Junagadh – The New

April 2013

DSC_0025The main town of Junagadh is very different too. Junah – old, is the right word for it.  The houses, the clothing, the shops, the language; the old way of life continues here. Crumbly mansions with central courtyards, afternoon siestas, men in their huge red turbans and old ladies in backless cholis; frankly, I was quite taken in.

junaghad7The Darbar museum is a quaint old place with a suitably old caretaker in charge. The museum is not very elaborate but it allows you a glimpse into the life of the rulers of Junagadh.  This used to be the place where the last Nawab conducted his daily meetings – his darbar.  Don’t be surprised if the museum suddenly loses electricity, like it did when I was in the textile section. It adds to the experience and is part of the charm. The caretaker was as fussy as the old royals might have been, and insistent that I follow a particular path and not backtrack between rooms.

junaghad8As a child I loved the zoo, but as I grew up I realized they were not the place of happy memories I imagined them to me. They were places where animals were held in, often tiny, enclosures against their will. As an adult, I have been to some excellent zoo facilities like the San Diego zoo and the Singapore zoo, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the zoo at Junagadh.  Sakkarbaug Zoological Garden, also known as Sakkarbaug Zoo or Junagadh Zoo a 200-hectare (490-acre) zoo housing mostly big cats in big cages. They do have some other interesting exhibits, but the main draw is the big cats. Going by the standards of modern zoos, where the enclosures are spacious and mimic the natural habitat of the animal the house, this zoo should be immediately shut down. Yet, I feel this is one of the best zoos I’ve been to. The enclosures may be small, but they are clean, shady and there is water. They animals look fit and well cared for. They have the expression of royalty, resigned to their fate as prisoners. It brings you up and close with the animals, shows you magnificent they are, and makes you realize that they do not belong in these cages.

DSC_0155The other fun part at the zoo were the people. Couples, families, children – all happily posed for me. Not just that they even came up to me and asked for their picture to be taken. I wish I had some way to send those pictures to them!

Shhhh – I touched the underside/pad of a tiger’s foot.

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Junagadh – The Old

April 2013

DSC_1479Loath as I was to leave Gir, I had to skip the loving invitation by a local lady to a traditional home cooked meal and move on. The next stop on my itinerary was Junagadh – the old fort. In 1947, when India and Pakistan got independence from the British Empire and became independent of each other, Junagadh was the only state where a plebiscite was held. Junagadh chose India. This is what most of us (in India) studied in history class. As we grew older, a few more details were revealed. The Nawab of Junagadh, being a Muslim wanted to accede to Pakistan but since an overwhelming population of the state was Hindu and they did not accept this, a plebiscite was held. The story ends with the wicked Nawab and his family being forced to flee to Pakistan.

DSC_1494The truth about Junagadh’s plebiscite is slightly more complicated. When the Nawab of Junagadh decided to accede to Pakistan, India refused to accept his decision. India cut off supplies of fuel and coal to Junagadh, severed air and postal links, sent troops to the frontier, and occupied the principalities of Mangrol and Babariawad that had declared their independence from Junagadh and acceded to India. The Nawab and his family fled to Pakistan following clashes with Indian troops and here is where the story gets a little more interesting. When he fled, he gavehe handed over the administration to his Diwan (or administrator) Shahnawaz Bhutto. Soon, Shahnawaz Bhutto too fled to Pakista and his family went on to become a leading political family there. Soon after the plebiscite was held. The example of Junagadh has often been quoted in the case of Kashmir, where the Hindu ruler acceded to India presumable against the wishes of his Muslim majority subjects, but no plebiscite was held.

DSC_1458Junagadh is however, far older and its history goes much further back in time. My first stop is the old fort – Uparkot. This ancient fort is believed to have been built in 319 BC by the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, and extended through the times. The fort has been besieged 16 times, and legend has it that the fort once withstood a 12-year siege. Key to this 12-year siege survival, were the great underground granaries and Navghan Kuvo – a 52m deep step well. The well is partially hewn out of soft rock and partially built up structurally, but this is not the only uncommon aspect of this well. This well has a spiral staircase, as opposed to easier to navigate straight stairs. Imagine having to climb back up the 52m elevation, with a pot on your head on a dimly lit spiral staircase.

DSC_0007There is another step well close by – Adi Kadi Vav. This one is carved entirely out of hard rock. It is said that when no water was found even after going really deep, the king sacrificed two virgins on the advice of his priest. Lo-behold – water was found. The well supposedly gets its name from those two ill-fated girls.

DSC_0002At the top of both wells, are a series of pigeon holes – ancient post offices of sorts. I somehow found this very fascinating.  In recent times people have taken to building little stone pagodas in these niches, and all around this area. People also carry water from the well up in their mouths and spill it over their pagodas in some bizarre wish fulfilment ritual. Given the smell and colour of the water, it could only be a death wish!

