Friday, December 27, 2013

My Yatra Diary...: Calendar Recap 2013!

It's true when they say, time flies. It does. Another year has rolled by. The journey of 2013 has come to an end. A brand new year awaits, packed with promises in hopes, dreams, opportunities, magic and madness. But before we see it checking in, let's pause for a while and step back, reflect, turn some pages and ruffle a few pieces. It's time to sit back, relax and rewind!

Below is a picture-walk through 12 posts from January to December with a link in the title and a little teaser snippet to go along. 'Tis a quick calendar recap, of all that My Yatra Diary... was in 2013! Hope you enjoy it.

JANUARY

Migawari Saru or 'substitute monkeys' in Naramachi, Japan

A lot of these red stuffed monkeys, known as Migawari Saru or 'substitute monkeys' can be seen hanging at the entrances - of shops, cafes, houses and temples. A symbolic deity of a local temple (the Koshin-do Temple), they are good luck charms believed to ward off evil and bring good fortune.
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FEBRUARY

Shyojin Ryori, Nara in Japan

So, here is a sneak peek into my, a veggie's, food travails in Japan – a humble attempt to help all those vegetarian's out there planning a trip to this part of the world.
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MARCH

Mount Fuji in Japan

I loved Japan. But did Japan love me too?
------ * ------

APRIL

Photo Albums from cupboard

Remember those times when we enjoyed our holidays with a simple film or non-digital camera and stacked all our memories in neatly covered family albums... Special, aren't they?
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MAY

Sunset at Kannur Beach, Kerala

Across the lengths of the sandy silvery beach, silence fills the environs. There is hardly a soul in view. Breaking this calm constantly, are the lashing of the waves and the rustling of the leaves. The music is repetitive yet somber; and it seems to travel through the wilderness of the galaxies above.
------ * ------

JUNE

My Hero: The Indian Jawan

O Brave Jawan, I salute you!
Your works of bravery kindle my hopes anew.
No fear, no wrath, no terrain seems to be stopping you.
You are rocketing ahead like a bullet clear of all blues.
------ * ------

JULY

Village of Kannur in Kerala

But for these sounds, the village is quiet... so quiet that the quiet is almost disquieting especially for an urban dweller like me. And yet, you never feel lonely here.
------ * ------

AUGUST
Sooun Mandana: A tradition of Rajasthan

Dried cow dung (considered a symbol of purity) or geru (red colored powder) are directly spread on the house and haveli walls such that they remain stamped for the rest of the annual year.
------ * ------


Ganesh Pandal Hopping in Mumbai

Being a Mumbai-ite, I love pandal hopping and more so when WE, you and me, do this together every year! So how about joining hands again this year and hopping over to meet our friend Ganesha in some of the Ganpati Pandals of Mumbai?
------ * ------

OCTOBER


Devotees at Tirupati Balaji temple, Tamil Nadu

An envelope exists here; and it packs in all. Somehow you know, that now, you are in the wrapping of something mysteriously divine, something that has been defined for centuries... Such that you feel a connect, and you feel happy to be a part of something beautiful.
------ * ------

NOVEMBER

My family doodle

I still remember how excited I was when I had called my dad to read the first article, proofread that is before I published it, with me and my brother standing by his side. And guess what?
------ * ------

DECEMBER

Milaap IndiMeet #HopeProject

I lend. It's simple. Joyous. And effective.
What are you gifting this Christmas?
------ * ------

No matter which year,
May we all stay blessed,
Believe in the riches of good,
And, the abundant beauty that lay, in gratitude, smiles and cheer!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gift a smile this Christmas!

An empty page rests on my table with an orange colored sketch pen on top. The barren nature of the sheet gestures me to write.

"What is your hope for 2014, in one word?"

----------------------------------------- * -----------------------------------------

13th December, 2013: A Milaap #HopeProject meet for a social cause is announced by IndiBlogger and I register. The bold print reads: 


What catches my attention is something in the finer print though.

