I am usually inspired to read about a place after a visit there; I may even pick up something to read once I have decided to visit a place. As for packing my bags and heading to a destination after reading about it. Never, though I have added a destination to a mental list of places to visit.
Did I say never? Actually, that has now changed to ‘just once’ when I visited the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan after reading a book about its painted havelis or mansions in January this year. The Painted Towns of Shekhawatiby Ilay Cooper was a serendipitous find, and I want to first how I found the book with you before telling you what the book is all about.
It was a rainy August day in 2014 and I was feeling quite sorry for myself that day. All my travel plans were falling through for some reason or the other, which meant that I hadn’t travelled anywhere that year.
A casual conversation with a friend on the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) hand got me thinking about visiting the JLF in 2015 and maybe combine it with some travel to places around Jaipur.
A simple Google search threw up Shekhawati as a possible place to visit. A little deeper search and The Painted Towns of Shekhawati popped up. Though I was aware of the painted havelis in Shekhawati, I was more than a little sketchy on the details. The book intrigued me enough to place an order almost immediately and the book was in my hands a few days later.
The first thing I did after reading the book was to apply for leave at work, write out a tentative itinerary, and book the hotel and flight tickets (not necessarily in this order). Yes, I had decided to go to Shekhawati. So what was in the book that got me all set to travel to Shekhawati?
I received an Asus Zen Fone 5 to review, and the phone was returned after about 20 days. I was compensated for my time and effort with Flipkart vouchers.
“It’s so light !”
“Look, the reverse is white.”
I listen to the excited comments of my department colleagues as they examine the Asus Zen Fone 5 that has just been delivered to me at my work address. I hear their comments, but all I can see of the phone is its size.
“Just like you use your other phone,” retorts a colleague. “Don’t whine about the phone size till you have actually used it.”
I wisely shut up.
That evening, the first thing I do when I reach home is to transfer the sim card and contacts from the old phone to the Asus Zenfone, and set it up. It is surprisingly seamless and within minutes the phone is configured and ready for use.
Another few minutes to download the social media apps that I use — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — and I am all set to use it and begin the review.
My visit to 80 Days started off on an amusing note.
It was Restaurant Review evening at 80 Days with other Navi Mumbai Foodies and I had arrived early. It was a lovely evening in March and the sun had not set. There was enough natural light to settle on one of the benches placed outside the restaurant and read a book, while waiting for the other reviewers to arrive.
I had barely sat down and pulled out a book, when the mosquitoes decided to join me. That was enough for me to decide to wait inside the restaurant instead. I was warmly welcomed at the entrance and when I said that I was waiting for the rest of my group, I was told that they had already arrived and were waiting for me. And I was led straight to a table where a Kitty Party was in full swing !
The people at the Kitty Party table were as startled as I was and after a few seconds of confusion and amusement, things got sorted out, and I was led to another table. I, however, decided to get started on photographing the restaurant interiors before it filled up with other diners. Continue reading →
The door to the Amter Mata Temple opens noiselessly and I hesitate before stepping into a large courtyard. It is three in the afternoon on a windy day in December last year and the temple, which is Vadnagar (Gujarat) is officially closed. But the shopkeeper outside the temple urges me to go in saying that nobody would mind.
There is no one to be seen inside; I am not really surprised for it is siesta and relaxation time before the evening worship begins. As I look around, I feel an uneasy prickling sensation at the back of my neck — the kind when you feel that someone’s watching you. I look around but cannot see anyone or detect any movement.
I call out once and then again, but get no response. It appears that I’m alone in the temple. Or am I? The sensation of being watched grows and I feel that the gaze is hostile, angry, even malevolent.
I don’t scare easily, but I must confess that I’m feeling quite spooked. As I wonder if I should leave, I spot a large sculpture placed against the wall behind the main shrine at the far end of the temple. I can’t make out what the sculpture is, but something about it gives me the shivers. I decide to explore further and as I walk towards the sculpture I feel waves of anger wash over me.
The courtyard of the Amter Mata Temple. The sculpture can be seen placed against the wall between the main shrine in the centre of the picture and the smaller shrine on the right.
Yes, really. It was a random photograph that had popped up when I was browsing through an equally random photo-stream. The photograph was of a grand and towering toran or a decorative arch with the caption, “Kirti Toran, Vadnagar”.
My first reaction was where is Vadnagar? I mean, I knew that Vadnagar was in Gujarat and also that it was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native town, but where was it? When a location search revealed that it was only about 40 km from Mehsana, I was stunned, for at that time, I was planning my North Gujarat trip in December 2014 at that time. And Mehsana was to be my base ! I took this happy coincidence as a sign that I needed to visit Vadnagar. :)
And visit I did, but without realising at that time that what I thought would be a quick trip to see the Kirti Torans would turn into something more. Continue reading →
I visited the Sun Temple at Modhera on the last day of my North Gujarat trip in December 2014. It was a much-anticipated visit and I had spent the weeks prior to the trip salivating over the many photographs available online. I was so excited at the prospect of finally visiting the Sun Temple that I was awake much before the morning alarm rang.
I wanted to be at the Sun Temple by 9 am, but both the checkout at the hotel and breakfast got delayed. By the time the shared private jeep from Mehsana dropped me off at Modhera village, it was 9.30 am. A helpful villager pointed the path that would lead me to the Sun Temple and 10 minutes later, I was at the ticket office queuing up to buy my tickets.
It seemed to be a busy day for there were quite a few international tourists already making their way out of the temple complex, while bus loads of school children were entering it. Once I bought my ticket and a booklet on the Sun Temple, I entered the complex where a path lad me through well-manicured lawns, a museum before the Sun Temple came into view with a large stepped tank before it. And my first thoughts were that all the photographs do not do justice to the monument. It is far bigger and grander and more magnificent, dear reader, and do keep that in mind as you read further !