DSC_1491Close by is a three-storied complex of caves carved out of the rock about 2000 years ago, by Buddhist monks. The caves are remarkable clean. In fact all of Junagadh’s monuments are exceptionally well maintained, except for the water in the wells. The quietness here is a welcome respite from the general noise and hullabaloo of tourist centres.

Vermont – Leaf Peeping

10 and 11 October, 2015

Fall is that time of the year when tears run down your cheeks unbidden, like leaves falling from trees, in memory of those you can only hope to meet again. It as much about the summer gone as is about winter coming.  You can still wear a dress, but with boots not open toed sandals. The nights are far from freezing, but the carefree spirit of summer has given way to yearning.

DSC_0218This year we drove down with friends to Vermont for leaf peeping. Vermont is famous for its fall colours, and now we know why. Leaving the Friday evening of a long (Sat-Sun-Mon) weekend is always a bad idea, but we decided to do it nonetheless. In our quest to beat the *GWB toll and traffic, we took the longer route and the Tappan Zee Bridge. It didn’t save us much time, but we did save on GWB’s ridiculously high toll. The other part of our group had their own travel woes and we all reached the motel sometime past mid-night. I don’t recall whose idea it was, but it was decreed that alcohol was needed. The menfolk stepped out in search of a shop. They came back a good while later and informed us that they couldn’t find a shop, but there’s a party going on a few doors down. SM went with them and came back triumphant, with a bottle of bootlegged whiskey and a hard root beer. We finally called it a night in the wee hours of the morning. By the time we woke up and stepped out, the sun was well overhead. We drove along the scenic route 5, all the way up to Jay peak; stopping to take pictures and make memories.

DSC_1179Jay peak has a trolley/sky tram/ski lift that takes riders through and above the foliage, giving them a very unique perspective. Sadly, it was broken at the moment and so were our hearts. The other thing Vermont is famous for is the cheese trail. Patchy network and the sunset hour made it hard to find one close enough to visit before they closed for the day. We did find one though, and we did reach before they closed, but it was unlike anything we had or could have imagined. We were not seated around a heavy wooden table in a warm creamery, sampling different cheeses and learning about them.  We were directed to a dark barn, and told to take what we wanted from the refrigerator and leave what we liked in the money jar. The refrigerator also had test tubes of culture; in one deep freezer in the basement, there was a huge chunk of bloody frozen meat.  Our first instinct was to grab all we could from the haunted barn, throw all we had in the money jar, and run. Once outside, better sense prevailed. We took smaller quantities that we could finish and went in and put the rest back. Later that night when we found out how good that blue cheese really was, we wished taken some more.

DSC_1214From the barn, we went straight to the bar. Since Trout River Brewery has shut down, we decided to grace the 14 Star Brewing Company with our presence. The 14 Star Brewing Company was playing host to what I think was the museum’s Bavarian festival. They had live music, and pretzels and sausages on the house. Needless to say, we ended the day on high note.

Vermont -Leaf Peeping

Dramebaaz (Drama Queens!!)

Day 2 was as gorgeous than Day 1 and gorgeous again. Last night’s cold seemed to have brought out even more colours, and the sun was out, working hard at keeping it pleasant. We drove along the I90, taking in the brilliant colours, pausing long enough to pose. Hills were ablaze with colour. Red, orange, rust; pink, plum, purple; green, yellow, gold..and then there was us! So much drama! We drove all the way to Crystal Lake State park. It was closed, but we snuck in anyway and posed some more.

DSC_0184Last on our list was a tour of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream factory in Stowe. On the way we stopped at Cold Hollow Cider Mill for apple cider donuts and hot apple cider. The donuts were fine, but the cider was a tad too sweet for my taste. We reached Ben and Jerry’s with a few minutes to spare for the last tour, only to find out that the last tour had been booked out for 45 minutes or so. Not wanting to waste the effort of getting there, we stood in line for an hour to eat ice-creams that we could have very well bought at the local grocery store back home.

DSC_1140Home is five hours away, but good company and music from the 1990’s  makes the long road short and we make it back in good time.

*GWB  – George Washington Bridge

Hopatkong

Aug 30, 2015

We all have our talents and Mr. S.S’s talent is finding new places. It’s almost end of summer and we are still looking for new places to bathe and grill. When he suggests Hopatkong, we all readily agree. Why would anyone not want to go to Hopatkong. It’s called Hopatkong, isn’t that reason enough?

hopotcong state park2Hopatkong turns out to be an almost perfect summer spot. It has a grassy slope for a picnic area, a play area and a shallow portion of a lake cordoned off for swimming. We instantly regret not have come here earlier in the season. Today’s menu is uber fun too. We are going to be grilling pineapples and watermelon slices. We also have poached peaches and strawberries. The poached peaches have their own story. Last week, I stepped into a pizza parlour in Brooklyn and noticed the peach tree in the backyard. The boughs of the tree were heavy with low hanging fruit, but scarcely anyone even gave it a look. Few days ago I went back and poached myself a few of those delicious peaches.

