Category: Culture

Jammu

Jammu: Beyond Temples

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 444 0

The quintessential winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir, from the eyes of a native…

The city of temples, no not Benaras, not Rishikesh, not even Bhubaneshwar or Madurai… but Jammu. I grew up watching hoardings in the city that portrayed Jammu as the ‘City of Temples’, but with time I realized there are many contenders for the title.

J&K is a state with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh being the three important pillars. Jammu and Kashmir both serve as the administrative capitals of the state for 6 months each. Jammu, other than being the gateway to heaven on earth – Kashmir, is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. While the winters here are freezing cold, it gets really hot in the summer. The official language of this state that is home to people from different ethnicities is Dogri. It would be interesting to note that the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar sang many a Dogri song, one of which equates the language and the people of Jammu as sweet and kind.

Until 1947, the state was under the rule of the Rajputs of the Dogra dynasty that left behind an air of royalty in the region; they were known for their élan. Many also relate the city to the revered Vaishno Devi shrine and the age-old Bagh-e-Bahu fort. But there is more to the city than one would find on Google.

The charm of this city dwells with its residents, like it is in most cases. If one does manage to escape the touts selling first copies of kashmiri pashminas and grade-two dry fruits at Raghunath bazaar, you would find the genuine shop keepers very helpful and honest. The narrow by-lanes of the old Jammu city are full of surprises. Most of the hole-in-the-wall eateries may leave you with an unmatched taste that the outer world is oblivious to. Sardarji’s kulcha shop in the third lane next to Raghunath Mandir will serve you an incredible fill of any type of a kulcha one can imagine, soya kulcha being the top favorite.

A revolving restaurant called Falak at the top floor of KC Plaza next to the famous Raghunath Bazar is a must go-to. By the time you are served with the main course you would be satiated with the breath taking views of the entire city and the Tawi River flowing below. The KC plaza lane is house to sumptuous eateries serving Punjabi, Jammu as well as Kashmiri delicacies and the bars such as Baron at KC plaza would leave you searching for a comparable hospitality anywhere else in the world.

Bollywood has had a huge impact on the life of an average Jammu teenager. Since the kids are blessed with good looks and talent comes in handy, you would come across many success stories in Bollywood as well as the booming saas-bahu series during prime time. I recently came across and inquisitive airport security officer, who was curious to know if actor Vidyut Jamwal is my cousin, blame it on the identical surname.

Maharaja Hari Singh – the last ruler of Jammu was a man of great taste. His gift to the society could not have been better than the Maharaja Hari Singh Niwas Palace which is now a heritage luxury resort in the city. The open air restaurant overlooking the Tawi River lets you gaze at the scenic hill range while you wine and dine. Luxury cannot be more reasonable at Jammu when you can own a part of this historical palace for a couple of nights without a dent on your pocket. Any trip to Jammu for me is incomplete without an evening spent at the museum palace with my college buddies.

For all the countryside fans, Jammu’s rustic charm shows up as soon as you move out of the by lanes of the old Jammu city and cross the bungalows at Gandhi Nagar, Trikuta Nagar, Chhanni Himmat, Sainik Colony and Greater Kailash.

Since Jammu also borders Pakistan at one side, our border villages house daredevil families who mostly appear on news channels as soon as there is an infiltration or shelling from across the border. Having grown up listening to the army shooting exercises as a routine affair, the noise does not intimidate the residents anymore. Jammu has diverse demographics yet there has never been a single religious mishap in the history of the city. In fact, everyone comes together and supports any cause of national importance.

Next time you are in Jammu, befriend a local and it is in our blood to be courteous and hospitable.

Milan

That timeless evening in Milan

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 358 0

It was a beautiful day in Milan. She was prettier than it seemed from a distance, at least her attitude made her so. And I found her at loss of words, just like myself

It had been raining the past couple of days and the overwhelming aroma of the city kept reminding me of South Mumbai. Only, the sights of beauties such as Ducati, Benelli on roads would bring me back to the happy realisation that I was trotting the streets of Milan, one of the most popular cities of Italy.

There are many aspects that make Milan different, when compared to the sights we are attuned to in India. For example; clearer skies, lazy sit-out cafes on the sides of the water canals, all lit-up restaurants with people sipping their wines in glory. It is also amazing to observe those small football goalposts in nets, partly on water and partly on ground with kids trying to perfect their kicks.

At Milan, you cannot take fashion out of even the mundane things. We don’t get to see as voguish people doing the regular things like picking up veggies, strolling or just enjoying a cuppa latte in our side of the world. The clothes, shoes, walk, jovial attitude and confidence of the Milanese say a lot about the culture of this upmarket city.