"The aim of Milaap #HopeProject is to shed some myths about the Devdasi practice and invite small loans for the micro enterprises of these women.
These small loans in turn empower the women
who can set up small businesses and escape from this cycle of hopelessness."

The word ‘Devdasi’ strikes a chord. I vividly remember seeing a documentary on it some time back on TV. Aren’t these the same women who were once traditionally married to temple Gods but later came to be shoved into a practice of prostitution and flesh trade? I am right and I am now curious to know more.


It is 22nd of December today and I am attending the IndiBlogger-Milaap #HopeProject meet in Marine Lines, Mumbai. At the venue are organizers, members of Milaap and a family of (Indi)Bloggers including me.

Milaap: United in thoughts

The meet kicks off with a chorus Christmas Carol singing which is followed by a few introductions, presentations by the Milaap team, some discussions and a lot many opinions. But what delights me the most is that all of us present are united in one thing – change - To make a difference in someone’s life through our words, actions and deeds, no matter how small.

Though it’s been only 2 days since the meet yet today, I fail to remember all that was spoken or discussed during the entire course and to be very honest, neither did I understand all of it. Sometimes I lost track of the thread and sometimes things simply failed to register, so here I am simply presenting a few snippets that made an impact enough that I am voting my voice for Mahananda, baring open everything of all that I can remember in an earnest endeavor to lend my small hand towards what I believe will strengthen someone’s hope tomorrow.


"It is not the lack of jobs exactly but the social stigma attached to them.
The social stigma leaves the devdasis with no place in the eyes of the society.", says Anoj, a co-founder of the Milaap #HopeProject.

"Social stigma" : These words stick in my head for the rest of the afternoon. I sense how difficult it would be, for these women to live their life with a social stigma attached. I wonder how difficult it is for them to break this stigmatic circle of existence and live a normal life. A famous proverb in Hindi flashes in my memory... ‘Bad se badnaam bura’ (meaning, a bad reputation is worse than a bad deed). Till today, I had only heard people say it. But here I am, sensing it right now. By listening first hand account to stories of a few women breathing it every day. The realization is disturbing.

When I can live a normal life every day, why not these women?
Why do they not have the basic choice to live their life with dignity and respect?

Thoughts like these force me to ponder more. Milaap and team register a point.

Who is Mahananda?

Lights go dim, off. The room gets darker. Two projectors are switched on the stage before us. They now provide for sources of illumination for the room packed with 40 odd people. This is the video of a woman named Mahananda, an ex devdasi who shares her tragic story wrapped in courage and determination. She is among those who had the valor to break her system and is now empowered with her own tailoring business. She is eager to feed her kids and educate them to the best of her abilities. Like every mother, she dreams of seeing them grow into bright, confident human beings one day. This video touches me, deep.

A story in resilience and courage,
The story of an ex devdasi woman, Mahananda

More than Mahananda, it is the foreigner girl in the video that makes me sit up and take notice. She reflects so much of me. I find her views and the entire video inspiring.

My joy this Christmas!


I am handed one complimentary e-gift Milaap voucher worth Rs. 1000. With this, I can make a loan to any profile of my choice listed on the Milaap fund raising page. I browse, hovering my mouse over the various pictures – I can see women, one after another, in their late forties and fifties, who have pulled themselves out of a torturous societal system and today running small businesses in a hope to fulfill the needs of their children - I click on one of them instinctively and decide to lend my loan amount of Rs. 1000 to her.


I love this feeling of joy of giving that comes along so naturally with the advent of the Christmas season. The season of sharing. And caring. It is that time of the year which reminds me how blessed I am with so many opportunities, so many resources and it’s a great time to do something good for those around you. Why? Because at the end of it all, I know I will be left with something far more valuable than I could ever lend... a true joy in my heart... a feeling that shall be inexplicable...

She’s Roopa, an ex-devdasi, running her own photocopy and paan shop in a small village in Belgaum, Karnataka. And with the loan I just made, WE are now connected.

----------------------------------------- * -----------------------------------------

I didn’t expect to go to the meet and make a difference right away but if I, as a blogger, can help in some way, make a difference to somebody’s life; I guess that for me is my greatest gift. Today, the meet has come to an end and I am back busy in my usual routine life... however, something still remains: the image of Roopa, her story, her vision, her hopes... 

