Archive for the ‘travelogue’ Tag

Of Tulips!   1 comment

As I got back from the Taljai forested area and headed to F.C Road’s “wadeshwar” for a loaded breakfast, I encountered a newly opened florist beside the landmark Barista on F.C Road. I am not usually a flower person and often find it very awkward to receive flowers simply because I can never really remember how to cut the stems and preserve the flowers and am often missing a vase at home! But today I was stopped in my tracks by the flowers on display at this florist’s – TULIPS! My favorite flowers on earth had travelled all the way from the land down under to my city! Pastel pinks, spakling yellows, crimson reds with a bowl of dark navy at the center and the very exotic butter cream ones with the fuchsia headed petals. As I ogled like a little girl and a fancy lady, the opening titles of “My Fair Lady” flew into my mind featuring those beautiful burgeoning blossoms. I smiled, and asked the vendor the cost – the tulips were Rs.100/- a piece! How I wish I could buy 10 of those….if only I had a vase…and a sense of decorating and preserving the exquisite blossoms! I sighed and moved on…maybe someday, I reminisced in my head, I would have a house where I could frame up the prints of Van Gogh’s paintings I had bought from the musuem gift shop in Amsterdam and decorate an ornate wooden table with the pastel pinks in a porcelain blue vase. J’espère…

I had been to Amsterdam a very long time back. It was a typical European winter day with hardly any sunshine and very few people on the road. Of course it was also Christmas Day and I felt like the only tourist out on the empty streets (maybe because I was?!) It was my last week in Europe before I was flying back to India for good, and I was alone on a 2-day walking trip of the city of museums and canals. I had booked myself a beautiful room in an understandably chic boutique hotel called Hotel Vondel, which was a set of 2 connected 18-th century mansions renovated. It was cozy, expensive, gave exquisitely fragrant petite toileteries by the day and made me feel safe as I was a solo female traveler. The best part was that it was walking distance from the Rijksmuseum, which was the only thing on my agenda. Taking an overnight train from Zurich in a cabin shared between me and a friend, I woke up on Christmas Day with a knock at a groggy 6a.m by the on-train server who wanted to serve us breakfast before we offloaded at the Amsterdam station in a couple of hours. The train journey felt luxurious with the ultra-compact cabin and the quality of breakfast. They had managed to serve a good spread of things alongwith coffee on a tiny table that rocked with the train.
I reached this hotel on arrival at the Amsterdam station, freshened up and headed out for breakfast in the empty indoor dining area known for serving international cuisine. I thought of trying the specialty – club sandwich – especially because it is a Pune specialty too (which is my home city). 1 bite and I was done simply because I was not used to eating so much of strong meat that most of the sandwich was flavored with. I finally pulled it apart, ate just the veggies and the bread, gulped my coffee and headed out. Walking along the canal I caught sight of Hard Rock Café.

I made my way to it, but found out it was closed. So I just got myself a couple of memorablia pins from its souvenir shop and headed to the Rijksmuseum – known as the Louvre of Amsterdam. The whole day was spent in a timeless sepia stroll along aisles of huge Rembrandts, tiny Monets and other painters, mostly from the Renaissance era, with the headphones sonorously ranting every painting’s history.

It was dark by the time I got out of the museum and I decided to walk around in the still, Christmas silence. I mused to myself – had I been abducted, blindfolded and dropped into this town, having lost the track of time, I wouldn’t have ever known it was Christmas! I walked around the shopping street that was shut and had a few ornaments lit up hanging above the road strung from the tops of the 2-storeyed buildings on both sides. After eating a light dinner I headed back to the warmth of the hotel.

The next day was a lot more active and the people on the streets had a look of renewal about them. I took the city tour via the canal on touristy boats marked “I <3msterdam” and passed some expected and some unexpected sights – the Anne Frank house was something I decided to visit if ever I came back to the city.