For a shopping crazy person like me, ticking all the marks on the ever expanding shopping list is always a challenge. However, I have perfected a trick to make sure that one reaches even halfway with the impulsive shopping list, by trying a thing called window-shopping before the-actual-shopping. It helps you check best deals and compare prices before the money leaves your hand. And if you are at the Buenos Aires shopping street at Milan, be double sure about two things. One, you will get the same pair of shoes for 300 as well as 30 Euros, just keep checking till you need to pinch yourself. Second, do not consider money back as an option even if the jacket you bought has all its threads coming out from everywhere; the salesman will rather ask you to let-it-go and pick-something-else. And there is not much you can do with a tough man wearing black tights with a loud unapologetic tone.

Somehow, even in that business, Milan shows less chaos in comparison to an average Indian metropolitan. I kept looking out to see two Italians roughing it over a traffic feud or a jealous boyfriend picking up a fight about his decked up doll…but nothing, it was business as usual, just in an unfamiliar quiet way. As a regular North Indian would say, ‘machoness’ was missing.

In Milan, they don’t cut the pizzas into those nice little slices; so you just fold one and gobble it up than fighting it with a fork and the usual blunt table knife. Unlike the sophisticated lanes of the coveted Hauz Khas village in Delhi, where the Michelin un-starred pubs entice you with a plus one or plus two on drinks, cafes and bistros in Milan entice you with endless servings of free snacks alongside a 5 Euro glass of wine.

It must have been my fifth serving of some amazing nachos when I found her blue eyes staring at me. Most of the times I am colour blind, but I am very sure it was a turquoise off-shoulder dress that she was wearing. With her black long hair, she sat elegantly as I was fixed on the most beautiful pair of blue eyes. I couldn’t breathe; all the food inside my mouth almost choked me and I had to down it with some of the wine on my table. She smiled and chuckled, making it embarrassing. I heard her friend ask what was funny but she hesitated to point at my face. For any sane guy, that would have been the apt moment for an introduction, but not for me. I had to wait it out till there was another choke building up and the awkwardness had reached newer heights. Like a fool, I finally got up and said ‘hi’. I was greeted with two smiles, one obviously better to my eyes than the other.

“How are you doing?”, I asked and was offered a seat. That was easy; I should have done that earlier… I actually said that, which was thankfully missed in the introductions. “Noah”, she introduced herself as we stared right at each other.

She was prettier than it seemed from a distance, at least her attitude made her so. And I found her at loss of words, just like myself. To our rescue, her friend Christine just could not stop talking. They were waiting there for her boyfriend. “Whose boyfriend?”, I asked. “Mine”, said Christine cheerfully as Noah smiled.

Christine had an Indian boyfriend called Varun. What followed was over thirty minutes of talk by Christine about how much she knows about India and how Varun has promised to bring her to India and everything else. Noah and I spent most of our time stealing glances. Noah liked India, but she did not want to come to India for a short trip, she wanted to explore. Noah didn’t like going out much, she would rather stay at home and watch TV Series than sit at a lousy cafe on a regular evening.

But since, it was Christine’s and Varun’s third month anniversary, she had to be part of the celebrations. How cute! In the middle of all this, Christine suddenly got up and jumped towards…Varun, it was him. While I was waiting to meet an Indian brother to find a common ground, it took me a while to get up as in all her excitement of meeting Varun, Christine had jumped right up, pushed the table and had sent a glass of water in my lap. Never mind, will look at the damages later…”Hi Varun, kya haal chaal?”, I said and I was greeted with a blank look in response. “Vrooon“, he corrected me.

Christine begged him to speak to me in ‘Indian’, and he goes, “Namuhste, kaise hain aap“, which was followed by a great applause and hugs and kisses from Christine. While I was still trying to fathom what had happened and to get over Varun’s err Vrooooon’s ponytail and tattoos, Noah handed me over some tissues alongside an apologetic smile. “Let us paarteh, you want to come bruh?”, asked Vroooon.

As much as I wanted to stay, I still had to go to my hostel and get into dry pair of denims before I could get to know more of Noah. I told them I would join shortly and Vroooon asked me to see him at the third lane under that big grocery shop. Noah asked if I’ll be alright and further explained the exact directions to the pub. I smiled and told her that I would see her at the grocery store and we go together to the place. Generally, i wont quote bollywood but our long handshake parted with each finger bidding adieu to each other.

I kept staring at her walking away in the excitement of knowing someone special. I began to fantasize about how the night shall unfold and just when I was about to name our kids, she looked back and signaled me to hurry back to my hostel. I never did really feel any wetness from the water, on my way back. I changed into another pair of denim and t-shirt making me look alright for the occasion.