I feel happy in my heart as I silently wish her business prosperity; 
her image brings a smile on my face. Smile...

SMILE: is the word I scribbled on my blank sheet of paper, my hope for 2014.



I am excited to keep a track and hear more about my entrepreneur-borrower Roopa Chalvadi in the coming days. For now though, I just hope my small help is helping light a smile on her face this Christmas.


I lend. It's simple. Joyous. And effective.
What are you gifting this Christmas?

Wish to know how Milaap #HopeProject works? http://milaap.org/how-it-works
Wish to lend? http://milaap.org/fund 

Have questions?: http://milaap.org/contact-us

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where to stay in Melbourne, Australia: Citigate Hotel Review

As someone traveling on a budget, a hotel situated right in the center of the city generally comes as a boon. And Hotel Citigate in Melbourne was exactly that - a boon! Let’s see how!

Hotel Citigate, Melbourne Entrance
Hotel Citigate, Melbourne: Entrance

Hotel Citigate, Melbourne in Australia: A Review

Location: Just Perfect!

Outside:

Crammed amid a row of buildings, running parallel to the clock tower of the Flinders street station and enveloped by a multitude of other city attractions; this key location that Citigate affords is every budget travelers dream. It is right there – sticking out its spirit in the center of the city! All I had to do was to take one step outside and the whole of Melbourne came alive in its true colors.

Flinders street station view from Hotel Citigate, Melbourne

Flinder's street station right across the hotel entrance

Morning, afternoon or evening, no matter which part of the day the world is in – Flinders street station is always a hub of chaos, bustling with people busy running the humdrum of life. The other prominent icons of the city like the Federation square and St. Paul’s cathedral to name a few are a stone’s throw as well.

Inside:

Chaos prevails outside. Yet, inside, it is a silent retreat. Thankfully, even amid the city’s bustle, the hotel of Citigate stands insulated.

Lobby of Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Lobby area, Citigate, Melbourne

One step inside the hotel lobby through the automatic sliding doors and one immediately gets a glimpse of the hotels character: quiet and relaxed, greeting visitors like me with a smile. If I were to describe Citigate’s personality, I would say, it reflected an understated demeanor on the outside but showed a sophisticated and classy persona indoors.

Food: Wide range but with limted options for the veggies

One step in the buffet area and the place ruptures into a kaleidoscope vision, with a burst of different kinds of foods assorted for every kind of traveler and taste bud.


Breaskfast area in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne

My breakfast buffet came with the hotel tariff and the spread was so wide, that it had the potential to spoil anyone silly.

Buffet spread in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Buffet spread

Bread spread in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Bread spread

Fruits in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Apricots

Limited for the veggies, still I did manage to pamper myself to some bread, fruits, smoothie’s, juices, dried flakes and coffee!

My breakfast spread in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
My plate of bread, fruits and flavored curd

But my favorite from amongst these was the special Indian bread, roti made especially for me by the chef of the hotel!

Indian food in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Indian roti and potato dumplings

Staff: Friendly and Helpful

When it comes to how well you spend your time in the hotel, the staff surely does have a huge role to play. And in my case, the staff made the place from a recommended one to a highly recommended one. Warm, friendly, helpful and courteous, they gave me ample of reasons to come back happy and satisfied with their service. I stood at the reception with a map in my hand and they gave me all their time to help me with the how-to’s and what-to’s of the places I wanted to visit; they left the reception to make me a warm cup of honey and lemonade to soothe my aching throat while at other times just chatted up casually on my expeditions of the day.


Reception area of Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
The friendly reception area (that's Richard busy helping a customer out there!)

Today, I can recall two people by their names – Ananda, from Nepal and Richard, from Australia – I established a good rapport with them during my stay. In addition, there were a few more, like the lady in the buffet section who helped me with my coffee and toast and that cheerful gentleman in the reception area with a smile so bright that it could make anyone’s day and that young chap on the front desk who made a magic-healer honey tonic for me – all of them ensured that I had a wonderful time in the hotel.

