Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Picture Post

Bangkok, at the brink of a downpour...

Is it just me, or does this remind you of Bombay?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ghost of Red Curries Past

This is my first time in Bangkok, Thailand.

Till now, the only time I’d come face-to-face with anything remotely Thai was the Thai Red Curry I’d made for our first cook-at-home dinner date, hardly a month after we’d first met. I remember going halfway across town in search of lemon grass and galangal, lugging all my provisions (along with a jar of homemade red curry paste) three floors up to Prat’s bachelor pad in Cox Town, Bangalore and haphazardly throwing everything into a pot with coconut milk and letting it stew, all the while thinking, “Please God! Let it be good!” The vegetables got overcooked beyond recognition and the fiery red gravy sent rivulets of sweat running down our temples before we could clean the first serving off our plates, but Prat dutifully pronounced it a success (even as he gulped down ice-water straight from the bottle), no doubt adhering strictly to that golden rule of romance: “Thou Shalt Not Criticize.”

Fast-forward to four years later, and here we were, dragging our jetlagged selves up to our 8th-floor room at the Bangkok City Hotel, hungry, tired and sleep-deprived. Sweating from the intense heat,and my stomach growling from hunger, I opened the leather-bound menu of the restaurant, already dreaming of a cold chicken-salad sandwich and a glass of iced tea before I could finally sink into the pillows and sleep off my jet lag. Instead, what met our eyes were pages and pages of numbered items alongside pictures, written first in Thai, and then transliterated to English: Kaeng Phet Pet Yang, Tom Yam Kung Nam Khon, Tom Kha Gai …. Incapable of making any decision that did not involve fourteen hours of sleep, we blindly pointed at the safest-looking-picture/ most-easily-pronounceable-name of the lot, rung up room service and said “Panang Curry”.

And what should appear at our door, but a steaming bowl of exquisitely spiced, perfectly flavoured Red Curry. The meat cooked to perfection, the gravy an appetizing milky red, with slivers of galangal,julienned Thai basil and a smattering of crushed peanuts floating on top. We ate in silence, and as he sopped up the last drop of coconut-milk gravy from the bottom of the bowl, the words escaped almost involuntarily from Prat’s mouth. “Wow! So, this is how it is supposed to taste!”  

                                    *                  *                          *

Well, you can imagine how that ended!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

So...long time,huh? (She Said Nonchalantly)

I wish there was some way I could slip into this post without going into the specifics of why I've been away for so long. Because, let’s face facts here, all that's been happening in this blog for the last couple of years are excuses. Excuses and promises. I vanish for an unforgivably long time, come back with a lame excuse and an apology of a post, and promptly vanish again. And I cannot guarantee that it won't be the case anymore. 'Coz the pressure of being consistent at something is hard enough for me to quit without trying. That's just how I'm made. So, let’s keep it real quiet, and don't switch on the lights, while I try to slink in though the backdoor here.

I'm also beginning to realize how important it is to keep a record of our adventures. Because, a month into the routine of everyday life, however heavenly the vacation might have been, all you'd remember about it was how you disastrously wore four-inch stilettos to a beach party, or how you almost nearly missed that tour bus to Niagara because you were nursing a nasty hangover. That, and that picture of you that looks like you have the Washington Monument growing out of your head, because that's the only photo from the trip that got miraculously saved when you cleaned your hard drive. So you see, its important to keep those memories intact!

So, without further new beginning, in a new city: Bangkok!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Calcutta Chronicles

We, Malayalis, have an inexplicable love for all things Bengali.

I don't know if it is reciprocated to any extent at all –but boy, do we idolize the Bongs or what! Growing up in communist Kerala that was still hungover from the (excessive) intellectualism of the '70s and '80s, Bengalis, to me, were our khadi-clad, jhola-toting comrades- in- arms; kindred spirits who shared our passion for art, literature, theatre and cinema. We take great pride in our shared love for fish, football and leftist ideologies, we love name-dropping Ray and Tagore and Ghosh in normal day-to-day conversation and Kolkata in the ultimate intellectual capital that tops every Malayali’s list of places to visit.

Needless to say, I went into a complete tizzy at the prospect of a trip to Kolkata. One of the obvious risks of making a trip that you’ve dreamt of for so long, is that the actual thing almost never matches up to your expectations. But Kolkata was all that I’d pictured in my mind, and more!

Granted, Kolkata has got its fair share of bad press (dying city, city without future...), but I would say its all a matter of perspective. At first glance, it is a mouldy, crumbling mass of a city with a distinct air of neglect and disrepair, and as dirty, grimy and polluted as any other big city in India. Old Victorian mansions defaced with with later constructions that have been tastelessly added to battle constraints of space and comfort; erstwhile colonial edifices, now decrepit with missing tiles and broken windows; once-handsome Corinthian columns that support spacious terraces, now unrecognizable with the grandfather banyan tree that has sent gigantic roots and branches all over it – the image that it leaves in your mind is that of old aristocracy that had evidently been part of a glorious past, but has fallen into bad times ever since.

But, then again, the romance of it all! The shameless Anglophile that I am, who thrives on Victorian novels, period dramas and stories of the Raj, Kolkata held irresistible charm, with all its grand English architecture, fountains, parks and pathways ( albeit rundown and dilapidated) teeming with stories of a bygone era. Take, for instance, the Victoria memorial and the maidan –one of the few places in the city which must have changed little over the last hundred years. All it takes is a little imagination (and a studied ignorance of the street vendors and yellow cabs whizzing by!) and for all you know, you could back in colonial Calcutta, with gentlemen in top hats and tailcoats taking a stroll around the lush expanses of the park!