hopotcong state parkIn (parts of north) India around this same time, they celebrate a festival called Haryali Teej. This is the time of year when a brief monsoon brings the land respite from the blistering heat of summer. Fields and forests turn blessed green. It’s not surprising therefore that the festival, celebrated on the third day of the first fortnight of the month of Shravan, is called “haryali” “teej”, literally translated as “green” “third”.

hopotcong state park1Legend has it that the Goddess Parvati, as a young girl once lost her heart Lord Shiva. Shiva, being an austere ascetic barely registered her presence, much less her love.  She vowed she would have him and performed such rigorous penance that heaven and earth were shaken. Each time she died she would take birth again and resume her penance with renewed fervour.  She took birth on earth 108 times before he took her as his wife on this very day. Hariyali Teej is therefore an occasion which mixes giddy Mills & Boons romance with burning Wuthering Heights passion and defines an eternal bond of love and togetherness.

In an imitation of the goddess, it is common for women to observe a demanding fast, which involves going with food or water till moonrise.

Collages12Teej is also the festival of swings. Dark rain clouds, cool breeze and the smell of wet earth put romance right in the air. Beautifully decorated swings are hung from trees for the womenfolk to enjoy. Swings are swung and songs are sung. A specially delectable sweet called ghewar is prepared for the celebrations. *Zuckerschnautzchen!

*Zuckerschnautzchen – go figure! hint hint – it’s German

Watkins Glen

September 25, 2015DSC_0895We bought our tent 3 months ago, right after our first camping experience, promising ourselves that we would go camping often this summer. It’s after summer and here we are, loading our new tent, packaging unopened in our car. We are going camping with B and J,  and between the 4 of us we have so many bags that it’s like fitting together a 3-D jigsaw in the car. Almost as soon as we pull out of the apartment complex, we realize we left the cooler behind. When we go back, we find out we had left the cooler and a bag of grillables behind. We drive a little more before we remember we forgot the crackers for s’mores. This time we simply pick it up from a drug store. Further on, we turn back again because we never brought the mattress topper along. We have delayed enough that it makes sense to have lunch and then proceed.

 At the campsite, it still feels like summer. No camping experience can be considered complete without a fire and some songs!  Our *antakshari  continues well into the night. When we finally turn in, all of us are very comfortable in our tents. My sleeping bag is super comfortable too. I do have a recommendation though – there should be some way to roll up the head and tie it to make a pillow.

September 26, 2015

*Lonavle mein chikki khayenge, waterfall pe jaayenge Khandala ke ghaat ke upar photu kheech ke aayenge

**Lonavle mein chikki khayenge, waterfall pe jaayenge
Khandala ke ghaat ke upar photu kheech ke aayenge

We are all excited about the Watkins Glen hike. B & J have done it before, but it’s our first time. I always imagined doing it in fall. Well, we are doing it in fall only not like I imagined with all the colours out. As advised by the man-at-the-campground-visitor-centre-who-just-wouldn’t-let-us-go, we took the Gorge trail up and the Indian trail down. The Gorge trail is like walking through a series of postcards. Shady gorges carved out by running water, spanned by bridges; little cascades, dark pools, curtain falls – it was completely worth every step. Our fellow hikers are quiet and respectful of nature, almost like worshipers in a gorgeous cathedral. Now imagine how much more tranquil it would have been to be absolutely alone in a place like this! Or would the silence be too overbearing?

Watkins Glenn2The Indian trail overlooks the Gorge trail, so it affords you a whole new perspective of the gorge but is just not as charming or serene. At one point the Indian trail becomes a narrow road alongside a cemetery. It’s hard to walk by and not wonder, how do they bring the deceased up here? The trail is no proper road for a hearse. Perhaps there is another road on the other side. Watkins Glen is also the home of the famous  Watkins Glen International racetrack, and the historic Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

DSC_3192

Photo Courtesy Ganesh Sankaran

At the trailhead, or end depending on which way you look at it, there is an ice-cream shop that seems to be very popular. We finish our ice-creams before the sun can get as much as a lick of them and go to Seneca Lake. Once upon a time, five Indian tribes lived in this region – the Seneca, Cayuga,  Tuscarora,  Onondaga and Oneida . The land around the Seneca Lake was the home of the Senecas. Is the lake named after the tribe, or does the tribe take its name from the lake, I don’t know.

No trip to the Finger Lakes region is complete without wine tasting, so we drive up the wine trail  and end our trip with some average wines and a fabulous view.

*antakshari – example 

**Lonavala mein chikki khayenge … – 2:35 to 2:45 here. Don’t forget to turn the subtitles on.

P.S :

Lunar Eclipse (clockwise from top left)

Lunar Eclipse (clockwise from top left)

On the way back we saw the blood moon +  lunar eclipse while on the road. Most of it atleast. When the Earth’s shadow covered 80% of the moon, the clouds decided to play spoiltsport. We witnessed the end of the show from our balcony.