Room: Comfortable and minimalistic

What does a traveler need after a long day of exploration? A comfy bed, a clean spacious bathroom and a good night’s sleep? Citigate definitely provided for all!

Room in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
Basic yet comfortable: Citigate room

Neat, clean and minimal furnishings with soft fluffy king size bedding keeping me warm, it was my perfect shelter for the night for 4 complete days ensuring I felt fresh for a new day of discovery, each and every day.

Views: Expensive

Window views are something I really look forward to, especially in an international trip but here, they were nothing to show or speak of, really. All I could see was buildings, all of them taller than my own, leaving me highly disappointed. I learnt that a city view would cost me AUD 30 more which would mean burning a big hole in my pocket; hence I wasn't left with much of a choice but to settle down with what I had.


Hotel Citigate, Melbourne view from window
Buildings and concrete: My View from my hotel room

So this is all I got from the room, but then it didn’t really matter, I was seldom (awake) in my room to savor views like these!

Only toiletries, no freebies:

Nothing much again, this was my basket in which all the items were tagged. I did touch the salty wafers once but on finding it too pricey, not worth my money, I kept them back. 

Freebies in Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
A goodie basket: Items all tagged!

The soaps and other soapy stuff in the bathroom was good though.

My secret window: The Fitness center on the first floor!

Guess what was my favorite spot in the hotel?

It was the fitness center on the first floor of the hotel. Not because it had all those equipments to make me trimmer. But because, it gave me views that I always longed for but never got from my room.

Flinders street station view from Hotel Citigate, Melbourne
From the fitness center: My best takeaway from the hotel

I came here every day, at least once in the morning, to drink cool water from its water filter while watching the trams pass and the crowds’ whiz by. This was my find, my very own special take away memory from the hotel!

Why choose Hotel Citigate over the others?


For its location, undoubtedly!

Flinders street station and Hotel Citigate, Melbourne  placed opposite
Citigate hotel and the Flinder's street station,
distanced by the traffic road in between

Citigate lived up to its name; it was just that, a gateway to the city. Beating in the heart of the CBD, Central Business District, with Flinder's station positioned just opposite and a whole range of trams and buses operating from this area to different parts of the city, it provided for an easy entry to the beautiful world of Melbourne. If you are that traveler who prefers a hotel with easy accessibility to getting around, this is the one for you.

For the 'Location': Go for it!

Traveller Tips:

Getting from the airport to the hotel: Book in advance for a seat in coach that will transfer you from the airport to your hotel. A wide range of options are available to choose from but we opted for the sunbus, they can be recognized by a placard with a kangaroo in yellow and they operate approximately every 30 minutes.

Express Check in: Make sure to slide in a request for express check-in, in case your flight is landing early. Lucky, if you get the request issued, but in the other case too (as in mine) Citigate treats you well. The bathrooms in the fitness center are well maintained and neat, so that you can freshen up there. And as I already mentioned above, the views from there are amazing too. The luggage is secured in the luggage room of the reception till you are granted a room.

Address: 270 Flinders Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.

Contact: 61 3 9654 6888 / http://www.citigatemelbourne.com.au

Tariff of my Citigate room: 240 AUD per night, breakfast inclusive (Note: There is no city view in this type of room.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Dreamliner Flight to Melbourne Victoria, Australia

Air India Dreamliner AI-312: Delhi to Melbourne (Connecting Mumbai via AI - 806)

Seconds clocked into minutes and minutes turned into hours, hours flew by; my AI Dreamliner flight felt like home, its attendants were enthusiastic, friendly and warm, the ambiance homely. One of the flip-side about this though, was that I never felt like I was flying international! Passengers were Indian, so were the attendants and so were we. Of course, I had my boarding pass to confirm otherwise...

Air India - Flight to Melbourne (2)
AI dreamliner in-flight monitor

And, the long haul of the views outside! Those that never seemed to end: the clouds appearing, disappearing, playing the game of hide and seek and the sun brushing them with unimaginable colors and the shadows adding a magical depth to the infinities of the sky. I loved looking out of my window: still! It was a theater... the sky, a drama, I, a viewer.