Just around the corner from the Victoria Memorial, is St Paul’s Catheral with its stained glass windows and Gothic spires…

A short drive in one of those yellow monsters and I am at Dalhousie Square, which is another paradise of colonial buildings – The Writers Building that stands resplendent in red…

The giant dome of the General Post Office…

Other colonial structures, now in shambles, stand all around the Lal Dighi...

I spent three glorious weeks in Calcutta, and one blog-post hardly does justice to the wonders of the city....Which means, this blog-yatra through one of the oldest cities is India is far from over- in fact, I’m just warming up!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Call of the Wild

No TV, no cell phones and no access to internet, we’d been warned. And when we arrived at Rainforest Retreat, Coorg, we realised that it was no bellboys, no room service and no breath-taking-view-from-the-window either. With more than ten kilometres of almost non-existent road between the plantation and the closest town, we were as good as trapped until we decided to check out. And once inside, the retreat functioned on a routine of its own. You eat when they say, and do what they suggest you do.

Not your regular tourist fare, this one.

Truth be told, we hadn’t known what to expect, because laziness and time constraints apart, we had set out on this journey with little or no research whatsoever hoping that the ignorance would only lend a fresh perspective to our experience. We’d booked a tent for the night. But what with half-baked notions of hill stations, rainforests, resorts and organic farms doing the rounds inside my head, by the time we reached the retreat, my brain had already put together an image of a resort prettily situated in the slope of a mountain overlooking a valley, with the tent giving the make-believe effect of rusticity and charm, when it was, in all actuality, providing the creature comforts of a luxury suite. Needless to say, it was anything but.

Situated in the tropical rainforests of the Western Ghats, Rainforest Retreat evidently took its ‘eco-lodge’ tag very seriously. Grassy hilltops that sloped down to meet densely forested valleys with towering trees, dangling vines and exotic flowers. Expensive varieties of cash crops like vanilla, coffee and cardamom co-existing in perfect harmony under the canopy of the forest. Cottages and tents tucked away within the forest unobtrusive to the eye. Solar lights, bathrooms with firewood stoves to heat water. Meals prepared with locally grown vegetables and spices. All rounded off with a tour of the estate filled with trivia about the crop rotation, effective microorganisms and organic farming. In short, the works.

We dumped our bags and camera in our tent and hurried down to the dining area. Lunch, a quick round of hi-howdy's with the other guests, and we were back in out tent again. We lounged aimlessly around, feeling strangely restless having nothing to do. Prat toyed around with his mobile (which showed zero range), tried swinging in the hammock for a while, and finally decided to go in for a siesta. I sat at the entrance to the tent, taking in the charm of the forest (And it was beautiful, I should admit!) but also idly wondering how much of ‘nature’ and ‘the wild’ can a city-bred urban creature like me take if I wasn’t ensured running hot water, a clean bed and three meals a day as part of the bargain. How much of the ‘eco-friendliness’ of the resort will I really enjoy before a tiny voice at the back of my mind demands mosquito repellents, tissues/toilet paper and breakfast in bed for the couple of thousands that I was shelling out for the night. And why isn’t the fact that I’m off the radar getting me to relax? Why is it that I was periodically checking my mobile, fully knowing that there was no range anywhere within the resort?

Tea, and a short walk later, we were back in our tent, watching the sun go down. We sat gazing as the mosaic bits of sky visible from under the foliage went from orange pink to an electric blue to the inky blackness of night. The sounds seemed to grow louder as darkness engulfed the forest. Water bubbled noisily down the stream. Frogs croaking themselves hoarse, keeping time with the intense and unrelenting chirping of the crickets that rang through the forest. The air, thick with insects that buzz and flutter around us. An occasional swoop and flapping of wings. And then, out of nowhere comes tiny pinpricks of light that rents the blanket of dark that’s enveloped us. Fireflies. From every direction come clicks, hisses, rattling and fluttering until the sounds merge to form a sinister orchestra of sorts, spooky and enthralling all at once. It was as if the forest has suddenly thrown back the veneer of stillness and calm to unleash the monster within, hissing and crackling with life.

I do not know when we ran out of words, or how long we sat in silence, overwhelmed by this absorbing symphony played out by the creatures of the night. We snapped back to reality when a blindingly bright torch beam flashed on us. It was one of our fellow guests, on his way to dinner. As we slowly groped our way through the forest trail to the dining area, the tiny voice in the back of my mind said, “Well worth the couple of grand after all…maybe more.”

The Second Coming

Woohoo! Trumpets and drumroll, please! The Tourist is back!!!!

Eh? Thats it? All I get as welcoming cheer is a muted chorus of Hmmph! ? Whoa?? Hmmmmph again?

Okay, then. I guess play-acting isnt going to help me this time. So, let me try and do it properly again...

I know i've been sort of all MIA and AWOL-ish for quite some time now and even though i could reel off excuses to the dozen ( and very believable ones too, mind you! I'm great at excuses), i'm going to stick to the bare, naked truth this time, admit that i've been lazy. And very lazy at that.In fact, lazy with L,A, Z and Y in bold capitals.

 But hey, enough of finger-pointing now, ok? I'm trying to make a fresh start here!

For those in the dark, the tourist came back from her stint in Mexico last August and has been spending time between bangalore, goa,kerala and kolkata in the last eight months, with frequent trips to touristy destinations near and far. And there is also another trip overseas in the offing, but nothing's happened till now, and I"m still keeping my fingers (and in moments of deperation, even toes) crossed, so mum's the word till it happens! :)

So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back, and watch this space for more! :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ballet Folklorico de Mexico

Photos from a two-hour ballet ensemble that took us through a whirlwind tour of the life, colour and culture of Mexico.