I thought if I should take flowers on my way back, but that would not have been alright. I have two more days in Milan to make it work and who knows what the future holds…India and Italy might have better bilateral relations from thereon, I thought to myself. I reached the spot and realized that all the transit had made me 20 minutes late from the decided time of rendezvous. I rushed to the grocery store entrance and then inside it, checked across the road and even in other shops around. But maybe, 20 mins was too much of a wait for Vroooon and Christine…

Tushita

At Tushita: In pursuit of happiness

Posted By : Escape Route/ 366 0

‘It is all in the mind…’

All major religions and preachers of spirituality in the world ascertain that one has to be extremely fortunate to be born in human form among all sentient beings. ‘Karma’ or a number of good deeds over the course of lifetimes help one acquire human form on this planet. Since the human birth is so coveted, it is only rational that the human life be lived in the best possible manner.

Keep religion aside; even common sense puts forth the same argument, it is one life after all, better live it up.

And that is what we aspire to do, we do our best from the beginning of our life circle, we get into good schools, do our best to get good grades to get into good grad-schools, to earn good money, to get a good life partner, to raise our kids in the exact same respectable manner. We do not even expect something superfluous for our deeds, just good is enough. We take vacations, travel as much as we can, which has gradually become part of the same routine, part of the same circle of life. And all this while, we are constantly in pursuit of happiness and peace. So then where are we going wrong despite doing it right every time?

If you are at Tushita Meditation Centre, the teachers will probably tell you that even when you thought that you were doing it all right, the way of doing it was possibly wrong. While you were working so hard for your happiness, you should have probably tried to offer happiness to others. For love and compassion is the way of life in Buddhism and that is the karma they believe in. For what goes around, comes around.

We all have sought answers to our issues in life at some point of time. Taking the retreat at Tushita will help you understand that answers to most of our pretty complex problems are really simple. “It is all in the mind”.

It is mindful to note that our entire physical nature is actually governed by a non-physical entity called the ‘Mind’, the ‘Awareness’, the ‘Consciousness”, the ‘Conscience’, some might even call it a ‘Soul’.

Your mind doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep and does not get tired. But sometimes, in anger, in frustration, in excitement, we lose our minds. Whatever our state in life may be, we can chose to be content simply by training our mind. While it does sound so simple, it is an extraordinary feat to achieve and millions have been at it for quite a while now.

If you think, it relates to you at any point of your life and would like to know more about it, we urge you to book yourself a silent 10 day retreat program at Tushita Meditation Center, especially the one at Mcleodganj, Dharmashala for the sake of your “Mind” and absorb only as much as you can!

Manali

Revisiting Manali

Posted By : Escape Route/ 324 0

A lot has already been said about Manali, about its beauty, about its look and feel and more…yet there is an inherent charm to this hill station that makes it worth visiting again and again

Being multi-cultural in its essence, Manali offers you equal opportunities to let your hair down as well as introspect in natural solitude. The hill station is painted in a hue where the old meets new in an enchanting way.

In the town’s nomenclature, you’ll find plenty of mythological references; ‘Valley of Gods’ is what it is famously called. Head to the nearby village of Naggar and you’ll get an insight into what made Manali a painter’s muse. If the famous Russian artist, Nicholas Roerich, were alive (and accessible), we would have loved to get his perspective on what made him fall in love with the  mountains of Naggar, that he didn’t find anywhere else.

From stories about Lord Shiva to being home to people with different nationalities throughout, Manali exposes you to a world of immense possibilities. From traditional Himachali Siddu to authentic lasagnas, the food experience in the city is equally satisfying. At any given point of time, you will find people with varied backgrounds and different nationalities trotting the same streets.

Over the years, Manali has evolved in two parts – an era gone by (Old Manali with its rustic charm) and the developed Manali town around Mall Road. What connects the two worlds, literally, is an old bridge over Manalsu River (as seen in the topmost image).

Any trip to Manali is incomplete without a visit to Old Manali, be it for its vintage streets and wooden houses, for an escape from city life or simply to try the food at its numerous themed cafes. If you like home-made noodles forget everything and head to Tibetan Kitchen. Then there’s Casa Belle Vista for vegetarians who are all for Spanish food and wine. Those seeking a delicious serving of Trout must try Johnson’s Cafe which is open through the year.

Vashisht village set on a steep hill opposite Old Manali is popular for hot springs and old temples, as well as pocket-friendly restaurants and home stays. If you are in mood for a trek through the woods, an eight-hour hike from Vashisht to Pandu Ropa (11,480 feet above sea level) is a perfectly adventurous idea. And we suggest you take local guidance and support to make the best of this long hike.

July to September is the harvest season and apple-plucking is a must-do experience. Some kind-hearted residents allow you to pick apples, pears and plums for free, others may charge a small amount for this lovely exercise. It might be of interest to note that the apple orchards in Manali were initiated by our colonizers.

However popular or travelled-to Manali is, it never ceases to amaze with its own share of history as well as natural glory. With the tinted Beas River flowing through, verdant valleys and picturesque snow-laden peaks all around, the town owns a slice of heaven.

Everyone comes back with their own experience of a destination. Do share yours in the comments section below.

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