Air India dreamliner - Views from the airplane window
Air India dreamliner - Views from the airplane window
Air India - Views from the flight window
Play of the clouds

I don’t exactly know when I fell asleep reading the in flight magazine, or when the ‘SRK Hits’ song list stopped playing in my ears or when the food arrived. But the last one got me up, wide and awake. The smell of food was inviting, the sight tempting - I was hungry.

Air India - Flight Food
Flight food - Air India
Sweet and salad: my picks of the lot!


Melbourne, Victoria - First cut!

The local time is 6.30 AM and the outside temperature is 12 degrees Celsius ...

... blared a voice out from the audio even as I peeped out of my flight window to relish my first views of Melbourne.

It still seemed hard to believe that I was here... yes.

I told myself,

Melbourne - First View from the flight

Look - this is Melbourne!

Yet, surprisingly, it didn't feel like Melbourne. It didn't feel new, I could see no sparks, and the place didn't look any different than what my eyes were seeing 16 hours earlier, in India!

Why?

I knew and I was prepared... to wait for the answers, to go deeper, to scratch and unscratch the city, bit by bit. For aren't the real treasures seldom on the surface, but often hidden for you to discover? I knew the city would open up once it knew me better. Once I interacted more. And something inside told me,

" ... therein would perhaps lay the real joy of this yatra, your Melbourne yatra."

With these thoughts in my mind, a hope in my heart and a smile on my face, I stepped out of my flight thinking about my next stop: Hotel Citigate in Melbourne!


Fast facts of Melbourne:

Melbourne >> the largest and capital city of the state of Victoria.

The state of Victoria >> the smallest of the mainland states in size but the second most populated in Australia.

Melbourne >> was once Australia’s largest and wealthiest city, thanks to a gold rush in the 1850’s.

Melbourne >> Also referred to as “second city” or the “cultural capital" of Australia.

Melbourne >> hosted the first Olympic Games in the Southern Hemisphere in 1956 and became the country’s sporting capital.

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Melbourne Yatra... Begins NOW!

September 12, 2012 - Reference Post "Melbourne memories... in Monochrome":

Things moved on from where I left them that day;
From this young lady as seen in this picture doodle ...


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


20th October, 2013, Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai:

I stood there... with my bag firmly held in one of my hands and a few spare butterflies hovering in my stomach. The other hand was also occupied, with an indigo colored passport; the words ‘India’ embossed in gold, my boarding pass neatly secured between the pages inside. A few coins clanked inside the bag, Australian cents and dollars, much costlier than an equivalent amount of the Indian National Rupee.

Australia currency - cents and dollars
Australian Currency - Dollars and cents

Also, inside the bag was a big fat edition of the Melbourne Lonely planet guidebook, (something that I could never get myself to read), a copy of the official invite by Tourism Victoria and a few of my planning pages including 'My Melbourne Memories in Monochrome' neatly stapled together in a bunch, a list of all those memories that I wished to bring back from Melbourne.

My Melbourne Planning - Things to do in Melbourne, Australia
My Melbourne Planning

I stood there, thus, waiting for the ladder to roll out of the flight; and all of a sudden, I sensed my eyes turning moist. A mixed emotion of pride and thrill pierced my senses as I gauged the entire situation once again -- an all expense paid trip to Melbourne hosted by Melbourne Victoria, your blessings and good wishes, my prize at IndiBlogger, the support of my family - It was a strange feeling, one that is difficult to explain and one that left me with goosebumps. I closed my eyes and said a silent heartfelt thank you to all for helping me be here.

AI Dreamliner - delhi to Melbourne
My Flight to Melbourne

The young lady stood there, now ready. Her Air India Dreamliner was ready too, bathed in gleaming sunlight, beckoning her on the airstrip; in a few minutes from now, she would fly ...fly to her next dream destination to be – Melbourne!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Are you ready to fly along?

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