( For example I learnt that windows are often larger than the doors in these buildings lined up on both sides of the canal as you can see, and can be opened completely so that furniture pieces can be hauled up through them, transported via boats! – PS: pardon my lack of photography skills for this tilted image)

There was a quirky mix of museums I saw on my way around the canals – the museum of bags and purses for instance! Maybe the city folk really like preserving things…I wondered to myself. My tour guide informed us that once the city had no water but beer between canals, and I could imagine brown beer flowing about with people leaning out the boat to dip their mugs in. Interesting sight that would’ve been!

We returned back after an unexciting view of the city harbor (I wonder why harbors are included in city tours – it generates a sense of excitement that gets squashed massively upon seeing the huge vessels that carry canned goods, fish and stuff wrapped in huge white plastic with all sorts of company logos and instructions. It is a square memory in a round gap that was reserved for it!).

The chinese houseboat on the harbor…ahh well…!

After a quick lunch I headed out to the Van Gogh museum that I had been greatly anticipating since the first day. It was the most memorable museum experience of my life! Listening to the artfully composed information over the headphones that detailed Van Gogh’s tumultuous life was like watching a film whose reels you could roll at will as you moved along the paintings and the sound was on a non-stop mode. But the epiphany struck me as I was standing inches away from his famous painting, the sunflowers. I had never really seen this painting other than as a motif on some T-shirt earlier or in the passing over the net while looking for something else. However, in that moment something hooked me visually to a point in it and for one brief flash of a second, the sunflowers swayed at a violent pace. All of this happened so quickly that I stood reeling, rooted on the spot, having lost awareness that I have to move on to give the person waiting beside me a chance to look at it. Abruptly the awareness swept in and I moved on. But something in me was stirred. I connected with all the paintings I saw after that and even though nothing of the likes of the sunflowers happened, I could feel the emotional turbulence in each of his strokes in his paintings. It was almost as if I was seated someplace (safe) in his stormy mind and watching him paint like a madman who was a slave to it. That one instant aroused both empathy and compassion and I wished I could reach out to him across time and express this shared ache. After an emotional tour, I shopped for postcard books featuring his paintings, a huge musuem poster of his almond tree painting and a couple of prints from the musuem’s gift shop.

As I moved out, I was joined by a travel companion for some time and we then headed to Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. This brought about incredible lightness, watching the magic mushroom shops and the blatant sex-on-sale shops. However, hilarity struck when my male friend started getting hit on by a group of tall, muscular men! It was at once funny as well as embarrasing and while I was still not over the shock, my friend, highly panicked, pulled us out of the district as fast as possible. It almost brought me pleasure to see a man go through the same set of emotions that I as a woman go through when men try to cross their lines in popular shopping areas in India.

We made our way to the train station to board our train back to Zurich and on the way sought out the scrumptious street food (not magic mushrooms though!). Particularly drool-worthy was the bananenbol and apfelbol – a kind of dough ball with caramelised fruit filling that had been fried and served hot – and they asked you whether you want it with a sugar coating (say yes!). On opting for sugar, they quickly rolled it in a pan of sugar dust which flew up in a cloud whilst they did so that you could distinctly smell. After gorging on these hot ‘sugarbabes’ we headed back from a memorable 2-day short trip ambling along Amsterdam.

In hindsight, I may not have caught the tulips which Yash Chopra did more justice to than the postcards with the windmills, I may not have laid eyes on the miniature city at Rotterdam, but I sure sunk my teeth into the hollandaise spirit as best I could, and it left me with a sad sweetness that I hope to return to with grand expectations again soon.  And now as I think about it, maybe the tulips on F.C Road are a sign…

© Deepti G Gujar, All text and images except the first image

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Kaas – the plateau of flowers   6 comments

On Sept. 17th, 2011 my family and I went to the Kaas plateau of flowers near Satara, Maharashtra. It is an area that blooms with flowers in a window of 20 or so days once a year. We left from our place at 7.30am and reached Satara by 9.30am. As we took the turn right just before the tunnel towards the Kaas village, we had no idea what to expect. The weather was beautiful – thickly overcast with occasional spells of sunlight streaming through.

