Monday 26 December 2016

A Re-cap of Travel in 2016.

It was a high-spirited 2016!
Sometime around this time last year, as curtains slowly drew on 2015, I made a resolution for 2016, and it was that I would make 12 trips and explore 12 new places in 2016, each dedicated to a month of the year. And someone benign on the ‘other side’ granted my wish and gave me one extra trip. Yes, I made 13 trips this year.   
As this year draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude for the year that has been, and more importantly for the travelling I have been able to do. My travel this year was a mix of heritage, culture, cuisines, trekking, nature trips, textile trails, so on and so forth. I realise I am left with a huge back log of posts, as I’ve been either travelling, or planning my next trip or tending to my Art.

Let me walk you through my delightful experiences this year :-) There were 13 major trips and also a few discoveries within Pune that I have also blogged about.
The cave monasteries in Junnar.
The first trip in January was a good dose of history and Archaeology. I travelled with Heritage Insights, a group started by a team of Archaeologists and Indologists who are doing an excellent job taking the rich history and culture of India that is lesser known to a wider audience. That trip was like an official introduction to Indian history and archaeology for me. The trip was to the 2000 years old Buddhist cave monasteries in Junnar. The trip enlightened us about the ancient Indo-Roman trade and its symbiotic relationship with the mushrooming of monasteries along the trade routes. Luckily, I’ve written about this and you may read it here:-)     

A Striped Tiger butterfly.
One Sunday we also went for a butterfly trail with The WesternRoutes and learnt to identify different species of butterflies in the garden. The small park is situated right in the middle of a residential area and the gardener, having taken a keen interest in butterflies, planted flowering shrubs and plants that attract butterflies and thanks to his efforts, the small garden now has around 50 species of butterflies. We spotted the Common Mormon, Striped Tiger, Blue Tiger, Crimson Rose, Common Crow, etc. At one point after the sun rays lit up the garden, there were so many butterflies flitting around, it felt like a fairy land!
Strawberry picking in Panchgani.
Next, also in January, I lived my childhood fantasy to some extent of picking strawberries from a farm. I ate a lot of freshly plucked strawberries and also got back some with me and made jams and parfaits J I surely have a thing for fruit picking! Read about my apple picking adventure here.
Chapati impressions in Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (instruments for making impressions on flatbread).
Come February, we visited the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune which houses interesting and ancient artifacts belonging to different eras. We also chanced upon a jaggery making set up on the outskirts of Pune. I, for one, substitute sugar with jaggery wherever possible, because refined sugar accelerates aging apart from the other harmful effects it has on the body from high consumption. So I was delighted to see how jaggery, an oft used ingredient in my kitchen, is made. You can read about it here.
Fresh jaggery !
Heritage Insights had announced its second trip for the year to the lesser known princely states of Phaltan and Aundh. How often do you get to meet people of royal lineage and interact with them? The current Prince, Shri Raghunath Raje Naik Nimbalkar took out time to interact with our group and narrate stories about his dynasty. He even offered us tea and snacks. Yes, we snacked in the palace of the King J While I’m yet to blog about this, it was an enriching experience to go around the Rajwada (palace) and learn history from Royalty himself. The Rajwada has been maintained in excellent condition and it was like stepping back in time to see the artifacts, furniture and objects dating back hundreds of years.
Posing with Prince Raghunath Raje Naik Nimbalkar. 

The Rajwada made entirely of wood and in prime condition. 
I had been wanting to visit Velas for quite some time and that desire materialised in February this year. Velas is a sleepy non-descript village on the Konkan coast which is now on the global map thanks to the conservation of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles by the village people. It was a dream come true to welcome button-like baby hatch-lings into the world and watch them crawl their way to the mighty ocean and be swallowed by waves. You can read about that experience here.

Baby Turtles in Velas. 
March saw us attend a wedding in Delhi. I did make use of that trip to explore the city’s gastronomical delights, including a visit to a 115 year old kulfi shop. Other interesting activities included a visit to the National Rail Museum where I kept wondering where aesthetics has disappeared in trains today and a heritage walk with INTACH Delhi to the Lodhi garden tombs. Take a look at the pictures of the trains from yore and read about the Heritage walk with INTACH here. 
Bada Gumbad in Lodhi gardens. 

Paan flavoured kulfi at Kuremal Kulfi shop (betel leaf flavoured kulfi)

This is an old train carriage from the 19th century. So artistic! 
In April I ticked another desire off my wish list. I had first heard about the rhododendron flower in Lobsang Rampa’s book. Later I heard that rhododendrons grow in the higher reaches of the Himalayas in India too. I wanted to visit Sikkim where there are dedicated rhododendron sanctuaries, but that was not to be, so I went on a rhododendron trail to Uttarakhand on the Deoriataal-Chopta-Chandrashila peak trail. The most memorable was the 16 km trek through virgin forests between Deoriataal and Chopta where the whole forest blushing with pink rhododendrons greeted us. It was like being in fairy land. I was drunk high on the beauty of the forest as well as on rhododendron juice ;-)
I am guessing Heaven would be like this?? 

