk through Old Delhi's famed Chandni Chowk street, led by the very famous and erudite Sohail Hashmi. His fascinating narrative on just a short stretch of the street had to be heard to be believed......he brought to life the background and history of landmarks like the Jain Mandir, Gauri Mandir (outside which he showed us the offerings made to Lord Shiva and the significance of each), Sis Ganj Gurudwara, Begum Sumro's palace, Khazanchi ki haveli (enroute to which we feasted on the famous samosas of the Jalebiwala!) the Anglican church, and finally the fountain opposite the Sunehri masjid. Every inch of Old Delhi is steeped in history and culture, and few can do justice to it as Mr.Hashmi (and another great historian Swapna Liddle) can. (I will post on some of the latter's walks from earlier years)

Welcome to the new year.....January 2016

Dilli Haat is an open air "market" where craftsmen and artisans converge from all over the country, bringing their unique creations. There are theme based events every fortnight, often focusing on a particular state. It also has a permanent food court, with cuisine from every state.

The first festival of the year was an India-Myanmar collaboration, with craftsmen from both countries interacting and exhibiting their skills.

Next was the Delhi literary festival, in its 4th year. Among the many big names was William Dalyrmple, a Scottish historian who has made Delhi his home, and has works like "City of Djinns"on his adopted city. At this festival he gave a spell binding recap of the Afghan war, documented in his latest book "Return of a king".

The other event at Dilli Haat was a colorful focus on the western state of Maharashtra, complete with gigantic figures of elephants at the entrance, a huge image of Lord Ganesha, the main deity of the state, Chatrapati Shivaji (one of the greatest warriors of the state) ......along with folk dancers and singers, and of course, the food and crafts unique to Maharashtra.

Another year gone by.............

Yes, another year has gone by without a post....not trying to condone it, but there was a good reason (more of that later)!

However, to sum up......there were the usual activities that add to the USP of Delhi----music programs, heritage walks, talks, fairs...plus the usual political events that take on added significance in the capital of the country.  There are some events that we look forward to every year: the Mughul gardens which are open to the public for a month from 15th February and the Garden Tourism festival----both a celebration of the brief spring, and 2015 was no different. There were also the usual  events as diverse as the Street food festival and Life Positive mela!

At a personal level, it was a mixed year. We made a couple of trips to a favorite destination in the foothills of the Himalayas, and at home enjoyed the company of our canine family (Brownie and her son Blackie) while also mourning Dennis, who was literally killed in Nov'14 by a so called educated senior citizen, an avid dog hater. RIP Dennis, who has finally found peace, after being abandoned by a family who chose pedigree Beagles over him. It was their loss, and our gain, as he walked down the road and adopted us! Dennis enriched us in more ways than one, but most importantly, propelled me to taking pranic healing courses (the reason for the long sabbatical from all forms of writing) specially after we found an animal healer online.

This year I hope to post regularly on events and experiences.....specially for Betty, who has always been encouraging and kind enough to say that she misses hearing about them!