As we made our way up to the plateau, we noticed several expanses of beautiful yellow flowers – these were the typical 5-petalled yellow flowers that are growing by roadsides commonly found in Maharashtra. However, seeing the vast expanses overlooking the Koyna dam reserve on one side and the backwaters on the other side was a totally different experience. As we headed up we came to a plateau larger than the earlier ones with several cars parked on either side of the road and families traipsing around taking pictures on the flower beds. We were tempted to halt too, but decided to carry on ahead on the road thanks to my mom. As the road turned kachha we decided to ask a ‘farmer’ly gentleman walking along the road as to whether the plateau of flowers is somewhere ahead. To our surprise, he told us that is still a good 10-12 kms away!

Hence we continued down this isolated road covered in fog. As we neared the place, we saw the board of the Satara Vann Vibhag (Satara Forest Department) on the left side. From what we could barely make out in the fog which had thickened to the visibility of just a few yards, there were policemen and forest officials in pale blue raincoats. It was the starting point check-post. They stopped our car and we thought we were going to be checked. They told us that we weren’t allowed to park our car anywhere on the roadup ahead until the Kaas lake which had a parking point. They said that usually they don’t allow private vehicles to go beyond this point and people either walk all the way to the lake or can get onto the ST buses which are arranged by them to drop them at a point on the road. But because their ST buses were not functioning at that point, they let us take our car in.

As we drove on, we saw certain people being fined for plastic – either carrying or throwing it wasn’t clear. It was nice to see that being done! As we moved on, visibility reduced to a point where we had to drive really slow with the headlights on because we saw people jumping up from nowhere in front of us on the road! Suddenly we were again stopped and told to get off our vehicle and walk on and our driver could continue with the car and park it at the end of the road at the lake. We took our warm jackets, shawl and donned the raincoats and started walking backwards since we could barely make out that we were already at the end point checkpost. The whole distance between them was barely1-1.5 kms.

The clouds were thick and we were surrounded by several groups of people, one of which was led by a botanist who was excitedly talking (aloud) about the different species of flowers by the roadside, of which some are exclusive to only this area of the planet. Both sides of the road were marked with white FBI-like tapes marking restricted entry onto the plateau. A wonderful measure because otherwise the flowers would’ve been trampled upon and long destroyed! There was only one trail through the plateau which was opened to the visitors and the road was extremely slushy. It didn’t help that the cloud cover had opened and it had started raining and we were drenched!

We spent the next 1 hour taking photographs as best we could in the heavy fog and I would be stunned everytime the fog cleared and revealed the wonderful beds of blue-violets and fuchsia flowers with a sloping outline of the mountainside dotted with trees in the background. It somehow felt very Irish/English!

By the time we were 10 minutes into walking around the slushy trail and stepping into the only part of the flowerlands that were allowed, we were soaked to the skin! So we decided to head back to the lake. Our driver came and picked us up and we decided to go to the lake as it was closest and we wanted to change into something dry and have lunch. However, when we reached the parking spot closeby to the lake (but the lake nowhere in sight), we found that there was just 1 roadside cart selling tea, and 2 dhabas – one selling only hot vada-pav – a local specialty – and another one a 300 sq.ft room with a verandah turned into a makeshift restaurant selling a Veg. thali for Rs.100/- alongwith egg bhurji, omelette, round (read non-crisp) bhajiyas, tea and vada pavs.  Since we were desperately hungry and wet, we decided to order one of each. Turned out the owner had run out of pav! So we ended up having 1 thali, 2 plates of bhajiyas and tea! The thali comprised of 2 bajra bhakris, dal, mango pickle, matki usal, raw onion and rice. It was all hot, carried the distinct taste of the chulha (a charcoal-fire substitute of  a gas often used in villages), not very spicy and very yummy! We ordered several ‘extras’ and had hoped we would also get pithla but was still being prepared, so had to skip it!