Matching in pink! 
While Mumbai is next door and may not qualify as a trip, I would still include it in that category because I had signed up with Khaki Tours to explore the lesser known aspects of an area in Mumbai. Having grown up in Mumbai, I feel there’s a lot to the city that I still don’t know. The Lalbaug Stroll, a walk designed by Bharat Gothoskar of Khaki Tours led us through narrow gullies, crumbling buildings, secret farms, erstwhile sacred groves and had us delighted at discoveries in the city notorious for its super-fast pace of life.
This used to be a sacred grove/ forest many years ago before it became a concrete jungle!

The idols of the deities who were forest protectors remains though. 

Fiery chillies in the Lalbaug market. 
In June came another surprise. I had been wanting to visit the remote village, Kalap, since three years and suddenly in mid-June I found myself in the  un-touched, pristine, beautiful village of Kalap. The high point of my trip was camping for 2 nights and a day at the highest point in that village, called Beejay Top, at 12,500 feet above sea level. I lazed around the whole day on a carpet of flowers, watching sheep and buffaloes pass by, sipping tea, chatting with nomadic shepherds, reading a book and dozing off and on. Of course, I got severely sun-burnt and it took two months for my skin to go back to normal. But that’s not what will stay with me forever. The memory of trekking through virgin forests, gurgling mountain streams, alpine meadows and surreal landscapes surely will.I wrote a piece for the Better India, which you can read here. 
Lazying in Beejay Top. 

Gorgeous sunsets! 

The beauty of the forest was overwhelming. 

Houses in Kalap. 
July was another month for some serious and enjoyable history and Archaeology. We again travelled with Heritage Insights to the 1500 year old cave structures of Ajanta and Ellora. Words fail to describe the stupendous beauty of Kailasa, the largest monolith temple in the world. Every inch of the temple is sheer poetry in stone. We also took the same route that a British Cavalry soldier named John Smith took in 1819 when he discovered the Ajanta caves where 2000 year old paintings on stone still continue to dazzle people.
An entrance to a cave temple in Ajanta. 

The magnificent Kailasa cave temple- the biggest monolith in the world. 

The inscription of John Smith who discovered Ajanta caves in 1819.
Soon after this trip, I attended a 3 day seminar on ancient Temple Architecture conducted by Heritage Insights. The erudite Dr. Shrinivas Padigar enlightened us in a lucid manner about the development of temple architecture since the last 2000 years and the different aspects of its style.
Dr Shrinivas Padigar enlightening us on ancient temple architecture. 
August saw us visit Puttaparthi and then we spent 3 days in Bangalore, exploring old, traditional eateries in the city. Went around the old markets in Basavanagudi to take in the vibrant colors, smells and sounds. The change of weather in Bangalore left me with a bad sore throat which again took a month to recover.
The melt in the mouth dosa in CTR, Bangalore. 

Take your pick from the 100 varieties of snacks. 
Right in the beginning of the year, I had kept October as a free month with no travel, because there was Durga Puja in the first week of the month and Diwali at the end, so I wanted to be home and celebrate with my husband.
Bright flowers in the market. 
I had plans for September of volunteering in a farm in a place from my childhood dreams, but again that was not to be. But turns out everything that happens is for one’s best. I had not recovered from my throat infection and my husband too was down with flu. Had the trip happened I would have been away for almost 20 days. So, I am happy in hindsight, that I was resting at home and also present for my husband.
We found a Veena making workshop. 
We went to Goa in November for a friend’s wedding. Some people would be annoyed if I say that Goa is over hyped. It’s too touristy for my taste, or maybe I haven’t discovered the less touristy places there. While we didn’t go around much, the high point of the trip was the wedding itself. My dear friend had chosen a perfect venue for his wedding, by the sea. With the music of the waves crashing on the rocks, the soulful rendition of the Shehnai by a very talented musician, the moon above accompanied by the Vedic chants as the couple took their vows made for a surreal experience.
The venue of the wedding. 
Another sudden trip in November was to Guledgudda to meet the weavers of Khun and Ilkal and then a heritage trail to Badami, Pattadakkal ( a 1500 years old UNESCO World Heritage Site), Aihole, Gadag and Lakkundi to marvel at ancient temples and their architecture. While I am yet write about this power packed trip, I did manage to write a post on Khun.
A weaver weaving Khun. 

Ilkal saree. 
 This month, we attended a wedding in Rishikesh, on the banks of the river Ganga and then headed to Shimla and then spent a day in Chandigarh. This was again a gastronomical delight to sample various winter delicacies up north.
The famous and delectable gulab jamun at Baljee's in Shimla. 

One can't go to Chandigarh and not have rajma chawal ( rice and kidney beans).

The scrumptious winter speciality- makai ki roti and sarson ka saag (corn flour flat bread and mustard leaves curry). 
The year is coming to an end and I have given myself a good score for travel although not for blogging regularly. As the sun sets on this year, I await the sunrise on the new year and look forward to the amazing places where the winds will take me. 

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