After a huge lunch, we decided to go to the Kas lake and check it out. It was minutes away from this place. By the way, this place had a defunct loo for men and none for women! :-/ Something travelers must know. It’s all very rustic here in the most exaggerated sense of the term, and all the food here is made from the lake water – the same water is used to wash hands too, etc. etc.!

There was nothing spectacular about the Kaas lake except the fact that it was an altitude lake. I had the eerie sense of not being quite ‘on the ground’ as I watched the lake.

While heading back we got clearer weather and we decided to stop by the yellow flower beds that we had earlier been tempted to stop at, mistaking that flatland for the plateau. It was a spectacular “Heidi” experience (astute observation by bro) because by then the road had significantly cleared with the plateau being crowded and we got huge expanses of yellow flowers, with cattle and sheep grazing idly and the watery scapes down under in the valleys on both sides.


We made 3 stops as we headed 10-12 kms down the road. Each had different flowers from the actual plateau – miniature poppy-like  yellow flowers and flowers that were just stems with pink petals on them. 🙂 In hindsight, we realised it would be a fabulous experience to choose a sunny weekday (other than Monday, Friday and Thursday[since the MIDC in Satara has power cuts that day so it is again crowded]), carry a picnic basket to these flat lands and just eat and relax under the sun until late afternoon! So Enid Blyton-y!!! 😀

With a vow to come back again this season we went towards Thoseghar waterfalls. One can only look at the couple of waterfalls from the opposite side of the mountain range so the whole visit takes about 15 minutes once you reach the parking point. Also there were groups of drunk guys which ruined the experience. The waterfalls though are spectacularly pristine and when you just see them beyond the crowds you realise this could very well be an Ecuadorian forest!


Returning back from the waterfall point we went to the only restaurant there is –  the  “Thoseghar waterfall restaurant”  – it served the  worst tea one could ever get on the planet even though it smelt really nice! It seemed that the owner made the tea and then put water in it to make 5 glasses out of 3! :O The fragrance remains, and taste dilutes! On hindsight, even the food there looked terribly diluted.

We left quickly from here and headed towards Chalkewadi which is known for its windmills. We were being lashed by heavy rains when we started from Thoseghar and just a few minutes of continuing uphill on the road from where we had come, the rains had completely vanished, there was heavy fog everywhere and we had no idea of where the road was going. This was the signature weather roundabout we had encountered all through this visit. We continued along the road with no signs anywhere and another type of pink flowers on either sides! We stopped at the only encounter of people on this road – the ‘shephardly’ women following their cattle – and asked them the whereabouts of the windmills and they said, “Right here, on top!” “Hmmmm…”, we thought and asked them how far did we have to go still to which they replied barely 5-10 minutes. After 5-10 minutes we finally caught a fleeting sight of a huge windmill right outside our car window. We stopped and got out in the chilling winds. As we squinted through the fog, the fog cleared and we saw a huge windmill with its churning sound right in front of us! We climbed up the hillside and went towards the windmill which was connected to the electric generator in a pleasingly-freezing cold wind. As we stood there for several minutes, the mist silently moving around us, another windmill unfolded in sight. After being awed by the hugeness of it, standing amid pale lavender blossoms on the hillside, we finally got into our car as it started drizzling again. We turned our car around and drive back ever so slowly and minutes later, the fog cleared, taking the rains with it, and a chain of windmills apparated out of thin air all around us! 🙂 What a revelation that was! Soon we were dancing in joy to the sight of so many windmills all around us! There is something very humbling about human advancement when you stand diminutive below a windmill, I realised. This is the only advancement that made me aware of  our kindness as a species.  Briefly, a vision of the entire planet with only green, pristine Amazonian forests and white windmills flashed through my mind. “Ah! If only…”


We headed back, skipping Sajjangad and saving it for our next exploration in complete peace and childlike wonder! The trip had been delightful, unexpected and magical for us in so many ways…we were grateful!

Posted September 18, 2011 by Deepti G Gujar in articles, wanderlust

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